NOBLE ROT: a natural wonder

 

 

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Botrytis cinerea is the name of a common rot that affects all kinds of fruits. Known also as the grey rot, it represents a common headache for producers all over the world.

It overwinters in dead wood and spores in spring when humidity and early morning mist create the perfect environment to thrive in. At this early stage it will damage grapes splitting the skin and exposing the fragile berries to other enemies.

Conventional and unconventional practises are adopted world wide to prevent and stop its spreading. In biodynamic agriculture horsetail tea is used to spray the vines, in conventional viticulture anti botrytis spray is a common practise to safeguard the crop. However botrytis can become noble rot when in the latest part of harvest the grape are already formed and contain the equivalent of 7% volume in alcohol. It punctures the berries isolating the tiny hole from other bacteria. Water evaporates (almost 70% will be lost) and berry’s will shrivel. Botrytis metabolizes sugar and acidity, increases glycerol, acetic acid and gluconic acid. Producers need to monitor their vines when botrytis affects the grapes. More then one harvest might be performed and it is crucial to pick at the right time.

Have you ever seen a noble rot bunch? In all honesty you might not like to see it (picture attached). You will never expect that from such poor bunches one of the most extraordinary wine in the world is made. Not all the grapes are suitable for botrytis, some of the most popular varieties are: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Furmint and Gewurztraminer. France with their Sauternes, Hungary with the Tokaij, Germany with the auslese, beerenauslese e trockenbeerenauslese, Australia with noble rot grapes from Riverina (New South Wales), South africa, California and of course Orvieto in Italy are amongst the most extraordinary areas in the world. Muffa Nobile is the name used in Italy, which translates as Noble rot, or Pourriture Noble in French.

Light or amber colour, gold in some vintages the brilliant luminous appearance irradiates its own light. Flavours are often related to dry fruits: apricots, dates, honey and saffron, depending on the varieties nuts and floral notes are also a characteristic. The palate expresses pure pleasure: viscose, velvety texture, sweet and rich with fruit intensity, acidity is essential to counterpart the residual sugar and to leave a clean and defined finish. Try some almond based biscuits or cakes and for a true and unique experience blue cheeses are amongst our favourite choices.

ENJOY!!!

 

Baden: the sunniest region of Germany

 

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Baden is not the usual place for a wine lover! Despite tradition and great potential, it is a corner of Germany that remains in the shadows.

Set in the southwest part of the country, Baden stretches from the 47,99 to the 47,50 parallel reviling a diversity of climate and geological strata. Pinot Noir covers almost 70% of the 15,800 hectares under vines: a surface bigger then all plantation of Pinot Noir in New Zealand. Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are the next most important grape varieties, together with Muller Thurgau, Silvaner and Muskatelle.

The soil varies from granite to the north, to calcareous and volcanic in the south. Geographically protected by the Black Forest, in perfect line with Alsace, it is separated by the Vosge Mountain: a natural geographical barrier that, on clear days, can be seen from a distance. This is the hottest part of Germany and drip irrigation is well implemented, however the hot temperatures of the day are well balanced by the important variation of temperature at night, which guarantees acidity and natural aromas, clearly shown in exceptional Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Alcohol is on the rise and to consider Baden a cool climate region is adventurous and risky. “Temperate” is the most appropriate term; on a blind tasting you could easily be fooled into Alto Adige or Friuli (depending on the grape varieties).

The presence of red wine has been documented since ancient times when burgundian monks, in the XIII century, made new settlements here. However, although the long history and the extensive area dedicated to Pinot Noir, its long tradition is unknown to many.

Ruled by co-ops for 75% of the production, slowly many have moved away from the system and have become independent, there is a new awareness and emphasis on terroir, grape varieties and wine style. This is the future of Baden to compete internationally with authentic wines.

There are two styles of Pinot Noir depending on the clones used and the vinification process, the type of soil also has an important role together with seasonal temperature. Freiburg clones are popular, but also French clones and opinions vary amongst producers to which is the best. Sometimes Pinot Noir can be alcoholic and quite heavily influenced by new oak, other times it can be spicy, juicy and crisp. The latter is often shown from producers working in the Kaiserstulh area where the volcanic soil, rich in minerals and limestone, gives depth and a true sense of place.

Producers worth to visit: Weingut Bernhard Huber, where Pinot Noir clones were introduced by the founder in the late 1980, Weingut Bercher, in the beautiful village of Burkhem and Franz Keller with a classy Michelin star restaurant.

