Monthly Archives: November 2015

Visiting with Valter Fissore

In March I went to Vinitaly (the wine fair in Verona) for the first time in 7 years with Nicole and Travis, friends who own a wine store in NYC. They had never been there and wanted to visit a number of producers whose wines they carry in their store. On the top of the list was Valter Fissore of the Elvio Cogno winery.


Valter Fissore

When we arrived at the Cogno booth we were greeted by Valter and his wife Nadia (Elvio Cogno’s daughter).

We tasted a number of wines including the very rare pre- philloxera Barbera. We had a very enjoyable visit and Valter asked if we were going to visit Piedmont after the fair. We said no but we would be there in November and Valter invited us to visit the winery.

The Elvio Cogno Winery, is situated on the top of Bricco Ravera, a hill near Novello in the Langhe region of Piedmont. I have been to the winery 3 or 4 times and it is always a great experience.

Valter is always trying to tell me or show me something new, and this time was no exception. He took us into the wine cellar and we tasted a number of barrel samples from different vintages and different vineyards. Valter spoke about how the wine differs according to the year and the vintage.IMG_9073

In the cellar there were large oak barrels called botti which contain up to 55 hl that he uses for his Barolo. Smaller barriques extract too much from the wood into the wine. He feels that if there is a long maceration of 40 days for the Barolo it makes the tannins softer.IMG_9076

We sampled the Barolo Ravera 2014 and the Vigna Elena 2012 among others. We also tasted the pre- pre-phylloxera Barbera. This is a very special and limited wine and there is only one barrel.IMG_9075

Barbera d’Alba “PRE-Phylloxera” DOC. Made from 100% Barbera. Valter said that the vineyard is over 120 years old. He rents the vineyard, which is situated in Berri close to La Morra. The vineyard is only 3,400 square meters. The vines are vertically trellised and Guyot pruned and the vineyard is at 520 meters. The grapes are harvested in the beginning of October. The wine is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with automatic pump over. Aging takes place for 12 months in a large Slavonia oak cask and there is another 6 months of bottle aging before release. Only 1,800 bottles are produced.

This is an elegant well-balanced wine with hints of raspberry, strawberry and cherry and a touch of spice. It is a Barbera that will age. I have always been very impressed with this wine. Nicole and Travis like this Barbera a lot as does Ed Mc Carthy and Tom Maresca.

Valter explained that the vines come from pre-grafted plants propagated by cuttings maintained over many years so that they have the original Barbera characteristics. The terrain is sandy-chalk, which is a natural protection for the vines from phylloxera.

Valter said that this wine was something he always wanted to do and it is also a tribute to his father-in-law, Elvio Cogno, who made a pre-phylloxera Dolcetto d’Alba “Boschi di Berri” when he was at the Marcarini Winery.IMG_9068

Walter took a picture of the inside of one of the tanks that was filled with red wine must.IMG_9065

Then the cellar man began to remove the must into a small metal box with a rotor, which broke up the must. A long tube transferred the juice into another tank.IMG_9083

Valter showed us some “corks” and explained that he was now going to use an agglomerate cork that allows the wine to breathe. The corks have different numbers indicating the amount of air that they allow into the wine. He said that if you turn over a bottle sealed with one of these corks, no wine comes out. He is thinking of using these corks for all his wines.IMG_9087

We went to restaurant Bovio with Valter and Nadia for lunch. I mentioned to Nadia that many years Michele and I went to another restaurant at this location. Nadia said that it had been owned by her father’s brother. She looked at me with a smile and said this was that restaurant, known as Bel Sit. Now it is much bigger and fancier.IMG_9089

I had a quail salad with black and white truffles and then two ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach and a whole egg yolk covered with white truffles.IMG_9094

They were a perfect combination with the Barolo. IMG_9095

Barolo “Vigna Elena” DOCG 2000. This wine is made from 100% Rose a sub-variety of Nebbiolo. Walter said he was one of the few, if not the only one, to do a Barolo with 100% Rose. The vineyards are 380 feet above sea level and face southward. There are 4,000 vines per hectare. The vineyard is 1 hectare. The harvest is in October and the grapes are fermented in stainless steel temperature controlled tanks with automatic pump-over, a post fermentation maceration of 30 days and submerged cap. The wine is aged for 36 months in 40HL Slovenian oak barrels. Valter said that he only uses native yeasts. The wine rests on the lees for 60 days and sees 12 months bottle aging before it is released. Walter pointed out that this wine is only made in great vintages. The wine had typical Nebbiolo aromas of roses, tobacco and a hint of liquorice.

