A Taste of Puglia at SD 26 in NYC

At a recent tasting and dinner at SD26, I was very impressed by the wines of Alberto Longo. I have known Alberto and his wines for a number of years, but something seemed different. I asked Alberto if the winemaker was the same or if he made any changes in how the wines were made. He said that the winemaker was still Graziana Grassini and she is making the wine the same way. He added however that the wines were better because his vines were now 12 years old and this made all the difference.

Alberto Longo

Alberto Longo

He also said that he does not like to use new wood for aging his wine. It hides the true character by adding aromas and flavors that do not enhance the wine but distract from it. Only three of his wines see wood and it is second, third and fourth passage barrels.

Alberto Longo and Chef Vito Aversa

Alberto Longo and Chef Vito Aversa

The Alberto Longo winery is located in Lucera, in northern Puglia, and there are 35 hectares of vineyards around and near the winery. Alberto is very proud of his region, especially the food and wine. For this tasting and dinner he flew in Vito Centrone, the young owner of restaurant da Tuccino near Bari, and his chef Vito Aversa who prepared the food with the help of the SD26 staff.IMG_6243

IGT Puglia Bianco “le Fassete” 2011 made from 100% Falanghina. The production area for the wine is San Severo and Masseria Celentano in northern Puglia. The vineyard was planted in 2002 and the soil is calcareous clay loam. There are 5,600 vines per hectare. After a soft pressing the grapes are de-stemmed. Alcoholic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. The wine remains on the lees for three months. Alberto wanted to show the current vintage 2012 but was sent the 2011. For me this was the better choice because the wine had an extra year of aging and had developed more character. Italian white wines can age and Alberto said he has older vintages at the winery. The wine was a perfect combination with the fish crudo. It has a fruity and floral bouquet. It is full bodied with hints of citrus and good acidity. IMG_6238

Puglia IGT Rosso “le Cruste” 2010 made from 100% Nero di Troia. Type of soil is calcareous clayey texture. Fermentation in stainless steel with prolonged skin contact. After malolactic fermentation the wine is aged in French barriques (second and third passage) and in casks for at least 12 months, then at least 18 months in bottle before release. This wine had flavors and aromas of blackberry and plum and a touch of spice.IMG_6231

It was served with fresh black squid ink orecchiette in a sauce of clams, red shrimps and zucchini flowers. IMG_6235

Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera DOC 2012 made from 55% Nero di Troia, 30% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and 30% Bombino Bianco. The soil is calcareous with sandy topsoil. There are 5,600 vines per hectare. Viniflcation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures with prolonged maceration on the skins. Malolactic fermentation takes place in November. The wine is aged in cement tanks for at least 6 to 8 months and it bottle for at least 6 months before release. Alberto said that this appellation had been nearly forgotten. He helped to support it along with its principal grape Nero di Troia, aka Uva di Troia. The wine has aromas and flavors of berries such as blackberry and blueberry, and a touch of violet.

Oven roasted wild turbot with a potato crust, fresh tomatoes, parsley and garlic was the accompaniment.IMG_6251

IGT Puglia Rosso “Capoposto” 2012 made from 100% Negroamaro. There are 5,600 plants per hectare. Vinification is in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperature with prolonged skin contact with the must. Malolatic fermentation takes place in the month of November. Aging takes place in concrete vats for at least 6 to 8 months and in bottle for at least 6 months before release. This is a wine with aromas of red and black berries. It is a medium to full bodied wine with a long finish and nice aftertaste. Served with Fassone Piemontese rib eye with braised endive and radicchio.

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Understanding the Challenging Wine Market in the USA

The following excellent article was written by Cathy Huyghe for Forbes Food and Drink. The article gives one of the best explanations of the “three tier-system of alcohol distribution  in the United States. At Vinitaly, Ms Huyghe was on a panel  discussing this topic along with Alfonso Cevola,  and Jeremy Parzen (as moderator).  I know these two men and greatly respect their opinions about wine.

Ms. Huyghe also writes about the problems Italian producers have understanding the three-tier system and marketing their wines in the US. She uses as her example Liù  Pambuffetti of the Scacciadiavoli winery. I first met Liù a number of years ago when I was the wine director of i Trulli restaurant and Vino wine store in NYC. Liu came to the wine store for a month to learn about Italian wine and the wine market in NYC.  I  spent time with her talking about these subjects and she sat in on the wine classes I was giving at the time at Vino. So this article is of special interest to me. I believe that every Italian producer who has their wine in this country should read this article.

