Grottino di Roccanova

The town of Matera in Basilicata

The town of Matera in Basilicata

Grottino di Roccanova…if you’ve never heard of it, don’t be too hard on yourself.  I chose to write about Grottino di Roccanova because it is so obscure.  If this is the first you have ever read about it, I am sure you are in good company.

Grottino di Roccanova is a small, relatively new DOC located in the Basilicata wine region – which is about as far south as you can go in Italy.  Basilicata is located on mainland Italy’s southern border, tucked in-between the “heel of the boot” (Puglia) and the “toe of the boot” (Calabria.)  Perhaps we should say Basilicata is the “instep” of Italy (or maybe not).

In 2009, Grottino di Roccanova was approved as a DOC region and became the fourth DOC located in Basilicata.  It joined three others:  – Matera DOC, Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC and Aglianico del Vulture DOC. Of course, seasoned wine students may recognize Aglianico del Vulture Superiore as Basilicata’s lone DOCG.  The richer, longer-aged version of Aglianico del Vulture received DOCG status in 2010. A wide range of wines is also produced in the region under the Basilicata IGT.

GrottinoGrottino di Roccanova DOC produces red, white, and rosé wines using primarily Sangiovese for the reds and Malvasia Bianca for the whites. The area itself is part of three communes:  Sant’Arcangelo, Castronuovo di Sant’Andrea Potenza, and Roccanova. The terrain, being made up of hills and mountains in the southern end of the Apennine Mountain Range, is rugged and diverse.

The red and rosato wines of the Grottino di Roccanova DOC are based on Sangiovese, which must be present in the wines between 60 and 85%. The remainder may be made up of Malvasia Nera, Montepulciano, and Cabernet Sauvignon; each of which may be present at levels between 5 – 30%. Any remainder may be comprised of any native red grape approved to be grown in the Basilcata IGT.

The white wines, known as Grottino di Roccanova Bianco, must be a minimum of 80% Malvasia Bianca.  The remainder of the wine may comprise any non-aromatic white variety approved to be grown in the Basilicata IGT.

More information on Grottino di Roccanova DOC may be found on the website of the Cervino Vini Company.

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Chartreuse, “Elixir of Long Life”

ChartreuseChartreuse is a spirit with a long and fascinating history. The story begins in 1605, when the monks of the Vauvert Monastery, a branch of the Carthusian Order located in a suburb of Paris, were given an ancient document by Hannibal d’Estrées, a Marshall of King Henri IV.  The manuscript was a formula for an “Elixir of Long Life,” most likely the work of a 16th century alchemist with a great knowledge of herbs and plants in the treatment of illness.

The formula, containing over 130 ingredients, was so complex that it was never fully used by the monks at the Vauvert Monastery.  However, in the early 1700’s, the monks sent the manuscript to the Grande Chartreuse – the head monastery of the Carthusian Order.  The apothecary for the Grand Chartreuse undertook an exhaustive study of the formula and, by 1737, had unraveled the mystery and designed a practical formula for the preparation of the elixir.

The monks began production of the formula, which was sold in the town of Grenoble and other villages located close to the Grande Chartreuse Monastery.  The elixir had a natural, clear green color, and from the fame of the liqueur, the color became known as “chartreuse.” Today, Chartreuse still bills itself as “the only liqueur to have a color named after it.”

The monks protected their secret recipe throughout the centuries, including the tumultuous time surrounding the French Revolution when all religious orders were Char Yellowexpelled from France.  The Chartreuse monks left France in 1793, but one monk remained behind with a copy of the original manuscript.  Another monk secretly retained the original; shortly after leaving The Grand Chartreuse Monastery he was arrested and sent to prison in Bordeaux.  However, he was not searched and eventually passed the original document to a friend, Dom Basile Nantas.  Dom Basile was convinced the Monks of the Grand Chartreuse would never return to France, so he sold the recipe to Monsier Liotard, a pharmacist in Grenoble.  The pharmacist, however, never attempted to produce the elixir.  When Monsieur Liotard died, his heirs returned the manuscript to the Chartreuse Monks.

The Monks of Chartreuse were allowed to return to their Monastery in 1816, and resumed the production of their Chartreuse elixir.  In 1838, they introduced a sweeter version of “Yellow Chartreuse” flavored with saffron.

In 1903, the French government expelled the Monks once again, and the Chartreuse distillery was nationalized. The Monks fled to Spain and built a new distillery in Tarragona where they produced a liqueur they called “Une Tarragone.”

In the years following the nationalization of the distillery and Monastery, the French government sold the Chartreuse brand and trademark to a company who set up an operation known as the “Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse.” The company went bankrupt in 1929. Upon the announcement of the bankruptcy, friends of the monks Char VEPpurchased the remaining shares and gifted them back to the Monastery.

After regaining ownership of their brand and trademark, the Monks returned to their distillery located in Fourvoirie, not far from their original Monastery, and resumed production of authentic Chartreuse liqueurs.  When, in 1935, the Fourvoirie distillery was severely damaged by a landslide, the Monks moved to Voiron, where the production facility still exists today.

