Category Archives: Vinitaly 2010 Reports

Gambero Rosso Gala

Gambero Rosso’s “Gala del Vino Campano” event in Naples.
By Brandy Falconer, Grapelive Guest Columnist
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Halloween in my eyes is pumpkins and costumes and candy, and although Italy is a little behind the times when it comes to this creative and fun celebration, this past week I was happy to see Naples come alive with overgrown fuzzy spiders and kids in costumes and spooky window displays.  I got much more than I bargained for when I extended my recent stay in Naples, because I was able to participate in what I consider a delightfully Italian spin on Halloween:  trick-or-treating with a wine glass!
On October 31, Gambero Rosso, producer of Italy’s most renowned wine and food guide “Vini d’Italia”, held a tasting event in Naples celebrating the Southern Italian region’s top-awarded wines and wineries.  The event location, Citta’ del Gusto Napoli, is a purpose-built food and wine event center complete with a test kitchen/professional tasting room, two-level expo area and beautiful outdoor seating area.  Home to monthly wine seminars, tastings and cooking classes, this location signifies a great shift in locals’ interest in wine as a part of their culture and cuisine, a delicious adventure we Californians have enjoyed for years. The event itself was a way for the wineries to showcase their award-winning wines for journalists and enthusiasts alike, and for the participants to discover the region’s treasures and compare them side-by-side in one evening.

Of the 1,019 entries from 200 wineries submitted from Campania’s five areas, Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Napoli and Salerno, 53 were chosen for the final tasting, and 43 received either the top award, the “tre bicchieri” or 3-glasses, or the “due bicchieri colorati” or two-colored-glasses.  Gambero Rosso is proud to highlight the wines from Campania because, as Daniele Cernilli, Director and co-Founder of Gambero Rosso believes, the region is one of the few dedicated to producing quality wines from ancient indigenous grapes, the major percentage of wineries producing 100% varietal wines without blending, even the 15% that is allowed by law.  In addition to the 24 stands showcasing the wines, seminars held during the event in the beautiful tasting room highlighted different groupings of the wines like “top wines under 15 euros” and “the Veterans, classics of excellence.”
Upon entering the event, my friend Kim and I were handed a press kit and a little fabric bag with a long strap.  Our candy sack?  No, the ingenious item invented to hold a wine glass around your neck, leaving your hands free for writing or grabbing delicious bites of taralli or mini fried ricotta pizzas between visits to the tasting stands.  Is there a better adult version of trick-or-treating?  Heck, we can buy candy any time we want, but going from stand to stand where eager sommeliers in full costume (ok, uniform) were offering exceedingly generous pours of the region’s top wines was a great treat!  The only trick was remembering to spit out the wine or at least pour out the remainder after the first sip.  Now, when it comes to Halloween, I am normally the first to decree costumes a must, but there was no need this year because what’s creepier than glossy eyes and a smile full of purple-stained teeth?!
We started our tasting with the whites and simply went stand to stand, which allowed us to really get a feel for the expression of the grapes from the 5 areas of the region, then doubled back for the reds, which were mainly Taurasis.  Among the featured wines, 19 of which were Tre Bicchieri award winners, the classic Campania grape varietals were on show: Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Aglianico, represented by the Taurasis, and Piedirosso.  Various awards were being announced throughout the evening, including one for sustainability, going to Contrade di Taurasi, and the Grand Mention going to a delicious Taurasi Principe Lagonessa DOCG 2006 by Amarano in Avellino.  Top honors went to Mastroberardino’s Taurasi Radici Riserva 2004, which in today’s news was just declared the top wine in Italy by the foremost guides.  An excellent example of comments by Vini d’Italia’s Gianni Fabrizio who has said that in recent years the benchmark of Italian wines has been placed farther south; first in Sicily and now in Campania, where wineries who have seen a slower growth process have in fact matured with a solid base of winemaking, gaining notoriety not “at once” as their counterparts to the north, but notably “at last.”
One thing about this event and about Naples in general was the expression of personalities, not only of the wines, but of the people who make and represent them.  This was an awards party, more for celebrating, rather than promoting, and the relaxed atmosphere added to the fun.  Notable whites for me were the San Francesco Costa d’Amalfi Bianco Pereva 2009 with its freshness and balanced flavors, perfect for seafood.  While the wine’s finish was adequate, the winemaker’s was rather lingering, as he recounted at length Jessica Biel’s recent excursion to the vineyard…  Another favorite white was the I Favati Greco di Tufo Terrantica Etichetta Bianca 2009 which expressed the typical complex, subtle honey and vanilla flavors which come from the grape, rather than from oak barrels.  This sharp contrast with American winemaking, white wines aged only in stainless, is something I love.
My favorite reds were the Taurasi Riserva 2005 by Contrade di Taurasi, wonderfully balanced between body and flavor and, with great enthusiasm, the Taurasi Radici Riserva 2004 from Mastroberardino-silky smooth, yet complex and elegant.  The only thing better than tasting this wine was sipping a glass at the end of the event with Mastroberardino’s winemaker, Massimo di Renzo and agronomo, Antonio Dente, who, along with Dario Pennino, Director of Sales, make up the team that produces these incredible wines.  As a group they are a great example of the concept of family, whether by blood or by choice, as being a strong and lasting foundation for success.
Like a great wine, the Gala’ del Vino Campano event had all the characteristics of excellence: personality, elegance, expression of the local area and the ability to bring people together to enjoy each-other’s company.  Next time you’re looking for a new wine, don’t be shy about picking up a guide from another country, like Vini d’Italia.  Having a look at how another country sees itself and rates its own wines will give you more of an insight into what’s in the bottle.  Salute!

