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Wine — Italy

On Italy

Posted by Tom Kisthart on

My wife Jessica and I just had a wonderful honeymoon that ended up spanning a lot of Italy - from Sicily all the way up to Venice. Italy has twenty distinct regions and we got to stop in seven of them.

Here's the breakdown including where we went in those regions if you're curious:

Sicily: Palermo, Cefalu, Marsala, Trapani 

Lazio: Rome

Tuscany: Florence, San Gimignano, various parts of Chianti

Abruzzo: Pescara, Popoli

Umbria: Orvieto (lovely village with good wine scene, enjoyed more than San Gimignano)

Emilia Romagna: Bologna

Veneto: Venice

We were fortunate to eat and drink incredibly well and are longing to return sooner than later. Would anyone be interested in signing up for a Craft & Curd trip to Italy? Jessica is a great driver. Reach out and let us know. Maybe it's something we'll offer next year. 

Some observations

Italian wine is a good deal cheaper over there, as you would think. [Wish we had the consolation of having access to fair priced California wine]. Restaurants don't charge exorbitant markups, in fact prices in restaurants are very close to what you would pay retail. I don't know much about restaurant dynamics but why is it ok for our restaurants to take their bottle cost, triple it (or more) and serve it to us with a smile. Eating out daily is the way of life over there it seems. For many of us it's hard to afford even eating out occasionally here. I know it's a complicated issue but I'm sure we can do better.

The American obsession of keeping wine at cool temperatures may be mostly unnecessary. We encountered numerous shops and wine bars with little to no AC and didn't encounter one bottle that was bad or tired. Looking to age your wine ten+ years? Ok, you're going to want wines that were kept cool that whole time. If that's not your objective don't worry. You most likely do not need a wine cooler/cellar in your home.

Wines must be kept laying down. This is how we're told wine needs to be stored to keep the corks moist or whatever. Nearly every single bottle we encountered in fine to decent wine shops were standing up. How long do you think it takes for a cork to dry out. And again, how long are you aging your wine for. To the serious fine wine collectors on this list, please forgive me. It's just not how most of us purchase and consume wine: quickly. 

American Italian Food is mostly fiction. We overheard some woman ask for marinara sauce with her calamari. There is no marinara sauce in Italy. We made it up (any food historians out there want to correct me?). You squeeze lemon on your calamari. Basta. Spaghetti and meatballs? No way on the same plate. Sure there are familiar dishes there like lasagna and such but it's not everywhere. The majority of Italian restaurants here will likely struggle to stay in business if they don't serve our so-called classics. While we're on the topic of authenticity, I find it amusing that the stereotypical New York Italian bears no resemblance whatsoever to his European counterpart.  

Italians are said to love organized chaos and that is evidenced on their roads. Excuse my language, but they drive freakin' nuts. I kept expecting to see more accidents on the side of the road. Jessica is a saint (a saint that wasn't let into the Florence cathedral for dressing like a temptress. Ha) for doing all the driving and keeping us safe (I barely have the temperament to drive here). Sorry for the brief turn to a dark topic but I've had a burning question since we've gotten back. What does Italy's road fatality rate look like compared to other countries? I just looked and driving in Italy (by that measure) is much safer than driving in most countries. About 40% safer than driving in the US (measured as road fatalities per 100k inhabitants per year). That paradox is so typically Italian.

So I mentioned above the travesty of their wines being cheaper back there. I just checked the price on one of our favorite wines that we were drinking there: a Trebbiano d'Abruzzo from a great winery. Jessica and I were throwing it back at our favorite restaurant of the trip (Roscioli, in Rome) for 36 euros a bottle. Just asked my distributor here the cost. $56 our cost! Now that's an extreme example but thankfully there is a great way to drink Italian wine here for cheaper than there and I have it all figured out, my friends. I buy when the distributors want to sell, not when I want to buy. Distributors subsidize wine all the time and sell it at or below their cost because they need to get it out of their warehouse. Oftentimes they are the exact wines that I know to be hidden gems through my experience. I love what I do.

