Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Importing Italian Wines with Mariposa Fine Wines

Importers play a major role representing wineries around the world and finding importers that specialize in Italian wines is even more exciting for myself. It provides another venue and opportunity to find potentially smaller to medium sized wineries in Italy here in Boston and the United States that one may not have the opportunity to seek out unless you're traveling throughout Italy yourself.

I came across Mariposa Fine Wine &Spirits that is based out of Boston and is owned and operated by female wine wholesaler, Judith Fabre McDonough. It was a pleasure meeting Judith and her dynamic, bubbly personality. Her passion and drive to succeed demonstrate why she is proving to be a successful, female entrepreneur in a male dominated industry not only in the Boston area, but beyond.
Judith Fabre McDonough of Mariposa Fine Wines
Judith Fabre McDonough
Prior to the establishment of Mariposa Fine Wine & Spirits, Judith's career had previously been involved in wine auctioning and she also had served as a sales representative of gourmet foods. Judith reached a point in her career where she decided it was time to just dive right in and begin her own business. “There’s never a good time to start your own business”, Judith states. With a passion for fine wines and food Judith started Mariposa Fine Wine & Spirits almost 4 years ago with a motto of “wine is sunlight, held together by water”.

Mariposa Fine Wines & Spirits Italian wine importerJudith's specialty is in small family-owned wine estates primarily from within Italy. One of the first Piedmont, Calabria, Puglia, Friuli, and Lombardy and carries twenty plus different wine labels. The wineries she works with are a number of producers from the north to the south of Italy that produce around 300,000 to 500,000 bottles annual production.
regions in Italy that Judith began exploring doing business with was the wine region of Lazio, home to the capital of Rome, where she represented a number of wineries in Lazio and presented the wines of those wineries at an event in Beverly Hills, CA. The event was a major hit and from there she began expanding throughout a number of different regions. She specializes in five particular regions of Italy now currently including

Judith is also expanding her wine portfolio to include wines from Australia and France. She currently serves as the Brand Manager & Ambassador to the Northeast for the Hewitson winery based in Australia.

Many folks love Italian wines, but are only most familiar with your every day common Italian wines that dominate the market like chianti, pinot grigio and maybe barolo and barbaresco. Judith finds the biggest challenge for her to be getting folks to understand Italian indigenous grapes that no one has ever heard of. Italy is home to hundreds and thousands of grapes and native grapes and to know them all is impossible. It can be overwhelming for your average consumer to understand the variety and differences available from region to region. Judith works with boutique wine shops and restaurants that respect these lesser-known varieties. This is when she is comforted to know that when she discovers wine producers and experiences lesser-known grapes and award winning wines that she loves, she can trust that the businesses carrying her wines are selling her Italian wines into the right hands of customers that appreciate variety and learning. It's very important to find a wine shop with educated employees that can help you explore these wines and bring you on a wine journey through Italy.

When I met with Judith she was also accompanied by Livio Palmieri, whom is Chairman of the Board for U.S.-Italy Food Technologies Inc. and has partnered with Judith for years in the wine business. One of the pleasures that Livio and Judith have been taking note of are how the younger generation is moving back towards agriculture, which is obviously a big benefit and great for the wine industry. It's important to preserve the traditions that have carried on in many of these families for generations. Plus, there is also a lot more organic wine growing taking place in the vineyards and sustainable farming is getting more attention in the marketplace than ever before by producers and consumers around the world and in Italy. Livio spoke with me about the younger generations within the wineries that are experimenting and bringing more modern technologies and winemaking practices to the Italian wineries with a focus to establish themselves with a stronger presence in the wine market.

Judith's future goals, in addition to expanding her importation of wines from countries like Australia and France, will also be expanding and selling her wines on the east coast starting with Rhode Island. So lots of exciting changes and expansion for Mariposa Fine Wine & Spirits and hopefully you'll have an opportunity to meet Judith at one of her events or wine tastings one day and experience some of these unique wines of Italy.


 *Pictures copyright of Mariposa Fine Wines & Spirits

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Wines of Friuli with Anna Muzzolini of Azienda Agricola Grillo

Last week I had the opportunity to meet owner and winemaker, Anna Muzzolini, of the Azienda Agricola Grillo winery of Friuli at a local wine shop.  I was excited about the opportunity because Friuli is a region that isn’t talked about as much as some of the others nor visited as a top tourist destination adding to it's uniqueness.  If you’re not familiar with the region of Friuli it’s tucked up in the far northeast corner of Italy bordering Slovania and Austria.  It’s also one of the regions that make up what’s known as the Tre Venezie that include Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto.
Azienda Agricola Grillo Friuli
Anna Muzzolini
One of the things I love about visiting the different regions of Italy are meeting the people and getting a sense of place and traditions.  Anna had so much pride in where she is from and it was evident in her presentation of the wines and how they play a part of everyday life. 