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report
By Brandy Falconer, Guest Columnist, Grapelive

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Vinitaly Report-April, 2010

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bchips2.jpgIf someone says, “wine is for everyone,” I’ll bet the first thing most people think of is this wonderful new wine culture of enthusiasts and accessible tastings to discover new wines, and more importantly, new favorites.  At the same time, most wineries are embracing that sentiment with enjoyable and well-made “entry-level” wines.  Not to be confused (in most cases) with cheaply made wines, these diplomats travel the world and introduce indigenous grape varietals and wineries to enthusiasts via their value price in supermarkets and wine lists alike, which is great.
What I discovered at Vinitaly, though, is that “for everyone” has a flip side, and actually means for every kind of person–from the casual drinker to the connoisseur, from the weekly budget shopper to the big budget collector.  Think about it, it is the fine wines, ambassadors if you will, crafted by the top producers, which gain notoriety through scores and reviews in big magazines and are usually what create interest in the wineries in the first place.  This “two sides of the coin” approach applies to most everything in life, and I can also relate it to my other passion, auto racing.  There are many levels of competition, from amateur to elite professional; heck, even I have raced in an SCCA club race.  But, it is the premier events that really build the interest in fans and participants.  If there was no Indianapolis 500 or Monaco Grand Prix, would as many people have such passion and dreams to pursue the sport (Would I have belted myself in, scared out of my wits, just to experience what it’s like for myself) So let’s look at the other side of the coin this time, and celebrate the wines that put the wineries on the map and continue to inspire the public…and celebrate the people who are giving a little part of themselves in the crafting of their wines, no matter what their background.

bchips.jpgEach year at Vinitaly, there is an exclusive tasting event that happens exactly 24 hours after the expo opens.  This year, I was invited to attend this event, the “Blue Chips of Italian Wine”, hosted by Civilta’ del bere, one of Italy’s leading wine magazines (www.civiltadelbere.com) which for me was like being invited to attend a UN conference.  Representing over 40 countries, the 200 participants were journalists and “authorities of the international public of wine tasting” invited to experience how 12 top wineries in Italy are able to create wines of excellence in quantities large enough to support worldwide demand.
Borrowing from the stock exchange term for the companies who have the highest value based on the number of shares times price per share, the Blue Chips of Italy are those wines sold at a premium price while being produced in appreciable quantities.  Qualifying factors were: being sold in all major markets in the world, and having won at least two awards of excellence from the five main national guides including Duemilavini, Gambero Rosso and L’Espresso, as well as nods from international critics such as Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.