Incredible Deals on Super-Tuscan & Bubbles

Posted by Tom Kisthart on

Two new arrivals:

2011 Querciabella Mongrana $14.99 (compare online at $23.99) is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot that was rated 90 points by the critic James Suckling. This is a great alternative to Bordeaux yet with an Italian twist. It has a lovely subtle perfume that includes cedar, sandalwood, cherry and spice box. The palate is really dry with a pleasant mineral streak and acidity that makes your mouth water a bit. This is the type of wine that is great at the table or can be savored on its own. Querciabella is recognized as a top winery in Tuscany with an eccentric owner who is an outspoken animal rights activist, art advisor to billionaires (owns advisory firm based out of Dubai) and is in the process of bringing a vegan restaurant chain to the US. They farm their grapes beyond organic in what is known as Biodynamic which treats the vineyard as it's own ecosystem and vineyard work is coordinated with the solar system. I'm oversimplifying. It's way weirder than that ;-). The vineyards that produce the grapes that make up this wine are from the premium southwestern coastal area called Maremma. I highly recommend giving this wine a shot while we have it.

Langlois Brut Rose Cremant de Loire NV $14.99  (compare online at $26.99) I fell in love with this Cabernet Franc sparkler back when I used to work at Bern's Fine Wine & Spirits. I eventually came to distribute it and my friends (also BFWS alum) who opened the wine bar Bianchi's Enoteca were selling nearly a case a week of it at one point. It is a really pretty rosé with restrained berry flavors, perhaps a touch of rose petal and with the slightest suggestion of the herbaceous flavors that Cabernet Franc should have. The alcohol is fair at 12.5% it is perfect for spicing up a Sunday afternoon. Maybe throw some in your water bottle and hit Bayshore as I'm found of...Wait think I just broke multiple laws with that last sentence...Anyways, you probably should drink more bubbles (Unless you absolutely detest them. Then what you should do is to at least take a sip with an open mind anytime someone offers you some, you may not realize the pleasure you're missing. Just make sure it's not Cook's, Korbel or something else nasty like that which may be the reason you don't like bubbles in the first place).

Campania

Posted by Tom Kisthart on

[This article is inspired by the theme of local restaurant Trattoria Pasquale's BYOB Big Night dinners this march. We will be doing a free wine tasting on Wednesday 3/9 from 6:00 to 8:00 featuring some of the region's wines. Learn more about Big Night here]

Introduction 

When considering the cuisine of Italy, we need to remember that we're not just dealing with one country but rather twenty very individual regions (with plenty of further distinctions within those regions). No other country has such a diversity of cuisines and styles of wines. We must keep in mind that the food and wine of a particular region evolved together to compliment one and other. To elevate your dining of regional Italian specialties be sure to pair the food with the local wines. 

Enter Campania 

The city of Naples is the capital of Campania. Other areas the region is known for include the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius and the island of Capri. Campania is densely populated both with people and an abundance of agriculture products. If there was an overarching culinary philosophy of the region it may be taking a few exceptional ingredients and presenting them in a simple way (as can be said for many Italian cuisines). 

White Grapes

The main three white grape varieties that you'll see on bottles from this region are Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina. Greco is an ancient grape that is thought to have been brought to the area by the greeks as the name suggests. More interesting is that Greco is thought to have been the progenitor of many Italian white varieties such as Grechetto, Trebbiano, Verdicchio and Garganega (source: Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch).  

Greco pairs phenomenally with seafood and vegetable dishes. Recently I drank a glass of Greco with an assortment of Sushi and was amazed how both the wine and the food were elevated. One of the best food and wine pairings I've experienced was a zucchini risotto served with Greco di Tufo at the modern Campanian winery Feudi di San Gregorio. 

It's hard to pinpoint the exact flavors of Greco. It typically gives off a clean sensation with fresh acidity and aromas of underbrush or Mediterranean scrub may be evoked. It often has a slight nuttiness like the next wine we'll be discussing.

