JUNE 2013

26 June SONO SANGIOVESE DI ROMAGNA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAReaders of this diary know that I love well-made Sangiovese di Romagna. I have been following the development of this wine for two decades, and every year the number of producers who make high quality examples grows larger. And every year, my pleasure in tasting this versatile wine increases.

Sangiovese is the most widely-planted grape variety in Italy and is perhaps best known as a major component (or, in some cases, the only variety used) in a long list of famous wines, most notably Chianti and the Tuscan classics such as Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.   Like Pinot Noir it is a site-sensitive grape and for this reason the wines of Romagna stand out for me.

Along with the cherry-near-the pit fruit flavor and silky texture that distinguishes the variety, Sangioveses from Romagna have an appealing roundness and softnenss on the palate that makes them very versatile when it comes to matching them with food.  Often, when I am tasting wines, food partners for them seem to blossom in my imagination.  And with Sangiovese di Romagna I often think of (and indeed eventually serve it with) vegetarian dishes – from bean burritos to nut and lentil casseroles – as well as the more traditional partners such as pasta with meat sauce, or roast and grilled meats.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhy is Sangiovese from Romagna different from the others? The simple answer is: terroir. Romagna is separated from Tuscany by the Apennine ridge. The hills on the Romagan side are gentler and have soils rich in limestone and clay, and the climate is mitigated by soft sea breezes from the Adriatic sea.

Besides its wine, the region is perhaps best known for its seaside resorts and as the birthplace of Italy’s greatest film director Federico Fellini, and for its fine restaurants, like the world renowned San Dominico at Imola.

As I was ill this year and missed the annual tasting, Cristina of FATTORIA ZERBINA, kindly sent me cases of samples from TRE MONTI, MORONI, FERRUCI, DREI DONA and, of course, FATTORIA ZERBINA. I will taste these wines over the next few weeks.  First up:

TREMONTI 2012 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore “SONO”. It takes its name from the fact that: “SOlo produtti naturali e concimi organici ottimali. NO solfiti in cantina.  No sulfites are added in the winery.   The wine is bright ruby. The nose: fresh and filled with ripe cherry flavor. The palate follows the nose. The wine fills the mouth with round, juicy fruit.  Very satisfying and versatile.   

After tasting I drank a glass with rice and stir-fried vegetables and chicken. 

23 June SUNDAY LUNCH

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22 June BARDOLINO AND ADVENTURESSES

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI take Stanley dog to the press conference. It is held in a loggia off Piazza dei Signori.  I hear my name whispered and look up to see the former President of BOLLA (retired).  He holds up his iphone, its screen filled with a picture of his cat.   

We taste LE TENDE’s sparkling Bardolino Chiaretto”Volutta” at the aperitif.  Delightful color – women should wear this color. Its fragrance is of strawberries, with a cherry note on the nose and palate. It’s fine flavour shows through – even when drunk from a plastic glasses.   Very satisfying wine.  That’s what I am looking for these days: satisfaction.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the conference we all lunch at Café Dante.  (Stanley is fed meat under the table.) We taste Vintage, a wine produced by CANTINA CASTELNUOVO DEL GARDA.  It is a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Sangiovese and Garganega, all picked and pressed together. The label makes this a perfect wine for the ADVENTURESSES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.  For two years I have been mentioning this to the PR director of the company.  However, there are only around 8,000 bottles of it made each year, and it doesn’t go to the USA. 

At lunch I once again express the opinion that it would be an ideal wine for the Adventuresses, women who are not afraid to eat, drink, sing and be clever. This time I am overheard by a young woman who works for the company, Lea.  She is now on the case and maybe next year I will see Vintage on the table at an Adventuress dinner meeting in New York. What is the wine like? It is simple, old-fashioned, juicy and easy to drink.

June 19th – 21 A WHIRLWIND TOUR OF THE FRESCOBALDI’S TUSCAN ESTATE

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAA whirlwind tour of Frescobaldi’s 5 estates in Tuscany (located in Montalcino, Ruffina, Chianti Classico, Pomino and the Maremma). As I am writing an article about Tuscany for a magazine, I take this opportunity to think about the differences in landscape of the zones. 

