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I love the opportunity to try Italian grapes from around the world and I was introduced to Altipiano Vineyard and Winery via the #winestudio group that I'm part of run by Tina Morey.  I've been introduced to so many great wineries and winemaking regions I typically would not have tried including Shelburne Vineyards from VT and my upcoming article on the wines from Michigan.

I discovered that Altipiano was working with some Italian grapes within Escondido, CA in San Diego county and I reached out to the owner and winemaker, Denise Clarke, to have the opportunity to learn more about their wines.  

Denise and her husband Peter moved to the Highland Valley area in Escondido, CA in 1997.  Their dream was to always own a vineyard and it was further inspired by their trip to Italy in March of 2007 when they fell in love in particular with the Tuscan town of Montalcino.  The unfortunate happenings of the 2007 wildfires destroyed their avocado grove, but gave them the opportunity to pursue their dream.   
Denise and Peter Clarke - Copyright of Altipiano
Make sure you don't miss my samplings of a couple of their wines including sangiovese at the end of the article.  Come meet Denise and learn about how her visit to Italy was part of the reason that drove her into pursuing her dream of opening a winery with her husband Peter.


It seems that you grew up with farming as a way of life.  What was your background prior to owning Altipiano?  

My husband and I purchased our land in 1997, it was an avocado groove with 1100 trees. Our landscape was changed in October 2007 when a wildfire ripped through San Diego county and destroyed our avocado groove which prompted us to plant a vineyard. The vineyard was planted on 2.5 acres with 2600 vines of Sangiovese (Brunello Clone), 640 vines of Barbera, 240 vines each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.  We produce approximately 10-12 tons from the Estate grapes and purchased another 10-12 tons of fruit from Paso Robles and Amador County. Our total property is 5 acres.

My career started in the US Air Force, I served on active duty for 6.5 years.  I have a BA in Human Resources Management and after leaving active duty, I began working in Human Resources for Department of Defense until my retirement in June 2012.

Being the winemaker of Altipiano, what is your background in winemaking and the wine industry?  

I had no background in the wine industry at all, nor in winemaking.  I knew little or nothing about making wine, but I always loved having my hands in the soil.  I considered myself an amateur farmer planting all the trees and vegetation.  Thank goodness for mentors.  I began going to the Garagiste festival in Paso Robles and attending seminars to learn. We had a winemaker for two years and subsequently in 2012 I took over.  Winemaking choose me and it has been a steep learning curve of which I’m still a student and pursuing the music of the vines and wine.
Winemaker Denise Clarke - Copyright of Altipiano
What drove you and Peter to invest and open a winery and why primarily Italian grapes?  

Both Peter and I fell in love with Italian varietals while in Italy.  Peter didn’t particularly like red wines until he tasted a Brunello.  I had fallen in love with Barbera prior to Italy and once we traveled to Italy, we were both hooked.
After losing your avocado grove and replanting vines, how did you determine if the soil and land was suitable for vines? 

After the fire, we contracted with a vineyard consultant, took a vineyard management class and had our soil analyzed.  Our avocado groove was 20 years old when we bought in 1997, so the soil was very fertile.  We are decomposed granite with approximately 40 years of organic from the leaves falling yearly.  Once our soil analysis came back, we knew what rootstock/clones to look for and we contracted with Novavine out of Santa Rosa CA to graft our Brunello Clone (VCR6) on rootstock 1103p. All our vines are either 1103p or 110R rootstock.
Copyright of Altipiano
You mention sustainability on your website.  Is this something that Altipiano practices and if so how? 

There was an eco-system in place when we purchased the avocado groove.  Natural predators being Raptures, Owls, Bees, feral cats for the rodent and natural vegetation.  Up until last year, we had a herd of Llamas and chickens who were vegetarian, and their waste would be redistributed in the vineyard.  We have crops between our rows for nutrients and oxygen in the soil.  Lots of wild life live in our dirt.  We are not organic, due to the many vectors already in the area that are host for grassy wine sharp shooter, skeletonizer etc. However, our goal is to be as gentle to the land as possible and to keep the land as healthy as possible for our kids/grandkids. 

What is in store for the future of Altipiano? 

To continue to explore the depth of Lady Brunello and allow mother nature to play the orchestra.  I’m only the conductor interpreting and rendering the best expression and telling the story of each varietal for that vintage.  I am excited to have obtained Nero D’Avola and Aglianico last year from Paso Robles.  The fruit was amazing and aging beautifully.  I want my focus to be on big red, with lot of substance, depth, elegance and finesse.  We are currently producing Estate Sangiovese, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah.  Grapes we are purchasing are: Aglianico, Nero D’Avola (Paso Robles fruit) , Primitivo, Petite Sirah (Amador County, …to blend with the Estate Petite Sirah), and Merlot/Syrah grapes from San Pasqual AVA, San Diego County.

The Wines 
2016 Altipiano Sangiovese Vintner's Reserve This wine is made from 100% sangiovese grosso and aged in Pennsylvania oak barrels.  Ruby colored with fresh cherries on the nose.   Good acid with bright cherry and plum and a hint of vanilla.  A medium bodied wine with low to medium tannins and good length on the finish.  I found this sangiovese different than the average chianti as it was more plush and fruit forward, but still a beautiful sangiovese.  The winery even recommends pairing it with Josh Groban’s Per Te ; )  ABV 14.6% SRP $65 

Pairing: I paired this wine with a shrimp palermo, a garlic based marinara sauce.
 

