What Makes A Wine Sell, And What Doesn’t: Takeaways from VinItaly

Note: Last week, during the VinItaly trade fair in Verona, I participated on a panel on the subject of the three-tier system of alcohol distribution in the US. This post recaps the discussion. My co-presenters were Alfonso Cevola, Italian wine specialist at Glazer’s distributor; Steve Raye, co-founder of Brand Action Team TISI +0.78%; and Jeremy Parzen, an Italian wine specialist, who moderated the panel.

One van. Three friends. Twenty-five states. And 40 cases of wine. That was Liù Pambuffetti’s life for three months last winter, as she and two friends drove through the midwestern US, visiting restaurant after restaurant and retailer after retailer, tasting each one on her family’s wines from the Scacciadiavoli estate, in the Montefalco region of Umbria. “We can’t understand the American market from Italy,” Liù Pambuffetti said two weeks ago, standing in the courtyard of her family’s winery. “We had to go there. We had to see for ourselves.”

The initiative started because Pambuffetti found herself in the same position as many smaller Italian wine producers who want to export their wines to the US: with a lack of knowledge or experience with the three-tier system of alcohol distribution in this country.

That lack of knowledge is one reason why the three-tier system was the subject of a panel and seminar I participated in last week at the VinItaly International Wine & Spirits Exhibition in Verona, home to more than 4000 exhibitors, most from within Italy and its wine sector that’s worth 12 billion Euro annually.

The four panelists, independently of each other, anecdotally polled different Italian producers on what they knew about the three-tier system in the US. The answer – very little – was consistent across the board.

For the record, the three-tier system (which dates back to the repeal of Prohibition in the US) means that alcohol must pass through three sets of hands. The first tier is the producer; the second tier is the distributor, which is sometimes also the importer; and the third tier, finally, are the licensed retailers, who sell to the public.

Each state complies with the three tiers, but each state also has its own regulations. Which means a producer must multiply those three tiers by 51 – for all 50 states plus a county in Maryland – in order to get a sense of the magnitude and complexity of bringing their wine to the US market.

A reasonable knee-jerk reaction would be to protest such a system but, as Steve Raye pointed out during the panel, there’s no use spending time debating the faults and merits of the system. Raye is the co-founder and principal at Connecticut-based Brand Action Team, who specializes in innovative digital marketing programs for the alcohol business.[/entity][/entity]

The three-tier system is the reality in the US, as Raye said, and it won’t be changing any time soon. But there are ways to work within it and, increasingly, around it, given the always-changing regulations in the US about ecommerce and shipping wine directly to consumers.

Despite how complicated the laws are, and despite how helpful an importer/distributor may be once the wine lands in the US, the responsibility for selling and marketing a wine still lies squarely in the hands of the producer. That realization quickly lead our panel and the audience to a discussion of how producers can find, market to, and sell to their audience.

Which brings us back to Liù Pambuffetti’s three-month “tour” of the midwestern US.

She and her team had planned ahead and scheduled tastings in target markets. In a very savvy move, at each stop they asked the restaurant or retailer which importers or distributors they respect and use to deliver smaller-production Italian wines like theirs.

In the end Pambuffetti identified not only new customers but also four new distributors, giving her family’s wines an exponentially greater presence in the US than they had before. It isn’t just a presence, however: it is a strategically intelligent presence that increases their chances for successful sales.

There are three important takeaways from Pambuffetti’s experience for Italian wine producers who are looking to break into the US market. These points were discussed in details during the VinItaly panel.

Focus, focus, then focus some more on who the audience is. It sounds obvious, but producers can increase their chances of success by homing in on the people most likely to care about their brand. Otherwise the experience can resemble fishing for sardines in the Pacific Ocean. Maybe the audience for a particular producer is white tablecloth restaurants, in the Italian category, with 50 to 100 seats, and two or more staff dedicated to the wine program. If the producer has dug that far down, in a number of different markets, they’ll already know how their audience wants to be communicated to.
Seriously consider the off-the-beaten-path markets, that is, outside the major cities on either coast of the country. When everyone else is zigging, you zag.
The in-person experience is paramount, because that’s the very best way for a producer to deliver their story.
In my opinion, a producer’s story trumps any detail about a wine’s technical profile or even their numerical rating by international publications. A wine’s technical profile – things like the type of wood it was aged in, or its acidity or alcohol levels – are what I’ve come to think of as tablestakes, to borrow a phrase from Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi: they are the stakes any player has to bring to the game to earn a seat at the table. Everyone has them, but they aren’t a point of differentiation.