The selection and preparation of the “secret” blend of over 130 herbs is still done today in the Monastery.  Once prepared, the ingredients are taken to the production facility in Voiron where they are macerated, distilled, and aged in oak casks for several years.  In addition to “Green Chartreuse” and “Yellow Chartreuse,” a special bottling known as V.E.P. Chartreuse (“Viellissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé”) is produced.   V.E.P. is aged longer than the other two products, and is packaged in a reproduction of the bottles used in 1840.  Each bottle of V.E.P. is individually numbered, sealed with wax and presented in a wooden box.

Since 1970, a company known as “Chartreuse Diffusion” handles the packaging, marketing, and distribution of Chartreuse products. However, the Carthusian brothers still prepare and produce the liqueur, and to this day, remain the only people who know the secret formula for their “Elixir of Long Life.”

For more information, visit the Chartreuse Website.

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The Winds of Wine: The Roaring 40′s

The Clipper Route - designed to take advantage of "The Roaring 40's"

The Clipper Route – designed to take advantage of “The Roaring 40′s”

They roar across the Indian Ocean and on into the South Pacific, battering any land mass that stands in their way. They were known during the Age of Sail, and helped to speed ships traveling from Europe as they navigated around the horn of Africa and onward to Australia. Even today, round-the-world yacht voyages and high-speed sailing competitions hope to catch a ride on the strong winds known as the Roaring 40’s.

The Roaring 40’s are strong, westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees. These fierce winds are caused by the combination of air being displaced from the Equator towards the South Pole combined with the force of the earth’s rotation.

As is true with most things in nature, the route and boundaries of the Roaring 40’s are not consistent, as they tend to shift north towards the equator in the southern winter and south towards the South Pole in the southern summer. However, New Zealand is generally sitting right in their path, where the winds can hit the islands on the west side.

The mountain ranges that run down the “spine” of the islands serve as a blockade, and create a rain shadow for much of the eastern coast of the country. For this reason, most of New Zealand’s vineyards are located in the rain shadows created by the Southern Alps on the South Island and various mountains and volcanoes on the North Island.

"Windy Wellington" is located on the Cook Strait on New Zealand's North Island

“Windy Wellington,” located on the Cook Strait on New Zealand’s North Island

The Cook Strait, the band of water that separates the North and South Island of New Zealand, is the only opening for the winds between the two land masses and becomes something of a “wind tunnel” for the blasts. The Cook Strait, only 14 miles wide as its narrowest point, is understandably considered one of the most unpredictable and dangerous waterways in the world.  The Cook Strait is named for James Cook, who, in 1770, became the first European to sail through it. The Maori name is Raukawa or Raukawa Moana.

While the Roaring 40’s are noted as being among the strongest winds in the world, they are, believe it or not, bested by even stronger winds that form closer to the South Pole, known as the “Furious Fifties” (50 to 60 degrees south), and the  ”Screaming Sixties” (below 60 degrees south).

For more information on “The Winds of Wine,” see our posts on The Mistral and The Zonda.

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All of Vienna in One Glass

viennaVienna has a unique history of wine production.  The bustling capital city is home to 612 hectares (1,500 acres) of vineyards, planted in both the outer districts and outskirts of the city.  These vineyards provide a substantial amount of lovely scenery as well as a significant economic input to the city of Vienna.

The wines have historically been classified under the “landwein” region of Wien (Vienna), and considered PGI-level wines.  As is to be expected for a modern urban region, Wien is by far the smallest, in terms of both square mileage and production, of Austria’s four landwein regions. Wien produces a mere 1% of the total output of Austria.

Traditionally, wines from Wien have been known as “Heuriger,”or wine tavern wines.  A unique Austrian tradition, a Heuriger is basically a tavern operated by a wine maker and may only serve its own wines.  Some are open year-round and serve a wide variety of food, while others, known as “Buschenschank” are hidden among the vineyards and may only be open a few weeks a year, serving the new wine of the vintage and simple “snacks” to accompany the wine.

Vineyards ViennaNowadays, the wines of Wien are enjoying a newly-found reputation as fine wines; many are to be found on the wine lists of the most forward-thinking and renowned restaurants, and some have even reached “cult wine” status. As of the 2013 vintage, the region’s traditional wine has earned the highest classification status available to Austrian wines – the Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC).

The new DAC – only the ninth one to be granted in Austria – is known as “Weiner Gemischte Satz.” Gemischter Satz means (loosely translated) “mixed set” and the qualifications for the DAC are both highly unique and very strict. This style of wine has been called “all of Vienna in one glass.”

To qualify, the wine must be made from white wine grapes grown in Vienna area vineyards planted with at least three quality grape varieties. The grapes must be harvested, pressed, and fermented together, with the largest portion of a single grape variety no more than 50% and three varieties must make up at least 10% each. The wines are meant to be fruit-forward and are not allowed to show “significant influence of oak.”

