Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Tradition Continues

I am always interested to see what happens when the next generation takes over an Italian winery that makes wines that I enjoy.  Will they follow the traditional methods  or will they go to what I call “the dark side” and make modern international style wines?

Tiziana Settimo

I was invited to Porter House in NYC to tastes the wines of the Aurelio Settimo Winery.  I have enjoyed these wines in the past and wanted to see if Tiziana Settimo was staying with the same traditional style wines as her father. Tiziana was presenting the wines so I could have all my questions answered.

The Settimo family first settled in Annunziata in Piemonte in 1943. In the beginning they practiced mixed farming (as did most of Italy), having vineyards, fruit and hazelnut trees, and breeding hens, rabbits and cows.  They sold off almost all their grapes.  When Tiziana’s father Aurelio took over the winery, he decided to grow only grapes and expanded the vineyards.  However they continued to sell 50% of their grapes.  In 1974 Aurelio decided to keep all of the grapes and vinify the wine on site.

Tiziana said she had worked at her father’s side for twenty years until his death in 2007. The winery is a family affair run mostly by women.  The only man involved is Tiziana’s brother-in-law.

From the very beginning Tiziana made it clear that this is a very traditional winery and that she uses the same methods as her late father Aurelio.  She did say that one thing is different: her father used Slovenian oak for his barrels and she is using French oak from Allier. She fells that the French oak gives the wine a more elegant character. The Barolo is aged in 2,500 to 3,500 liters oak barrels.

The menu


Only 3 wines are produced from their estate vineyards.  There are 5.6 hectares of Nebbiolo and 0.9 hectares of Dolcetto. Their Rocche Dell’Annunziata vineyard is 3.42 hectares and the exposure is south and southwest. The vines are between 18 and 46 years old. There are 4,500 to 5,000 vines per hectare and the training method is traditional Guyot.  Tiziana said that the fertile, clay-calcareous, limestone, rocky soil together with the altitude (270-300 mt) and the exposure produce a full bodied but elegant and very fragrant Barolo.

All of the wines are excellent with food.  At Porter House, we had them with Porcini Risotto to start followed by Heritage Berkshire Roasted Pork Loin, a great combination.

Tiziana said that she was in Boston a few days before and she had these wines with fish, including shellfish, and they all worked well together. It is my opinion that a red wine which is not on the “dark side”, is well made, and has good acidity can go with almost any type of food.

The Wines
Dolcetto D’Alba DOC 2010 100% Dolcetto
Tiziana said that 2010 was a great vintage for Dolcetto.
The grapes are hand picked and vinified in stainless steel with about 7 days skin contact with a submerged cap and frequent repassing.
This is a fresh fruity wine with hints of cherry and surprisingly good acidity. Tiziana said that she likes to keep the alcohol low on her Dolcetto, between 12% and 12-1/2% to keep the freshness so the alcohol does not overpower the fruit.
Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2006 100% Nebbiolo
Tiziana said that 2006 was also a very good vintage. She went on to say that this wine is produced from grapes grown on the younger vineyards facing southeast in the same area as the Nebbiolo used to make Barolo. It has a shorter maceration on the skins (8 to 10 days) than the Barolo and does not see any wood. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel and the malolactic fermentation takes place in concrete vats of 52hl. The wine was bottled in November 2010 after spending two years in the bottle. They do not make this wine in every vintage if they feel that the alcohol content will be too high. It is a wine with good fruit and has an excellent balance between tannins and acidity. This wine was made to be drunk when released however it was showing no signs of age and could last another 5 to 10 years.  $30

Barolo DOCG 2007 100% Nebbiolo
This wine is produced from the older Nebbiolo grapes. The must is in contact with the skin for 15 to 20 days with a submerged cap and frequent repassing. The wine is aged in wood for two years. The wine was bottled in March 2011  $42

Barolo” Rocche Dell ‘Annunziata” DOCG 2007
This is one of the great crus of Barolo and Tiziana said there were 23 other producers making wine from this vineyard.  She considers the 2007 vintage to be an excellent one, though it was in many ways a difficult vintage because it was very hot. This is a traditional classic Barolo with aromas and flavors of black fruit especially blackberries and hints of leather, tea, spice and liquorice with good acidity.  $50

I am happy to see that Tiziana is making wine like her father’s and that they are very good value for the money.
I look forward to enjoying these wines for many years to come.


Filed under Aurelio Settimo Winery, Barolo, Dolcetto, Italian Red Wine, Italian Wine, Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Piemonte, Porter House NY

The Wines of Umani Ronchi

Ever since I first visited Verdicchio a number of years ago, I have enjoyed the region’s wines.  Now when I look for an older white wine on a restaurant wine list I often order Verdicchio because very few people know that it is a white wine that can age and older vintages can often be found at a very good price.