Which means they don’t help a wine to sell.

What helps a wine sell is its story.

When I interview a winemaker or visit a producer from my perspective as a journalist, the story that interests me doesn’t emerge until later, often much later. It definitely doesn’t happen until after the preliminaries – the tablestakes or logistical data, that is – are over with. It’s only then that the lightbulb of recognition goes off, that illuminates what it is that makes that particular wine and that particular producer unique and different than all the others.

This more narrative approach doesn’t come easily – not even to producers themselves whose stories are their own – within an industry long influenced by the split-second recognition of numerical ratings of wines. Yet it’s exactly what a major distributor like Glazer’s, based in Dallas, Texas, has its eyes and ears open to.

Alfonso Cevola, Import Wine Director and Italian wine specialist at Glazer’s, estimated during the panel that he receives about 20 emails a week from Italian producers that are strikingly, almost dishearteningly, similar because they all say the same thing and relay the same information (such as the tablestakes of oak aging, acidity, length of time the family’s been making wine, etc), only with a different brand name.

The problem is that none of that information is going to help him, or his sizable sales staff, sell the wine. What they need to know is what differentiates the brand from all the other producers in the company’s portfolio, which is also sizable.

Convincing producers of the value of their individual story, though it makes valuable sense intuitively, requires an important shift for many producers moving forward. But, as Raye pointed out during the panel, producers are in an advantageous position today because of technology and measurement tools, many of which are openly available for public use.

Producers can experiment not only with the platforms for communicating their story, but also with whether the story resonates with the audience they want to reach. “Try it,” Raye said. “Measure it. If it doesn’t work, then try something else. The tools are at our disposal.”

Follow me on Twitter @cathyhuyghe.

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The White Wines of Campania Part II

There were so many great white wines from Campania at the recent Wine Media Guild tasting and lunch that I had to write about them in two blogs. This is the second

Campania has some of the oldest and most unusual grape varieties in Italy, such as Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Ginestra, Pepella and Fenile.

In his book Brunello to Zibibbo, Nicholas Belfrage writes, “Fiano is either a native grape of Campania or a member of a family of grapes called Apianes brought to southern Italy from the Peloponesse, once called Apia… it is mentioned specifically by Pliny in his Naturalis Historia… ‘the bees give Fiano its name, because of their desire (for it).’ Pliny’s etymology has since been challenged…it is not bees (apes), but wasps that are attracted to the sweet grapes, and it is claimed that the name really derives from appiano, a type of apple, or Apia, once a place name in the province of Avellino now called Lapia. IMG_6203

Fiano di Avellino Etichetta Nera 2013 I Favati Made from 100% Fiano di Avellino. The grapes come from the 5 hectare vineyard Pietramara in Altripalda in the province of Avellino. The age of the vines are 6/7 years, the soil is mostly clay and there are 6,500 vines per hectare. The training system is guyot and the harvest takes place the 3rd to 4th week of October. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks and maceration takes place on the lees.IMG_6205

Fiano di Avellino 2013 Tenuta Sarno 1860 made from 85% Fiano, 15% Greco, Code di Volpe and sometimes Trebbiano Toscana Bianco. The winery is in Candida, an ancient village in the province of Avellino, The vineyards are at 6,000 meters and the soil is calcareous clay rich in potassium and phosphorus. Harvest is by hand in the middle of October. Grapes are crushed with a pneumatic press with the cage closed, and the wine spends 6 months on the lees. This is a complex wine with depth and structure. It has hints of white peaches, pears and hazelnuts. $25 IMG_6206

Fiano di Avellino 2012 Ciro Picariello made from 100% Fiano from a seven hectare vineyard in the villages of Montefredane at 1600 ft. and Summonte at 2,100 ft. The harvest takes place in late October and the grapes are picked by hand. The grapes undergo a slow pressing with only the first press fraction used. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeast for 11/12 months and then several months in bottle before release. There is a minimal use of SO2 and the wine is not filtered or fined. The wine has hints of apple, white peach, hazelnut and a touch of flint and minerality due to the volcanic soil. $29IMG_6207

Fiano di Avellino Ventidue 2009 Villa Raiano made from 100% Fiano from vineyards in the municipalities of Candida, Montefredane, Lapio and San Michele di Serino in Irpinia. The vineyard is at 450/600 meters, the soil is calcareous clay and marl, with loamy sand, the training system is espalier-guyot and there are 4,500 plants per hectare. Harvest takes place the first week of October. Vinification is in stainless steel tanks. There is a settling of the must after a soft pressing of whole clusters and inoculation with selected yeasts. The wine is bottled the second week of February following the harvest. This is a wine with a mineral character, good acidity and hints of citrus fruits, white peaches, and a touch of mint and sage. $23