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Francesco Carfagna: the Giglio Island dream

It was not easy to get an appointment with Francesco Carfagna of Vigneto Altura. I contacted him over a month ago, he was pleased and surprised, however, he could not give me a date: ” We might be harvesting” was his answer.

At the end of August my family and I travelled to the Island of Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany, as agreed I called Francesco, but he was not feeling very well and busy with everyday life in the vineyard and cellar. He told me to call the day after and this happened for three consecutive days. I was almost going to give up, I did not want to intrude into his life, but I knew I needed to give it another try as I felt it was worth it.

He probably eventually understood my desire, or had enough of me (I am not sure!), however on the third day at 6,30pm he decided to welcome me. I rushed to the car and drove off to Giglio Castello, the medieval town perched on granite rock overlooking the entire island. The winery is actually his own house: an old round mill with the most amazing scenery at 360 degrees, underground there is a small room, very cramped, where Francesco make his wine.

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About 8 small stainless steel tanks (maybe less), one barrel, a destemmer crusher and a pneumatic press, nothing else. He takes me to the cellar and we try the Ansonaco 2015. There are 3 tanks and one of them still fermenting from last year. The wine is gold, unfiltered, although hazy it shines and vibrates. Made from one quarter of the grapes vinified in white, the rest is fermented in red with skin and stems for as long as needed. The gentle bubbles and small residual sugar show a wine “vivo” (= alive) as Francesco says. Rich of substance, fruity, dynamic, refreshing with a salty finish that reminds of the surrounding sea. I am stunned, I would like some more but I am too polite to ask. Francesco is worried about this tank :”By now” he says “It should be bottled, but how can I confine this wine yet! It is still fermenting over a year later! I must follow the will of the wine and wait. Nature should never be forced!”.

The next taste is a Chiaretto from Sangiovese grapes that Francesco buys from dear friends in Maremma. A few days of maceration, removal of the skin, then spontaneous fermentation, a splash of SO2 and the rest is experience. I feel I am drinking fruit juice, with an alcoholic hint, VA is at the limit, but it gives that intriguing character that enriches the wine and gives pure personality. I gulped the wine like never before, I am surprised it is not my habit to swallow!

We finished with a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Grenache, Vermentino Nero and maybe something else. Francesco tells me that historically in Giglio there was more red grapes varieties then white. Already in the XVI century Andrea Bacci was dedicating a section of his work to the Giglio grapes. The island once was  covered in vines and as we travelled through a dirt truck to reach his vineyards, he shows me all the abandoned terraces now covered in wild bushes. The scenery is breathtaking: the ancient vines curled through the rocks, making their way, fighting for survival.

The grapes overlook the sea, sloping along the side of the granite south-west aspect, the silence around hits you hard, the total absence of noise fulfils the soul, I feel I am touched to the deepest part of my heart.

WP_20160831_19_12_44_Pro-3Every single intervention here is manual. The wild rabbits, this year, have had a feast and temporary fences had to be put to avoid their devastation. They eat everything, grapes and leaves and after three consecutive years the plant is lost forever. Sadness arises over Francesco’s eyes: it is the battle of a lonely man against nature, I feel for him and realised that over that apparent hard shell there is a big heart hidden away.

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The bright gold colour of the grape is the colour of the wine, the exposed part of the berry is burned by the sun: “Now you know where my wine comes from” he says. ” Look how generous the plant is” he points out with big pride: “These are plants that have not seen any proper rain since October and look how the vine responds. I have treated them twice this year with sulphur and copper..but the rabbits these are my real pests!”

The spirit of surviving through the difficulty and the adversity. This is my deep thought in the silence that surrounds us. I look at the distant sea and without voice I thank this man for this extraordinary experience. Out of the multitude of vineyards visited so far and the numerous tastes undertaken to understand the world of wine, this has to be one my most memorable moments. I had so many questions to ask, I was eager to come home with considerable examples from my MW study, but in all truth I could not ask any. What was I supposed to ask? How could I have questioned the dream of a man who started almost twenty years ago when the island became his home and after years of hard work has three hectares of land reclaimed? No I could not have asked any questions, this was not the usual visit, this was a human moment shared, a brief encounter between a master of experience and a woman in need to know. My full respect and silence was the only thing I could offer and these few lines dedicated to this man, his dream, his fantastic wines, his beautiful island and the genius talent that with great hope I wish someone, somewhere will be able to carry forward. Thank you Francesco and for sure see you again soon.

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A taste of Aleatico grape

 

Aleatico is an ancien grape variety appreciated by Romans, although its origin is not clear. DNA profiling has shown a relation with Moscato Bianco and some genetic relation with Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, Sangiovese and Gaglioppo, but genetic is a complicated game and as the last three grapes have little in common the relation seems quite improbable.  Vigorous with good tolerance to drought, it prefers well ventilated sites and Bolsena Lake, in Lazio region, seams to suit perfectly its necessities.

Andrea Occhipinti belongs to a new generation of producers devoted to Aleatico grape. His vines are sloping along the side of the volcanic lake in a breath taking scenery, the soil is dark rich of minerals, all the vines come from an ancient vineyard and were propagated through selection massale, Andrea has now his own private nursery. The spontaneous fermentation takes place in small cement tanks to control the temperature, no oak is used and stainless steel is only for storage prior bottling. All the wines remain on lees and undertake malolactic fermentation. Fining and clarification are avoided, only a gross filtration is applied before bottling.

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Alea Viva 2014 was my favourite taste. 100% Aleatico grape purple transparent with floral scents, red roses and black berry juice dominates the nose with hints of dark spices. The wine is dynamic with crisp acidity and soft tannins, the floral and fruity character remarks the palate leaving that pleasant feeling of “I want some more”.

Impressive Alea Rosa 2015, 100% Aleatico with 24 hours maceration to provide an attractive light pink colour, the floral flavours are the main dominant: rose, lili and violet with fresh fruits scents. Linear  and well balance, the gentle tannins and crisp acidity offer a pleasant drink to be served chilled.

WP_20160801_014Antonella Pacchiarotti hosts her guests in the historical town of Grotte di Castro, very impressive the underground cellar and the winemaking cellar. Since 2009 Antonella has dedicated her time to Aleatico grape: a tradition learned from the family, but without specific studies. The three and half hectares of land are dedicated to the local Aleatico: there is a lot of experimentation going on and the line of wines has jet to find a clear direction.

Impressive Antonella enthusiasm: a woman full of bubbles and energy, however the wine is missing her input and from one bottle to the next there is little continuity. I would personally reduce the line and let the territory and grape variety express more. Too often the choices in the winery were emerging from the glass, leaving aside the true soul of Aleatico grape.

Antonella has energy to spare and I am sure she will be able to find a true identity soon.

Podernuovo località Palazzone

Attention to details like a precious stone counts very much at Podernuovo winery. The Bulgari family (the famous jewellery company) has been here since the early 2000, dedicating their passion to a territory not far from Siena. Impeccable vines dominate the scenery the “potatura dolce” taught through Simonit and Sirch “Potatori d’uva” school, is an effective pruning style that allow the plant to develop without imparting dramatic cuts subject to future trunk diseases (Esca here does not exist). Heavy clay (the famous “Crete Senesi”) characterises the soil, precise attention on when and how to work the soil is necessary, inter-row management is crucial to aeriate the soil, minerals are not always available and addition of nitrogen, iron and cobalt sometimes is essential. They do not combat problems they try to prevent the problem. “Induttori di difesa” are used to build up the natural immune system of the plant to strengthen  natural defences. The grapes this year look healthy and promise a good harvest.

The winery  is a master piece of architecture: modern, spacious with the latest technologies. Geothermic energy is utilised to provide energy for the entire building. Experimenting recently has moved the team to vinify in terracotta anfora made locally by Sirio Anfore. Open fermenters are used through spontaneous fermentation and natural yeasts.

And the wines? There is space to grow.

Sotirio 2010 100% Sangiovese revels notes of mature fruits, dark spice and tobacco, but the tannins are dusty and the finish is slightly bitter.

Argirio 2013 mainly Cabernet Franc with 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon is much more harmonious although the alcohol stand out at the nose with piercing pungency (15%). Powerful, rich, opulent but I can’t stop noticing the slight bitterness on the finish.

Terra 2012 is a blend of many grapes including Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Merlot is considered their entry level label,  however I think the opposite: mature fruits, dark cherries and sweet vanilla anticipate a full extractive wine, mouth filling and rich. Out of all the other wines is the one that leave a fond memory.

All through the wine tasting  I feel the estate still searching for its own identity, I am lacking a sense of place and vibrancy, all the potentials are there to offer a great product, however it is just a matter of time, try and errors..after all there is only one harvest per year!

