Thursday, October 11, 2012

Garantito IGP: San Silvestro


This time I take the stand.

In 1984 I spent a couple of weeks on a Paleolithic dig in Gavorrano, one of the towns in the Val di Cornia; the work consisted of digging trenches in an area that was destined to become a road and sifting the dirt in search of man-made flint chips and such. Which we found in abundance, though no other traces of humanity had survived in that particular spot.

But one day we piled into our van and rattled over to the Valle dei Manienti, where Riccardo Francovich, an archaeologist with the University of Siena, and his students were peeling back a huge briar patch that had overgrown a hilltop; we could see crumbling walls in the areas they had already cleared and were told we were looking at the remains of a medieval mining town called San Silvestro. By the time the team finished clearing they had found a tower at the top of the hill, with immediately below it a cistern, a courtyard, and a tiny church, and about 50 houses below, within the town walls.

Some background is in order: The hills inland of Populonia, a promontory on the central Tuscan coast, are called the Colline Metallifere - the Metalliferous Hills. The area is a mineralogist's paradise, and if you're driving along you will see many spectacular splashes of colors on the hillsides, where ore veins come to the surface.

In the past people did more than appreciate the beauty of these deposits: The region is honeycombed with mines, some dating back to the Etruscans. The veins of the Valle dei Manienti (directly inland of the town of San Vincenzo) were instead worked during the early Middle ages by the Conti della Gherardesca, who extracted silver-bearing lead, copper and iron. The miners needed somewhere to live, and since they were providing a valuable service to their lords, the Counts built them a fortified town. San Silvestro flourished for about 300 years before changing economic conditions made the operation uneconomical, and then it was abandoned.

San Slivestro is now the centerpiece of a fascinating archeominarary park with hiking trails, mine shafts you can visit (with a guide), and traces of all sorts of mining ventures, dating from the Etruscans through the post-war period. It's a perfect change of pace if you're spending a few days at the beach, especially if the wind kicks up, stirring the waves, and the lifeguards won't let you in the water because of the undertow.

You should park in the Valle del Temperino, and begin with the museum, which has a nice mineral collection, with some beautiful specimens from the various mines, and exhibits devoted to miners and mining. Guided tours of one of the mine shafts sunk at the turn of the century by the Etruscan Copper Estates Mines (an English company that worked the veins from 1900 to 1907 and then went out of business) depart hourly on the half hour in June, and on the half hour in July and August. They require covered shoes, and since the air is chill, a sweater.

The shaft leads through country rock to skarn deposits (mixed sulfides, including silver bearing galena (lead sulfide), chalcopyrite (copper iron sulfide), sphalerite (zinc sulfide) and in some cases cassiterite (tin oxide)) that formed as a result of the interaction between intruding magmas and the mineral-rich solutions they contained with the calcareous rocks they intruded -- quite interesting, and the shaft intersects a number of older shafts as well that reveal the older mining techniques.

Once you have seen the mine shaft, it's a short walk to the Museo del Minatore, or Miner's museum, with interesting displays of equipment. The departure point of the narrow-guage rail line that follows one of the longer shafts through the mountain to the Valle Lanzi (named after the Tyrolian miners Archduke Cosimo summoned and quartered there in the 1500s) and the town of San Silvestro is next to the Museo; it's an interesting ride. If you'd instead rather say above ground, it's a three-hour hike on a well marked trail with rest stops and lots of things to see, everything from powder houses and another section of the narrow guage rail line built by the English company to pre-Roman shafts and pits.

San Silvestro itself is quite beautiful, and even though only the walls remain enough has survived to give you a good idea of what life must have been like: The boredom of the guards, who scratched the patterns of board games into the steps by the gate; the constant need for water, which led the inhabitants to chip grooves into the bedrock to guide rainwater to cisterns....

Though the park wardens give guided tours (on the hour in June, and on the half-hour in July and August), you may want to explore the village at your own pace. It should take about an hour, and once you're done, you should also look at the experimental station, where the archaeologists reconstructed the smelting furnaces to find out how efficient they were. Quite, and indeed the village was completely self-sufficient with regards to iron. Copper was also refined on site. Silver was not, however: It occurs in galena, lead sulfide, and the Counts Gherardesca found it more practical to smelt the mineral into lead, and then extract the silver from the lead once they'd transported it to Pisa (bandits were a problem, and lead ingots are a lot harder to steal than flakes of silver). Even so, the skeletons of a couple of people dead of ax wounds were found in the slag heaps by the foundry; they differed physically from the people whose bones were found in the cemetery, and may have been thieves, or even pirates.

Getting there: Campiglia Marittima is close to the coast. Take the Aurelia, the Roman road to Marseilles (it's at last four lanes), to San Vincenzo Sud; follow the signs for Campiglia Marittima, and then those for the Parco Archeominerario. It's about 10 kilometers.

For more information (quite a bit more), check out the Parco Archeominerario di San Silvestro's site.  The hours change depending upon the month (though opening is almost always at 10 AM), and you should therefore check the hours page. There's also a simple trattoria, if you get hungry.

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Tasted at Vinitaly: Michele Castellani

There are many ways to meet people at Vinitaly. One is to run into someone you know, and be introduced to who he is talking with, and that's what happened here: I had just left a stand when I met up with Lorenzo Begali, who was talking with a gentleman he introduced as Michele Castellani, and suggested I taste the wines. I had another appointment, and when I got back he was gone, so his daughter poured.

 It was the last day and I was too rushed to converse, but they are located in Marano della Valpolicella, where they have 40 hectares of vineyards planted to the three classic varietals of the Valpolicella, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.

Castellani Campo del Biotto  Calpolicella Classioc 2011
Lot 12/53
Lively cherry ruby with violet reflections and cherry rum. The bouquet is fresh, with a slight pungency that is due to recent bottling and will fade, while there is also berry fruit supported by some greenish accents and slight sandalwood. Fresh. On the palate it's ample and fresh, with moderately intense berry fruit supported by warm smooth light tannins and moderate acidity that has a slight greenish overlay and flows into a warm slightly peppery finish with slight tannic underpinning. Pleasant, in a slightly softer key, and this is attributable to the heat in August and September. It will drink quite well with foods, supporting rather than taking center stage, and you may need a second bottle.
2 stars

Castellani Valpolicella Classico Superore Ripasso 2010
 Lot 12/16
This ages in large wood for about 18 months. Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is quite young, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by mentholated accents and some balsamic notes, and also sea salt and some deft jammy notes. Pleasant, and still coming together. On the palate it's bright, with lively fresh wild cherry fruit supported by tannins that have a slight flinty bitterness, and by deft sour berry fruit acidity that flows into a clean berry plum finish supported by lasting acidity. Pleasant, and very fresh; it needs another year for the nose to come together, and will be quite versatile, working well with a wide variety of red meats and also roasts; I might be tempted to serve it with stuffed turkey too.
2 stars

Castellani Campo Casalin Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2008
Lot 12/41
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with considerable cedar that at present blankets the fruit, which manages to peek out from underneath its coating, revealing some red berry fruit. On the palate it's full, with rich sandalwood laced cherry fruit supported by moderate peppery acidity and tannins that are very smooth and flow into a fairly long cedar laced finish. It's quite international in style, and well made in this style though very young, and needs at least a couple of years to digest the oak. I wouldn't think of opening it before 2016. If you like the international style you will enjoy it, but do be patient.
2 stars (barely)

Castellani Cinque Stelle Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008
Lot 12/41
This is from vineyards at higher elevations, and is aged in a mix of large and small wood. It's deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is intense, with berry fruit supported by cedar that is quite apparent but not completely predominant, and by sandalwood and some underlying vegetal notes. On the palate it's ample, with powerful spicy cherry fruit laced with sandalwood and supported by some sweetness, and by tannins that have a dusky cedar laced burr, and flow into a fairly long dusky finish with berry fruit and some sweetness, and underlying savory cocoa accents, and sandalwood laced sweetness as the other things fade. It's more approachable that the Campo Casalin, and also more graceful, a powerful wine in a fairly international key that has the fruit and intensity necessary to stand up to the wood, and will with time be quite pleasant. If you are not an absolute traditionalist you will enjoy it.