St. Charles' Church (Karlskirche) in Vienna

St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche) in Vienna

An unusual factor of this DAC is that the grapes must not just be processed together; they must also be grown together in what is now known as a “field blend” – side by side in the vineyard. While the regulations require a minimum of three different varieties, up to 15 varieties are listed as “approved” for use and may be present in a single wine.  Approved varieties include traditional Austrian varieties such as Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Traminer, Rotgipfler, Neuburger, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), as well as international varieties such as Chardonnay (sometimes known in Austria as “Morillon”).

Viennese wine not made according to the strict standards for the Weiner Gemischte Satz DAC will continue to be bottled under the “Wien” landwein classification.

Click here for more information on the new DAC from the AustrianWine.com website.

Click here for a discussion on the new DAC from Weininger.

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The W.O. Shuffle: 2014

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the Background

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the Background

As every good wine student knows, the world of wine is constantly changing – and that includes a never-ending shuffle of AOCs, DOCGs, AVAs and W.O.s.

W.O. – as you advanced students know, stands for “Wine of Origin” and is the system of geographically defined wine regions used in South Africa.

The system was first used in 1973 and mirrors the “New World” style of geographical indications in that it defines the boundaries of the geographic origins and requires truth in labeling; however, grape varieties, wine making techniques, or wine styles are not mandated per geographic area.

The basic standards are:

  • Geographic Area:  If a wine uses a geographic area, estate, or vineyard as its place of origin, 100% of the wine must come from that area.
  • Vintage:  If a wine states a particular vintage, 85% of the wine must be front the stated vintage.
  • Variety:  Varietal wines must contain 85% the stated variety.

About those WO changes.  They seemed pretty complicated upon my first reading, so I’ve tried to simplify them. To keep things in context, remember that the defined wine areas of South Africa are known as Geographical Units (largest), Regions, Districts, and Wards (the smallest).  Here goes:

  • A glass of Simonsig Sparkling Wine perched atop Table Mountain

    A glass of Simonsig Sparkling Wine perched atop Table Mountain

    Cape Point Out:  Cape Point is not longer considered a district of the Coastal Region geographical unit.

  • Cape Peninsula In:  Cape Peninsula is a newly created district located within the Coastal Region.  Constantia and Hout Bay, the former wards of the former Cape Point District, are now considered wards of the Cape Peninsula District.
  • Aan de Dorns Out:  Aan de Dorns is no longer considered a ward of the Worcester District. Thus, the remaining three wards of Worcester are Hex River Valley, Nuy, and Scherpenheuvel.
  • Standford Hills In:  Stanford Hills is a new ward, located within the Walker Bay District.
  • Ceres In:  Ceres, located in the Western Cape Geographical Unit, is now a ward of the recently defined Ceres Plateau District (which is not located within a designated region.)

For all of the latest updates in the world of wine, visit our “CSW Update Page.”

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Guest Post: Modern Wines from Ancient Santorini

santorini island james bToday we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE - all about some modern wines from a most ancient place…the Greek Island of Santorini.

When one thinks of Greece, one might envision the great Greek Gods – Dionysus, Zeus, and Apollo – sipping wine from golden goblets, perched on high watching the humans battle in epic duels.

When one thinks of Greek wine, one might envision pine resin and retsina  - and this has often kept people from delving much farther into the world of Greek wines.

However, Greek wine is so much more!  Greece is home to some of the more interesting indigenous grape varietals on earth.  Smoky, bone dry whites such as Assyrtiko or full bodied reds such as Mavrotragano and the deliciously sweet Vinsanto are truly the “nectars of the Gods.”

Vines have been grown in Greece for centuries, but in the modern world, Greek wines have been widely overlooked by the wine community.  However, the small island of Santorini, located in the southern Cyclades Islands, is looking to change the way the world looks at the wines of Greece.

santorinin cliffsides firaThe History and Geography of Santorini

First, a bit of history about Santorini, which will give a better understanding why this small island has excellent terrior and climate to cultivate vines.  Santorini was the core of an ancient volcano that erupted in about 1640-1620 BC.  This submerged a large part of the island and created a caldera where the center of the island had been.  The result was a unique mix of chalk and shale beneath ash, lava and pumice, which contributes to the vines having to struggle deep into the soil to find nutrients.

This, in turn, gives the resulting wines intense minerality and singularity in the wine world.  It also is the core reason why the root louse, phylloxera, has never become an issue on this small island.  This fact allows Santorini to have many old vine vineyards.  Grapes are grown on the eastern edge of the caldera at nearly 1,000 feet in altitude.  To add even more stress to the vine, Santorini sees almost no rain during the growing season and the vines only source of water comes from the early morning fog condensation that covers the island.  This is enough to keep the vines alive and thriving.

Steady westerly winds keep the grapes from seeing much of the condensation thus eliminating any chance of rot.  In fact, the winds are so fierce that the vines are typically trained to grow in a Stefani shape, a round basket, where the middle is left open for the clusters of grapes to grow unimpeded.

santorini vineyardAssyrtiko:  Rich, Mineral-driven Whites

It is in this environment on Santorini that Greece’s most intriguing white grape is grown.  Assyrtiko (A seer’tee ko) might just become the next “darling” white wine for sommeliers and wine critics alike.  The varietal is often referred to as ‘the white grape in red’s clothing’.  It is a high acid, full-bodied white with moderately high alcohol that gives the consumer a chance to taste the essence of Santorini.

