Oct 132016
 

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the first and oldest DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controlata e Garantita) in Italy, held a birthday party this weekend to celebrate fifty years of making wine under the stringent requirements of Europe’s appellation system.

As you might expect, the party featured fabulous regional cuisine, a multitude of wine personalities from around the world, and spectacular tastings of both modern vintages and bottles that harkened back to that day in 1966 when it all began. And the town was aglow with smiles and toasts.

The day began with a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Federation of DOCs, the organization that administrates all of the regional wines of Italy, followed by a tasting of Vino Nobile from vintages as far back as that original 1966. Stunning wines.

On the musical side there was a performance of original music for the DiVin Orchestra of Montepulciano, made up of instruments created exclusively from materials found in a winery, like barrels, for drums, bottles for xylophones and flutes, and even hoses and funnels for trumpets and trombones. A later concert with more traditional instruments featured an ode to Montepulciano, with text written by Mr, Contucci himself.

Of course, the town of Montepulciano began long before that. Its City Hall was built by the Medicis hundreds of years ago, and the town itself goes back more than 2000 years. Its strategic hilltop made it an important satellite between Rome and Florence, between the Vatican and the Medicis. Some of the performances took place in the charming theater that was built nearly two hundred years ago in the form of La Scala in Milan.

All of that history was on display this weekend. The main piazza of the town, where the Cathedral looms over one side, and the City Hall defends another, crowds of celebrants cheered and toasted the ceremonies. And a grand procession led up to the very top of Montepulciano, where the old Fortezza was renovated as the new home of the Consorzio di Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the now fifty year-old organization that manages the wine production for the region. The fortress, originally built to protect the town, now houses a glorious new visitor center built on the ruins of an Etruscan wine cellar, which are visible through the glass floor of the new tasting room.

Just below the piazza, the art museum proudly displayed its most recent discovery–a Caravaggio that had gone unnoticed as a part of the collection for many years, hidden behind a thick layer of dust. When a visiting expert peered carefully through the centuries of accumulation, there was huge excitement. It was, in fact, a Caravaggio. The painting now enjoys a private room in the museum–and rewards those who spend the effort to seek it out.

Much like Montepulciano itself.

Jan 162015
 
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Photo (c) Tracy Ellen Kamens

Although wine has been produced within Umbria for centuries, its reputation for high quality wine didn’t develop until more recently. Specifically, the region owes much of its current popularity to Wine Enthusiast magazine’s 2012 European Winery of the Year: Arnaldo Caprai. In 1971, Arnaldo Caprai, founder of one of Italy’s leading textile companies, purchased an estate in the region and planted Sagrantino, a minor grape variety at the time, but indigenous to the area. The grape was most commonly associated with its use by the Franciscan monks who crafted a sweet wine for use in religious observance.

With an ambitious aim, Arnaldo set out to make a historic wine with the production of a dry Sagrantino, but his first trials weren’t very good. When Arnaldo’s son, Marco, joined the winery as manager in 1988, he began to work with the University of Milan – a partnership that still continues to this day. This project focused on the need to truly understand the Sagrantino grape, particularly its structure and tannins. After 15 years of intensive study of the grape’s genetics, they were able to identify the three best clones, which they then patented and planted. Ultimately, producing high quality Sagrantino dry wines and fulfilling Arnaldo’s dream.

Currently, Arnaldo Caprai has 136 planted hectares planted to vines of which 40 hectares are dedicated to Sagrantino, planted on the best sites, especially hill tops. Sangiovese, Cannaiolo and other grapes fill out the remaining acreage. A specially designated vineyard is planted to 20 different varieties from which the best grapes are selected each vintage and then made into the winery’s Cuvée Secrete, first produced in 2012.

Among the winery’s viticultural endeavors has been its emphasis on sustainability. In 2008, Arnaldo Caprai launched its Sustainability Project, Montefalco 2015: The New Green Revolution. Eschewing the limited nature of organic viticulture, instead, the adopted protocols are evaluated for their collective social, political and environmental impact before they are implemented. In this regard, an agricultural machine was adapted to capture the chemicals used to protect the vines from mildew, and recycle them, thereby ensuring that the spray is used solely on the leaves and not dripping down into the soil. Further, while machine harvesting might be a reasonable option, the winery has chosen to continue to hand harvest its grapes to preserve employment opportunities for local workers.

Given the family’s textile connection, their textile and viticultural endeavors have been woven together. In 1992, Arnaldo Caprai Gruppo Tessile was joined by the creation of Cruciani by Luca Caprai. This new company focuses on cashmere and lace, most recently launching a subsidiary line Cruciani C in 2011. Specializing in crocheted bracelets, made of macramé lace, the concept of Cruciani C is to bring lace to a modern (and younger) audience. These multi-colored bracelets have become quite popular and the company has capitalized on this trend to raise money for various causes. A bracelet sporting a heart and grapes was designed to support Montefalco’s museum and the return of a letter, which documents Benozzo Gozzoli (fresco painter)’s love for Montefalco. Also, a bracelet with green circles acknowkedges Caprai’s commitment to the environment and its Sustainability Project, Montefalco 2015: The New Green Revolution.

May 302014
 

Artisan tableEntertaining seems to have come full circle. While intricately formal dinner parties are no longer de rigeur, the renewed focus on cocktail and dinner parties seems to imply that hosts have abandoned an haphazard approach in favor of paying attention to details and ensuring that their guests are well cared for.

This renewed emphasis on creating the perfect environment in which to entertain now extends beyond the home and into restaurants, where white plates have been banished in many establishments, which is fortunate for Jono Pandolfi. This ceramics designer has now become well-known for his dinnerware collaborations with notable chefs at high-profile restaurants such as 11 Madison Park and Nomad. You can dress your table with equally impressive style, thanks to Pandolfi’s joint project with Crate & Barrel.

Once the table has been beautifully set, adorning it with delicious food and fabulous wine is the obvious next step. At a recent event held at the Scott Conant Culinary Suite, a test kitchen space in New York’s Soho neighborhood for the noted restaurateur, the artful table brought a trusted name to the bottle and glass.

Known for its Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the #1 Italian Brand in the U.S.), the Colavita family has entered the world of wine production in partnership with Terlato Wines. In recognition that “Italy’s two most important food products are olive oil and wine,” the co-founders of Colavita USA (Enrico Colavita and John J. Profaci) were prompted to create their own brand of wine and looked to Terlato to help them realize their dream.

As explained by Giovanni Colavita, CEO of Colavita, the family approached winemaking the same way they approach olive oil production – identifying and working with the best producers throughout Italy. In this regard, the grapes for each wine are sourced from a specific region and are iconic of that region.

The collaboration and approach are certainly novel, but the selection of wines proved worthy of such an elegantly set table.

The current Colavita-Terlato portfolio includes four wines:

ColavitaColavita Pinot Grigio 2012, Trentino, Italy, $15.00
From northeastern Italy, this wine is fermented in stainless steel and is a young, fresh wine with bright acidity and nice citrus aromas and flavors.

Colavita Verdicchio di Matelica 2012, Marche, Italy, $15.00
Located in central Italy, the Marche region is known for the Verdicchio grape, which shows off the mineral characteristics of the calcareous soils, especially in the Matelica zone.

Colavita Pinot Nero 2012, Provincia di Pavia, Lombardy, Italy, $15.00
Lombardy is known for growing Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) for the production of Franciacorta, a Traditional Method sparkling wine. Here the grapes are used for crafting a well-made still wine with vibrant cherry and herbal notes. A truly fabulous Pinot Noir at this price!

Colavita Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Veneto, Italy, $23.00
A blend primarily of Corvina (70%), with Rondinella (20%) and Corvinone (10%), this wine is made using partially-dried grapes – the ripasso in Valpolicella Ripasso – which adds richness and body to the resulting wine.

Feb 212014
 
Courtesy of Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery, LLC

Courtesy of Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery, LLC

At a seminar for the American Wine Society’s annual conference, fellow TTB contributor, Mike Wangbickler, presented a session on “local wine.” As president of the Board of Directors for Drink Local Wine, Mike tried to dispel the notion that the only worthy wines in the U.S. were from California, Washington and Oregon. To support his claim, Mike had the audience blind taste a selection of five wines – not only didn’t the participants know which grape variety (or varieties) were in the glass, but they were truly clueless as to where the wine was made.

Once the wines were revealed, we found ourselves not just drinking, but enjoying, Finger Lakes Riesling, Texas Tempranillo, Ohio River Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Maryland Red Blend Landmark Reserve (69% Merlot, 19% Syrah, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot), Colorado Cabernet Franc and a Bordeaux-style blend from Virginia. (Did I mention that the last wine retails for $75.00?)

At the same conference, I had the opportunity to taste wines from Michigan. Admittedly, the state of Michigan is not my first thought when it comes to wine regions, but I was impressed with many of the wines, especially those made from Riesling, Vignoles and Cabernet Franc.

So, when a winery located in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina (technically called Ronda, NC), contacted me, I was game. Although the winery graciously invited me to attend one of their upcoming events in Ronda, my schedule prevented me from joining them; when I declined, they offered to ship the wines to me instead.

The culmination of Jay Raffaldini’s dream, Raffaldini Vineyards draws on his family’s Italian heritage, which dates back to 1348 in the town of Mantua (of Romeo & Juliet fame) in Lombardy. Jay’s own father immigrated to America shortly after World War II, choosing the state of New Jersey to make his new home.

As a Wall Street businessman, Jay had the cahones and the cash to set about establishing an Italian-style winery in the U.S. With a preference for bold reds, Jay chose to look south of the City, instead of north, for the perfect property on which to pursue his passion.