Armed with my headphones, ready to receive live translation (my Italian skills were no match for the speaking velocity and different accents) I again felt like I was sitting in at the UN, and I couldn’t help but think that maybe if the UN had glasses of wine at the table instead of water there would be a lot less arguing…

The first wine to be poured was Planta’s Cometa, IGT Sicilia Bianco 2008, and the parade of suited-up sommeliers from the AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) with bottles in-hand was magnificent as they came streaming into the room.  This 100% Fiano varietal wine, with a ‘juicy’ balance of acidity and complexity was an appropriate representation of the winery’s research into indigenous varietals. In the mid range of production at 88,000 bottles, this wine has a retail price of € 22, or $32.

Moving through the lineup, the first wine I had experience tasting was Mastroberardino’s Radici Taurasi DOCG 2005.  CEO of sales and marketing, Dario Pennino recounted a 2007 vertical tasting of this wine where the 1934 vintage was awarded 99 points by Gambero Rosso. This elegant and delicious 100% Aglianico wine which has won numerous awards and scores over 90 points, has a production of 80,000 bottles and a retail price of €25 or $37.

Allegrini’s Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2005 was the next wine to grab my attention because, as an Amarone lover, I was impressed by the freshness and layered flavors of this wine made from partially dried grapes–a result of Allegrini’s preference for a more modern style than conventional taste.  Retailing at €60 or $90, the production is 125,000 bottles.

The Tuscan wine that left me wanting more was the Flaccianello della Pieve, IGT Colli della Toscana Centrale 2006 from Fontodi.  It is This Wine Spectator 99-pointer made from 100% Sangiovese has enveloping aromas of ripe berries, spices and leather with distinct yet balanced tannins.  A production of 50,000 bottles, this super Tuscan retails for about €60 or $90.

Finally, the one I had been hearing about, the red giant, with the second-highest production at 180,000 bottles, San Guido’s Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC 2006, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  From its intense ruby color to the elegant aromas to the beautifully balanced silky cherry mouthful, I enjoyed every moment of my epiphany as I realized why some wines really do merit their high price tag, in this case, €130 or $195.

I will never again roll my eyes at someone extolling the virtues of a wine like this, and learned that the flip side of the “wine for everyone” coin can be just as interesting and exciting.  Though I am typically an advocate for indigenous varietals, this wine is without a doubt special.
Though all merit comment and exaltation, the following wines, not previously mentioned, completed the tasting:

Cantina Tramin–Nussbaumer, Gewürztraminer Alto Adige DOC 2008.  55,000 bottles.

Falesco–Montiano, IGT Lazio 2007.  55,000 bottles.

Firriato–Harmonium, Nero d’Avola IGT Sicily 2007.  120,000 bottles.

Lungarotti–Rubesco Vigna Monticchio, Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG 2005.
 50,000 bottles.

Cantina Santadi–Terre Brune, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore DOC 2005.  80,000 bottles.

Ornellaia–Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso Superiore DOC 2006.
 140,000 bottles.