Castellani Monte Fasenara Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2008
Lot 11/328
Deep pyrope with pyrope rim; it's close to poured ink. The bouquet is fairly intense and fairly sweet, with prune cherry fruit supported by some cedar and fairly bright spice, and also some greenish vegetal notes. On the palate it's full, sweet, and quite smooth, with elegant prune cherry fruit supported by moderate acidity and slight bitter accents, and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a fairly long soft finish with some underlying bitter accents. It's fairly modern in style, and very smooth, with relatively less acidity than some, and is as a result a little simpler; I would sip it far from the table with friends.
1 star

Enjoyable in a middle-of-the-road to modern key, and if you would like more information, check their site.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Garantito IGP: Occitanian Chersogno to the last bite

This time Stefano Tesi takes the stand.

At the last farm in Chersogno, the altimeter on my wrist says 1997 meters. There are another thousand to the peak.

Above me are fog, rocks, and a pale trail. Below, the tattered roofs of the town of Campiglione, where a "For Sale" sign hangs over the ancient houses that look like tenements of the sort whose facades have a single open balcony per floor, though made with local materials: stone and wood. Everything crumbling or almost. And beyond, Lilliputian incredibly distant white cows working their way up the steep flank of the mountain, grazing a huge yellow meadow that opens to the sky well above the tree line.

I look down with astonishment to the dirt road leading down into the valley, which becomes steadily greener at lower altitudes.

This isn't just any valley. It's the Valle di San Michele, a branch of the Val Maira, in the Alpe Cozie. Occitania. No pass at the end of the climb leading to France; rather a closed gorge and a strange feeling. Lots of tiny hamlets spread about, lots of summer homes, sometimes displaying a casual use of cement. The residents who by now number dozens -- fewer than a hundred. More than money, the place seems to lack souls. In the winter, at least. In the summer the Swiss and Germans come, looking for quiet walks, and things liven up.

But now it's October, and on Chersogno, in Campiglione, the Landro family is about to pack to head down to the valley for the winter. Today, they say, they're leading their animals downslope, and won't be back until spring. Sticking around is out of the question: bad weather, cold, snow, and most of all, nothing to do.

In short, when the summer finishes so do the stays of the cattle and the herdspeople who stay on the slopes. Because Chersogno isn't just the name of the mountain, but also of the cheese the Landro family makes up in the meadows. People say it's like a Castelmagno, only sometimes better. They're the only ones who make it, and because of this haven't bothered to register it.

In any case, when we get to their shop, following traisl closed by the forest rangers, the shop is closed too. Because they're getting the animals ready for the trop, and they've also finished all their cheese.

We descend the winding trail, rocks and srubs giving way to meadows and pines, regain the paved road, and reach San Michele di Prazzo: it makes one think to discover that here, in the 18th century, there were 2,000 people. The façade of the old town hall has a solemn image of King Vittorio Emanuele II, and facing it a church whose size provides proof of the importance of the town. Two hikers with boots and packs look at us: who is the intruder?

For the past ten years Enrica and Roberta Cesano have managed the Tano di Grich, an old-fashioned inn under the porticoes where people eat, sleep and buy food. And, miracle of miracles, they have a whole wheel of Chersogno. The last of the season, they say. 3 kilos (about 6 pounds), 100% cow's milk, 20 euros a kilo: It's ours!

The rind is grainy, but on cutting turns out to be thin, dry, and soft. The body of the cheese is white tending towards pale yellow, and grainy, tender, holding together but not compact, rather friable. A distinctly milky aroma is barely sharpened by aging, but is still penetratingly fresh. On the palate it's deft, surprisingly soft, and soon dissolves into a delicate flavor that combines milk with more intense saltiness, and flows into bitter notes that are especially good. With chewing its initial dryness quickly gves way to a temptingly creamy, beckoning consistency.

Indeed, we put a serious dent into it, washing it down with both a delightful Dolcetto di Dogliani Clavesana DOC 2011 and a more refined but just as enjoyable Barolo Cerretta 2007 from Giovanni Rosso. And the only thing that kept us from continuing was a jolt of common sense.

Better make it last, because there'll be no more Chersogno until June.

Azienda Agricola Landro,
Borgata Campiglione 1, Prazzo (CN)
Tel. 349 2953659

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Garantito IGP: Forastera 2011 Ischia doc Pietratorcia

This time Luciano Pignataro takes the stand

One can tell from the very word, Forastera. Grapes that come from elsewhere (fuori, in Italian), i.e. forestiera. Certainly, of one were to take a broader, say American viewpoint, it would be difficult to say grapes that have been grown on terraces held up by paramine, dry masonry walls made from green volcanic rock, for more than 150 years are foreign, but Europeans are conservative. This white was introduced because, history repeats itself, it was considered superior to the delicate Biancolella that has always been grown on Ischia, Capri, and part of the Amalfi coast.

The current obsession for single-varietal wines led to its rediscovery, not as a partner, but as a soloist. The discovery was made by Casa D'Ambra a few years ago, and now Pietratorcia, the beautiful winery surrounded by olive trees, prickly pears, and Mediterranean scrub forest founded in 1966 by the Iacono, Verde e Regine families, has joined them.

Every time I visit these vineyards, surrounded by sea and sky, I feel as if I'm in an as-of-yet unexcavated archaeological site: columns, statues and pot shards stick up from the soil; the culture of the farmland that for centuries slaked Naples's thirst is very evident. There were 3,000 hectares of vineyards in 1900, and now less than 400.
Forastera interprets the Campania Style that almost all the winemakers have by now adopted: Freshness up front, savory, no sweetness. They complement the foods, the flavors, and the volcanic lands or the area that are in perpetual ferment, making the island and the nearby Campi Flegrei the perfect setting for disaster films that couldn't do a better job of bringing together day-to-day life and Hephaestus 's brutal power.
Pietratorcia's history is that of the recovery from a shadowy subculture of illegal construction and easy earnings from tourism that sapped people's will to cultivate the land, and drove them away from toil, the southern term for work. They could have fermented other people's grapes, but they decided to start from the ground up, replanting grapes at Chignole and Cuotto, while Gino studied winemaking at San Michele all'Adige.

Now the winery's primary wines are two blends, Tenuta Chignole (biancolella, forastera and fiano) and Tenuta Cuotto (biancolella, forastera e greco), in which the two foreign grapes of Irpinian origin confer, in the former, aromas, and in the latter acidity. Then there are the two single-varietal wines, Biancolella and Forastera. I decided to speak of the latter here because I want this varietal, unknown outside Campania, to enjoy the Garantito IGP limelight because it embodies biodiversity, essentiality, and elegance, and also has an extraordinary quality/price ratio.

A white wine of conviviality, to pair with the simple seafood cooking of the island, raw fish and fish carpaccio marinated in lemon juice, or pasta with legumes, especially peas and chick peas.

The winery is on the Via Provinciale Panza, 267
12 hectares.
Winemaker: Gino Iacono. 
Production: 180.000 bottles
Varietals: biancolella, forastera and fiano

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Garantito IGP: A Restaurant in Bloom? il Giglio in Montalcino!

This time Carlo Macchi Takes the Stand:

Let's say that the reader remembers La Cucina di Edgardo in Montalcino, and has the good fortune to meet Mario Machetti. Those who have done both can stop reading. I suggest everyone else perk up their ears.
In the 80s La Cucina di edgardo was one of the best places to eat in Tuscany. Edgardo was unique, and to give an example it was he who came up with the Gioco del piacere that so many members then of Arcigola and now Slowfood know well. But who cooked for Edgardo? We're coming to that.

