SOUTHERN ITALY, etc.
As prosperity trickles down Italy, the vast "south" is
experiencing the same sort of revolution experienced by the north. The north simply
has had a head start by about a decade or so.
Prices of wines produced in the famous northern regions have escalated. People
arrive in the shop saying they are "looking for a good $20 Barolo." My
response is "Me too!"
This is why a look at new and emerging quality wines is worth the "trouble."
Some of the grape varieties cultivated in the south offer characteristics which are
different from those in Northern Italia (or anywhere else, for that matter).
Not precisely "southern Italy"
|This is located along the Adriatic coast. The most prominent wines
here are the white Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio
di Matelica. The best known red denominazione is Rosso
made of Montepulciano (85% usually) and 15% Sangiovese. We're
fans of Lacrima di Moro d'Alba wines, an unusually aromatic red from
vineyards west of Ancona.
||This region is north and south of Rome. Frascati,
made of Malvasia Bianca di Candia (primarily) is a famous white wine. Marino,
a cousin of Frascati, is also consumed locally. Est! Est!! Est!!!
is a famous white wine, made of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Rossetto.
||Pescara is the main city in this region. The famous red wine is Montepulciano
d'Abruzzo which can have as much as 15% Sangiovese. The white, generally
fairly standard (at best) is the Trebbiano d'Abruzzo.
Red wine here can be very generous and rather attractively priced. Pecorino
can be a remarkably good white wine, along the lines of a minerally
||This appears to be a potentially serious quality region. Greco
di Tufo is a highly regarded white wine (made of Greco di Tufo and, perhaps, Coda
di Volpe). Taurasi (sometimes referred to as
"the Barolo of the South") is an increasingly famous red, made of Aglianico
along with Piedirosso and Barbera. We've tasted old Taurasi wines and
wondered if Barolo isn't the Taurasi of the north! Lachryma Christi is a name famed
for both red (Aglianico, Piedirosso and Sciascinoso) and white (Coda di Volpe, Greco and
Verdeca). Ravello and Solopaca are other
moderately well-known names. Fiano di Avellino is a highly-regarded
white wine, made of Fiano di Avellino, along with Greco, Coda di Volpe and Trebbiano
There is much improvement taking place in Campania!
||Italy's "heel" is famous for Salice Salentino,
a red made of Negroamaro and other assorted varieties. Primitivo di Manduria
is thought to be the variety which "fathered" California Zinfandel. Castel
del Monte, made near Bari, comes in red, white and rosato. Copertino,
from Lecce is a red made predominantly of Negroamaro. Locorotondo,
from Bari and Brindisi, is well-regarded in its home regions.
||Cirò is the most famous wine from the "toe" of
Italy, but there are numerous other wines such as Savuto and Scavigna.
Gaglioppo is the major red grape, with Greco as a top white wine
variety. Another promising variety is Magliocco, capable of
producing world class red wine.
||This mountainous region is becoming well known for Aglianico del
Vulture made in the province of Potenza. Some call wines made
of Aglianico "the Barolo of the south" and with some
credibility, perhaps. It's a wonderfully deep, robust red with a streak of
nobility to it.
||The island of Sicily makes an amazing variety of wines! Marsala
is world-famous, made in both dry and sweet styles. Malvasia delle Lipari is
a terrific dessert wine. Moscato di Pantelleria (also called
Zibibbo) can be outstanding. Wineries such as Regaleali, Duca di Salaparuta and
Planeta are pushing the name of Sicily into prominence around the world with outstanding
table wines. NERO D'AVOLA has arrived in international markets
as a well-regarded Sicilian variety.
||Often labeled by grape variety, wines from this remote island are gaining
ground thanks to the Argiolas winery. Sella & Mosca, a huge producer, is famous
for its Cannonau (Grenache, apparently) and Vermentino wines. Cannonau di
Sardegna is a famous denominazione. Carignano del Sulcis
is also well-regarded. Monica di Sardegna isn't some bathing
beauty, but a potentially good red wine made of a grape called "Monica." Vermentino
di Gallura can be a most refreshing seafood white wine.
There's a big production of a white grape called Nuragus which can
SOME SUNNY WINES FROM ITALY
- PASETTI (Tenuta di Testarossa)
Abruzzo region catches the warm sun and has the possibility to produce some
exceptional red wines. The Pasetti family has been growing grapes
(amongst other crops) for several generations and their
"Testarossa" Montepulciano, essentially a 'reserve' quality wine,
recently caught our attention.
Fittingly, young Francesca Pasetti is a red-head! But the "Testa
Rossa" name has been associated with the Pasetti's for years, since the
typical hat of the region worn by the old-timers was a red cap called
"cocciarosce." The family, however, does have a bunch of red
Their wine has been imported to California for many years, but only recently
was local vintner, Rob Jensen, upset about the label, feeling it may damage
his trademark (California's Testarossa winery).
I gather the winery, located in Los Gatos, California has been fielding
queries from people who've tasted the Pasetti wine when dining out.
It's sold by a one-man-band of an importer and he's done well distributing
it to Italian restaurants. Consumers, happy with the wine they've had,
use a search engine to find "Testarossa" and "wine" and
Jensen's winery comes up.
As a result of a slightly bitter head-to-head debate over the matter, the
local importer had the Pasetti's change the label slightly and now, if
you're eagle-eyed, you'll see it's called "Tenuta Rossa."
This should placate Mr. Jensen, to whom I suggested he change the name of
his brand to "Testa Grigio," since he no longer has the red hair
he had in his youth. "This would be truth in labeling, Rob."
I told him.
The Pasetti's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo comes from older vineyards which feature
densely planted vines. They try to pick the fruit late in the harvest
season. Part of the lot is fermented in stainless steel, part in
wood. The wine is matured for about two years in oak. We like
the ripe cherry fruit notes and the hint of vanilla and mocha from the
oak. You can sense there's oak here, but the wine is not woody or oaky
tasting. It's reasonably deep and rich. Drinkable now, this
strikingly tall bottle may be cellared for several more years, if you like.
in the sales room.
"The secret of our Montepulciano is that the best wines are reserved for
aging in wood, while lesser wines are sold in bulk to customers who come for a
I found the cellar to be neat and orderly (as it should be).
Large Slavonian oak is used to mature some of the "reserve" wines.
Customers come with empty jugs and demijohns and they "filler 'er up!"
A gas station-like pump and meter measures their purchases.
This wine is a good, everyday red, but their "Tenuta Rossa" label is
kept in wood and sold in bottles (what a concept, eh?). Some of those
bottles find their way to Burlingame, California where they are popular with
People haul their wine back home.
Francesca and her folks in the cellar.
Currently in stock: TENUTA DI (TESTA) ROSSA 2008 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
(list $28) SALE $24.99
Magnums! Yes!! Very fancy format...Big, Tall Bottle! $69.99
We can special order their deluxe
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo called "Harimann".
They also produce a Trebbiano called Zarache..
"Mimo Pasetti" who has a nice Tenuta but no rossa on his testa.
The whole family in 2015.
ANTICA TENUTA DEL NANFRO
town of Caltagirone is actually rather well-known, but not so much for wine
as for ceramics.
But there's some good wine made just outside the town and it's at the winery
of the Lo Certo brothers, the Antica Tenuta del Nanfro. This winery is
located a little more than an hours' drive west of Catania and 2 hours from
The vineyards are cultivated with care and are said to be farmed according
to biodynamic principles.
The Frappato grape isn't one with which most wine drinkers are
It's made on its own, of course, but also turns up in blends as it's nicely
aromatic and adds a point of balance and finesse to bigger reds.
The Nanfro label has a really good example of Frappato...nice raspberry and
cherry notes in a medium-light bodied red wine. The 2012 seemed to
show a piney or resiny tone, as well. This is ideally served
at cool cellar temperature, so we pop a bottle in the 'frigo for 40 minutes
to an hour.
- It's not oak aged and some people describe this sort of wine as Sicily's
Beaujolais. Nanfro's is not wood aged and, typical of this variety,
it's nicely acidic. This makes Frappato a nice choice to pair with
seafood pastas (tomato sauced prawns/calamari are a delight) or mildly
seasoned chicken or pork dishes.
- Currently in stock: NANFRO 2012 FRAPPATO $19.99
POST SCRIPT: I was visiting some winemaker
friends in Northern Italy and one of them was 'testing' me. He asked
if I knew Ravignan in Armagnac.
How about Nanfro's Frappato?
"Damn, you know all the best secrets!"
A few California winemakers call to have me select
some off-beat wines for them to explore. One called the other day
raving about Nanfro Frappato.
"Man, you have to send me some more of that!" he exclaimed.
And we did.
years ago while visiting producers in Italy's Basilicata, I had a chat
with a restaurant owner. We spoke of the future for the region in
terms of tourism. I felt the future was bright, but the restaurateur
was less hopeful.
