European Wine Classifications

I’m biting off way more than I can chew explaining classifications of wine in a short blog post but it’s valuable to know especially when shopping. I’m sure many of you have looked at the classifications on labels and wondered what they meant.

This information will be very general and probably out dated over time but here goes…

Classifications guarantee the requirements for the specific classification have been met and generally designate rank, but are not a guarantee of quality. The requirements vary and get more specific the greater the classification. Think of the classification system as a pyramid where the 1st Tier in the chart below is the highest rank of the pyramid and the 4th Tier is the lowest rank.

 

EUROPEAN WINE CLASSFICATIONS

Country 1st Tier 2nd Tier 3rd Tier 4th Tier
France AOP/AOC*

Grand & Premier Cru1

AOP/AOC2* Vin de Pays/IGP2 Vin de Table/France2
Italy DOCG3 DOC3 IGT/IGP3 Vino da Tavola
Spain DOCa DO/DO Pago Vino de la Tierra Vino de Mesa
Germany Prädikatswein5 QbA Landwein Deutscher Tafelwein

*The geographic area of an AOC varies greatly from a region to small vineyard.

1In Bordeaux, Premier Cru refers to the top level within the Grand Cru, which makes Premier Cru the highest level. In Burgundy, Grand Cru refers to the top level and Premier Cru follows in second place.

2In 2012 the EU changed the titles but you will still see labels with old titles

3In 2008 the EU changed the law to combine DOCG/DOC to DOP; however, tradition has kept Italians from changing on labels. IGT was changed under the same law to IGP this may be seen on some labels.

Note: When you see “Chianti Classico DOCG” on a label, it refers to wine made from the historical heart of Chianti dating back to the Middle Ages with somewhat higher standards.

5Prädikatswein are further classified by ripeness.  In ascending order, they are – Kabinett, Spätlese, Aulese, Beerenaulese, Eiswien, Trockenbeerenaulese

 

Adapted from Neel Burton https://outre-monde.com/

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Secrets to Italian Wine

After living in Italy for 3 years and learning as much as I could about Italian wine I figured out a few keys that may be helpful for people trying to unlock the secrets to Italian wine and find something really good to drink.

It was an arduous task…tasting, traveling and conversing but I was able to work through it and set up a delectable nearly 500 bottle wine collection. So let me fill you in on a few important keys to consider when purchasing Italian wine.

Inexpensive Is Good

Now don’t get me wrong there are hundreds of delicious bottles of Brunello di Montalcinos, Amarones, Barolos and Barbarescos in the Italian wine market but if the recession is catching up with you do not despair – your days of craving complex, bold, beautiful Italian wine will not have to come to an end.  The wonderful thing about Italian wine is there are many that cost sub $20 and are really rather lovely.  For example, if you like the spice of Zinfandel – try a Primitivo from Puglia or if you prefer Sauvignon Blanc – try a Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino from Campania.

Don’t Let Classification Fool You

In the states American wine classification is not as widely prominent as for European wines which deem their classifications quite important.  The whole classification system could take pages to explain so let me just briefly give you the guidelines for the Italian classification system (which is designated on the wine bottle).

The system has a 4 tier structure which labels the lowest level as basic table wine (VdT or vino da tavola), the next higher level as wine having a specific geographic indication (IGT or indicazione geografica tipica), the third highest level being DOC (denominazione di originie controllata) meaning it not only grows vineyards in a specific geographical area but follows several other quality control guidelines and the final and highest level DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) means the wine is not only controlled it is also guaranteed.  This designation is usually set for the historical wines of the country.

For you visual folks out there it looks like this:

I’m giving you the wine pyramid basically to tell you to toss it out the window when buying Italian wine.  Why?  Have you ever heard of Super Tuscan wines?  These are highly regarded wines yet they are not DOCG or even DOC wines – they dwell on the second to the lowest level of the wine pyramid as IGT wines.  So don’t be fooled there are many excellent Italian wines with the IGT or even the VdT classification that could blow your socks off.

Plan A Trip

I am sure many of you would kill for a trip to Italy and let me encourage you to try to make that become a reality but not just because of it’s historical claim or the great food.  The real key to finding great Italian wine is in visiting the country.  Not only because there are hundreds of small family run wineries that don’t import any of their fabulous wine but also because if you go over there and drive up to one of these small wineries, you take with you not only some fabulous wine but probably a full belly, a new friend and a memory that can’t be beat!

