Two-Faced Rosato

I know that rosato(Italian for rose`)  isn’t the manliest of wines, but the rosato I am featuring today breaks the paradigm.  Rosato can either be made in two ways: mixing juice from red wine and white wine (the not so good way) or by letting the skins macerate on the white juice for a  short time(the good way) thereby extracting color from the pigmented skins.  Remember that all grape juice starts out white.   You can test this by simply squeezing a grape and watching the juice flow from the grape.  The skins contain the color pigments which then color the white juice.

The rosato that I am featuring today is vinified from one the most prestigious grapes in Italy, the Nebbiolo grape.  Nebbiolo is the grape that is used make Barolo  and Barbaresco, perhaps the most well known and most log lived wines of Italy.   The resulting red wines from this grape are low in color, high in tannin and acid and very perfumed.  As you might expect, a rosato made from this variety of Italian is not so common, which is why I want to write about it. The wine that I am talking about is the Cantalupo Rosato “Il Mimo” 2008.  This is about as manly as a rosato you can get.  It is bigger in flavor and body than most rosatos out of Italy.  This is a perfect wine for those that want to venture into red wine.  It will give you the fruitiness and pleasantness of a white while maintaining a “red-like” mouth feel.  This wine will please both the red and the white wine lover.   Not to mention it is also Spring and there is really no better way to kick this season off than some rosato.  This wine will pair wonderfully with fish especially salmon and other “meaty” fish.  Don’t be afraid to match this with  salamis, herb roasted chicken, some grilled vegetables and some good company on a sunny day.  At 16 bucks a bottle, you can’t go wrong.


Finally a Job and Some Good Food

Having been back in the States for about 2 months now(I recently lived in Italy for 1 year) I have finally tasted some food that reminded me of my time in Florence.  Since my return, the style, preparation and quality of food in America has somewhat disappointed me…

There is good news though.  I landed a job at Italian Wine Merchants, where my passion for wine, food and culture can now be put to good use.  Based out of NY, this is truly a one of a kind place.  We are in the service of building lasting relationships with our clients by providing them with exceptional wines, food and most of all friendship. Anyway, that is another story that deserves to be in a book and it actually is.  The owner, Sergio Esposito, wrote a book called “Passion on the Vine” which details his journey from childhood times in Naples to how he made the relationships with producers that drive his business today.

Back to the food.  Here at IWM, we have a chef that prepares the staff a wide array of delicious authentic Italian foods on a daily basis.  Kevin is the man.  He is an extremely talented chef who does wonders with Italian ingredients.  I mean who else can eat braised veal cheeks, risotto, caponata, sautéed fish with chili peppers and olive oil, fresh breads and other Italian delicacies at their work place, for lunch none the less!

I’m basically saying that it is awesome here at IWM.  My passion for wine and food finally has a practical outlet.  For anyone that reads this and for anyone that loves wine, it would be totally worth your while to at least check out the site .

Back in the Good Ole U.S.

Now that I have been back in the US for about 3 weeks, the reverse culture shock has diminished and I am almost back to my routine ways.  Having lived in Italy for 1 year while trying to adapt to the Italian culture as much as possible, I am finding the American way of life not as grandiose as once thought.  I was actually more culture shocked returning to the US than first going to Italy.  One of the biggest disappointments was not being able to drink wine with lunch.  A couple of days after I returned to the US, I had to satisfy my craving for a 5 Guys cheeseburger.  So some friends and I went to the burger joint and 2 things really captured my attention.  The first being the size of the food served. The burger, fries and drink were easily the biggest food items I have seen in a year.  The small drink was bigger than any drink I saw in Italy.  I used to be able to finish off a double cheesburger, fries and coke easily, now I come no where close.  Secondly, and perhaps the saddest was when I went to the beverage station and there was no wine to choose from.  I guess subconsciously, I was thinking about filling up with a house Chianti, but the only drinks at this site were sweet carbonated beverages.  Having a glass of wine for lunch has been part of my life for the past year, and suddenly this aspect has been taken from me.

Living abroad has really opened my mind in many ways.  While America is and always will be a great country, there are many other countries and ways of life that are equally as great.

Another disappointment for me has been the quality of food and architecture.  So far I have eaten subs, pizza, cheeseburgers, cheese steaks and other American specialties but I am finding the quality of ingredients to be sub par.   The submarine sandwiches are loaded with meats and cheese to a rather disturbing amount. Portions are huge and quality is low. This kind of sounds like  Italian wine quality back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, high quantity, low quality.  Even the supermarkets don’t seem to be  as good anymore, and I was huge fan of them before I left.

When in a store or just driving around, I am finding things  not to be as beautiful and craftfully designed.  It’s as if they just went through the motions.  Nothing is a personal as it was in Italy.  Everything out here is franchised and is missing identity to some degree , or in wine terminology-terrior.

That’s enough complaining for now, back to the job hunt…

Barolo for Dessert?

You would never think of drinking modern day Barolo for dessert, it would be absurd.  Before the 19th century, the people of Piedmont had no other choice.  Yes it is tue, Barolo was originally a sweet wine!