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Stage 1 passed. My Masters of Wine journey

It has been a tough year for me. It took me a while to get the gist of the MW (Masters of wine) program and from the beginning I was panicking. I had to re-programed myself, my preview studying had helped me to become a good wine taster and, of course, to orientate myself through the wine making world. However the MW studying has nothing to do with Sommelier courses: the Sommelier describes, the MW analyses. The difference is huge and not always straightforward. When you describe wine is all about flavours, taste, aromas..when you analyze wine those flavours, taste and aromas must be connected to a place, a wine style, a grape variety and to vinification techniques. Everything stated has to be justified within all the various aspects of winemaking. It is a complex game and requires a very high standard of knowledge, together of course to wine tasting skill. The program is tough, you are constantly criticised and asked to give more. All through the year I felt million times  I wanted to leave, I felt I could not take the pressure anymore. I spent hours over books and lot of money in blind tasting. The program is not made for weak people it demands strong personality. Your self-confidence is constantly dashed, head down and nothing glamour about yourself, there is so much you need to know!

June came very quickly and that panic mood never left me from the day I enrolled, but surprise on the day of the exam (6th June 2016) I felt somehow relax, all the tension built was finally coming to an end. 12 wines were given in 2 hours and 15 minutes; I shifted through them quickly and start writing. All the wines felt familiar apart from number 5. My feeling was: “I know what they are” and I went with my gut impressions. When a week later the wines were released I had 11 wines right, a part of course for number 5! I was right to trust my inner soul. Theory was less straightforward after the morning tasting we had to write 2 essays in 2 hours. One question is compulsory, the second question offers multiple choices. Structure is crucial and on stage 1, I believe, it is what counts most. I delivered a good structure for both, but lacked worldwide examples and of course grammar, silly spelling mistakes, (which I am probably making now too). Italy and France were coming to my mind, the rest of the world was somehow no there. Getting the right example, to fit perfectly with theory, is difficult and right now on  my main agenda.

Anyway last week (18th July) the exam results were delivered and with tears of joy I was admitted to stage 2. I passed what felt a giant monster only a few weeks before. I made through the next stage and the challenge continues. Stage 2 is the big “Himalaya”, is the core exam to move after to the final stage of the program. It has been such a relief to pass, it has given me that little bit of confidence to continue into this amazing journey. Only the one within the program can fully understand the effort, the fatigue, the psychological and physical work. I am a fighter and a worrier and will not give up. Stage 2  I am ready to take my next challenge.

Etna wine: the island within the island

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Sicily is my place of birth​, the Mediterranean sea my deep roots! Etna, however, is a unique area where vines have been thrived for centuries and wine making has been part of everyday life for generations. Etna pulses with vital energies, smoking away in the back ground, through lavish vegetation and biodiversity careful kept. Hundreds of years old vines are dotted in between cactus, wild fennel, rosemary and sage shaped by time into living sculptures. The air is crisp, the light intense, this is the land of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante the varieties use for Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco Doc. If I have to think of a wine that resembles its habitat for sure this is the place where I will look: intense minerals, deep fruits, floral notes, balsamic and spicy, an orchestra of flavours measured superbly. A wines capable of ageing gracefully thanks to the high acidity and the powerful tannin, integrated into the structure harmoniously. A place where a little bit of my heart was left!

Burgundy: where wine begins!

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I presume this must be the most famous and visited vineyard in the world, a place of cult for the wine lover! Domaine de la Romaneé Conti appears in all its sober and pure elegance, a small sign hardly visible: nobility and class don’t need to shout!

I was blessed with fantastic whether, during my visit last May: blue sky, pleasant temperature and a strong cold wind, a true remind that here the vines have to struggle everyday with tough conditions. It was a great bonus the good whether it made me understand a very fundamental aspect of this area, the key that make this wine so special. Of course the univocity of the soil, the knowledge passed by through generations, the perfect grape varieties almost only made to grow here, but most of all the LIGHT, the quality of the light, so intense, so luminous, so vibrant, sharp, edgy, clean and pure, like the wine that you drink. The light is something special, the intensity and the power of its irradiation has a magical touch that can only be beneficial to the plants and to our soul.

La Cote d’Or, this unique stretch of land, is a combination of many little details that over centuries have been put together, have been master by human, have been transformed into wine. This is what Burgundy has left to me.

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Grechetto from Sergio Mottura

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We are not exactly in Umbria but very closed to it! Sergio Mottura, organic grower and winemaker from Civiletta D’Agliano near Viterbo in Lazio, is known for a unique clone of Grechetto, which takes his name. Grechetto is an important grape variety for Orvieto Classico blend: thick skin rich of bloom, early flowering, mid-late ripening. It offers wines of great texture, famous for the nutty finish and the ability to last in time. I personally adore Grechetto: it’s unique, deep, away from the stereotype aromas, it is a good mediator of the soil, full of character frankly similar to none.