2015 Altipiano Syrah 
These grapes are sourced from the San Pasqual AVA and the wine is aged in new French/Hungarian oak.  Deep, dark, ruby colored and aromatic with juicy, jammy fruits and vanilla.  A full-bodied, fruit-forward wine lending to nice mouthwatering acidity up front followed by the richness of blackberries and blueberries with a hint of vanilla and spice.  Good length on the finish tapering off with some olive notes.  ABV 14% SRP $54 
 
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*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.

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Tuscany is one of the most loved and admired regions of Italy and for many obvious reasons including its indescribable landscape, simple but flavorful cuisine and some of Italy’s top quality wines.  I think I’ve been in denial for a long time as it is hard to claim a favorite of mine when it comes to Italian wine, but the sangiovese grape has always held a special place in my heart.  Anytime I have an opportunity to try a sangiovese based wine I can pop the cork fast enough.  Today I’m sharing two fantastic wines from a very historical wine family of Tuscany and Italy as a whole, the Ricasoli family

The Winery 
The Brolio castle is situated in the town of Gaiole in Chianti, one of the main comunes of chianti classico.  This castle over the centuries has endured the Second World War and countless battles and therefore has been restored over the years and bares the main different time periods it has endured.   
Brolio castle copyright of Barone Ricasoli
 Since 1993 Francesco Ricasoli, owner and President, has been leading the winery and is the 32nd generation Baron of Brolio.  Francesco is carrying the torch of quality representing the generations and histories of winemaking in the Ricasoli family, but also doing so with a modern twist and pushing the limits on his renovation of vineyards, thorough research on soils (19 discovered on the property) and clones of sangiovese grown on the estate.  This has resulted in clones unique to Brolio and grown in the newest vineyards and are listed in the National Grape Registry of the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies of Italy. 

Francesco’s great-grandfather, Barone Bettino Ricasoli, twice Prime Minister, is also the one whom formulated the recipe for chianti classico in 1872.  there is documentation supporting that the family had been exporting wine since the 1600’s to select countries and later worldwide by the beginning of the 1900’s.   

The winery is spread over 3,000 acres with over 500 of them planted solely to the sangiovese grape. Sangiovese is the primary grape grown on the property, but they are also grown international varieties like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot and others. 
Brolio landscape in Chianti Classico copyright of Barone Ricasoli
I met Giovanni Ricasoli some years back when I tried the wines from the family’s wine estate, Castello di Cacchiano.  Last week I shared a certified organic wine of Italy and we talked about the differences between organic and biodynamic wine.  Although not certified,  Ricasoli practices sustainability and engage in a way that provides a lower environmental impact to the land of which they have always respected.   

The Land 
Gaiole in Chianti is within the heart of Tuscany.  Amongst the vineyard and olive groves is a fortified town of many beautiful castles, including the Brolio castle, churches and towers that have withheld many power struggles of the prominent families of Tuscany including the Ricasoli and Medici families. 
Copyright of Consorzio of Chianti Classico
The Grape 
If one isn’t familiar what sangiovese is, it’s the primary grape used in the production of chianti amongst other grapes.  By law in order to be labeled a Chianti Classico wine it must fall within the designated territories within Tuscany and must follow other regulations.  One of those is that the wine must be made of at a minimum of 80% sangiovese with the option of adding other native grapes including mammolo, colorino and canaiolo nero and an option of adding international varieties like merlot or cabernet sauvignon.  For the wine to be labeled a riserva it must age at least 24 months with 3 of those months within the bottle.   

Another easy way to determine a chianti classico by sight is the famed gallo nero, or black rooster, found wrapped around the top of the bottle.  The Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico provides the legend of the gallo nero came about.
  
The Wines 
2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG 
Comprised of at least 80% sangiovese with about 15% merlot and 5% cabernet sauvignon.  This wine was fermented in stainless steel and in skin contact for about 12-16 days.  It spent 9 months in barriques and tonneaux with an additional 3-6 months in bottle.  Deep ruby in color.  On the nose and on the palette this wine displayed bright juicy cherries with great acidity and notes of cedar and moderate tannin.  Finishing with notes of vanilla on a lengthy finish.  ABV 13.5% SRP $22 

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 
Same blend as the prior chianti classico as well as fermentation.  With it being a riserva a longer aging time is required by law with this wine aging 18 months in tonneaux.  The wine was my favorite of the two with more dried flowers and red fruits on the nose and deeper rich cherry flavors.  A well-balanced wine with beautiful complexities rounding out with velvety tannins and hints of tobacco leaves.  ABV 14% SRP $30






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*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.

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The terms organic, sustainable and biodynamic seem to be all the hype whether we’re talking about food or wine.  Every brand that is certified under these labels boast proudly their practices for all to know.   
So what is the difference between organic and biodynamic wines?  The laws vary from country to country, but in Italy organic wines relate to what each winery is doing within the vineyard themselves pertaining to the grapes and the vines.  Overall it includes no use of artificial or chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers as well as no GMO’s.   

Biodynamic wines on the other hand go deeper into not only involving the aspects of what organic wines do on the front end, but also include what takes place within the winery and the production of the wines themselves as well as the larger ecosphere.  It is meant for the wineries to intervene at a minimum with altering the natural characteristics of a wine being produced including adding yeasts or added sulfites.  It gets a lot more complex as well, but we’re not going to get too technical here today. 