Nebbiolo is late ripening grape variety.  The name of the grapes takes it name from the Italian word nebbia, meaing fog.  If you ever go to Piedmont, specifically in the Langhe, you will see tons of rolling fog patches through out the land, hence the name.  Anyway, because of the cold temperatures in Piedmont during November and December and the use of naturally present yeasts, fermentation was tricky business.  Fermentation would usually start, but rarely ever finish leaving lots of residual sugar.

Finally the Marquis of Barolo, Giulietta Falletti had enough and asked a French enologist to help improve the quality of Barolo.  His name was Louis Oudart.  Louis realized the potential of the Nebbiolo grape and successfully created the a dry Barolo.  To increase the temperature of fermentation during the cold months he simply implemented a temperature controlled system using the best technology of his day, wood and fire.  The huge vats of wine were elevated slightly off the ground to leave room for the burning coals underneath.  This heat eventually raised the temperature enough so that fermentation would run all the way through.  So thanks to Frenchman, we can now drink excellent Barolos…

Pairing Food with Sparkling Wines

Bubblies should not always be used a the end of dinner for celebration.  There is a wide range of foods that sweet, semi-sweet, and fully dry sparklers can be paired with.  Their high levels of acidity and carbonation lend themselves well to a vast range of food stuffs.  Lets start with the sweet sparklers like Asti Spumante.

The grape used to make Asti is called Moscato.  This grape has naturally high levels of sugar, a low complexity and high aromatics.  These sparklers are great to either start a dinner or to finish.  Their sweetness and low level of alcohol make them a good aperitif.  They generally dont go too well with savory meaty foods but you can find a nice compliment with some salads.  A salad of mixed greens, sliced fruit, crumbled blue cheese and some sort of berry vinaigrette would go perfect.  For dessert, you would have to go on the light side.  An apple or pear tart, fresh fruit salads, and some cakes would work well.  The sweet apple and pare flavors of the wine would accompany the fruits very nicely and the bubbles would do a good job at cleansing your palate.

Next we have dry sparklers like Prosecco.  This sparkling wine is made from the Prosecco grape in the Veneto region of Italy.  They can be fully dry, but some may have a tiny bit of residual swetness.  We’ll stick to the dry ones for now.  These wines are very fresh, crisp, low in alcohol, fruity and sometimes even display a slight mineral character which makse them excellent as aperitifs.  Because of the low alcohol and low level of complexity you want to keep the the foods simple and stay away from red meets.  Prosecco can also go well with fried foods(veggies,squid and other fish) because of the carbonation and high acidity. Food recommendations:

Toasted bread topped with tomatoes

Fish tartar

Smoked  salmon, cream cheese, onions and cucumber on toasted bread

Delicately prepared filets of fish(sole, trout, bass) basically white flaky fish

Pastas with light sauces

sauteed veggies

A variety of light chicken dishes

Now we are going to get into the good stuff: Champagne, Franciacorta, Cava, and Cremant.  These are all sparkling wines made from the Champenois Methods.  These sparklers are fuller in body and more complex due to the aging criteria.  Click here and here to read about these wines and how they are made. One of my favorite Champagne pairings is with sushi.  Aim to buy a Blanc de Blancs because these are made with 100% Chardonnay which means that they are lighter in body and more elegant.  The delicate crispness and bready character pair excellent with the rice and raw fish.  The smoked eel sushi is one of my favorite combinations.  Be careful with the use of soy sauce and wasabi because these flavoring tend to over power the wine AND THE SUSHI.

Some people forget what an actual shrimp looks like...

Creamy risottos prepared with Parmesan cheese  are superb.  Any type of crustacean(shrimp, lobster, crab, etc) are perfect with Champagne.  Mollusk(clams, oysters, scallops, muscles) and crustacean pasta dishes present a wide range of great pairings. Battered and fried oysters with a touch of lemon aiole is great way to start a meal.   Why not pair Champagne with cheese too?  Fresh brie and goat cheeses work well because they are not too strong in flavor.  The carbonation cleans your mouth from the creamy brie and the tangyness of goat cheese matches the sharp acidity in the wine.   most types of chicken dishes work well with these types of sparkling wines as well.  Don’t be afraid to try veal and pork either.  Once again, try to avoid red meats.

As you can see, there is an infinite amount of possibilities when pairing food with sparkling wines.  This is where you want to let your imagination run loose.The point I want to get a across is that bubbly should not only be popped for celebration purposes.  There are so many food pairing opportunities out there that are waiting to be discovered.   The key to enjoying food and wine is to try new wines with new foods.  When you find that perfect combination, I can assure you that you will never forget that moment.