I also want to pin down a description of the scent of broom (ginestra).  The first time I smell it on these trips, I always turn around expecting to find an elegant, perfume-dabbed woman.  It sweetly scents the breeze everywhere we go.  A Norwegian journalists suggested that it smells like almond pudding.  Leonardo Frescobaldi says it also includes a touch of orange blossoms. The fragrance is an amalgam of these along with hints of ginger and honeycomb.

I wondered why no perfumer had tried to capture this scent. A thirty-second investigation revealed that someone has!  Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella launched its Ginestra fragrance in 2001.   Top notes: broom. Heart: narcissus, corn flour, orange blossom, orchid and violet. Base: birch, oak moss and resins.

Now let us dive into our whip round Tuscany. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe started at the Ammiraglia estate in the Maremma.

Before the tasting we take a little ride around the estate to look at the pigs and Angus cows, passing olive groves and vineyards along the way.  “He (Lamberto Frescobaldi) wants to plant a garden here too so we can grow our own vegetables,” says the enthusiastic Hospitality Director. 

I interviewed Lamberto in April and he waxed eloquent about his childhood. He said: “I spent the first 11 years of my life in the country side – in Nipozzano, so I grew up in the country. And I must say it was a wonderful… style of life. Because we had the wine cellar in the basement of the house, we had our olive press mills, we had our cows – so there was fresh milk at night – and then we had bicycles, motor bikes and horses.”  I thought: he’s attempting to recreate the pleasure of that childhood experience here.

Among the wines we tasted:

Barrel Sample of Morellino Riserva 2012 (85% Sangiovese) aged around 18 months. Very pure, firm cherry fruit.  This will develop into a very interesting wine.

2007 Ammiraglia (100%Syrah) Chocolate. A nice warm wave of juicy fruit (raspberries, interwoven with chocolate and dark spices. Long finish.   Very attractive wine. Velvety tannins.

 KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAUp to the small zone of Pomino.

“You need a passport to enter here,” Lamberto is fond of saying.  And indeed the landscape and climate is very different here.  It is densely forested and, today at least, vastly cooler.

 “We are the only producers of Pomino, so if you don’t like it, don’t bother looking for others,” says Lamberto.  

Fortunately we like it. 

2012 Pomino Bianco (Chardonnay, plus other varieties) A sheen of yellow gold. Very floral fragrant.  Fresh and appealing.  A note of greengage plums and slightly under-ripe apricots on the palate.   Refreshing.  After 15 minutes: still firm. The perfumes are more pronounced. After 20 minutes: still very fresh on the nose.

2011Benefizio Pomino Superiore. Bright. Deeper gold. Barrel fermented. An exotic fruit (pineapple) note on the nose.  Full but supple on the palate.

After 15 minutes it settles down and a creaminess emerges on the nose and palate. The bright greengage fruit element blossoms.  After 20 minutes: Still firm, fresh and appealing.

I ask how long Lamberto thinks these wines can age: “We recently opened bottles of the 1990 and they are pretty special. So they can last at least 15 years. For me that is the goal.”

Then out of the woods and into Nippozzano.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe taste 4 vintages of Mormoreto (Cabernet Sauvignon, plus Merlot and Petite Verdot)

2004 Mormoreto  Opaque Vibrant blue sheen. Nice, clean nose. A cream soda note emerges. Palate: very plummy/prune-y.   After 1 hour: still firm and attractive.

“I recently opened ’85 and ’88 and they were showing well,” says Lamberto.

2009 Nippazoan Montesodi  A lovely soft perfume, elegant. Nicely saturated fuchsia tinged ruby. Silky, juicy cherry fruit. Firm, long finish. Very nice wine.  Satisfying.  Montesodi was first produced in 1974 and ranks 4th in the terms of appearance in the Super Tuscan hierarchy.  After the granddaddy of them all Sassicaia (commercialized in the mid-1960s), then Vignorello (1968) and  Tignanello (1971).