The label is a picture drawn by Valter and Nadia’s daughter when she was a child. There has been some controversy about the 2000 vintage but this wine was everything one wanted from a Barolo.IMG_9091

Barolo “Bricco Pernice” DOCG 2005 100%.  It is made from a sub-variety of Nebbiolo called Lampia. The vineyard is 300 meters above sea level with 5000 vines per hectare and faces southward. The grapes are from the finest vineyards in Novello, in the most historic part of the Ravera cru. Harvest is in October. Fermentation in stainless steel temperature controlled tanks with pumping over and 30 days maceration with submerged cap. It is aged for 24 months in large Slovenian oak barrels 25/30 HL. It remains on the lees for 90 days and spends 12 months in bottle before it is released. Valter said that in his microclimate, 2005 was an excellent year and it made a very traditional style Barolo, This is a well structured and elegant Barolo and it is drinking very well now.


Filed under Barbera, Barolo, Elvio Cogno, Valter Fissore

The Grandi Marchi Experience

Grandi Marchi (Istituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità) is an association of 19 Italian family owned wineries that have joined together to promote Italian high quality wine on the world market.IMG_8896

Piero Mastroberardino, Grandi Marchi President, said that “At the core of the organization are the friendships among these venerable families of Italian wine. We are united also by the hope to blend our human creativity and wealth of natural resources, and the desire to promote our cultural values beyond the boundaries of individual brands. We achieve this through research, education and market innovation.”

At the Grandi Marchi experience, a seminar and guided tasting held in NYC recently, 15 of the 19 members presented their wines. It was a very impressive lineup.

I was very pleased to see that the wines did not show any unpleasant oaky flavors and aromas. It seems that those top producers in this group who were using 100% new barriques are now moving away from this practice. It was evident in the wines.

The moderator was Gloria Maroti Frazee of The Wine Spectator.

The Wines

Cuvèe Annamaria Clementi, Franciacorta Riserva DOCG 2006 Ca’dell Bosco (Lombardy) made from 55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Bianco and 20% Pinot Noir. This is one of the leading producers of sparkling wine in Italy.

Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare, Toscana IGT 20014 Gaja made from 60% Vermentino in stainless steel and 40% Viognier in oak barrels and then blended together. I have not had this wine in a long time and really enjoyed it.

Vecchie Vigne, Verdicchio Dei Castello di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC 2012 Umani Ronchi(Marche) made from 100% Verdicchio. Verdicchio is a very underrated wine and this is one of the best. The speaker representing the winery said that the people of the Marche drink the most wine of any region in Europe and live very long lives.IMG_8902

Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC 2012 Tenuta San Guido (Tuscany) made from 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. Only 30% new oak now and the wine is drinking very well. The first vintage was in 1968.IMG_8903

Cerequio, Barolo DOCG 2011 Michele Chiarlo (Piedmont) 100% Nebbiolo. This is traditional Barolo with all the classical Nebbiolo flavors and aromas.


Signor Boffa

Barolo DOCG 2011 Pio Cesare (Piedmont) 100% Nebbiolo. Pio Boffa, owner of the winery, said that this was his traditional, classical Barolo. It was made the way Barolo was made in the past before there were crus. The grapes come from five different vineyards taking the best from each one and then blending them together.IMG_8905

Cabreo Il Borgo, Toscana IGT, (70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon) Ambrogio e Giovanni Flonari Tenute The two varieties are blended and aged in French oak barrels, 30% new, 40% one year old and 30% two years old for 16 to 18 months. This is a wine that can age.IMG_8907

Pian Delle Vigna, Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2010 made from 100% Sangiovese. Marchese Antinori (Tuscany). This is one of the best wines that Antinori makes, an outstanding Brunello.IMG_8909

Turriga, Isola Dei Nuraghi IGT 2011 made from 85% Cannonau, 5% Bovale, 5% Carignano and 5% Malvasia Nera. Argiolas (Sardinia) This is another wine that should be better known and was showing very well.IMG_8910

Rosso Del Conte, Contea di Sclafani DOC 2011 made from 62% Nero d’Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc. Tasca, Conti D’ Almerita (Sicily). The international grapes were added in 2000.


