Monthly Archives: October 2013

Tasting and Enjoying the Naturally Sweet Wines of Roussillon

It is not often that I get a chance to taste and talk with someone like Eric Aracil from Vins du Roussillon.  We tasted a number of wines together and I understood quickly that Eric is very knowledgeable and passionate about everything concerning the Roussillon region of France.  He was so enthusiastic when he spoke about the wine, the food, the terroir and the Roussillon area in general that I wanted to go there. Since there were only the two of us, I could ask as many questions as I liked. The five wines that we tasted were all naturally sweet and the wineries all all family owned. Eric said that these wines could go with many different food because of their natural sweetness.

The Wines

Eric said that the Banyuls area is located directly on the Mediterranean Sea, very close to the Spanish border. The sunny vineyards are on steep slopes and are planted on narrow terraces. Because of this the grapes are hand-harvested. These wines are made the same way as port.


Banyuls Domaine De Valcoros Hors D’ Âge NV Vignerons Catalans. Made from 50% Grenache Noir, 45% Autres Grenache and 5% Carignan.

The soil in the growing area is brown schist. The fruit is separated and traditional fermentation takes place and there is mutage (addition of grape spirits) on the must before pressing. During the fermentation, wine alcohol is added so that the fermentation stops. The residual sugar in the grape determines the sweetness of the wine. Then the wine is aged partly in new oak casks, partly in half-empty casks kept out-of-doors, and partly in large wooden foundres for seven years where oxidation takes place. Then refinement takes place in a climatized cellar until release. The wine is 16% alcohol and it is placed in 500ml bottles. This combination of different ripening methods makes Banyuls a totally unique wine that can be used both as an aperitif and a dessert wine. This is a rich warm wine with hints of prunes and raisins.IMG_4019

Banyuls Domaine  de La Rectorie Cuvée Leone Parcé 2009.  Made from 70% Grenache Noir, 20% Grenache Gris and 10% Carignon.  The soil is Cambrian gray schist and the average age of the vines is over 50 years old. The grapes are hand picked a little later in the season which, Eric said, gives the wine more complexity and flavor. The grapes are then pressed and destemmed.  After macerating whole bunches of grapes for a few days, fermentation is stopped by adding 7-10 % of neutral alcohol (96% abv) to the must. Alcoholic fermentation at controlled temperatures and mutage on the cap of the marc followed by three weeks maceration. Alcohol extracts the flavors of the grapes. The wine is aged in large oak casks for 18 months in an underground cellar before being bottled.

This is a concentrated full-bodied wine with nice dark cherry aromas and flavors and a hint of pepper. Eric added that Banyuls goes vey well with chocolate.IMG_4021

Maury 1998 Domaine De La Coume Du Roy 100% Grenache. The field of Coume Du Roy is located in town of Maury in the heart of the Agly Valley on black slate between the Pyrenees and the Corbiéres. The domaine is one of the oldest in the area and has wine for sale going back to 1925.

The vineyards are facing south/south-east and the soil is aptian black metamorphic schist. The grapes are hand picked, destemmed and crushed. Alcoholic fermentation is stopped by mutage on the cap followed by a long maceration. The wine is aged in full vats and then bottled. This is a naturally sweet red wine.

I was very impressed by this wine. It had aromas and flavors of dark berries with hints of cassis, blackberries and black cherry and a slight mineral character.IMG_4020

Maury Blanc 2008 Domaine La Preceptorie made from Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Macabeu. The soil is black schist and direct pressing by hand follows the harvest. Alcoholic fermentation and the mutage takes place on the must in 400 liter casks. The wine is then aged in 400-liter casks for 12 months. This is a well-balanced wine with exotic fruit aromas and flavors and a hint of apricot and pear.IMG_4007

IGP Cotes Catalanes Chateau De L’OU “Velours Noir” (Black Velvet) 2010 made from 100% Syrah. The soil is black schist in the Maury Terroir 385 meters above sea level. Eric said that the wine maker is a woman. Prefermentary maceration at low temperatures then alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in new 300 liter oak casks with completely de-stemmed grapes. Eric said that the maturation is in the same open barrels that were used for the 9-month fermentation and added that it is unusual to have Syrah from this area.  As the name implies, this wine did have a velvety quality to it, with nice dark fruit flavors and aromas and a hint of licorice.