It’s interesting that many wineries within Italy aren’t labeled as certified “organic” or “biodynamic”, but take part in these practices.  It could be for a number of reasons that they don’t pursue these certifications with money and time being some of the larger factors.  In the US many folks live by these labels, but in countries like Italy this has been their way of life for years.  Personally, I have great respect for the wineries that honor their land and these practices, but I feel it’s also about the end product and I do believe some wineries use this as a marketing technique. 

The Winery 
Today I’m featuring La Valentina from the wine region of Abruzzo located in central Italy.  Abruzzo is a land dominated by rugged mountains, the Gran Sasso, and hills occupying 2/3 of the region’s land with the rest consisting of plains along the Adriatic.  
La Valentina vineyards - copyright of La Valentina
La Valentina was started in 1990 by brothers Sabatino, Andrea and Roberto Di Properzio.  Their winery is located in Spoltore close to Pescara in the central Italian region of Abruzzo.  They believe in producing “natural wines” with the least amount of intervention with chemicals.  They are also certified organic including some of the following: 
  • No herbicides used and reduced additives 
  • Organic fertilizer used 
  • No genetically modified vines, all newer vines used are sourced from their own vineyards  
Even though their goal is produce quality wines, they care most about being authentic and showing to others their expression of the land.  They adhere to the rules of sustainability and make sure that it is encouraged in every aspect of production and care for the land and the grapes. 
Sabatino, Andrea and Roberto Di Properzio - Copyright of La Valentina
The Grapes 
La Valentina works with many of Abruzzo’s indigenous grapes: montepulciano, trebbiano and pecorino.  Montepulciano is a highly recognizable red grape found on the market, but there are plenty of low quality montepulciano out there as well.  Some wineries, including La Valentina, have tried to turn that perception around by producing wines like the ones I’m sharing with you today that allow this grape to shine when produced in the right hands.  This grape is not to be confused with the town of Montepulciano located in Tuscany that produces Vino Nobile di Montepulciano not even made from montepulciano, but a clone of sangiovese.  It’s deep in color almost purple at times.  A dry, medium bodied wine with rather soft tannins and ripe, juicy fruit.  Some of the best, more complex fuller bodied montepulciano come from the northern part in Teramo. 

Pecorino on the other hand is a white grape with it’s home found in the Le Marche and Abruzzo wine regions. Mike Madaio shares a great story on Palette Press that the pecorino grape was almost extinct until vintner Guido Grifoni of Le Marche rediscovered the grape and experimented with the vine cuttings locally.  He then located others in Abruzzo that believed in the potential when others back in Le Marche had turned their heads at Guido.  Known for its high acidity and aromatic notes pecorino is a wine that pairs well with the local cuisine of seafood and softer sheep cheeses.  Pecorino after all is mentioned to stem from the word pecora, meaning sheep, that graze the lands. 

The Wines 
2015 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 
Made of 100% montepulciano.  Deep ruby in color.  Lots of black fruit on the nose: blackberries, blueberries and black cherry, almost Dr. Pepper like.  Medium to fuller bodied with juicy dark fruits on the palette.  A crisp, mouthwatering acidity with firm tannin and toasty vanilla with a moderate finish.  For an SRP of $14 this wine is a really good value.   
2015 La Valentina “Spelt” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva DOC 
Made of 100% montepulciano as well this wine was deep ruby in color.  On the nose there were rich forest berries with cherry and black cherry/cola with a hint of licorice and chocolate.  Dry, medium to full bodied with blackberries, elegant tannins and vanilla on the finish.  SRP $21 
2017 La Valentina Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT 
Made of 100% pecorino.  Displaying tropical fruits and peach with some citrus notes.  Feeling round in the mouth with fresh acidity.  SRP $16 
Wine cellar of La Valentina - Copyright of La Valentina
I’ll be writing about a biodynamic producer next month as I feature the wines of Alois Lageder so be sure to check back.   I’d love to hear your thoughts on organic and/or biodynamic wines and whether this is something you prefer or don’t have a preference for either way.
 
This Saturday, the Italian Food Wine Travel group are investigating Italian Viticulture.  We'll be discussing what we learned on twitter using the hashtag #ItalianFWT at 11a, EST. 
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Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore are two wineries under one umbrella that demonstrate the quality that the wine region of Friuli in northeastern Italy is capable of producing.  Giovanni Felluga, the father of current owner Marco Felluga, moved to Collio within Friuli after World War I in the 1930’s.  Marco took over the family business in 1956 moving the wine operations to the area of Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli, but the family heritage has been in the wine industry since the 1800’s in the area of Istria.  Marco had been educated in oenology at the well known university in Conegliano.  Today the wine is operating 6 generations of the Felluga family with Marco’s son, Roberto, managing both Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore. 
Left to right: Roberto Felluga, Myself, Ilaria Felluga
The Land 
The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy is tiny tucked up in the northeastern corner bordering the Venezia region to the west and Austria and Slovenia.  It is surrounded by the Julian Alps to the north and close proximity to the Adriatic Sea with a mild climate providing ideal winegrowing conditions with warm days and cool nights. 

The soils of this area, once the ocean floor, are rich with minerals and made up of limestone and clay where water permeates off the soil limiting the amount of erosion.     

