Monthly Archives: June 2019

The Wine Media Guild at I-Trulli Restaurant

The Wine Media Guild, an association of wine communicators, held its annual end of the year dinner at i-Trulli restaurant in NYC. I was formerly the wine director/sommelier at i Trulli and returning there always brings back a lot of memories.  In addition, Pat Savoie and I were stepping down as co-chairs and David Ransom and Nick Antonaccio. were taking over as the new co-chairs.

There were many great bottles of wine drunk that evening, too many to list here thou I did get a chance to taste some of them

The list below were just the wines that we drank at my table. As always we started with Champagne.

Champagne Henriot “Millésime 2008 made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from 6 Grand Crus: Maily Champagne, Verzy, Verzenay on Montagne de Reims, Mesnil-su-Oger, Avize, Chouilly on Côte des Blancs. The wine has hints of raspberries and strawberries with a touch of hazelnuts and brioche and a long finish. Ed (Champagne for Dummies) McCarthy, was sitting at my table, and said this house is finally getting the praise it deserves. Great way to start the evening.

Champagne Deutz Blancs De Blancs 1989 in magnum made from 100% Chardonnay. It has lemon and lime aromas, a note of cream and a touch of hazelnut. It was in perfect condition.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2005 Eduardo Valentini made from 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. This is one of my favorite white wines. We should have decanted the wine because it took some time to open up in the glass but when it did it was wonderful.

Among the appetizers there were panzarotti, crisp  fried  turnovers  filled  with  tomatoes  and  mozzarella.


For the pasta cause there was  orecchiette with broccoli rabe.  The pasta is handmade by Dora Mazovilla,  the  mother  of  the  owner.

The main course was sliced steak with an arugula salad.


Chateau Haut Brion 1983 made from 45% merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc and a note of Petit Verdot. It was a pleasure to drink.

Château Corton Grancey Grand Cru 1999 Louis Latour in magnum. It is a blend of four areas of Domaine Latour Corton Grand Cru: Bressandes, Perrieres, Gréves and Clos du Roi, proportions depending on the vintage. Traditional fermentation takes place in open vats. 10 to 12 months aging in oak barrels, 35% new. Louis Latour cooperage, French oak, medium toasted. This is a wine with supple tannins, wonderful aromas with great length and finish. It also took some time to open up in the glass.

Pormmard Grands Epenots 1979 Hurbet de Montille made from 100% Pinot Noir using a significant proportion of whole clusters, varying by vintage. They are known for wines that can age. It was drinking very well.

Carema 1989 Produttori di Carema (a co-op in the Northern part of Piedmont) made from 100% Nebbiolo. Small plots are hand harvested from various members of the co-op. All the vineyards are southeast facing and range in altitude from 300 to 600 meters. Traditional vinification, the wine is fermented and aged for at least 48 months in large Slavonian oak casks. It has hints of red cherries, red roses; leather and tar. The wine was in perfect condition.

Chateau Coutet a Barsac “Cuvee Madame 1989 made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle. Barsac is technically part of the Sauternes region but its sandy and limestone soil produce a lighter sweet wine with balanced acidity. The wine has hints of tropical fruit, ginger, candied apricot and a touch of honey. It was a perfect way to end a wonderful evening.

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Pizze Fritte and Pasta alla Chitarra — Eating in Abruzzo

by Michele Scicolone

The Abruzzo region of Italy located to the east of Rome has everything going for it. There are beautiful national parks, a long coastline on the Adriatic, rugged snowcapped Apennine Mountains, and little medieval towns perched precariously on hill tops. But on this visit, Charles and I were invited to Abruzzo to experience great wine and cuisine. These are some of the highlights of the food.

When we arrived at Cataldi Madonna Winery in Ofena, we were greeted by the owner’s daughter Giulia, and welcomed with an array of their wines to taste. For Charles’ report on the wines, go to Two cooks were frying small disks of dough dusted with sea salt for pizze fritte, meant to be eaten hot with the hand sliced local prosciutto.