We hear about the Gorgona Project.  Gorgona is a prison on a small island off Tuscany. A 2.4 acre vineyard of Ansonica and Vermentino was planted there in 1999. The Frescobaldi’s now support a project that helps the inmates learn the vine-growing/winemaking trade. 

“If they are released without a job they are more likely to commit a crime again. I’m really touched by these people,” says Lamberto.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABack to Florence and a tasting of Luce della Vita.

Luce della Vita 1999 (Merlot, Sangiovese) A nice vibration of fruit.  Nose: leather, cherry fruit. Perfumes: tight weave of cherry, dark spice. A swirling amalgam of cherry, spice, blueberry raspberry. Nice vibration of fruit in the long finish. A wine for grown-ups.

Then to TENUTA FRESCOBALDI DI CASTIGLIONE and lunch with Leonardo Frescobaldi (Lamberto’s uncle and President of the company).   

“My family started from this territory,” says Leonard. “Nippozano is rocky, ideal for Sangiovese. Whereas here the soil is sandy with clay in some vineyards. We grow primarily Cabernet and Merlot.”

Describing the landscape, he says:” It is still pretty much what it was 50 years ago. It gives the idea that time has not passed. It’s a very gentle landscape.”

2011 Tenuta Frescobaldi deep ruby/near black with a beetroot sheen. Rich texture like a bolt of velvet unfurling – blackcurrant, blueberry raspberry, blackberry. An amalgam so well integrated as to seem one flavor.

JOURNALIST MINIVAN MOMENT

The topic of Italian lakes comes up. I say Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and sing the praises of the small towns around it.

“Do you have a home there,” asks the Baroness, a travel writer.

Since it has already been established that I live in Verona, she is of course, referring to a second home.  It has also been clearly established that I do not have a trust fund or a rich husband.  Noblesse oblige does not come naturally to this woman.

“No,” I reply. “But I sometimes take the bus to Bardolino for tastings.”

My train home arrives in Verona 25 minutes late. We passengers are met at the exit corridor by armed police and some nice sniffer dogs; its either drugs or terrorists.  I only have time to shower and change clothes and we are off to hear UTE LEMPER performing/singing the love poems of Pablo Neruda.  Here is a link to her strangely hypnotic  version of Mack the Knife: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHFXEPYU0FQ

18 June – CUSTOZA FROLICS

13a“It’s a birthday party,” says Luciano Piona, whose family owns the CAVALCHINA  winery.  “We are celebrating 50 years of making Custoza. My granddad was the first to conceive of this wine and he decided to name it Custoza after the hamlet where it comes from.”

The Custoza production zone is located on the south eastern tip of Lake Garda. It is made from a blend that includes Garganega (the principal variety in Soave), and may have Trebbiano, Cortese, and other white varieties.

The photo at above is of Morello P., wearing my hat.

2012 Custoza CALVACHINA. Bright, pale yellow, hint of a green sheen. Expands on the palate, the fruit (apricots and white peaches) emerges on the middle-palate. The medium finish is elegant and firmly fruity.

2011 Amedeo Custoza Superiore CALVACHINA Bright nicely saturated yellow, with pea green sheen. A lanolin quality on the nose, near creamy sensation.  The white fleshed fruit flavors are so tightly woven as to be one seamless whole. Elegant.

14 – 16 June CALABRIAN ADVENTURE

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAFirst things first. Let me answer the questions:  Where is Calabria and why should a wine fancier want to slip this information into his/her brain-pan?

Calabria is the toe and instep of the Italian boot, and is bounded by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas.  Wine producers in these parts are very proud of the fact that they have identified and are studying more than 200 indigenous grape varieties.  Wine drinkers looking for new flavors and fragrances just may find what they are seeking in this region.   

On the coast the glittering blue sea stretches to infinity. Inland the terrain often looks as if a Bruegel wheat field had been photo-shopped onto a lunar landscape.   I find this strangely beautiful…or possibly beautifully strange.