Im Back and Certified

For those of you who don’t know I was recently in Torquay, England taking the sommelier examinations with the Court of Master Sommeliers.  Two days were spent in a classroom and the last day consisted of the 2 tests, the intro. and the certified.  I was well prepared and passed them both and received the certificate and pin of the Certified Sommelier.  There were 21 of us and 4 people did not make it, but no biggie, they can take it again in a coupe of months.  The 20 or so people a the test were from all over Europe working in fine restaurants throughout the world. Their knowledge was absolutely top notch and they really made me feel pretty small in the world of wine. Most are practicing sommeliers with large amount of experience in the business.  Having the opportunity to meet and converse with these people was just as valuable as the actual test.  Making connections and learning from each other was the best part of the trip.  Everyone seemed to have their own specialty.  While mine was Italian wines specifically Tuscany, some were Bordeaux experts, Spanish experts and so on.  We each filled in each others gaps, in preparation for the exams.

Where do you go to find Sommeliers?  The bar of course.  The first night I was there none of us had met yet.  I decided to go down to the bar and have a drink by myself.  Sure enough some guys started showing up.  They all ordered and spent some time looking at the wine list.  So I put two and two together, they had to be wine guys.  And sure enough they were.

So once again I apologize for the lack of posts recently, but next week I will be back on top of things starting off with, How to Enjoy Champagne with Food.

Upcoming Test

I would like to let you guys know that I am leaving for England on Saturday to take the Introductory Sommelier test with the Court of Master Sommeliers.  If I score above a 75% on the intro test, I will be eligible to participate in the certified somm. exam, on the same day.  I have been reviewing the past week to ensure that this will happen.  If all goes well, I will be coming back a certified somm. , so please excuse my lack of posts for this week.

The Science of Bubbles

Grape-ShotThis post might get a little geeky, so readers beware…

If you remember from the last post, I talked about the second fermentation that occurs in the bottle for the Methode Champenois.  It is in this fermentation where the magic happens and where carbonation is produced.

I hope we all know the equation for alcoholic fermentation by now: sugar+yeast—–>alcohol + CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2).  CO2 is  linear molecule looking something like this :  O=C=O.   2 carbon dioxide molecules are produced for every molecule of sugar during fermentation.  The CO2 molecules float to the top(because gas is less dense than liquid) and get trapped between the liquid and the enclosure.  Eventually enough CO2 will cause the pressure to increase in this space.   As the pressure increases, so does the solubility of the CO2. The concentration of molecules increases and more wind up back into solution(more and more are coming into contact with the surface of the liquid).  The molecules are essentially forced back into the liquid because this will best relieve the pressure that has been applied to the system.  Henry’s Law states that: The solubility of a gas in a liquid is directly proportional to the pressure of that gas above the surface of the solution;  the higher the pressure higher the solubility.

When CO2 is forced back into solution some of it does not remain as CO2, it is  changed to carbonic acid by attaching itself to a water molecule.  The molecular formula is H2O + CO2 <—> H2CO3.  Carbonic acid is important because it gives champagne a noteworthy “zing”.

champagnecelebrationThe pressure inside a champagne bottle is very large, and is roughly equal to pressure in a tire of an 18 wheeler.  For this reason the bottles are made of thick glass and have a large bell or punt at the base(that indentation on the underside of the bottle).  CO2 does not like to be trapped inside a bottle its like a prison for those little guys.  When the pressure is released by popping the cork, the CO2 rushes to the top.  This is known as effervescence and the smell of the erupting CO2 can be quite beautiful.

When you pour champagne in a glass you will notice some strings of bubbles streaming from one or several parts of the glass.  This stream of bubbles is called the  perlage.  Some people think that the more or less you have of these streams of bubbles the better your champagne is.  Well that is totally false.  The streams of bubbles occur because of small defects on the surface of the glass.  These defects trap the tiny carbon dioxide molecules and the gas bubble begins to grow until it expels gas.  This process repeats itself until you have a stream of bubbles.  So essentially, the more streams you see, the cheaper your glass is.  The most important thing to look for in bubbles is the size.  In this case, the smaller the better.  Smaller bubbles make the wine feel creamier and more elegant on your palate.  Take for example club soda, these bubbles are large and aggressive compared to those of fine champagne.  I don’t know about you but after all this champagne talk, I am gettin pretty thirsty.

The Cost of Champagne

Rose_Champagne_BubblesMost Champagne that we know is pretty expensive.  Its hard to shell out 80-100 bucks for a bottle bubbles when you can buy 3-5 bottles of still wines for the same price.  I am not going to try and rationalize the cost of a 500-1000 bottle of Champagne, but I want you guys to get a better feeling of how champagne is made so that you can understand where your money is going.

First I want to talk about the region of Champagne.  This is the most northerly wine producing region in France and really pushes the envelope for the cultivation of grapes.  It almost gets too cold to the point where the grapes can not ripen. It often rains, limited the amount of sunshine and warmth that reach the vines. Late Spring frosts are a killer and are the most dangerous.  The weather is unforgiving, and the decrease in yields sometimes adds the cost of a bottle of Champagne.Verzenay_moulin

So here are the steps for the Methode Champenois:

Step 1 : The grapes are harvested like any other wine, pressed and fermented in large stainless steel or glass vats.  Some producers use 225 liter barriques such as Krug, Bollinger and Vilmart for this fermentation.