The warmth of the bread brought out the earthy flavors of the prosciutto and an assortment of other salumi. There were also several cheeses made from sheep’s milk.

After our snack, the next stop was a walk up to the Rocca Calascio, an 11th Century fort, one of the oldest in Italy, located within the Gran Sasso National Park. Lunch followed at a rustic restaurant.

We began with a hearty bean soup topped with crisp croutons,

followed by polenta with pork ribs in a tomato sauce. The Abruzzese love spicy food and a bowl of ground dried chilies, peperoncino, was passed with each dish. We drank the wines of Cataldi Mandonna that we had tasted at the winery.

Later we visited the spectacular Zacagnini Winery. Mr. Enzo Vogliolo, the marketing director accompanied us to dinner where we began with delicate crepes, crespelle, to eat with culatello, a type of ham similar to prosciutto, made from the choicest part of the pig.

There were more delicious cheeses, accompanied by local honey and preserves.

Next came arrosticini, an icon of Abruzzese cooking, small pieces of precisely cut cubes of lamb grilled on bamboo skewers. Mr. Vogliolo  said  the meat was agnellone, from mature lambs. Though we had arrosticini on several occasions on this trip, this version was by far the best. The lamb was tender and juicy and infused with the smoky flavors of the grill. A few members of our group competed to see who could devour the most skewers.

We drank  the  Zaccagnini  Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo  and  the  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with our meal.

The next day we visited the medieval town of Pretoro and had lunch at La Torre Restaurant. There, Concetta, the owner and chef, gave us a lesson in how to make pasta alla chitarra, the classic square shaped spaghetti of Abruzzo. She is a master of the art and her tips and tricks were invaluable. “Farina, farina, farina,” she would say, tossing clouds of flour at our pasta to be sure it would not stick.

Michele getting ready to make pasta alla chitarra

To make it, you will need to have a chitarra to cut the pasta. It is a wooden frame strung with wires that resembles a guitar and you can purchase one on the web.

Concetta cooked and sauced our pasta with a classic lamb ragu.

We also had time to try our hands at making potato gnocchi which we ate with a green vegetable sauce. Afterward we had lamb two ways, one rolled and stuffed with spinach and cheese, and the other roasted.

We drank the Cerasuolo d’ Abruzzo and the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the co-op Lunaria.



That night we had dinner on a trabocco. Fishermen traditionally used these wooden piers topped with a shed that jut far out from the shore to catch fish from. The one we visited had been converted to a restaurant.

We began with hot, crispy fritto misto wrapped in a paper cone.

Then there was a plate of cold seafood. Baked scallops came next,

followed by heaping platters of small sea snails cooked in a tomato sauce.

While some of our group were not interested in eating the snails, others couldn’t seem to get enough.

The snails were followed by rigatoni in a mixed seafood sauce, then fish fillets baked in paper thin potato slices.

We drank the Cuvé Prestige 830 and the Riseis from Agriverde.

Possibly my favorite meal of the whole trip was the one we enjoyed at Agriturismo Grappolo D’Oro.

A group of local musicians singing folk music and playing traditional instruments greeted us.

The antipasto consisted of an assortment of Abruzzese bread and focaccia, frittatas, vegetables and cheeses.

We all loved the bread “meatballs,” just like meatballs but made without meat and shaped like sausages simmered in a tomato sauce. As we watched, our hosts prepared pasta alla chitarra, but this version was made with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine, and took on a purplish color. It was topped simply with cheese and good olive oil.

Grilled plump, juicy sausages followed, some sweet and some spicy hot. We ended with bocconoti, tender individual pies filled with pastry cream accompanied by fresh cherries. There was more music and lots of wine throughout the meal.

We drank the Fenaroli Brut 36 Metodo Classico and the Ferzo Pecorino and Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo from Citra a large co-op.