"Listen, we're not simply fuori strada (off the road or beaten
path)...we don't even have a strada!"
The restaurant has since closed. :(
But there is still interest in grape growing and winemaking in the region
and we periodically find some nice wines based on the flagship grape,
This little enterprise is the work of a young lady named Elisabetta Musto
Carmelitano. Her family has been cultivating grapes for several
generations and now it's her turn. They mostly sold their 'farmer's
wine' in bulk to friends and neighbors, but Elisabetta had the idea of
using 750ml wine bottles, putting a label on each and see if people would
be willing to buy these. Maybe some people in far-away California
would be interested to buy such a wine!
And, in fact, there is a small market for their wine here. At least,
we think there is.
The vineyards are south and east of the Monte Vulture, an old volcano
which is responsible for the volcanic soils of this region. The
Musto Carmelitano property comprises 14 hectares, being a mix of grapes
and olives. Currently the wine production is quite small, tallying
to less than 2000 cases annually.
The vineyards range in age from 25 years on the young end of the spectrum
to 80-something on the older parcel. Farming is organic
and Elisabetta is not much of a fan of cellar treatments, wanting to
present wines as they are produced in the vineyard.
As a result, the little Aglianico we have it the shop presently is a nice,
spicy red wine. It's a young wine called Maschitano Rosso and it's
from younger Aglianico vineyards. They typically don't pick until
November and the wine is vinified quite simply: in stainless steel
and it does not see wood. We like the bright red berry fruit
and the notes of black pepper...a bit like some California Zinfandels,
except it's not a heavy or ponderous wine.
If you're preparing a tomato-sauced pasta with some red pepper
flakes...this is your wine! It also shows well with pizza, sausages
and grilled meats.
Currently in stock: 2012 MASCHITANO ROSSO (Aglianico) $14.99
great name in Campanian wine history is that of Mastroberardino. The
family makes claims its winemaking endeavors date back to 1720, well
before the 13 colonies joined up to declare their independence from
The more recent Mastroberardino history from, say, the 1950s until the
1990s, has been that of keeping the Campanian "candle"
lit. Despite the region having vine-growing and winemaking history
going back hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, the region experienced a
period of abandonment. Imagine one of the greatest regions of Italy,
with a viticultural history of enormous importance, being abandoned!
The Mastroberardino family is credited with preserving the local grape
varieties, especially Greco, Fiano and the red grape, Aglianico.
Over time, the two Mastroberardino brothers (there was actually a third
sibling, but he passed away many years ago) and apparently there was a
family squabble that caused a "divorce" of sorts.
In the period around 1993, the Mastroberardino brothers split
their holdings, with Antonio retaining the Mastroberardino label and winery,
while his younger brother Walter built a new winery and retained the vineyard
holdings. Walter's wife Dora's family actually owned a significant
percentage of these vineyards, as it turns out. Her name is Dora di
Paolo. Hence the name "Terredora di Paolo."
So the Mastroberardino brand actually took a bit of a hit in the mid-1990s, as
they suddenly had lost their top vineyards. They've rebounded nicely, as
of, say, 2005.
Meanwhile, Terredora di Paolo was founded in 1994 and today they're producing an
impressive line-up of Campanian wines.
One of Walter's kids, Daniela, stopped by the shop in 2013 and was crowing about
Campania "not making international wines by cultivating Sauvignon Blanc,
Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah." And when you think about the
landscape of Italian wines, so many major (and minor) regions have been dabbling
with these "foreign" grape varieties in hopes of putting themselves on
the world's wine "map."
And we hear Tuscan winemakers boasting about their Chianti, for example, being
10-15% Cabernet or Merlot as though this makes their wine somehow higher in
quality. Funny, I've never heard a Bordeaux winemaker bragging about
blending Sangiovese into their wines!
What grape varieties can be used to "improve" Campanian wines?
Do you think Aglianico wines would be enhanced by blending in Merlot?
Could Chardonnay make a Fiano or Greco more complex?
Happily, up to now at least, Campanian vintners have remained loyal to their
remarkable local varieties. And both Mastroberardino families continue to
adhere to this tradition.
In tasting through the Terredora line-up, you won't find a single clunker.
Every wine is well-made and shows a measure of attention to detail in the
We have a couple of their wines in stock.
The 2013 Greco di Tufo is a delight. The Greco grape was originally grown
on the slopes of Vesuvius and these days, in the area of Avellino, it goes by
the "Greco di Tufo" name. There is, by the way, a town in the
region called "Tufo."
We view this sort of wine as something to drink in its youth, but Daniela
Mastroberardino explained that their Fiano and Greco wines actually can cellar
quite handsomely for much longer than most people expect.
Anyway, if you don't know Campania's Greco, this is a good one to try. The
wine is vinified in stainless steel and gets a bit of aging on the spent yeast
sediment. The resulting wine is nicely acidic, dry and fairly crisp.
You might find some stony, minerally notes along with a hint of pear and
Match this with appetizers as a cocktail white or pair it with grilled or fried
make a spectacular bottle of Fiano di Avellino. Their regular bottling is
perfectly nice, too, but we're more enthused with the Greco di Tufo for that
style of wine.
There's a special bottling of Fiano called "CampoRe," located on a
vineyard site in Lapio. This is about a half hour drive from Avellino and
a bit more than an hour by car from Napoli.
The juice is fermented in oak and then half is put in stainless steel and the
other half remains in wood for about half a year. Then they two lots are
blended back together producing a remarkably complex Fiano which demonstrates
this grape has some "stuff."
We like the mix of fruit and woodsy elements. There's the toasty quality
from its barrel time, but the fruit tones are reminiscent of ripe pear with a
touch of lemon. If a winemaker from Burgundy were going to vinify Fiano,
this is what the wine would be like. It's a great match for a seafood
risotto, but all sorts of fish and shellfish can pair handsomely with
We have the 2010 vintage in stock and the wine is just reaching its peak, we
think. It may be one of those sleepers which can be given extended bottle
found their entry-level Taurasi to be especially inviting and the wine is
offered at a most attractive price.
Compared to the production of Greco di Tufo, this wine is relatively 'rare'!
Taurasi, by the way, is made entirely of Aglianico. No Bordeaux varieties
or Syrah to fortify the wine or make it taste more 'familiar' to wine drinkers
around the world who find Cabernet to be the center of the enological universe.
It must be aged for at least three years to get the Taurasi appellation with a
minimum of 12 months in either chestnut or oak cooperage. The 2006 spent
approximately a year and a half in small French oak barrels, but the wood is
merely a 'seasoning' for the wine. It doesn't overwhelm the fruit and mild
spice notes of the Aglianico grape, though it gives a hint of sweet brown
We live in a world where local vintners have moderately tannic Cabernets on the
market from the 2010 or 2011 vintages, so it's a delight to visit a type of wine
which gets a good deal of bottle aging before it comes to the market (and your
The Terredora Taurasi is not an old-fashioned, rustic Italian red. It's
charming at this stage and a delight with grilled or roasted meats, stews or
aged, aromatic cheeses such as Parmigiano or Gorgonzola.
Currently in stock: 2013 TERREDORA DI PAOLO Greco
di Tufo $19.99
2006 TERREDORA DI PAOLO TAURASI $27.99 (last bottles)
2010 TERREDORA DI PAOLO FIANO "CampoRe" $33.99
When Daniela Mastroberardino came to
our shop, I asked her to tell the crew here which of her family's wines
had earned the famous "Tre Bicchieri" award from the
Gambero Rosso publication in Italy. Many people selling wine and
many buying it have a need to know someone finds the wine in question to
be of top quality.
But the process of earning a Tre Bicchieri award is very
political and the notation is based on numerous factors apart from the
good quality of a wine.
"We do not have any Tre Bicchieri wines," Daniela
informed the crew.
The reason is simple: They do not participate. It costs
wine, time and money to be "decorated" in various wine
And despite the winery being a fairly large producer, they do not feel
the need to "buy into" this dynamic.
They hope the consumer will eventually find the Terredora wines, like
the product because of its quality and honest pricing and remain a loyal
We say "Bravo!"
CANTINE LONARDO (Contrade di Taurasi)
magnificent little winery is a labor of love and it's run by the Lonardo
family with the help of some enologists, ampelographers, microbiologists
and a vineyard guy, not to mention (but we will anyway) various family
Alessandro Lonardo founded this little enterprise in 1998. Today
it's owned by his daughter Enza, who's a stem-cell researcher at an
institute in Naples. Her sister Antonella also helps with the
business, as does Antonella's husband, Flavio.
The enterprise also serves as a bit of a research lab, which should not be
surprising since Enza is a researcher and Flavio is an archaeologist.
