Monthly Archives: May 2022

Wine, much more than just a word

by Daniele Cernilli 05/30/22 | 

This excellent article by Daniele Cernilli aka Doctor Wine on how we speak and think about wine.

Vigneti italiani zone diverse

The word “wine” encompasses thousands of different nuances, with many different wines produced from extremely different grape varieties and often from vastly different places. An immense geography of organoleptic sensations.

After more than 40 years of being involved with wine, I have heard much more than my fair share of proclamations, declarations and arguments regarding irrefutable truths about wine. So allow me to shed some light on the subject. A Passito from Pantelleria, golden and sweet with aromas of dried apricots; Barolo, red, bold, sometimes a tad edgy and dry; and Franciacorta, effervescent, pale yellow, very dry: all three are “wines”. I do not believe there are any other products we can put into our mouths that have the same name but are so different from each other. And although cheese comes close, a mozzarella is nothing like Parmigiano, gorgonzola is different from Pecorino Romano, the variations are not as vast as they are for wine, which comes in thousands of different versions, something like Plato’s World of Being.

In Italy alone there are more than 500 wines with a DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) quality classification and an equal if not greater number of different grape varieties, with almost every town producing its own wine which the locals consider to be the best wine in the world. And if you dare to question this then you are just a glutton for punishment and insults.

“Barolo is nothing, my uncle’s Aglianico, now that is a great wine”; “Forget French wine (as if there is only one type), in Veneto we have much more and Prosecco is just as good as Champagne and it costs less”.

The press media is not immune to taking similar stands and every year we hear and read triumphant reports about how Italy produces the most wine in the world and thus beats France. Unfortunately, the French, with a more or less similar level of production, have a turnover from wine almost double that of Italy. But then again, everyone knows the French are good at marketing themselves. As for quality… Italians think they are better than everyone else, even if this is not true. But the French, too, are not exactly kind when it comes to Italian wine, considering them to be inferior or second class at best. This not to mention the expression “cheap and cheerful” which many British and American wine lovers use to define most Italian wines and this says something in itself.

These are all, obviously, commonplace generalizations as is the term “Italian wine”. This is simply because “Italian wine” does not exist. There exists, on the other hand, thousands of wines that are much different from each other and thus cannot be defined by such a generic term. And they are certainly not “just for experts” or only “something to drink”. Italian wines represent the country’s traditions, its different climates and even landscapes.

After so many years of tasting, evaluating and describing thousands of wines, when I taste one now the first thing I ask myself is where could it have come from. From a vineyard near the sea, surrounded by Mediterranean bushes, perhaps with even some sand in the soil? Or is it from a high altitude, where the climate is cooler, the soil has more gravel and the pitch is steeper?

The aromas, flavors and even the colors help me determine the origin. It is a fun game as well as the only way that I know to tackle such a diversified subject, not to mention complex. The truth is we are not dealing with physics or theoretical philosophy, just different wines, of which there are an amazing number and they often come from very different areas and are produced with extremely different grapes. All this in an immense geography of organoleptic sensations.

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The Wines of Michele Alois at IL Gattopardo

I was invited on a press trip a few years ago by Campania Stories to Benevento.  As part of the program I was able to select the wineries I wanted to visit. One of the wineries I chose was the Michele Alois Winery as I have always enjoyed their wines. I had a very nice time at the winery and I was invited to come back. A few years ago, I was in Naples and contacted Massimo Alois.  He invited me to visit the winery again.  On the way to the winery we stopped in Caserta to pick up his son Gianfrancesco and a friend who were at basketball practice. I was surprised to learn that Basketball is the #1 sport in Caserta. At the winery we had a fantastic lunch prepared by Talita de Rosa,  Massimo’s wife, which I wrote about in a previous blog.


Massimo Alois and his son Gianfraneseco

Recently Gianfranco Sorrentino, owner of Il Gattopardo, invited me to his restaurant for a lunch featuring the wines of Michele Alois.  Massimo Alois was there to speak about the wines. It was the perfect combination, Alois wine and the food of IL Gattopardo prepared by Chef Vito Gnazzzo.  When I arrived, Massimo greeted me and introduced me once again to his son Gianfrancesco.

