Monday, February 22, 2010

Tre Bicchieri Week

The annual Tre Bicchieri tastings of Gambero Rosso take place this week in three U.S. cities: New York, San Francisco and Chicago. The Tre Bicchieri designation (three glasses) is the highest rating awarded to a wine in the magazine’s annual Guide; hence these wines are among the very best in all of Italy. This is a rare opprtunity to try these wines in the same setting; it’s also a marvelous way to take a viticultural tour of the Italian peninsula and get a feel for the pulse of the country’s wine industry.

The New York tasting is being held today (Monday), while the San Francisco event is on Wednesday, the 24th with the Chicago event taking place on Friday, the 26th. If you have not signed up yet (there is a trade and media session as well as one for consumers), go to this link for information on how to enroll.

I will be at the Chicago event on Friday and hope to see you there!

Below is a partial list of some of the wines to be poured at these tastings (there will be more than 90 wines at each tasting):

2006 Villa Medoro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane Adrano
2007 Torre dei Beati Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

2008 Elena Walch Gewurztraminer Kastelaz
2006 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco Riserva Vorberg

2007 Livon Braide Alte
2008 Venica Sauvignon Ronco delle Mele
2008 Collavini Bianco Broy

2008 Cantine Lunae Bosoni Vermentino Lunae Etichetta Nera

2004 Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut Extreme Palazzo Lana
2006 Nino Negri Valtellina Sfursat 5 Stelle

2007 Garofoli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore Podium
2007 Velnosi Rosso Piceno Superiore Roggio del Filare

2005 Brezza Barolo Sarmassa
2004 Elvio Cogno Barolo Vigna Elena
2004 Fontanafredda Barolo Lazzarito La Delizia
2005 Malvira Roero Rosso Renesio Riserva
2005 Marchesi do Barolo Barolo Sarmassa
2006 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Nizza La Court
2004 Oddero Barolo Mondoca di Bussia Soprana
2005 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito
2004 Castello di Verduno Barbaresco Rabaja
2005 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili

2006 Donnafugata Milleunanotte
2007 Cusumano Sagana
2008 Planeta Cometa

2006 Antinori Tignanello
2006 Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico
2004 La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino
2006 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia
2006 Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore Sapaio
2006 Vignamaggio Villa Vignamaggio
2007 San Felice Pugnitello

2000 Ferrari Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Brut
2004 Mezzacorona Teroldego Rotaliano Riserva

2004 Antonelli Sagrantino di Montefalco Chiusa di Pannone
2006 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino

2006 Ca’Rugate Recioto di Soave La Perlara
2004 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Campolongo di Torbe
2008 Nino Franco Valdobbiadene Grave di Stecca Brut
2005 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Corte Giara
2005 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sublime Wines and Magnificent Pizzas

The classic margherita pizza, Kesté, New York City
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

One of the most memorable wine and food evenings in my life took place in New York City last week, but it wasn’t at one of the city’s most exclusive eateries and our group wasn’t drinking a rare Brunello or classified Bordeaux. Rather, it was pizza and some humble, but wonderful Italian reds that we enjoyed. What is it they say about great food and great company going together? Well this was it.

This evening actually began with an invitation last summer from my friend Charles Scicolone of New York. Born in Brooklyn, Charles has been a passionate follower of vino italiano for more than four decades and makes no bones about his love of traditional Italian wines. He was accompanying his wife Michele to my hometown of Chicago, as she had been invited to conduct a cooking demonstration for Taste of Chicago. A marvelous chef, she has written many great cookbooks and is as knowledgeable about Italian food as anyone in the country.

The three of us enjoyed lunch at Spacca Napoli, a great authentic Neapolitan pizzeria not far from my home on the city’s north side. We all loved the pizza prepared by the owner (and pizzaiolo) Jonathan Goldsmith; Charles then asked when I would come to New York so we could enjoy similar pizza in Brooklyn.

I finally made it to New York last week and a few days before the meal, I asked if we were still heading for that place in Brooklyn. Charles told me no, as he had found an even better pizzeria in Greenwich Village called Kesté. It’s run by Roberto Caporuscio (a veteran pizzaiolo) and it’s been having a successful run since its opening less than one year ago.

Roberto Caporuscio, pizzaiolo, Kesté Pizzeria
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Joining Charles and me were Alfonso Cevola, the Italian wine director for a large wine distributor from Texas and author of the marvelous blog, On The Wine Trail in Italy. Alfonso and I had emailed each other dozens of times over the past few months, so it was nice to finally meet him. Alberto Longo, a wine producer from northern Puglia, was in town and accepted my invite to dinner, while the final person in our group was Ernie De Salvo, a friend of Charles.

I could go on and on about how great this evening was, from the outgoing welcome of Roberto and his staff to the incredible array of pizzas he prepared for us, from the classic margherita to the house speciality with prosciutto di parma, arugula and mozzarella known as Kesté. I certainly haven’t had the experience of some when it comes to sampling authentic Neapolitan pizzas in this country (maybe I need to get to New York more often?), but for me, this is the finest pizzeria in America. Need I say more?