The minerality that the grape inherits from the soils is sky high.  Flavors of crushed rocks and smoky minerals meld into the bone dry acidity while maintaining ripe citrus fruits such as melon, apple and key lime.  Assyrtiko will be sometimes be blended with small amounts of Athiri and Aidani to add aromatics to the bracing acids.  The wine may sometimes see oak, but is typically aged in stainless steel vats.  Wild yeasts are usually used in fermentation which gives the ensuing wine unique character and flavor profile.  Santorini has 70% of its vines dedicated to this variety.  Some of the best examples are done by Gaia, who produces an unbelievably good wild ferment, and Paris Sigalas.

Vinsanto from Santorini

Assyrtiko(minimum 51%) and Aidani are also the main grape varieties used for the passito-style Vinsanto dessert wines. The late harvested grapes are left out on straw mats for 1-2 weeks which causes them to concentrate and raisinate.  The grapes then go through a santorini sunsetlengthy fermentation process then are aged in oak casks for a minimum of 24 months, but usually for much longer.  The ending results are deliciously sweet wines with flavors of matured honey, dried apricots, and molasses.

The wines are typically low in alcohol and high in sugar, yet are not cloying due to the vibrant acidity of Assyrtiko.  Vinsanto of Greece, not to be confused with Vin Santo of Tuscany, now has the exclusive rights to the name ‘Vinsanto’ although Tuscany can still use the name on the label to describe the ‘style’ of wine making. Vin meaning wine, Santo short for Santorini…Vinsanto. Makes sense.

Mavrotragano:  Big, Bold Red

Santorini may be best known for its indigenous white varietals, but the reds are beginning to make head way in the market.  Mavrotragano is the red grape that is making the biggest waves.  This rare, indigenous variety produces small, thick skinned grapes of very low yield.  Due to the lack of phylloxera issues, this varietal remains largely on its original rootstock.  Mavrotragano was nearly extinct before being resurrected by Haridimos Hatzidakis and Paris Sigalas to critical acclaim.  The wine is aged for a minimum of 1 year in oak, usually French.  The flavor profile is reminiscent of Nebbiolo with red fruits, large notes of minerality and full, yet supple tannins.

The complex, indigenous varietals of this small, yet uniquely gifted island is leading the resurgence of Greek wine in the world.  Greece is leaving the tarnish of Retsina in the past and forging forward with its indigenous quality varietals and the island of Santorini leading the way.

Santorini Greek TavernOur guest author, James Barlow, CS, CWE, is a wine director of over 6,000 wines labels for a  store owned by Spec’s Fine Wines and Liquors in Houston, Texas.   He is also the  author of the widely recongized wine blog thewineepicure.com.  James is also a recent recipient of the CWE Certification (Congratulations, James!) and as such has taken on the duty of teaching the Certified Specialist of Wine course to fellow employees in hopes  of having the best educated staff in the state of Texas. Way to go, James!
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Plymouth Gin

Photo by Gernot Keller

Photo by Gernot Keller

In the late 1700′s, at the time the London Dry Gin style was becoming wildly popular,  distillers in other English cities developed their own styles of gin as well.  Plymouth, Bristol, Warrington, and Norwich all had their unique styles. Plymouth Gin, produced since 1793, is the only one of these historic gins still produced today.

The building which was to become the Plymouth Gin distillery was originally a Dominican Monastery inhabited by an order known as the Black Friars. In 1536, at the time of the Reformation, the Monastery was dissolved and the building was put to other uses, including a debtor’s prison and a meeting place.  Legend has it that the Plymouth pilgrims who sailed to America aboard the Mayflower spent their last night in England here in 1620. The next morning, they made the short walk down to the harbor, ready to set sail to America and found a “new” Plymouth. The Mayflower ship forms a part of Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today.

In 1697, the building became the Black Friar’s Distillery.  Part of the distillery is housed in what was once the rectory of the monastery and retains a hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431.  This makes it one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth and a protected national monument.  With records of a “mault-house” on the premises dating to 1697, the distillery also claims to be the oldest working gin distillery in the world. The distinctive Plymouth Gin began to be produced in 1793, not long after the business became known as “Coates & Company.”

plymouth ginIn 1896, Plymouth Gin was mentioned in what is considered to be the first documented recipe for the drink that would become known as the dry martini. The recipe, under the name “Marguerite Cocktail,” appeared in a book published by the Excelsior Publishing House in New York known as “Stuart’s Fancy Drinks & How to Mix Them,” by Thomas Stuart.  Plymouth Gin is listed as the key ingredient, along with “French Vermouth and a dash of orange bitters.”

Plymouth Gin, still produced in England, has been awarded a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union.  The PGI technically pertains to any gin distilled in Plymouth, although the Black Friar’s Distillery is the only distillery currently operating in the town. The style of Plymouth Gin is crystal-clear color in color with a full-bodied texture, fruity aromas and a very aromatic juniper berry profile.

