South Italy

2014 Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé at The Modern Pantry, London


A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to have lunch with José Rallo, owner of the Sicilian winery, Donnafugata at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.

We finished with one of the “grandi vini” of Italy: their sweet Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé and a dessert of popcorn pannacotta with brown bread ice cream and a miso and orange caramel.

Wonderfully done, I loved the touch of wild fennel in the flower arrangement – this is a herb found by the sides of the road in Sicily, so very happy to see it in London (having just been in Marsala a few weeks ago). Also, the impromptu singing of Brazilian tunes by José. There is no better way to describe the wines than through song.

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Pure Pleasure State: Vermentino! (Amore, Amore, Amore)

The state of Vermentino is pure pleasure. So I raised my eyebrows to the challenge to show there were different styles of the vermentino grape. To me it is obvious: all vermentino seems to show a wave of glamourous flavour which ends in a quiet shhhh of reaching the shore. Whether the Vermentino is from Liguria, Tuscany, Sardinia or the emerging areas in Australia. But there are differences.  Read More »

New Italian wines at The Wine Society: bella figura!

The concept of ‘bella figura’ or good image is important to Italians. Bella figura is more than dressing well. It extends to the aura you project too – i.e. confidence, style, demeanour, etc. (From Italy – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette)

The Wine Society UK has found its Members wines that not only speak of the place but also have an extra flourish of bella figura. You’ll find nearly all of The Wine Society’s Italian wines for Spring have personality and speak of its place and history; in particular, the white wines. At these prices, and in these quantities, that is quite an achievement. Here is the line up for Spring:  Read More »

The Best (Easy) Map of Italian Wine Regions and Varieties

If you love maps, you’ll find Italian wine a never-ending cartographical adventure. Next to actually visiting the region (and, of course, enjoying the wine) a map of Italy is one of the best ways to understand this complex wine country.

Here is one of the best maps I have found, also outlining the major grape varieties, although remember there are over 2000 grape varieties in Italy. It is very similar to the map found in the excellent reference book, Vino Italiano: Regional Wines of Italy by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch (2005, USA).




Take a bite: Aglianico del Vulture DOC

Aglianico del Vulture dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2007

The first taste of Aglianico is like a volcanic eruption in rewind: a hundred blasts, shreds of mineral rock followed by a fierce lava cooling down into black smoke puffing back into the top of the mountain, overgrown with herbs, cool as graphite and purring, velvet and deep, as if nothing had happened. The consensus amongst wine lovers is that Aglianico is due for a spectacular resurge any day now. There are two major Aglianico styles in the South of Italy, Tuarasi DOCG and Aglianico del Vulture DOC (why this is not a DOCG is one of those cruel twists of Italian law^) a 100% Aglianico style grown on the side of the volcano, Mount Vulture. At the core of the wine is a complex profile of black fruit, licorice, firm tannins and good acidity with a perfume of violet, sour cherry and leather. The vineyards are high on the mountain which gives the wine an uplifting freshness. The large personality reminds me of a Barossa Shiraz or Californian Zinfandel, but instead of sinking into DEPTHS of sometime syrup, this wine becomes all about HEIGHT: the unique mineral effect lifts the fruit up so there is a space underneath as if jumping from a high diving board for a few seconds before reaching the water. Remember this is an Italian wine, so it’s all about leaving space for the food: big flavours such as salami and smoky scarmorza mozzarella.

Feudi di San Gregorio wines are made by the well-respected Italian enologist Riccardo Cotarella* who is a master of the Aglianico grape in South Italy. Aglianico del Vulture DOC is in Basilicata, an ancient, small, agricultural region of Italy and struggles with the infrastructure needed to distribute their wines well, so even though they are excellent value, they are not seen on the shelves enough for lovers of full-bodied, long-lasting, volcanic Italian reds.

Stay tuned for the video!

Image: Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassell

Link More about Feudi di San Gregorio

^There are plans to change from DOC to DOCG for 2010 vintage

*See comments below

Last of the True Romantics: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC

Often my friend from Rome, perhaps while we are walking down the street to the supermarket on a grey Saturday morning, will abruptly stop, hold his hand over his heart, grab my elbow to jolt me back and say with eyes wide open in shock, “Did you see THAT? That’s IT! I AM IN LOVE!” Meanwhile, of course, his love walks by completely unaware of the near cardiac arrest just caused. To be honest, I often don’t see what all the fuss is about, but for a moment, at least, the day seems just a little brighter for it.
I have to be careful when we are tasting wine together. His sensitivity to beautiful things means he is often in raptures. That’s why, to tone down his enthusiasm about the good wine we tried from the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC in Campania, I started to talk about rocks and soil types in vineyards.
In particular, the soil type of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio – near the volcano Mount Vesuvius – which can often be found in most houses on the shelf next to the bathtub: pumice.
As much as I LOVE wines from volcanic regions, the pumice in the bathroom is the closest I have ever got to a real volcano. Stay with me! To understand the pumice soil of Lacryma Christi is to understand the taste of the wine. Like pumice, the wine has a porous, light quality to it, which keeps the fruit in check throughout an entire three-course meal. Whereas some non-volcanic wines from hotter climates can have slightly syrupy or baked characters (with the sun creating ripe fruit with high alcohol) which becomes too much after one glass, especially with a heavy pasta. It could be said it’s the difference in weight between an Aero bar and a plain bar of milk chocolate.
The ornate name, Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ) del Vesuvio leads you to expect tears of hot, lava flowing with an opening blast of heat, followed by slow and heavy molten lava fruit. And that’s what you don’t get. To be fair, the lightness is not worse for it. Not at all. It is light as the feeling of joy is light. This is a wine that would be more than perfect in a little Italian restaurant with red and white checked tablecloths. It is highly romantic and yet modest, and it does what most good Italian wines do – it leaves space for food and a good story. It doesn’t quite pass by unnoticed and it is not quite as simple as a – ciao bello! SMACK! – but certainly makes the evening a little brighter for it.
Image: Sophia Loren 1961 on the Amalfi Coast, Life Magazine