Their friends and associates have worked on vineyard and vine studies, as
well as working on examining various yeasts (ultimately finding, as they
expected, that indigenous yeasts yielded more satisfying, complex
If you're having difficulties sleeping, they have a bunch of research
papers on these subjects. Click
Here if you want to read one of these papers...I can assure you, you'll be
asleep by the second page!
They own 4 hectares of vineyards and rent
an additional hectare. Aglianico is their main grape, of course, but
they cultivate a bit of Rovello Bianco. It's amusing to see
their web site and find numerous articles about this perfectly okay dry
white wine that gets more attention, in my opinion, for its rarity than
for its quality. It's a pleasant enough wine, but it doesn't strike
me as being as complex as a great Riesling or good Sauvignon Blanc or
White Burgundy, for example.
And their Taurasi wines get some good press, too, but the winery
is not well known outside the realm of serious wine geeks.
We've tasted their Taurasi wines over the years and these are
routinely good. And they lend credibility to the phase claiming
"Taurasi is the Barolo of the South."
have their 2008 Vigne d'Alto, a seriously good, but rather young, Taurasi.
It comes from a small parcel of roughly 40 year old Aglianico vines. I
believe the skins are in contact with the juice/wine for an extended time
period, well after the fermentation has completed. After pressing, the
wine is transferred to tonneaux, cooperage larger than a barrique but not
a huge wood tank.
After about 24 months in wood, the wine goes into glass for two additional years
before being bottled...
The 2008 is a remarkable wine...dark in color and showing great
concentration of black fruits. There's a touch of an earthy tone, too,
with plenty of structure providing good cellaring potential. If you're
opening this in the near future, giving it some aeration time in a
decanter is ideal. Otherwise, stash this for drinking in 2020 to 2030.
Their "entry level" Taurasi is a very handsome
We currently have the 2009 and I'd say it's a more ready-to-drink presently than
the older, single vineyard wine.
The wine is, of course, made entirely of Aglianico. It's aged in "botti
di rovere" for a year and a half and then goes in stainless steel for
maybe a year. And now it's had a good amount of time in bottle and it's
We like the mild red fruit notes...cherries, raspberry, sour cherry with a
mildly earthy quality and a touch of brown spice.
It's medium-full to full-bodied on the palate and mildly tannic.
Pairing this with appropriate food will help is taste smoother...so pair this
with a soulful pasta with a meat or meat & porcini mushroom sauce...or
It's a terrific example of "serious" Aglianico and we'd suggest
decanting your bottle maybe an hour or two before serving.
Currently in stock: CONTRADE DE TAURASI 2008
TAURASI "Vigne d'Alto" SALE $69.99
CONTRADE DE TAURASI 2009 TAURASI "Red Label" $49.99
- This fellow
made some terrific wines in the region of Abruzzo. His
basic bottling of "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo" is routinely one of
the best bargains known to those in search of a wine with "soul"
that doesn't cost a fortune.
Gianni Masciarelli passed away during the summer of 2008, but his legacy
lives on. We will remember him fondly, as he was a real character and
a dedicated winemaker. His wife, Marina Cvetic, is another dynamic
character and she's continuing the grand tradition established by her late
The new bottling of Masciarelli is probably the best we've had, the wine
having a particular character that says "Abruzzo." When you taste this, you'll have
trouble believing you paid such a modest sum for this wine.
Masciarelli has worked diligently to cultivate good fruit. He uses
only his own grapes. The basic, "little" wine comes from
nine vineyard sites at various elevation levels. They now have densely
planted vineyards in an effort to maximize quality.
He was such a stickler for quality, he actually went to France every year to
scope out wood for barrels for his wines. As I understand it, he went there to actually have a sniff of the various oaks that are available for
purchase and then he has the barrels custom-built for his winery!
Gianni Masciarelli's wife, Marina Cvetic, now runs the company and her name adorns a very
fine bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo of "reserve" quality.
full name of this wine will be a challenge for most: "Montepulciano
d'Abruzzo San Martino Rosso Marina Cvetic."
(Good luck on remembering all of that!)
- The wine is made entirely of Montepulciano. It's fermented in wood
and matured in oak. The current vintage is from the 2009 growing
season. We have missed several vintages of this wine but
are delighted to find the 2009 to be nicely balanced, robust, lavishy-oaked and altogether a delight.
top-of-the-line is a wine called Villa Gemma. This comes from a rather
high elevation vineyard and it's been made for about 25+ years now.
This is a stellar wine, getting top ratings from all the critics. The
wine is matured in French oak, a significant percentage of the barrels being
new. The wine displays tons of black fruit aromas and a sweet oak
bouquet. It's delicious, now, in its youth, yet seems to have good
aging potential. Less than 9,000 bottles are produced annually, so
it's not a wine one can easily find.
a remarkable wine made of the normally "lowly" Trebbiano grape.
They have been making this for more than two decades and we've seen a major
improvement in the quality of the wine and it is probably worthy of its
relatively lofty price tag.
The wine comes from 50 year old vines planted in two locations near the
winery. The wine is fermented in brand new French oak and then spends,
usually, close to two years in wood. I've tasted this over numerous
vintages and the current wine, 2009, on a handful of occasions.
The wine is a bit chameleon-like: sometimes it tastes like a big, fat oak
barrels and other times the wood, of which I know there's plenty, seems to be
lurking in the background and the wine is minerally, toasty and nicely balanced
in terms of oak.
It's a striking wine and if served with equally 'heady' cuisine, the wine is
amazingly good. If it's served with lighter fare, the wine may simply
bulldoze down the middle of your palate. We had it with some nicely spicy
crab cakes--perfect! It's a bit big for simple antipasti, though.
Roasted chicken? It's big enough to pair with red meats, you know.
If you are a fan of toasty, leesy French White Burgundy, for example, from, say,
Domaine Leflaive, this might be worth trying.
A Page About
Abruzzo (and Lunch With Masciarelli)
- Currently in stock: 2012 MASCIARELLI MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO
(list $10) SALE $8.99
2009 MARINA CVETIC MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO $29.99
1998 VILLA GEMMA MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO $74.99
2009 MARINA CVETIC TREBBIANO $49.99
Rubino family winery is located in the town of Brindisi in Puglia.
They have four distinct vineyard sites which are Jaddico,
Marmorelle, Uggìo and Punta Aquila. These are not far from the
Adriatic and perhaps a bit less intensely hot than many vineyard sites in
- The winery was built and started operating in 1999, though the family
began acquiring vineyards before that. As a result, they have some
fairly old vines (some as old as 70 years) and have worked to plant new
vineyards not from nursery clones, but by taking budwood from old,
existing vineyards and propagating from those.
- We're especially fond of Rubino's work with the obscure Puglian variety
called Susumaniello. The name of this variety is thought by some to
be a reference to abundant yielding vines which would burden even a strong
donkey in carting away the grapes. (Somarello is an Italian
word for donkey.) We understand that young vines of
Susumaniello tend to produce a large crop, but as the roots dig deep into
the earth and the vines become mature, production diminishes.
The grape fell out of favor as growers, especially those selling fruit to
co-operative cellars, made more money with prolific-yielding vineyards and
varieties ripening to abundant sugar levels.
We're read this variety is thought by some to originate across the sea in
Dalmatia, but we see that as a spotty theory. DNA testing shows
Susumaniello seems to be an offspring of Sangiovese. The other
parent remains unknown, however.
The relationship to Sangiovese may help explain the nice snappy acidity to
this wine. Rubino makes several incarnations of Susumaniello, even
dabbling in sparkling wine.
The "Oltreme" wine is made from a fairly young vineyard near
Brindisi. What we like about this rendition of Susumaniello is that
it's not oak aged, so you get to taste the grape in all its glory.
We find this to have a bit of Chianti-like acidity with notes of red
fruits not so dissimilar from Sangiovese: cherries and pomegranate,
for example. It's a medium-bodied red wine with light
Pair this with a tomato-sauced pasta, grilled sausages, pizza, lasagna,
etc. It's best served at cool cellar temp.
Currently in stock: 2011 TENUTE RUBINO "Oltreme"
FATTORIA SAN FRANCESCO
place has an interesting history, like many Italian cellars that have been
around for a few years.
Someone established a monastery in the Ciro' area of Calabria...this would
be on the eastern side of the province close to the Ionian Sea. It was
in operation, with the brothers planting olives and vineyards in the late
In the 1770s, the Church was forced to relinquish the property to a private
owner and in 1777 the Siciliani family purchased the San Francesco
estate. And it was operated by a Siciliani from that time until 2013
when the last heir to that family decided to retire. Since then the
estate has been owned by the Iuzzolini family, who own another estate in the
same neighborhood, and today you'll find a modern cellar, full of
temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and some wood cooperage, too.