Signor Mastroberardino

Radici Taurasi DOCG 2009 Made from 100% Aglianico. Mastroberardino (Campania) Luckily I was introduced to this wine with the legendary 1968 vintage and have been drinking it ever since.


Signor di Corato from Rivera

IL Falcone, Castel Del Monte Riserva DOC 2009 made from 70% Nero di Troia and 30% Montepulciano. Rivera (Puglia) This is a wine that should be better known. It can age for 20 years or more.IMG_8916

Torgiano Rosso Riserva Rubesco Vigna Monticchio DOCG 2008 made fro 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo. Lungarotti (Umbria). This is another old favorite which I began drinking with the 1973 vintage.IMG_8917

Riserva Di Costasera Amarone Classico DOC 2009 made from 70% Corvina, 15% Rondinella, 5% Oseleta and 5% Molinara. Masi Agricola (Veneto). This is classic Amarone at its best.

Ben Ryè Passito Di Pantelleria DOC 2008 limited edition made from 100% Zibibbo (Moscato d’Alessandria) Donnafugata (Sicily). One of the best dessert wines of Italy.


Filed under Grandi Marchi

Le Macchiole: the Evolution of Paleo Rosso

I first met Cinzia Merli, owner of Le Macchiole a number of years ago and was impressed by both her and her wines, especially the Paleo Rosso. I have followed the many changes she has made in this wine over the years and was very happy to accept an invitation to a tasting and lunch at Eleven Madison in NYC. We would be tasting a number of wines going back to 1996.


Cinzia Merli

Cinzia said that making wine is a learning process and she is still learning. She feels that she can do what is correct with the land, making intense changes in the vineyard and cellar and does not follow convention. Over the years the name Paleo Rosso has remained the same but the grapes for this wine are different as is the aging process.

She said that she learns something every day, and does not know all of the answers but needs to figure it out. This is something I have never heard from a producer before.

Cinzia said Le Macchiole was one of the first wineries established in the viticultural zone of Bolgheri, located approximately 100 kilometers southwest of Florence along the Etruscan Coast in Tuscany. There are 22 hectares of land 2/3 covered by woods.

She said Bolgheri is among Italy’s famed wine producing regions, but this seemed far from a possibility in 1983, the year Le Macchiole was founded and a time when the area was known simply for close proximity to the sea and having abundant fruit and grain agriculture.

“My husband Eugenio and I started off with very limited, if almost no, resources” Cinzia recalls. “We gave up working his parents’ retail and restaurant business and bought a few hectares of land planted with wheat. We decided to plant vineyards starting with many varieties – sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and vermentino – so that we might see what grew best on our little property. That is how our life project began and, for me, our learning is still in progress. I believe that Bolgheri is in the early stage of development. It has just become aware of its potential and understanding of which grape varieties give their best to each part of the different soils; much is still yet to be accomplished here.”

As they cultivated and learned the possibilities for their land, the Le Macchiole strategy became single-variety wines beginning with the 1994 vintage. This was an unusual, perhaps daring, plan for a winery of the region to commit to at the time. The idea took shape gradually over years of tireless experimentation by Eugenio and Cinzia and with the help of Luca D’Attoma, the winery’s long time consulting enologist, who began working with them in 1991. Ultimately, vinifying separate varieties has been extremely successful for the winery allowing the wines of Le Macchiole to demonstrate the potential of terroir in Bolgheri differently.

The winery’s planting density is between 5,000 and 10,000 plants per hectare and vine growing is rooted in organic farming practices. Manual harvesting is followed by the sorting of bunches and then berries on a double sorting table.  The winery continues to evolve in both the vineyards and in the cellar .

The Evolution of Paleo Rosso

In the beginning, in 1989, the idea was to make a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes. In 1993, some Cabernet Franc was added to the blend. “Cabernet Franc is usually seen as the ugly duckling of the family compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. It is greener, rougher, untamable, a difficult challenge to manage. In Bolgheri, Cabernet Franc is something thoroughly different. Its tannins are softer, it is extremely fruity and amazingly fresh, characteristics that help us make the best of every harvest”, said Cinzia Merli.