For more information, visit the Plymouth Gin website.

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Guest Post: “It is in fair Verona that we lay our scene…”

Today we have another guest post; an in-depth look and unique perspective on the many styles and flavors of Valpolicella…the jewel of the Veneto!  Our guest author today is Ben Steel, a wine educator and writer based in Encinitas, California.  Enjoy!!

veneto veronaTo quote Shakespeare, “it is in fair Verona that we lay our scene.” Verona, or the Veneto, is an Italian paradox. It is among the largest producers of Italy’s 20 main regions and is home to many of the largest commercial producers and big name mass marketers of the Italian wine industry. At the same time, it is renowned for its stylistic variations of Valpolicella, producing some of the most popular and sought after wines in all of Italy.

Veneto is also one of the biggest producers of quality wine at the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) level. The DOC’s originally were granted to regions whose geographical characteristics were thought to contribute to outstanding wines, but as the wine from these regions became ever more popular, financial interest overshadowed quality concerns. The DOCs were expanded well beyond their original or “classico” sites, often to inferior regions and allowable yields were greatly increased, resulting in mass-market wines of mediocre quality.  So what was Italy’s answer to this dilemma?

Ironically, rather than restricting yields and expansion, they decided to play the labeling game.  Consumers could buy wines from the “classico” sites, but that wasn’t enough. To that end, the consortiums created the DOCG, which was supposed to be what the DOC clearly failed to be – a guarantor of quality. Yields are more restricted for the DOCG and there are other stylistic mandates, but here’s the rub. As we will see, many of these DOCGs were granted to styles of wine that were produced in the same areas as the now defunct DOC. So what Italy is really attempting to guarantee is that you’ll like a particular style of wine, rather than ensuring that wine is necessarily of high quality.

Veneto - Map“This is not to say that the Veneto is defined by bargain-rack wine. Soave can be a rich, aromatic, mouth-filling white. Valpolicella can be a luscious, age worthy red. Even Prosecco, the wine for carefree night in Venice, can be a serious sparkler. And Amarone, of course, is Amarone. There’s nothing quite like it.” – Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy.

The Veneto is most well known for its red wines, particularly the various expressions of Valpolicella. The Valpolicella region is often pictured as an open hand whose fingers start in the Monti Lessini range north of Verona, spreading southward along hillside ridges. It is sandwiched between the Soave and Bardolino regions. The “classico” zone reaches from Sant’ Ambrogio in the west to Negrar in the east, but many of the outlying areas (Valpentena, Squaranto, Mezzzane, and Illasi valleys) are natural extensions of the zone and there are as many respected producers inside the classic zone as outside.

Valpolicella is historically made from indigenous grapes, of which Corvina Veronese is almost always the most prominent. It’s a thick skinned varietal with bright sour cherry flavors, fresh acidity, and firm tannins that forms the backbone of the Valpolicella blends, anywhere from 40-80% of the blend. The other major grape is Rondinella, which cannot compose more than 30% of the blend. It produces fruity, cherry flavored wines, but doesn’t really have the chops to make a great wine on its own. Molinara may compose a  small percentage of the blend along with a few other varieties, both internatinal and obscure.

I like to think of the styles of Valpolicella as sisters, each with a unique personality, but obviously related to the others. The various sisters are Valpolicella, Ripasso Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Recioto della Valpolicella.

veneto - valpolicellaValpolicella

The youngest sister is Valpolicella. She is known to taste of sour cherries, bright red fruit, and sometimes bitter almonds. She’s got a saucy personality and displays a little spice and sass. Basic Valpolicella is light and fruity and best drunk young, but some of the better known producers restrict their yields and produce wines of serious substance. One such producer is Stefano Campedelli and I’ll review his wine below.

Marion, 2011 Valpolicella Classico Borgomarcellise is made from extremely ripe grapes that Campedelli rests in old Slavonian casks for up to a year. The wine is a medium ruby color with medium intensity aromas of ripe strawberry, plum, and a rich undercurrent of blackberry. It actually has some of the floral notes that remind me of good Barolo or Barbaresco - roses, sweet tobacco, and churned earth that all combine to make a subtle perfume very reminiscent of Nebbiolo. The tannins are present, but mild and the medium plus acidity is nicely balanced by the fruit. This is a wonderfully balanced wine with a beautiful nose and a palate of ripe fruit along with a Nebbiolo-like floral character. There is a slightly spicy note to the wine that would make it a great accompaniment to a rich Arrabiata sauce.

Recioto della Valpolicella

Recioto is the eldest sister. In fact, all of the other styles of Valpolicella were preceded by Recioto. She was enjoyed in the Roman era when the predominant style was for highly alcoholic and sweet wines because they could withstand long voyages without spoiling. The Recioto, Amarone, and even the Ripasso style to some extent, owe their creation to the appassimento process. The Romans are thought to have developed this process in which very ripe grapes were hung to dry for several months, concentrating sugar, phenolics, and flavor. The process of desiccation not only concentrates the juices within the grape but also increases the skin contact of the grapes, elevating the phenolic end-products of the wine. The drying process further metabolizes the acids within the grape and creates a polymerization of the tannins in the skin which contribute to the overall balance of the finished wine

veneto ricioto bottleFollowing the drying, the grapes are crushed and fermented. In Recioto, the fermentation is halted before all of the sugars are converted to alcohol, resulting in a wine with considerable residual sugar. Recioto della Valpolicella is Italy’s answer to Port.