Pyramid: www.iwinealot.blogspot.com

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Interview with Laura Gray – Il Palazzone, Montalcino IT

I met Laura through this website when she read my article on a trip to Montalcino. I was sadden to learn I was a stone’s throw from Il Palazzone while tromping around Montalcino and missed their winery entirely. Laura and I have become “Internet friends” over the last year as I’ve become enamoured with Il Palazzone. I was thrilled Laura took the time out of her busy schedule to do this interview. I hope you enjoy…

1. How long has Il Palazzone been around – what is it’s history?
Il Palazzone was founded the late 1980s and was bought by the current owner in 2000. There are documents that mention the presence of vineyards on the property in 13th century so it seems certain that wine has always been produced here.

2. Where are you located?
The estate is just minutes from the centre of Montalcino. There are signs for the property at the mosaic-man roundabout, directly below the Fortress.

3. How many vineyards do you have?
We have a total of ten acres of vineyards in three quite different areas of Montalcino. All the vineyards are planted with Sangiovese Grosso and are authorized for the production of Brunello.

The wonderful thing about Montalcino is the enormous variety of terroir and the micro-climate in a rather restricted production area. This means that the grapes from each of our vineyards have quite different and complimentary characteristics.

The Due Porte vineyard, our youngest, is 530 metres above sea level and north-west facing. The altitude gives us excellent ventilation and an extreme day/night thermal excursion which is ideal for developing aromatics. The Vigna del Capa, located down below the hamlet of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, is over 200 meters lower and south facing so presents strong fruit and body. The vineyards here are over thirty years old. The harvest is distinguished by lovely saline mineral notes thanks to the presence of marine fossils in the soil. The third vineyard, also over 30 years old, is also close to Castelnuovo dell’Abate, in an area known as “La Fornace” due to the iron, magnesium and manganese in the soil. The grapes from this vineyard have a distinctive mineral component.

4. How much wine do you make?
We make between 8,000 and 12,000 bottles a year. We keep our yields low in order to make the best possible wines. We are in the lucky position of being able to make vintage-based decisions. This is important in Montalcino since one of the DOCG regulations prohibits any kind of mechanical intervention with climate e.g. irrigations, smudge pots etc.

5. What wines do you make?
We make Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Rosso del Palazzone (a 100% Sangiovese table wine) and Lorenzo & Isabelle IGT Toscana. Lorenzo & Isabelle is a Supertuscan made to commemorate the memory of the owners’ parents and their splendid marriage, which is honoured by the harmony and balance of the blend of varietals: Cabernet France, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot. So far we have only released the 2005 vintage of this wine.

6. What methods of fermentation and aging do you use?
Our wines ferment in stainless steel and, when possible, we allow the natural yeasts to start fermentation. The wine then goes into enormous botti, large Slavonian oak barrels. The current DOCG legislation for Brunello prescribes 2 years in wood before release on the 5th January after harvest. We still respect the original legislation since our Brunello always spends four years or more in wood.

7. How long should you cellar your wines?
It depends very much on the vintage – and, of course, whether the wine can be cellared properly. If you are planning on keeping a Brunello upright on a mantelpiece in full sunlight it would be better to drink it straight away… As a traditional style Brunello, our wines are made to evolve and develop in complexity over time. A great vintage (2006, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1997) can easily spend 15 years improving. The oldest vintage that we have in the estate library is the 1995 which I “have” to taste periodically. This wine has yet to peak and is drinking beautifully at the moment. Often a good Brunello will be like a tight ball of wool. All the elements are there but they will only unravel if you give them time.

8. Is your wine available for sale in the United States?  If so, where?
Yes! We are one of two Brunello’s in Domaine Select Wine Estates portfolio (www.domaineselect.com) They are based in New York but have a network all over the US. The owner is an American so our US presence is very important to us.

9. Tell us about your olive oil production and program?
We make about 700 half litre bottles of IGP Toscana Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We pick the olives by hand and press within hours of picking at the award-winning Franci press. Our yields are preposterously low – usually less than 9kg of oil for every 100 kgs of olives picked. The result is exquisite oil, with a lovely artichoke bouquet and the elegance typical of high altitude oils. The IGP certification means that the oil is made within Tuscany and has undergone panel testing and lab analysis to meet very high standards of quality and “tipicità”. In order to place this liquid gold we created a club in which members own an olive tree. They have their name on a hand-painted ceramic plaque which hangs on their tree and a certificate of ownership plus three bottles of freshly pressed oil delivered to them. I have just finished sending out the harvest 2010 oil to all our members.

10. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you and your husband meet, how many children do you have, etc.
I’m always rather embarrassed by this question since visitors often assume that I left Britain with a training in wine and a burning ambition to be in this sector. Actually I graduated with a degree in English Literature from Oxford University and a burning ambition to be with my Italian boyfriend. Who happened to be from Montalcino and who I have since married. This all started thanks to my parents who made the mistake of taking me to Tuscany as an adolescent, full of Bertolucci images and E.M.Forster quotes. Marco and I now have three children whose names (Isla, James and Nia) and red hair are testimony to my Scottish genes. Along the way we have had a cult restaurant (La Fortezza del Brunello, S.Angelo in Colle, 6 tables, 600 wines..), I qualified as a sommelier and now find myself with a fifteen year career of winery administration behind me. . Sometimes I wonder what I would be doing now if Marco had happened to be from Milan…

11. What is always in your fridge?
My mother-in-law’s tomato salsa, pecorino (sheeps’ cheese from nearby Pienza) and anchovies “sotto pesto”

12. What wine do you always have around to drink?
Our house quaffing wine is the Rosso del Palazzone and whatever is Marco’s latest experiment from the cellar. One of the many advantages of living on site is that every evening we inherit whatever has been opened in tasting room.

13. What wine do you serve for special occasions?
Apart from Brunello, my favourite wines are Amarone and Sagrantino di Montefalco.

Anything else that you’d like to share?
We love receiving visitors to the property and showing people what we do here. We are building a new cellar which will be solar powered. This is just part of our efforts to make the best possible decisions in terms of the environment; we use locally sourced untreated posts in the vineyard, have adopted a lighter bottle and recycled cardboard for our boxes and, most importantly, we do manual work in the vineyard whenever we can and intervene as little as possible.

If you can’t visit in person but would like to look through a little window onto Montalcino, you can follow Il Palazzone on Twitter (@ilpalazzone) . We were the first estate in Italy to put our twitter id on the label. We are also on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ilpalazzone).

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Picnic On The Beach

My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary.  It is amazing to reflect back on a life that started as a couple, grew into a family and now is in the thick of tag teaming raising a child.  We’ve shared such a full, fun-packed ride.  But this is not a Hallmark card so let’s move on….

I was looking through a MINI Cooper magazine my father gave me when I came across an article on picnics – what foods to take, what wine to drink, etc.  It inspired me to buy a picnic basket and take my husband on a beach picnic to celebrate our many happy years together.  I thought it might be a fun twist to the typical “get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant” type celebration we usually do.

I searched the internet for the perfect picnic basket.  It had to have wine glasses, real plates (plastic was out),  silverware and have an overall cool look about it.  I was surprised to see so many sites devoted just to picnic baskets but the options became narrower the more I looked.  I ordered one but sent it back for poor quality (the challenges of internet shopping) but then I found a second one that was perfect!

Our date started by going to our wine cellar and selecting a special wine.  We chose a 2004 Brunello di Montalcino from Il Palazzone. This is a winery I stumbled on too late in our Italian adventures to visit  but sent our current landlords there on a recent Italian vacation.  Laura Gray*, the estate manager, gave them the red carpet treatment and our landlords in turn brought this bottle of Brunello back for us!  Il Palazzone is a very small winery producing only 8,000 bottles of wine a year.  Although American owned Laura and her husband, Marco Sassetti, an indigenous Montalcinese live on and run the estate.  After enjoying our bottle, I can assure you the wines of Il Palazzone are exquisite and a perfect reflection of why Brunello di Montalcino is a prestigious DOCG wine worthy to be the center of any special occasion (see “Boots And Brunello In Montalcino”).  Our Brunello was bold, balanced and complex with a beautiful bouquet of dark cherries and plums along with notes of leather.  It was really quite decadent.  We were surprised and sad to see the bottle empty so quickly.

Since my husband is into food almost as much as I am, we decided to include shopping for the picnic as part of the date.  We went to Boney’s Bayside Market – a quaint market that has healthy and gourmet foods all perfectly wrapped up into one.  We spread our blanket on beautiful Coronado Beach and enjoyed our picnic fare as we watched the fog roll in and the dolphins gracefully swim by.  It was one of the best anniversary celebrations yet…and we even got to wear flip-flops!