The decisive turn came in 2000: due to the exceptionally warm summer season, the winery was forced to add a higher amount of Cabernet Franc to the final blend to give the wine freshness and acidity. And it began to dawn on them that they were ready for the big leap: transforming Paleo Rosso into a 100% Cabernet Franc wine. They completely changed the wine’s structure while keeping its name and the winery’s signature style unchanged.

Le Macchiole vineyards stand on alluvial, rich, clayey, deep and resilient soil, with a solid skeleton and suited to enhancing each grape variety’s characteristics. The climate is mild owing to the influence of the sea and summers are generally warm with day/night temperature swings. On average, temperatures are higher than in other Tuscan areas and the harvest is usually in September.

All the wine growing stages, from pruning to harvesting, are carried out by hand. Great attention is given to harvesting and sorting of grapes, which is carried out first in the vineyards and then in the wine cellar, on a double sorting table. Organic farming methods are used in the vineyards for the sole purpose of practicing sustainable wine growing and maintaining a safe and healthy working environment. The basic idea is that human intervention on the plant should be kept to a minimum to respect its natural balance and give it a chance to strengthen on its own. This is very important to Cinzia because her husband Eugenio died of cancer in 2002 and she believes that the chemicals in the vineyard killed him.

The WinesIMG_8876

Paleo Rosso 1996 DOC– Bolgheri Rosso Superiore made from 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Franc from the Casa Vecchia (1984) and Madonnina vineyards (1977). There was a green harvest in late July and the harvest was in late September/early October. Fermentation lasted for 14/16 days and the wine was aged for 22 months in 225 liter oak barrels. All of the wine is unfiltered. This was my favorite wine and I drank it with lunch. It could last for a number of years.IMG_8881

It enjoyed the 1996 with mushrooms sautéed with pine nuts and quail egg

Paleo Rosso 2000 DOC– Bolgheri Rosso Superiore 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc from the Madonnina, Casa Vecchia  and Puntone (1993) vineyards. Green harvest from July 20th to August 10 and the harvest was from September 4 to 8. Fermentation lasted for 20 days. The wine was aged for 18 months in 225 liter oak barrels.


First 100% Cabernet Franc

Paleo Rosso 2001 IGT Toscana 100% Cabernet Franc from the Casa Vecchia and Puntone vineyards. Green harvest from July 30 to August 10 and harvest from Sept 3 to 9. Fermentation was for 25 days and the wine was aged one half in 225 liter oak barrels and one half in 112 liter oak barrels.

Paleo Rosso 2006  IGT Toscana 100% Cabernet Franc from the Casa Vecchia, Puntone, Casa Nuova, Vignone (1999) and Madonnina (2002) vineyards. Green harvest was in July and the harvest in the first two weeks of September. Fermentation lasts for 20 days. The wine is aged for 14 months in new 225 liter oak barrels and 10% in 112 liter oak barrels.

Paleo Rosso 2007  IGT Toscana 100% Cabernet Franc  from the Casa Vecchia, Puntone, Casa Nuova, Vignone and Madonnina vineyards. The green harvest was in late June and the harvest was the second and third week of September. Fermentation is for 20 days. The wine is aged for 14 months, 90% in new 225 liter barrels and 10% in 112 liter oak barrels. This wine seemed to have the most aromas of vanilla and oak. Cinizia said that because of the weather conditions it was aged differently.

Paleo Rosso 2008 IGT Toscana 100% Cabernet Franc from the Puntone, Casa Nuova, Vignone, Madonnina vineyards. Green harvest was in late July and the harvest was the second and third week of September. Fermentation for 20 days in steel and concrete vats. The wine is aged for 14 months, 75% in new oak barrels, 25% in barrels of second year use.IMG_8871

Paleo Rosso 2009 IGT Toscana 100% Cabernet Franc from the Puntone, Casa Nuova, Vignone and Madonnina vineyards. Green harvesting took place in late July and the harvest first and second week of September. Fermentation was for 20 days in steel and concrete vats and aging for 14 months, 75% in new oak barrels, 25% in barrels of second year use. Ciznia said this is a complex wine with floral and fruity notes with good structure.