Later that day we attended the grand tasting of wines from Abruzzo at Villa Estea, a beautiful palazzo overlooking the ocean. Dozens of winemakers attended and we were able to taste a variety of wines from all over the region.


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Stefania Pepe Wines: Natural Wines at their Best

I first met Stefania Pepe many years ago at the Vinitaly wine fair in Verona at the wine stand of her father Emidio Pepe. At the time I was the wine director and sommelier for i-Trulli restaurant in NYC.  The owner of I-Trulli and I liked the Pepe wines and we carried them in the restaurant.  Over the years, I would occasionally see Stefania in NYC. When I saw her 3 years ago at Vinitaly, Stefania had her own wine stand with the wines she produced. I was very impressed with her wines.

Last month Michele and I were invited on a press trip to Abruzzo.  We did not visit Stefania’s winery but I was delighted to see her at the Grand Tasting on the last day.

Stefania greeted us like old friends, and reminded us that we know each other for over 20 years.

Michele, Stefania and me

Last week Stefania was in NYC for the Wines of Abruzzo tasting.  I tasted her wines again and they were just as good as they were in Abruzzo.

The Wines of Stefania Pepe

L’Azienda Agricola Biologica Stefania Pepe is located in the commune of Torano Nuovo, Abruzzo.  There are 8 hectares of which 5.5 are covered with vines. The white grapes are crushed and pressed by feet and the red grapes are crushed and pressed by hand. The transfer of the wine is all done by gravity.

Trebbiano D’Abruzzo DOC Biologica “Cuore di Vino” 2006 made from Trebbiano, Pecorino and Passerina. The vineyard is in Torano Nuovo at 240 meters, the exposure is west and the soil is clay calcareous. The training system is pergola abruzzese. The grapes are hand picked, crushed and pressed by feet and put into small concrete vats for 8 to 13 days without adding any yeast or sulphites. The wine remains in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats for 5 years.  The wine is unfiltered and placed in bottles until it is ready to be released. This is an intense wine with hints of grapefruit, yellow apple, floral notes and a touch of honey.

Stefania said she follows the phases of the moon in her wine making. Her method changes according to the seasons.  For example the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation on its own during the hot weather and during the cold weather she decants the wine.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Biodiamico “Pepe Bianco” 2013 made from Trebbiano vines which are more then 30 years old. The exposure is south/east and the vineyards are at 240 meters and the training system is spalliera. The grapes are crushed by feet and fermentation takes place in cement vats for 10/18 days. The wine is decanted two times into another botte of cement and remains here until it is ready to be bottled. The wine has hints of apple, pineapple and a touch of banana.

Stefania said using cement botti was a Pepe tradition going back four generations. Many producers in Abruzzo said they were now going back to using cement tanks for their wines.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo DOC Biologico 2007. Made from 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The exposure is southeast. The training system is the pergola abruzzese. Fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats, without the skins, only the juice. This is a fresh fruity rose with red fruit aromas and flavors and hint of cherry

Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo DOC Controguerra 2009 made from 70% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. Organic cultivated grapes selected and destemmed by hand. The wine ferments in stainless steel vats for 5 to 6 days without the addition of yeast or sulfites. There is one delastage and 2 pump overs of the juice a day. This is a full-bodied wine with hints of cherry, prunes, toasted nuts and a touch of black pepper.

Montepulciano D,Abruzzo” Colline Teramane” DOCG “Pepe Nero” Biodinamico 2006 made from 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The exposure is southeast, the vines are at 240 meters and the vineyards are 15km from the sea. The training system is pergola abuzzese. The grapes are biodynamically grown, selected and destemmed by hand. Fermentation is in botti (large wooden barrels) only with the skins without any additives including sulfites. The wine remains in the bottle for six months before release. This is a complex wine with hints of blackberry, prune, cherry and a touch of almond and black pepper. I was very impressed by this wine.