Anna’s family has been making wines since the 1970's starting with her father, Sergio. They didn't present their first bottle to the public until 1992.  Prior, the wine had been kept for personal consumption. In 1999 Anna transferred over from her career in biology in Ferrara to the wine life to take over and manage, as well as serve as the winemaker, at Azienda Agricola Grillo. 
Winemaker Anna Muzzolini
Anna Muzzolini
Azienda Agricola Grillo is situated in the town of Albana di Prepotto, which is located rather close to Cividale del Friuli in the Udine. The winery overlooks the hills of the Colli Orientali del Friuli with views of Slovania in the distance. Anna owns 9 hectares  and produces 40,000 bottles annually.
Azienda Agricola Grillo in Prepotto
The wines that you find in the Friuli consist of many single varietals including sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, cabernet franc, merlot, chardonnay, etc. but you'll also find indigenous grapes of the area include friulano, verduzzo, ribolla gialla, refosco dal peduncolo and schioppettino. I had the opportunity to sample 5 Azienda Agricola's wines. Unfortunately only 2 of them are sold in the US and of course the ones I liked are the ones not sold in the US. The other wines Anna brought along with her with the potential to be brought into the US.

Here are the 5 wines I tasted:
2015 Azienda Agricola Grillo Friulano
2014 Azienda Agricola Grillo Cabernet Franc
2013 Azienda Agricola Grillo Schioppettino di Prepotto
2013 Azienda Agricola Grillo Refosco dal Peduncolo
Due Donne Rosso (didn't catch the vintage)

It's been awhile since I've had some wines from Friuli, but if you follow my journey you know that I very much enjoy the whites of Friuli. The wines of this region differ from the south due to the differences in climate. Obviously in Friuli you're in the northern Alps so it's much more cold climate than the south where it's warmer and the wines are heavier. These wines are lighter in body so if you're one for big bold wines with lots of complexity they probably wouldn't top the list. I think the reds are great if you're looking for lighter summer time reds.
vineyards of Azienda Agricola Grillo
My top 2 picks for their whites and reds were the 2015 Azienda Agricola Friulano and the 2013 Azienda Agricola Refosco del Pedancolo Rosso

I loved the aromatics of the Friulano. It's a dry wine with slight spice and almond notes. It comes from the oldest part of their vineyards which have 45 year old vines located on a hill. The quantity of production is low. Surprisingly, Anna stated that she has tasted some of these friulano wines with 8-10 years of age and they were still in great shape. This grape, friulano, was once known as tocai friulano until 2007 when there was a problem with Hungary. Hungary felt that the grape was being confused with their wine known as tokaji. Ever since Friuli has only been able to call their grape friulano, leaving out the tocai.

The Refosco del Pedancolo Rosso was the boldest of all the reds I tasted that day. As Anna described this wine, “it's good for a warm fire and hearty fare”. It's a dry, fruit forward wine with rather moderate tannins and deep color. It's aged 18 months in oak.
cantina at Azienda Agricola Grillo

Due Donne Rosso wine
Label drawn by Anna herself
Anna also pulled out on the side her Due Donne Rosso wine that she produces with a friend, Susanna,whom owns a winery in Tuscany. Due Donne, meaning 2 women, explains it all. It's a blend of Anna's schioppettino and Susanna's sangiovese. My question before trying it was whether the sangiovese would dominate the schioppettino, but Susanna's sangiovese is grown 400-600 meters high altitude so it's a little lighter in style than some of your other typical sangiovese. The tannins were well integrated and the wine showed expressive cherry and pepper notes. This was my 3

Have you had any of the wines of Friuli? Tell me about them!


 *Most pictures copyright of Azienda Agricola Grillo

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Development of Cantina Primo Re

I came in contact through networking with a winery in Puglia, Cantina Primo Re, that is just starting out from the ground up with their first release this coming spring. Typically I won't share stories of a winery I haven't visited or met with representatives of the winery and/or at the least tasted their wines. I thought it would be interesting though in sharing this story and learning about the trials and tribulations of one couple's story. Enjoy!

Tell me about the history of winemaking in Nicola’s family and his background & experience in enology.

Nicola’s family has been producing grapes at least five generations. His father had always worked at the family vineyards working with the primitivo and negroamaro grapes, selling them to a local cooperative. Nobody in his family had ever produced wine, apart from small quantities reserved for the family.
Cantina Primo Re Puglia
Nicola grew up “between the vines” but soon decided that being a winegrower wasn’t enough for him. This is the reason he moved to Tuscany and later to Piedmont to study viticulture & enology science, which in Italy is a 5 year degree (Bachelor + Master). His Bachelor degree at Florence concluded with work at the prestigious winery, Barone Ricasoli. His Master degree in Piedmont increased his knowledge of fine wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco. At the university he also worked on a project to improve the quality of the barbera grape and his thesis on infrared spectrophotometry was a significant success.

