From Thanksgiving to January 6, it was a wonderful holiday season with good food, good wine and friends. January 6, also known as Twelfth Night, is a holiday in Italy. It is the feast of the Epiphany, the day that the Befana, an old lady or good witch, brings gifts to the good Italian boys and girls. We were invited to our second annual Befana celebration by Lars Leicht, National Director of Cru Artisan Wines, a division of Banfi. When Lars was young, he spent many of his summers and holidays in a small town not far from Rome and became familiar with the Italian customs and traditions.
The first wine Lars served was a spumante, Cuvee Aurora Rose Method Classico Altalange (Piedmont) 2009 from Banfi. Lars took the bottle and a large kitchen knife and stood just outside the front door. The rest of us stood in the doorway behind him. Then, in one quick motion, he “sabered” the bottle with the back of the knife. The bottle top and the cork went flying across the street! The wine bubbled up and Lars quickly poured it into our glasses without losing a drop.
The wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir and the grapes are hand harvested. The soil is a mixture of clay and calcareous. There is one hour of skin contact cold maceration, which prepares the grapes for soft crushing. The must is clarified and fermented at a controlled temperature. The final cuvee consists of 90% clear wine and 10% of a previous vintage aged in French oak barriques. Yeast contact lasts for at least 24 months followed by traditional hand riddling (remuage) on pupitres ( An “A’ shaped frame) and degorgment a la glace. The wine is aged in bottle before release. It has very small bubbles and hints of apple and roses. It went very well with the smoked fish appetizer.
- Pecorino “Cortalto” Cerulli Spinozzi 2012 IGT Abruzzo 100% Pecorino. The soil is clay and sand. 75% of the wine in fermented in 500 liter barrels and 25% of the wine in stainless steel. Fermentation takes about one month and ends with malolatic fermentation. The wine then remains in bottle for at least two months before release. This is a very pleasing wine with nice citrus aromas and flavors and hints of apricot, peach and bitter almond.
- Luna Mater Frascati Superiore DOC 2010 Fontana Candida. Made from 50% Malvasia di Candia, 30% Malvasia del Lazio, 10% Greco and 10% Bombino. Harvesting began in the final 10 days of September and continued until the end of October, producing perfectly ripe, healthy grapes with a golden color and high sugar content. The grapes are grown in selected hillside vineyards ranging between 650 and 1,300 feet in the communes of Frascati and Monteporzio Catone. The volcanic soil is loose, porous and dry but not arid. It is rich in potassium, phosphorous and microelements. Spalliera, Guyot and Cordone Speronato training systems are used. First selected bunches of mature grapes are picked by hand. Then the best grapes from each bunch are chosen. The grapes are transported in small baskets directly to the cellar so that they will be in perfect condition when they arrive. The wine has floral aromas with hints of white peach and honey with bitter almond in the finish and a very pleasing aftertaste.
Barolo Borgogno 1979 & Borgogno 1978 (Piedmont) 100% Nebbiolo. It was very interesting drinking the wines side by side. The 1979 was showing some age but was still very enjoyable. The 1978 was a bigger more complex wine with more of the typical aromas and flavors that characterize the Nebbiolo grape.
Montefalco Sagrantino Alzatura 2008 (Umbria) 100% Sagrantino from a careful selection of hand picked grapes. The soil is clay and limestone.. Primary fermentation takes place for 26 days in small temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. Frequent pumping over is followed by carefully monitored malolactic fermentation. The wine is then aged for 16 months in French oak barriques and another 8 months in bottle before release. This wine was a perfect combination with the braised lamb. The wine has hints of blackberries, prunes, leather and coffee with good acidity and a long finish. It was one of the best Sagrantinos that I have tasted.
Brunello di Montalcino 1982 Banfi (Tuscany). I believe this is 100% Sangiovese Grosso as it was produced before Banfi did all of their experiments with the clones. Lars said it was aged in large Slovonian oak barrels, which were new. This had all of the characteristics of a traditional, classic Brunello.
For more information about the feast of the Befana in Rome, check out my friend Elizabeth Minchilli’s blog: