Friday, June 12, 2009

Great Australian rosé: Cassegrain wines

I’ve been tasting an eclectic mix of wines since I’ve been back in Australia, though I’ll save some of the impressive ones for my posts on our mini-Mudgee tour and visits in Orange.

In a moment of rosé in the house, rare for us, we had to tip a bottle of 2006 Bloodwood Big Men in Tights down the sink, proving that rosés shouldn’t be kept for too long.

But in its place we had a lovely Cassegrain’s 2008 rosé, made from cabernet sauvignon grapes. This for me is wonderful rosé, refreshing enough, without that frustrating indecisive style when rosés aren’t sure if they wanted to be reds. The description on the label is about as accurate as you’ll get: poached rhubarb on the palate. This is like drinking a refreshing white with a little more weight and it was quite delightful.

Currently open this evening is the Cassegrain’s 2008 Fromenteau Reserve Chardonnay. It’s an elegant chardonnay, smooth but not too oaky. It has a fruity nose and to really enjoy its silkiness and full flavour, I recommend drinking not too cold. Out of the cellar should be fine.

If you haven’t tried any Cassegrain Wines, they’re worth the exploration, especially if you get to the cellar door. They have really friendly, knowledgeable staff who’ll take the time to give you the right introduction.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Italy's native wines: Vitigno Italia celebrates indigenous grape varieties

The Vitigno Italia event starts on Sunday in Naples, in a wine exhibition that showcases what we can describe as Italy’s “native wines”. Vitigno Italia is specifically dedicated to grape varieties from Italy, and should prove to be a fascinating event, to taste everything from Arneis to Aglianico, Zibibbo and back again.

Alternatively speaking, I am a particular fan of Italy’s southern grape varietals (otherwise I stick to nebbiolo which is an all-time favourite of mine). Impressive indigenous wines, particularly from Campania, include Greco di Tufo, falanghina, and aglianico, and moving further north Tuscany offers some great vermentino, though I also love Vermentino di Gallura from Sardinia.

In its 2009 Italy supplement, Decanter takes a look at Italy’s indigenous whites, saying that insipid Italian white wines have damaged the country’s reputation. Mark O’Halleron takes a look at some of the indigenous whites, saying that it is a reputation that, “on the basis of this tasting, Italy has been rather harshly lumbered with”.

I couldn’t agree more, and if the UK hasn’t got its hands on good Italian whites, and has only “unimaginative” Pinot Grigio or Soave on offer, more fool them. It doesn’t take much exploring in Italy to find some excellent whites, and some even more excellent native whites.

So here’s hoping that Vitigno Italia will be a real celebration; after all, Italy has the most incredible patrimony in terms of grape varieties, that makes it an exciting country to explore, via its wines.

P.S For a look at some interesting wine from Campania, take a look at Terredora: amazing Greco di Tufo, coda di volpe (I love this name for a grape: “the fox’s tail”) and Taurasi (aglianico).

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Restaurants in Verona: Antica Bottega dei Vini and the "Valpolicella Ripassso episode"

We recently had a meal at the Antica Bottega dei Vini in Verona, set up as a restaurant, and wine and food shop in Verona’s centre. You can also find a Bottega del Vino in New York, remarkably similar in its style, though I’ve never eaten there, so that’s extent of my comments on the New York arm of the business.

I had previously eaten at the Bottega dei Vini in Verona a few years ago and as the experience was positive, I was keen to go back. I also wanted a slightly up-market restaurant as we had guests with us and it seemed the place we could impress a little while enjoying a good meal.

To say the visit was disappointing would be an exaggeration. We had a good meal, managed to navigate our way around the enormous wine list (more and less) and paid what we had expected for four people.

There were a couple of downfalls, though: our guests didn’t know much about Italian wine so ordering something “from the region” and then attempting to explain they were all native grapes, and not cabernet sauvignon, merlot or chardonnay was not easy.

We had a Valpolicella Ripasso as I was caught between choosing a classic wine (say a Bardolino Superiore) and something more geared toward new world, international tastes. The explanation got very long winded though, when I had to start at grape varieties, moving through what Amarone is, and then to Ripasso. Our guests, rightly so perhaps, had already lost interest.

I also made the error of not requesting advice from the wine waiter or sommelier, so we could have had something perhaps more adequate and exciting. In addition, I’ve decided any attempts to budget in a place like the Bottega Dei Vini is best left at the door. We spent 30 euros on the wine as it was, and it was one of the cheapest on the menu.

The major disappointment was that despite my intrepid navigating through the enormous wine list, the restaurant then didn’t even have the one I ordered. And so the head waiter or wine waiter said, “I don’t have that one, will this do?” and promptly plonked a different bottle on the table. He was not overly friendly towards my request of the vintage (two years younger than the previous bottle requested), and not knowing what to do, I accepted it.

The wine was okay, and I have no way of knowing whether the first bottle I had ordered was any better, but it’s a lesson in stock for the restaurant. There’s no point in having hundreds of labels on the list if then they’re not subsequently available. And a more elegant way of suggesting a second bottle would certainly have been appreciated.

The big problem came down to comparing the meal we had there at 236 euros, compared to the 100 euros for four people we spent at “Il cielo di Biancaneve” the night before: great food, friendly service, and a wine we liked better (still a Ripasso) at only 20 euros. Thoroughly recommended.

For more information (in Italian) on Valpolicella Ripasso, also known as "Baby Amarone" or "Super Valpolicella" see "Berevino" and "Tigulliovino".

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wine making in the Valtellina: traditional nebbiolo from Bruno Leusciatti

The Valtellina wine making region of Italy seems to be slowly splitting down two wine making styles: one is the traditional capturing of the nebbiolo character, and the other is making fatter, higher alcoholic wines that may appeal to new markets but that aren’t necessarily a reflection of the wine making tradition of the Valtellina.

I had the pleasure recently of meeting the wine maker of one of the traditional Valtellina nebbiolo styles, and his wine is truly worth the taste. Bruno Leusciatti is a humble man of the vineyards who has no pretension about making grand wines. His aim is to do the best he can with what he’s got, making modest wines to the best of his ability that he hopes will please his customers.

Bruno inherited his vineyards from his father, in the heart of the Valtellina wine making region at Sassella. His cellar is under his house, he uses chestnut wood for ageing and he is the only pair of hands that works the vineyard, completes the harvest and does the winemaking. Bruno even bottles and labels the wine himself.

The vineyards are in the truly heroic part of the Valtellina region, and all grapes are picked, by necessity, by hand. The Leusciatti vineyards sit directly above Bruno’s house and the little funicular machines used to transport the grapes down the mountainside descend right into Bruno’s front yard and driveway.

Amongst the hype of the recent Nebbiolo Grapes event in Sondrio, Bruno’s “Sassella ‘Del Negus’” from 2005 quietly conquered a couple of the more discerning palates around. Having tasted it myself, the wine is incredibly elegant and delicate. It woos the drinker with its charm that has nothing to with thick alcohol and heavy body.

From the Lavinium blog we read: “This wine left me speechless. It’s a kind of wine that I would use a term that I never use: beautiful. Beautiful because it’s extraordinarily pure, with perfumes of flowers and stones, intense and very refined, elegant, drinkable, perfect wine with food, but not to be taken for granted; intrinsic with a fascinating melodic expression, that conquers without hesitation.”

That might sound overly poetic, but believe me, you should really try the wine. I haven’t tasted that kind of purity before, either. I’m lucky, because Bruno Leusciatti lives down the road from me and being a salt-of-the-earth, accommodating man, he sells his wine from his house cellar for a mere six to eight euros... Needless to say, he can’t make enough for the demand and it actually upsets him to turn customers away.

Photo | Flickr

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pomerol Trotanoy 1982: a wine as old as me

Or should I say as young as me...? Thanks to a former colleague, yesterday I had the great privilege of drinking a bottle of 1982 Trotanoy in La Brisa restaurant in Milan.

We did a little BYO in Australian style (though I can't mention this to said colleague as nothing from the new world will ever be adopted in the old!) though on a grander scale and strolled the streets of Milan with our precious bottled wrapped in alluminium foil on our way to the restaurant.

The food and service at La Brisa is very good; genteel but not stuck up, with that "relaxed but tablecloth" air of restaurants that can keep up appearances without being too pretentious.

As for the wine, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed. I was expecting Trotanoy, being mostly produced from merlot grapes, to be very soft and easily drinkable. Instead it still had excellent back bone acidity and some tannin, that proves its ageing potential is by no means over. The bouquet was nothing bombastic: quite closed and delicate, with some dried flower notes and earthy overtones.

It was the "stoffa" as we would say in Italian, that really impressed. "Stoffa" is like fabric or stuffing, and the Trotanoy 1982 has good body and structure that will last it well. Leaving it in the glass a while, it becomes softer and changes slightly, warming to a more open bouquet.

Not bad at all for a wine dating 27 years and making me feel like I have plenty ahead of me, proving that 1982 is a vintage to be reckoned with ;-)

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Australian prosecco: Brown Brothers upsets Italians

In a recent post on his blog Vino al vino, Franco Ziliani writes about Australian prosecco and Italian products being 'copied' overseas. At 26 comments and counting, a furore has ensued over what the Italians perceive as another episode in their beloved enogastronomic products being imitated around the world.

The more sensitive issue for Italians is not that overseas sources are copying their products, but that Italians themselves are incapable of properly protecting and promoting their culture and quality produce.

My take? Prosecco is a type of grape, so it is permissable that it be used in other wine making regions, Italy or overseas, and that it be given that name. For example, when, in Australia and the rest of the world, you could no longer say "Champagne", we were talking about a regional name and all the tradition and culture that lies behind that wine making technique. That does not mean we can no longer write "chardonnay" on a bottle of sparkling wine, it being the grape variety most used in that style of wine.

In addition, the Italians need to first learn to appreciate their own produce. Prosecco is one of the most bastardised words in wine in Italy, much like spumante, and many Italians drink "prosecco" as an aperitif without knowing what it is, whether that's what's really in the glass and whether it's of quality or not.

As pointed out in many of the comments on Vino al vino, the Italians need to devise a comprehensive system of protecting and promoting their own products. As one reader says, a wine tasting once a year of authentic Italian wine at the embassy in the US (and in any other country for that matter), does not constitute a concerted PR effort in the face of the many imitation Italian products that exist.

The argument is far more complex than I have been able to outline here, but it will be interesting to see if it becomes another example of intellectual property in the wine making world. For my part, I would be interested in trying the Brown Brothers prosecco, if only to taste an expression of this wine from another part of the world. That I would favour it over a good Italian prosecco from Valdobbiadene for all its tradition, culture and quality is another debate.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Wines from Slovenia: finding Pulec Wines at Vinitaly

The owner of Pulec wines happens to be a very nice man, and while his stand of wines from Slovenia at Vinitaly is nothing remarkable, it is worth a detour both for the welcome from the owner and the wines themselves.

Pulec wines is just across the border from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy’s renowned white wine region of excellence. In addition, Pulec wines shares the same territory of the Collio DOC area of Friuli, which can be seen as a guarantee of quality.

Their wine range from Slovenia includes among the whites: friulano (formerly known as tocai friulano), ribolla gialla, pinot grigio and chardonnay, and for the reds: cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

I found the friulano (denominated sauvignonasse in Slovenia) and pinot grigio particularly impressive, with lovely intense perfumes and very soft in the palate. They are quite high in alcohol but should be great food matching wines. I also tried the cabernet sauvignon which was quite young, but showing excellent promise. It was full-bodied and tannic but its fruit and vegetable flavours should come to the fore in time.

Looking at the Pulec Wines gallery, you can see what a beautiful area they are in, with hillside terrain providing an ideal micro-climate. While the family still sells some of its grapes, they plan to increase their own bottling and labeling in time, with a new cellar that is currently on hold due to the economic downturn. Cellar visits in Slovenia are possible though.

Among the elbowing for space and the showing off of many visitors to Vinitaly, this was a truly unique and pleasant experience from a company proud of its traditions, and who believes in the quality and potential of its wines. I would say that if you’re looking for something different, Pulec Wines is definitely worth exploring.

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