The red Ciro from this estate is perfectly nice (but we've got a good
bottling from Librandi in the shop already)...
The 2014 Ciro Bianco is a delicious wine and it's made entirely of the Greco
grape. The juice is cold-fermented and bottled in its youth to capture
the fragrant fruity notes you'll encounter on the nose and mouth. We
find this to show a mildly melon-like quality and there's a floral
note. We also got a mildly minerally character...the soil is clay and
chalk, for what that's worth.
No oak and it's not high in alcohol.
Best enjoyed in its youth. Pair it with shellfish, a light pasta dish
or white fish. It'll show well with a seafood salad, too.
Currently in stock: 2014 SAN FRANCESCO CIRO'
- ARIANNA OCCHIPINTI'S "TAMI"
- The Sicilian landscape features many interesting
wines and a number of interesting characters.
One of the most interesting personalities is a young woman named Arianna
Occhipinti. She's less than 30 years old and has been making wine
since 2004. Her uncle is a prominent character in the Sicilian wine
biz, being affiliated with the COS winery. She's having a most
positive impact on the world of intelligently-farmed, responsibly-cultivated
viticulture, though she's wary of making the "organicity" of her
wines a centerpiece of their marketing.
We've seen a nice improvement in the wines under her Occhipinti label over
the past few years and she's launched a new, everyday-priced brand called
Tami'. The name Tami' is that of a shop she's involved with in
Siracusa not too far from her cellar.
It's a small enterprise with Occhipinti having friends and neighbors as
partners. Wines for this brand are made with purchased fruit and the
winemaking is similar from a philosophical standpoint, though I believe
since the Tami' wines are bottled in their youth, some light filtration
We're fans of the wine made of Frappato in this line-up. It's a
bright, cherryish wine with lots of red fruit notes. If you're looking
for oak and gobs o' fruit, you won't find it here. But instead of a
Pinot Noir or Cotes du Rhone, this is worth a try.
- Currently in stock: TAMI' 2011 FRAPPATO Sold Out
Cantele story begins with Giovanni Battista Cantele, a fellow born in
Italy's Veneto region. His wife, Teresa Manara, also is from
Northern Italy. he had been involved in the world of wine,
apparently brokering the sale of the darker, more potent and
deeply-colored wines of Puglia to wineries in the North who wanted to
"fortify" their local wines.
On a trip to southern Italy, Puglia, they were both so enchanted with
the region they ended up moving there and setting up a winery. In
those days, though, the Pugliese were moving out of Puglia, hoping to
find their fortune in the more wealthy northern Italy. Cantele,
silly fellow, was leaving the prosperous north for the impoverished
Their (then) 16 year old son Augusto didn't want to make the move to
Puglia and he remained in the Veneto, studying wine and winemaking at
the Centro di Ricerca per La Viticoltura in Conegliano. Mom &
Dad? They're crazy!
But, it seems a few years later, Augusto changed his tune
and joined the family in Lecce down in Puglia. And in 1979 the two
sons, Augusto and Domenico set up their own winery, initially merely
buying wine on the bulk market and bottling it under their own name.
In the 1990s they got serious and started buying vineyard land and
growing their own fruit. And now a new generation is running the
place, as Augusto's son Gianni is the winemaker. They own about 50
hectares of their own vineyards and they buy from or manage another 150.
The winery now produces a bunch of wines, including Chardonnay, Merlot
and Syrah. More interesting to us is their "Salice
Salentino," a wine made entirely of the indigenous Negroamaro
grape. The wine sees a bit of wood aging, though they use
cooperage that has had one or two wines previously.
The resulting wine is quite good and a satisfying, typical Pugliese
rosso. It's not as rustic as the Salice Salentino from, say Cosimo
Taurino, which is truly "old fashioned." The Cantele
family makes a 21st Century version and you really get your money's
worth for $10.99 a bottle.
The winery was robbed back in 2012, when a well-organized (we're told)
bunch of thieves broke into the place and stole something like 20,000
bottles of 12 different wines. Though they had video surveillance,
they did not have a burglar alarm system. And the Cantele family
says they did not have insurance. (I'm betting they have both an
alarm system and insurance today! If they don't, well, shame on
Currently in stock: CANTELE 2010
SALICE SALENTINO Riserva $10.99 (case discounts, too)
- The Argiolas wines have been in our market for a number of
years. We've periodically had some of their wines as they seem to be a
leading light in Sardegna.
We applaud the Argiolas' family for maintaining the traditional grape
varieties of their region, rather than jumping into the pool of Chardonnay
and Cabernet. So many Italian winemakers feel the need to make the
same wines as the rest of the vintners on the planet, they often forget the
heritage wines of their backyard.
We're presently enthralled by a curious little white wine they offer called
Nuragus di Cagliari. The name "nuragus" comes from the
nuraghi (stone towers) which dot the island.
Nuragus is a grape variety which is said to have been brought to Sardegna by
the Phoenicians. That must have been a while ago!
We've been fans of this little white wine for several
vintages, yet it's only recently that we've actually had some in the shop to
Guigal's $100 Condrieu was served alongside the Argiolas "Nuragus"
our New Year's fest with seared Ahi tuna stuffed with crab meat &
Both excellent wines, but most of us preferred the Argiolas wine.
- The Argiolas family calls the Nuragus wine "S'elegas,"
apparently it's the name of the vineyard. The wine doesn't see
oak, yet there's an almost woodsy aspect to it which we find
intriguing. There are also fruity notes here...elements of ripe
peach or melon come to the fore. It's dry, of course. We've
typically paired this wine with seafood and it works very nicely with
crab, prawns, scallops, clams, mussels, etc. You could also match it
with a mildly seasoned chicken dish if you like. It's remarkably
good and carries a modest-sized price tag (a combination we particularly
The Argiolas family also offers two stellar after-dinner beverages.
One is a Lemoncello-like liqueur called "Limonsardo." It's
actually a shade less sweet than most of the Italian lemon-flavored
liqueurs. Very nice, though.
Also impressive is their Myrtle-berry infusion called
"Mirto." It's dark and deep, with an intense berry fruit
aroma and flavor.
Currently in stock: ARGIOLAS 2007
Nuragus di Cagliari Sold Out
ARGIOLAS TREMONTIS "LIMONSARDO" $34.99
ARGIOLAS TREMONTIS "MIRTO" $34.99
We can special order other Argiolas wines for you.
Mastroberardino name should probably be better know than it is, as the
family is a bit of an icon in the wine business in Campania.
Though they can trace the roots of the family tree back hundreds of years
(and in some aspect of wine), Mastroberardino lost a bit of traction in
the early 1990s when the two brothers, Walter and Antonio, split the
business. Antonio kept the brand name and winery, while most of the
vineyards were retained by Walter, who started another winery, Terredora
Back in the 1970s, I recall tasting an ancient vintage of Mastroberardino
Taurasi and found the wine to be remarkably complex and something
"special." It had withstood the test of time, was deep in
terms of its bouquet and had a profound flavor with, still, a bit of
'grip' from tannin. I think the wine was from the 1961 vintage and
it illustrated that there was something special about the Aglianico grape,
wine from the Taurasi appellation and the Mastroberardino winery.
The family remains dedicated to grape varieties which are particular to
Campania and they don't dabble in wines with Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot
Aglianico is their focus and they make a nice range of white wines,
including Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Fiano. Recent vintages of
these have been good and the wines are either improving or, perhaps my
taste-buds are simply becoming more "in tune" with them...
The Taurasi denominazione is often referred to as "the Barolo
of the south" and this, perhaps is true. However, we think good
examples of Taurasi are wonderful wines and so, perhaps, they ought to
really stand on their own. Perhaps one day people will refer to
Barolo as the "Taurasi of the north."
Aglianico is the grape and this variety can make rather noble, majestic
red wines. It can also produce good, simple, hearty red.
Mastroberardino makes several Taurasi wines.
Taurasi "Radici" (refers to "roots", of which an old
family such as Mastroberardino has plenty!) comes from Aglianico vineyards
which are just attaining a point of maturity. Their best years are
ahead of them, but they are making good, typical, "classic"
Taurasi. We have their 2006 "Radici" in stock, a wine
which spent a year, or so, in a combination of French oak barrels and
Slavonian oak 'casks.' Wood, though, is not the dominant
feature. There's a woodsy element or brushy tone to the wine with
hints of dark fruit and this vintage is fairly firm and nicely
structured...certainly approachable now, but even better with an hour, or
two, in the decanter.
1999 Taurasi Radici Riserva was outstanding and comparisons with nicely
developed Barolo are justified. The wine shows great depth on the
nose with hints of a tarry element which might recall some mature Nebbiolo
wines. The 1999 spent a much longer period of time in wood and it's
got broad shoulders and plenty of backbone. If you open a bottle in
the next few years, I'd suggest decanting it an hour, or so, before
serving. Ideal food pairings would be braised meat dishes...lamb,
venison, wild boar...you get the idea.