Fiano di Avillano can age and is at its best when it is 5 to 10 years old. However there are also many that can age for 15 to 20 years and longer. IMG_6208

Irpinia Bianco Campania ”Campanaro” 2012. Feudi di San Gregorio made from Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo grapes are from the Valle dei Ruggi vineyard in the commune of Sorbo Serpico and the Campanaro vineyard in the commune of Tufo, Campania. 15+ year-old vines are grown at between 1,300 – 1,600 ft above sea level with southern and southwestern exposures. Grapes are grown at a moderately dense 4,500 vines per hectare and organic farming methods are employed. The Fiano is grown in a moderately deep soil with slight to moderately calcareous surface. Deeper levels are calcareous with silt clay and marl, limey soil. The Greco is grown in deep, finely textured, moderately alkaline and very calcareous soil with a clay surface layer with deeper layers of clay, lime marl and copious limestone. Harvest is the first two weeks of October. There is a soft crushing of the grapes at low pressure followed by cold settling for 24/48 hours in stainless steel and wood. The wine is aged for 6 months on the lees and then spends four months in bottle before release. $14

Ginestra: This grape variety is present in Furore, Tramonti, Corbaia and Positano. It has nothing to do with Falanghina, with which it was mistakenly combined in the 19th century. It has a characteristically strong scent of broom, known in Italian as ginestra, from which it takes its name. This robust grape variety requires extensive pruning and offers discreet yields. It is a complementary grape variety in the Costa d’Amalfi Bianco DOC.

Pepella: With only a few large grapes on each bunch, the rest of them are small, the size of peppercorns (hence the name), but they all ripen at the same time. This is another grape variety exclusive to the area of Amalfi inland from the coast. Pepella is fairly uncommon and the vines are rather old. As a complementary grape variety, it falls under the Tramonti and Ravello subzones of the Costa d’Amalfi Rosso DOC.IMG_6209

Costa D’ Amalfi Bianco “Per Eva” 2008 Tenuta San Francesco made from 65% Falanghina, 30% Ginestra and 5% Pepella. The vineyard was once owned by the clergy so it is called “Vigna dei Preti.” It is located in Tramonti on the hills high above the Amalfi Coast. The vineyard is on steep-sloped terraced hills 300/500 meters above sea level. The harvest takes place the third week of October. Fermentation is in stainless steel for 10 months and two months in bottle before release. The wine is named for the wife of one of the owners. This is a wine with nice fruit, smoke, good minerality and acidity.

Fenile: I was sitting next to Livio Panebianco, the importer for Marisa Cuomo Wines and he told me about the Fenile grape. It is a complementary variety found mainly in the territories of Furore, Positano and Amalfi. It is trained using the pergola system in groups of two or three vines per position. Fenile offers a modest production due to the slight weight of the bunch. This grape ripens between the end of August and the first few days of September and the very thin skin of the berry means that it must be harvested immediately to prevent it from rotting.

Ripolo: The grape variety is now grown in a few areas mostly in the municipalities of Furore and Positano. It is not particularly fertile and production is not always constant. In particular, the weight of the bunch is well below average.

IMG_5011

Costa D’ Amalfi “Fiorduva” Furore Bianco 2012 Cantina Marisa Cuomo. The wine is made from 30% Fenile, 30% Ginestra and 40% Ripolo. The production zone is in Furore and the surrounding municipalities on the Amalfi coast. The coastal terraces are at 200/500 meters and are south facing.  There are 5,000 to 7,000 vines per hectare. The training system is pergola. The soil is limestone-dolomite rocks. The overripe grapes are harvested by hand the third week of October and the grapes arrive intact in the cantina. After pressing the juice is inoculated with selected yeast. Fermentation takes place for about 3 months in oak barrels at 12°C. The wine has very nice fruit with hints of apricot, raisins, a touch of candied fruit and good acidity. This was one of my favorite wines at the tasting.

 

 

 

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Filed under campania, Ciro Picariello, Fenile grape, Feudi di San Gregorio, Fiano di Avellino, Ginestra grape, I Favati winery, Pepella grape, Ripolo grape, Tenuta San Francesco, TENUTA SARNO 1866, Villa Raiano

Pizza and Hygienic Terrorism in Italy

The following article was published  by Jeremy Parzen on his Blog Do Bianchi 

Does Pizza Cause Cancer? Italy’s Big Pizza Kerfaffle

by Do Bianchi

italian pizza cancer report raiAbove: the last pizza I ate in Italy in Lecce in October 2013, a “napoletana” with salt-cured anchovies and capers.