Fiano di Avellino - Fiano is the grape out of these three with the greatest ability to age well. It can often have a pine and/or hazelnut quality. They may be slightly austere depended on the style of wine being made. Like Greco it is a great accompaniment to seafood and can also be good with poultry or pork.

Falanghina - the most quaffable of these three grapes makes for a refreshing wine to be sipped poolside or with fresh seafood from a small restaurant. It can sometimes be pretty floral and the acidity is usually vibrant. Falanghina is usually best drunk young as possible. In recent years somewhat of a revival has been taking place with certain producers of this grape increasing their focus on quality (as outlined recently in Italy's most important wine guide Gambero Rosso). So start to look for more serious examples in the near future including the 2014 vintage. 

Italy's Hidden Giant of Red Grapes

Aglianico - the name is tough to pronounce as even most people in the wine business say it incorrectly (including myself at times) alley-an-ico is not the right way to say it. Here is the phonetic breakdown from Italian wine scholar Jeremy Parzen and link to YouTube video with correct pronunciation: ah-L'Yee'Ah-nee-koh. Don't worry if you can't say it, you can still drink it. 

Taurasi DOCG is the most notable area for the production of Agliancio. This grape can be really unforgiving in its youth with wild tannins and rich, dark earthy flavors - almost like taking a mouthful of dirt! If you wish to drink a younger one early it can withstand and benefit from decanting for multiple hours (provided it's a high quality wine). The best Taurasi's can age for many decades or even an entire century. The critic Antonio Galloni recently tasted a 1928 from pioneering producer and says that is drinking incredibly and should continue to drink well through 2030! Aglianico rightly deserves a place among Italy's most prestigious wines. 

The best way to learn about the cuisine of Campania (outside of visiting the region) is by attending one of the Big Night dinners this month. Be sure to see us for your Italian wine needs to bring to Trattoria Pasquale and beyond. We currently have a Greco di Tufo in stock from winery Benito Ferrara and we have their Fiano di Avellino arriving Friday 3/4 along with more wines from Campania. 

Don't be afraid of the word sweet

Posted by Tom Kisthart on

What if I told you this wine comes from a beautiful limestone amphitheater single vineyard, it's sourced by one of the most respected importers of European wines and it's as complex as wines triple the price. And oh, by the way, it happens to have a little sugar in it. Why is that such a bad thing? Do you not like anything that is sweet? A savvy customer of ours recently purchased a number of bottles for the toast at their wedding. I think this is a brilliant idea. Pour most people a flute of bubbles at the same price point and they're likely to either be indifferent or find it repulsive. Pour this and the vast majority of the people will say, wow, what is this. And it's only 7% alcohol so you can indulge what your initial response will be. More.

Tintero Moscato d'Asti Sorì Gramella 2014

Soave

Posted by Tom Kisthart on

Join us September 30th, 2015 for the first installment of our 'Underdog Wine Series' from 6:00 to 8:00. It is a free sampling of 6 wines.

If you've read any of my posts with some degree of frequency, you've probably heard me rant about Soave before. I'll start with the quick version of why this wine (and area) called Soave matters.

There was a brand of wine that came in a big black bottle whose name became synonymous with the term Soave. I don't like to name names (actually I do) let's just say the winery rhymed with 'cola'. Aptly so. The wine inside said bottle didn't taste much like anything. Mostly because they cranked so many grapes out of the vines that the resultant wine is rather dilute.

Enter real Soave

Anytime there is such a widespread consumer misconception about a particular region it typically drives prices down and quality up (of the dedicated producers). Not a bad situation as long as you're the consumer that's in the know. The producers have to work extra hard to show how good their wines are and that they have little in common with the brand (or style) that everyone associates with the region.

There's my introduction, onto the wine

Soave is an area within northeastern Italy that is a good deal inland from Venice near the city of Verona. The region specializes in white wines made from the Garganega [gahr-GAH-neh-gah] grape. Garganega is not much grown anywhere else. Ask me to describe what it's similar to and Pinot Grigio is the first thing that comes to mind although that's admittedly lazy. The other grape commonly used to make Soave is Trebbiano di Soave in the form of a supporting role and can often impart a slightly floral component to the wine. Chardonnay is also now permitted, although there a more than a few skeptics.