We should also mention their Lacryma Christi wines..."Del Vesuvio".
The red is made entirely of Piedirosso grapes...Sort of a berryish, mildly
spicy red...medium bodied...perfect for grilled sausages & polenta or
some other hearty "peasant fare." The white wine is
entirely Coda di Volpe, a dry, non-oaked white. We usually have some
bottles of each of these in stock.
Currently in stock:
2006 TAURASI "Radici" $59.99 (last bottle or two)
Contini winery is still family owned and operated, having started in the
They are famous for a Sardinian wine called Vernaccia di Oristano, a wine
you'll find more akin to an old Amontillado Sherry more than table
wine. I made the mistake of serving this to a California wine
drinker who thought the wine was merely flawed or spoiled, not realizing
(or appreciating) that it's supposed to be oxidized.
They're located on the west coast of Sardinia in, or near, the town of
Cabras in the provincia of Oristano. This is close to the Sea
We're especially fond of the two wines from the Contini
- They make a wonderful Vermentino from the granitic soils of Gallura
mixed with fruit from the clay and sandy soils of the Sinis Peninsula and
Tirso Valley. The wine is made simply, being fermented in stainless
steel and bottled young and fresh to capture as much fruit as
possible. It's a delicious cocktail white and pairs beautifully with
seafood. The 2011 is in stock...a nice, simple, non-wooded
- The Cannonau grape, said to be Grenache/Garnacha, comes wearing the name
"Sartiglia" and it's 90% Cannonau and 10% "others."
They scoped out a particular hillside area for this wine and planted in
soil that's got a lot of obsidian rock.
Well, they must have known what they were doing when they planted this...
The 2011 was entered in some international wine judging in France and with
entrants from Australia, South Africa, Italy, France and other places...Sartiglia
was tabbed as "the best" of the gold medal wines entered, so
Contini can boast his wine is #1 in the world.
It is pretty good, however.
Currently in stock: 2011 CONTINI "Sartiglia"
CANNONAU DI SARDINIA $17.99
2013 CONTINI "Tyrsos" VERMENTINO DI GALLURA $16.49
- Sicily has made an impact on the wine world with its Nero d'Avola
wines. Avola is a small town on the southeast coast of Sicilia and
its name is associated with the grape known as "Nero d'Avola."
About a half hours' drive south of Avola is the Val di Noto and the town
of Ispica, which is well-regarded for its cultivation of carrots.
That may change if the Padova family keeps making good wine!
They cultivate a bit more than 16 hectares of vineyards that are in six
sites. The Padova family are proponents of organic and biodynamic
farming practices, by the way.
We tasted a Nero d'Avola called Spaccaforno and it's a delight! One
interesting feature of this wine is that it's an old "clone" of
Nero d'Avola. They did not plant their vineyards with vines from a
grape nursery, but instead propagated their vineyards from the old vines
planted by their forefathers. This is called "massal
selection" and it assures them of having vines that are as close to
those cultivated by grandpa and his parents.
The wine comes from three vineyard sites and the grapes are
hand-picked. They'll tell you there are some other local varieties
in this wine, as they have a few oddball vines scattered hither and
yon. The best guess is this wine is about 90 to 95% Nero d'Avola
with a smattering of Albanello, Moscatello, Nero Grosso and either
Frappato or something related to Frappato called Surra.
The wine then is matured in tonneaux that are second and third use
We can't detect oak in the wine, probably because the wood has already
seen a wine or two. And while some Nero d'Avola wines seem to be
made with the American wine drinker in mind (oak, low acidity, dark
color), this wine is bright and berryish with the snappy cherry notes that
may remind you of a good Chianti.
Currently in stock: 2010 RIOFAVARA NERO D'AVOLA "Spaccaforno"
the late Cosimo Taurino was regarded as an innovator and
"modernist" when he started, to us his wines remain very much
"old school" and a bit old-fashioned.
Taurino was a pharmacist who had a fascination with wine. He
established a winery, as we understand it, in 1970. The estate,
however, called "Notare Panaro" (they make a wine that's called
Notarpanaro) is in a town called Guagnano in the Provincia of Lecce.
They're just a few miles north of Salice Salentino and east of Manduria (a
home to the famed Primitivo grape).
The foundation of the estate is the Negroamaro grape, though they do grow
Semillon and Riesling, despite being situated in a relatively hot
region. They also have a bit of Chardonnay and Cabernet. Taurino
never was a fan of Primitivo, as we understand.
One of the best values in "rustic," classic Italian wine is the
Salice Salentino Riserva (the label is posted above). This is the main
wine of the Taurino estate and it's about 90% Negroamaro with, typically,
10% Malvasia Nera. If you're looking for a "fruit bomb" or a
wine that's lavishly oaked, this is not for you. It's very much
"old school" Italian red and for those people who are in sync with
the wine, it's remarkably good. Soulful. But, of course, not a
universally-appealing red wine. Pair it with a savory stew or braised
Their Notarpanaro wine is usually predominantly Negroamaro with a bit of
Malvasia Nera. It's a wine that's matured for several years in wood and then
several more years in bottle. The world moves a little more slowly in
Puglia than it does in California, for example. The 2006 is currently
in stock...Big, ripe, deep and
powerful...braised meats or grilled, well-seasoned lamb works exceptionally
well with this.
- Currently in stock: 2009 SALICE SALENTINO SALE $13.99
2006 NOTARPANARO $21.99
- I'm guessing
Antonio Caggiano is in his late 60s or early 70s. (The
San Francisco Chronicle, in a 2004 article by Janet Fletcher on obscure
grapes and the wines they make describes Caggiano as a "young
revolutionary who has built a modern cantina and overhauled outmoded vineyard practices."
I suppose Janet views Robert Parker, then, as a really young buck!
The "young" Antonio Caggiano, Mister Taurasi
Caggiano spent his life owning a construction company. He
has been a skilled photographer, too, visiting remote places in search of
adventure and the perfect photo. In 1990 he decided to take the plunge and
get into the wine business. He started selling grapes back in the
early days and started making wine in 1994. Today, with the help of
winemaker Marco Moccia and his son "Pepe" (who handles much of the
business side of the operation), Caggiano turns out about 150,000 bottles of
The winery is actually located in the town of Taurasi, so
Caggiano really does carry the flag for the appellation.
The winery produces several versions of Aglianico wines.
Their Taurasi wine from the vineyard "Macchia dei Goti" is the heavy
hitter. This is matured in French oak barriques such as the ones in the
photo directly above.
"Salae Domini" is labeled as Aglianico dell'Irpinia though this, too,
comes from Taurasi vineyards. It's matured in French oak, too.
Spending less time in wood as it's vinified for immediate drinkability if their
"Tari" wine. They seem to be changing the name of this from Tari
to Tauri. This is an exuberantly berryish version of Aglianico and we like
it served at cool cellar temp with all sorts of Mediterranean fare. !
Caggiano also has a modest-sized agriturismo down the hill from
the winery. It looks like a nice place.
The Caggiano wines age much better than has this garlic near the barbecue area
at Caggiano's agriturismo.
Currently in stock: 2011 CAGGIANO "Tari"
Aglianico dell'Irpinia $29.99 (by special order)
2008 CAGGIANO TAURASI (list $80) Sold Out
- Calabria hasn't been particularly well-known in the
international market, though the Librandis are working on changing that.
I had thought to go visit Calabria a few years ago and the price of an
airline ticket there from, say, Frankfurt, was ridiculously high, so I
In calculating the driving time to the Librandi's home town of Cirò Marina,
I saw I would need about 6 hours in the car from a location in
Campania. This brought home the reality of the American
expression: "You cain't git there from here."
Is Calabria that far off the beaten path that there is no path?
Cirò and Cirò Marina (the part of the town that's right on the water) are on
the east coast of Calabria. Cirò Marina is a lovely seaside village with
a row of fish stores featuring the day's latest catch. While you might
think white wine would be a hot ticket here, it's actually an area more noted
for red wines.
Stirring the sediment in barrel.
Old samples in the cellar.
Old bottles of Cirò.
Old bottles dating back to 1970 (on the right).
Tasting Cirò with Donato Abenante.
The Librandi family has been bottling wine since the 1950s and, until perhaps
the past decade, were one of a dozen producers of Cirò wines. In my view,
they're currently the leading winery in the appellation, producing good quality,
The firm owns more than 230 hectares of vineyards and another hundred in olive
groves. There's a small "army" of about a hundred people
who work in the vineyards and a crew of 30 in the cellar. It takes a lot
of manpower to make 2,500,000 bottles of wine!