Nicola graduated from the university at the beginning of winter so he moved to Argentina where it was harvest time and worked for a big company between Rioja’s mountains. By that time he met his future wife Natalia (who is Argentinian) and after harvest they moved back to Italy where he secured a job in a historical wine cooperative in Salento as a junior winemaker. However, after one year of working with the co-op, the economic situation in Italy worsened, so Nicola left his job and we went back to Argentina, where he worked as an assistant winemaker and supervisor for the same company in La Rioja.

Following that position, he secured a job at a prestigious English sparkling wine company, Nyetimber, during the harvest. Later on they moved to Romania where he was offered a position as head winemaker at a boutique winery. There, Nicola produced a rosé which was recognized, two years in a row, as the Best Rosé Wine of Romania.

They lived two years in Romania and then decided to move back to Italy to work with their vineyards and open their own winery.
Cantina Primo Re in Salento Puglia
Nicola and Natalia
Why did you choose Italy to settle down and open a winery and even further why Salento in Puglia?

Their big dream had always been to run their own winery, but the economic situation at the beginning wasn’t good enough to pursue their dream. That, together with their passion for traveling and for different cultures, was the reason for their continuous relocations. As soon as their economic situation got better, they didn’t hesitate to come back “home”, where they had their family vineyards and could produce their own wine.

Salento is an excellent area to produce wine thanks to the typical Mediterranean weather,. Their are strong winds, poor rains and the mitigating influence of the sea. Intense temperature changes between day and night help salentinian grapes ripen slowly; enhancing aromas to form a rich bouquet. The terroir of this area is characteristically red, rich in ferrous components, with clay and limestone layers that produce generous, full-bodied, velvety and flavorsome wines.

What are your future plans for the winery (I did see that you plan to expand to susumaniello and verdeca in the future)?

This year they're busy getting everything ready for the launching, that hopefully will be in spring. They've been working very hard to expand their sales network, sending samples to wine experts, participating in wine contests, finishing their website and e-shop, organizing a proper launching event and much more. They want to be completely ready by the time of the launching!

In the vineyards they're waiting for the authorizations to plant new varieties including susmaniello and verdeca. In Italy you can’t just plant new vineyards when you want. The Government has to authorize you to do that and requests are accepted only once a year. They're also buying new agricultural machinery this year that is necessary to properly work at organic vineyards.

Another project for upcoming years include launching a rosé wine different from typical Apulian rosé, and later a white wine, ideally a pure Verdeca.

How large is the winery in terms of acreage for vineyards and what is the breakdown of how much of each grape you will be producing?

They own a small, boutique winery. Currently they have 5.5 hectares of vineyards (around 13.6 acres) of negroamaro, primitivo and malvasia nera. Their grape production at this moment is the following:
  • 30 tons of negroamaro
  • 8 tons of primitivo
  • 3 tons of malvasia
Not all the grapes are involved in wine production; some of them will be used in the future for other blends/wines (for example, the malvasia nera will be used blended with negroamaro to produce Salice Salentino, a very famous red blend).
negroamaro and primitivo grapes of Puglia
I know your first release is this spring. How many bottles do you anticipate producing?
Hopefully their first release is, in fact, this spring (they're still dealing with some bureaucratic issues, typical of Italy). They'll launch initially 6,000 bottles, both 100% primitivo (Emissario) and 100% negroamaro (Presagio) wines of the 2015 vintage, with possibly another 6,000 bottles before the end of the year. All their wines are certified organic and suitable for vegans and vegetarians as registered at The Vegan Society.

Will you export and if so where?

Yes, they're very interested in exporting their wines. They've established contacts in Holland, Germany, Japan and Czech Republic. They're looking forward to expanding their network especially in North America and Central/North Europe.

What are your food suggestions to pair with these wines?

They recommend pairing Emissario (our primitivo red wine) with all first and second courses containing red sauces and an oily taste, meat and venison. For vegans and vegetarians they suggest grilled tofu or pasta with vegetables and wild mushrooms.
For Presagio (our negroamaro red wine) they recommend all Mediterranean dishes, beef or rabbit grilled meat or cacciatora, and medium-hard cheeses of medium seasoning. They suggest vegans and vegetarians to pair our negroamaro with beans pancotto or amaranth and legumes burgers.