Massimo spoke about his family’s involvement in the silk business going back several centuries to the era of the Bourbon rulers when Naples was a part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. They supplied silks to the crowned heads of Europe as well as many noble families. Examples of their work can be found in the Louvre Museum and even in the White House. The factory is now a museum which I have visited with Massimo.

In the early 1990’s  Michele Alois, Massimo’s father, decided to go in a new direction by opening a winery with 9 hectares of vines in the foothills of the Caiatini in the province of Caserta. Michele wanted to restore forgotten varietals and produce wine from them.

The wines

IMG_7454Pallagrello Bianco “Caiati” 2021 (Campania) Alois 100% Pallagrello Bianco from a 2.13 hectare vineyard at 280 meters with 13 year old vines. The soil is volcanic with minerals. The training system is guyot, there are 4,800 plants per hectare and the harvest is in the middle of September. Fermentation takes place on the lees for 30 days. Malolactic fermentation is in stainless steel at a controlled temperature. The wine remains in the bottle for 4 months before release. The wine has hints of almonds, citrus fruit, melon and grapefruit with a long finish and pleasing aftertaste.

IMG_7421Assortment of appetizers  

Massimo said the name Pallagrello derives from “u Pallarell,” local dialect for “small ball” because of the grape’s tiny round shape. Its shape distinguishes the grape cluster. It is a vigorous varietal, producing grapes with high sugar content. Native to the hills around the Campania town of Caiazzo, it may be related to the ancient Roman varietal “Pilleolata” mentioned by Pliny the Elder (d.79 AD) in his Historia Naturalis. The wine was the favorite of the Bourbons when they ruled in Naples. It has now become a favorite of mine. 

IMG_7422Parmigiana di Zucchine con scamorza e salsa al pomodoro

IMG_7424Terra del Volturno Pallagrello Bianco IGT “Marrone” 2018 Alois (Campania).  Made from 100% Pallagrello Bianco from the 15 year old Morrone della Monica 2.13 hectare vineyard at 350 meters in Pontelatone. The exposure is east/west and the soil is limestone. There are 5,200 plants per hectare and the training system is guyot.  Harvest takes place in early September.  Two-thirds of the wine is vinified in stainless steel at a controlled temperature for one month and one-third of the wine is on the lees in neutral oak for nine months. The wine remains in the bottle for 12 months before release. This is a full bodied intense wine with hints of citrus fruit, melon, a touch of chamomile  and a note of apricot. This is the second time I had this wine. The first time was at Trattoria San Ferdinando in Naples.  I was very impressed with this wine then and I was just as impressed this time.


Cavatelli di grano Senatore Cappelli ai frutta di mare — Handmade pasta from the prized Senator Cappelli flour with a light tomato and seafood sauce.

IMG_7425Campania IGT Falanghina “Caulino” Alois 2021. Made from 100% Falangina from a 4 hectare plot at 500 meters with 30 year old vines. The soil is organic and the training system is guyot. There are 5,200 vines per hectare. Harvest takes place at the end of September. Fermentation is on the lees for 30 days. Malolactic  ermentation takes place in stainless steel. The wine remains  in the bottle for 3 months before release. The wine has hints of yellow peach, apricot, a touch of lemon and a note of bitter almonds.

IMG_7452Aglianico “Campole” Alois 2018 made from 100% Aglianico from 30 year old vines in volcanic soil at 156 meters.  Harvest is the first week of October. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with skin contact for 16 days with several rankings. Malolactic fermentation is in large Italian casks. The wine remains  in bottle for 8 months before release. The wine has hints of dark fruit, spice currents.


Agnello al Forno con padellata di Friariella e patate — Loin lamb chops with broccoli rabe and potatoes
IMG_7453Terre del Volturno IGT Campania Settimo
Alois 2018 Pallagrello and Casavecchia from a 4 hectare vineyard at 500 ft with volcanic soil. There are 5,200 plants per hectare and the soil is volcanic. Harvest takes place the first week of October. Stainless steel vinfication with maceration on the lees for 14 days. Malolactic fermentation is in stainless steel. The wine remains in the bottle for 6 months before release. This is a light bodied red wine with hints of cherry. 