When I’ve visited these regions of the north there are many cultural influences depending upon its borders.  This region gained a lot of popularity with the influx of pinot grigio on the market in the 70’s.  Unfortunately, pinot grigio always has a tainted image due to the mass production of lower quality wines, but Friuli and Marco Felluga featured today have tried to turn that all around.  When folks ever ask me for some of my favorite white wines of Italy I typically point them to this region.   
Copyright of Marco Felluga
The Wineries 
Marco Felluga is located in Gradisca d’Isonzo within the province of Gorizia in Friuli.  It’s a fortified town that dates back to the 1300’s under the Venetian Republic.  It’s vineyards are spread amongt 4 different vineyard sites each with their own characteristics located in: Oslavia, Cormons, San Floriano del Collio and Farra d’Isonzo.  a fortified citadel of the Venetian Republic dating back to the  1300’s.  
Russiz Superiore, on the other hand, has it's vineyards set amongst the winery itself located in Capriva del Friuli, also within the Gorizia province.  This winery was purchased almost 10 years later in 1967 after Marco Felluga was established.  It’s name is derived “superior” location set high up in the hills.  The wines produced under this brand are considered the “cru” and more prestigious of the two brands.   

The Wines 
Even though Friuli and the winery’s primary focus is on whites there are some solid red wines being produced in Friuli that are sure not to be missed.  Marco Felluga produces everything from pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, friulano, ribolla gialla and chardonnay for whites to cabernet franc, refosco, merlot and cabernet sauvignon for reds.  You’ll typically see many single varietals from this region.  The Collio DOC in which they are produced was the 3rd granted DOC within Italy back in 1964.   

I had the opportunity to meet Roberto Felluga and his daughter, Ilaria, last year at a tasting by wine importer Dalla Terra in the Boston area.  Being the wine geek that I am I get truly excited when I have the opportunity to meet families of Italian wineries and get a little nervous as if I’m meeting a Hollywood star.  Marco and Ilaria were the most welcoming and shared great conversation with me about their wines.  It’s always amazing to me how humble some folks are when he has really paved the way for quality in this region.    

2016 Marco Felluga Pinot Grigio “Mongris” Collio DOC  
The wine is named “Mongris” for the mono variety, pinot grigio, and gris, which is what its called in this area representing pinot grigio.  Made from 100% pinot grigio this wine is aged in stainless steel this wine is very aromatic and crisp, clean and light bodied with apple notes on the palette.  I have to highlight though that one of my favorite wines from the tasting I attended was their 2009 Collio Pinot Grigio Riserva Mongris.  This just showed how outstanding these wines are with age.  Plus, this wine was unique since 30% of this was aged in barrel, not typical with white wines of this area highlighting how innovative Roberto Felluga and his family’s traditions are.  It spent 2 years on the lees resulting in a wine with much structure and complexity. ABV 13.5% SRP $18 

2014 Marco Felluga “Molamatta” Collio DOC  
This is their white blend of 40% pinot bianco, 40% Friulano and 20% ribolla gialla.  Straw in color with a beautiful nose of lemon citrus with some tropical notes.  Lots of nuances coming through producing a nice round, elegant wine medium in body with good acidity.  A mineral/salty finish with good length. ABV 13.% SRP $25 

2015 Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc Collio DOC  
Deep ruby in color this wine showed lots of white pepper with aromatics of green pepper, blackberries and vanilla tied with some herbal nuances.  Quite the unique wine! ABV 13% SRP $30 

2016 Russiz Superiore Sauvignon Collio DOC  
Pale straw colored another beautifully aromatic wine with a grassy on the nose with some citrus.  Crisp, clean and nicely balanced, light bodied with a nice elegance and softness.  One of my favorite whites I tasted in the lineup.  I also tried their 2009 and a very different wine with some petrol notes and more roundness to it.  I really was enjoying the wines I tried with age.  ABV 13.5% SRP $28 

Of course the general rule of thumb is to drink white wines in their youth, but Marco Felluga has shown the ageability that white wines are capable of.  With age it’s stated that these wines will show their mineral characteristics of the land and ripe fruits.   

Just as an added FYI I also tried the 2011 Marco Felluga Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso “Ronco Dei Moreri” IGT and was one of my other favorites from the tasting!  It seemed that I tended to lean more towards the Russiz Superiore wines for personal preference so please try them for yourselves and let me know what you fall in love with.
 
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*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are gladly my own.


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I haven’t had too much exposure to the wines of Washington state, but the ones I have tried I have enjoyed.  It’s an area I must explore more of for sure.  I was introduced to the Col Solare Winery and was intrigued by the story since it’s a partnership of 2 prominent figures in the wine industry: Piero Antinori of the famous Marchesi Antinori family of Tuscany and Ted Baseler of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates.  

If you’re not familiar with the Antinori family they are best known for their production of Sassicaia and Tignanello introduced in the 70’s.  They integrated a number of elements into their winemaking, which was unheard of at the time like international grapes like cabernet sauvignon and use of barriques. 

What brought Piero Antinori to WA?  He journeyed there in 1992 encouraged by St. Michelle’s consultant at the time, Andre Tchelistcheff, a historical winemaker in California’s wine industry post Prohibition.  He felt a lot of old world characteristics that appealed to him therefore encouraging the beginning the partnership of what we see today with Col Solare. 

The Winery 
Col Solare is located in the Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultual Area) of the Columbia Valley in Washington.  The winery’s primary focus is on cabernet sauvignon, but they also have planted some of the bordeaux varietals like syrah, merlot and cabernet franc along with some carmenere and malbec. 
Copyright of Col Solare
The Land 
Red Mountain is named after the color of the red toned grass that grows in this area.  Previously an eddy from the time of Missoula floods, the combination of soils and climate provides a great area for the production of cabernet sauvignon.  It’s the warmest wine appellation of WA state therefore producing wines that are full, ripe and aromatic.   

The Antinori’s influence of orientation, spacing and density of the grapes was made similar to their vineyards in the region of Tuscany and Umbria.  I haven’t been out to this winery myself, but the pictures of their radial pattern orientation of the vineyards emulating rays of sunshine from the winery itself is stunning.   

The Wine 
Col Solare stands for shining hill.  This is where my Italian language lessons over the years pay off: Col as in colline, hills, and sole for sun.  This wine was first released in 1995 and later in 2007 the partnership found the perfect site for them to establish their new winery and vineyards where they could combine old and new world style and traditions.  The 2014 Col Solare is produced of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 4% merlot and 2% syrah.  This is a celebratory vintage for them as it celebrates their 20th vintage.  Deep in color, this is an intense, full bodied wine with structure and complex characteristics of black cherries, cassis, chocolate notes and baking spices.  This wine is bold, but also has elegance at the same time.  ABV 14.5% SRP $75 (not inexpensive on the pockets, but a special wine indeed)
 
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*This wine was provided as a sample, but opinions are always my own.


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What I love about wine is that it’s a never ending learning process and this months Wine Pairing Weekend group takes us to Uruguay to discover these South American wines.  This is actually my first go around at tasting a wine from Uruguay.  It is always tough to not want to judge wines from a particular country once you’ve tried some and make an overall judgment on the quality produced there.  Luckily the wine I’m sharing today from Bodega Garzon left a positive impression, but I have been on the opposite side of the spectrum many years ago with South African wines.  I had tried a couple at a tasting and they were not to my liking at all.  I never tried them again for years until my trip to South African back in about 2012.  I ventured to the wine region of Stellenbosch.  To make a long story short my first impression previously was no longer valid and I’ve really come to appreciate the wines produced in South Africa.  So push yourself to try something new and keep exploring as you may be pleasantly surprised.  Let’s begin to explore Uruguay and all it has to offer. 

The Land 
Uruguay is located in South America and is situated between Argentina and Brazil close to the Adriatic Ocean that provides a cooling breeze over the land.  Their temperate climate is very favorable to winegrowing and is on the same latitude of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.   

The Winery 
Bodega Garzon immediately makes taking a trip to Uruguay enticing from the amazing pictures and information they share on their website not only about their winery itself, but the land and attractions of what Uruguay has to offer.  The newly established winery looks like a vacation in and of itself with cooking classes, helicopter rides and a restaurant onsite.  You got me sold!  Plus, it was rated in 2018 by Wine Enthusiast as New World Winery of the Year!
Copyright of Bodega Gardon
The winery was founded by Alejandro Bulgheroni and their pride lies in operating as a sustainable winery that through its practices produces wines that truly show an expression of the land.  According to their website they are “the first sustainable LEED certified winery (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) outside of North America” which was established by the US Green Building Council.  
Copyright of Bodega Garzon
Bodega Garzon makes sure all their grapes are also hand harvested so the utmost quality grapes are used in their production.  They actually have 1,000 plots of with varying climates, exposures to sun, land orientations and soils.  What’s unique about their soil is that it contains crystalline basement, which dates back to 2500 million years ago.  This soil is further broken down into what they call ballast, which is the weathered rock.  It’s great for drainage, which makes the roots strive for the nutrients they need and it also provides a lot of minerals. 

The Grape 
Tannat is a grape that shines in Uruguay and is the primary grape they are known for.  It’s a grape that originates from the southwestern part of France, specifically Madiran.  Tannat grapes produce wines with great structure, depth that are dark in the glass and filled mostly with black fruits and even some spice.  Between the sagrantino last week and tannat this week I guess my recent wines haven’t been for the light hearted wine lovers.  Plus, as if you needed a reason to drink more wine this grape is known to be higher in antioxidants!     

The Wine 
I enjoyed the 2016 Bodega Garzon Single Vineyard Tannat.  Deep, dark ruby in the glass with an intense nose of mostly black fruits.  A dry wine on the palette full of body and earth with good acid and firm tannins.  Again with black fruits on the palette combined with vanilla notes.  There was a dark, rustic side to this wine that I truly enjoyed.  ABV 14.5% SRP $30 


The Pairing: Since food from Uruguay is very much focused on meat I felt that the tannat would pair best with a sausage stew I recently made.  It’s simple as anything to prepare and flavorful to warm up these cold winter nights in New England.  Combined with diced tomatoes, spinach and tortellini I combined these ingredients with the sausage dashed with some oregano, salt, pepper and garlic.  The sausage seemed to be a natural pairing with the tannat and I can imagine many other meats and BBQ would as well. 


Have any of my readers been to Uruguay?  I unfortunately have yet to venture to South America, but it’s on my list of places to visit.  

Join the rest of my fellow food and wine bloggers as they share their amazing pairings of Uruguay wines with food.  If you catch us in time we’ll be chatting live on Twitter this Saturday February 9th at 11am EST at #WinePW.  
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*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.


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Our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group is exploring Umbria and its powerhouse sagrantino grape.  Outside of the well known red grapes of Italy, I long have appreciated this grape along with aglianico I shared last week.  Anytime there is an opportunity to talk about these wonderful wines and try some I’m all about it.  In the past I wrote a comprehensive guide to sagrantino that you can reference as well as some other blogs about sagrantino and Montefalco where it originates.  Today I share sagrantino from the Antonelli family in Montefalco. 

The Winery 
The Antonelli family has owned the estate since 1881 and currently live in Rome, but are originally from Umbria in the town of Spoleto.  Many of the Antonelli family members are lawyers that invested in the winery and management of the estate.  It’s funny how many folks I have met in the industry that started as lawyers and got pulled into the industry.  It’s a career path that leads one to drink I guess. 
  
Filippo Antonelli has been involved with the winery since 1986 as well as managing another estate, Castello di Torre in Pietra.  He served as President of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco for 10 years ending in 2006.  Even though sagrantino can be a powerful grape their aim is to be able to provide drinkable wines that show elegance via using moderate wood aging and gentle extraction.  Plus, they are also now producing certified organic wines as of 2012 starting with their Grechetto Colli Martani.  The winery mostly produces sangiovese, sagrantino, montepulciano, merlot and cabernet sauvignon for red grapes.  For white grapes their focus is on grechetto and trebbiano spoletino.   

The Land 
Sagrantino is a grape indigenous to the area of Montefalco in Umbria.  Montefalco is a town that lies just south of Assisi and is situated amongst many hills.  Umbria is the only land locked region of Italy located in central Italy.  It always amazes me how many people flock to Tuscany when within a short distance you can be in Umbria and avoid many of the overwhelming crowds and still get that Italian charm.  I’ve been to a number of towns in this region including Assisi, Orvieto and Perugia to name a few.  If you’re a fan of chocolates, Perugia is a must visit. 
Views from Orvieto
The largest Perugina Baci in the world
The Grape 
Sagrantino is a grape not for the light wine hearted.  The rich tannins, full body and structure, big flavors and acidity in this wine make it a wine best suitable for long term aging.  At least for me these are some of the wines I love the most.  There are typically so many characteristics and components that evolve in the glass.  It’s amazing how this wine even tastes 24 hours after it has been opened because of its structure.  This wine stands up for itself to many of the other big players of Italy, but like many is not highly marketed nor understood so falls under the radar for many.  That’s why I’m here! 
If you’re drinking a sagrantino di montefalco it is produced 100% from sagrantino by law.  It also must age at least 2.5 years before it’s released to the market, but again this ideally isn’t a wine you’re going to drink in its youth.   

The Wine 
2009 Antonelli San Marco Montefalco Sagrantino: Produced from 100% sagrantino these sagrantino grapes are handpicked.  It’s aged lightly in toasted barrels for 6 months, plus an additional 12 months in oak, then on to being refined in cement for 3 months and finally in the bottle for 12 months.  A lengthy process for sure demanding a higher price point than your average bottle, but at the same time much more affordable than the big and bold barolo and barbaresco.  For a 10 year old wine this wine was drinking well now, but still had some aging potential to it.  Ruby red in color with a tinge of garnet on the rim.  This wine was full-bodied and structured with a gorgeous floral nose of rich, ripe fruit reds.  Plenty of vanilla, red fruits with a hint of licorice.  A rustic wine with gripping tannin, but finished with a lengthy elegance.  SRP $28-30 ABV 15%

This month, our group of bloggers have been wrestling with Sagrantino, take a look at their posts below. This Saturday Feb. 2, our posts will all be live and we’ll be chatting about our discoveries. Join us on Twitter at 10am CST at #ItalianFWT, we'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences with Sagrantino! Take a look at all the great ideas our group will be posting:
  • Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares "Buridda for Befana + Còlpetrone 2011 Montefalco Sagrantino"
  • Marcia from Joy of Wine shares "The Power of Sagrantino"
  • Jill from L'Occasion shares "Azienda Agricola Fongoli: Making Natural Wine In Umbria"
  • Katarina from Grapevine Adventures shares "A Biodynamic Expression of Sagrantino in Umbria"
  • Susannah Gold from Avvinare shares XXX
  • Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares "Antonelli San Marco: Umbria's Wine History in a Glass"
  • Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares "Italy’s Finest Wine At A Great Price"
  • Giselle from Gusto Wine Tours (in Umbria!) shares "#ItalianFWT - Sagrantino For The Win(e)"
  • Gwen from Wine Predator shares her thoughts on a recently found bottle of wine
  • Jeff from Food Wine Click! shares "Montefalco Sagrantino on a Cold Winter's Night"
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*This wines was provided as a sample, but opinions are my own.



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    Campania is a region I’ve always enjoyed wines from and unfortunately a region I don’t drink enough of.  These are wines that should be relatively easy to access on the market.  Some of the most popular wines featured from this region include Taurasi made from the aglianico grape as well as Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo.  You’ll probably also come across some falanghina as well.  Do some of these sound foreign to you?  Let’s check out a couple of them today featuring the Donnachiara winery of Montefalcione.   