Antinori–Tignanello, IGT Toscana Rosso 2006.  350,000 bottles.

vintrullia.jpgThis particular day, I concentrated more on the organized tastings than going from stand to stand (with 4,200 to choose from, you can end up in wine oblivion!).  One I was particularly excited about attending was that of Podere Castorani winery in Abruzzo, owned by Formula 1 driver, Jarno Trulli.  Racing season has started with its usual changes in rules, drivers and helmet designs, and while searching for news on the internet, I took a minute to check out Podere Castorani’s website (www.poderecastorani.it).  When I saw that Jarno would be at Vinitaly to present his wines at a special tasting, I quickly called the winery to reserve a spot.  Abruzzo is best known for it’s flagship grape, Montepulciano, and the region, amidst rebuilding after the earthquake last year, is determinedly moving forward in many aspects, including showcasing their other varietal gems, and showing how well their wines are aging.  The Abruzzo pavilion, with the slogan “pleasing notes” referring to the wines as well as the region’s devotion to music, was spacious and full of large and small stands alike, with a beautiful tasting area and even a restaurant.

As one tasting was finishing, crowds of people were gathering for the Podere Castorani presentation and I could see Jarno Trulli talking with whom I assumed to be some of his associates.  The first thing I noticed was how low-key he seemed to be.  I could see that this event was entirely about the family winery, no matter that he had just flown in from Malaysia, and in a few days would be returning to China for the next Grand Prix.  I admit, this surprised me, and it made me even more interested to finally taste the wines and learn about their philosophy.  For those of you who have witnessed other celebrity figures venturing into wine, take this into account:  the family farm in Abruzzo was already established in 1793, and the 32 hectares of current estate vines are part of that original land.  Fifteen years ago, the family and business associates decided to build a modern winemaking facility and 2000 was their first year of modern vinification.  With this new facility, Jarno, coming from the world of Formula 1, wants to express the right balance between tradition and technology.  We began the tasting with the 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Coste delle Plaie, with fresh and balanced acidity and minerality and flavors of citrus and exotic fruits.  Next was the Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT from 100% Pecorino grapes, which delivered a silky fruitiness with some herbal notes, which made me think of enjoying it with a baked herb and cheese dish.  I am a big fan of Montepulciano, and the next two selections, the Coste delle Plaie and the Amorino were both true to the grape and terroir, and I found the Amorina Casauria Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC with its deep ruby-purple color and balanced tannins to be the most delicious, like a mouthful of ripe cherry and plum.

2_castorani.jpgAfter the organized tasting, I spoke with the winemaker, Angelo Molisani to learn a bit more about the wines at their impressive stand complete with a vintage Formula 1 car at the entrance.  While he poured and explained a few more wines from their lineup, Jarno joined us with one of the winery’s associates and I learned about their philosophy for the international market.  The winery produces both estate wines and wines representative of other regions of Italy, like Barbera, Prosecco and international varieties like Syrah all grown in various regions, then vinified at the estate, allowing this smaller winery to offer a variety of wines representative of Abruzzo and all of Italy to international importers.  Needless to say, the winemaker is extremely busy, but loves the work they are doing.

While pouring the Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2009 Rosato, Angelo was explaining a typical dish that might be enjoyed with this wine, the Abruzzese specialty, “Brodetto”, a stew made with tomato, peppers and different kinds of fish.  Angelo explained that Jarno’s father Enzo, who loves to prepare this dish, is an excellent cook and is planning to open a restaurant, much to the delight of those who enjoy his talents.  As for me, I can’t wait to try the Brodetto and happily accepted an invitation from Enzo to visit the winery and try this local delicacy with their wines.

The “wow” wine of the day was the Podere Castorani Montepulciano DOC 2004, the original wine produced by the estate, and what they call “the beginning of the story.”  If “comfort wine” was an acceptable description, I would use it here.  Well-balanced body and tannins, with beautiful color and flavors of spices and berries make this a wine for a meal that you wish would never end. And though I didn’t really want my experience to end at Podere Castorani, it was time for me to move on, and for them to share these great wines with other enthusiastic visitors. I look forward to visiting the winery soon and seeing the beautiful terrain of Abruzzo, with its mountains, coastline and devotion to nature.

As for my impressions of Jarno, for someone who would be justified in safeguarding his privacy, as one of only a handful of elite drivers in the sport’s highest echelon, his availability and genuine interest in this event was impressive. If his hope is to achieve a balance between tradition and the fast-paced world of Formula 1, I’d say he has achieved that in his winemaking and in his lifestyle. Bravo.