IMG_7451Trebulamum Alois 2015 made from 100% Casavecchia from a 3 hectare vineyard vineyard at 180 meters. The soil is volcanic with minerals, training system is guyot and there are 5,200 plants per hectare. Harvest is in the first weeks of October. Vinification is in stainless steel tanks with maceration on the skins for 10 days. Malolactic fermentation in Italian botti 25HL for 18 months then 24 months in bottle before release. This is a big wine with hints of licorice, tar and smoke, a very long finish and a pleasing aftertaste.

The Casavecchia grape variety is of unknown origin. There is a legend that a small old grape vine was in an abandoned house in the town of Pontelatore, hence the name “Casavecchia”. Massimo said the vine survived phylloxera, and the parasite fungus of Oidio in 1851. Others say that it is related to the ancient Roman varietal “Terbulanum,” praised by Pliny.

Massimo said that the propagation started with the cutting and then setting small branches, and the provine, an ancient method that places the vine branch in the soil until it develops its own roots.

IMG_7436Un piccolo Baba al Rhum — Rum flavored baba’, a Neapolitan clasic

I was a wonderful lunch with the wines of Alois and the food of Il Gattopardo-it was just like being in Napoli.

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Pasta and More at Nonna Dora’s

For a number of years, I was the sommelier/wine director for I Trulli Restaurant in NYC owned by Nicola Marzovilla. Nicola’s mother Dora made the pasta every day by hand and it was the most popular item on the menu.

IMG_6869A few months ago Nicola closed I Trulli after 27 years.  Dora however did not want to retire so with the help of Nicola she opened Nonna Dora’s. 

IMG_6873The restaurant has 24 seats divided between the bar and tables plus there is a private room that accommodates 12 people.  We had a 5:00 reservation and by 5:30 there was only one empty table.  The restaurant has quickly become very popular.

The menu lists a large selection of both cold and hot appetizers, many varieties of Dora’s handmade pasta such as saffron tinted malloredus, ear shaped orecchiette, and stuffed pastas, followed by a few desserts. There are no main courses.

IMG_7391Fried calamarı were crunchy and tender and served with a tasty tomato sauce

IMG_7392Panzerotti – Baby Calzones stuffed with San Marzano tomato and mozzarella.  In the background is a bite of Dora’s focaccia

IMG_7393Pulpo Salad – Octopus with white beans, celery and black olives was a winning combination

We drank the Chianti Classico and the Grand Selezione from Vecchie Terre di Montefili. Dora’s son Nicola is one of the owners of the winery.

IMG_7402Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 made from 100% Sangiovese. The terrain is hilly and the vineyards are at 500 meters. The soil is galestro and alberese. The vineyards were planted in the late nineties and these were the youngest vines on the property. The training system is spurred cordon. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeast. Aging is for a minimum of 15 months in 3,000 liter Slavonian oak barrels and 6 months in bottle before release.  This is a wine with hints of blackberry and cherry with a touch of violets and a note of almonds. This is a fruity wine with hints of cherry and blackberries with good acidity. 

IMG_7396Ceci e Tria- Fresh and fried pasta with chickpeas, tomato and pecorino, a specialty from Apulia.

IMG_7395 2Orecchiette with Rabbit Ragu

IMG_7403Vigna Vecchia “Grand Selezione” Vecchie Terre Di Montefili DOCG 2015 made from 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard called Vigna Vecchia planted in 1981. The training system is spurred cordon and fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts. The wine is rotated between 30HL and 10HL oak barrels for 26 months and 8 months in bottle before release.  This is an elegant wine with red and black fruit aromas and hints of blueberries and cherries and a hint of violets.


IMG_7398Panzerotti with Nutella — fried dough pockets stuffed with Nutella. 


IMG_7397We ended with Affogato  — Espresso coffee over vanilla ice cream

Wine is available by the glass.  The bottle list starts at around $40 and goes goes up from there. As would be expected, the whole line of Montefili wine is on the list.

In addition to the extensive wine list, there is a full bar, plus a selection of cocktails featuring Negronis 8 different ways.