Recently, I was invited to Del Posto in NYC to taste Verdicchio and some other wines from producer Umani Ronchi.  The speaker for the event was the very charming and knowledgeable Michele Bernetti.  He explained that the company was founded by Gino Umani, who added Ronchi to his name as a favor to a friend in return for vineyards in Cupramontana.  Members of the Bianchi family went into partnership with Umani Ronchi and later became the winery’s sole owners.  Massimo Benetti, Dr. Bianchi’s son-in-law took over the management of the company and Michele joined his father.  Today he is the CEO. Beppe Caviola is their consulting enologist.

Michele said that they have 200 hectare of vines, 110 in the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico zone, 60 in the  Rosso Conero production zone, and 30 in Abruzzo.  Verdicchio is vinified only in Castlebellino and then bottled, refined and aged in Osimo.  Rosso Conero wines are vinified, bottled, refined and aged in Osimo.

The Wine
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore 2011 “Casale Di Serra” 100% Verdicchio. Michele said that the grape yield of this vineyard was less than one half of the typical Verdicchio yield. The grapes are hand picked when slightly overripe and a careful selection is made. Fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats, followed by malolactic fermentation. This is a very nice fruity wine with good acidity and minerality and a bargain at $17

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC 2007 & 2009 “Vecchie Vigne” 100% Verdicchio. These wines are 35 years old and come from the “Busche” vineyards in Montecarotto. The wine is aged is stainless steel and cement tanks. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and remains on the lees for 10 months. Michele said that there is a difference between the two wines. The Vecchie Vigne (Old Vines) is made from a special selection of grapes from the highest part of the vineyard on the east bank Esino River. This is a wine the will age very well. The 2007 is one of the best white wines I have tasted and it could last for many more years. It was fresh and elegant with hints of pineapple, peach and hazelnut and good acidity. All of the wines had a very nice mineral character and Michele said that this was a characteristic of the Verdicchio grape in the Marche.  2009 vintage was the Gambero Rosso Vini D’Italia Three Glasses award winner and the White Wine of the year. $35

Verdicchio Classico DOC Riserva 2007 “Plenio” 100% Verdicchio from the “Villa Bianchi” vineyard in Moie di Maiolati.  Riserva wines were recently introduced for Verdicchio at the winery and must be aged for at least 24 months. After malolactic fermentation, the wine is aged in concrete vats for 12 months with lees contact and refined in bottle for one year before release.  Michele said that Pienio is Latin for round, complete and ample–a fitting name for this wine. $35

Rosso Conero DOC “San Lorenzo” 2010 made from 100% Montepulciano from the San Lorenzo vineyard. Malolactic fermentation is followed by aging in oak barrels for 18 months. 20% of the wine is aged in barriques. It is refined in bottle for 6 months before release.  Very nice easy drinking wine with nice black and red fruit aromas and flavors.  $17

Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo DOC “Jorio” 2010 100% Montepulciano from a single vineyard on one of the highest altitudes in the Chieti province.  After malolactic fermentation the wine is aged in Slavonian oak barrels for 11 months. Michele said that in 1999 they purchased an estate in nearby Abruzzo in the Colline Teramane area, a sub zone within the Montelpulciano D’Abruzzo DOC (soon to become DOCG). The estate includes 30 hectares of land, a cellar and landmark house, which is being renovated and transformed into a winery. He also said that since it is warmer in Abruzzo, the Montepulciano grape ripens sooner than in the Marche were the vineyards are by the sea and he feels they make a more elegant wine. Because of these natural differences they are two different styles of wine. This was a bigger wine with more ripe red and black flavors and aromas. $17

Michele said that in the Marche the vines are mostly trained in a Guyot-Double Inverted. In Abruzzo the Tendonne method is used because it protects the grapes from the sun.

Rosso Conero  Riserva DOCG “ Cumaro” 100% Montepulciano from the “San Lorenzo” vineyard. Malolactic fermentation is followed by aging in barriques for 16 months. The wine is kept in the bottle for another six months before release. Michele said that this wine is made only in the best years. Cumaro is derived from the ancient Greek word for Conero. We tasted the 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2007, which is $42 a bottle. This is a wine that can age.  The 1995 was in great condition and I enjoyed all of the vintages. However I noticed a little more vanilla flavor in the 2001 and 2007

“Pelago” Marche IGT made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Montepulciano and 10% Merlot. The grapes are hand picked from a small vineyard. Fermentation lasts for 15 days and then the wine is aged in new barriques for 14 months and remains in the bottle for another 12 months before release. Michele said that the name “Pelago” derives from the ancient Italian word for deep blue sea since the vineyards are by the sea. The first vintage was 1994. We tasted the 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2007 which is $65 a bottle. This was a very well made wine of its type but I found it a little too modern for me, especially the 2001 and 2007.