    The Winery 
    The Donnachiara winery is located in the small town of Montefalcione, within the province of Avellino close to Naples.  A place near and dear to my heart, although I haven’t visited Avellino yet.  I have been to parts of Campania including Naples and the stunning Amalfi coast.  As I’ve mentioned before, my father’s side of the family hails from this region.  There are plenty of great wines coming out of this wonderful wine region. 
    The vineyards of Donnachiara - Copyright of Donnachiara
    The vineyards of Donnachiara have been in the family for 150 years, but the winery was only established in 2005. It is a small, women owned winery owned and managed by 5th generation Ilaria Petitto and her mother Chiara. Through my research of the winery Ilaria is very active in the industry and her passion shows.  I truly appreciate women that work in this business as it’s not easy.  The winery was named after Ilaria’s great-grandmother Chiara and for all that don’t know donna means woman.  Chiara saw the estate through two world wars, on her own as her husband, Antonio Petitto whom was Colonel doctor in the Italian Red Cross, was off to war.  
    Ilaria Petitto - copyright of Donnachiara
    Donnachiara only works with autochtonous grapes, native grape varietals.  For white grapes they produce greco di tufo, coda di volpe, falanghina and fiano di avellino.  All their red wines are produced from the aglianico grape in different styles including aglianico campania, Irpina Aglianico DOC, Taurasi and Taurasi riserva. 

    The Grapes 
    The wines featured today feature the greco and aglianico grapes, both DOCG designations in Campania.  Greco di Tufo gained its status in 2003 where wines must be produced with a minimum of 85% greco di tufo with an allowance of up to 15% of coda di volpe allowed.  Greco di Tufo is a respected white wine found in the Avellino province and is named after the town of Tufo, but also the type of rock in which it is grown produced from volcanic ash.  These wines are best suited to be produced in the volcanic hills of Avellino.    
    Aglianico is one of my favorites and is found in both Campania and the nearby region of Basilicata.  For those of you that enjoy those full bodied, rustic wines, aglianico is for you.  It’s a wine full of body and character with high acidity and tannins.  It’s definitely a wine that can be aged for many years.  Taurasi is a wine that must be produced of at least 85% aglianico.  With the high tannins in these wines they do need some time to open up so if you’re looking for immediate gratification make sure to decant it.  It’s a shame that this wine is overlooked and not at the forefront of the market with some of the top players as it deserves.             
              
    The Land  
    The region of Campania is located in southern Italy bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea and touching multiple regions including Lazio, Molise, Puglia and Basilicata.  Originally colonized by the ancient Greeks and part of the Magna Grecia before the Romans dominated.  It was known as oenotria, the land of wine, and today is still known for the quality that is produced. 
    Campania is mostly dominated by hills and mountains with a small percentage of plains.  What’s unique about this region is the presence of volcanic matter in the soils from Mount Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei that truly gives these wines the character that they are known for.  You’ll typically detect minerality and a “salty” character in the wines.           

    The Wines 
    2017 Donnachiara Greco di Tufo DOCG: I featured this wine as one of my Thanksgiving wine picks this past year.  It is made of 100% greco.  A dry and delicate wine filled with citrus, pears and pineapple.  Backed with good acidity, nice salinity and minerality rounding out with a lengthy finish.  ABV 13% SRP $20 

    2013 Donnachiara Taurasi DOCG: Made of 100% aglianico this wine is sourced from their Torre le Nocelle vineyards.  It spends 12 months in french barrique and is refined in the bottle for another 2 years.  Ruby red in color with purple hues.  An intense, full nose of dark fruits (blackberries and plums) with hints of cocoa.  A dry, full-bodied wine with great structure and elegance.  ABV SRP $35
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    *These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are my own and I was very happy to share these samplings today.


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    Time to visit a wine region I have had much personal experience with thanks to the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella.  I have taken a couple trips over to the Valpolicella wine region over the last few years tasting through the wonderful wines including Valpolicella, Soave and the prized Amarone wines that hail from this region.  Plus, as an added bonus this is a beautiful region to visit starting with the city of love, Verona.  It’s the perfect place to base yourself and take many wonderful day trips easily accessible by Italy’s most convenient train system or rent a car and be independent to go wherever you want.   

    The Land 
    Set in northeastern Italy, the wine area of Valpolicella is located just north of Verona nearby to Lake Garda and the Lessini Mountains.  The land is laid out via a series of valleys enriched with rolling hills.  The area of Valpantena as seen on the map is one of the areas with the highest quality.   
     
    Copyright of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella
    The Winery 
    Tenuta Sant’Antonio is owned by the Familia Castegnedi family that is operated by 4 brothers: Armando, Tiziano, Massimo and Paolo.  Their father started the dream of owning a vineyard, which is located in San Zeno di Colognola ai Colli within the hills of Illasi and the Mezzane valleys.  In 1989 the brothers bought land and property in Monti Garbi since they didn’t want to continue to sell off the fruits of their labor to cooperatives as they were with their father’s vineyard.  Their aim is to be different and not traditional and I sensed that as well from my tasting.  Here are some examples:  
    • The Telos project is where they are experimenting with producing wine without sulfites
    • The use plant compost instead of manure and fertilizers
    • They believe in a green cover without weed control
    • Nitrogen is used as an anti-oxidant as a protectant to the wine throughout the process.
    The Grape 
    Amarone della Valpolicella is one of the top respected wines of Italy.  What makes this wine unique is the style in which it is produced, known as passito.  The process in producing these wines, appassimento, is when they harvest the grapes and dry the grapes, therefore, concentrating the sugars.  This process goes on for around 90-120 days. This results in fuller bodied, structured wines, high in alcohol, but that carry a nice elegance.   

