Sunday, 28 August 2011

History of wine...

I apologise but this is not going to be a real dissertation on the history of wine.
No big thoughts or words on this lazy Sunday. ...just few pictures taken during a nice walk into the amazing British Museum. Images of ancient wine instruments coming mainly from Italy even though it is now quite well known that first traces of vine cultivation as well as the most ancient reperts are from the Caucasus area. But indeed we (we as for Italians) learnt how to enjoy it quite quickly and were doing it with classy objects!

Some wine instruments from the Etruscan civilization...

And a cup from Southern Italy....

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Rapture...sweet rapture.

By luck I recently (virtually) met Franco DiFilippo. And it was good luck. He introduced me to his wine, his little gem…his ‘Estasi’(ecstasy).
It is a sweet wine, produced in Apulia, the heel of Italy around the city of Bari on limestone soil. The grape is white Muscat a very old and noble variety originally from the Mediterranean area.
Unfortunately few winemakers are still producing it and Franco is one of them. He works in his vineyard with passion to produce this delicious nectar and leaves the grapes getting dry and shrinking on the plant until October and harvest them manually to choose only the best bunches.
Just by pouring it in your glass you’ll be surprised by its intense golden shining colour. But that’s not it. At the nose you will discover the enchanting aromas typical of the Moscato grape but also a fine complexity of honey, dry white flowers, apricot jam and a gentle almond finish.
In the mouth the wine will complete its seduction with the harmonious balance of the flavours already present at the nose (apricot, honey white flowers) with the addition of citrusy and tropical fruits. The acidity is lively but is not overpowering the residual sugars and creates a perfect balance with the alcohol (14 degrees). The wine is rounded and soft and has a long persistent finish.
It is a wine that goes very well with fruit cakes or typical South Italian ‘pasticceria secca’ but you will enjoy it as well with foie gras or blue cheeses and (as the producer suggests) with oysters.
And most of all it is a charming elegant wine, the perfect end to a great meal….but also the perfect start.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Mum used to say.....

My mother used to be very strict about the wine match. Red with meat and white with fish. This was the rule and no exception was allowed! Since I got deeper in wine knowledge then her (and moved out) I experienced that this rule is totally wrong. Not only you can drink white with meat and red with fish but most of the times what would sound outrageous to my mother, would give great pleasure to my palate.

Today I decided to celebrate the sun with a fishy BBQ and couldn't resist to treat myself with a special bottle: Jean Claude Boisset Savigny Les Beaune - 1er Cru Les Hauts Jarrons 2003. To be honest probably my fish, a wild rainbow trout was not as elegant as my wine, but they worked very well together and confirmed my theory against my (beloved) mother's one.

The deep red colour of the wine made me realise straight away that even if 8 years old the wine was still young and strong. Its perfume was an elegant mixture of red fruit, especially strawberries with a lightly perceivable touch of wood. In my mouth it was lightly fresh and had extremely gentle tannins and a delicate texture. The distinct but not too strong flavour of the fish was not overwhelmed and actually made a great partner to the fine fruit flavours of my wine.
A successful match and a fantastic lunch...I must remember to prepare it for my mother next time she is visiting me!.....Ops I need to buy another bottle then!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Masculine wines...

Once upon a time Southern Italy was producing wines more on a  quantity base than quality. Some of them were used to fortify and give structure to those from the North and maybe sometimes this is still happening but the wind of changes is blowing strongly there and even if few of us would have ever thought about the return of the South ten years ago this is exactly what is happening now. Regions such as Campania, Puglia, Sicily and (last but not least) Basilicata are making a big step forward in terms of quality progress re-discovering local traditional grapes cultivated and vinified with modern techniques by knowledgeable people who knows how to do a great wine and where to do it!

One of these is Fabrizio Piccin, that after working as a winemaker in Tuscany with Sangiovese for several years, has finally found his elective grape, bought his own 16 hectares of vineyards and moved to Basilicata. His wines  (Gricos, Grifalco, Bosco del Falco, Damaschito ) are all 100% Aglianico, a grape mainly distributed in Campania and Basilicata, that is getting more and more international attentions and that I am sure will increase in popularity in the years to come (and let’s hope that this will not result in increasing prices). This variety can produce intense flavored wines with a strong personality. Its tannins can be harsh and rough sometimes, especially when young but it ages wonderfully and has a full bodied masculine character that can totally make you fall head over feet.
I am going to tell you about the first 3 wines that Fabrizio does as the Damaschito needs and deserves a chapter on its own!

