FEBRUARY 2011

February 28 Soave Blog – the Grand Opening
I am doing a weekly blog in English for the Soave Consorzio – and today is its official start. More news as it develops.

February 27 Hooray for Bordeaux
Matteo comes over, bringing with him a bottle of 2006 Chateau L’Ermitage Listrac-Medoc. I am helping Matteo prepare for his Wine and Spirit Educational Trust exams, which he will take in Madrid in April.

Part of the exam is – of course – tasting. I have taught wine tasting in New York, London and Italy, and I studied blind tasting for 3 years with Maggie McNie, M.W., when I lived in London. I am a good tasting teacher, if I do say so myself.

The wine is fresh, fruity and appealing. After the lesson, we drink it with a mushroom casserole (in which I have daringly added a couple of spoonfuls of pear mostardo (a kind of Italian chutney). Very nice wine.

February 25 Heat may be on its way, let’s celebrate!
We have just heard that the heating-man will come on Tuesday to put in a new boiler. Nearly a week with no heat and no hot water has taken its toll on my soul. (Thank goodness for Joyce, who lets us come to her house to bathe!)
I open a bottle of Villa Bucci Riserva 2007 (Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi). We drank the 2009 vintage when Marco (the handyman) and Aldo (his electrician buddy) came round.

Villa Bucci Riserva Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2007: a rich straw, with golden highlights. On the nose there is the dusky scent of dried elderflowers surrounded by sprightly acidity. On the palate there is richness – an elegant yet knubbly texture (like raw silk). Flavors: shades of apricot and greengage plums, shot through with a zesty minerality. Long finish. Very satisfying wine. Thank you, Mr. Bucci, for making this wine.

February 22 Calamity upon Calamity
Just before we set off for Emilia Romagna our hot water heater died. I asked Marco, the handyman, to come round and see what he could do to fix it. He said: “Turn it off now! It is a time bomb. Do you want to die?”

Well, we returned from Emilia to find that the electricity for our oven no longer worked. I decided to fix it myself. This was a big mistake. I pulled out not only the plug but all the wiring that should be in the wall. I was able to do this because the original wiring had been done by – I don’t want to speak badly of chimpanzees here -but creatures who clearly had not gone to electricians’ school. I called Marco once again. Bless him. He and his electrician buddy, Aldo, came by on their lunch hour and sorted things out. They declined my offer of payment but not my offer of a glass of wine. The only white I had to hand (Marco prefers white) was a Villa Bucci 2009 Verdicchio. Bucci’s Verdicchio has won the Gambero Rosso 3-Glass award (their highest accolade) several times. It managed to please not only wine judges but also the palates of Marco and Aldo. When I said the names Bucci and Verdicchio, Marco immediately said: “Jesi”. Wow: A handyman who knows his wines. Am I lucky or what?

2009 Villa Bucci Verdicchio: the wine has a wonderful texture on the palate. The perfumes are of elderflowers and fresh butter. The palate is mouth-filling and an intriguing mineral wave undulates its way through the flavor.

The electrician and Marco were happy to accept another glass, as was I. Our apartment is in the most beautiful street in Verona’s centro storico, we have two balconies but – call me bourgeois – I have reached a point in life where I want an apartment where the electricity and heating work!

February 21 Tasting at the International Museum of Ceramics (MIC) in Faenza
Conversations over-heard on the bus ride to the hilltop town of Dozza:
“I have over one hundred and sixty thousand wine labels in my collection. This is interesting, no?”

Gentle Reader, let us silently answer that question and then move on.

A Polish journalist comes out of the hotel complaining about service.
“I’m going to destroy that hotel,” he says.
“Physically or psychologically?” asks a witty Swede.

We get out of the bus, march up a hill and enter a stunning fortress. We sit and listen to statistics and good natured – if vague – remarks about the Sangiovese di Romagna D.O.C., we taste three wines and then head back to the bus and back to the town of Faenza.

