“Ajola” winery: the burocratic truth of living a dream…

 

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It is not easy to choose to live as Jacopo from Ajola winery does with his two friends, Trisha from Australia and Gigi from Orvieto.  It takes a life time of commitment and a great dose of courage.

All seems beautiful and idillic: the rolling hills of Orvieto, nature at its best, crisp pure air, fresh produce from the garden, animals and a gorgeous farm house set far away from civilisation, however the romantic life has its down turns and only strong determination and a huge amount of dedication can drive people like them.

In 2011, Jacopo, a graduate in agricolture, decided to buy with two friends an abandon vineyard on the outskirts of Orvieto (Umbria). Everyone thought he was a crazy man: located at over 500m above sea level, he was told that grapes there will never reach maturity. The vineyard was neglected for years and treated conventionally with whatever was necessary to combat vines’ diseases. At the beginning grapes were purchased to maintain the cash flow and financial sustainability of the farm, however criticism soon arrived as the concept of purchasing was against the “natural” idea of making wine. Although only a few so far have come up with a specific meaning of “natural wine”, I personally cannot see any problems in purchasing grapes, as far as they are sourced from reliable producers.

Today Jacopo does not buy grapes anymore, but he rents a plot nearby, with a total of 3,5 hectares managed entirely from his own resources. The EU does not help wineries with less then 5 hectares and taxes are equally paid (in percentage) by the giant who makes a million bottles and the little guy with a production that barely reaches 8000. The bureaucracy is so intricate that Jacopo cannot plant new vines in the traditional “vite maritata” training,  or a vine supported by a tree, as the etruscan used to do. The system is no longer recognised and vines cannot be registered, so you can plant them, but then the wine made will be illegal!

Pesticides and systemics are band from the property, sulphur and copper are carefully selected and used to avoid contamination, nettle infusion is sprayed to protect from downy and powdery mildew, but little can be done when rainy vintages like 2014 reduces the yield to minimum and yes in front of mother nature producers have no power. Only a few days ago a massive hail storm wiped out the majority of his grapes: big holes can been seen on  leaves and grape berries were split in half and partially commencing to rot. A very sad scenario after over half a year of hard work and consequences that will be seen for the following vintage. What to do next is very hard to say in particularly with the vinification approach that Jacopo has. No SO2 is used, neither enzymes or selected yeasts. Spontaneous fermentation takes place in stainless steel and fiberglass with whatever time is necessary. Low pH, hygiene and temperature controlled vinification rooms are crucial factors for Jacopo to avoid contamination and bacterial spoilage. It is a very delicate process with little guarantees and the consciousness that some wines might be wasted. Extensive experimentation is taking place, French oak barrels, chestnuts and terracotta anfora are vessels used to understand where the wine expresses best. It is a necessary time needed to gain experience and find a unique identity.

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Jacopo is honest and recognises all the limits, but Jacopo is also brave and on a life time quest. He is open for suggestions and keen to take risks. The barrel samples we tasted from vintage 2016 are expressions of the work in progress, but also clearly address a style of wine that escapes trends and looks for uniqueness and somehow lack of perfection.

The wines are never generous and sometimes hostile at the nose, but with a little time and swirling they emerge from the glass with their honesty and sincere nature. The Orvieto classico blend 2016 ( a blend from the field, as tradition dictate) suffers of reduction and high VA, however the palate was fresh, well balanced and incredibly lifting, macerated for 5 days and kept in a chestnut oval shaped barrel. The 100% Procanico was my favourite with 1 months’ maceration, a slight tannic attack, great acidity and floral scents of camomile, unripe apricot and acacia on the finish. Less convincing the nose on the Sangiovese, kept in old French oak barrique,  much better however the palate well balanced and finely calibrated.

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Of course these wines are for a niche clientele, call it “natural”, “organic”, “biodynamic”, “sustainable”, Jacopo is not looking for a certification or a label to stick on his product, but is looking for  authenticity and the revival of ancient practises forgotten by the industry.

Is this the way forward? Yes it could be, but not the only one. In the wine world there is space for everyone and a good wine critic should observe all the possible point of  views with an open mind and soul. It was inevitable that eventually the world of wine would have changed.

The question is: is perfection necessary ?

Nature is full of imperfection and often the fruits less appealing at the eye are the ones with much more taste. Maybe the concept of perfectly clean and luminous wines, scented and perfumed, immaculate at the palate  is not necessary a unique approach. Less perfection and more personality, variability and lack of consistency. All concepts against business and market expectation, but after all everyone is free to take its path, let the market continue, but also let people like Jacopo believe that there are other ways to make and appreciate wine. Everyone is free to embrace or reject the style, no one however should criticise without understanding.

I take my hat off to Ajola winery and hope for a system that one day will give credit to young people who choose to confront themselves with nature. Making a living out of the land, as Jacopo and his friends do, is hard work, you have to take the good and the bad and accept it with an open mind and the clear consciousness that in the space of no time your hard work may be wiped out by a freak storm!