How can you become part of what Cantina Primo Re will be releasing?
They suggest joining their Wine Club by leaving his/her e-mail at their website www.cantinaprimore.it. All members will receive exclusive contents together with a 20% off-discount to buy wines, free vineyard tours, gift cards for your birthday and their original e-books in pdf for free plus more. They will also have more tips for pairing their wines not only with food but also via books, songs and films. There will be different sections written exclusively by specialists where wine lovers/musicians will suggest songs to listen to while tasting their wines, cinema lovers will recommend the best movies to watch, food bloggers will create original recipes to pair with their wines, etc.
Cantina Primo Re


*All pictures copyright of Cantina Primo Re.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Land and Soul of Ceretto

It’s an exciting month for our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group as we explore nebbiolo throughout all regions of Italy.  The name nebbiolo is derived from the Piemontese word for nebbia, meaning fog.  It derives from the fog that comes down from the mountains and roles over the Po Valley helping with the ripening of these grapes.  

Where to find Nebbiolo?
Many are familiar with this fantastic grape via the wines of Barolo and Barberesco, but you can find it outside southern Piedmont including Lombardia where it's known as chiavennasca in the valtellina area and the Valle d’Aosta region in northwestern Italy.  It’s also found in northern Piedmont in the areas of Gattinara and Ghemme where it’s known as spanna.  Of course it takes own its own character depending upon where it is produced and this is what our group will share with you today.

Barbaresco with Ceretto
Today I chose to stay within southern Piedmont in Barbaresco since I haven’t written about this region in some time and I recently had a 2012 Ceretto Barbaresco I wanted to share.  I’ve written about nebbiolo and it’s different forms previously when I wrote about the differences between nebbiolo from northern and southern Piedmont and I’ve shared tidbits throughout time over nebbiolo from other regions that you'll find on my site.

The Ceretto brand was established back in the 1930's when Riccardo Ceretto began producing wine in Alba.  His sons, Marcello and Bruno, took over the business in the 60's and really began to take it up a notch.  They were purchasing grapes for about 15 years from local owners of parcels of land that they wanted to get their hands on.  Land opportunities becoming available for purchase is like finding gold in Italy, especially this area.  Their father, Riccardo, didn't believe in purchasing land as he didn't feel anyone gets rich off the soil and he was so used to purchasing grapes himself.  The sons waited and waited until the opportunity was available to purchase some cru land in the Roero and Langhe.  This was a turning point for the Ceretto family being able to own and have complete control over tending to the vineyards.  Today, the winery's vision is carried on by the 3rd generation of the Ceretto family that took over in 1999.
Ceretto winery in Piedmont
3rd generation of the Ceretto family
This area that Ceretto is located in, known as the Langhe in southern Italy, is warmer with lots of sunlight and clay soil that aids in producing wines that are big and bold with ripe fruit and higher alcohol.  In 2015 the areas of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Also in 2015 the Ceretto estate became organically certified and their barolo and barbaresco wines became produced biodynamically.  The goal is to eventually make all 160 hectacres of estate owned vineyard both organic and biodynamically produced.
Tenuta Monsordo Bernardina
The Tenuta Monsordo Bernardina. What a view!
2012 Ceretto Barbaresco
The 2012 Ceretto Barbaresco wine I tasted I actually preferred over their barolo.  This wine was originally their top wine also know as Barbaresco Asij until the sons purchased the single-vineyard cru sites. Today their single vineyard wines are Barbaresco Asili and Barbaresco Bernadot.  I don't have the experience trying these yet, but would love to.  Who wouldn't?!  The Ceretto Barbaresco is produced from their estate in Monsordo Bernardina in Alba.  Part of the grapes are sourced from the Asili and Treiso areas of the Ceretto estates.  Ruby red in color this wine was full of dried cherries on the nose followed by ripe fruit on the palate with integrated tannins along with some vanilla and spice and a lengthy finish. It's aged 24 months in barriques and 6 months in the bottle.  SRP $49.99
Monsordo Bernardina wine cellar
Monsordo Bernardina wine cellar

If you’re curious about nebbiolo produced in Barolo and Barbaresco I have written about the differences between Barolo and Barbaresco previously as well.

Don't just stop there. If you're a nebbiolo lover you're in for a treat.  Here are my fellow wine bloggers sharing their love for nebbiolo.  If you catch this in time you can join us live on Twitter Saturday February 4th 11am EST at #ItalianFWT to chat live with us.
  • Jill from L’occasion shares The Test in Life is Unity: G. D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo
  • Susannah from Avvinare shares Discover Off the Beaten Path Nebbiolos from the Caluso, Carema and Canavese
  • Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares 2015 Cantalupo “Il Mimo” Rosato Nebbiolo
  • Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Zuppa di Cipolla al Vino Rosso + Bava’s “Gionson” Nebbiolo
  • Mike from Undiscovered Italy shares Let’s Go Grumello
  • Gwen from Wine Predator shares Silver and Gold: Nebbiolo from Santa Barbara and Italy
  • Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares Nebbiolo Grows On My Desert Island

*All pictures copyright of Ceretto.