The wine I’ll review for this style is Domenico Fraccaroli’s 2008 Recioto della Valpolicella Grotta del Ninfeo:  This is a thick, luscious dessert wine that smells like a dark mélange of raisinated, jammy fruit. Imagine chocolate syrup poured over orange peel, fig, prune, blackberry, raspberry liquor, black cherry, and espresso beans highlighted by notes of cinnamon, ginger, and allspice.  This is an all out syrupy orgy of flavor. The wonderful thing about Recioto is how balanced she tastes. Her tannins are bold, but silky. Her acidity is high, but completely balanced and almost unnoticeable due to her residual sugar. This is a big wine, but it is rich and velvety smooth. This wine reminds me of a cross between Vintage Port and Rutherglen Muscat. It has the dark fruit and body of a Vintage Port with the orange peel and spice notes of Rutherglen Muscat.

Amarone della Valpolicella

Amarone is the popular sister. She is arguably Italy’s most popular wine, which is ironic since she was created by accident.  The story goes that an unattended cask of Recioto was accidentally allowed to ferment to dryness. The mistake proved a popular one and the wine became known as Recioto Amaro, “amaro” meaning bitter and referring to the tart, almond, and dried fruit flavors of the wine. It was later rechristened Amarone della Valpolicella.

Amarone has become wildly popular, surpassing even Barolo in production at roughly 13 million cases a year. As a result of the rapid increase in demand for Amarone, the local consortium limits the appassimento process to no more than 50% of any harvest, primarily to protect less popular, but culturally important styles such as Valpolicella Classico.

Many of the better known producers fear a potential decline in the standards for Amarone, especially since there are no existing laws to differentiate between vineyards for Valpolicella and those for Amarone. In fact, if you look at the map, you’ll see that they co-exist within the same relative delimited areas of Valpolicella Classico and/or Valpolicella Estesa (Valpantena) – there is no separate area for Amarone even though its production has been granted a DOCG.

veneto - reciotoIt’s all about location – at least according to the people who make Amarone. Hillside vineyards with good southern exposure allow for a gradual ripening due to the marked difference between day and nighttime temperatures. The respite from the daytime heat provided by the higher elevation vineyards allows the grapes to retain more of their acidity and primary fruit, while also developing the thick skins that can cope with the appassimento process. Most producers are adamant that the process produces far superior wines at these higher altitudes that avoid the warmer, damper condition of the valley floor. The worry is that money-driven producers will cash in on the popularity of Amarone and begin making it in these lesser quality valley floors and non-hillside sites. So what, you may ask?

Is there really a difference in the finished product based on where it was produced?  Well, yes…and no. Some famous producers, such as Romano Dal Forno, have set up shop in outlying areas closer to Soave than to Valpolicella, but here’s the rub. The wines are vinified in such a way as to compete directly with those wines grown in the more classic regions such that you end up getting wines of comparable quality from widely different zones, which of course puts our entire premise of site-specificity on the fritz; however, it likely that it is the producer’s attention to detail that accounts for much of the final product. There is a concern among traditionalists that Amarone might lose her soul to money, but then again, tradition can seem a straight-jacket to forward-minded producers of newer generations. I think it’s nice to have a variety of interpretations to choose from.

veneto amaroneWhy is Amarone so popular?  Well, she is deeply concentrated and deeply colored with a big palate of rich dried fruit that accompanies a wine of brooding depth and high levels of alcohol, tannin, and acidity. In short, this is the epitome of the heavily extracted, big wine that is currently so popular amongst consumers (and Robert Parker).

Great Amarone is highly dependent upon the producer so it is worth getting acquainted with some of the best known producers.  Ten of the top producers of Amarone include Accordini, Allegrini, Begali, Le Salette, Masi, Quintarelli, Romano Dal Forno, Sant’ Antonio, Speri, and Viviani.

The wine I will review for this region is the Vaona, 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Paverno. This is a seductive blue-black wine that seems to scream of richness, depth, and intense flavor. Dried fruit tones of raisin, fig, and plum marry well with maraschino cherry and mix of blueberry/blackberry compote.  The fruit is accompanied by leather, almonds, chocolate, and coffee. This is a big, brooding wine glycerine richness, hefty tannins, high alcohol, high acidity and loaded with dark flavors.

Ripasso Valpolicella

Ripasso is the confused sister. She can’t decide if she wants to be Amarone or Valpolicella, and in fact, she’s something of a hybrid. She’s about midway between Valpolicella Classico and Amarone della Valpolicella, offering some of the raisinated fruit and chocolate of the full bodied Amarone, while maintaining the brighter fruit and somewhat leaner profile of the Valpolicella.

