Join me on Instagram for Italian wines I’ve had recently. Like this one on a recent trip to Sicily – the brilliant Eruzione 1614 in Palermo.
Here I talk to Mario Cordero of the brilliant Vietti winery in Piemonte when he came to visit Bibendum Wine in London.
Vietti are well known for their serious single cru Barolo, so I ask him, how do you like to have your Moscato d’Asti?
This has to be one of the most fun wines in the world and truly lights up the room when it is opened. As my friend said after seeing this video, Mario should get the award for World’s Best Dad.
After paying for a ticket to see the Palace in Caserta I asked, why is the main entrance in darkness?
To give you an idea of the opulence and amount of marble of this entrance, this is the same place that is used as stand-in for the Vatican in films and also used as a set for Star Wars.
Yet when we arrived, we had to climb the marble stairs in darkness, reducing the grandest staircase I have ever seen to a hollow echo-chamber. The fabulous silk curtains were almost threadbare and sun-damaged, the walls cracked and scuffed.
Despite this neglect, every room overwhelmed, as if outdoing the previous room in their lavish praise to gold. My calves ached from the amount of walking on marble; it must have been kilometres.
There is also something of this forgotten glamour and grandness to the wines here. I tasted some true greats in Campania. They are unquestionably brilliant but… it is like talking on a radio in a power cut. And just as frustrating. It’s not well known and there seems to be a communication breakdown somewhere. For such grandness in the glass, these should be in every serious cellar.
After sightseeing at the palace, we visited a friend who runs a few designer fashion shops in town. At his house, he had a cellar of local Campanian wines and I was thrilled he opened and talked about them with me. He wore a hankerchief in his pocket of his very beautiful tailored suit and on the way to dinner walked through the town collecting friends as stylishly and coolly as a character in Reservoir Dogs (English speakers need to consult a dictionary to understand Neapolitan hand-gestures). He dripped with a style that I see in photos of my grandparents but very rarely see today on people my own age: handmade and tailored.
We walked into the bar for a quick espresso before dinner. As we walked in, a man walking out said, “Whatever they are having, I’ll pay.” We went to an excellent seafood restaurant and the wines were organised all beforehand. The owner brought out wine after wine for us to try…
Most of the dinner centred around seafood and a white wine called DOCEASSAjE – a blend of Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo, made by Vinosia (this is quite easily available in UK). Like cool honey, I exclaimed in my basic Italian to many bravissimi at the table and a round of applause.
Eating in Italy can be more like theatre compared to the usual stay-at-home DVD experience. The theatre of the table.
No one liked the pasta. I thought it was fine, not the best, but fine. But judging by the dark looks around the table, I was worried about the job security of the Chef. These guys took their pasta very seriously.
For me, every course of food and wine was like the next room in the palace. One course after another of glamorous indulgence and many unexpected courses. These twists and turns which keep the night interesting and moving.
We ended the night opening aglianico and aglianico-blends, grappa, and a few cigars (of course, I don’t smoke cigars but but the bitterness of the tobacco adds an extra level to the taste of the wine).
Tasting an Aglianico such as this one from the absolute master Mastroberardino is the same ecstasy as tasting Barolo for the first time. It is rare to see Aglianico with age; it is not heavy and dense, but the flavours fall gently onto the palate like ash falling from a volcano: tobacco, cherry and licorice.
For a wine lover, this region is like stumbling upon an empty palace full of gold and velvet. There are a few good wines imported into the UK, but many of the region is like a cultural treasure left to its own devices. When the whole world is moving towards bland, why is Italy’s cultural richness left to the elements? Unlike the important infrastructure that was so fundamental to the development of Tuscany as a region, there is nothing as maintained and reliable as the autostrade 1 south of Naples.
At the train station in Caserta, on the way back to Rome, I thought, do I have to leave? I wistfully looked at the train timetable at the slow trains heading further south…
Image: SUPPLEMENTO AL DIZIONARIO ITALIANO by Bruno Munari
If you have friends who say Italian wine is confusing, then take them to this wine bar in Trastevere in Rome.