Salice Salentino Riserva 2005

Last night I tasted the Salice Salentino 2005 Riserva by the Candido family in Puglia. Salice Salentino is the name of a style of wine made from the Italian grape, Negroamaro, found on the Salentino plain located in Puglia, the heel of the “boot” of Italy.

As Nabokov puts it, “This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling…”

Salice Salentino by Candido has an acidity like a table made only of neon light: the edges are the fluorescent bright taste of redcurrant and bilberry. The acidity frames a space filled with a perfume of prune, mushrooms and dry raspberry (must remember, real raspberries taste dry). It is a brick red with orange glints. But this is where the limit of description ends and where the music begins.

Alongside the wine we enjoyed the local cheese from Puglia, scamorza (a smoky, hard mozzarella). The smokiness of the cheese became the bottom note completing the earth-fruit in the wine, pulling together the flavours and perfume notes into one perfect chord so satisfying you forget all the hours spent practicing scales and learning facts.

And what are those facts? The name of an Italian wine is often the wine style made synonymous with a region rather than the name of the grape (Barolo, Nebbiolo; Frascati, Trebbiano and Malvasia; Valpolicella, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara; and, so on). At first, the acidity may give the taste-appearance of emptiness on the palate but Italian wine is completed by food, and once opened, it is impossible to find the table empty for long.

Salice Salentino Riserva 2005, Candido bought at £11.95 Harrods

Laughter in the Dark, Nabokov, 1938.

Sicilian, Sartorial, Sensual: Planeta Dinner, W1

Sitting at dinner with Francesca Planeta, it did not surprise me when she told me her wine had run out at Milan Fashion Week. I know from experience, these wines are seriously loved by my friends in the fashion industry. But what does come as a surprise is to learn Planeta has only been making wines in Sicily since 1985.

Think Italy and wine: what comes to mind is old estates with centuries of history. Then there’s Sicily… dormant for the past 4000 years, it has recently become a hotbed of wine innovation.

The world’s love affair with Planeta started with their Chardonnay. We tasted the 2000 vintage and I was instantly back in the 1990s: poured from a double magnum, it’s a full-bodied Chardonnay with prominent oak, a style which has now fallen out of fashion somewhat. But that was then: this is now. Contrast the latest 2009 Cometa Fiano. It’s a cutting-edge style of fabulous pure fruit expression from this grape from Campania which, had a consultant exclaim on first tasting, “When a wine comes out like this, it’s indigenous in itself.”

This is a statement you’re more likely to hear in the New World than the Old World. In many respects, Planeta is NEW Old World. Constantly evolving and moving, Planeta has had the freedom to experiment in Sicily, experimenting with international varieties such as Chardonnay and Syrah. However, for me, it is Planeta’s experiments with local Sicilian varieties where things become exciting. The Carricante from the Mount Etna region, released in small, experimental-level quantities, is delicate and mineral enough to be an aperitif, a taste unlike any other wine.

The flagship wine, Santa Cecilia, is truly a thrilling wine made from the native Nero d’Avola. Francesca admits this wine had a few false starts; it wasn’t until 2005 after a few bad vintages that the Planeta family felt happy about releasing it. There’s A LOT to be happy about it now: this is the best Nero d’Avola I have ever tasted, a languid glass of dark-liquid jewels in dark fruits and licorice.

As I walked out of the gold room of Hush Restaurant into New Bond Street in the gloomy rain, I walked past the glossy windows of Dolce & Gabbana (their 2010 season of lace dresses inspiring my original post). Planeta did not hit on a winning formula and become complacent with their success: it is a winery constantly evolving and moving, much like fashion, reinventing new rules every vintage. It could equally be said about Planeta wines, as Stefano Gabbana said about fashion, “It’s about redesigning a point of view… molto sexy.

Thank you to the team at Enotria UK for making this possible and the wonderful hopitality of the staff at Hush Restaurant, W1.

Image: Editor-at-Large of Japanese Vogue, Anna Dello Russo’s own photo from Balmain show in the rain at last week’s Milan Fashion week.

Title of post: Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce describing the inspiration for their 2010 Menswear collection.

Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song