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Filed under Banyuls, Chateau De L'OU, Domaile De Valcoros, Domaine de la Rectorie, La Coume Du Roy, La Preceptorie, Maury

Catalanesca and Caprettone: Grapes from the Heart of Mount Vesuvio


I first discovered wines made from the Catalanesca and Caprettone grapes at Lo Stuzzichino Restaurant in Sant’Agata sui due Golfi.  The owner of the restaurant, Domenico (Mimmo) De Gregorio, is very knowledgeable about the wines of Campania and after lunch we had a long conversation.IMG_1812

Mimmo asked me if I had ever had wine made from the Caprettone or Catalanesca grapes which are cultivated in the heart of the Mount Vesuvio National Park. When I said that I hadn’t, he gave me a bottle of wine from Società Agricola Cantina Olivella. It was a Vesuvio Bianco DOC 2011 made from the Caprettone grape. The name of the wine is Emblema. I thanked him and when we returned to the apartment we rented on the Amalfi Coast we had the wine with dinner and really liked it.

After trying the Emblema, I ordered other wines from Cantina Olivella whenever I saw them including Katá made from 100% Catalanese, and Lacrima Bianco made from Caprettone and Catalanesca.

Back home, I mentioned the wines and how much I liked them in one of my blog posts.  Soon, I got a message form Livio Panebianco of Panebianco importers/distributors. Livio said that after reading my blog, he was going to add all three of the wines to his portfolio. They are now available in NYC at Del Posto, Aroma and Ribalta restaurants, and at Turtle Dove, a new wine store at 30 Clinton Street.

Livio provided the following information about Cantina Olivella. He said it is located in Sant’Anastasia, a small village near Naples at the foot of Mount Vesuvio. The winery’s name comes from an ancient source of water known as Olivella Source near which, in 1974 archeologists discovered a fragment of a Roman wine jar with the engraved name of an ancient winemaker named Sex Cati Festi, which became the symbol of the Olivella bottles.

Cantine Olivella was one of the first wineries to register as producer of Catalanesca a grape variety originally from Catalonia, Spain.  Alfonso I of Aragon introduced it around 1450. The volcanic soil of this area is the perfect environment for the growing of this grape. The winery uses organic methods in the production of its grapes.

These white wines need at least 3 years of age before they are ready to drink!IMG_4168

KATÁ IGP Catalanesca Del Mount Somma 100% Catalanesca The grapes are carefully selected and hand harvested in the first half of October.  Fermentation and maturation is with natural yeast and takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.

The refining process “sur lie” (lees contact starts is stainless steel and ends in the bottle after a three month period. The wine has very nice citrus aromas and flavors, with hints of apricot, cantaloupe and acidity. There is a mineral aspect to the wine, which may come from the volcanic soil.IMG_4166

Emblema Vesuvio DOC Bianco 100% Caprettone. It is said that the grape clusters resemble a sheep’s (capra) beard and that is how it got its name. For a time it was believed to be another name for the Coda di Volpe grape but DNA testing proved that they are not related. Vinification is the same as above. There are aromas of citrius fruit and herbs, with very good acidity, minerality a nice finish and pleasing aftertaste.IMG_4170

Lacrima Christi Del Vesuvio Bianco DOC  80% Caprettone and 20% Catalanesca  Vinification is the same as above. This is a well-balanced wine with flavors and aromas of dried fruit and dried flowers with good acidity and undertones of minerality.

Each one of the wines are a pleasure to drink and they have their own distinctive aroma and flavor.


Filed under Cantina Olivella, Carpettone, Catalanesca, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Lo Stuzzichino- Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi

De Conciliis Wine Dinner at Aroma Restaurant NYC

De Conciliis Wine Dinner at Aroma Restaurant NYC

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time in Naples and on the Amalfi Coast. I believe that the white wines of Campania come from the most diverse grapes and are the best wines that southern Italy has to offer. Therefore I was delighted to accept an invitation from Vito Polosa, Chef/Owner and Sommelier at Aroma restaurant in NYC for a dinner featuring the wines of De Conciliis in the Paestum region of Campania. Vito said he would match each of the wines with a dish from the Campania area

Vito Polosa of Aroma Restaurant

Vito Polosa of Aroma Restaurant

The speaker for the dinner was Dino Tantawi, owner of Vignaioli Selections, the importer and distributor of De Conciliis.  Dino has a great passion for Italian wine.  Anthony De Conciliis, a cousin of Bruno Conciliis, the owner of the winery, was also there. I had a long discussion with him about pizza restaurants in Naples and restaurants in Campania.