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Filed under Italian Red Wine, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Jorio, Marche, Rosso Conero, Umani Ronchi, Verdicchio

By Hand and By Feet

When I was in Rome in May I saw the Emidio Pepe 2005 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on a restaurant wine list for 38 Euros. This was a real bargain as this wine would be twice the price if I could find it at a retail store in NYC.  I knew that the wine could use another 10 to 15 years before it would be ready to drink, but since it is one of my favorite wines and I never had the opportunity to drink one so young, I ordered a bottle. It had full aromas and flavors of red and black fruit and the roast lamb that I ordered for my main course softened the tannins. It was a great combination.

I always look forward to tasting Emidio Pepe wines but drinking them is always better!  Over the years I have been fortunate to drink the 1975, 1977,1979,1983,1985 and 1993 vintages of the Montepulciano and have tasted other vintages both in NYC and in Italy.  I have only had the 1995 Trebbiano.

Chiara and Grandfather Emidio Pepe

I met Emidio Pepe a number of times both in NYC and at Vinitaly, the wine fair in Verona, but could never get the answers to all of my questions about his wines until recently when Chiara De Julis invited me to taste the 1983 and 1984 vintages of the Montepulciano.  I know Chiara as   the public relations person for the winery, but I had not realized that she was Emidio Pepe’s granddaughter.  

Chiara began by telling me that her grandfather’s first bottled vintage was in 1964 and at that time he had only one hectare of vines. Today there are 12 hectares of vines near the Adriatic Sea that stretch out over the Teramo hills at the foot of the Gran Sasso Mountain.  The winery produces only two wines — the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and the Montpulciano d’Abruzzo.  Chiara said that they have just one clone for the white and one for the red.

In the early days, friends told Emidio that he was building castles in the sand but he replied that he was building wine castles. He had faith in the Montepulciano grape and as it turned out, he was right.

Chiara said they use both the tendonne method and the cordon spur method for training the vines. In vintages when the weather is very hot the tendonne method is better because the leaves form a canopy to protect the grapes from the sun.  When the weather is not too hot, the cordon spur is better because it allows more sun and air to reach the grapes.

According to Chiara, 1 hectare of tendonne has 900 vines and produces 90 quintals of grapes.  That means that each vine produces from 6 to 9 kilos of grapes. In one hectare of cordon spur trained grapes, there are 3,300 vines and each vine produces 5 to 6 kilos of grapes.

The Emidio Pepe winery is Organic and Bio-Dynamic. They belong to the Triple “A”– Agriculturists Artisans Artists, an association of wine producers from around the world that believes in Organic and Bio-Dynamic production, terroir and as little interference as possible by the winemaker in the winemaking process.

In their vineyard only sulphur and copper water are used along with biodynamic preparations. Only natural yeast is used and Chiara said that this gives the wine more complexity because there are so many different strains of yeast on the grapes and in the air. The white grapes for the Trebbiano are crushed by feet and the red grapes for the Montepulciano by hand. No sulfites are added to the wine. The juice is placed in glass lined cement tanks of 20/25hl. The white remains here for one year and the red for two years. The wine is then transferred to bottles by hand.

In Italy the current vintage is 2009 but in the USA it is 2003.  Chiara told me that only older vintages are sent to the USA because the younger wines are not ready for the long trip. The wine has to be well balanced and decanted to manage the trip and only their best wines are sent to the USA and put on the market.

Chiara’s grandmother Rosa Pepe is in charge of the decanting process. Since this is a natural wine malolatic fermentation may take place in the tank or the bottle.  There is no filtration or fining. The corks are placed in the bottles by hand and only the best cork is used. She said that they guarantee all of the bottles that have been decanted at the cellar for 20 years, no matter if the vintage is 2003 or 1983.

About 60,000 bottles a year are produced.  In an exceptional vintage they will hold back 70%.

Chiara told me that at first her grandfather did not like the 1983 vintage so he kept it in his cellar and did not sell it.  A journalist came for a visit and asked why there was no 1983 on the market.  When Emidio explained, the journalist asked if he could try it.  Emidio agreed and they tasted it together.  The wine had developed in the bottle and the two decided that it was a great wine in a great vintage.  Emidio put 30% of the 1983 on the market. I  am glad it is for sale, it is a great wine make.

Chiara said that they have 600,000 bottles of wine from 1964 to the present vintage.

This is a family winery where everything is done by hand (and in one case feet) from the time the grapes are picked until the labels are placed on the bottles.  Now I understand why these wines age so well and why I enjoy them so much.


