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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).

REGIONS OF THE "SOUTH"

MARCHE
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 Conero, 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.
LAZIO 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. 
ABRUZZO 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 Chablis.
CAMPANIA 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 Toscano.
There is much improvement taking place in Campania!
PUGLIA 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.
CALABRIA 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.  
BASILICATA 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.
SICILIA 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.
SARDEGNA 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 be good.
  
SOME SUNNY WINES  FROM ITALY

 

 
PASETTI (Tenuta di Testarossa)
The 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 heads!

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.



Francesca 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 visit."


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 Weimax customers.

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 $23.99  
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.

 

 

 

 

 



  

ANTICA TENUTA DEL NANFRO
The 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 Mount Etna.  

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 familiar.

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.
Yes.
How about Nanfro's Frappato?
Yes.
"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.

 

 

MUSTO CARMELITANO

Some 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, Aglianico.

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:  2010 MASCHITANO ROSSO  (Aglianico) $14.99

 

 

 

TERREDORA DI PAOLO

"The" 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 Britain.

 
 
 
 
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 vineyard.

We have a couple of their wines in stock.  

The 2012 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 citrus.  
Match this with appetizers as a cocktail white or pair it with grilled or fried seafood.  

 

They 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 this.  
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 aging, though.  


We 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 spices. 
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 dinner table).

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:  2012 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

A SIDE NOTE:
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 publications.
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 customer.

We say "Bravo!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CANTINE LONARDO (Contrade di Taurasi)

This 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 members.

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 wines).  
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. 

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."

We 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.

Currently in stock:  CONTRADE DE TAURASI 2008 TAURASI "Vigne d'Alto"  SALE $69.99

 

 

 

 

 



MASCIARELLI
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 husband.
 
 


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.



The 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.

The 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.

There's 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


 

TENUTE RUBINO

The 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 southern Italy.
 
 
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 tannins.  

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" SUSUMANIELLO  $19.99

 

 




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 takes place.

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 $16.99



 
CANTELE
The 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 south.  

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 them...)
 

Currently in stock:  CANTELE 2010 SALICE SALENTINO Riserva  $10.99 (case discounts, too)

 

 
 




ARGIOLAS
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.

Not Argiolas!


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 sell...
 

Guigal's $100 Condrieu was served alongside the Argiolas "Nuragus" wine at
our New Year's fest with seared Ahi tuna stuffed with crab meat & basil.
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 appreciate)...

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

The 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 di Paolo.

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 or Syrah.

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."  
Eh...maybe not.

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.

The 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





 


CONTINI

The Contini winery is still family owned and operated, having started in the late 1890s.

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 of Sardinia.

We're especially fond of the two wines from the Contini family.


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 Vermentino...

 
 
 

 
 
 
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.

Well, maybe.

It is pretty good, however.

 

Currently in stock:  2011 CONTINI "Sartiglia" CANNONAU DI SARDINIA  $17.99
2013 CONTINI "Tyrsos" VERMENTINO DI GALLURA $16.49



 

 

 

 

RIOFAVARA

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 barrels.  

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"  $21.99

 

 






COSIMO TAURINO

Though 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 meat.

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
 











CAGGIANO
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 wine annually.

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

 
 

 



 
LIBRANDI
librandi.gif (7995 bytes)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 passed.
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.


Calabrese "Chianti".


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, reliable wines.

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 right.

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 'structure.'  

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

MY CALABRIAN DINNER IN CIRÒ MARINA WITH THE LIBRANDI'S

 

 



PIERO MANCINI

Older 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 kids.

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 care, anyway.

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 shelves.

We are big fans of this wine and it remains reasonably priced.

Currently in stock:  2013 MANCINI VERMENTINO DI GALLURA  $14.99


 

 

 
LA CORTE
Towards the very bottom of Italy's 'heel' is the town of Lecce, close to where this La Corte wine comes from.

We had a nice Negroamaro from this winery last year...this year we've found a good Primitivo and it's well-priced and well-made.

Not a "fancy" wine, but it's a medium-bodied, lightly berryish red which is made for immediate drinking rather than collecting dust for some special occasion in a decade, or two.

In the warm weather, this is best served after an hour in the 'fridge.  



Currently in stock: LA CORTE PRIMITIVO $10.99
 


Most Italians know Lecce for its soccer team.
We know them for their wine.

 

 


PAOLO CALI

The 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.

http://www.frescodivigna.it/writable/imgprodotti/fotografia/27072.jpgWe're 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 "Number 2").

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

 

 







GRIFALCO

The 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:  2010 GRIFALCO "Gricos"  AGLIANICO  $15.99



 

LA SIBILLA

Imagine 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 FALANGHINA $17.99

 


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!

 




 



BONAVITA
We 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 don't drink.

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 vineyards.  

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

ODOARDI

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 "real life."

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 vineyards.


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 annually.

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 rather remarkable.
 

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

wpe91.jpg (4216 bytes)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 bubble gum.  


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 2011 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)
2011 FALANGHINA $13.99






FAZI BATTAGLIA
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...


TASCA D'ALMERITA
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 oak.  

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 Order2008 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 TENSE"...
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!

CONTESA
Winemaker 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" in character.

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 Contesa's
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 bottles.
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.

Meanwhile, the winery is about 35 kilometers inland and is surrounded by vineyards.


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 wines.  

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 response)
 
 
 
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...

 

 

 

 
DE CONCILIIS
donna_agli_200.jpg (4658 byte)Located 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 2008 is currently in stock.  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 Gregorio. 
Click 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.
 
Currently in stock:  2008 "Donnaluna" Aglianico Sold Out
2004 "NAIMA"  Sold Out
 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

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