The wines on the blackboard called me in from the street with a listing as colourful and clear as notes on a children’s toy xylophone.
In principle, the best wine bars have a sense of non-fussiness. That is why Ferrara is an incredible feat: Italy is a country where nearly everybody is a fussy oenophile. Oh yes, everyone is an expert; but perhaps Italians truly need to be with 1000s of grape varieties and so many excellent regions to choose from. Regardless, this tiny wine bar was not a bad compromise between wines that are accessible and interesting.
Imagine the bubbles of Franciacorta are not spherical but square and you’ll have the true idea of Italy’s premier sparkling wine.
This is one of the most disciplined DOCG regions in the North of Italy, between Milan and Venice, and has a super-commitment to quality that is almost frightening if you expect Italy to be a fun Read more
A properly romantic wine has a sense of adventure. Sara Carbone’s wines from Mount Vulture in Basilicata, Southern Italy bring to mind the line from Descartes about travelling that it “is like talking to men from other centuries.” Not only are her Aglianico del Vulture and Fiano complex and interesting wines in themselves but they are also a journey through Southern Italian history.
The Fiano label (left) tells a love story: Emperor Federick II’s castle for his lover was in the town of Melfi in Basilicata. He was the ruler of Sicily and Southern Italy and the monarchy lasted well into the 18th Century. During the time under the monarchy, Naples was the third largest city in Europe after London and Paris.
Over the past 10 years, winemakers have started to reclaim the wealth of the noble varieties of Fiano and Aglianico found in Basilicata. On the dormant volcano slopes, only 100% Aglianico grapes are permitted in the wine. Sara Carbone is a young winemaker whose family once sold their grapes to the most regarded winemaker in the region, Paternoster, and since 2005, bottles the wine under her own label.
Why? I keep asking myself, Why?
I am seeing the news coming in from the Brunello Consorzio and it is exasperating! Why this constant push by the Consorzio to change the Rosso di Montalcino blend when most producers have clearly said no. Why is the decision that was scuppered in February back on the agenda in the first weeks of September, during vintage?
When the Brunello Consorzio reconvene again, during stressful vintage time (Sept 7), they will be there to talk about changing the laws for Rosso di Montalcino to include international varieties.
Why change a clear and unique product, from one tiny town in Tuscany, to make it more generic?
What is tabled by the Consorzio are two or three different versions of Rosso di Montalcino which will all have different names: Rosso di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese and Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese Superiore. In other words, there is a move towards segmentation in this one little wine, which in layman’s terms, is a baby Brunello.
“She’s angry with us for dissing Prosecco – every girls favourite fizz!”*
Sure. Prosecco is for girls. Just like My Little P ony and the colour pink. Peaches are girly and how much do you love those peachy, soft bubbles? It’s not as expensive as Champagne but it sure does look like it!!!** Get him to pick out a DOCG Conegliano, Valdobbiadene*** (under £15 a bottle) if he won’t give you the credit card after all those shoes you bought, oops! Because girls you’re worth it. And if he wants a glass there’s always the top Prosecco from Cartizze*** – powerful, strong, some would even say, masculine – but let’s not go there, girlfriend.
There are so many different and beautiful wines in Italy, blink and you could miss one.
This is what happened to me recently after a spate of Italian tastings in London.
It wasn’t until I looked back over my notes, I started to see a pattern emerging: 100% Lagrein.
A red wine from Alto Adige, an area up in the Italo-Swiss border, which in my mind, is associated with super-Alpine-bright white wines and Pinot Nero. Yet this peculiar red wine came up winning in tastings time and again. Why?
This is a convergence of two style popular at the moment: one style is about powerful, heavy reds and the other is the mineral, lean style. What is different about Lagrein is the two styles do not fight but, instead, meet in the middle for a big, friendly, delicious hug! The Lagrein grape is genetically related to Teroldego, Syrah and Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero). There is a look and perfume of a big wine but there is a leanness on the palate, especially if the tannins and structure are there. What about the actual wines? Read More
Chianti Classico is a funhouse of mirrors where Sangiovese enters different rooms and finds certain flavours are emphasized and others shrunk until there is a confusion about where you are and what you are supposed to be tasting. Someone cries, “Get me out of here!” and you rush back out, full of adrenaline, back into the big wine circus.