Step 2:  5-6 months later the wine is ready for blending.  Non-vintage champagne is a blend of about 40-50 wines from as many as 10 different years.  This part is crucial because this it what gives the champagne their consistency in taste year after year.  The blending technician is very skilled and knows exactly the percentages of which wines to blend depending on the current years organoleptic qualities.

Step 3:  After the wines are blended in a vat, a liquer de tirage is added to the wine.  This blend is a carefully mixed quantity of mostly liquid sugar and yeast.  The sugar and the yeast are what allow the second fermentation to take place in the bottle.

Step 4: After the addition of the liquer de tirage, the wine is bottled and capped.  If too much sugar was added in the liquer, the bottle can explode, champagne caveand if not enough, their will be no carbonation.  Remember the equation for fermentation is : sugar + yeast—->ethanol + CO2.  After the bottling they are laid on their sides in chalk caves  so the 2nd fermentation can take place.  During this period the yeast die in a process called autolysis.  The dead yeast cells sink to the bottom imparting yeasty, bread-like aromas to the wine as well as complexity. The bottles must be left in this position for at least 15 months for non-vintage and 3 years for vintage champagne.


Her you can see some of the dead yeast cells









Step 5:  So what do you do with all these dead yeast cells?  Their is a long andChampagne-Remuer sometimes laborious process called remuage.  This is when the dead yeast cells are coaxed into the neck of the bottle.  Back before the use of machinery, a man called a remuer, would turn and angle every

bottle of champagne a little downward every day into a vertical position.  A top remuer can riddle 40,000 bottles per day.  Some houses still use a remuer but they are very costly and time consuming.   Most houses now use a girasol.  This a piece of machinery  holds about 500 bottles and replicates the remuage process.

Step 6:  Now that the bottles are in a vertical position some 12 to 20 weeks later it is time to remove all that sediment that has accumulated in the neck.  One method called a la volee, uses the pressure inside of bottle to force the sediment out after the enclosure has been removed.  The other and more common method is called a la glace.  In this method the neck of the bottle is dipped into a freezing brine solution.  This freezes the sediment and when the enclosure is removed the ice shoots out.  This process is called degorgement for obvious reasons.


Machinery to add the dosage

Step 7: To replace some of the wine that has been lost during the last step, a measured amount of sweetened wine is added to the bottle.  This mixture is called the liqueur d’expedition and is what gives the wine some residual sugar and house flavor. Next the champagne is topped with the mushroom cork a wire cage and is ready for shipment or storage.

As you can see it is not easy to produce champagne.  I forgot to mention that the caves where the champagne is stored are carved from the chalk soils that run 20 feet into the ground.  The chalk provides the perfect storage temperature for the wine.  By capturing heat during the day and radiating it during the cold nights, the internal temperature remains constant.  I hope this has helped you to appreciate champagne in a different light.

Next: The science of bubbles…

A Little Diddly on Champagne

ladycorkI think that a lot of people love Champagne but don’t really know what they are talking about when they say the name.  Most of the sweet stuff that we pour after dinner is not Champagne, but a cheaper alternative that has nothing to do with Champagne at all.  The grapes are different, the region of production is different, and the vinification is different.

When I say Champagne I am talking about the sparkling wines that come from the wine producing region in France called Champagne.  These wines are not made with Champagne grapes as some might believe, but are made with two black varieties and 1 white variety.  The reds are called Pinot Noir and Pinot Muneir.  When a Champagne is made with only black grapes is called Blanc de Noirs.  The white variety is Chardonnay and when a Champagne is made with only this varietal the wine is called Blanc de Blancs. There are also blends between red and white varietals and Rose Champagne exist as well.

Another common misconception is that Dom Pierre Perignon was the inventor of Champagne.  This is totally false.  He did however help to improve the quality of sparkling and still wines by  selecting only the best grapes, developing pruning techniques and finding the optimumDom-perignon conditions for harvesting.  He actually tried to STOP the second fermentation that takes place in bottle!  This is totally ironic because this second fermentation in the bottle is the basis of the Methode Champenois.( I will discuss this method in the next post.) Good thing he did not succeed.

All Champagne are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne.  Sparkling wine that is produced in Champagne with the Methode Champenois is called Champagne.  Other Methode Champenois sparkling wines produced outside of Champagne are called Cremant in France.  Examples include Cremant de Loire, Cremant de Burgogne, and Cremat de Alsace.  In Italy there is sparkling wine produced with the Methode Champenois and it is called Franciacorta.  These wines coincidentally are made with Chardonnay, Pinot Muneir and Pinot Noir.  Another famous Methode Champenois wine is from Spain in teh area of Penedes.  This sparkling wine is called Cava and is produced with Spanish  and French varietals.  Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo being the Spanish and Chardonnay of course the French.  These wines are cheaper alternatives to to Champagne and can give you a better bang for your buck in some cases.  Methode Champenois sparkling wines are also produced in America and Australia.

Next up: What is the Methode Champenois(Champagne Method) and why is Champagne so  expensive?