The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about Gricos is that the wine is an exceptional value for money. This is the bottom line production and it is between 5 and 10€. The 2008 vintage shows a ruby intensely bright color, a nose of forest berry fruits, a hint of pepper and vegetal. It has a medium structure, vibrant acidity and young tannins that certainly need time to get softer. It is quite simple in flavors but it is powerful and, in my opinion, it will be perfectly balanced in a couple of years. In the meantime it can work fantastically with some pasta and meaty sauces...something like a tagliatelle with hare or even wild boar sauce.

One of its more mature brothers, Grifalco (even if actually we are still talking about the 2008 vintage) is made with grapes selected in the same vineyards but from older plants and fermented for a slightly longer period. This is clearly resulting in more complexity. The color is very similar to the Gricos, with a great ruby tone but a little bit deeper. The nose is more intense and developed showing the same berry fruits, but also sour cherries and leather, and I could get a hint of chocolate as well. In the mouth the tannins are still young but more integrated with a lively acidity that will make this wine a long-ageing one. Again it is powerful, strong, it has a big personality and it is not afraid to show it and more than that it does it for a very competitive price (5-10€)!
A longer and more layered finish than its 'smaller' brother to end.
Slightly more expensive (10-15€) but definitely worth the difference is the Bosco del Falco ('06).The grapes are selected from at least 40 years old vines and the wine spends 18 months in wood before resting longer in the bottle. Dark red, deep and rich with a charming and elegant nose of ripe red forest berries especially blackberries but also black cherries and dry flowers and leather. In the mouth you will be firstly impressed by the intense tannins,young but clearly developing. Then your senses will be seducted by a well balanced minerality, due of course to the Vulture volcano, and a vigorous acidity, plus the finesse of the foresty flavours coming back.  The aftertaste has a good and enjoyable lenght. I wouldn't define it a smooth wine, It is an elegant Aglianico, but always big, strong, structured, powerful. It needs time to mature and to show its best potential, and probably in few years it will be terrific, but...after tasting it I am not sure that you will be able to resist from opening another bottle!
With wines like these, with firm personality, great value for money and perfect fellows for food and finally considering the great reviews given recently by Jancis Robinson my only wonder is...what are the UK merchants waiting to get them here?

Pictures are courtesy of Cecilia Naldoni and Grifalco winery

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Wine snobbism &!

I remember clearly first time I tasted a very expensive wine. It was an Echeuzeaux Domaine de la Romanee' Conti vintage '82. It was a present, not for me of course, but for the owner of the Angelus restaurant where I used to work as a sommelier, by a weird and very funny old man that used to be Ringo Starr's agent...but that's another story.  At the time I was told that its price would have been around £2000 in a restaurant and my first thought when I was offered to taste it will something so expensive taste?  Will I really be able to understand if it's worth its price or not? Will I really taste the value of £2000?

Few years have passed since then and during this time I have been very lucky working with amazing wine lists and having the responsibility to taste wines such as Chateau Margaux '59, Chateau Angelus (several vintages)...even a very cloudy Chateau Cheval Blanc '19 and much more, before bringing them to the tables and serve them. Of course I was not paying for those bottles and maybe this made me enjoy even more these wines but every time I was opening a bottle I was always deeply wondering what was its real value.
I know this is a very tricky subject as the price of the wine is not only influenced by the market request (and of course it is unfortunately) but also by the work that lays behind; the work of the people in the vineyard and in the cellar and also the time that the bottle is spending waiting to get ready. All these factors will have a result on the price because they are involved in the winemaker's investment. Even if not all of us would firstly think about it I am sure that once we are explained for example what is the cost of manual work in the vineyard or how long a Barolo producer would have to wait before selling his wine and have an economical result, they would probably agree that not all wines can have the same price.
I suddenly find myself talking here about the price of wine after reading a couple of articles that recently impressed me. One about a bottle of 1811 Sauternes Chateau d'Yquem sold for £75.000 and another about considerations on whether it is possible or not buying a decent wine for a fiver.
Calling myself a winehippie I meant to underline that I don't like snobbery and that I strongly believe that a wine can be good no matter what's the price or the name on the label and it certainly shouldn't be judged on the base of that but of course there are exceptions. I am not sure that the minimum limit for a decent wine would be £5. Maybe the right person to answer to this question would be an honest winemaker but I am pretty sure that it is not that easy to find a decent wine for £5 because,as I said, the wine has production costs that are connected to its quality. And the whole wine market/wine business is having too much negative effect on this.
But as for everything on this world more than the price what you should really consider is the value.
The price should be balanced by the quality and by how much you can afford.
So sometimes a £10 wine can be your best buy of the year and a bottle of 200 years old sweet nectar from botrytized grapes, costing you a life savings, could be corked or just nothing special.

I am not trying to develop a wine philosophy, I am just saying: drink and enjoy whatever you can afford always remembering the work done by the people who have made that wine.
Whatever will surprise you will be worth its price.