The ceramics museum is one of the best tasting venues I have ever experienced: bright natural light, tables arranged for the easy flow of traffic – plus the opportunity to see some exceptional ceramic and pottery displays.

I spot Enrico Drei Dona and ask him about the 2010 vintage.

“It was one of those years in which experience in the vineyard shows,” he says. He goes on: “For the last three years we have done satellite scans of our vineyards. In this way we can follow the temperature and ripening of every two meter area. The scans are practically a map of every plant. It’s an intelligent use of technology.”

Here are the wines at the tasting that I found interesting, in order of my tasting them.
Podere Morini Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva “Nonno Rico” 2008 The wood tannins are pronounced but the fruit is big enough to handle them. The owner thinks the wine will last for another 8 to 10 years.
Ferrucci Sangiovese di Romagna 2009 Fresh berry fruit, pleasing. All the wines in this producer’s range had an attractive, fruit-driven style.

Calonga Sangiovese di Romagna “Bruno” 2009 (a cru of 40 year old vines.) Nice, pleasing, firm.

Drei Dona Sangiovese di Romagna “Notturno” 2009 Satisfying fruit, soft yet firm; by that I mean the fruit caresses the palate. It retails for around 7.80 euros in a shop. Good value for money.

“Seductive fruit,” says Michael.

Drei Dona Sangiovese di Romagna “Pruno” 2007 Soft, full fruit (raspberry, ripe cherry an undertow of blueberry), uplifting. On the palate a wonderful fabric of fruit flavors (those mentioned above) plus a frisson of acidity. A lively, long finish.

Big News, I have added another winery to my list of favorites in this zone: Giovanna Madonia, Cantina di Bertinoro.
G. Madonia Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore “Fermavento” 2009 Good fruit, nice vibration of acidity. Satisfying. Frankly, the word “satisfying” has become my highest accolade. This wine retails for around 12 euros in local shops.

G. Madonia Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2007 “Ombroso” Exceptional. Very pleasing. It retails for around 20 euros in shops. I want to try these wines again. I will seek them out during Vinitaly and will write complete notes on them at that time.

Zerbina Sangiovese di Romagna Ceregio 2009 Soft, diffused color. Fresh. Rich, ripe cherries, with a sensation of an amalgam of raspberries and blackberries and plums. It retails in Italy for between 5 and 6 Euros. Great value for money.

Zerbina 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna “Torre di Ceparano”. Firm tannins shape the fresh, attractive fruit. Long finish. All of a piece, from nose to finish. It retails in Italy for around 12 Euros.

Zerbina Sangiovese di Romagna “Pietramora” 2007 Dark, ripe plums buoyed by sprightly acidity. Firm, pleasing flavors from start to finish.

February 20 Off for our annual appointment in Emilia-Romagna
Every February we go to Faenza in Emilia Romagna for the Sangiovese Anteprima tasting. In the past it has been an intimate affair, mostly Italian journalists, and a very interesting experience. (For views of other Sangiovese Anteprima tastings, see previous February diaries). This year the event was a tad more ambitious and included a busload of foreign journalists and a field trip to the pretty town of Dozza, where we listened to thirty minutes of statistics.

Let me begin by saying that 2010 was a difficult vintage. If you take a swing by my notes on 2009 and 2008 you will find me waxing ecstatic over the depth of fruit and the richness of flavors. With 2010 the quality of the wine really depends entirely on the skill (and good fortune) of the producer. I tasted some bright, fruity wines and also wines that were dilute and unbalanced.

Here are the wines from the 2010 barrel sample tasting that I found particularly good.
Drei Dona 2010 Sangiovese di Romagna DOC Superiore Riserva “Pruno” Color: near opaque, dark purple sheen over a blue/ruby center. Decided tannins. An attractive nose – bright and fruity (red and black berries). It lacks the depth that it has shown in other vintages (but then all the wines do. Nonetheless, it manages to give a pleasing sensation that bodes well for its future.) On the palate the pleasing, vibrant fruit (again red and black berries) unfolds elegantly. Possibly the best of the nine wines in the tasting.