Upon discovering the area of Swan Creek in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley back in 2001, Jay had found a home for his vineyard and winery. The 43 acres of vineyards were primarily planted between 2003 and 2005. While neighboring wineries in the area haven chosen to focus on French varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Savignon and Viognier, not surprisingly, Raffaldini has opted to concentrate on Italian varieties. Consequently, Raffaldini is the only local vineyard with Sangiovese, Vermentino and Montepulciano planted. They also grow Pinot Grigio, a variety which is also found at nearby Laurel Gray Vineyards.

Despite North Carolina’s southerly location, its proximity to several mountain ranges provide high elevations and consequently, a cooler climate that the latitude would suggest (just one degree north of Sicily).

As evidence of Raffaldini’s success, it was one of ten wineries named as a “Hot Small Brand of 2009” by Wine Business Monthly magazine, sharing that honor with Pacific Rim and Abacela among others.

The company’s image comes across as a little bit confused – the family is from Lombardy, but the grapes hail from Tuscany and Southern Italy, the property boasts of a Tuscan villa and the winery’s tagline is “Chianti in the Carolinas.”

Of course, in their defense, it would have been even more challenging to try and sell Barbera or Bonarda than it already is Vermentino and Sangiovese. And, frankly, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the Raffaldini family has created an idyllic location in which to produce and taste good wine.

In perusing their website and other materials, it is clear that the owners have spared no expense in making the estate beautiful. A well appointed, Tuscan-style villa sits atop a hill, while the winery is housed in a fattoria (Italian for farmhouse). Sweeping vistas of the vineyards from the villa’s terrace make it obvious why the winery has been ranked as a top place for weddings and other events.

This is precisely the type of place that my in-laws would find and fall in love with while traveling. We have occasionally been the beneficiary of their travels, previously receiving wines from Temecula and Sonoma. Most recently, they enjoyed a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they spent considerable time tasting. In fact, they just bought a second wine refrigerator to store a case of wine purchased on that journey, which they had been encouraged to lay down for a few years.

As we continue to think locally – from beets to beef – we should be equally encouraged to seek out these local wineries. What you find just might surprise you, whether you are in your own backyard or just passing through someone else’s.

Tasting Notes
Tasting through the generous selection of samples sent by the winery, I had the opportunity to try six of their wines. In general, these were well made wines that offered some varietal characteristics, good balance and, with a few, some complexity. My preference among them was the Vermentino, Sangiovese and the sparkling Dolce Vita, which resembles an Asti wine.

Raffaldini Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2012, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $15.00
With floral and tangerine aromas on the nose, this wine has medium+ acidity, medium body, citrus and pith on the palate. It is simple, but varietally correct and pleasing.

Raffaldini Vineyards Vermentino 2012, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $19.00
Floral/blossom, pear and citrus aromas greet the nose, and are joined by beeswax on the dry palate, with medium acidity and medium+ body, culminating in long length.

Raffaldini Vineyards Sangiovese 2011, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $$18.00
This wine has cherry, oak and vanilla aromas which are repeated on the palate, along with high acidity, medium+ tannins and a slight herbal note in the finish.

Raffaldini Vineyards Sangiovese Riserva 2011, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $23.00
Although this wine is very similar to the Sangiovese 2011, the Riserva has more pronounced herbal aromas and flavors and a longer finish.

Raffaldini Vineyards Montepulciano Riserva 2011, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $29.00
This wine displays blackcherry, rosemary and vanilla notes with bright, ripe blackcherry flavors on the palate and an undercurrent of wet leaves and earth, along with medium+ tannins and full body.

Raffaldini Vineyards Dolce Vita 2012, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $16.00
This lightly sweet wine has floral and peach notes on the nose and palate, beautifully balanced by sufficient acidity and good length.

Jun 012013
 

AntinoriAmazing day yesterday in Chianti Classico.

We started with a visit to Antinori‘s stunning new world headquarters and winery in Bargino.  Half space ship, half homage to Mother Earth, it’s a futuristic vision of wine, combined with a museum of over 25 generations of Antinoris.

And the wines were just what you would expect from Piero Antinori: sleek, stylish, and impeccable–all presented by a very professional and enthusiastic staff.  This place sets a new standard for winery experiences in Italy.

And then to Mazzei, where Francesco Mazzei himself regaled us with stories of Philip Mazzei and Thomas Jefferson’s early viticulture in Virginia. He then tasted us through a magical selection of wines that were focused, concentrated, and full of finesse.

A hard act to follow.

Mazzei vineyardsDinner that night was an experiment in the new event center for Chianti Classico: the Santa Maria Monastery in Prato.  Here we watched demonstrations by seven female Michelin-rated chefs cooking dishes matched to Chianti Classico wines.  All great–but we were too polite to push our way through the throngs to get much food.

No worries.  After a brief discussion, the hosts set up a table for us in a quiet room of the monastery and served us three of the dishes:  a chicken-liver pate with mandarin oranges; a spaghetti with bread crumbs and diced anchovies; and a two-part dessert of cheese cake over a layer of toasted pistachios and a base of chocolate mousse, and a ball of stunning sour-cherry gelato over a bed of chocolate ganache.

Nice way to end a memorable day.