Are You Right or Left “Nosed”?

handAfter about 4 years of sniffing wine I can now easily judge which is my stronger nostril.    I am a right-handed person and so is my nose.  I don’t know if there link between these, but I found it to be pretty interesting.  I’ve asked my fellow wine friends this same question and their handedness also coordinates with their “nostrilness” if you will.

Being a wine nerd, I am little prone to watching the way people hold, swirl and taste their wine.  One thing that I cant help to notice is the direction of swirl.  I am counterclockwise swirler and I hold the glass in my right hand.  One of my buddies is right handed, has a right hand nose, but swirls his wine clockwise, which I found quite amusing.


I am in the midst of personal research project, mainly for fun, about this “handedness”.  Here is a simple list of questions that would greatly help out my little project.  When I get enough responses I will let you guys know the results.

It’s Really Just a Journal

journalIt just a occurred to me a couple of days ago what a “blog” really is.  When you think about it, it is nothing more than a glorified journal. The word journal comes from Latin diurnalis, daily, then the French changed it a little to get “journal”.    I always thought it was the dorkiest thing to write in a journal as a kid.  “Dear Diary, class was great today, and I also talked to a girl named Sarah.”  I could imagine that many journals started off like that.  I wanted no part in a journal and I wanted no part in writing.  But my, how the tables have turned.

Now, I find myself writing in an electronic journal like WordPress, 3-5 times a week and loving every second of it.  Who would have thought that writing would be so rewarding?  By no means am I a professional writer.  If you have previous posts you probably figured that out my now.  Writing is just like anything else, the more you practice the better you get.  I always tell people that you don’t have to be a professional writer to write about things you are passionate about.  For me this passion is wine, food, science and bonsai.(bonsai is a separate issue that eventually plan on blogging)

So anyway, I will be going to a wine festival in Merano, Italy(northern Italy) this weekend. I plan on hitting the German and French booths first, ending with some Italian.  I drink Italian, mostly Tuscan wine everyday, and I just need a change of scene.  I am lalso loking forward to some northern wines as well.  Northern Italian wines, white and red, are extremely under rated and delicious.  Do your wallet and your palate a favor, go out and get some northern Italian juice and I don’t mean Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.  Find some names you havent heard of before like Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Gavi  Soave(the real Soave), Romandolo, Piccolit, and Blanc de Morgex.  Reds from here can be good if you like vegetable driven reds.




A Product of Your Environment

Hi Francesco,
I have a project that I have to submit for my class, and I’d like your opinion on one of the questions: Why is a Pinot Noir from Australia so different in style from a Burgundy Pinot Noir? I know the basic reasons for this (mostly due to the difficult/delicate nature of growing the grape itself), but would like to know what you think.


Thank you Joe for the question, Its been a while since Ive did one of these.  Pinot is a difficult grape to grow perfectly.  It is prone to extreme weathers, has thin skin which makes the berries vulnerable to all sorts of diseases, and it also has problems in the cellar during fermentation and these are just a few.

But these types of situations exist no matter where  Pinot is grown, be it Burgundy or Australia.  The main difference here is the terroir.  Grapes are products of their environment, just like you and I.  The soil, sun, rain, air circulation,  and exposure all help to determine their character, including the wine maker.  When one or more of these factors are changed the product is different, hence you have differences between Burgundian Pinot Noir,Australian, New Zealand, and American etc.

Lets talk a little specifically about the terroirs of Burgundy and Australia.

The risk of growing Pinot in Burgundy is very high compared to other places, but the reward is worth it.   The climate is continental and usually experiences cold winters which can damage or even kill young vines.  Burgundy  is northerly enough that the grapes just make it to full ripeness and there is constantly a threat of hail and under ripe fruit.  The long and cool growing season allows the berries to produce all of those complexities and nuances that we all love;  patience is a virtue.  In some years, there is too much rain and too much cold which can hurt production and quality.  Pinot does not live and easy life, but this why some say the best wines in world come from Burgundy.  Check this post out about Bad Soil, Good Grapes to get a better idea.


Burgundian Pinot Noir

The soil is extremely varied in Burgundy.  There is limestone, marl, sand and gravel that exist through out the region and within single vineyards.  Pinot tends to be planted on soils richer and marl and Chardonnay planted on limestone.  These soils provide drainage and warmth which help the grapes to ripen.  The bottom line is that these conditions allow the Pinot Noir grape to flourish and produce their best wines.  The wines are aromatically complex and elegant.  The color is light ruby and the flavors are more earth driven than fruit forward.  The wine delicately caresses your mouth with a good intensity backed by a symphony of nuances.


Here's a look at another vineyard in Burgundy. The trees in the background are important in blocking strong and cold winds that can damge teh vines. you can also get a good look at the soil in this one.

Now let’s take a look at Australia.  The problem with Australia is that the climate is way too hot in most places. Yarra Valley and Geelong have particularly cooler climates and this is where the better Pinots are being produced.  Most Pinots from Australia are over extracted and fruit bomby due to the heat.  The grapes are picked in an over ripe state resulting in jammy fruitiness with a high alcohol content that takes away from the elegant nature of the grape.  The use of oak is sometimes overdone as well.