Paleo Rosso 2010 IGT Toscana 100% Cabernet Franc from the Puntone, Casa Nuova, Vignone and Madonnina vineyards. Green harvesting took place in late July and the harvest first and second week of September. Fermentation was for 20 days in steel and concrete vats. Aged for 14 months, 75% in new oak barrels, 25% in barrels of second year use. Cinzia said the wine has good aromatic complexity, with lower alcohol than past vintages and with mineral notes.IMG_8869

Paleo Rosso 2011 IGT Toscana 100% Cabernet Franc from the same vineyards. Green harvest in late July and harvest is the second and third week of September. Fermentation for 20 days is steel and concrete tanks Aged for 20 months, 75% new oak (1/3 228 liters and 2/3 225 liters) and the rest in second passage barriques of 225 liters.




Filed under Italian Red Wine, Italian Wine, Le Mecchiole, Paleo Rosso

Tasting Fruit and Flower Liqueurs

When I went to the Villa De Varda tasting two weeks ago, I believed that it was going to be only grappa, but to my pleasant surprise there were also a number of liqueurs on the table. Michele Dolzan, General Director of the Villa De Varda Distillery said they only use the finest fruit and flowers from the Trentino area to make their liqueurs. IMG_8826

Liqueur Mela Verde (Green Apple) Made from Trentino green apples and grain alcohol. Michele said they use golden delicious apples, which are yellow green in color and are recognized as DOP “Mela Val di Non”. Trentino is famous for its apples. The apples are picked in September at ultimate ripeness after a careful selection. They are kept in an infusion of pure clear grain alcohol and refined cane sugar (16g/l) for 60 days in stainless steel vats and constantly monitored. The infusion is bottled quickly to retain the liqueur’s freshness. It is aromatic with the aromas of sliced green apples. It has some acidity and the slight sweetness of the green apple. 750ml $69.99

Michele poured some the liqueur into a half glass of prosecco and the flavor of the green apple became even more intense. It was a great idea and I really enjoyed it.IMG_8841

Liqueur Mirtillo (Blueberry) made from ripe blueberries picked in the forest of Trentino and grappa. Michele said the blueberries are gathered by hand in the coolest hours of the day to preserve their delicacy. They are kept in an infusion of grappa and refined sugar (20g/l) for 60 days in stainless steel vats that are constantly monitored. It has typical blueberry fruit aromas, which are very fragrant. 750ml $69.99

I once tried this at home, placed the blueberries in a jar, added clear grappa and sugar and stored it in a dark place for 3 months. When I opened the jar the liquid was still clear but the blueberries lost all their color. They tasted like grappa pills.

Limone Liqueur (Lemon) made from lemon and lemon skins and pure grain alcohol. Mr. Dolzen said the lemons come from Lake Garda. The lemons are picked at ultimate ripeness and are blended with thick, light lemon colored peel and then left in a pure grain distillate for 60 days. Purified sugar is added to the final infusion, 18g/l. This is a fresh tasting lemon liqueur which is not too sweet; you can really taste the lemon. 750ml $ 69.99IMG_8840

Elderflower Liqueur 100% fresh Elderflowers and wheat alcohol. Hand picked in the spring, the creamy white Elderflowers come from the nearby Trentino forests. They are macerated for 60 days in sterile, stainless steel tanks with wheat and refined sugar (22g/l). It has a floral, slightly fruity nose with flavors of fruit and herbs. It is very distinctive. This is 21% Alcohol by volume the others are 28%. 750ml  $79.99

Michele poured hot green tea into a cup and then added the Elderflower Liqueur. It was a pleasant surprise and made a great combination. IMG_8839

Liqueur alla Camomilla — an infusion of the heads of Chamomile flowers, in a pure distillate of wheat alcohol and Pinot Grigio grappa. Fresh picked from May to September, herbaceous Chamomile flower heads from the mountains around Trentino are infused for 60 days in stainless steel tanks with wheat alcohol, Pinot Grigio grappa and pure cane sugar (18g/l). It has delicate aromas and flavors of chamomile. I like it by itself. Michele recommends it slightly chilled but I like it at room temperature and when I have a sore throat I like to drink it with hot tea. 750ml $79.99

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Filed under Blueberry Liqueur, Camomile Liqueur, Elderflower Liqueur, Green Apple Liqueur, Liqueur