Filed under Bio-Dynamic, Emidio Pepe, Italian Red Wine, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Montepulciano d' Abruzzo, Triple "A"

Sparkling Summer Wines

Over the summer I enjoyed a number of different sparkling wines and Champagnes. Most of us think of sparkling wine as something that should only be drunk on special occasions or at Christmas and New Years, but I don’t agree.  Sparkling wine can be enjoyed all year round and I especially like it in the summer and always with food. Here are some of my favorites.

Brut Rose “Faive” NV  Nino Franco (Veneto) made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The grapes are vinified separately with some skin contact for color and cold fermentation in stainless steel autoclaves. The wine is light salmon in color, with good bubbles, nice red fruit and a hint of pear. $17

The name Faive is Venetian dialect for the small “guided” tongues of flame and sparks rising toward the sky from a great fire, lightly and freely carried by the wind.  This producer is known for it’s high quality Prosecco and the Rustico is a great value for the money.  We drank a bottle of it with the plump ripe figs from the tree in the Brooklyn backyard our friend Tony Di Dio.  Both Tony and his fig tree were featured in an excellent article — with recipes — in the NY Times last Wednesday.  Here is a link:

Spumante Santé Brut IGT 100% Falanghina (Campania)  Donna Chiara. The soil is chalky clay.  There are 2,500 plants per hectare and the harvest takes place the first week of October. Fermentation lasts for 40 days. Illaria Petitto, owner of the winery, always refers to the vinification system used as the Martinotti method. (The Charmat method, as it is more popularly known, was invented by Federico Martinotti in Asti in the 1920’s.) Refermentation takes place at low temperatures in autoclaves for about 6 months. Then the wine matures on the dregs for another 2 months. The wine had very good bubbles; it is fresh, delicate with floral and citrus aromas and flavors. It is great as an aperitif and with fried foods. $20
Champagne Delamotte NV made from 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier.   Delamotte is the sister house of Salon and both are part of the Laurent- Perrier group. We had it with a lobster salad with basil dressing, an excellent combination. $38

Ferrari Perlé Rosé 2004 Trento DOC Method Classico Vintage made from80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. This is a vintage Rosé from the Lunelli family estate vineyards.  The grapes are harvested by hand at the end of September on the hills surrounding Trento, with either southeastern or southwestern exposure between 1000 and 2000 feet above sea level.  In 2004 there was mild weather and perfect ripening conditions.  The wine is aged 5 years on selected yeasts. It is an elegant and complex Rosé with ripe red berry aromas and flavors with hints of raspberry and a touch of almond.  I has a long finish and pleasing aftertaste. I had it with beet and ricotta gnocchi in sage butter sauce. $75
I believe that Ferrari makes some of the best Method Classico wine in Italy.

Champagne “Grand Siècle” Crand Cuvèe NV Laurent-Perrier (Trous-sur Marne) made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir.  12 of the most prestigious villages supply the grapes and only the best plots are selected, as are the finest musts from the pressings. I believe this is a blend of three different vintages. The blended wine is aged during the second fermentation on the yeast for about five years. It has great tiny bubbles and complex aromas and flavors that make it go very well with food.

The 17th century in France, the era of Louis XIV, became know as the Grand Siècle, the Great Century and Louis XIV was the first king of France to drink Champagne.

Zucchini Flowers

I was very impressed with this wine when I had it at a Wine Media Guild tasting last December and I wanted it for my Birthday.  Michele made zucchini flowers fried in a light tempura batter stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella, which I love. We usually have them with Prosecco but it was a celebration so only Champagne would do.  It turned out to be a perfect combination.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000 Blanc de Blancs (Rheims) the grapes are pressed immediately in presses located in the vineyards. The first pressing, known as cuvee, is followed by two more pressings known as the first and second “tailles.” Only the juice from the “cuvee” goes into this wine. Temperature controlled fermentation takes place and about 5% of the wine is matured for a few months in 225 liter new oak casks. Prior to disgorgement, the wine is aged for 9 or 10 years. 2000 was a good but not a great year for champagne but the wine was showing very well and it is their flagship Champagne. The wine is full, rich and toasty with hints of white fruit, good acidity and a long lingering finish. I had it with smoked salmon canapés.  

Dom Ruinart 1996 Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne (Rheims), made from 100% grand cru Chardonnay grapes, 65% from Cotes de Blancs and 35% from the mountain of Rheims.  It spends 9/10 years in the chalk cellars before release.  1996 was a very good year in Champagne.  It was just beginning to show some age with citrus fruit, a touch of toast, a hint of brioche, and a very nice mineral character.  I had it with Pizza Bianca at La Pizza Fresca in NYC. It was another great combination.

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Filed under Champagne, Delamotte NV, Dom Ruinart 1966, Donna Chiara Winery, Falanghina, Ferrari, Laurent- Perrier- Grand Siècle, Method Classico, Nino Franco, Rose, Sparkling wine, Spumante, Tattinger Comtes de Champane