Then you find Castello della Paneretta: Chianti Classico clearly mirrored by Sangiovese brilliance.
The only surprise is it never shouts about the fact it shares the same small valley as Paolo di Marchi’s Isole e Olena, a place well-known for Sangiovese radiance. This is the same area in Chianti Classico where Paolo di Marchi went on his adventure with international varieties and hurriedly came home to Sangiovese.
No, this wine is reassuringly unsurprising. Both Castello di Paneretta and Isole e Olena share the same iron kiss, prosciutto taste and cinnamon tannins. The 90% Sangiovese Castello di Paneretta is a humble wine – too humble, in fact; you may even miss it on the shelf – yet has a light-weight confidence which makes it a benchmark, value Chianti Classico at under £15.
Sangiovese lovers in the Chianti Funhouse: this mirror is the real one.
Image: Beth Hoeckel
Just as folk music gets louder and more fun as the evening progresses, Valpolicella goes up in different levels of intensity and is often all the better for it.
Understanding these different levels of Valpolicella opens up a world of drinking pleasure.
But it is not always easy.
There are traditional producers and modern producers, seriously bulk wines from this nerve centre of Italian economy alongside artisanal winemakers in the hills; on top of that there are winemaking techniques unique to this region.
Valpolicella has always been about innovation, since Roman times, so you’d be forgiven for not keeping up. Read More
The Super-Tuscan Snafu: Considering James Suckling’s list of Top 12 Tuscan wines from over 10 years ago.
When learning Italian, I have been told many times the most beautiful accent to learn is from Siena in Tuscany because Tuscans are the poets of Italy.
The language of wine in Tuscany is also very rich, with a long tradition of culture and history with interesting local idiosyncrasies, yet the recent past, dominated by James Suckling, Wine Spectator and their lists of Super-Tuscans, has left many in Tuscany not singing but mumbling.
Before I go any further, let’s get this out of the way. James Suckling was not the person to coin the word “Super-Tuscan”. It was used in a book co-authored by Nicholas Belfrage and Jancis Robinson called “Life beyond Lambrusco” (1985). It’s a common misconception in the wine trade, perhaps driven by James Suckling’s enthusiasm of Super-Tuscans during his time at Wine Spectator.
On his website, Suckling recently published his 12 Most Collectible Tuscan Wines from over ten years ago (Question: How many of these wines are NOT made from “international” varieties? Answer at the end of this post ):
Don’t tell me this is a Pinot Grigio. Apart from just learning the Collio region has recently been wiped out by violent storms; this wine is proof that we have accepted a feeble lie about the Pinot Grigio grape for far too long. This is the real deal. From the North-East of Italy, on the border of Slovenia in Friuli- Venezia Giulia, it is full of intense flavours and texture: maybe even too much for some used to the commercial, watery stuff. Ginger is a strong taste and it gives an almost hot, spiciness to this wine, but it is swiftly balanced by a soft creamy almond and pear character. And then the grippy texture grabs you back to the glass. It is more expensive than the average Pinot Grigio, but unlike most sad excuses for white wine, this actually tastes of something and somewhere. I hope Branko’s vineyards are okay, nearly 300 ha in Collio were wiped out last week, with many vineyards devastated by up to 80-100%. Best wishes to everyone in Collio.
Tasted at Vagabond Wines, 18-22 Vanston Place, London SW6 1AX, £17.95
It is not often you find a wine with a sense of humour, but this lightly sparkling, lightly sweet wine is the vinous equivalent of being overpowered by tickling. Logic says, don’t give in, but the frizzante, well – it is hardly bubbles, and 5.5% alcohol is hardly wine, and it is as sweet and light as a hazelnut meringue or biting into a fresh mille-feuille pastry on a first time visit to Paris. Something monumental is born from the entirely fun and frivolous. Oscar Wilde once said, “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”, and most times I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, which is why Moscato d’Asti is the perfect antidote for lazy Sunday breakfasts.