Let's turn to Mario Machetti: not young, but blessed with a first-rate sense of wine, Mario had the best private cellar in Montalcino. I say had because in 1995 his private cellar became public, and is at the disposition of the patrons of Il Giglio. The same patrons, who in addition to selecting among wines they can usually only dream of (at "private cellar" prices) can enjoy the dishes Anna Machetti, who cooked for Edgardo, prepares for them.

To sum up: Anna cooked at La Cucina di Edgardo, while Mario loved wines, and, let's admit it, talking about wine. In 1995 they took the big step, taking over one of the oldest places in Montalcino, Il Giglio. There are records of Il Giglio dating th the early 1900s, but in the early 90s the then let things go. Anna and Mario managed the return the restaurant (which also has 12 rooms) to its former glory thanks to a cuisine based on first rate ingredients, flavorful dishes that one simply doesn't forget, and dishes that follow tradition while winking at modern balance.

Now forget all this (lest you loose the joy of making discoveries...) and imagine yourself in Montalcino, say near Palazzo Pretorio (the one with the plaques for the Brunello vintages). It's just a few short steps the the intersection where you'll find Il Giglio. The entrance leads to a small, welcoming hall with a large fireplace almost hidden by historic wine bottles. The tables, elegantly set, are to the right or in another hall to the left. I suggest you sit near a window to be able to enjoy the panorama, so beautiful it might steal your appetite as well as your breath.

You'll need your eyes for more important things, however, for example the menu. You could begin with the classic dark Tuscan crostini, or the baccalà mousse with orange salad, or the involtini made from Cinta Senese lard and faro, but I suggest you try the anchovy filets in pesto sauce, so good they'd justify swimming from Sydney to Montalcino.

Among the first courses, I'd say Pici with crumbs, cannelloni stuffed with goat's milk cheese and sauced with pigeon ragu, and tortellini stuffed with cints cenese arista. But I can't forget the faro, chickpea and mushroom zuppa, nor the classic home made tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms.

Among the seconds, don't miss the pan-cooked pigeon, or the fried rabbit, unless you go for beef braised in Brunello or lamb chops.

And then? A pause, because I imagine you full but satisfied. And at this point I'll step in for Mario, who with his son Michele is the Maitre, and perhaps exchange a few words, which may be about wines and a visit to the cellar. A cellar 9and a wine list) capable of satisfying any request, even the most unusual, when it comes to Brunello, and also features other great non-standard Italian and foreign bottles. A list by a wine lover, one who has traveled the world to taste and learn, and to enjoy the happiness of the clientele. And after the conversation, we can finish the meal. If you're like me, not a sweet tooth, the obvious choice is a selection of first rate Tuscan goat and sheep's milk cheeses. I realize many people have sweet teeth, and therefore suggest pears in Brunello, chocolate cake, or peach Bavarian cream.

You'll have a hard time getting up, not because you're weighed down, but rather because you'll want to continue to enjoy the warm hospitality, Mario's words, and perhaps Anna's smiles, as she always steps into the hall towards the end of the evening.

A brief walk in the quiet Montalcino "By Night" (the restaurant is open only evenings), will be just the thing before returning to the Giglio and climbing the stairs to one of the 12 rooms. You'll fall asleep thinking that come breakfast you'll fins Anna's cakes, and have the sweetest of dreams.

Albergo Ristorante Il Giglio
Via Saloni 5
53024 Montalcino (SI)
Tel.fax 0577848167

Average price 35-40 euro, not including wines

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Garantito IGP: The Mossio Brothers and the Great Dolcetti if Rodello

This time Roberto Giuliani takes the stand:

After dedicating many Guaranteed notes to more or less renowned restaurants, I feel the need to return to the world of wine. Primarily because I'm interested in two brothers, though it would be more correct to say in the entire Mossio dynasty, which has given the Dolcetto of the Langhe shine for generations, producing superb wines from a varietal that few really understand yet. I met Valerio seven years ago at Dolcetto & Dolcetto, but hadn't seen him since, nor had I had occasion to taste other vintages of either Dolcetto D'Alba Bricco Caramelli or Dolcetto D'Alba Passo delli Perdoni (they also make a Barbera d'Alba and an impressive Langhe Nebbiolo). I wanted to rectify this oversight and finally managed to go visit them in Rodello, where I had the unexpected pleasure of a vertical of Dolcetto D'Alba Bricco Caramelli, from 2010 to 2005, six vintages to understand the quality and potential of this historic Piemontese varietal.

The first thing one notes upon arriving at the winery is Bricco Caramelli, which is the highest land in the area, almost 500 meters, always well ventilated, and offers a breathtaking view all the way to Alba. The rows are evenly laid out, with wooden support steaks, while the vines are trained to the guyot system, and grow on a soil consisting of silt, sand, and clay; I visited in the second week of May and the shoots were working their way up to the support wires. There's nice ground cover, which requires the Mossio brothers to manage the vineyard in an eco-compatible way, and the area they have under vine is 10 hectares (28 giornate piemontesi), which yield 50,000 bottles per year.

One need only chat for a while while walking among the rows to realize that they are driven by passion and a degree of recklessness, given that Valerio, despite his youth, has suffered a severe heart attack and continues to perform backbreaking labor in vineyard and cellar. For the more curious, Caramelli is the family name of the Marchesi di Clavesana, who were willed land in Rodello by Contessa Clemenza in 1676, including this farm, which has now been restored.

As I said, the visit also offered me the opportunity to evaluate the aging capacity of Bricco Caramelli thanks overtones a nice vertical from 2010 to 2005 (which could have gone further, but they had finished the older vintages). My general impression is that it is a wine easily capable of embarking on a long path, and though there are variations attributable to the vintages, it is an excellent Cru, one of the finest Dolcetti of all, and a wine that sets the standard. Nor should one underestimate Piano delle Perdoni, which, depending upon the vintage, can pluck a rabbit from the hat, displaying quality that easily matches Caramelli. Looking in detail...

Dolcetto D'Alba Bricco Caramelli 2010 
This ferments for 10 days in steel, macerating on the skins, and there's no wood, nor filtration, nor stabilization to take away from the Dolcetto aromas that emerge from the glass. The most recent, this vintage is impenetrable violet ruby and has an extremely fresh bouquet with intense violets, prunes, black cherries, blackberries, balsamic accents, and developing spice. The palate gives the same freshness, a rich, flavorful wine one could call chewable, and one can foresee a happy marriage of structure and elegance.

Dolcetto D'Alba Bricco Caramelli 2009
Dusky, almost impenetrable ruby; the nos is already more complex; there are violets, and a fruity surge of currants, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and again balsamic notes with a hint of tobacco. Though the opening of the nose is less immediate than that of the 2010 the palate churns with energy and finesse, power and elegance, savory notes, and perfect symmetry with the nose, and remarkable persistence.

Dolcetto D'Alba Bricco Caramelli 2008
A slightly different vintage; the color is still perfect concentrated ruby, while the nose opens with vegetal accents that yield to violets, iris, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, interesting gingery accents, cinnamon, and pleasant menthol. The palate is more than convincing; there is a slight tannic bite, excellent fruit, and a delicately bitter almond laced finish.

Dolcetto D'Alba Bricco Caramelli 2007
A hot vintage, but at this altitude, and with vines that are decades old this is not a problem: the nose opens with impressive sweetness and intensity, also because the alcohol has blended perfectly with the fruit, which once again moves towards prunes, cherries, and hints of raspberries, while there are also resiny balsamic notes, hints of pepper, and dried flowers. The palate is harmonious, once again balsamic, and still fresh and savory, and long.