The last time I visited Calabria was 13 years ago. This current trip has been organized for around 20 Italian journalists (plus a Russian, a Japanese and me).  The theme – as always here – is indigenous grape varieties.

Rather than typing up all my tasting notes, I want to write about the wines I actually chose to drink at meals and as aperitifs. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAt a pre-dinner gathering for some 100 people under a star-studded night sky on the terrace of a splendid palazzo…I sat down near three ladies who were exchanging recipes.  I asked them what wine I should ask for at the bar as there are some 20 wines from various producers.

“LIBRANDI is always reliable,” says one.

“The Crotone,” says the second lady.

The 3rd lady chimes in: “It is great with the tuna hors d’oeuvres.

They are so right! Lovely, sprightly, fruity (apricots), pleasing and wonderful with the tuna.  (Chardonnay, with a touch of Sauvignon Blanc)

LIBRANDI 2010 Gravello. (Gaglioppo and Cabernet Sauvignon blend) Deep ruby near black center. Very smooth on the nose: black currant, yes, but with something wilder underneath. Also hints of frozen strawberry and other red berry fruits.  Silky on the palate, Nice fruit-filled finish. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASTATTI Mantonico 2010 (100 % Mantonico grapes) Fresh, Bright yellow/pale gold.  On the nose an amalgam of white fruit (the hush of apricots and peaches), a fine minerality. A creamy element on the palate. The flavor follows the nose. Very nice medium to long finish. There is a lovely weightiness in the mouth.   After 30 minutes still firm and flavorful.

And the wine I drank copiously and happily at both dinners was PODERI MARINI  Brigantino Rosato. (based on Sangiovese)  Broad, cherry/raspberry fruit. Satisfying, the flavor stays firm in the glass. After 30 minutes it is still as fresh and lively as when it was first opened.

SERRACAVALLO “Don Fili” Rosato.  (Magliocco grapes) Fresh. Lively. Color: an amalgam of rust and blood-orange juice. On the nose I find a note of frozen strawberries. Nice weight in the mouth. On the palate, cherry notes emerge.  Pleasing.  After 30 minutes still fresh and lively.

MALASPINA “Palizzi” IGT (Blend of Calabrese Nero  – a.k.a. Nero d’Avola- and Nocera). Dark blue-tinged ruby with deeply colored center. Very plummy on the nose. It is rich and warm.  Palate follows the nose. On the finish there is an element of dark minerality. After 30 minutes grassy notes emerge.

They have organized a tasting of 16 wines – 8 from Calabria and 8 Non-Calabrian. Since they tell us before the tasting begins which are the Calabrian wines –  the pleasure of the blind tasting is diminished somewhat.   Also serving the wines in pairs – one Calabrian and one non-Calabrian sets up a situation where the taster will naturally start to make direct comparisons between the two wines.  In a few cases the intention of the producer, the method of production and, of course, the different grape varieties were at such odds as to make a direct comparison impossible.  (Think about comparing apples to oranges….both are nice but different from each other.)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe most interesting non-Calabrian wine from a tasters point of view (ah, my point of view) was the Barolo DOCG 2008 from VAJRA.  At first impact it seems a bit vague. Then it settles down and blossoms.  I re-taste at 10 minute intervals and each time the nose offers more fruit, more spices. It is a shifting kaleidoscopic  experience. After 1 hour in the glass there is still a real, vibrant perfume, a vibration of berry fruit and a dark, intriguing undertow of autumn leaves.  Wow.  Bravo to the PODERI MARINI, the Calabrian winery which had the confidence to slip this “ringer” in the group.

The PODERI MARINI wine which was shown with the Vajra was Basileus IGT 2010. It was made from 100% Maglicco grapes.  On first tasting it: The color was opaque, near black with a deep ruby/blue rim. Very classy. The dark spiciness is well integrated with the fruit. On the finish I find a touch of minerals and earth.

The Moment just before my infamous remark
The Moment just before my infamous remark

I expressed admiration for the non-Calabrian wines at this tasting.  As I am still practically voice-less – I can only croak or speak in a breathy whisper, I wrote this opinion in Italian and someone else read it out to those assembled.  WHOA!!!