Zerbina 2010 Sangiovese di Romagna DOC Superiore Riserva “Pietramora” Color: vibrant, deep fuchsia sheen over deep ruby. On the nose: warm strawberry/ bramble fruit spun through with mandarin acidity. On the palate: the impression of fruit remains firm and broadens, taking on a vaguely blackberry note.

Dinner at Ristorante S. Domenico in Imola. As always the food and service were superb. (For a complete dissection of the splendid menu and a view of the peculiar eating habits of journalists see previous February diaries.)

Davide O. is also at the tasting. I last met him at the Chianti Rufina event in Florence. At that time he asked me to send him a copy of Bacchus at Baker Street (a book I wrote about all the wines and spirits mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories) because he wanted to do a podcast and radio interview with me about it. The Bacchus book came into the conversation because Davide has a pash for the James Bond books and has written about the Champagnes chosen for the books and for the movies. Like every wine buff he has noted all the errors the films make with vintages! He, as did I, began reading the Sherlock Holmes stories at the age of twelve and we both started on James Bond not long after. I must mail him a copy of the book…what fun… a podcast.

February 16 I am in a taster’s thoughts
Michael called me from the other room. “Come look at this email I just received from Lorenzo Zonin,” he said. In it Lorenzo said that he had been browsing through Kyle Phillips’ website, italianwinereview.com and came across the following note:

“The wine is from an 80 year-old vineyard that yields about a thousand bottles per year. Impenetrable pyrope with black cherry rim. The bouquet is intense, with plum fruit supported by alcohol and greenish spice laced with hot iron and jammy sweet accents. I can almost hear Patricia Guy saying “the real deal.””

Kyle and I have tasted together on many occasions and in many regions over the years. One memorable time in Puglia he leaned across the table and said to me: “How much will you pay me not to publish the fact that you say ‘wowie zowie’ when you taste a wine you really like?”

February 15 Another day, another tidying project.
I decide to tidy up the bookcases and box up the books I can bear to part with. After hours of sorting – I love books and own a ton of them – I decided to crack open another bottle that had been hiding on the bottom shelf of the wine tower. This one Agostino Vicentini’s Valpolicella Superiore 2007. It is still fresh and satisfying, with a slight wave of overripe cherries on the palate. We drink it with spaghetti in a sauce made from sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and onions.

Vicentini is known for its top quality Soaves but their Valpolicella is always exceptionally well made too. They also produce cherries. At picking time we often go out to their orchards with the Ugo-naughts (our pal Ugo’s family) – a splendid outing. We eat cherries by the handful for days. If anyone within the sound of my voice has an interesting cherry recipe, feel free to email me. No pies need apply.

February 11th A day to celebrate – just because
I start cleaning out the cupboards and closets and I find three bottles of 1998 Zamuner Brut Rose on the bottom rung of our wine tower. I love this wine. So to celebrate having dealt with the debris in the closets, I open a bottle.

The wine is fresh and inviting on the nose. It is rich, satisfying, fresh and lively. A description of flavor? Like all wines with a bit of age, the fruit flavors are not easily categorized. It is a pleasing amalgam of “ideas” of raspberries and “ideas” of strawberries. Well-made wines really do morph into something that is more than the sum of their parts as they mature.
I have always had a pash for mature Champagne and Champagne-method sparkling wines. Their texture changes into something more viscous and I love the evocative character of their fragrances.

February 10th A visit to Zanoni
Annalisa, our friend who owns the Osteria Carroarmato (and who was a witness at our wedding), picks us up and we set off for Zanoni (email: pietrozanoni@libero.it). Annalisa serves his Valpolicella in her osteria and is very keen on it.

The winery is spotless and the drying lofts are particularly well placed. A steady breeze sweeps across the room, allowing the grapes to dry naturally.