There are poor examples of each in both regions.  Some Australian Pinot is better than some Burgundian Pinot.  The producer and vintage are vitally important, especially for Pinot.  Where conditions prevail for the grape, the better the resulting wine. When buying, look for regions that have a known reputation for producing quality grapes.

The Bottling Truck and Galestro Rock

The video speaks for itself.  I thought it was pretty cool.

Galestro is a little different than a bottling truck, its is actually the famous type of soil found in Tuscany.  Schist rocks are characterized by their foliation which means that the rock can easily be broken up into layers.  Galestro retains heat well and warms the vines at night.  Soils rich in Galestro are also very well drained.  Because Galestro is agriculturally a poor soil, the roots of the vines need to traverse deeper into the ground in search of water, minerals and nutrients. Here is video of me playing with some Galestro at the Loacker estate in Montalcino.  I felt like Hurcules crushing rock with my bare hand.

A Visit to Montalcino: Loacker Corte Pavone

Untitled 0 00 49-25

A nice view of Montalcino

One of the best parts about the wine school I go to in Florence are the field trips that we go on to see different wineries and producers. Here is the website if anyone is interested. Seeing and speaking with the producers has taught me so much about wine, that you can not find in text books.

Corte Pavone is an Estate owned by Austrian born Rainer Loacker.  He also owns estates in Sudtirol(Alto-Adige) and in Maremma in Tuscany.  Here, at Corte Pavone, he utilizes biodynamic principales to grow his grapes for Brunello di Montalino, Rosso di Montalcino, and an IGT wine.

Mr. Loaker is a great man and I would never discredit him.  His Brunellos and Rossos are fantastic wines, but I do however find his philosophy contradictory.  I’ve explained in a previous post how I feel about biodynamic wines.  To me, if you believe in astrology and horoscopes than you can make biodynamic wines.  He believes is certain “types” of days. For instance, there are fruit days, pruning days, green days, harvesting days etc. He also believes that there are little gnomes who live in the woods and somehow they have an effect on the production of wine.  I was quite fascinated, but at the same had a hard time believing in gnomes.   Producers like him look to the moon and starts to determine when to prune, harvest and bottle.  He only uses yeasts naturally present on the grape for fermentation, he wants to be as natural as possible.

Mr. Loacker  uses an interesting way of cleaning his cellar.  He floods the cellar a tiny bit with water loaded with specific microorganisms that disinfect the floor.  This process eliminates the use of chemical cleaning agents that he believes would contaminate the wine.

Here is where the irony comes into play.  After his philosophical speech, we went down into the cellar. So now I’m thinking this place is going to be “hippie-like”.  It seemed as though he was against the use of technology in his speech, but I was totally wrong.  This cellar looked like a NASA laboratory.  The pumps and vats were brand new and state of the art.  The fermentation tanks had an electronically timed cap mixer that punched the cap down every 3-4 hours.The cap is the “head” that forms during fermentation that contains the skins and pulp.  There was also a micro-oxygenator that he uses to sustain the wine and life of the yeasts.  Here’s a description of what this thing does:

“The aim in micro-oxygenation is to bleed oxygen in at just the right rate–which may vary from 0.25 to 100 milliliters per-liter per month–without overexposing the wine to it. Costs, according to Smith, run about two thousand dollars per wine tank. The purpose is to bring about desirable changes in wine texture and aroma that cannot be obtained by traditional aging techniques. The goals of micro-oxygenation include the restructuring of tannins and mouthfeel, color stability, aroma integration, decreased sulfide and reductive aromas, and increased longevity potential. What it does not do is promote early release or premature aging of wine.”

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You can the micro-oxygenator in te back left. Its that blue thing that looks like an oxygen tank. You can also see the the stainless steel poled on top of the vats. These are the cap breakers.

It just seems a little weird to me that a person can believe in gnomes and look to the stars for advice, yet he uses equipment that is found in a  NASA laboratory(of course I am speaking sarcastically)…I will quote something that my friend said to me after the trip,”I believe in terroir, not religion.”  I mean, that sums it right there for me. What are some of your thoughts and feelings on this?

Ever see a bottling truck in action?  Check back tomorrow for the video!

And Finally…

This is finally going to be the last post about my harvest experience.  It is going to end with a review of “Il Carbonaione”  Poder Poggio Scalette’s 100% Sangiovese.  Here it is.

2005 Il Carbonaione  13.5%abv

Intense ruby with purple reflections.   Strong fruit aroma, blackberry, plums and cellar dust on the nose, beatifully integrated toasted oak.  Bright wild berry fruits on the palate, with a note of vanilla on the back end. Really really nice, almost like a wildberry pie, also a cellar like quality of wood and wine on the palate. The tannins are smooth, refined and nicely married with the alcohol, once again extremely balanced. Notes of tobacco come through on the second glass with chocolate and coffee.   The finished glass gives back aromas of cedar box.

2006 Il Carbonaione : This wine will not be released until next year.

Basically everything I said in the previous note just pumped up a couple of notches of intensity, especially the tannins.