Every Italian food and wine blog that I follow posted yesterday on a controversy sparked by a Sunday evening news program aired by RAI 3, one of Italy’s three national television networks.

The show, “Report,” is analogous to “20/20″ on ABC or “48 Hours” on CBS, a “gotcha” news program that generates views and clicks by means of pseudo-investigative reporting.

In Sunday night’s show, entitled “Let’s not burn our pizza,” the producers contend that because Italian pizzaioli (pizza makers) do not properly clean their pizza ovens, the resulting “hydrocarbons” in “burnt pizzas” can cause cancer.

pizza report rai 3Image via the RAI 3 site, where you can view the entire show online.

The residual burnt flour that discolors the bottom of the pies, says one University of Venice toxicology professor interviewed by the producers, is similar to the exhaust that you breathe on the freeway.

The producers make other outrageous claims as well: the use of oils other than olive oil, low quality flour, and even the boxes for delivery pizza can also be cancerogenic, they report.

Between yesterday and today, Neapolitan journalist Luciano Pignataro — one of Italy’s leading wine and food bloggers — published seven posts on his blog in response to what one of his contributors calls “hygienic terrorism.”

In a press conference yesterday organized hastily by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the Authentic Neapolitan Pizza Association), Professor Antonio Limone, commissioner of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale del Mezzogiorno (Experimental Veterinary Prevention Institute of Southern Italy), stated flatly that “the amount of hydrocarbons found in a burnt pizza is less than in mussels” (source: Luciano Pignataro Wine Blog).

“We cannot stand for attacks like this against [the region of] Campania,” said Antonio Startita during the conference, a “historic” pizzaiolo who works in the Materdei ward of Naples. “We must defend our treasures. A Neapolitan pizza not cooked in wood-fired oven is unthinkable.”

Do Bianchi | October 7, 2014 at 10:59 am | Categories: de cibo, de rebus italicis | URL:http://wp.me/p5ma7-6wm

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White Wines of Campania: Part 1

 

When Tom Maresca, member sponsor of the event,  sent me the list of Campania wines for the Wine Media Guild tasting and lunch at Felidia Restaurant, I could not believe the variety of wines that he had managed to put together. There were 14 white wines on the list and 14 reds ranging in price from $17 to $60.

Tom Maresca

Tom Maresca

Michele and I travel in Campania often and this was a chance to taste wines that I could only find there and taste them side-by-side

The speakers for the event were Ferrante Di Somma from Cantina Di Marzo, Katel Pleven from Cantina Astroni, Livio Panebianco, importer of Marisa Cuomo wines and Elena Gargani representing Donnachiara

Since there are so many wines to report on, I will write about the white wines made from Falanghina, Code di Volpe, Greco di Tufo and Pallagrello grapes first.

Falanghina: In his book, Brunello to Zibibbo (1999) Nicholas Belfrage states, “This grape (Falanghina), which some have suggested may be of Greek origin, and which some have tentatively indentified as the grape from which Roman Falernian was made, has been known as Falanghina only since the 19th century. (A falanga… is a type of wooden stake used for supporting a vine; the suffix –ina makes it a small wooden stake.) The grape Falanghina is a late-ripener, which requires well exposed, sunny slopes and not-too-excessive production to shine, but when it does so it shines brightly, making a wine of good extract and flavor, with a firm acidic backbone enabling it to resist the passage of time in the bottle. It is a grape of real interest deserving wider national and international attention.”

The grape is well suited for the porous volcanic soil around Vesuvius. Falanghina wine is currently very popular in Rome. IMG_6198

Falanghina del Sannio Taburno 2013 La Rivolta 100% Falanghina. This is a third generation family run winery. The winery and vineyards are located in the province of Beneveneto on hills that range in altitude between 300/600 meters. The soil is alluvial with sand deposits. Harvest is by hand in early October. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 15 days with natural yeasts. The wine is not fined of filtered. This is a wine with nice fruit and hints of apple and pear. $18IMG_6200

Falanghina dei Campi Flegrei “Cruna Delago” 2012 La Sibilla 100% Falanghina. The Campi Flegrei is a small grape growing area north of Naples right on the Campania coast. The soil here is so sandy that the area never experienced phylloxera. The wines are not grafted but planted directly into the soil, which gives full ripeness to the grapes without high alcohol. The wine is fermented in stainless steel. This is a wine with nice citrus flavors and aromas, a hint of peach, a touch of smoke and a nice almond aftertaste. $17