We've been fans of Librandi's basic red wine, Cirò, for some years. It's
made entirely of the Gaglioppo grape, which you may know under its Campanian or
Basilicata banner as "Aglianico." Years ago, Cirò used to be
blended with small amounts of white grapes, much along the lines of Sangiovese
in Chianti. Today Librandi's wine is solely Gaglioppo and it's a wine
which has a nice level of wood: none.
Yes, in a world of wine where oak is highly regarded, Librandi makes its normal
bottling of Cirò without wood. This is a nice easy-going red which pairs
well with all sorts of simple Italian fare. It's not intended for aging,
so drinking it within two to five years of the vintage date is probably about
They make a Riserva version which is called Duca San Felice. It's made
from vineyards producing a slightly lower crop level and has a shade more
Gaglioppo meets the New World in a wine called Gravello. It comes from
vineyards south of Cirò in the Val di Neto and it's blended with Cabernet
Sauvignon and matured in French oak. The wine is quite good and routinely
gains notoriety from various wine journals.
I agitated the hell out of Paolo Librandi by telling he and his importer's
representative I had no interest in tasting the latest vintage. ((I taste
this wine once or twice a year and find it to be quite good.)) I told Signor
Librandi, "You know, I've never had a customer request a bottle of
Cabernet Sauvignon that's been blended with Gaglioppo."
Well, we haven't.
Besides, Gaglioppo is particular to
Calabria--Cabernet is grown all over the planet. Do they need to grow it
in Calabria, too? Do Bordeaux vintners ever think to blend their wines with
Gaglioppo, I wonder?
Another grape we've enjoyed from Calabria is Magliocco. This variety had
been thought to be Gaglioppo, but recent studies indicate it is not the same and
it's a completely different variety entirely. The Librandi
family says this variety is ancient, dating back to Roman and Greek times.
They've been dabbling with Magliocco for a number of years and in this past
decade have been making some remarkably good wine of this grape.
The wine takes the name "Magno Megonio," a Roman army leader who left
his footprint in the Val di Neto area south of Cirò. Early vintages of
this were quite promising...but I've not tasted a new one...
We can special order the Gravello and Duca San Felice wines for you...Maybe some
of their other offerings, too. Please inquire.
Currently in stock: Librandi Cirò Rosso $12.99
CALABRIAN DINNER IN CIRÒ MARINA WITH THE LIBRANDI'S
Americans know the Mancini name...they associate it with a music composer
and arranger, the late Henry Mancini.
Younger folks will ask "Who the hell is Henry Mancini?," but if
you've ever seen those Pink
Panther movies, you might recognize some of his work.
Piero Mancini was not a musician, however. He was a dentist.
And he invested his earnings starting in the 1960s. By 1980 he had
about 70 hectares of vineyards, though it took him until 1989 to build a
winery, vinify his own fruit and put his name on the label.
Today the winery is run by his widow Marisa and their three
We've had the wines, off and on over the years. The 2013 is definitely
"on," as it's a terrific example of Vermentino. Bone dry, no
oak and displaying the melon-like notes of Vermentino with the typical hints
of spice...great as a cocktail or aperitif wine and, as you might
expect, it's perfect partnered with seafood.
Virtually every write-up of Vermentino routinely mentions its French
synonym, Rolle. We're not going to do that, since virtually nobody outside
the wine business has any clue as to what Rolle is and most wine drinkers don't
I might point out that a number of Vermentino wines coming to
the US market are being made to the specifications of national importers or
local marketing gurus. As a result, you will find many Vermentino wines to
have a bit of residual sugar.
Mancini makes its wine for adults and they don't offer a special "American
bottling" that's been dumbed down for the masses. And this has more
character and charm than the mass market Pinot Grigios populating grocery store
We are big fans of this wine and it remains reasonably priced.
Currently in stock: 2013 MANCINI VERMENTINO DI
Cali family has been in Sicilia since the 1700s, but it's only recently
that one of the clan has planted vineyards and started making some
vino. The family is near Vittoria in southern portion of Sicily, a
good hour and a half drive west from Avola.
Paolo Cali began his adventure when his Pop gave him a parcel of
prospective vineyard property. I gather there was some sort of
"fixer upper" of a house on the land, too. And soon Paolo
Cali, a pharmacist by training, started planting some vines and pondering
the notion of making wine.
By 2003 the first grapes were vinified and encouraged by the
results, Cali planted additional vineyards and started working on a
cellar. Today they're making a few thousand cases of various wines.
enchanted by Cali's "Vittoria Nero d'Avola," a 2010 vintage red which
is called "Violino." Cali, a music aficionado, even suggests on
the label of this wine that you enjoy drinking it while listening to a
particular piece by Johann Sebastian Bach! We have not paired the wine
with Bach's music, but it was delicious with a Toto's Pizza (we're fans of their
We like the red fruit aromas of this Nero d'Avola. There's a hint of plum
and ripe berries and though we understand it's not aged in wood, there's a
lovely character to the wine. It's attractively priced, too.
Currently in stock: 2010 PAOLO CALI "Violino"
VITTORIA NERO D'AVOLA $19.99
story of this little Basilicata producer begins in Tuscany, where Fabrizio
Piccin was making Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, as he had been doing for a
number of years.
But curious about other grape varieties, he and his wife Cecilia were fans
of other "important" Italian grapes, so they enjoyed Nebbiolo
from Piemonte and the Aglianico grape from Basilicata and Campania.
In fact, he liked Aglianico so much, he was making periodic trips to taste
and explore the world of Basilicata and Campanian wines. In the late
1990s he was buying grapes from growers and dabbling in making Aglianico
wine and soon he was bitten by the bug.
By 2004 they sold their Tuscan vineyards and winery, bidding a fond
"Ciao!" to Toscana and they bought some vineyards in Basilicata
where they designed and constructed a wine cellar.
Today the couple owns about 18 hectares of Aglianico in Basilicata split
amongst four sites. Maschito has 30 to 40+ year old vines, while
Rapolla, Venosa (young vines) and Ginestra (30 year old vines) account for
their fruit sources. They employ open top fermentation tanks, use
indigenous yeasts and various sized cooperage.
We like all their red wines, but feature the "Gricos" bottling,
a youthful and charming Aglianico that's intended for immediate
consumption. The wine is lightly tannic, but tastes much smoother
when paired with food. It's a bit reminiscent of Zinfandel wines
from California which we enjoyed in the 1970s...not too high in alcohol,
berryish and with hints of pepper spice notes.
Currently in stock: 2012 GRIFALCO "Gricos"
living in an area of an active volcano and cultivating grapevines in such
an environment! That's the story of a special region north of Napoli
in a zone known as "Campi Flegrei."
Scientists believe there were eruptions in this area 35,000 years
ago. Then maybe 12,000 years ago there was another incident.
Much more recently, in the early 1500s, people noticed the ground was
shaking and then in 1538, around what we'd expect to be harvest time,
there was a major bit of volcanic activity and a new 'hill' was
created. It's called Monte Nuovo.
But there's been rumblings in the late 1960s and then again in something
like 1982 through 1984. German drilling experts noted
they are monitoring the area and have sensed some sort of activity in the
early part of 2013.
I'm not sure we can accurately describe the wines from the Campi Flegrei
as earth-shaking, but the wines from this area have a measure of
distinction and they certain provide pleasure for those of us on the other
side of the planet, far away from the seismic/volcanic activity.
Luigi de Meo cultivates the white grape called Falanghina, a variety found
in other parts of Campania. However, these vines are not grafted
onto rootstock, they're grown on their own roots. We understand
there are some genetic differenced between the Falanghina of the Campi
Flegrei and other areas. Di Meo typically harvests the first part of
October, so the Falanghina gets a lot of 'hang time.' This may
account for its beautiful character.
We enjoyed a bottle recently after tasting dozens of California
wines. What a welcome relief this was! It's a bone dry white
wine with some stony notes on the nose and maybe you can sense a whiff of
the sea air. It's not given any time in wood and this allows the
character of the grape and vineyard to shine brightly.
Pairing this Falanghina with seafood is an ideal match. We enjoyed a
bottle with mussels and some grilled octopus. The octopus was served
on a bed of beans which had a note of Meyer lemon...what a glorious
marriage that was!
Currently in stock: 2011 LA SIBILLA Camp Flegrei
Grilled Octopus on a bed of Beans with Calabrian Chili, Meyer Lemon, Bottarga
and a Fresh Tomato Sauce...beautiful paired with la Sibilla's Falanghina!
understand Julius Caesar was a fan of the wines from Messina, a small wine
growing region in the shadows of Mount Etna. Here, in north-east
Sicilia, one finds an interesting production of unusually elegant red wine.