Dolcetto D'Alba Bricco Caramelli 2006
In this vintage one is really struck by the violet visible in the rich dark ruby of the wine; 6 years have passed since the harvest and it hasn't faded at all. The fruit is impressively fresh, with echoes of peach that then give way to the more classic cherries, prunes, and ripe raspberries, while there are also balsamic accents, with mature aromas of graphite and dark tobacco. The palate reveals full structure and perfect balance, with tannins that are silky and clearly show that the wine is far from reaching the end of its aging. Terrific persistence.
Dolcetto D'Alba Bricco Caramelli 2005
Perhaps the most symbolic year, in a positive sense, one that reveals the greatness of the vineyard; despite seven years of age there are terrific floral accents blaanced by properly sweet ripe fruit that's not the least bit jammy. The vintage emerges on the palate too, with a more nervous, lighter texture that I don't dislike at all: I've already enjoyed it in many Baroli and Barbareschi from this vintage.

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Visiting Torino: The Mole Antonelliana

This Time, I take the stand:


I must confess, when I go to Piemonte it's usually for the wines, and when I do make it to Torino it's on the occasion of Slowfood's Salone del Gusto. However, Daughter C is a great fan of the Egyptians, and we therefore took her to see the Museo Egizio in Torino, one of the world's richest and most exciting collections of Egyptian artifacts.

And, when we emerged from the museum couldn't help but notice Torino's most prominent landmark, the Mole Antonelliana, a slender quadrilateral cupola whose immensely long spire seems to puncture the sky.

It wasn't planned like that, however: After the government of the newly unified Italian State relaxed the strictures on non-Catholic religious buildings in the early 1860s, the city's Jewish community asked Alessandro Antonelli to design a Synagogue for them. Construction began in 1863, but proceeded with difficulty because the he raised the cupola from the planned 47 meters to 113. Technical difficulties and cost overruns led the Community to halt construction in 1869 and apply a temporary roof to what they had.

In 1873 the City negotiated an exchange, giving the Jewish community a different area to build their synagogue, and dedicating the Cupola to King Vittorio Emanuele II. Construction resumed, with the cupola and its spire eventually reaching 167.5 meters, or about 545 feet, and thus becoming the tallest masonry structure in Europe. Alas, though Antonelli continued to work on the structure until he was past 90, using an observation basket that dangled from the center of the dome to check the work, he didn't live to see it finished. Rather, his son Costanzo completed the cupola in the early 1900s, while the decoration of the dome's interior was handled by Annibale Rigotti between 1905 and 1908.

Unfortunately, the weight of the considerably increased upper section proved more than the foundations were capable of standing (the fact that the cupola was built over a section of city walls Napoleon had demolished probably exacerbated the instability), and after a tornado ripped off 47 meters of the spire in 1953 architects wove a reinforced concrete skeleton into the structure to provide additional support.

After the restoration was completed the Mole Antonelliana was used to host temporary shows, and to showcase Torino, as it were: The observation basket Alessandro used was transformed into a glass elevator that rises quickly through the cupola, like a spider whizzing up a thread to stop at the base of the spire, where there is an ample observation deck offers an absolutely stunning view of the city.

Which, with just the occasional show, wasn't enough to draw people. So the city had an inspired idea, and transformed the cupola into the national Cinema Museum: the entrance leads directly to the elevator, where one waits about a half hour (at least, we did) and then whoosh up to the observation post; as you enter the elevator try to take a place by the glass wall, unless you are very afraid of heights, because the view as you rise through the air is delightful.

Depending upon the temperature you'll spend anywhere from 5 to a lot more minutes on the observation deck before returning to the elevator and descending to the museum, which begins with a large, fascinating section dedicated to pre-cinema animation techniques (shadow puppets, animations, dime-store viewers and so on) followed by a floor dedicated to cinematographic techniques with all sorts of cinematic keepsakes, including a black lace bustier belonging to MM, which is (from a male perspective) most impressive.

There's a ramp around the drum of the cupola with a great many poster boards and film posters, and down on the floor of the cupola are pieces of sets, including one designed by Gabriele D'Annunzio, more mementos including a set piece from Alien, and two viewing areas equipped with couches and continuous feeds; if you get tired of watching what's on the screen you simply look up at the cupola, whose lighting changes regularly, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, and sometimes with images projected over it. Always interesting.

To be honest, though I paid the admission because I wanted to enjoy the view, I'd happily go back and spend more hours simply enjoying the Mole Antonelliana's interior. It's one of the most interesting museums (and buildings) I've been in in many years. I'll be posting photos on the blog version of the newsletter, at, so do check them out. And for more information on the Museo del Cinema, see

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Garantito IGP: And if I Make Sausage from Turnips?

This time Stefano Tesi takes the stand.

Doing the impossible is like getting blood from a turnip, says an Italian proverb. But there are people who get salame from turnips.

At Livigno -- altitude 1800 meters, the coldest place in all of Italy, the Little Tibet that, before becoming the duty-free paradise it is now, was isolated by the snows for 6 months of the year, and the dead were buried when the ground thawed -- the people fall into the second group.

Practical people, used to fighting ice and poverty. And therefore to coming up with the unexpected to get ahead, in a valley so high not even buckwheat will grow.

Thus, larch pitch chews for the kids watching the herds on the slopes, and turnip salame. Or better, Lughena da pasola, as they call it.

I want to make clear that present day Livigno bears little resemblance to the Livigno of 50 years ago. Even the traditions have become uniformed, and now the menus feature Pizzoccheri and Polenta Taragna, once staples of other, richer valleys.

But if one leaves the restaurants and visits people's homes, one realizes that the old dishes are still there, just that the locals prefer to enjoy them far from the swarms of tourists, and as tradition dictates. For example on September 8, Santa Maria Nascente, the Patron Saint's day. It's then that the curious traveler can discover, in addition to the lughena, the mösa, the borsàt, and the potòl.

I for example discovered turnip salami, served with a glass of Valtellinese, when I paid a visit to the last smuggler, Rocco Sertorio, a spry eighty-year-old who is now a fixture at the local folk festivals.

But the person who (thanks to the help of Dario Bormolini) told me the history and secrets of this unique cold cut is his companion at these folk festivals, one of the few, if not the last, custodians of the food traditions of the valley: Maria Silvestri, known as Maria Domenica or more usually Ménia. She lives in the only baita in Livigno that has, in addition to the standard decorative flowers, medicinal herbs and flowers hung to dry, to make flavorings, oils and remedies. At a short distance a small herb patch with a simple wooden fence to protect it from the animals and the cold. Little excess and much heart.

My asking how to make the lughena da pasola makes her smile.

"You pick turnips, the usual kind," she said, "you tie them in bunches, and you let them dry in the hay barn until it's time to butcher the pig (fed with polvin, a mixture of hay, cornmeal and water), in March. Then you cook the turnips, let them cool, and work them into the lard from the pig, if possible with a little meat as well, figuring a ratio of two to one, grinding everything and adding a little garlic, until the mixture is dark yellow. You let it drain, mix well, and then add salt, pepper, cloves, and cinnamon or nutmeg. After which you put it into casings made from sheep intestines. 15 days later it's ready to eat."

According to others, whom Ménia doesn't confirm, some also add cabbage to the mix. In Livigno salami are traditionally thin, with a characteristic curvature, and weighing a few etti (quarter pounds), which are easier to age. In the town of Trepalle (500 meters higher, the highest parish in all of Europe) they use the same technique and ingredients, but make larger salamis.

How to consume this specialty?

"In pieces, breaking it apart with the hands and not a knife, and without peeling it," comes the response. "It can be eaten raw or cooked, made crunchy by the heat of a burner, or baked. But aged (it will age well for up to two years, without detriment to flavor or texture) it's also excellent. It's perfect for herders and hikers."

She goes upstairs for a 2-year old salami, which she breaks up and hands me a piece of: a fairly intense garlicky smell coupled with aged meat, and no hints of rancidity. Its texture is almost friable, with a paste that is dry and fairly coarse, crumbling under the teeth to reveal turnips followed by garlic, meat and lard. It's not too persistent but invites another bite, like a beer sausage but less firm and less flavorful. The sip of wine does the rest.

Between bites, the conversation then turns to the past and the way things used to be. When she gets to the avalanches of 1951 Maria's tone changes and her eyes become misty. And the lughena gains a new flavor that has nothing to do with this article.