Nonna Dora’s

Nonna Dora is open for dinner Monday to Thursday from 5:00 PM to 10 PM and Friday and Saturday from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM, 606 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10016

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Fiorano Tasting and Lunch with Alessia Antinori

Every time I am in Rome, which is often, I try to visit Fattoria di Fiorano. Alessia Antinori, the owner, invited me there for the first time several years ago while it was still under construction. It is only a 20 minute cab ride from the center of Rome and it is across the road from the  Ciampino Airport.

IMG_7343Alessia inherited the winery from her grandfather Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Venosa. Her mother, Francesca, is the daughter of the Prince and her father is Piero Antinori.

When Alessia told me she would be in NYC in May I invited her to come for a “Fiorano” lunch at our apartment. This is a tradition that has gone on for many years but was interrupted  because of the Pandemic.

My guests and I asked a lot of questions about the estate.  She said it is not only a winery.  Part of the property is now a country retreat for anyone seeking a day out of the city during the warmer months. It’s especially popular with Romans.  Visitors can come for lunch or dinner on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. The guests can pick their own vegetables that they want to eat from the large organic garden and the chef will cook it for them or they can choose to eat at the restaurant, L’Orto di Alberico (Alberico’s Vegetable Garden), named in honor of her grandfather Alberico. He had taken very good care of the land and believed in organic farming.  Alessia said she was following in her grandfather’s footsteps. 

The wines

IMG_7345Alberico Lazio DOC Vino Bianco  2016 100% Sémillon, Fattoria di Fiorano.  After a careful manual selection, the best grapes were destemmed and soft pressed. Fermentation in casks and the wine completed its six months of aging in puncheons. These are oak barrels of 500 liters. They are used for wines that are do not need a high oak extraction.  The wine was aged in bottle for a minimum of 24 months. This is an exceptional balanced wine with complex aromas of subtle tropical fruit, hints of citrus fruit, and a slight touch of vanilla with a very pleasing finish and a long aftertaste. It is a very special wine. Alessia said it is a white wine that will age and I agreed. In fact I told her it was a white wine as good as the Sémillon or the Malvasia di Candia that her grandfather made!  

Both the Fiorano Bianco and Rosso are now named Alberico in honor of her grandfather.

IMG_7352Our first course was Basil Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce — The recipe is from Michele’s book, The Italian Vegetable Cookbook

The Fiorano Rosso is a balanced, elegant and stylish wine with the dominating aromas and flavors of black cherry and leather with a touch of cassis and a note of blackberries. On the palate it is smooth, with fruit, lovely balance and a long pure finish.

IMG_7346Vino Rosso Fiorano 2010 Fattoria di Fiorano, Rome. Alessia said she found on the estate eight vine rows of two red grape varieties, four of Merlot and four of Cabernet Sauvignon, that were planted over half a century ago by her grandfather and farmed organically. These are the vines which produced the legendary Fiorano Rosso.  By propagating these vines, Alessia is able to make wines as her grandfather once did. After harvesting, the two varieties are separated, the grapes destemmed and the juice fermented in temperature-controlled cement tanks. Alessia said this was to fully bring out their aromas and flavors. After being run off the skins, the wine goes into large oak casks for a minimum of 12 months. She said this is done to assist the full expression of the exceptional character conferred by the old vines of her grandfather, and by the singular volcanic soils created by an ancient lava flow. The wine completed its 24 months of oak aging in puncheon oak barrels and was then bottled before completing the process with a period of bottle aging, which lasts over two years. Alessia, like her grandfather, numbers the bottles. The 2010 is #243 of 510 bottles produced. Both the fruit and the leather were here but to a lesser extent. I believe the wine needs more time and am very happy that Alessia is following in her  grandfather’s footsteps.

IMG_7336The vegetables — Gratin of zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes.  

IMG_7347Fiorano Rosso 1997 Vino da Tavola Boncompagni Ludovisi  Alberico Boncompagni LudovisiPrincipe di Venosa

Many believe that 1995 was his last vintage. Alessia said the last vintage was 2000. However, the last 3 vintages were not as good as her grandfather was very old at the time. This bottle was missing the portion of the label with the bottle number. Leather was the dominating aroma and flavor in the 1997 with the fruit in the background.