Kesté pizza with arugula and prsciutto
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As if that wasn’t enough, Charles and Ernie brought some memorable wines for the evening. We began with a 1982 Tuscan red from Grato Grati; this wine, basically a declassified Chianti Rufina, was marvelously young and so subtle with pinpoint acidity and sublime dried cherry fruit. Thee we moved on to two exceptional bottlings of Spanna, a Nebbiolo-based wine from Piedmont from the producer Antonio Vallana. The two vintages, by the way, were the 1958 and 1964, both from Ernie’s cellar. Both were quite special and in excellent condition, with the 1958 tasting fresher than the ’64. Alberto Longo brought his Nero di Troia which we also enjoyed, so we consumed plenty of distinctive Italian wine. In fact, we were satisfied enough that we didn’t even open the 1982 Michele Chiarlo Barolo – next time!

A few points about enjoying wine with Charles and Ernie. Not only do they have incredible cellars – how many people have such bottles at home? – but they are adamant about the special qualities of traditional Italian wines. Charles talks of Italian winemakers these days that “have gone over to the dark side,” as he likes to put it, meaning vintners that age their wines in small oak barrels (usually French barriques). He didn’t say it that night, but all of us at the table knew what he meant – that these producers are more interested in trying to secure 90 points plus in the top wine magazines, when they should be making wines that highlight varietal fruit and offer a sense of place. Hard to talk about terroir when vanilla spice is the dominant aromatic note!

Charles believes that there were many outstanding Italian wines made three and four decades ago and these bottles certainly were proof of that. Too many “instant experts” who write about Italian wines these days make the claim that Italian viticulture has matured since the early 1970s and that today’s wines are much better than those from the 1950s and ‘60s. I can’t imagine too many of these critics have tried the wines we enjoyed that evening. Today’s wines – many of which are first-rate – are cleaner, with fewer faults than some of the rustic wines of the past (there were some failures back then, just as there are today), but give me an honest wine any day over one manufactured for the enjoyment of a few pundits.

My many thanks to Charles, Ernie, Alberto and Alfonso for the wines and the wonderful conversation and of course to Roberto Caporuscio for his hospitality as well as his exceptional pizzas!

La gruppa (l. to r.) Alfonso, Alberto, Charles, Ernie and yours truly

Kesté Pizzeria
271 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 243-1500

You can read Alfonso's post about this evening here

Monday, February 8, 2010

Gems from VINO 2010

Thoughts on four exciting days in New York, including notes on dozens of excellent new Tuscan releases (red and white), some beautiful bottlings from Friuli and two offerings of Vermentino to die for!

Emilia Nardi, Tenute Silvio Nardi, Brunello di Montalcino
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I spent four wonderful days in New York City last week, tasting hundreds of new Italian releaaes, meeting vintners from around the country and making many new friends from all over the United States. The occasion was VINO 2010 - the second annual - which is billed as the largest Italian wine event held outside of Italy.

There were many highlights - I’ll touch upon a few in this post and go into greater detail in the next few posts during the upcoming weeks. One of the tastings was an anteprima of new releases from three famous Tuscan zones: Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Given the sheer number of wines available for sampling over several days, I had to focus on a few specifics, so I didn’t try as many of these wines as I could have, but I did find some excellent examples. From Chianti Classico, there was a delightful 2008 Carpineto, a wine made to be drunk and nor laid away for 5 years – how nice!

Clif and Donna Weaver, owners of Le Miccine, a small gem of an estate in Gaiole in Chianti, showed their 2007 normale and Riserva Chianti Classico bottlngs at the Friday Grand Tasting. The regular bottling had lovely red cherry fruit, subtle oak and very good acidity while the “Don Alberto” Riserva offers textbook flavors and the structure to age for 7-10 years. If you don’t already know this estate’s wines, now would be a great time to acquaint yourself with these bottlings.

I also loved the 2007 normale Chianti Classico bottlings of Badia a Coltibuono, Lilliano and Bibbiano, all made in a traditional style in large oak. In fact, I'm finding more Tuscan producers shifting toward more restrained use of oak, a welcome sign. There are many that still work with barriques, but even these producers seem to be relaxing a bit on the spice and vanilla flavors of new barrels. Let’s hope this trend of favoring fruit over wood continues in Tuscany!