Over the past few years we'd had the Faro of the Palari winery, the early
leader in the appellation. It seemed to us, though, that the Palari
wines kept getting bigger, more potent, more inky and more intended for
those critics who have a passion for numerically scoring every wine they
taste. And that's the key: they only "taste," they
The Faro area is situated in the northeast corner of Sicily and there are
about 16 growers of grapes of this appellation and perhaps 13 wineries in
production presently. Although the word 'faro' translates to
'lighthouse', it's been suggested the name comes from an ancient colony of
Greeks who were "Pharii" from the city of Pharis.
The Bonavita winery is the work of the Scarfone family: Emanuela and
Carmelo and their two sons, Giovanni and Francesco.
The estate covers approximately 6 hectares, but only two have
They cultivate just the three typical, local varieties, Nerello Mascalese,
Nerello Cappuccio and Nocera. The first two give body and complexity,
while they Nocera is blended in to add some structure and acidity. The
current DOC laws require minimum and maximums of each of these:
Nerello Mascalese from 45% to 60%, Nocera from 5% al 10% and Nerello
Cappuccio from 15 al 30%. The grape known as "Calabrese"
(Calabria's Gaglioppo, which is said to be Campania's and Basilicata's
Aglianico) and Sangiovese can each account for as much as 15% of the blend.
- The Scarfone family vineyards range in age from about six years to 50
years...the wine sees a fairly traditional vinification, with 12 months
aging in oak. We like the dark cherry fruit notes and the woodsy tones
from the oak. The 2007 is showing beautifully and is quite enjoyable
right now, though it may be held for another 5-10 years.
The wine is quite different from the Etna Rosso wines which are gaining in
popularity. The Etna wines seem to us to show a more minerally streak
and are a shade lighter in body...
- Currently in stock: 2007 BONAVITA Faro Sold Out
The wines of the Odoardi
family are unknown to most people...And yet they're a reference point for an
obscure appellation on the west coast of Calabria.
They are the sole proprietor of Scavigna-designated wines and make about 60%
of the Savuto appellation wine on the market.
The Odoardi brothers have about 95 hectares of vineyards and even more land
devoted to olives. They claim to have been founded in the year 1480.
The family works with the University of Calabria in researching various
aspects of viticulture and enology.
Gregorio Odoardi's schooling was in medicine and he's a radiologist in
Gregorio is mighty proud of the vineyards and winery. And he's
totally smitten with the lab...
We got into Odoardi's wagon
and he drove around the various terraced hillsides, showing off their
We're quite close to the sea.
- Gregorio is an ardent chain-smoker. Those little ropes he smokes are
amazingly pungent and the tasting room window is opened maybe once or twice
We discovered their wine far away from the winery though. We've had
this obscure little treasure for several years.
The 2006 is currently in the shop. Bob often buys a bottle of Odoardi,
saying it's one of the best deals one could hope to find. It's a blend
of 45% Gaglioppo, 15% Greco Nero, 15% Nerello Cappuccio, 15% Magliocco
Canino and 10% Sangiovese. It is kept for about a year and a half in
stainless steel tanks, so if you're looking for a wine with oak, Odoardi's
Savuto won't do.
I read some critic's evaluation of the wine and the words "smoke"
and "tobacco" were part of the tasting notes...and you might find
these elements in this wine, even if you're not sitting next to Dr. Odoardi
while he's puffing on a Toscano!
Currently in stock: 2006 ODOARDI Savuto Rosso $12.99
- 6 MURA
- You might think
this winery or vineyard is surround by half a dozen walls, but, in fact, the
name 6Mura comes from a Sardinian dialect saying "Su de Is Muras"
which sounds like an Italian calling it Six Walls...
The winery is quite young, but the vineyards are aged. The enterprise
got its funding from a Piemontese foundation called "Giov-Anna Piras"
and it's run by Flavio Piras. They have a museum of sorts in Torino
where they feature a remarkable collection of art, music and
photography. I understand they have more than 50,000 vinyl records in
their collection, plus 35,000 pieces of art, literature and film!
Sardinia is a home, of sorts, for the Carignane grape, called Carignano
there. This is a variety which, when the vines are young, typically
produces a bountiful crop. When the vines are old (40-50 years, or
more), the production drops to a more sensible level and the quality can be
Low-Yielding Carignano vines...
So the Giov-Anna Piras foundation funds a little winemaking project on
Sardinia and it's called 6 Mura. We understand the project brings
together 5 friends who are from the town of Giba, including Signor Piras,
who's mentioned above.
Old vines...young future winemaker!
The soils are rather sandy and Carignano in this vineyard and cellar
reaches a most interesting level of quality. We were first
introduced to this producer while perusing the realm of Sicilian wines at
VinItaly...We stopped to taste the wines of this winery and were
pleasantly surprised to find a number of good wines...they make
Vermentino, too, but it's the Carignane here that's stellar.
- Currently in stock: 6 MURA CARIGNANO $29.99
FEUDI di SAN GREGORIO
- Located in
Campania, you'll find Feudi di San Gregorio in a sub-region known as Irpinia. This
is a special micro-climate, not as hot as you'd expect for central and southern Italia.
The place is named after Pope Gregory the Great. It was founded in 1986 by
the Capaldo and Ercolino families and Riccardo Cotarella is their consulting enologist.
The property comprises some 105 hectares.
Their white wines are of a very modern, fresh style. I suspect the
particular kind of yeast they're using may over-ride the actual varietal
character if the grapes. I can't really distinguish between the aromas
of their Fiano, Falanghina or Greco di Tufo wines. They all have
similar fragrances and they all smell like tropical fruit, with the aroma of
I've tasted a range of wines from Feudi from time to time. The whites,
as mentioned, seem ultramodern and perhaps a touch sweet. The reds are
nice, though certainly veering towards appealing to New World wine drinkers.
The winery has received the most attention for its "Serpico"
wine. This is an Aglianico wine which they say comes from fruit grown
within the Taurasi region. It's an "IGT" designated wine,
though. You'll taste the Aglianico, certainly, but it's also made in a
modern, oak-aged style.
- We have access to many of their wines, so we can special order their other
bottlings for you.
The 2013 Falanghina is in the shop by special request...a few customers like
the tropical fruit notes of this wine and its modest price tag...
Currently in stock:
2003 "Serpico" $69.99 (sale priced)
2013 FALANGHINA $13.99
Fina spent a decade working at the Sicilian Instituto Regionale Vini e
Olio as an enologist and had the good fortune to become acquainted with
the famous (former) Antinori winemaker, the legendary Giacomo
In 2005 Fina left the IRVV, as it's called, and launched his own
winemaking enterprise, apparently with Tachis giving him some advice and
His winery is just northeast of the town of Marsala in Western Sicily.
We're fans of his dry white wine made of the Grillo grape. Sourcing
fruit from a variety of sights, this is a remarkably showy wine which sees
its fermentation partially in barrique and partially in cement tanks.
When it's freshly bottled, the wine strikes us as showing peach-like
fruit. As it develops in the bottle, it seems to take on a more
It's a wonderful cocktail white and you can match it nicely with seafood
Currently in stock: 2013 FINA "GRILLO" Sold
Faro family launched this new winemaking project in the Etna region after
Michele Faro was bitten by the wine bug in the early 2000s. He
remembers his grandpa sharing a taste of homemade wine with him when he
was a ten year old kid and so, while running the family nursery business,
he started looking for vineyards.
In those days, it was easy to find old patches of vines at modest price
levels. He ended up purchasing about 6+ hectares of vineyard land
and found himself with some old vineyards of the typical local
varieties: Carricante, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio.
It's a young winery and yet Faro is already making his mark
on the local winemaking scene.
We're fans of his simple Etna Rosso, a wine made entirely of Nerello
Mascalese. It sees but a short pass in French oak so there's a nicely
berryish quality to the wine with but a faint suggestion of wood.
It's about the weight of a nice Oregon Pinot Noir and it's well-priced, to
- Currently in stock: 2013 PIETRADOLCE Etna Rosso $20.99
By the way, Faro also has a small hotel and restaurant in the
neighborhood, so if you're looking to visit Sicilia, check out their place, DONNA
CARMELA (named after his Mom).
- This firm was
founded in 1949 and in the 1950s organized a competition for designers to
create a wine bottle for their Verdicchio.
An architect from Milano named Maiocchi won the competition, creating a
bottle in the fashion of an old amphora. This is Fazi-Bazzi's
trademark today, some 50 years later!
Their Verdicchio is a decently made, if somewhat anonymous tasting white
wine. It has a touch of fruit when young and is dry and light...the
bottle has more character than does the wine, though.
Currently in stock: We can special order this for you...
might know the name of these wines as "Regaleali," a famous brand
of wine which for some wine drinkers equates to "Sicilia."
The Tasca d'Almerita family has been cultivating vines on the property for
more than 150 years and they've routinely been viewed as innovators in
vine-growing as well as in the cellar.