Dino told us that Bruno Conciliis has a respect for nature and the land. This means that the use of chemicals is kept to a minimum and the winery is moving from being organic to biodynamic and should be certified by 2015. Natural yeast is used whenever possible. The winery has been energy self-sufficient since 2007.

The Wines

Selim Spumante Brute NV made from Aglianico and Fiano.IMG_3949

Area of production is the Alto Clinto in Campania. The vineyards are at 750 ft with a southwest exposure. The soil is flinty, calcareous with mixed clay. The Charmat method is used to produce this sparkling wine. Dino said Fiano and the Aglianico are picked early while the Aglianico is still pink in color. The gapes are shipped to Valdobbiadene (famous for Prosecco) for fermentation. Dino explained that ripeness of the grapes causes a low PH balance of 3.1 giving the wine a dry and fresher taste on the palate. This is the first Aglianico-based sparkling wine produced in Campania. $21

Bruno Conciliis is a big jazz fan and if you read the name of the wine backward it is Miles in honor of a song by Miles Davis the jazz musician.

Cozza e Lardo

Crostino Cozza e Lardo

With the sparkling wine Vito served an assortment of appetizers including crostino “cozze e lardo,” with mussels and lard, which was a very good combination.IMG_3953

Donnaluna 2011 Made from 100% Fiano. The grapes are picked in the morning from 6 different vineyards. Then a few hours of cold maceration takes place after which the grapes are washed and then fermented. Dino said that the Fiano here was different from the Fiano di Avellino. The exposure is southeast and the soil is clay, tufo and mixed sand and rocks. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel for 6 days. The wine is then racked into stainless steel tanks where it remains for 5 months. Malolactic fermentation does not take place. The wine is in bottle for 3 months before it is released.$28IMG_3954

This was served with “pesce marinato”, marinated fish. Vito explained that this was a typical Neapolitan dish made from different fish and was left in the refrigerator and could be eaten when anyone felt hungry.

Someone asked why the name of the wine was written upside down on the label Dino said Bruno did it as a joke saying “if you drink from the bottle the name is in the right position!” The is a very elegant Fiano with good citrus  aromas and flavors, a hint of honey and almonds, nice minerality and good acidityIMG_3969

Greco di Tufo”Oro” DOCG  2011 100% Greco di Tufo-these grapes were purchased by Bruno from a friend. The vineyard is in La Sela-Fontanarosa (Avellino). The exposure is North-Northwest and the soil is chalk, volcanic and clay. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and batonnage is for two months. The wine is then racked into stainless steel tanks where it is aged for 7 months and 3 months in bottle before release. The wine was a golden color and Dino said that was because the wine spent some time on the lees. $20IMG_3970

With this wine we had one of my favorite dishes spaghettino vongole veraci e ciliegino napoletano, spaghetti with tiny clams and cherry tomatoes,  and it was perfection. This is a wine with a golden color, nice body, good fruit, a long finish and very pleasing aftertaste.

Ra! (passito) Dino said that the wine is mostly Aglianico with a little Barbera. The grapes come from two different vineyards; Carpinet vineyard which is at 300 mts with a northern exposure and Cannetiello which is at 150 meters with a southwest exposure.  The soil is sandstone, soft marl and sandy shale and calcareous clay with sand. The harvest is at the end of October and the training system is single guyot.

The grapes are dried for six months (appassimento) in a shady ventilated area. Manual destemming and selection takes place. The wine is aged for 4 to 5 days in class demijohns. Dino said this was done to preserve the freshness and flavors of the wine.IMG_3990

With this dessert wine Vito served a traditional Neapolitan dessert, eggplant & chocolate tortino. What made it a perfect combination was the intense dark fruit aromas and flavors of the wine and the hint of cherry. Dino said that the wine was named after the Egyptian sun god “Ra”! because the wine is made from the concentrated power of the sun. This is a very special dessert wine and only a very small amount is made. At this time it is not available in the US.