A “Botrytized” Merlot Story

They say that some of the best inventions have come from accidents or mistakes, and the same thing can be said for the wine world.  This is a story that Jurij shared with us over the dinner we shared with him and his family.

I spoke about Mr.Pinchiorri in the last post and how he fell in love with Jurij’s Chardonnay, well the same thing happened with the Merlot.  Making a wine from Merlot was Jurij’s other experiment.  When Mr.Pinchiorri heard about this he immediately wanted in.    They made the same deal that governed the Chardonnay; every bottle that was produced would go to Enoteca Pinchiorri.

Here’s the tasting note for the Merlot called “La Piantonaia”

piantonia2005 “La Piontoanaia”

Intense ruby with purple rim, inky dark. You can almost taste the dark bright fruit on the nose.  There is a rich wild fruit aroma, very seductive. Chocolate and coffee notes come through on the tail end.  This is rich and brooding Merlot o the palate.  Elegant tannins marry well with the 13.5% of alcohol.  Once a gain the dark chocolate, vanilla and coffee notes come through on the long finish. I have never tasted a Merlot like this, very unique.



During harvest time, Mr.Pinchiorri is usually at Poder Poggio Scalette observing and keeping a careful eye on the yields of Chardonnay and Merlot for that year, yes he is a little obsessed and possessive.  In 2002, Mr. Pinchiorri was at a Formula 1 race and he insisted that Jurij delay the harvest of the Merlot until he got back, which would be in about a week.  During this week, Botrytis Cinerea( a fungus that dehydrates the grapes and concentrates sugars, a good fungus) attacked the majority of the Merlot grapes.  This was a huge problem because Jurij was no longer able to produce a dry wine from these grapes.  Luckily it was Botrytis that attacked the grapes and not black mold, downy or powdery mildew(these molds destroy grapes).

So what did Jurij do?  He vinified the grapes as a sweet wine, something like a Sauternes(a French sweet wine made from Botrytized grapes).  He then named this wine “Mai Piu”, which means “Never Again”.  It turned out to be a great wine, but for a wine maker, having a whole harvest of Merlot attacked by a fungus is not always fun, so this is where the name came from.

I believe that only 300 half bottles were produced of this wine.  We were fortunate  enough to have the opportunity to taste this wine at dinner with him.  The wine was amber in color displaying aromas of figs, raisins, nuts, and candied orange peel with a slight touch of petrol.  The palate was a good representation of the nose, but most importantly the wine was not goopy.  It still had a good amount of acidity to balance out the sweet flavors.  It was fabulous.  I mean how many people can say they have tried a “Nobley Rotted” Merlot before?  How many even exist?  This was an experience that will never be replicated again.

A Chardonnay Story

One of the best nights during the harvest was when Jurij Fiore invited  all of the harvest students  into his house for dinner.  His wife cooked up a fabulous meal and we shared many stories that night.


These are not Jurij's Chardonnay grapes

One story that I will never forget was the one he told us about how he acquired his Chardonnay cuttings.  One year Jurij and his family were up in the Cote de Beaune  visiting an old friend.  Jurij was explaining to his friend that he wanted to start a new  Chardonnay project, just to experiment with a French varietal.  His friend assured Jurij that he would be able to get great Chardonnay cuttings for him, so of course Jurij agreed.

So one night his friend, snuck into a Grand Cru vineyard somewhere in Cote de Beaune and took  clippings from the vines, shoved them in a bag and threw them in the trunk.  Jurij was amazed that he did this, but wasn’t convinced that the cuttings would make it back to Italy.  Jurij took the bag, put them in his trunk and drove back to Tuscany anyway.

Miraculously, the cuttings survived the hot journey home and the grafting on to his current vines went rather smoothly with little loss.  Jurij was astonished that the grafts actually took.   Not only did they work, but they now produce what I believe is one of my favorite Chardonnays and possibly one of Italy’s finest.

Another interesting fact about his Chardonnay is the grafting method.  First of course there are American rootstocks.  Sangiovese was then grafted on the American rootstock and then the Chardonnay  was grafted onto the Sangiovese.  It’s no wonder  his Chardonnay is so great, each vine is a blend of te best wine producing countries in the world!   That is probably not the answer but it is kind of cool when you think about it.  This Chardonnay is so coveted that almost all of the bottles he produces is sold to one restaurant and one restaurant only, Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence.  The owner, Mr.Pinchiorri tasted this Chardonnay at Jurij’s estate and fell in love with the wine.  He loved it so much that he made a deal with Jurij and Jurij’s father, Vittorio, that all of the bottles produced would only go to his restaurant.  (of course Jurij keeps some bottles for himself) So now the only way to taste the Chardonnay named ” I Richiari” is to go to Enoteca Pinchiorri or to be friends with Jurij.