Coda di Volpe (Fox Tail) may be the Alopecis that Pliny the Elder (d.79 AD) wrote about in his Natural History because the curve of the bunches resembles the tail of a fox. It is also the principal grape in Lacryma Christi Bianco del Vesuvio. It does very well in volcanic soil. IMG_6227

Irpinia Coda di Volpe 2013 Donnachiara made from 100% Coda di Volpe. The winery is located in Montefalcone in the province of Avellino. I was sitting with Elena Gargani from the winery and she said that this is a different variety of Coda di Volpe than is used in other areas and it has more body. The soil is mostly clay and the training system is Guyot. There are 2,500 plants per hectare. The juice is free run and fermentation is in stainless steel tanks. Malolatic fermentation does not take place. This is a wine with good structure, hints of citrus and herbs. There is good acidity, nice minerality, a long finish and pleasing aftertaste. $18IMG_6201

Coda di Volpe Pomeiano Nati 2011 Sorrentino 100% Coda di Volpe from the ancient town of Boscotrecase 400 meters above sea level. The vineyards are in the rich fertile soil of Vesuvio-volcanic and sandy. The training system is Guyot and the vines are not grafted on American rootstock. Harvest takes place the first week of October. Fermentation is in stainless steel and the wine is in bottle for less then a month before release. The wine has nice fruit with hints of apricot, almond and a touch of smoke. $28

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Mr.Ferrante Di Somma of Cantina Di Marzo

Greco di Tufo: The ancient Greeks brought Greco di Tufo grapes into the area around Naples about 2,500 years ago. The much-prized Greco is a late ripening varietal and the phenolic compounds in the grape contribute to the wine’s characteristically deep color. Greco is best when it is found in the volcanic hills in the Avellino province in central Campania. Only 8 villages can legally claim to make Greco di Tufo. One of these villages is Tufo from which the wine gets it name. Tufo is also the name of the rock on which the village is built. Greco thrives here because there is tufaceous, volcanic soil rich in sulphur and a relatively dry microclimate. The vineyards in this zone are between 400 and 450 meters

Greco di Tufo “Franciscus” 2013 Cantina Di Marzo 100% Greco di Tufo. Mr. Ferrante Di Somma, owner of the winery, was one of the speakers. He said that his was the oldest cantina in Campania and that his ancestor introduced the Greco grape into the zone. The vineyard has a southwest exposure and is at 250 to 500 meters. The age of the vines is 5 to 20 years and the training is guyot. Harvesting is by hand in the middle of October. Lightly pressed must and must run are blended together. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. Fining is on the lees. Clarification is by cold and light filtering.  The wine has nice citrus aromas and flavors, a hint of orange blossom, minerality, good acidity and a touch of almonds in the aftertaste. $18IMG_6225

Pallagrello Bianco: the grape may have originated in the province of Caserta between the communes of Piedimonte, Matese and Alife. In the past it was known as Piedimonte Bianco. It is not a color mutation of the Pallagrello Nero and it is not related to Coda di Volpe as was once believed. The grape almost disappeared after the phylloxera infestation but made a comeback in the 1990’s.

Pallagrello Bianco “Fontanavigna” 2013 Terre del Principe 100% Pallagrello Bianco. The soil is clay with many small stones, there are 5,000 vines per hectare and the training system is guyot. The harvest takes place the first three weeks of September and the wine in fermented in stainless. This is a white wine with nice citrus, flavors and aromas hints of apricots, peaches and good acidity.  $21IMG_6182

One of the dishes we had was fusillone pasta (big fusilli) with clams, different kinds of broccoli, and sliced almonds. It was excellent. The pasta producer is De Matteis and it is made from 100% Italian wheat in the Campania region of Italy.

Next time- Fiano di Avelliano, Ginestra, Pepella, Ripolo and Fenile grapes.

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Filed under campania, Coda di Volpe, Donna Chiara Winery, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Pallagrello

The Role of the Wine Critic

CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

Heady discussions about the role of the wine critic may strike many people as navel gazing. Yet one issue has bubbled up on social media and blogs repeatedly in the last few months: Should wine critics allow their personal preferences to color their critical views? Or should they remain neutral on questions regarding a wine’s style, regardless of how they feel about it?

I find this issue fascinating, and before you dismiss me as one more self-absorbed wine writer, let me say that I think these are important questions for anybody who cares about wine. How you answer them shapes how you think about wine, your attitude toward its aesthetic potential and, indeed, what you expect from critics.