The name of the property, Regaleali, harkens back more than a thousand
years, when Sicily was under Arab rule. The name comes from "Rahal
Ali" and it means something like "Ali's Fortress."
The estate is located a modest drive from Palermo and though most people
think of Sicily as a hot climate area, you must remember that this estate is
planted at its lower elevations around 450 meters (approximately 1476.38
feet). The higher elevation vines are at 700 meters (or about 2296.59
feet). As a result, despite the warm (or hot) temperatures during the
day, aromatics and acidity are bolstered by cool night-time temps.
This is one of their secrets.
- Though they cultivate many of the normal, indigenous grape
varieties at Regaleali, the property also features famous French varieties
such as Chardonnay and Cabernet. Lucio Tasca d'Almerita secretly
planted these years ago and kept them a secret from his father who would
have been upset. That's because these grapes were not permitted at
that time and, of course, they're not "traditional" vines for
Sicily. In my limited tasting of these, I can't say I've found
Cabernet which rivals Bordeaux or Napa. Nor can I say I'm replacing
white Burgundies or California Chardonnays with the Regaleali wine.
They do make, however, some nice wines of traditional Sicilian grapes.
Rosso del Conte is a notable "ambassador" from Sicilia and it's a
blend of Nero d'Avola with, usually a small percentage of Perricone.
It's an internationally-styled wine, being matured in French
We tasted a number of their wines not long ago...
Regaleali Bianco is a nice little dry white that's a blend of
Inzolia, Cataratto and Grecanico...it's a pleasantly appley, mildly citrusy
dry white that's a good aperitif wine and it sets up red wines nicely.
Regaleali "Le Rose" is a dry pink wine made from
Nerello Mascalese...It's lightly cherryish and also will set up a nice
red. It's a refreshing wine for warm weather drinking.
Regaleali Nero d'Avola, their basic red wine is a pleasant,
simple rendition of this increasingly popular grape. It's not trying
to be a grand vin and it's a medium weight, well-made, if
unspectacular red wine.
More interesting (and more costly) is their 2004 "Lamuri" wine,
another rendition of Nero d'Avola. Now you're getting serious.
This is a deeper, darker, more soulful wine. I found a fragrance of
violets and it reminded me of some Australian reds which also have this
floral tone on the nose.
The 2004 Rosso del Conte is their "old vines" bottling of
Nero d'Avola, essentially. It's more structured and tannic, with nice
dark cherry fragrances and a woodsy element from its having been matured in
a high percentage of new French oak.
We can special order any of these wines for you...Give us a
few days' notice, please.
By Special Order:
2008 Regaleali Bianco
2009 Regaleali "Le Rose"
Regaleali 2007 Nero d'Avola
Tasca d'Almerita 2005 "Lamuri" (Nero d'Avola)
Tasca d'Almerita 2004 "Rosso del Conte"
Call to inquire about current pricing...
ALL OF THIS ENTRY IS NOW "PAST
This winery changed from selling its wines with a small, energetic little, local
importer to go with a "national" company...
The national company must have its headquarters in the Bermuda Triangle, as the
Contesa wines have disappeared from the market!
Meanwhile, the winery is about 35 kilometers inland
and is surrounded by vineyards.
Rocco Pasetti started his own winery after splitting from his brother's
winery (the one posted below).
The story, I gather, is not quite as juicy as the quarrels of the Mondavi's
in Napa or Sebastiani's in Sonoma, but Rocco now has his own little
enterprise and he's making some very good wines.
In fact, the name "Contesa" stems from some sort of legal
entanglement. It seems his grandfather, decades ago, had an issue with
a neighbor over a troublesome tree (the roots were problematic for the
vineyards) and a pig. Well, Rocco had an issue with his brother
back in the late 1990s. I asked him if he owned the "tree"
or the "pig." He declined to fall into this trap.
The first vintage was 1998 and they have about 25 hectares of vineyards,
including four clones of Montepulciano, one being an heirloom variety which
provides, they explain, more structure as it's a bit "aggressive"
I've had several opportunities to taste through the range of wines and can
see this fellow is our kind of winemaker...he's serious about quality and
wants to improve with each and every vintage.
The winery is in the final phases of construction and it's an immaculate cellar
and it's located about 30-something kilometers west of the Adriatic town of
Francavilla al Mare. It's out on the coast that Rocco has a small
enoteca and "filling station."
Customers can bring an empty jug or demi-john and fill it up with
everyday red, white or rosato.
If you're on a budget, we have Pasetti's "bulk wine" (the
Italians call it "Vino Sfuso") in regular-sized, 750ml
It's the same wine that feller in the photo above is pumping into his
"Mio Vino" gallon jug.
They were sale priced at $6.99.
A view from the road, looking back to the winery and its hillside vineyards.
- We have a number of good wines from Signor Rocco.
There's an interesting white grape in Abruzzo which will remind some
experienced tasters of good, flinty French Chablis. It's made of the
grape called Pecorino. The grape takes its name from "sheep"
which are called "pecora" (pecore is the
plural). Apparently shepherds would herd their flock through pastures
and vineyards and this particular, early-ripening white grape was a favorite
of the sheep. As a result, it was known as "uva delle pecore"
or "grape of the sheep."
The Pecorino grape was near extinction and some growers in the Marche region
worked to revive it. Now it's spread to neighboring Abruzzo and we've
found good wines coming from Montepulciano producers.
Our favorite is Signor Pasetti's, as the wine retains crisp acidity and it
has some of the minerality one might associate with French Chablis
Pasetti makes good reds, as well. His version of his brother's
"Testarossa" wine is called Nerone and it's a dark, inky, deep
Montepulciano. It's a really satisfying wine on the dinner table and
perfect for braised meats, roasts or grilled meats.
The "basic" or regular bottling of Montepulciano is very good...a
big, deep red with a whiff of oak and it's beautifully balanced in terms of
tannin. If you find Chianti too light and/or too acidic, you probably
ought to give this a try.
The basic, everyday red from the Pasetti family is the wine people buy
"in bulk" at their wine shop out on the coast of Abruzzo.
It's good, dark, deep, simple red...perfect for "Spaghetti &
Meatballs" or a backyard barbecue of sausages...Vino Sfuso...
UPDATE: The 'Contesa family' decided to sell its wines
through a national importer in late 2010. As of late 2012, new
vintages have not become available as the "new & improved"
company has yet to make its presence felt in California.
UPDATE 2013: The new importer apparently folded its tent and
closed up, never selling any Contesa wines in the California market.
In April we received a note from the Contesa folks asking if we could
suggest a good importer...and we wrote back saying the "old
importer" did a good job for them...why not contact him? (No
- UPDATE 2015: No news. Nothing. All quiet on
the western front.
- Currently in stock:
2004 CONTESA "Nerone" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Sold Out
2005 CONTESA Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Sold Out
VINO SFUSO Sold Out
MY VISIT TO CONTESA
in APRIL 2009
Rocco and his daughter Perla and son Franco.
Olives and vineyards in Collecorvino...
south of Naples and Salerno is this producer in Campania. The De
Conciliis family has about 25 hectares of vineyards, producing a wine of the
Aglianico grape which attracted our attention.
This variety has nobility written all over it. Some people say the
grape was introduced to Italy by the Greeks and was known as Vitis
Hellenica and later as Ellenico before corrupting to Aglianico.
The De Conciliis family makes about 40,000 bottles of a wonderfully berryish
and mildly spicy (think white pepper) Aglianico called "Donnaluna."
We've heard of the man in the moon, but apparently there's a woman up there,
too. Medium-bodied, this is fairly smooth, so we like it served at
cool cellar temp. It's perfect with grilled pork, but also big enough
to stand up to well-seasoned lamb. The 2012 is currently in
We had skipped a few vintages...the wines simply did not strike us as
Then the 2012 arrived...Bingo!
Good wine! It's a delightful example of Aglianico, as has
become the 'norm' over the past five or six years. It's versatile, pairing with
pizza, pastas, sausages, etc. Good!
Naima is Bruno's top Aglianico. We had it in a blind-tasting of
Aglianico wines from Campania and Basilicata a few years ago and the wine ran away with the
tasting...even alongside entries from Mastroberardino and Feudi di San
here to check out the notes on that tasting...
- The wine was extraordinary. Deep and dark, with
wonderful wood scents. Complete on the palate and it demonstrates
Aglianico can be a wine of top quality.
More recent vintages have been "over the top" in our view...too
ripe, too powerful...too much. And out of balance.
For a guy who loves good jazz music, we wish he'd start making wines as
"harmonious" as some of his early vintages.
But the basic Aglianico is showing well and worth a try.
- Currently in stock: 2012 "Donnaluna" Aglianico $22.99
2004 "NAIMA" Sold Out
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