We go to the cellar to taste from the barrel.
2010 – a blend of fresh grapes and slightly passito grapes. Rich, fuchsia/purple sheen over ruby. Fresh clean, juicy fruit.
2010 – the grapes were dried for one month before pressing. A fresh minerality. A vibration of tannin. An undertow of salinity and a creamy texture.

“Every barrique has its own story,” says Piero Zanoni.

After the wines have undergone malolactic fermentation, Piero will blend them to create his Valplicella Superiore.

2010 Amarone Barrel Sample: lively sheen over opaque deep ruby. An interesting amalgam of tart fruit and minerals. Full nose.

“This is one of my first experiments with Oseleta,” says Piero. This wine will be blended with the wine in other barrels when the time is right.”

I wrote in my book, Wines of Italy: “Oseleta is a rare and precious gem. It has everything: excellent structure, full flavor and silky elegance. Yet it was one the verge of extinction in the early 1979s. Why? Because in those days in its home ground, the Veneto’s Valpolicella zone, the emphasis was on quantity and Oseleta is a notoriously low yielder. Fortunately the grape was rescued by enlightened viticulturists in the province of Verona.”

We go to the tasting room to sample wines that are already bottled and on the market.
2009 Valpolicella. A soft consistent ruby color. An old-fashioned nose – and this is a compliment! It reminds me of real Valpolicella before the fashion of making Valpolicella into “mini-Amarone”. Lovely, fresh, forward nose. A bright cherry juiciness.

“Some producers treat Valpolicella as if it were a useless younger son. But we take pride in our Valpolicella. This is the type of wine that made our zone important,” says Piero.

“These wines can also age if they are from a good year. The 2007 is drinking well now,” he adds.

“Then let’s try it,” says Annalisa.

While we wait for Piero to return, Annalisa says: “I’ve found good straightforward Valpolicella has the capacity to age well. It is drinkable and enjoyable in youth but it offers good drinking even after up to seven years.”

2007 Valpolicella. Elegant color turning toward ripe plum. Silky texture – all of a piece from the gently elegant nose through to the finish. Tightly-knit fruit. A refreshing compressed fruit on the nose.
With age, Valpolicella loses its cherry fruit flavor and heads toward an amalgam of very ripe cherries and plums.

2007 Valpolicella Superiore A consistent bruised cherry/ruby color. Lovely soft plummy fruit buoyed by sprightly acidity.

“I don’t do ripasso because I don’t believe in the technique,” says Piero. “My mania is to always look for a fresh inviting perfume.”

2006 Amarone A sprinkling of bright spice over velvety fruit on the nose. A very pleasing vibration of fruit on the longish finish.

2004 Amarone A lovely plum sheen. Fresh youthful nose. Very tight weave. The “fruit” flavors (plum, ripe cherries) blend into one harmonious whole.

The primary grape varieties used in Valpolicella are Corvina and Corvinone.
My identifier for Corvinone has always been dark plums – both in color and flavor.
My Corvina identifier is cherries.

January 2011 Diary

JANUARY 2011
First things first: Michelle Lovric’s book The Mourning Emporium has come out in an Italian edition. The U.K. Publisher has made a trailer for her books The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium. To see it, click here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4_nYiYVMa8

January 29 The Annual Amarone tasting.
(For notes on other annual Amarone tastings, just whiz down to the January slot of previous years. To read my notes from an interesting tasting of older Amarone vintage that I conducted, go to the November 2010 diary. For more on the background of Amarone go to the Wine & Dine section of this website.)

All the Amarones below are from the 2007 vintage.

Accordini, Stefano “Acinatico” Opaque blue-black center with a rich ruby sheen. On the nose: bright with a creamy undertow. On the palate, the wine has a sprightly acidity that buoys a broad, precise ribbon of cherry fruit. Clean, fruit-filled finish. The wine is already on the market.

Antolini, Pierpaolo & Stefano Diffused black-cherry color. A green note on the palate. Very silky texture. A salinity. Compressed elegance. It still needs time in order to show at its best. (A note on the 2006 Antolini can be found in the November diary).