IMG_7349Our main course was Roasted Rack of Lamb with Rosemary, the Gratin of Vegetables, and Sauteed Spinach. The perfect combination with Fiorano Rosso

IMG_7348Fiorano Rosso 1988 Vino da Tavola Boncompagni Ludovisi  Alberico Boncompagni LudovisiPrincipe di Venosa

Both the 1997 and 1988 were aged in large numbered barrels. Of the 1249 of the bottles produced in 1988, this was #30. The fruit dominated here with the leather in the background

unnamed Group

The Fiorano Group: Michele Scicolone, Maurizio di Rosa (owner of Locanda Borboni in Brooklyn) Gino Composto, someone-me- that had too much Fiorano, and Alessia Antinori. Photo taken by Lauretta Socci.

The wines were excellent and we all enjoyed them.  It’s always a pleasure to see Alessia Antinori and taste her wines.


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Drinking White Wine in Rome and Naples

On my recent trip to Rome, I found that many restaurants have wine lists that are not up to date.  The vintage might be listed incorrectly, or wines might be out of stock.  In one restaurant they did not have the first 3 wines that I ordered from the list and finally I just asked, “What do you have?” In Naples the situation is about the same.  Despite a few disappointments, I always managed to find good alternatives and even a few surprises.

Here are some of the white wines we enjoyed in Rome and Naples.

IMG_7018Frascati Superiore DOCG Bianco 2019 Castel De Paolis (Lazio) made from 70% Malvasia del Lazio, and 30% Trebbiano, Giallo, Bambino and Bellone. The soil is volcanic, rich in potassium and tufa. The vineyard is at 250 meters and the training system is trellised/cordon spur. There are 5,000 vines per hectare and the average age of the vines is 30 years. Fermentation is in steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 18C for 8/10 days. The wine has hints of pear and apple, a touch of pineapple and a note of almonds. I visited the winery in Grottaferrata a number of years ago.  From the terrace, you can see the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome.  Restaurant il Falchetto

IMG_7086Bellone “Collesanti” Marco Carpineti (Lazio)  made from 100% Bellone. There are 4,500 grapes per hectare. The training system is spalliera and harvest takes place in September. There is a soft pressing of the grapes and a natural fermentation takes place at a controlled temperature. The wine is aged in steel.  The wine is hints of citrus, fruit, lemon with floral fragrances. The winery is near Cori, a town established before Rome. The Bellone grape was cultivated here in ancient times.   Checchino dal 1887, Rome

IMG_7042NV Brut Spumante made from 100% Bellone Cincinnato (Lazio). The grapes are picked in September when the acidity is high. Fermentation for about 10 days at 15C and malolactic fermentation does not take place. Charmat method (tank) process for about 2 months and the wine remains in the bottle for 4 months before release. The wine has tiny bubbles, is slightly aromatic with hints of acacia, citrus fruit and white peach.

IMG_6978Fiano di Avellino DOCG Sertura made from 100% Fiano di Avellino(Campania). The vineyards are in Montefalcione, a tiny village perched on a hill a short distance from Avellino. The vineyards are at 380 meters and the soil is clay. The training system is guyot and there are 4,000 plants per hectare. Harvest is by hand in early October. The grapes are soft pressed and fermented for 21 to 25 days at a controlled temperature. This is a complex, full bodied wine with aromas and flavors of citrus fruit, hints of pear and green apple.  Hostaria Manfredi  in the Hotel Civita in Atripalda (AV) about 45 minutes from Naples


Costa D’ Amalfi “Fiorduva” Furore Bianco 2012 Cantina Marisa Cuomo (Campania). The wine is made from 30% Fenile, 30% Ginestra and 40% Ripolo. The production zone is in Furore and the surrounding municipalities on the Amalfi Coast. The coastal terraces are at 200/500 meters and are south facing.  There are 5,000/7,000 vines per hectare. The training system is pergola. The soil is limestone-dolomite rocks. The overripe grapes are harvested by hand the third week of October and the grapes arrive intact in the cantina. After pressing, the juice is inoculated with selected yeast. Fermentation takes place for about 3 months in oak barrels at 12°C. The wine has very nice fruit with hints of apricot, raisins, a touch of candied fruit and good acidity.  It was very enjoyable.  Due Ladrone, Rome