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wines from La Feliciana: Lugana & More

La Feliciana is a small winery south of Lake Garda, in the Commune of Pozzolengo, and remarkably peaceful, with gentle rolling hills and vineyards stretching off into the distance; the only thing that would make you wonder if it has always been this way is the massive stone tower built on a low hill a couple of miles away: It's the monument to the Battle of San Martino, fought by the Piemontese against half of the Austrian army while their French allies were fighting the other half at Solferino, a few miles away, on June 24 1859 -- a bloody encounter that began the Austrian withdrawal from most of Northern Italy and paved the way for the unification of Italy under the House of Savoy. The tower, erected in the late 1800s, has heroic frescos of the battles inside, and offers a commanding view of the area (looking north, well up Lake Garda, and on a clear day I would expect to see the Apennines in the distance to the south)

Considering that Sirmione and the rest of Lake Garda are also just a few minutes' distance, and that Garda's famed amusement parks (Gardaland is one of many) are just a little further away, as are the lakeside towns of Lazise and Bardolino, and that Gabriele D'Annunzio's Vittoriale  is just a little further, on the Breascian side of the lake, you'll understand why we stayed at the estate's Agriturismo for a few days this August.  Very pleasant, and highly recommended.

In addition to the Agriturismo there is the winery, which consists of about 7 hectares of beautifully kept vineyards. They make a number of wines, and I asked Massimo Sbruzzi if I might taste a selection. He kindly nodded, and here we are:

Azienda Agricola Feliciana Grifo Lugana Brut DOP
Non Vintage Metodo Charmat; Lot not apparent
Fairly bright straw yellow with moderately fine intense perlage that's fairly persistent. The bouquet is fresh, with floral notes and some heather, and very slight hints of bead crumbs with some savory mineral accents as well. Direct, but fresh and clean. On the palate it's medium bodied and again fresh, with fairly mineral white berry fruit that has slight hints of gooseberry and peppery spice from the sparkle, and flows into a fairly long peppery mineral finish that has slight citrussy minty accents. It's quite up front, a wine that looks one in the eye, and will work nicely as an aperitif or with creamy dishes, and also with grilled or roasted fish. Expect it to go quickly, and people will likely want more.
1 star

Azienda Agricola Feliciana Forfel San Martino della Battaglia DOP 2011
Lot 1212
This is from Tocai grapes; and is pale slightly greenish brassy yellow with brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, and rather savory, with citrus fruit, rather sour salty lemon with peppery spice, laced with gunflint and some savory minerality; as it opens the gunflint fades, giving way to the heather of a freshly cut field, while the spice continues. On the palate it's rich and rather languid, with ample fairly sweet honeydew melon laced almost gooseberry-like white fruit supported by moderate peppery spice from grapes, and by moderate acidity that nicely provides direction, and flows into a heather laced, almost brambly honeydew gooseberry finish. It's pleasant in a rather seductive curvy key, and will be pleasant as an aperitif, and also has the structure necessary to stand up to grilled or roasted lake fish
2 stars

Azienda Agricola Feliciana Felugan Lugana DOP 2011
Lot 11.12
Pale brassy greenish white with greenish brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with loquat and white berry fruit supported by some sweetness and slight greenish accents with some spicy heather as well. On the palate it's bright, with lively white berry fruit supported by deft mineral acidity and by pleasant peppery spice that flows into a clean bright white fruit finish with underlying minerality and mineral acidity that is balanced by some sweetness. Pleasant in a rather zesty key, and will drink well with fish, including fried fish; it will go quickly, and you can expect people to ask for more.
2 stars

Azienda Agricola Feliciana Grifo Rosé Brut Vino Spumante
Non Vintage; lot not apparent.
Brilliant salmon pink with fine slightly salmonate perlage that's fairly persistent, and salmon reflections. The bouquet is fairly intense, with roses and red fruit mingled with slight violet and some sweet almost marzipan notes, and also some greenish heather. On the palate it's light, with fairly bright red fruit supported by bright mineral laced brambly acidity and some peppery notes from the sparkle, which fade into a fairly long mineral finish with, again, the pepper from the sparkle that's mingled with some other spices as well. It's brash and up front, a direct wine that will work well as an aperitif with cold cuts and other antipasti, or with white meats or fish. It has the brashness of a teen, and will go quickly.
1 star

Azienda Agricola Feliciana Feudo Garda Classico Chiaretto DOP 2011
Lot 03.12
This is a blend of Marzemino, Groppello, Barbera, and Sangiovese; it's pale slightly orange rose (not quite salmon), and has a fairly intense bouquet with considerable heather and some red berry fruit supported by spicy notes that bring nutmeg to mind, and a fair amount of alcoholic warmth. On the palate it's bright, with lively sour cherry raspberry fruit that is supported by both raspberry acidity and some sweetness, and flows into a clean fairly tart wild berry fruit finish that again gains direction from acidity, while there is also alcohol that confers a certain slightly greenish warmth. Pleasant, and will work well at table with foods, from grilled or roasted fish through creamy first course dishes (I wouldn't serve it with a red sauce), and on to white meats. Versatile, and pleasant to drink.
2 stars

Azienda Agricola Feliciana Cebon Benaco Bresciano Rosso DOP 2009
Lot 06.10
This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marzemino, and Groppello, and ages in botti after fermentation in steel. Deep, almost impenetrable violet with slight purple reflections that emerge from the depths of the wine. The bouquet is intense, with the cabernet much in evidence in the form of graphite shaving and some cedar; the combination brings to mind the finger paints I played with as a child, and there is also some forest berry fruit, and also underlying savory accents and spice. Pleasant in a fairly international key. On the palate it's medium bodied, with fairly rich chewy dark forest berry fruit, in particular black currants, supported by savory accents and slight peppery spice, while the tannins are quite smooth and flow into a long cassis laced slightly peppery finish. It's quite approachable in a fairly international key, with rich fruit nicely supported by tannins that are polished but not buffed to a really high shine -- there's an element of dust to them that keeps them interesting -- and will drink nicely now with succulent though not too fatty red meats, for example roast beef cooked medium rare and sliced fairly thickly. It's a nice integration of international and local varietals, and has pleasant verve and personality.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Garantito IGP: Coda Di Volpe, Discovering the Low-Cost Irpinian white in 8 interpretations

This time Luciano Pignataro takes the stand.

When we open a bottle we are not always looking for the Wine of Our Lives. I'd say, to the contrary, that 99% of the time we're opening only what we need, to enjoy with friends or with food. Without thinking overmuch.

Italy's genetic reservoir is infinite, and its study is supported by a paucity of funds and therefore incomplete, but there isn't one region that lacks a hidden ace ready to be played when everything seems to have been seen, read, and drunk.

In Campania one such ace is Coda di Volpe, a white grape widespread in Irpinia, which it likely reached from Vesuvius, on the way to the Sannio area. It's a grape that was always present in farmers' vineyards, used to balance the excessive acidity of Falanghina on Vesuvius, and Fiano and Greco di Tufo in the Irpinia area. Then the decision of two wineries, and we'll never know which thought of it first, to vinify it on its own, after harvesting it early, before San Gerardo, to capture the proper degree of freshness.

Professor Antonio Troisi, at Vadiaperti near Montefredane and Mimmi Oconoe at Ponte, near Beneveto, pioneered this white at the beginning of the 1980s. A wine that was then launched in the 1990s, with the sleek Renano-style bottles of the Cantina del Taburno. For reasons I cannot fathom Falanghina, in the same bottles, took off and became an acclaimed star.

Coda di Volpe instead mosied along, with few believing in it, perhaps because the market wasn't ready for it.

And this is why it's always a good sign if it's kept on a company's product list: it indicates a love for the land, and the existence of a faithful clientele. At the last Fiera Enologica di Taurasi we tasted almost al the Irpinian Coda Di Volpe, and I will now give you a quick rundown.