The Ripasso sister is conceived in an intriguing process that involves both her younger and older sister. Valpolicella is made in the standard manner of dry wines, but partway through the fermentation process, the pomace (the solid remains of the grapes after pressing) left over from making Amarone della Valpolicella is mixed into the fermenting Valpolicella must so that the wine is “re-passed” over and re-fermented with the Amarone pomace, hence the name Ripasso. During this process, the wine absorbs some of the color, tannin, alcohol, and flavor from the Amarone sister.

veneto ripassoThe Ripasso sister is a stellar value offering a complex, but accessible wine with a lot of fruit and depth, but not overwhelmingly so. It is one of the best values in all of Italy and, I would argue, one of the best values in the wine world, period.

The wine I chose for this region is the Domini Veneti, 2010 Ripasso Valpolicella Vigneti di Torbe. The wine is a deep ruby with purple highlights and wonderfully floral bouquet. Cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and even blueberry commingle with roses, leather, dusty earth, pie crust, and a hint of chocolate and coffee. The tannins are much more noticeable than the Valpolicella, providing excellent structure, fairly drying, but still supple. The acidity is medium plus, but well balanced by the tannins and fruit.  This is a silky wine that goes down easy.

The Valleys of Valpolicella offer some of the most intriguing wines in Italy. The youngest sister of Valpolicella Classico offers bright fruit and charming personality. The eldest sister, Recioto, drinks like a vintage port for half the cost. The ever-popular Amarone sister offers a big, rich palate, but with some unique flavors that you just can’t find anywhere else.  Finally, the confused Ripasso sister offers much of the appeal and allure of Amarone at a fraction of the cost and represents one of the best wine values on earth.

veneto benIf you would like to try any of the wines featured in this article, you can contact the folks over at Protocol Wine Studio in San Diego, California. All of these selections were taken from their recent wine club release entitled the Valley of Valpolicella.

Our guest blogger, Ben Steel, is the founder of the Global Vine, LLC, a foundation dedicated to the enjoyment of wine through education. Ben is a CSW candidate with the long-term goal of earning the prestigious Master of Wine certification and is currently studying at the Neptune School of Wine, with Peter Neptune, MS.  His long-term goal is to expand his growing company into an internationally recognized wine education business. You can learn more about Ben and the Global Vine him by visiting his website .

If you would like to be a “Wine, Wit, and Wisdom” guest blogger, please contact SWE’s Director of Education, Jane Nickles, at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

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Of Roads and Négrette

The Coat of Arms of Fronton

The Coat of Arms of Fronton

The year is 100 BCE…the Romans are continuing their northward expansion into southern Gaul – the land which will become modern day France.  Everywhere the conquering Romans go, they make their mark with the two main defining elements of the Roman Empire – roads and wine.

It is believed that the first vines in The Languedoc-Roussillon were planted around this time, as was Fronton – another, smaller area to the west .

Located just north of Toulouse, Fronton, now an AOC, features rustic red and rosé wines.  Known as Côtes du Frontonnais until 2005, the region has rocky soils and a very dry, warm climate.  The main red grape of Fronton is Négrette, an ancient Gallic variety that is related to Malbec.  This was recently determined through genetic testing of Négrette which unfortunately disproved the traditional story of the grape:  that it was originally from Cyprus and was introduced into the area by the Knights Templar, returning from the crusades.  While it is true that the region was taken over in the 12th Century by the Knights Hospitaler, a monastic military order similar to the Knights Templar, it seems the grape was in the region before the Knights.

Almost 85% of Fronton AOC wines are red, which must contain a minimum of 50% Négrette.  The other 50% may include a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Malbec.

Négrette at Harvest

Négrette at Harvest

Négrette has a very distinct character and profile, featuring aromas of anise and red fruit.  Some people describe the wines as “foxy.” On the palate, the wines can show strong dark and dried fruit flavors with very little tannins, lending the wine a pronounced suppleness.  Winemakers making blends based on Négrette have to blend carefully with other grapes, as the delicate characteristics of the grape can be easily overpowered by more tannic varieties.

There are scattered plantings of Négrette found throughout the world, perhaps most surprisingly in the San Benito AVA, located in the Central Coast of California.  In California it was known as Pinot St-George until 1997.  There are some plantings of Négrette in the Loire, notably in the Fiefs Vendeens area.  In the Loire, Négrettecan legally be called “Ragoutant.” 

Viticulturally, Négrette does best in warm climates, as it is very susceptible to gray rot and odium.  The wines are best consumed within a few years of their release.

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Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org

Guest Post: Turbiana, is it Trebbiano…or not?

TurbianaToday we have a guest post from Wai Xin, a wine educator based in Singapore.  Xin brings us on a fascinating journey to get to the truth about Turbiana!

Modern DNA profiling ability has enabled researchers to name most grapes and their parentage. But for those who won’t be spending time on reports, they find the proof in the glass. While not always exact, some characteristics that run in the vine family can be tell-tale signs of its lineage, with slight variations attributed to vintage and geographical differences. But if you need a grape to stump someone, try Turbiana.