    Amarone is a wine where multiple grapes make up the blend of various levels including the primary grape, corvina, as well as corvinone, molinara and rondinella.  These wines retail at higher price points, but understanding the process and time period to produce these wines makes it understandable.  The law requires at least 2 years of aging and 4 years for a riserva.   

    The Wine 
    2015 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Antonio Castagnedi selection DOCG 
    Made of 70% corvina, 20% rondinella, 5% croatina and 5% oseleta.  These grapes were dried for about 3 months.  They were fermented with selected yeasts for 25 days in stainless steel and then aged for 2 years in 500 litre casks of French oak.  The wine was a deep garnet color with an intense nose of rich cherries and notes of raisins.  A full-bodied wine as Amarone typically is with good acid, elegant tannins and dried red fruits.  Some warmth on the finish, expected at about 15% alcohol.  I have tried a lot of Amarone from my visits to this region and I found this wine to be quite unique from the others, but I can appreciate wines for their differences.  The recommended aging on this wine is 15 years.  ABV 15% SRP $45 

    I did try a couple of their other wines, the 2016 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Valpolicella Superiore Nafre DOC and the 2015 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Monti Garbi.  As always, regardless of whether I received the wines as samples or not, I like to share with you the wines that I enjoyed the most and would recommend to my readers so I chose the Amarone to share with you.   

    I hope to get to visit this area if you haven’t already as it has a lot to offer along with some great wines.
     
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    *This wine was provided as a sample, but opinions are my own.


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    Our destination this month with our Wine Pairing Weekend friends is Argentina, definitely one of the top countries on my bucket list of places to visit one day.  Plus, it holds a special place in my heart as the only pets I've owned throughout my life are chinchillas that originate from the Andes Mountains nearby.

    When I first became exposed to the world of wine many years ago, Argentina was one of the countries that offered great value.  Malbec wines were some of the first red wines that I really enjoyed.  My tastes have changed since then, but I appreciate all wines for the character that they lend to each glass.

    You may be asking yourself why are we featuring Argentinian wines, but as always I believe a more well-rounded educated wine consumer is important.  Plus, I always try to find the Italian twist in many of these tastings.  If you're ever seen the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" it's like the father always trying to find how every word stems from a Greek meaning; )  The Zuccardi family also have a Santa Rose vineyard that experiments with nontraditional grapes including Italian grapes aglianico and falaghina as well as many others.  Unfortunately I haven't had these wines to share with you my thoughts.

    The Zuccardi family first planted its roots in the wine industry when Alberto Zuccardi planted his first vineyard in the region of Maipu, just outside of Mendoza, Argentina in 1963.  His great grandparents had transplanted themselves from Avellino, Italy in Campania into the town of Tucuman.  Little did he know his passion would grow into the wine industry.  His son, Jose Alberto Zuccardi, became General Director of the winery in 1990.  Today the third generation of the family, Sebastian Zuccardi, has advanced the winery further developing a research and development department to study the terroir that affects production of their wines and opened a new winery in the Uco Valley in 2016.  For those always seeking out organic wines they achieved their organic certification in 2004.
    Even though I'm not presenting all these today I will be updating my post once I do.

    2016 Zuccardi Q Chardonnay: This wine is made from 100% chardonnay and if fermented in concrete and oak barrels with indigenous yeasts.  It aged "sur lie" meaning on the lees or the dead yeast cells that add complexity to the wine.  This wine is sourced from vineyards in Tupungato in the Uco Valley.  A brilliant straw yellow with notes of vanilla and tropical on the nose.  Even though this is a wine partially aged in oak barrels the notes of vanilla and toastiness of the wine wasn't overpowering as it can be with other barrel aged chardonnay.  A dry, medium-bodied wine showing pineapple flavors.  Rather balanced with nice crisp acidity and citrus flavors on a lengthy finish. 13.5% ABV SRP $20

    Wine Pairing: I paired thsi wine with garlic butter shrimp over brown rice and mixed vegetables.  It was a perfect complement to the shrimp and even my oldest (2.5 years old) requested "more shrimp please".  Warms my soul a future foodie in the making. 
    2017 Santa Julia Mountain Blend Reserva: The Santa Julia brand is part of the Zuccardi family portfolio named after one of the family members Julia.  This wine is made of 70% malbec and 30% cabernet franc.  Aged 10 months in French oak.  Deep ruby in color and really ripe, rich berries on the nose.  Dark fruits with some spice on the palate and rather full-bodied.  Nice acid and well integrated tannins.  An enjoyable wine and especially at this price point.  13% ABV SRP $13

    Wine Pairing: Yes I'm a mom of 2 little ones so some nights I do what I have to do to feed the family, but no chicken nuggets being served here.  I paired this wine with beef tenderloins, a baked smashed potato and stuffed portabello with sauteed red peppers topped with monterey cheese.  The little ones did not participate in the wine tasting part though.  They still have some years to go. ; )

    Join our wine pairing weekend group posts and discussion on Saturday Jan. 12 at 11am EST. You can find us on Twitter at the #WinePW hashtag.
    If you've been to Argentina I'd love to hear all about it as well as your experience and opinions with wines from this country. Plus, my survey is still active and I'd love to receive your thoughts on Vino Travels for improvements to be made in 2019.

    *These wines were offered for me to try as samples, but I only share those that I recommend to readers and I was not compensated for this posting.  Opinions are always my own.

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