Cantina Giardino Paski Campania IGT 2010 | Score 85/100
This is an extreme version of a natural wine, long maceration on the skins, no filtration. A textbook example, which brings to mind the old farers' whites beginning with its color, while its freshness may be somewhat penalized. On the other hand, on the palate it's long and savory.

Di Meo Coda di Volpe Campania IGT 2011 | Score 86/100
From the beginning Roberto di Meo has lavished attention on Coda di Volpe, using grapes from Salza Irpina, Montemarano and Manocalzati that are grown at altitudes between 500 and 550 meters. Fermentation in steel; it's very pleasant on the palate, subtle, fresh, dry and zesty. The nose is more standard, and less interesting.

Di Prisco Coda di Volpe DOC 2011 | Score 87/100
Pasqualino Di Prisco's whites are always a pleasant surprise: they're worthy of attention and patience. Even his Coda di Volpe needs a little time. Good fruit on the nose and palate, savoriness, and nice body.

Donnachiara Coda di Volpe Irpinia DOC 2011 | Score 85/100
The first vintage for this winery from Montefalcone, whose attentions, in its initial phases, have been dedicated primarily to whites. Their Coda di Volpe, fermented in steel, has nice tension on the palate, with dryness and freshness, but on the nose has a useless excess of sweet fruit that initially distracts. Bitter clean finish.

Perillo Coda di Volpe Irpinia DOC 2010 | Score 87/100
An example of adherence to the land: A producer of Taurasi and Aglianico who makes just this white without buying Fiano or Greco di Tufo grapes as so many other small winemakers do, to meet the requests of ignorant, facile wine shop and restaurant owners. And what a white: Made simply in steel, but with patience for the release, which is at least a year after the harvest. The sweetness on the nose reflects ripe white berry fruit, flowing into gunflint, and on the palate it's full, ripe, pleasant, long, effective, and perfect with food thanks to the vibrant acidity that supports it from beginning to end, A savory, bitter, thirst-quenching sip.

Tenute del Cavalier Pepe Bianco di Bellona Coda di Volpe Irpinia DOC 2011 | Score 86/100
No winery more than this, managed by Milena Pepe, daughter of emigrants who invested in their home town, buying land and building cellars, believes more in Coda di Volpe, a white so territorial that they planted it without hesitation. The way they manage their grapes is evident in the glass; despite simple fermentation in steel it expresses ripe white fruit, freshness, and savoriness. Long and enjoyable.

Terredora Coda di Volpe Campania IGT 2011 | Score 85/100

Terradora is the only large Irpinian winery to make pure Coda Di Rospo. After a few uncertain vintages, the leap in quality of their other whites has also benefited this wine they consider lesser, with a delicate nose, moderate concentration, and simple freshness that's easy to drink, in a light pleasant interpretation

Vadiaperti Coda di Rospo Irpinia DOC 2011 | Score 88/100
The hand unused to half-measures is evident here too: An absolutely savory white, mineral, vertical, of terrific impact, which captures the attention of the person drinking it and takes center stage. Extremely long, with a clean bitter finish, a bottle that heads for the podium in blind tastings.

Does this tasting show some common trends? We think so:

1 - These are low-cost whites, never more than 10 euros in a wine shop
2 - They are fermented in steel
3 - They generally have simple, rather rustic noses, which are not that interesting
4 - On the plate, however, the markers characteristic of Campania are quite evident: freshness, savoriness, and the total absence of sweetness.
5 - Coda di Volpe is perfect with all manner of fish and vegetarian dishes made without tomatoes,

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Garantito IGP: The Il Piastrino Restaurant in Pennabilli Sets The Standard For The Valmarecchia

This time Roberto Giuliani takes the stand:

Chance dictated that a month after telling you about the Osteria del Sole di Zocca, in Emilia, I should find myself on the other side, in Romagna, Province of Rimini, where I enjoyed breathtaking panoramas, wound along dangerous, often unpaved mountain roads and visited gems such as Sen Leo and the heart of Rimini itself.

Since I had three full days, I couldn't help but cross over to San Marino, where there are alas even more shops selling touristy trinkets that certainly don't do honor to a town that would otherwise be uniquely enticing.

The most beautiful places I visited, however, are in that slice of land called the Valmarecchia, the valley of the Marecchia river, which begins, as does the Tiber, at Monte Fumaiolo, but on the mountain's opposite flank, and flows down to the Adriatic, passing by lesser-known gems including San Leo and S. Agata Feltria (which was formerly in the Province of Pesaro-Urbino).

We're in the realm of Piadine (Romagna's traditional flatbread, made with lard) and Crescioni, which are piadine folded up and sealed like a Calzone, and generally filled with greens (beet greens or spinach, because crescione (a mild runny cheese) production  is alas decreasing), or tomato, or mozzarella and potatoes, with the to be expected local and seasonal variations.

Pennabilli is instead the southernmost town of Romagna, in the Parco Naturale Regionale del Sasso Simone e Simoncello in the Alta Valmarecchia. It's easily reached via Strada Statale 258 (which then becomes a Regional Road) and is well worth a visit, because it boasts many attractions, including "I Luoghi dell'anima: Orto dei frutti dimenticati di Tonino Guerra" (places of the soul: Tonino Guerra's Garden of Forgotten Fruit),
where one can admire both artworks and fruit trees.

Pennabilli is also one of the centers of the Mercato Nazionale dell'Antiquariato, the National Antiques Fair (in July), and in Late May - Early June hosts the Festival Internazionale dell'Arte di Strada, the International Street Art festival, this year in its 16th edition. Another excellent reason to come is the Mateureka museum, dedicated to the history of mathematics and computational devices, located in the Town Hall.

This small Romagnolan town also boasts the visit, in 1994, of Tenzin Gyatso, the XIV Dalai Lama, who cake to celebrat the 250th anniversary of Father Orazio Olivieri, who left Rimini in the XVIII to establish a Catholic mission in Lhasa.

But we're here to talk about more mundane, though necessary, things, and I cannot but mention that which for food and wine lovers is certainly the primary motivation for a visit to Pennabilli: At the gates of the town there's Il Piastino, one of the finest restaurants in all of Romagna, under the able direction of Riccardo Agostini.

In this stone house we find superb cooking that almost sneaks out, sign of a sure hand; ingredients of absolute quality, practically perfect presentations, and a perfect sense of balance, without theatrics that would clash with foods of frugal origin that are magnificantly handled. The wine list boasts some nice surprises, including biodynamic and organic labels.

I settled upon a Vernaccia di S. Gimignano Carato 2005 from Montenidoli (30 euros), which may be from out of state, but I have a soft spot for this wine, which i hadn't tried for a couple of years -- Elisabetta Fagiuoli, who is now also President of the Consorzio della Vernaccia, is as unique as her wines, and, I think, set a mark unreachable by others.

It's not easy to pair a wine with dishes one has never had, but I have to say I lucked out. My wife Laura and I shared our dishes to have a better picture of the kitchen: We began with an excellent chantarelle, spring onion and bluebary cocktail with poached egg and ricotta cream (13 euros) and Cappelletti with Parmigiano, shank and porcini (14 euros), a tasty dish with well balanced ingredients; for seconds we settled upon an extraordinary crunchy sucing pig with carrot and lime cream and pinzimonio of vegetables with cumin (18 euros), a dish that was perfectly balanced and with very tender meat, and Eggplant and Buffalo mozzarella millefoglie with basil cream (14 euros) with remarkable mozzarella and perfectly assembled millefoglie. To finish up, only one dessert (one of us had had enough, but I won's say who), a moving Caramelized cream with Kirsch and cherry granita (10 euros). A bottle of water and two excellent coffees, and I shouldn't overlook the many breads we were also served. Total cost, 117 Euros, which is perfect.

It's worth going back to try more....