Pallagrello Bianco “Caiati” 2019 (Campania) Alois 100% Pallagrello Bianco from a 2.13-hectare vineyard at 280 meters. The soil is volcanic with minerals. The training system is guyot, there are 4,800 plants per hectare and the harvest is in the middle of September. Fermentation takes place on the lees for 30 days. Malolactic fermentation is in stainless steel at a controlled temperature. The wine remains in the bottle for 4 months before release. The wine has hints of almonds, citrus fruit, melon and grapefruit with a long finish and pleasing aftertaste.   Trattoria San Ferdindano, Naples

IMG_7153 2

Terra del Volturno Pallagrello Bianco IGT “Marrone” 2018 Alois (Campania).  Made from 100% Pallagrello Bianco from the 15 year old Morrone della Monica 2.13 hectare vineyard at 350 meters in Pontelatone. The exposure is east/west and the soil is limestone. There are 5,200 plants per hectare and the training system is guyot.  Harvest takes place in early September.  Two-thirds of the wine is vinified in stainless steel at a controlled temperature for one month and one-third of the wine is on the lees in neutral oak for nine months. The wine remains in the bottle for 12 months before release. This is a full bodied intense wine with hints of citrus fruit, melon, a touch of chamomile  and a note of apricot.  This is the first time I have had this wine as it was introduced in 2018 and I found it impressive. I visited the winery a few years ago and had a wonderful lunch matched with their wines.  Tattoria San Ferdinando, Naples

IMG_7163KATÁ IGP Catalanesca Del Mount Somma 100% Catalanesca. Cantine Olivella  (Campania) 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 in 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 and cantaloupe and good acidity. There is a mineral aspect to the wine, which may come from the volcanic soil.   Restaurant Casa Bleve, Rome

IMG_7136Falanghina del Sannio made from 100% Falanghina from Pozzillo vineyards. Società Agricola Mustilli (Campania) The soil is calcareous and volcanic, rich in clay and the exposure is southwest. The training system is guyot. There is a light cold skin maceration followed by alcoholic fermentation in steel. Aging is in steel for 10 months. The wine has floral notes, with a hint of pear, acacia honey, and touch of apple and lemon. I visited the winery in 2016 on a Campania Stories press trip and tasted a Falanghina from the 2002 vintage which was drinking very nicely.   Restaurant  Mimi  alla Ferrovia, Naples

IMG_7053Trebbiano d’ Abruzzo 2017 Made from 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo  Edoardo Valentini (Abruzzo) The winery is organic and biodynamic. They only keep 10% of the production, the rest is sold to a local co-op. The wine is aged in large botti of Slavonia oak for 24 months, I believe. I visited the winery a number of years ago. Edoardo (d.2006) spent all the time talking to us about the terroir, the grapes and the vineyards.  He did not speak about how the wine was produced.  This is a very complex and full bodied wine with a mineral character, hints of citrus fruit and peach, good acidity, great finish and aftertaste and an extra something that is difficult to describe. It is a great white wine. When I am in Italy I drink this wine whenever I see it on the wine list because it is less costly than you can buy it retail in the USA. It is a very impressive white wine.   Restaurant Casa Bleve, Rome

IMG_7080Marche Bianco IGT “Campo delle Oche” 2018. Fattoria San Lorenzo made from 100% Verdicchio. The Campo delle Oche vineyard is at 300/320 meters and the soil is clay and limestone with savory components given by the salty aquifers. The vineyard was planted in 1965/1980. There are 3,000 vines per hectare. Harvest  takes place the first and second week of October. Fermentation is in concrete vats with indigenous yeast. There is 12 hours of cold maceration and malolactic fermentation is completed. The wine is aged in cement for 2 years and in stainless steel for one year. The wine spent 36 months on the lees. Clarification/Filtration: no fining or filtering. The winery is certified organic. The wine has hints of peach, apricot and pear with a touch of citrus fruit.     Enoteca l’Angolo Divino, Rome

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