I encourage you to pack your own picnic and spread out a blanket on the beach or a grassy knoll.  In fact, I’ll give you our menu as a sample to spark your gourmand within.  Don’t forget your wine opener.  Now go out there and have fun!

Menu

2 Demi Baguette (perfect size for the basket)

Crackers

Black Peppered Crusted Brie

5 Year Aged Canadian Sharp Cheddar

English Cotswold

Thin Sliced Proscuitto, Coppa & Genova Salame

Pork & Chicken Liver Mousse With Black Truffles

Seafood Pate

Roasted & Marinated Red Tomatoes

Fresh Sliced Strawberries, Blackberries & Blueberries

Chewy Date Nut Bars

Pellegrino And A Great Bottle of Wine

*To make reservations to visit Il Palazzone in beautiful Montalcino, Italy contact Laura Gray at laura@ilpalazzone.com or Tel. (0039) 0577 846142 and tell her Julie from Deep Red Cellar sent you – I guarantee the red carpet will be rolled out for you too! 🙂

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A Very Nifty Gadget

I was roaming the streets of Montalcino on a very blustery, cold January day when I stopped in a restaurant for lunch. As I settled into the warmth of the restaurant I discovered something spectacular.  At a nearby table the waiter was pouring a glass of wine for a customer using the coolest gadget I’d ever seen!  It attached to the wine bottle much like a cork stopper  but had an almost Medusa like contraption coming out of it which worked like a mini decanter! That is when I first laid eyes on the “Centellino.”

The “Centellino” decants, oxidizes and pours the perfect portion of wine.  The official “Centellino” website (www.centellino.it) explains the process:  “The wine during its flow down into the “amphora” spreads on the walls and frees all its flavors and organoleptic properties.”  If for some reason you don’t finish the bottle, leave the “Centellino” in the bottle for unaltered preservation until your next glass.  It is a patented design hand-made by blown glass in Italy.  Amazing I thought – what a brilliant invention!

Much to my surprise and delight I found one of those nifty gadgets for sale later in the afternoon at an Enoteca as I was buying bottles of Brunello di Montalcino and Super Tuscans. Without a second thought I purchased one for myself and absolutely love it.  It works like a charm and is uniquely lovely stirring up conversation at the dinner table.

If you think for a moment that I would let you in on this awesome toy without a chance to own one for yourself then you don’t know me very well.  I just happen to have the “Centellino” in my store.  You can easily shop for it under “nifty gadgets” or click on this link: Centellino Areadivino Wine Aerator & Decanter.

By the way, this would be a great Father’s Day gift! 🙂

source:  www.centellino.it
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A Sentimental Wine For A Sentimental Night

Last night as I sat down to dinner, I was exhausted.  Movers had left after 3 days of packing up my home (I say home because the building is only a house – the home part went away in boxes and crates).

A few hours earlier, I had stopped by my favorite caseficio to pick up a few goodies.  Since my time in Italy is getting short, I am filling myself with as much of the local products as possible.  Tonight, I shopped for mozzarella di bufala, proscuitto crudo, bresoala, and rustic bread. I added a few ingredients from my nearly bare cupboards to throw together simple and delicious antipasti.  I’ll give you the recipe for bresaola salad at the end – it is one of my favorites!

My wine collection shipped back to the states a few weeks ago but my husband had enough foresight to set aside a few special bottles for the end.  We have been working hard the past few days and are aware of our limited time left  in Italy so decided to open a sentimental bottle for dinner. We chose a 2003 Piedirosso DOC from Cantine del Mare. This bottle was sentimental for several reasons. The vintage, 2003, was the first year Cantine del Mare produced wine. The winery is in our quaint, little town of Monte di Procida. Our dear friend, Pasquale Massa, is one of the owners and was generous enough to give us this bottle to enjoy.

The wine was medium bodied, ruby red and really lovely.  The bouquet was quite light.  My husband put it well when he said it was like a Pinot Noir with a little tannin.  There were aromas of plum, black cherry, raspberries, leather and earth.  The tannins were smooth verifying the wine’s age.  Upon sipping, I tasted raspberries, strawberries, cherries, a hint of leather and a hint of spice.   As I ate, drank and wound down from the week, I was impressed with what a delightful addition this wine was to my candlelit meal – even if it was on a patio table in the middle of my empty living room.