Let me not keep you in suspense: I believe a critic’s point of view is crucial. My job is not to act as an impartial arbiter of bottles, but as a guide, leading readers on a quest to explore what is most beautiful, fascinating, distinctive, curious, delicious and moving in wine. I hope to inspire curiosity, promote ease and comfort with wine, and provoke discussion and debate. Ultimately my aim is to eliminate the need for wine critics (at least in a utopian sense) by helping consumers become their own best authorities.

This requires me to view various styles of wine critically, which, emphatically, is not a question of simply promoting what I like and attacking what I dislike. In a recent column on Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons from the 2011 vintage, I made it clear that I was not a fan of opulent, powerfully fruity blockbuster wines, an opinion based on personal experience and aesthetic ideals. I would like to think it was well reasoned and thoughtful, and that I was exercising critical judgment rather than simply lashing out at something I personally don’t enjoy.

I wouldn’t expect everybody to agree with me, least of all other wine critics. They may argue strongly in favor of a style that I find repugnant, and back it up with their own set of reasons. That, too, is critical judgment.

Other wine writers, especially those from Wine Spectator, the popular consumer publication, think differently. They believe that wine critics must overcome their personal preferences and assess quality, regardless of style.

“Wine writers should curate, not pontificate,” James Molesworth, a Spectator critic, tweeted last fall. He amplified his views in an email to me.

“I feel it’s important to subjugate personal preference,” he wrote. “One can never eliminate it, but it should not be the determining factor. We, as wine critics, need to be able to identify, appreciate and describe a wide range of styles for consumers, and then identify the wines that are good and bad examples of their respective styles. Based on this approach, the consumer can then make a truly informed decision based on their own tastes.”

 I understand his position, but I believe critics must make stylistic judgments as well, based on ideas of what fundamentally constitutes beauty, balance and interest in wine, rather than whimsical likes and dislikes. The idea is to present a worldview of wine, rather than a set of options. The public can then accept or reject a well-thought-out set of opinions, rather than defining quality itself with its buying decisions. Yet a significant number of people in and out of the wine trade believe that great sales legitimize any style.

Justification by popularity may make sense as a business plan, but the aesthetic consequences are appalling. In what other field would critics temper their judgment by examining commercial sales? That people buy millions of fast-food burgers every day would hardly soften a food critic’s judgment of their quality and value.

I call this wine populism. As in political populism, it’s appealing to people’s prejudices rather than debating merits straightforwardly. Does it make me a snob to suggest that wines like Yellow Tail, an Australian brand that produces chardonnay and shiraz by the millions of cases annually, do not belong in the same category as small-production wines from historic vineyards? Most Yellow Tail drinkers will continue to enjoy it regardless of what I say, and that’s fine. But a tiny percentage may find greater pleasure by being inspired to try something new and different. If you like plush, opulent Napa cabernets, I’ll never tell you that you shouldn’t. But I will try to explain why I prefer leaner, more restrained Napa cabernets. Maybe you’ll like one, too.

A critic’s job is not to validate the choices of consumers. If anything, it’s to make them question their assumptions. You may drink a wine without ever wondering what it is you like about it. Such uncritical drinking is fine; nobody is obliged to give wine a second thought. But if a negative assessment of that style of wine actually causes you to consider all the things you like about it, your experience of that wine may be broader and deeper.

Consumers may find wine intimidating. I believe critics can calm fears by avoiding jargon, perfectionism and the suggestion that wine exists on some sort of elevated plane, available only to those who have specialized knowledge.

Yet reassurance should never come at the expense of pandering. People don’t need the sort of hand-holding suggested by terms like “starter wines,” “gateway wines” and other industry rationalizations for fifth-rate products. Nor do they need critics to refrain from strong points of view, provided they are based on thoughtful, well-reasoned opinions rather than grudges or unexplored motivations.

The notion of “objectivity” seems attractive, connoting freedom from bias. But in writing about wine, it’s ultimately a sham. It’s not possible to eliminate all matters of context, personal experience, extrapolation and aesthetic ideals. These are, in fact, what constitute judgment. What’s wanted in the end is not some sort of imagined neutrality, but fairness, openness and honesty.

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GRAPPA !

I like grappa. I often drink it after a nice meal as a way to relax and to help me to digest. I put a few drops in my espresso, for what Italians call caffè corretto. I drizzle grappa on my lemon granita and other flavored ices and even have it with chocolate. A number of years ago Michele and I wrote and article for Gourmet Magazine called “Cooking with Grappa.” The beautiful grappa chocolate cake appeared on the cover of the magazine.