This is how Stefania Pepe sums up her winemaking:  “I’m the woman in love with natural wines, I create wine only with biodynamic and organic certified grapes without using any chemicals or additives! I love to communicate and to give benefit…joy…healthier life to my customers.”

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Return to the Cataldi Madonna Winery


Michele and I first visited the Cataldi Madonna Winery in Abruzzo about 15 years ago. I recall that it was the first time I had tasted wine made from the Pecorino grape. There was some confusion and a lot of discussion over how the Cerasuolo D’ Abruzzo, a Rosato that looked like a red wine, was produced. We looked forward to our return visit and seeing Luigi Cataldi Madonna again.

Luigi Cataldi Mondanna

Luigi Cataldi Madonna

The winery, which is about 65 acres, is located in the town of Ofena. There are 30.5 hectares of vines planted exclusively with local and traditional vines like Montepulcino, Pecprino and Trebbiano at 320 to 440 meters. The plain of Ofena is at the foothills of the only Appenine glacier on Calderone in the Gran Sasso Mountain range. This makes for a great difference between night and day temperatures. The area has been called the oven of Abruzzo.

Our host then and now was the owner of the winery Luigi Cataldi Madonna. This time his daughter Giulia assisted him. Giulia said the picture on the labels is of the statue of the Warrior of Capestrano, a symbol of ancient Abruzzo.

The Wines

Trebbiano d”Abruzzo made from 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from vineyards located in Mandrella and Frontone, Ofena. Mandrella is at 1,300 feet. The vines were planted in 2003 and the training system is espalier. Frontone is at 1,215 ft, the vines were planted in 1990 and the training system is pergola. The soil is clay loam rich in calcareous skeleton. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 30 days at a controlled temperature. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks and spends 3 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of lemon, apple, pear and almond. They called this their every day wine.

Pecorino “Giulia” Terre Aquilane IGT 100% Pecorino from vineyards in Cona, Fontone and Macerone at 380 meters. The vines were planted in 2001 and the training system is spallier. Vinifiction takes place in stainless steel tanks for 30 days at a controlled temperature. At the end of fermentation the juice is in contact with lees and is aged in stainless steel tanks for 3 months. The wine has hints of grapefruit, lime and a touch of fresh herbs.

Luigi was one of the first to “rediscover“ the Pecorino grape and began replanting in 1990 and produced the first vintage in 1996. Pecorino means little sheep in Italian because the sheep liked to eat these grapes off the vine.

Pecorino “Super Giulia” 100% Pecorino. The difference between the two is Super Giulia is made from the best selection of the grapes. This is a more flavorful version than the regular Giulia with a note of passion fruit.Giulia

Both wines are named for Luigi Cataldi Madonna’s daughter, Giulia.

 Cerasuolo d’ Abuzzo Rosato made from 100% Monepulciano D’Abruzzo from vines planted in 1970 and the vineyard is at 1,250ft. The training system is pergola. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks for 30 days at a controlled temperature and is aged for 3 months in stainless steel. The wine has a bright rose color. This is a fruity wine with hints cherry, strawberry and a touch of almond.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo “Pie delle Vigna” Rosato this is the wine that caused all the confusion because it is a Rose but looks like a red wine. We did not get to taste this wine on this visit because it was all sold out. I saw it in a store on one of our stops. This wine is made by white wine vinification 85%. The problem is that the juice from the Montepulciano grape is pink. The other 15% from red vinification, the juice is in contact with the skins for about 8 hours, so the wine looks like a red wine!

They also now make another Rosato from Montepulciano grapes called “Cataldino” which is an IGT wine and is a very fruity easy drinking wine.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Malandrino” made from 100% Montepulciano d”Abruzzo the vineyards are at 1,375 ft and the vines were planted 1970-2004. The soil is clay and limestone with medium texture and rich in skeleton. Vinification takes place in stainless steel tanks. The wine is aged in stainless tanks and concrete vats for 12 months. The wine is in bottle for 3 months before release. The wine has hints of blueberry and plum with a touch of violets.