Bresaola Salad

2 servings

6 slices bresaola

1 handful rucola (arugula)

6 shavings of parmigiano reggiano

1/2 lemon

olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

On a platter, spread out the handful of rucola.  Drizzle with olive oil and the juice of the lemon.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Place bresaola slices on top arranging in a circle, then parmigiano reggiano.  Enjoy!

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Bella Umbria

A couple weekends ago I packed my bags and went off to Umbria with my husband, daugther and two other terrific families to a memorable gem high in the hills of Fratta Todina in Umbria.

I know this is a wine and gourmet food site, not a travel site, but I would be remiss if I neglected to share our accommodations with you.  We stayed at the extremely lovely La Palazzetta del Vescovo.  I first found this Relais on “Trip Advisor” after many hours of searching for a great get-away.  I was intrigued because it had many reviews and NOT ONE was negative.  Odd, because there is always some curmudgeon out there who has something negative to say about every place I’ve ever seen reviewed.  My first visit resulted in me adding to the glowing reviews on “Trip Advisor.”  This past visit was my third time back to La Palazzetta del Vescovo and it was more like going to see good friends then it was going to a place to stay.  The structure used to be a vacation home of a bishop and the owners have beautifully restored the once pile of rubble with impeccable quality and attention to detail.  Stefano and Paola, are lovely, gracious hosts who make you feel like you’ve known them for years.  The food is prepared by Paola with passion as evidenced in each taste.  The wine is carefully selected by Stefano, a certified Sommelier, whose ability to find exquisite wines and pair them with Paola’s food is superb. Chiaretta is an added bonus – a bouncy, happy dog who accompanies Stefano to greet guests upon arrival.

While staying at our truly delightful accommodations, Stefano kindly set up a wine and olive oil tasting at Tenuta Le Velette in Orvieto.  The estate is in the heart of the Orvieto Classico production (a DOC white wine). The property’s history dates back to the Etruscans and includes cellars dug out from tufa stone, a typical, volcanic stone of the area.  The estate has the ideal placement on the hills of Orvieto to produce outstanding wine and olive oil.  The owner, Corrado Bottai, generously spent several hours with us.  He took us all around the grounds.  We saw numerous cellars, some started by monks.  They were dark with cave-like tunnels and alcoves where dusty bottles of wine were hiding.  The electricity kept going out so we had to use a candelabra – it felt like the best stocked haunted house ever.  Another cellar had  floors, walls, and ceilings covered in a cushy, colorful array of white, orange, and rust mold.  Signore Bottai assured us this was some of the best real estate to age fine wines.


The tasting took place in a beautiful room in the manor.  It was adorned with fresco painted ceilings, opulent lighting and a large wooden table full of meats, cheeses, breads, olive oil and most importantly, several bottles of wine.  We tasted 6 wines – all of which were delightful.  As a matter of fact, we enjoyed them so much, my husband and I bought every varietal we tasted.    In addition, we purchased 3 bottles of their wonderfully pungent olive oil.

The Whites –
Berganorio (Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, Dupreggio)
Lunato Orvieto Classico Superiore DOC (Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, Dupreggio)
Grechetto Solo Uve (Grechetto)

The Reds –
Calanco (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon)
Gaudio (Merlot)
Accordo (Sangiovese)

I especially loved the rawness of the Sangiovese.  It was a great expression of what Sangiovese lends to the numerous varietals it intertwines with in so many wines out there in today’s market.

Signore Bottai left a great impression on me.  He has an excellent grasp on the English language but without all the colloquialisms Americans use.  This resulted in his mind churning for the appropriate words to express himself.  He spoke beautiful, mindful expressions that made me envious of his vocabulary.  I wrote down some of these so I wouldn’t forget them.  One of my favorite quotes was:  “Sangiovese is a great confusion in the glass.”  I couldn’t agree more!

I left Tenuta Le Velette with yet another great adventure under my belt.  I was somewhat full from wine and antipasti but that didn’t stop me from going back to enjoy Paola’s cooking and Stefano’s wine selections.  This was my last night and I was not going to miss out.  My friends and I dined on Cinghiale (wild boar) marinated in local red wine and drank a lovely bottle of Montefalco…if only I could just move in with Paola and Stefano…maybe I could be the housekeeper…the gardener….the dishwasher…..

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Boots And Brunello In Montalcino

Most people know the Italians are good at making leather products and wine (among other things) so it stands to reason that when my family and I took a trip to Montalcino, those two things were on my mind.