Monte Faustino di Paolo Fornaser Deep color. Fresh cherries with a light, fresh infusion of tobacco. Very spicy, warm fruit. Well-knit. I detect a note of crabapple syrup. It will be released onto the market in two years.

Monte del Fra (from a barrel sample). I will have to try this in a year to understand how it will develop. It will be released on the market in two years.

Guerrieri Rizzardi (barrel sample) Opaque, Freshness emerges from the glass like a spring breeze. Compact fruit. It will be released on the market in two years.

Roccolo Grassi Opague. Wood hits me in the throat now, but the fruit underneath his full and supple. It will be released onto the market in November of this year.

“It is best to drink our Amarone after ten years,” says Marco Sartori, co-owner and winemaker at the estate.

Venturini, Massimino & Figli Classico: Opaque blue-black center with ruby sheen. The scent of ripe cherries immediately emerges from the glass. The wine has undergone appassimento for 4 months will be released in September 2012.

Venturini, Massimino & Figli Classico “Campomassa” Very full, round and rich. A lovely cushion of warm fruit that compresses into a firm, light line on the finish. The wine has undergone 5 months appassimento and will be released on the market in September 2012.

Speri: Opaque. Fine. Linear. Satisfying. Nice to consider because its production is 100,000 bottles yet it gives cherry flavor and all the characteristics of an Amarone. (Many of the previous Amarones have a production of around 8,000 bottles.)

Tedeschi. Compressed cherry fruit. Sleek. Will be released onto the market in June.

Tenuta San’Antonio “Campo del Gigli” Appealing cherry fruit, compact. A rod of spicy infused cherry that stays firm from first impact through the lingering finish.

“We are moving toward a more elegant style,” says Armando Castagnedi. “We are looking for complexity and freshness.”
The wine will be released in September of 2012.

“Right now we are on the market with the 2005 vintage,” says Armando.

Pasqua Cecilia Beretta “Terre di Cariano” Firm, cherry fruit. Concentrated, a bright burst of acidity, a satisfying fruit-filled finish.

For a note on Pasqua’s Cecilia Beretta Amarone della Valpolicella “Terre di Cariano from the 1998 vintage, see the November 2010 Diary.

I tasted several other interesting Amarones and will write more fully about them in the coming months.

At the tasting we see our friend Tiziana. She has invited us to her new house in Valpolicella for dinner.

“May I bring…..” I say.

“Your little dog Stanley. Of course,” replies Tiziana.

Actually I had been going to say. “May I bring a bottle of Villa Franciacorta?”

Thus Stanley gets the pleasure of running around Tiziana’s very atmospheric (high ceiling, stone walls, tiled-floor) dining room.

She has also made up the top floor of the house into a B&B suite: large living room with fireplace, large bedroom. For more information about renting the suite: rossoravanello@alice.it.

January 28 The Big Amarone Tasting Dinner. Venue: Ristorante ai Teatri
A four course meal, each course made by a different chef.
The Antipaso is a pate made of wild boar, venison and calves liver, with crabapple sauce and thin slices of poached walnuts. This dish is absolute perfection. The chef: Hans Peter Sander of the Ristorante Tirolerhof. For more information about his restaurant cum bed and breakfast go to: www.tirolerhof.or.at.
Throughout the meal sommeliers brought round bottles of Valpolicella and Amarone.

The only Valpolicella that moved me to take a note was the 2008 Monte Garbi from Tenuto Sant’Antonio. Rich, warm, fresh, satisfying. Very silky on the palate.

Many years ago I crashed for a few days in London on the floor of a photographer pal’s studio. At the time he was shooting what would become the packaging photo for Marks and Spencer’s pot pies. A battery of assistants spent days baking pies in three different types of ovens. The food stylist and the photographer would scrutinize each batch of pies as they emerged. On the afternoon of the third day, they finally found, what the photographer called, The Hero Pie.
Well, 2008 Monte Garbi from Tenuta Sant’Antonio was The Hero Valpolicella at the dinner.