Ristorante Il Piastrino
via Parco Begni, 5 - Pennabilli (RN)
Tel. 0541 928106
Open lunch and dinner, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Come Far Recensire I Propri Vini da Italian Wine Review

Assaggio vini per The Italian Wine Review sia alle manifestazioni ufficiali che in ufficio.

Produttori che volessero far degustare i loro vini in ufficio sono pregati di inviare una campionatura, di due bottiglie per tipologia (nel caso di chiusure non in sughero è sufficente una) all seguente indirizzo:

Kyle Phillips
Via della Chiesa 62
50027 Strada in Chianti (FI)

Tel: 333 470 5821

Tengo a sottolineare che non vi é alcun costo aggiuntivo per la recensione dei vini, e anche a sottolineare che nelle mie valutazioni dico sempre quello che penso, confidando che una valutazione precisa sia di aiuto sia al consumatore che al produttore.

Friday, August 03, 2012

A Visit to Castello di Brolio, and thoughts about Bettino Ricasoli

Looking towards Siena from Brolio
Brolio is the largest estate in Chianti, one of the oldest, and also the most important. Because without Brolio we wouldn't have the Chianti Classico we know today. The estate had belonged to the Ricasoli family for centuries -- since 1141 -- but when Bettino Ricasoli inherited it in the early 1800s at the age of 18, following the death of his mother, it was mired in debt. A lesser man might have given up, but Bettino was not one to shirk a challenge; he gave up his studies and moved to Brolio, where he managed to both raise his younger siblings, whom the Grand Duchy had entrusted to his care, and save the family fortunes.

He also got involved in politics, initially Tuscan, and subsequently, after playing an instrumental role in guiding Tuscany's confluence into the newly formed Italian state, on the National stage, where he occupied the post of Prime Minister twice, the first time in 1861, when he was asked to step in for Camillo Cavour, (1810-1861, the Piemontese political genius behind the Italian unification), and the second in 1866, when he tried unsuccessfully to reach an agreement with the Church -- the Church, which had not accepted the unification of Italy, agreed to what he proposed, but the Parliament did not, so he resigned.

And returned to Brolio, which had never been far from his heart. There he devoted his time and energy to improving the lands, and one of the most interesting records to be found is in the correspondence he had with Cesare Studiati, who was a professor at the medical school in Pisa, patriot, and also a land owner with a lively scientific interest in everything that came from the land.

The two wrote back and forth frequently; they had similar political views and many of the earlier notes collected in "Alla Ricerca del 'Vino Perfetto' Il Chianti del Barone di Brolio," (Leo S. Olschki Editore, Florence, 2009), a small volume Francesco Ricasoli presented at the inauguration of a museum dedicated to Bettino in the castle, are Bettino's questions about who might be best suited for this or that post in Pisa, and Cesare's replies, and as such are of interest only to a select group of political historians.

But they also discuss farming, which, following Bettino's retirement from the national political stage, becomes a primary topic of their discourse. Not just the wine one would expect now, but other things as well, and this invites a brief aside.

Tuscany was a very different place in the 1860s; while some landowners, including Bettino Ricasoli and Cesare Studiati did take an active interest in their holdings, many preferred to live in the cities, leaving everything in the hands of the mezzadri, or tenant farmers, and the fattori, or estate managers. It was assumed that farms would be self sufficient, producing everything they needed, and as a result the sort of intensive viticulture we see today was unknown. Rather, the farming system followed a system called coltura promiscua, in which the fields were mixed, with seed crops planted between the rows of vines, and olive and fruit trees as well.

As one might guess it wasn't the most efficient system, and the more interested landowners explored a number of possible ways to make the farms more profitable; while Bettino devoted considerable energy to wine, he also explored the possibility of raising silkworms, which initially looked promising, until a silkworm blight reared its head (and yes, he and Cesare, who was also interested in silk worms, discussed this).

However, it is Bettino's comments on wine that make the correspondence so important, for he discusses both how he makes it and with what varietals. First how he made it, on July 16 1868, in a letter he sent with several sample bottles from a number of vintages that Cesare and his research team were to analyze.

"The wine," he says, "Is made as it has been these past 20 years at Brolio:

a) Careful selection of perfectly ripe grapes; those that aren't are destined to another wine (not what he was sending)

b) The stems remain with the grapes

c) The grapes are carefully crushed so as to leave no berries intact

d) When the tino (an upright wooden tank with inward-sloping sides) is filled, something we endeavor to do in the space of 24 hours, we cover it with a wooden lid, leaving a 5-cm space above the lid, which we cover with fine sand. In filling the tino we leave 30-35 cm (about a foot) between the grapes and the lid, to prevent the must, which expands as it ferments, from pressing against the lid and getting out.

e) We rack after 5 or the most 6 days.

f) After the wine finishes draining freely, we press the marks twice, combining the free-run wine and that from the first pressing, and putting the mixture into cask. The wine from the second pressing of the marks is added to the vino ordinario, or every-day wine.

g) The wine placed in casks resumes its fermentation, and we are careful to keep the casks filled. We leave them unsealed, with a tile over the holes to keep anything from dropping in. When the fermentation reduces to the point that it no longer foams we lightly stopper the casks to keep the CO2 given off, and when CO2 ceases to form we seal the casks tightly.

h) When the wine has clarified itself, we rack it.

i) In May we rack it again.

j) Every 15 days during the first year, we refill the casks.

k) In December we rack, clarify, and rack again to remove the sediment.

l) Come March we rack again

"We are by now in the second year; to be brief about it, in March and September of the first 4 years we rack, and after this time the wines of Brolio go into bottle."

This was, he says, what he did with the best wines -- those for every day use were not given the full treatment -- and that it resulted in wines of great longevity: He still had some 1841 that after 27 years was, he says, still beautifully colored and excellent.

In short, this is a quick course in traditional Tuscan wine making, and what Bettino was doing sounds very much like what Fabrizio Bianchi's Fattore told him to do when he decided to bottle the first vintage of Monsanto's Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio in 1962 -- and that too was from a Vigna Promiscua. And displayed vibrant acidity, which was the major problem Bettino had with his wine, which he sometimes found overly acidic.

Just as interesting as Bettino's method is what he put into the wine, which he says in a letter dated September 26, 1872: "My wine receives from Sangioveto much of its aroma (a characteristic I especially seek) and a certain vigor; from Canajuolo softness that tempers the harness of the former, without taking anything of its aromas, as it also has them; Malvagia, which one could omit in wines destined to aging, dilutes the first two, increasing their flavor and making the wine lighter and readier to drink for daily use."

And here we have it, the Chianti formula, two red grapes and a white. And it is from this that the people putting together the Chianti Classico Disciplinare in the early 1960s worked, and in twisting it did much harm. For they disregarded Bettino's observation about omitting Malvasia from wines destined to be aged (Riserve in particular), and also allowed Trebbiano, an extremely productive white grape that Bettino doesn't mention. As we know, the disciplinare, with the 30% white grape requirement, proved a disaster for Chianti Classico, one that was only remedied when modern winemakers, either intentionally or not, followed Bettino's advice and omitted the white grapes from their top wines (something it took the people governing the Appellation a while to allow, though they eventually did), and now, following the period during which French varietals were all the rage, we are slowly returning more towards Bettino's choice of varietals as well.

As I said, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of Bettino Ricasoli's contribution to Central Tuscan winemaking, and, therefore, to central Tuscany as a whole.

And this brings us to the museum dedicated to Bettino Ricasoli that Francesco Ricasoli opened within the walls of Castello di Brolio in 2009. It's small, four rooms, but quite interesting: The first is an armory, one of the few not associated with a Royal House in Italy, and in addition to muskets and hunting guns and whatnot has several swords either worn into battle by family members (they rode alongside the Medici Dukes) or given to members of the family in the course of state visits, and several absolutely beautiful dueling pistols.

The next room has a collection of Bettino's letters and other objects related to his political activities, while the third is not actually his, but rather the King's: Tradition dictated that whomever the King visited would prepare a room should the King want to rest, and this is the room Bettino prepared for Vittorio Emanuele II's visit to Brolio in 1863. He didn't use it, but it's still there.