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Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report

 Grapelive Special Report From Vinitaly 2010

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“What’s old is new again!” (A View of Southern Italy)
By Brandy Falconer, grapelive guest columnist

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mastro_grecov.jpgThis year marks the 44th edition of Vinitaly, the largest wine expo in the world with over 4,200 exhibitors here to present their wines. Here in Verona, the weather is beautiful and sunny, a welcome change from the typical rainy 5-day event. Perhaps the change in weather is a symbol for the change in attitude of the winemakers from “how to survive the crisis” to “looking toward the future.” Yes, there are a lot of smaller wineries up for sale here and around the world at the moment, but others with their eyes forward are planning their futures, strategically.

With a more precise plan of attack this year, and armed with a newly acquired press pass, the event from the outside looked much more manageable this year.  That was, until I left the blue sky and sunshine and stepped through the door of the first pavilion.  The instant change left me feeling like Alice in Wonderland, so I got my bearings and quickly made my way to the stand of Iris Vignetti where I was met with the friendliest of greetings and a glass of bubbly from my friend Isabella Spagnolo. Her beautifully presented line of Prosecco is the perfect start to fun and adventure.  Let the tastings begin!

Just like discovering the centuries-old treasures of Italian cities, like the famous Roman arena at the heart of Verona, Southern Italian wineries are presenting and releasing some treasures that many would believe had been lost to time. The news that peaked my interest first about this year’s Vinitaly is the presentation of older wines from Sicily and Campania. Reading this in California, you may wonder why it is such a big deal to talk about, say, 10 year old wines. Well, it’s not if you are talking about a barrique-aged Taurasi from Campania, commonly referred to as the Barolo of the South. But when you are talking about 10-year-old white wines, or when you are talking about the much hotter climate in Sicily for example, this is big news. What it means is that the wineries are making great wine, with healthy grapes, properly using and expressing the terroir, or territorio as they call it here. This is a great sign for those who are tired of the all-too-common comments of wine critics who think southern Italian wineries do not produce with enough consistency yet to be competitors in the worldwide market. It is also great news for those looking to discover a new favorite in an agreeable price bracket.

treehugger.jpgMy first official stop was Mastroberardino, where they are excitedly launching their newest line, “Vintage” and an Aglianico Cru made from clones of 100+ year-old vines. The new Vintage line is a very exciting project for many reasons. The wines being presented are a 2002 Greco di Tufo DOC, one of Campania’s great whites, and a 1998 Aglianico IGT. Before even tasting the wines it is important to recognize that only a winery which takes great interest in the territorio, and takes great care of the grapes, both on and off the vine can produce a wine that is fresh and enjoyable after eight or ten years in the bottle, especially when made with the intention of drinking as opposed to ageing. The 2002 Greco di Tufo is an eyebrow-raiser when mentioned to restaurateurs, and the first sip brings a smile of amazement. That is because this eight-year-old white wine, aged only in stainless steel, not oak, is still fresh, layered, and with a complexity that reveals everything about the land where the grapes are grown. The presence of minerality and a balance of acidity make this wine one to enjoy with complex and savory fish dishes where a simple white might get lost or fall flat.
Coming from California, I wondered what was really the big deal about a 12-year-old Aglianico, but what I learned is that this wine was made as an every-day wine, as opposed to a Taurasi; simply as an aglianico, not aged for years in barriques, but only 12 months in larger barrels. The result is a complex, flavorful wine with aromas of tobacco and cherries soaked in spirits. Not an aged wine that needs excuses, this vintage Aglianico is ready to drink and enjoy; the flavor is still fresh with ripe cherries and I can imagine enjoying it sip by sip with roast lamb and rosemary potatoes on a long cold evening.