“You are not “suave” as your name implies, you are uncontrollable, untameable, unfaithful. So that’s it. I’m going. I’m leaving you, and this letter tells you why… It is easy to understand that hillside viniculture is potentially very different indeed from the viniculture of the plains. Unfortunately, the market mistakes one for the other: the bad vine chases the good vine away!”
Roberto Anselmi. From an open letter to the industry announcing his “divorce” from Soave Consorzio. 2000.
Driving along the freeway in the Veneto to visit Anselmi in Monteforte d’Alpone, our little hire car barely dodged the hurtling industrial trucks. It is immediately apparent the Veneto is a major industrial centre in Italy, jostling with Sicily for top place in Italy for production of bulk wine. Even if the green hillsides beyond the freeway are dotted with ancient castles.
Imagine Roberto Anselmi on his motorbike weaving through these trucks (or by-passing it completely in his helicopter!) and you have a good idea of how different the wines of Anselmi are to the rest of the region. Read More
Rumours from the hills of Montalcino today is Colle Massari is acquiring Piero Palmucci’s Poggio di Sotto. An elderly gentleman with no offspring interested in taking over the vineyard, it could soon be in the hands of Claudio Tipa, winemakers from Maremma, part of the family who are also patrons of Alinghi team in the America’s Cup.
The tiny 8ha of vineyard (12 ha in total) produce some of the most mystical and benchmark expressions of Brunello in Montalcino. To say this a favourite wine of mine is an understatement. Not only is the flavour burned in my memory as perfect expression of Sangiovese in Montalcino, and I use it as a complete reference point, but it was also Read More
Parma is VIOLETS. Aged hams, dark chocolate, profumo, the fizz of Lambrusco.
Violets became popular under Maria-Luiga, the Duchess of Parma and second wife of Napoleon, whose presence can be felt everywhere walking along the prosciutto-coloured streets.
The smell of violet has three distinct parts: candy-sweet, violet flower and violet leaf. In my opinion, this can be seen as the spectrum of quality of Lambrusco. The worst being confectionary and the best redolent of violet leaf. A good, refreshing Lambrusco has a violet leaf dryness with a violet fizz that immediately dissipates into an ecstasy of violet perfume.
After my last post, I had some rather strong reactions to my assertion there could even be a possibility of quality Lambrusco. Think of it this way. Rose was also once considered a sweet and cheap drink. Look at it today. Over the past 10 years it has become one of the most versatile and food-friendly wines on the menu.
What do you think? Can you recommend anything good? Or is Lambrusco a hopeless case?
Emilia-Romagna is strange. The train departure board could be a poster announcing a stadium tour of gastronomic rockstars – Parma, Bologna, Modena – and yet… as far as wine goes, the region is mostly known for its sweet fizzy Lambrusco.
It may surprise you to know, the most radical group of architects in the late 1960s came from the Duomo-dominated horizon of Florence. Calling themselves Superstudio, they critiqued the dominant idea that architecture is a benevelont force in society and questioned the impact of built environments on politics. Radical at the time, with their surreal landscapes and montages, now their concerns are considered core ideas for many architects today.
I was thinking about this as I had the disorientating experience of tasting a distinctly low-resolution Nebbiolo from the Alpine region of Valtellina in an ultra-modern space outfitted by designer Phillipe Starck. It made me wonder: Does where you taste a wine affect the taste?
If that is the case, then this rustic Nebbiolo did not stand a chance. Read More
When one of the oldest Barolo house changes guard, it is worth sitting up and taking notice. Cantina Giacomo Conterno is a great name in Barolo wines and was established in 1908. With the passing away of the formidable Giovanni Conterno in 2004, his son Roberto took the helm. There have been a few changes since then, which is why I was pleased to have an informal dinner at Zucca Restaurant in London to taste the latest releases. Read More