Here are some statistics:

Altitude: 370m (1,210 feet) above sea level

Exposition : South west

Soil: Sandy- silty, very rich in stony fraction

Harvest time: End of September

Fermentation process: Grapes are cold macerated for a few hours and then soft pressed.  Fermentation takes place in 228 liter french barrels-50%new- with a max temperature of 19 degrees Celsius

Refining: “Elevage sur lie”(the wine stays on the dead yeast cells) and “Battonage ” ( stirring the lees)for the first 3 months.  The wines remain in the barrels for another 9-12 months.

Bottling: July

Bottle Maturation: at least 6 months

Number of bottles produced:  2003=600… 2004= 1200…2006=1165

I have been lucky enough to try this wine on 2 occasions and it continues to blow my mind away.  I was also lucky enough to receive another bottle as a gift for completing the harvest which I am extremely thankful.  OK so heres the tasting note from the first time I tried “I Richiari”.

richiari“I Richiari” 2007 13.5%
beautiful pale golden yellow color. A delicate nose that makes your mouth water. Soft fruit and floral components backed by some nutty aromas. Subtle high quality cream comes through on the tail end,outright delicious. A rich velvety mouth feel coupled with pure elegance is the signature of this wine. Lemon peel on the back end and the ripping acidity keeps it interesting and leaves you yearning for more. A huge finish leaves you with a sense of a lemon cream pie dusted with minerals. There is no feeling of excess oak or alcohol. This Chardonnay has it all: deliciousness,balance,elegance and harmony.  What a ride!

Food Pairing: Gently grilled lobster tails served on a bed of bitter greens, sliced and sauteed fingerling potatoes, with a dollop of avacado aioli.

A Wine Maker’s Philosophy or Not

Jurij Fiore

Jurij Fiore

Every time I meet a new a wine maker, I like to ask them all the same set of questions to get a feeling for how each of them differ.  Wine makers are unique people and every one has showed me a new perspective on making wine.

One question that I regularly ask is, “What is your philosophy on wine making?”  Some answers are long, some are short and don’t even make sense,  but this is the beauty of the wine world and why all wines are different.  For some reason it is also easy to spot a wine maker in crowd of people.  They seem to carry themselves differently and emit and aura that lets you know who and what they are.

Out of all the wine producers I have met, no one has answered this question of wine making philosophy better than Jurij Fiore.  His response was, ” I am not a philosopher, I am wine maker.”, he said with  a smile.  He then explained to me that when he wakes up in the morning and until he goes to sleep at night he tries to make the best wine he can.  He doesn’t daydream  and write poems about his wine or what he wants his wine to be like, he just makes it.

At the end of the harvest at Podere Poggio Scalette some friends and I conducted a 40 minute interview with Jurij Fiore.  I videotaped the whole session on my flip cam and was so excited to show the world this wonderful interview.  For some reason I had thought that the footage was on my computer and deleted the memory off  the flip cam.  When I searched my computer for the video I realized it was not there and that I had deleted it.  I am hoping it is in a hidden archive, but it looks like it is gone.

Working with Jurij Fiore: Part 3

Choosing specific yeasts to exalt certain characteristics in wine is much of a common practice now a days.  How much better can a specific strain of yeast really make your wine?  Reading the descriptions and characteristics that each strain could add to your wine seems they can actually make a difference, and I am sure they do to a certain extent.  From working with Jurij I learned that choosing a specific yeast is trivial  the grand scheme of things.

Eight hours of harvesting and 60 hectoliters later the stainless steel tank was filled and it was time to brew the yeast at Poggio Podere Scalette.  As Jurij began measuring certain quantities of yeast, the first question that came to my mind was, “Why don’t you stick with the natural yeasts that are already present on the grapes?”  His answer was,” So I can sleep at night.”  Like everything else that Jurij says, his responses are short and to the point.  For me, this was the best possible answer that I could have received, and it made perfect sense.  He explained to me that “you take chance” when you use natural yeasts.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

After he explained to me that he doesn’t select specific yeasts for his wines either.  For instance, he uses general red wine yeast and white wine yeast  even though he makes wine from 3 different varietals: Sangiovese, Merlot and Chardonnay.  He told me a story that  one year  he ran out of the white wine yeast so he used the red wine yeast for his Chardonnay.  This made me laugh and he seemed find this amusing too.  He believes that it does not matter which yeast you choose.  “Yeasts can not bring out qualities which are not already there.”, he said to me.  Even though I am not a wine maker, I could not agree with him more.  This quote seems to apply to a number of different things, not only wine.

Jurij is also a “take it as it comes” type of guy.  He doesn’t push or stop malolactic fermentation in his wine.  “If it happens it happens, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t.”, he said.  He is the type of wine maker that lets the wine speak for itself, he is there just to see it through.

Facts About Yeast

They are single celled eukaryotes

They are part of the Fungi kindom along with mushrooms and mold

The word “yeast” comes from Old English gist, gyst, and from the Indo-European root yes-, meaning boil, foam, or bubble.

Most yeast reproduce by splitting themselves into two genetically equal parts

Yeasts have 7000-8000 genes, humans have roughly 30,000 and fruit flies have about 27,000 (genes hold the information to make an organism)

Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the family of yeasts responsible for turning sugar into alcohol

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