Sitting at a Zenato wine dinner three months ago, I overheard diners and their enthusiasm to taste the flagship wines – two vintages (2005 & 2006) of Sergio Zenato Riserva and a 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. All rich and opulent, and should you have a case of the 2005 Sergio Zenato Riserva, it is certainly a good time to start exploring. But what really started the discussion among nearby wine specialists wasn’t the Amarone, they were two dry whites from Lugana.

Lugana is a small region south of Lake Garda, sitting near the border of Veneto and Lombardy. As often happens to a small region nestled between two large areas, it is often overlooked.

To try and figure out Lugana, I pulled my phone out from pocket and conjured my secret stash of wine resources. A Dropbox account containing handy resources such as maps, scholarly texts, and in this case, 521 official documents detailing all the approved Italian wine regions from IGT to DOCG.

“I vini a denominazione di origine controllata “Lugana” devono essere ottenuti dalle uve provenienti dal vitigno Trebbiano di Soave localmente denominato Turbiana o Trebbiano di Lugana.”

white wine tastingIn loosely translated essence, “Trebbiano di Soave, in local terms Turbiana or Trebbiano di Lugana.” Trebbiano and Soave sounded familiar enough to us. Done deal.

Or is it?

Two weeks after that dinner, on a friend’s insistence I met Fabio Zenato from Le Morette. “You must meet this man and his wines” my friend said, “I have never tried this variety before.”

At our meeting, an assortment of sparkling, dry, red and dry white wines were laid out on the table, and the word Lugana caught my eyes again. But instead of calling it a Trebbiano di Soave, Fabio addressed it with an alien name Turbiana. Tur. Interesting…

Very often Trebbiano, one of the most planted varieties in Italy, has its name appended with a region. Names like Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano di Romagna and others are aplenty. The French call it Ugni Blanc, but even with that, it is still one of the many French synonyms.

In 2001, a group of researchers from University of Milan looked into the differences between these “Trebbiani” and other grape varieties that could be related. The result showed huge genetic differences suggesting that most Trebbiano, if related, must be cousins. Two grapes showed remarkable resemblance; Trebbiano di Soave and Verdicchio were 99% similar, while Turbiana differed slightly with Verdicchio at 97%.

Fabio supported the 2001 study. With this result, he can prove his claim since it had clearly demonstrated that Turbiana was significantly different from Trebbiano. I support his cause, and by calling it Trebbiano, it only misrepresents the Lugana native to a distant family. To get things right, Trebbiano di Lugana needs to be correctly known as Turbiana, and Trebbiano di Soave as Verdicchio.

lugana vineyardsIn Singapore, Lugana wines are almost non-existent with only a handful of merchants carrying one or two labels. The Zenato Luganas are available in Crystal Wines, while Monopole carries a Lugana from Tommasi owned Villa Giradi. Fabio’s visit to Singapore in October was to look for an importer. In December, his wines were showcased over a Veneto wine dinner, but as of today, I am not certain if anyone was confident to take up the distribution rights.

With my few experiences of Turbiana, it had came across being neutral and shapeable. While at other times, fully expressive of its fruits and minerals. Such unpredictability can make it difficult to handle, yet intriguing for some. The name change will do some good, but first it has to overcome the many obstacles ahead.

Tasting Notes: 

Zenato Lugana DOC San Benedetto 2012 – Hint of ripe tropical fruits showed initially and supported by a more melon-like aroma. While the palate was crisp and bone dry, the fruit flavors that showed on the finish was a welcoming touch. A simple wine but paired fine with fresh seafood.

Zenato Lugana Riserva “Sergio Zenato” 2007 – Having aged in oak barrels, tinge of smoky aroma overshadowed a neutral fruit. Palate had a light hint of residual sweetness and finished off with good roundness. Rather akin to a rich Chardonnay.

Le Morette Lugana DOC Mandolara – Youthfulness of the wine showed both in glass and palate. A gentle expression of fresh apple and flowers, the steel-like palate was driven by pronounced salty mineral touch that cut from beginning to finish.

Le Morette Lugana DOC Benedictus  Keeping the skin with the juice gave a nice straw gold tone and dense phenolic volume. Partially fermented in small oak barrels also imparted spicy note to the rich spectrum of aromas. If there’s a lack of description for the wine, one can say there’s a taste of grape flesh within.

Wai Xin, CSW, FWS is a wine communicator based in Singapore. He describes his journey to wine as follows – “I woke up one day and decided to throw my Java coding career out of the window for a lifetime of intoxication. Believing strongly that wine is for enjoyment and not a trading commodity, I encourage sensible, affordable drinking and the exploration of individual preferences.”

Wai Xin is the author of a blog entitled “Wine Xin- The Babbler”, as well as a contributing author for EnjoyWine.Sg and ChubbyHubby.Net (a food, family, and lifestyle blog). Xin may be reached at this.is@winexin.sg or via twitter @Winexin.

Note from Jane N:  What I find most interesting about Xin is his “98″ score on the CSW – very impressive!!

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