Montalcino is located  in the Val d’Orcia portion of Tuscany about 29 miles from Sienna.  Settled during the Etruscan times, it was named after the “holm oak” which used to cover it’s terrain.  Montalcino was known for it’s tanneries and high quality leather goods before it fell on hard times.  It’s economic boost was enhanced due to the production of Brunello di Montalcino, the long-aging, luscious, red wine made from “Sangiovese Grosso” grapes.  Brunello di Montalcino was the first wine to be designated as DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e  Garantita).  Today, there are over 200 producers of Brunello di Montalcino (aka “the little brown one” in reference to the color of the grape).  In addition, Montalcino also produces Rosso di Montalcino and many lovely Super Tuscans among other wines.

I discovered while doing my research that there are clones of the Sangiovese grape which make up the different types of wine (i.e Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Nobile di Montepulciano, etc.).  To be honest, I could not find a definitive answer as to exactly how many clones are in existence.  I read anywhere from a whopping 650 “presumed” clones,  to about 100 or so nationally recognized clones, to as little as 12 types of strains.  Regardless of the type of clone, Sangiovese is characteristically known as a quality grape that has the ability to age at least 10 years.

It was incredibly cold as I walked through this beautiful, little town – amazed at the number of Enotecas that lined the streets.  I couldn’t help but be excited at the thought of 1,000’s upons 1,000’s of bottles of wine surrounding me!  I stopped in two shops (below is Enoteca di Piazza), was given generous tastings at both, and piled the car with cases of wine.

Hungry from the shopping extravaganza, my family and I headed to “Taverna del Grappolo Blu.”  A restaurant which came highly recommended from several reading sources as well as my tour guide from “Banfi.”  This is a cozy niche run by Luciano and Maria Pia.  It’s tucked in a small alley and offers authentic, rustic food.  I ordered “Pinci al Ragu di Carne,” a house specialty made of a meat sauce and hand-rolled pasta.  The “Pinci” looked sort of like a cross between spaetzle and thick spaghetti.  To say it was delicious is an understatement.  It tasted so warm and comforting after a day out in the cold.  After the extensive Brunello tasting earlier in the day, Rosso di Montalcino was the perfect choice to accompany this meal.

All trips I take are for different reasons but this particular trip had a purpose – to buy regional wines that stood out and begged to come home with me.  That was easy to accomplish.  And if you’re wondering about the boots…that was also easy to accomplish. As a matter of fact, even my husband purchased some fashion-forward models.

NOTES:
-Wines from Montalcino can be purchased from my affiliates: WineAccess.comWine Messenger and Snooth
-Taverna dei Grappolo Blu, Scale di Via Moglio 1, Montalcino, IT  +39 0577847150
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Castello Banfi – Montalcino

My family and I went on a trip to Montalcino recently and took some time to stop by the famous Castello Banfi Estate  for a tour and tasting.  I am always surprised at how these unique opportunities stare me in the face here in Italy.  I scheduled our appointment on the telephone. We arrived to a friendly greeting and a personal tour of the facility followed by a private tasting in their beautiful Enoteca.  I realize we were visiting during the “low season;” however, amazed that we were the only ones around to see and experience this wonderful estate.

Castello Banfi is comprised of about 7,100 acres, 2,400 of which are made up of a “constellation” of single vineyards and the remaining acreage dedicated to olives, fruits, etc.  The winery was founded by John Mariani, Sr., an American of Italian heritage, and is still run by the Mariani family today.  This estate produces 26 different labels, from Brunello di Montalcino, DOCG Riserva to Moscadello di Montalcino, DOC with a smattering of Brunellos and  Super Tuscans in between (they also have an estate in Piedmont that produces 15 different labels).  As you can imagine, this estate is massive producing approximately 10 million bottles of wine annually!  They have a state-of-the-art facility and are leading the way on the experimental forefront.

I was intrigued by their hybrid tanks that they use for fermenting some of their wines.  These unique tanks are stainless steel on the bottom and top with wood in the center making for a very eye-catching impression.  For traditional aging, they use Slovenian oak casks and barriques of French and American oak.  Always attending to detail, Banfi winemakers personally select the raw wood from the forests of France according to their origin and physical characteristics for their French barriques.  They season these barriques at the estate for 3 years (instead of the traditional 2 years).  According to Banfi, this gives the wood rounder and more persistent aromas.  Coopers (or barrel makers)  use an indirect and cooler toasting than usual for about 3x longer than the traditional period of time to produce a more uniform and balanced flavor.  Their custom-made barrels are larger (350 L.) than the traditional barrique (225 L.) as it is believed to provide ideal wood surface to volume of wine ratio. Their steel tanks are numerous and vary in size but some are by far the largest I’ve ever seen.  Depending on the wine, they use various aging methods and combinations.  One method has them combining wine aged in Slovenian casks with wine aged in French barriques, another method has them aging wine in various sizes of oak barrels and then of course, they do steel tank aging and bottle aging.