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Filed under campania, De Concillis Winery, Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Passito, Ra! Passito, Sparkling wine, Spumante, Vignaioli selections, Vito Polosa

Capezzana- Part II

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Carmignano from the Capezzana winery in Tuscany. I have a long history with their wines going back to the 1925 vintage. But that was only half of the story. Here are a few more of the wines from Capezzana which I enjoyed over lunch with Beatrice Bonacossi, an owner of the winery.  IMG_3821

Barco Reale Di Carmignano D.O.C. 2010 70% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon,10% Canaiolo and 5% Cabernet Franc
The vines are between 150 and 200 meters and the exposure is South-South West and South East. Soil composition is clay schist and limestone. The harvest starts in the beginning of September with the Sangiovese and ends in the middle of October with the Cabernet. Whole grape bunches are pressed and fermented, maceration takes place under strictly controlled temperatures with initial fermentation occurring in stainless steel tanks. The wine is aged in oak barrels for six months and at least three months in bottle before release. Beatrice said that this was a baby Carmignano, the only difference is the vinification in that these grapes undergo less skin contact and a shorter period of aging. She added that the Barco Reale was their everyday drinking wine. $15

Trefiano Carmignano D.O.C.G. 2007 80% Sangiovese, 10 Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% CanaioloIMG_3823

Made from 70% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon,5%Cabernet Franc and 10% Canaiolo. In 1994 Beatrice’s brother, Vittorio Contini Bonacossi, asked his father Count Ugo for permission to make his own experimental wine. Vittorio wanted to make an easy drinking but complex wine.

He chose the grapes from the Trefiano vineyard surrounding the family’s 16th century Villa Trefiano. The vineyard is at 200 meters, the soils clay schist and limestone and the exposure is south-southwest. The harvest takes place the end of September and the beginning of October. Beatrice said that he reduced yields and introduced small 350 liter Allier barrels for vinification. The vinification of this wine is the same as for the Carmignano D.O.C.G. but it is aged longer. Individual lots remain in barrel for 16 months prior to blending and then in bottle for 18 months before release. $55

Sausages with Grapes for Lunch

Sausages with Grapes for Lunch

Ghiaie della Furba I.G.T. 2007 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah.IMG_3825

The vineyards are at 200 meters with a south-south west exposure and the soil is clay schist and limestone. Harvest takes place the end of September and the beginning of October. Hand picked grapes are pressed and fermented, then macerated under strictly controlled temperatures. The initial alcoholic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, followed by malolactic fermentation in French oak.  The wine is aged in barriques for 16 months and at least 12 months in bottle before release. The wine was first produced in 1979 and Cabernet Franc was in the blend (it was a classic Bordeaux blend).  In 1992 Cabernet Franc was eliminated and more Cabernet Sauvignon was put into the blend.  Finally in 1998 Syrah was added to the mix.

Beatrice said that the name of the wine is a reference to pebbles in the bed of a stream named Furba on the property. $55

Vin Santo Riserva D.O.C.G. 2006 90% Trebbiano and 10% San ColombanoIMG_3809

Beatrice said that the San Colombano is a late-ripening, heritage grape, very rare today, but prevalent in blends in the 18th century. The soil is clay schist and the harvest takes place at the beginning of September. The grapes are hand picked into baskets lined with grape leaves and only the best bunches are chosen. The grapes are dried on mats until February/March becoming almost raisin-like. The wine is then fermented and aged in separated 40 to 50 lots, mostly in 100 liter caratelli. Most of the barrels are made of chestnut and cherry wood, the wood for these barrels are grown on the property, accenting Capezzana’s special terroir even more. Beatrice said that her sister Benedetta Contini Bonacossi especially likes to use chestnut wood for this dessert wine. There are a few barrels made from a combination of chestnut, cherry maple and oak. Beatrice said that for her sister, making this wine is a labor of love and you can hear it in her voice when she speaks about the wine. The wine is aged for 5 years and then another 3 months in bottle before release. $55 for a 375 ml bottle.


Filed under Capezzana, Carmignano, Italian Red Wine, Italian Wine, Vin Santo