It’s always exciting to try new releases of Brunello di Montalcino; this year the featured wines are the 2005 Brunello and the 2004 Brunello Riserva. 2005 is not garnering a lot of attention, given the fact that 2004 was an excellent vintage and 2006 is shaping up to be a promising year as well. However, I found the bottlings of 2005 Brunellos to be nicely balanced with very good acidity, balanced tannins and good to very good fruit persistence. Some bottlings are a bit tight as of now, while others are a bit lean, while some are soft and quite approachable. Among my favorites here were the offerings from Il Poggione (no surprise here!), Lisini (beautifully structured), Col d’Orcia, Uccelliera, Canalicchio di Sopra, the Campogivanni from San Felice, and the very elegant and beautifully styled Silvio Nardi “Vigna Manachiara”, one of this zone’s most consistent bottlings. I also liked two wines I tried for the first time, the “Vigna delle Raunate” from Mocali and the Tassi. The Mocali, from a 25 year-old vineyard, is aged for three years in large and mid-size oak and has a generous mid-palate and stylish acidity; this will drink well for 10-12 years. The Tassi is a bit less concentrated, but is extremely well balanced and is a wine of great finesse and elegance. Fabio Tassi produced the first Brunello under his own label with the 2004 vintage; he is off to an impressive start!

Fabio Tassi, an impressive new Brunello producer
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As for the 2004 Brunello Riserva, these are everything I had hoped they would be. There are some critics of 2004 Brunello who believe that the year was not as great as expected. While this may not be as long-lived a vintage as 2001, I do think this was a very special year – perhaps great – and the best proof of that comes with these Riserva bottlings. Wine after wine offered great concentration and structure for 15-20 years of aging, which is what I expect from this wine. Among the finest I sampled were the more modern-styled Banfi “Poggio al’Oro” and Caparzo (their first Riserva since 2001) along with the Il Poggione “Vigna Paganelli” and the Fuligni. The Il Poggione is deeply concentrated and a bit tight at present, but should be wonderful in 15 years or so, while the Fuligni is an amazing wine! Combining its beautiful perfumes, excellent concentration, lively acidity, subtle oak and elegant tannins, this is a textbook Brunello di Montalcino. If I had to give someone one wine from 2004 that I believed represented the vintage as well as any (as well as being a classic wine), it would be the 2004 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.

As for other notable wines, I thoroughly enjoyed the bottlings of Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Panizzi. Too often this Tuscan white is either much too plain or else laden with strong wood overtones by a vintner who wants to make more out of this wine than he or she should. The regular 2008 bottling from Panizzi has beautiful varietal character (pine and apple aromas), zippy acidity and a wonderful freshness, while the 2006 Riserva bottling is richer on the palate and carries its wood aging quite nicely, depsite the fact that the wine was fermented in barriques.

I also had the chance to catch up with the always charismatic Maria Elisabetta Fagiuoli of Montenidoli, another great Vernaccia producer. From talking with her and tasting her wines, you get the feeling that she’ll continue to do what she’s been doing until the big winemaker in the sky call for her, which we can only hope will be another 20-30 years from now at least! He regular bottling “Fiore” from the 2007 vintage is quite rich for an entry level Vernaccia, while her special releases speak to what can be achieved with this variety. My favorite wine from her is the “Carato” from 2005, a barrique-aged Vernaccia with lovely texture and deep concentration. Her wines – just like Maria herself – only improve with age!

A few other highlights included fresh, tasty examples of Soave from La Cappuccina (2009) and Cantina di Soave (2008 Classico). These wines represent the delighful, non-complicated side of Soave and are so easy to drink! I also enjoyed some beautiful bottlings of Prosecco, including the “Vigneto Giardino” from Adami that is much richer than most examples of this wine, along with two excellent offerings of Cartizze (a sub-zone of Prosecco that many consider to be the finest), from Mionetto (beautifully perfumed) and Bortolomiol (not as aromatic, but fuller on the palate).

I also concentrated on Friuli and discovered several wines I thought well balanced and very flavorful, including the 2008 Friulano and 2006 Refosco from Tenuta di Blasig; the 2008 Sauvignon from Colutta; the 2008 Sauvignon from I Feudi di Romans and the 2008 Friiulano from Petrussa.

Elisabetta Bortolotto Sarcinelli, Tenuta di Blasig, Isonzo DOC, Friuli
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I’ll discuss red wines in greater detail in the next few posts, but for now, notes on three reds I loved last week. The first is 2008 Celestina Fé Morellino di Scansano, styled in a traditional way in large oak – beautiful strawberry and red currant fruit here with silky tannins. Secondly, the 2006 Guado al Melo Bolgheri Superiore is a notable wine from this famous Tuscan coastal zone; one that has marvelous depth of fruit, excellent complexity and the structure to age for 10-12 years. Lastly, the new bottling of Syrah from Alberto Longo in Puglia labeled 4.7.7 – the dates of his dauther’s birth (2007). Lots of juicy mulberry and plum fruit with bitter chocolate notes – this is delicious!

Finally, I wanted to point out two bottlings of Vermentino from the 2008 vintage from Cantine Lunae in Liguria. The Grey label is simply delicious, bursting with lemon and dried pear flavors and a bit of saltiness from the nearby sea, while the Black label is richer with notes of acacia and apple peel in the aromas. Both are aged solely in stainless steel – no need to mess with the amazing aromatics with wood – and have vibrant acidity. The Black label received the Tre Bicchieri rating from Gambero Rosso in their 2010 edition and is fairly priced at $30; you might just enjoy the Grey label as much or even better, especially at $18, an amazing value!