The remark did not go down well as I discovered at the lunch following the tasting.  I sat down and the first thing my tablemate said to me was : So, you hate Calabrian wines. 

My first thought was to whip out my pen and write:   “I LIKE CALABRIAN WINES and have written about the region for magazines and included descriptions of some of its most interesting wines in one of my books.  AND I am revising that book and will write about even more of the indigenous treasures of this region.  Thanks to that book thousands of English-speaking wine lovers who have never even given a thought to Calabria, now know the name Gaglioppo. (Although they might still be hesitant to pronounce it.)” 

Then I realized that putting this into Italian would just be too much of a bother.  So I smiled and mined what I hope will be interpreted as: “Oh, no. I’m a nice person”.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAt the final dinner I sat next to a charming woman named Serena.  As the evening unfolded I found out that she was the wife of Raffaele Librandi.  For some 25 years he worked with this father in the commercial sector of the wine company.  Five years ago Raffaele decided to strike out on his own, and he and his wife opened a specialist food business called FATTORIA MONTESCUDIERO.

They started with chocolate-dipped figs and have gradually expanded to include tropeo onions, olives and other gourmet items.  They recently started producing a range of pasta sauces for the Swiss market.  www.fattoriamontescudiero.com.  When they spoke about sourcing and creating new products they were both as radiant as brides. 

13  June  A MEETING WITH ALDO

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4 June SPARKLING WINE TASTING AND A VISIT TO THE CARROARMATO

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOur Peruvian friend wants to import top class sparkling wines into Peru.  We head for the AGRITURISMO SAN MATTIA (www.sanmattia.it) for a tasting of some of the wines that he has tried and liked in the last few months.

Here are the ones that gave me the most satisfaction:

CA DELBOSCO “Vintage Collection” Brut 2008 (Franciacorta: 55% Chardonnay, with Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero) A pale vibrant gold. Nose: peach with a touch of pleasing bitterness. Clean. A intriguing bitter flavor on the palate that renders it elegant for me.  Price 23 Euros.

MONTINA Brut 2001 (Franciacorta: 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Nero) Peach and lanolin on the nose.  Very attractive on the palate, peachy fruit.  Price: 16 Euros

Don Simone's tattos
Don Simone’s tattos

Then on to the OSTERIA CARRO ARMATO (www.carroarmato.it) to celebrate Annalisa’s 25 years of ownership of this locale. Annalisa was a witness at our wedding, by the way.

We drink 1985 Mazzano Amarone from MASI (from a 3-liter bottle)Tar and cherries. A fine, firm weave of ripe cherries, coffee, dark spices (the idea of nutmeg, cinnamon). Tar and cherries again emerge in the long, fine finish.  A Fine Wine.  An exhilarating experience.

June  1 MY FIRST OUTING AFTER THE BLACK MONTH OF MAY: GUERRIERI RIZZARDI!!!!!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe go to the opening of the new cantina of GUERRIERI RIZZARDI (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it).   Let me go on record as saying that I like this company and I like the people who work there.  I also sincerely appreciate the way they promote young artists.  It is very popular in Italy for wine companies to pretend to support the arts but few actually do anything really significant. Most of their “arts” events are simply excuses to have a cocktail party. (Not that I don’t enjoy cocktail parties.)

The Guerrieri Rizzardi winery (makers of award winning Bardolinos and Amarones among other wines) sponsors the Antonio Canova sculpture contest, which is open to sculptors under the age of 35.  Viewing the finalists’ work is always revelatory experience.  

Here are two of the wines I tried that I found particularly pleasing. 

2012 Rosa Rosae The color of strawberry juice stains. Very fresh. Nice weave of berry fruit: strawberry, raspberry. Fruit-filled finish. Satisfying.

2011 Costeggiola Single-Vineyard Soave  Fresh, juicy fruit (ripe apricots). Round, fine, lively amalgam of apricots and greengage plums, with a creamy undertow.  Satisfying. Long, evolving finish.