We finished our tour with a tasting at the Enoteca which is just as beautiful in it’s own right.  We were given a generous tasting flight that helped us decide on our “souvenirs.”  We walked away with Poggio Alle Mura, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (made from select vineyards producing consistently outstanding Brunello), Summus Sant’Antimo DOC, and BelnerO IGT (both Super Tuscans).

If you would like to try a bottle, or two, or three of Banfi wines, you can shop: WineAccess.com or type “Banfi” in my “Snooth” search window to start shopping.

*written with information obtained from our lovely tour guide, AnnaLisa Gori, Banfi visitor guide and www.castellobanfi.com
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Falanghina

I have run the full gamut of wine drinking over the years. I started, as most of you, with the natural progression…..occasionally drinking white zinfandel at an office party or restaurant then slowly working up to Chardonnay. After many glasses and some apprehension, I made the big switch to red wine – enjoying mostly merlots and maybe an occasional pinot noir. Then I expanded my palate to the oaky, tannic wines of cabernet sauvignon. From there, I drank all kinds of red but stayed exclusively in that color realm assuming that white wines were for sissys – beginner drinkers.
How wrong I was! I have become energetically aware of the beauty of white wine in the last couple of years and, once again, drink it quite often – especially in the summer. Remember in my last post when I said I had a great white wine I wanted to tell you about……well, sit back as I tell you about falanghina.
In southern Italy’s Campania region, falanghina is one of the more prominent white wines produced (along with greco and fiano). The primary area for falanghina runs mostly along the coast from the Falerno del Massico DOC zone in the north, past Naples, and down to the beautiful Amalfi Coast. It is believed that Roman merchants brought the falanghina grape over from Greece many, many, many, many, moons ago. The word, falanghina, originated from the Latin word “phalange” which means stake or pole in reference to the method used of training the vine on the pole.
Blah, blah, blah………let’s get to the good stuff. Falanghina is a wonderfully, light, refreshing wine with delicate aromas and a pleasant palate. It requires a dry, warm climate which makes it perfectly balanced with good acidity and fruity notes. This wine is best served as an aperitif at 8-10 degrees Celsius. Some say it tastes similar to pinot grigio. It is often produced in a blend with other local varieties such as verdeca, coda di volpe, biancolella, and greco but can be great on its own as well. Some of the more prominent producers are Feudi di San Gregorio in Avellino and Ocone in Benevento. Within the Costa d’Amalfi DOC subzone, “Cuomo’s Ravello” is some of the best available with distinctly floral and citrus notes.
I have become specifically infatuated with the Campi Flegrei DOC falanghina of my friend, Pasquale, at Cantine del Mare (http://www.cantinedelmare.it/)- a local winery in my town of Monte di Procida. He produces two types of 100% falanghina wine both with the typical straw yellow color and delicate, fruity bouquets. The first type is his mainstream bottling and shows hints of vanilla and peaches. This wine has the unique benefit of having 15% of it passing briefly through barrels before it is mixed with the remaining wine and bottled aged. The second, “Sorbo Bianco,” is a little more full-bodied with careful grape selection and a dominant aroma of green apple along with hints of peaches, pineapple and vanilla. This wine (100%) is stored in oak barrels for approximately 6 months before it finishes aging in the bottle. Besides being a lovely aperitif, both wines pair superbly with fish and shellfish.
The wines of Cantine del Mare are not exported (yet) but I have noticed falanghina popping up at local gourmet and grocery stores in America. If you’re intrigued, I encourage you to go out and find a bottle to try yourself. And while you’re at it, purchase the ingredients for “Insalata Caprese” that I wrote about in my inaugural post – these two paired together are a match made in heaven. Enjoy!

Sources: Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, Vino Italiano, the Regional Wines of Italy, (New York, Clarkson Potter/Publisher, 2002); Rinaldo Pilla, www.pillawine.com, (Davenport, 2005)

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