We enjoyed visiting the winery once again and meeting the third generation of wine producers at Cataldi Madonna.

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Touring Abruzzo

After a short stay in Rome, Michele and I were headed to Abruzzo for a press trip to explore the food and wine of this beautiful region.

We arrived at the hotel, La Chiave dei Trabocchi in San Vito Chietino after a 3-hour bus ride from Rome. The coastline here is called the Costa dei Trabocchi.


Trabocchi are dwellings used by fishermen so they could fish in bad weather.  Made of wood, they stand in the water on long wooden legs with long poles and nets reaching out into the water.

Some of them have been turned into restaurants.

On our first night, dinner at the hotel included a very informative presentation on Abruzzo given by Davide Acerra, president of the Consorzio Tutela Vini D’Abruzzo.

Abruzzo is situated between the Adriatic Sea and the Gran Sasso and Majella massif. It is one of the most unspoiled regions of Italy with three national parks and more than ten national and regional natural reserves. Abruzzo geographically is more central than southern Italy, but due to its connection with the old Kingdom of the Two Sicilys, it is considered part of the South.

Most vineyards are in hilly areas of which 75% are in the province of Chieti. The traditional vine training method is the Tendone system also known as Pergola Abruzzese. The vines are grown along vertical posts and wires to a height of about 6 feet. The vines are planted 2 meters apart in parallel rows 2 meters apart. The leaves grow over the top to form a canopy (pergola) to protect the grapes from the hot Abruzzo sun. The Tendone has always been the way to grow table grapes in the area and it is easier to pick the grapes without having to bend down.

The Grapes and the Wines

The Montepulciano grape produces Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Montepulciano is the most planted grape in Abruzzo and is grown on about 17,000 hectares. It represents 80% of the total DOC wine produced in Abruzzo. The Montepulciano grape has been in Abruzzo since the mid 17th Century.

This red grape has a medium compact cluster and a conical – pyramidal shape, often winged, with an elongated grape. It ripens late which gives the wine its ruby rich color, with hints of violets, cherries, berries and liquorice.

Both and Cerasoolo but notice the difference in color

Cerasuolo d’ Abruzzo is a ‘Rose” made from the Montepulciano grape. This is a rose made from the free run juice and or juice with very little skin contact and it is bright red in color. If the producer adds 15% or more of the juice that has had skin contact for a number of hours, it almost has the color of a red wine.

Trebbiano grape produces Trebbiano d’Abruzzo white wine. It is second in area covering over 5,000 hectares. This grape is planted all over Italy but it finds Is best expression in Abruzzo. The vines have large leaves and long bunches. The grapes never get darker than a deep straw color because of the long leaves and the Tendone training system. Trebbiano Tuscano is also used in combination with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, but the best wines come from those made from 100% Trebbiano d”Abruzzo

Of the local varieties Pecorino, a white grape is the most popular. Pecorino an ancient grape variety which was “rediscovered” in the early 1980’s. The name in Italian is “little sheep” because the sheep liked to eat the grapes off the vines. The others are Passerina, Cococciola and Montonico, all white grapes.

Sparkling wines, both Metodo Classico and Charmat, are produced from the different varieties.

Almost 80% of the wine made in Abruzzo is produced by co-ops.

Michele getting ready to make pasta alla chitarra

It was a three day tour and in that time we visited a number of producers, a few hill towns,  made the local specialty pasta alla chitarra, had dinner in a Trabocco

and ended with the Grand Tasting Dei Vini D’Abruzzo at the Villa Estea Torino Di Sangero where there were over 50 producers presenting their wines.

The experience was made more enjoyable because of the other members of our group who were so congenial.

I will write more about our experiences in a future report.


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