vinredimore.jpgSwitching from older wines to older vines, I am introduced to the new Aglianico Cru crafted from a new biotype of Campania’s flagship red grape. What’s old is the biotype: vines that survived the phylloxera attack in the late 1800’s because the soil and locality were not ideal environments for the pest to thrive, as agronomist Antonio Dente explained. It is important to know that the wine is produced not from the ancient vines themselves, but from the clone of this older biotype, planted in idyllic Aglianico territorio at the estate in Mirabella Eclano. This is where history meets innovation: the result is the 2008 Redimore Irpinia Aglianico DOC, with its playful label showing a king on a horse with a chalice in hand. I was surprised taking my first sip of this wine because I am used to the strong tannins of the Taurasis, but Massimo Di Renzo, the winemaker at Mastroberardino explained that this particular type of Aglianico was used 100 years ago by the local population to make an every-day drinking wine. This explains the lovely roundness of the wine, balanced and flavorful, which I found to be a very enjoyable expression of the grape. For those of you who have shied away from bold Taurasi in the past, this single-vineyard cru is worth trying.

degust2.jpgFrom Mastroberardino, I headed off to the conference rooms for a much-anticipated tasting, “Sicilian Wines Challenging Time, Vintage 2000.” The organizer, Chronache di Gusto, was very enthusiastic about the top producers of Sicily presenting their 10-year-old vintages and shared his hopes of the wines becoming ambassadors of the beauty of Sicily. As mentioned previously, these wines were not necessarily produced for ageing, so it is big news to share them with press and critics. Most of the 180 tasting stations were filled which is a good sign that more people are watching the work being done in Southern Italy, as I believe they should be. Of the twelve wines, one was white, eight were red and three were Marsala and passito dessert wines.

We started off with Planeta’s Chardonnay, and the winemaker Alessio Planeta commented about the need to make durable wines, and in fact had written in his notes that this wine would age for six to eight years, so he was pleased to see it drink so well at ten. With aromas of tobacco and cooked pineapple, the optimum pairing for a wine like this would be a rich saffron or truffle risotto. My two favorites of the reds were the Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC from Ragusa, an area called the “Mesopotamia of the Romans” and the Bordeaux-style Ceuso Custera from Trapani.  Avide’s Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria, made from 60% Nero d’Avola, the flagship red grape of Sicily, and 40% Frapatto for structure, with its deep blood red color is normally sold 6 years after harvest, so it was probably the most prepared for this tasting. With earthy-woody aromas and flavors of pomegranate and blackberry, this wine will best complement tasty, savory courses.

degust1a.jpgThe Ceuso Custera, presented by Ceuso Azienda Agricola is made from an international blend of 50% Nero d’Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon for structure and 20% Merlot for smoothness. This was the freshest tasting of all the wines presented, which wasn’t surprising considering the use of Cabernet and the ageing that takes place before the bottle leaves the winery; first in cement casks, then wood, then in the bottle. The aroma and taste is of ripe cherries and black currants and maybe I have been away from California for too long because I am longing for steak.

Though there are opposing views about looking to the past to see the future, I believe the Sicily and Mastroberardino tastings proved that if we look at what these southern Italian wineries were doing ten years ago, we can be sure of a bright and delicious future and more treasures to come. These wineries have definite plans and are crafting wines for the competitive international market. My definite plan after the tasting was to find a quick panino which to me can never be considered simply fast food because the bread is so artisan-delicious and the prosciutto is always just-cut fresh. Then to the Foreign Trade VIP lounge to discretely brush my teeth and lose that purple tinge. The secret? Brushing with baking soda leaves your mouth clean and with the mineral-salt finish, ready to enjoy the next wine. I should send that one in to Martha…tips for the all-day wine taster.

Salute! From Verona.

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Brandy lives and teaches in Italy, writing and studying about wine along the way. Based in Naples, she covers the Southern Italian wine scene and has been interviewed many times in the Italian media and presented stories to selected publications and TV.