The fourth room is perhaps the most interesting; it contains some of Bettino's samples and scientific apparatuses, and what I found especially striking are several vine leaves afflicted by the Phylloxera bug -- it had already reached Brolio while he was alive, and though in the coltura promiscua vineyards it wasn't the out-and-out disaster it was in vineyards with closely spaced rows of vines, it was a problem, and he wanted to know more about it.

There is also the castle, which has a beautiful rather romanticized great hall, and an impressive terrace looking towards Siena (if you turn around and look at the castle's façade you'll see the traces left by the shells during the war, when the Germans commandeered the structure to use it as a command post).

A visit to the castle and the cellars will take a morning or an afternoon (there is also a restaurant, the Osteria del Castello), and is by appointment; you should check Barone Ricasoli's site for information on making reservations for tours (or the Osteria) and other details.

And having said all this, Brolio's current wines:

Albia Rosé Toscana IGT 2010
Lot L-MD817ST
This is a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, made from grapes harvested a little early to allow for the proper acidity. Pale pink with brilliant rosepetal reflections. The bouquet is quite fresh, especially for its age, with rose petals, sea salt and a fair amount of raspberry with raspberry acidity to give life. On the palate it's fresh, with bright lively sour raspberry fruit supported by considerable sea salt and some minerality, flows into a long savory finish. Quite fresh and will be a nice picnic wine, with light pasta dishes, or also with an elegant pizza.
2 stars

Torricella Toscana IGT 2010
Lot L-RCD17 TR09-11 Single Lot
Vine Leaves Beset by Phylloxera
Chardonnay with 20% Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in steel -- The Chardonnay undergoes cyromaceration, and also goes briefly into old barriques. As one might guess the fermentation (low temperature for both) is separate, with assembly before bottling. Brilliant brassy gold with brassy yellow reflections and white rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with minerality and some gooseberry supported by slightly greenish acidity and some sea salt. Nice balance in a fairly mineral key, some tropical fruit. On the palate it's ample and smooth, with fairly rich green mango fruit supported by savory minerality and some fairly bright greenish acidity, flows into a a fairly long mineral finish. Pleasant, in a fairly full key, and will work well with vegetable dishes, some butterscotch too on nose and palate, nice length. Will also age nicely.
2 stars

Barone Ricasoli Campo Ceni IGT Toscana 2008
Lot L-RGF17 SF-27
This is Sangiovese and Merlot, the goal being to make a light fresh easy to drink wine. Deep black cherry ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with berry fruit supported by underbrush and a gentle softness, with some alcohol and nice slightly dusky acidity, some pencil shavings. On the palate it's light and fresh, with pleasant berry fruit supported by brambly acidity and tannins that are quite smooth, with hints of vegetal bitterness about then that derives from the merlot and flows into a clean fresh rather bitter finish. Quite pleasant and will drink very well with foods, supporting rather than demanding center stage, and will be perfect with things such as grilled lamb chops or fagiuoli all'uccelletto. Nice acidity too Expect people to want more.

Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG 2009
Lot L-TBC17 TR44-11
This is Sangiovese with some Merlot and Cabernet, percentages vary from year to year. Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections cherry rim. The bouquet is quite young, and also quite fresh, with cherry fruit supported by some cedar and spice, also some sea salt. Quite promising in a model of the road key though it needs another year. On the palate it's further along, with pleasant cherry fruit supported by moderate rather brambly acidity and by tannins that are silky, with some brambly pencil shaving accents, and flow into a fairly long bitter finish. It is already drinkable, but will give more of itself in a year or two, and will age nicely for 3-5.
2 stars

Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciardi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2008
Lot L-RGD17 AM46-10
This is a mix of their grapes and bought grapes, Sangiovese with a little Cabernet and Merlot, depends upon vintage. The bouquet is fairly rich, with some berry fruit supported by savory accents and underbrush, and also by some wet earth, also slight vegetal notes and hardwood ash. On the palate it's ample and smooth, with moderately rich cherry fruit supported by moderate berry fruit acidity, with some brambly accents and some wet leafy notes, and by tannins that are slightly toasted, and flow into a clean savory finish with some wood toast. Pleasant though I found the tannins, which have a touch of vegetal Cabernet to them, a little less pleasant than those of the Brolio. A personal preference, and the wine will in any case work well with grilled meats or light stews.
2 stars

Barone Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico DOCG 2008
Lot L-MGD16 TR20-10 A single lot.
This is the second vintage of a selection from the Colledilà vineyard, which is distinct from the other vineyards they have -- it is rocky and quite calcareous. It's a Sangiovese, planted about 10 years ago, 7 ha and they find it unique and therefore bottle it singly. The wine is deep cherry ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is pleasant, with wild cherry fruit supported by dusky accents and clean spice, also some India ink bitterness and hints of quinine, some spice, slight cedar. On the palate it's quite elegant, with rich cherry fruit supported by sour slightly brambly greenish accents, and by bright savory acidity, and tannins that are smooth and fairly silky with some brambly underpinning, and flow into a long rather bright sour cherry finish. Quite elegant, and deft, a young finely muscled athlete -- dancer, almost, and will also age nicely for a number of years. If you like the style you could drink it by the glass, but it will really give its best with red meats. Quite pleasant, and something to think about for now and for the relatively near -- 5-10 years -- future. Great finesse.

Barone Ricasoli Casalferro IGT Toscana 2008
L-TLL16 TR37-10 A single lot
This wine started life as a Sangiovese many years ago, and since then the blend has gradually changed; it's now a Merlot. Impenetrable black cherry ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is elegant, with black currant fruit supported by spice and some pencil sgavings, hints graphite, and also fairly intense black pepper spice as well, and some cedar too. Nice complexity. On the palate it's rich and full, with powerful black currant fruit supported by some greenish vegetal accents, deft mineral acidity, and tannins that are very smooth and flow into a clean berry fruit finish with hints of dark chocolate. Very nice, and thinking back to older vintages I find that I like this better, it is more graceful, and considerably less forced than it once was.

Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG 2008
Lot L.MNN16 TR20-10 Single lot
Impenetrable black cherry ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is still quite young, with cherry fruit supported by deft cedar and some spice; it needs a couple of years to come together but is quite promising. At present a bit one track and this is youth. On the palate it's full, and rich, with bright sour cherry fruit supported by slightly balsamic acidity and by tannins that are clean and cedar laced, with warm savory balsamic accents, and flows into a long rather balsamic finish that goes on and on. Beautiful, and a distinct step up from the other wines, it will work very well with red meats and would be hard to beat beside a porterhouse cut. Though one could drink it now it will also age very well for 10 years at least, and if you have patience it will reward you.

Barone Ricasoli Granella IGT Toscana 2009
Lot L-RTN16 TR01-10
This is a passito, no wood, and designed to be clean and easy to drink. Greenish gold with golden reflections. The bouquet is intense, with powerful ripe apricot and tropical fruit, papaya and hints mango, and some botrytis as well. Exotic and sultry. On the palate it's sweet, with considerable fullness also from glycerin, and botrytis laced tropical fruit. It's a bit of a sex pot, a wine that is very approachable and will go down quite nicely, and though one often hears of that these wines should be paired with dessert I would serve it with cheeses, including greenish ones.
2 stars

Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Vin Santo del Chianti Classico DOCG 2004
Lot L-RLM15 JI06-09
Tawny amber with apricot reflections and slightly greenish nail. The bouquet is powerful, with oatmeal and some walnut skins mingled with dried fruit and alcohol, also bitter chestnut honey and slight caramel. Impressive and pleasant to snoff. On the palate it's full, with rich savory dried fruit snd dried fig sweetness dupported by deft acidity, and by wamnut skin bitterness that gradually emerges, and then lasts and lasts, fading gradually into savory bitterness and minerality. Extremely pleasant, and of from here.