A friend invited me to a wine tasting. When I arrived, one of the wine reps told me that there was a grappa seminar starting in five minutes, would I like to attend. He knew me well enough to know that I would say yes.

Alessandro Marzadro

Alessandro Marzadro

The speaker was Alessandro Marzardo, third generation of the owners of the Marzardo Distillery that was founded in 1949. The distillery is in Bancolino di Nogaredo in the heart of Vallagarina in Trentino. In 2005 they built a new state-of-the-art distillery.

Alessandro said that at one time, grappa was only drunk by farm workers in the cold weather to give them energy before they went into the fields to work. It was a morning drink taken between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. He made the point that grappa was only made by the farmers in Northern Italy. Southern Italy does not have a tradition of grappa because it is too warm. It is only recently with the popularity and often high prices for grappa that wineries in Southern Italy have their grape pomace (vinaccia in Italian) turned into grappa. He said the grappa was first called acqua vita, water of life, and the people of Trentino have always embraced the art of distillation.

There are 45 distilleries that produce grappa in Italy. An Italian wine producer will send his pomace to one of these distilleries to be made into grappa. Pomace is the grape residue left after the first pressing when making wine. It is against the law for a winery to have a distillery on its property. There are over 4,000 grappa labels on the market today.

Up until about 15 years ago all grappa was what Alessandro referred to as traditional grappa, that is, made without being aged in wood. It was clear in color and the flavor reflected the grapes that it was made from. Now many grappas are aged in new barriques and for the most part they are dark in color and in many cases the wood flavor has taken over.

He said the grappa made from white grapes has more aromas and is easier to drink than grappa made from red grapes, though grappa made from red grapes has more taste. If you are going to introduce grappa to someone for the first time it is better to chose a grappa made from white grapes as it is easier to drink.IMG_6103

The Marzardo distrillery produces many different distilled sprits and Alessandro said that you must start with the best raw material. Trentino makes great wines so this is not a problem. Knowledge and experience are also needed to produce a great product.

Alessandro said that in the distillery there are 100 days of work, 24/7 from September to December. The freshest selected pomace is distilled each day. The distillation takes place in alembics using the traditional discontinuous bain marie system (steam distillation), which is part of the Trentino culture. He said that the first part of the production called the “head” tastes bad because it contains too much methane (he said it tastes like nail polish) and is therefore discarded. The last part is called the “tail” and contains too many impurities and is also discarded. The discontinuous method produces small amounts of high quality grappa.

The alembics are handmade out of copper and are excellent conductors of heat. Therefore the particular fragrances and aromas of the pomace are enhanced to their maximum. In order to keep everything uniform, the whole system is computerized.

Alessandro pointed out that the continuous process of grappa production in giant stills produces large amounts of grappa. He said that this type of production, which he does not use, produces commercial grappa that is not of a very good quality.

After distillation the traditional grappa is left alone. The grappa that is to be aged is placed in barrels of 225 liter barriques to 1,500 liter barrels made from four types of roasted wood, including oak, acacia, cherry and ash, for two years. Alessandro said they use wood from all over the world but do not use any from America. The new barrels are from a barrel maker who makes barrels for producers of balsamic vinegar. We tasted two different lines of grappa, three in each line.IMG_6104

The first grappa was the Le Diciotto Lune Grappa Stravecchio. Italian law requires a minimum of 18 months of aging before a grappa can be labeled stravecchio (old). Alessandro said that this is an aged, high quality Grappa, which is emblematic of the culture, care and art of distilling. It is produced from the best pomace of Trent, from selected vines, and distilled in the typical still. The Grappa is left to refine for 20 months in small cherry, ash, oak and ash casks, each of which lends its characteristic perfume, aroma, color and flavor, to the grappa.IMG_6105

La Trentina “Tradizional” – Grappa Giovane – This is traditional grappa at its best. I really liked this grappa.

La Trentina “Morbida” Grappa Barrique Morbida means soft or smooth in Italian. This grappa reflected the wood having vanilla aromas and flavors.

These last 3 spend 36 months in barriques and are labeled ” Grappa Affinata” IMG_6108

Giare “Gewûrztraminer” This was the most aromatic of the grappas- there was no mistaking which grape this was made from.

Giare “Chardonnay” This was a grappa with hints of oak and vanilla.

Giare “ Amarone” This grappa had the most taste with just a slight hint of oak.

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