At some point many years ago there were volcanoes in this area. What we have today is mostly a mix of volcanic and limestone soils. It is the soil, many believe, some dispute, that imparts a mineral taste to the wines. Minerality is tough to recognize in a wine when you're starting out tasting. I suspect some mistakenly use it as a descriptor when there is an absence of flavor. Next time you have a mineral water, leave it on your tongue for a little bit and try to spot that sensation the next time you have a wine that is typically mineral. Here is a speculation on minerality that is my own as far as I know. You can have a wine that is very mineral on the palate without a whole lot of other flavors. Wine geeks like myself will probably love it. Normal humans probably won't. When you have that same mineral backbone along with more complex flavors, that minerality is the special sauce that makes people say "wow" even if they don't realize that's what's playing a large part in causing that wine to seem special to them. Just a humble theory.

Onto the wines. Really now

Pieropan is considered one of the greatest producers of Soave. So much so that the mega company Gallo, looking to expand their fine wine presence, just secured the US distribution rights. Pieropan's entry level Soave is always a tremendous bargain. I was just reading a description of the nose that said almond blossoms and marzipan which sounds so fitting but I don't think I've ever smelled either. Beyond their entry level Soave they make what are called 'cru' or single vineyard Soaves. While the bottles last we'll get to taste them tonight.

2013 Pieropan 'Calvarino' Soave Classico - This comes from a special hillside vineyard with volcanic soil. It has similarities to a good Alsatian Pinot Gris. Experiencing this wine is like drinking from a purest stream, rocks and all! There's a coveted wine award in Italy which only a small amount are given each year called
Tre Bicchieri (3 glasses). This wine often get's it and that is the case with this vintage. Getting 3 glasses doesn't just mean that a wine is great, it also means that this wine is a true representation of a particular type of wine, typically tied to a place.

Pieropan 'La Rocca' Soave Classico - We don't have any in the store to sell tonight but can special order it. This vineyard is situated in chalky soil versus the volcanic Calvarino. It is a broader wine that approaches Chardonnay in body (unoaked) and even has some tropical / exotic fruit notes. Retail price is about $40.

Please only one taste per guest on the above 2 single vineyard wines.

2014 Suavia Soave Classico - This wine is made with 100% Garganega in volcanic soils. We poured this in a tasting recently and much to my delight it most everyone loved it. I like the description from the winery Nose: "
it shows fresh notes of apple, Kaiser pear and jasmine together with tropical fruit. Palate: smooth and creamy, it offers almond and mineral brightened by crisp acidity." This winery has some fascinating other wines like a 100% Trebbiano di Soave which is awesome but I find unsellable at $35 a bottle. I'm waiting until it goes on 'closeout' and then I pounce...

Inama Soave Classico - This, to me, is the lightest of the wines we'll be tasting tonight. It is fresh, with slight aromas of white flowers and a lightly mineral palate. It very much tastes like Soave should to me. I enjoyed a bottle with my girlfriend on our balcony one recent warm Sunday afternoon and it gave us that nice warm, fuzzy feeling beyond the buzz of alcohol.

Anselmi San Vincenzo - This is the producer that I mentioned in last week's email that decided to stop labeling his wines as Soave. He got fed up with trying to influence the governing body (or Consorzio) over the appellation to make the regulations stricter. Now instead of pestering EU bureaucrats he just makes Soave and rides around on one of his many motorcycles with his attractive wife. I know what I'd rather be doing. He blends 10% Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in with the Garganega which makes for a unique slightly richer example. The Sauvignon Blanc adds an additional layer of complexity perhaps with a touch of greenness.

As always thank you so much for reading. I hope you have the chance to stop by tonight to taste a representation of what I feel to be some of the most underappreciated wines in the world.

I look forward to setting up our next installment of the 'Underdog Wine Series'...