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My journey through Stage 2 exam.

No one ever told me that it was going to be easy and actually I knew in the back of my mind what to expect, however nothing can prepare you for the four days ahead, even if you try really hard to imagine.

I trained all year, very hard, I debated all year if I should go for it or if I should wait, no regrets, but at one point I came to the conclusion that if I leave it I will loose a year, because with my style of life, the family and three kids you can easily shift into that kind of mentally that tell you to do everything tomorrow!

April arrived together with the dead line and with my heart betting fast I made my decision. Everyone at home was shocked in disbelieve.

I pushed as much as I could making myself sick by the end of April, temperature reached me at the speed of a tornado and I was lying in bed for a few days, unable to do anything.

I had time to think over my choices and overall my strange life, those kinds of crises that hit you hard and you start wondering.

However it was too late to go back and as soon as I was back on my feet I was spinning again like a crazy woman.

And of course June was not far, together with Tuesday 6th.

I arrived in London the day before and met my super patient husband, no much sleep follow that night: numbers, names, surnames, statistics, rootstocks, enzymes, additives, laboratory analyses, markets, grape varieties…all were going through my head without a precise order and logic.

Woke up at 5 of course, no much sleep could follow. We left for London and arrived at the hotel hall by 8am.

I cannot describe enough my fear, my desire to run away and that constant feeling of saying: “why am I here?”…But a strange inner force was overcoming and I kept repeating that there was no fear, but only courage and determination.

10am: 12 white wines follow in 2 hours and 15 minutes; you have an average of 3-4 questions per wine and no more then 10 minutes to spare per each set of questions. There is no time to wonder, a decision must be made regardless and your ability is to be focused and vigilant to small details because it’s them that make the difference.

3 essays about viticulture follow in the afternoon, with three hours time and the giant clock ticking the second left. By 5pm we were done and I felt this was just day 1.

Day 2 the same scenario: 12 reds, same time table, same pressure and stress level, with your palate pulling like crazy for the amount of tannins and everything of course by the end feel tannic! One hour and half for lunch and in the afternoon 3 essays in wine making followed. Technical questions, a joy for wine makers, less for me a woman of art and literature dealing with enzymes, yeasts and sulphur dioxide! Of course by 5pm I was cooked.

So far not so bad…super tired but overall satisfy!

The cherry on the cake arrived on the third day with what all of us called “ the F….G” paper. We knew it could have been anything, we call it the mixed bag, but on average sparkling and fortified wines are part of it and everyone prepares mentally for that kind of treatment. Instead it was not the case, there was only one sparkling and 2 fortified and the rest was a macerated wine, 2 rose’, 2 sweets and 4 still reds.. I was sweeting heavily thinking how to taste and which order to follow, with a paper like this you have to think strategically otherwise your palate will go. I started with the sparkling follow by the 2 rose’, then I moved to the red but went into panic, so I thought to myself I need to move on there is no time to waste, so I approached the fortified to feel safe and somehow confident. The reds were left last but by then my palate was somehow compromised. I read the question and thought tactically, the wine spoke to me, somehow I felt where I was. The time was ticking few minutes to go..

I managed to finish everything, but I was in pieces. Everyone was in pieces, confronting each other we were all over the place. It was a difficult paper no doubt about it!

But the day was not over and in the afternoon 2 more lovely essays on handling of wine followed, the most boring paper ever, which I still do not know why we should know in such details. Laboratory analysis, HACCP, ISO, QA, QC, bottling line, shipping wine in bulk…great fun of course for those who do this for living. We finished at 4pm,, on my way home I felt like a zombie!

And of course day 4 was left, the last day of the long wine marathon, no more tasting, but 5 essays writing, three in the morning for marketing and two in the afternoon with contemporary topics. The titles were great, I must admit, but I wish I had a bit more time to spare and less fatigue on me.

Anyway you can only imagine my great relief when by the afternoon it was all over. I thought I would exalt of enjoy, instead I was in pieces.. Hardly unable to say anything…. We all went to the pub and I drunk a pint of Guinness as fresh water from the tap!

Friday the 9th had arrived.. Time to go home see my children, go to the garden, catch up with some friends,.

This was by far the most incredible week of my life to remember and share., but this of course was also the week I realise why Masters of wine are so few and rare!

 

 

Gli artigiani del vino

E’ all’undicesima manifestazione di Amelia Doc che incontriamo l’Abruzzo nella sua veste artigianale, così definita dai tre produttori di Loreto Aprutino, piccolo comune in provincia di Pescara a pochi kilometri dalla costa Adriatica.

Francesco Paolo Valentini, proprietario dell’omonima cantina Valentini, storica icona abruzzese che già agli arbori del XVII secolo è dedita al mondo dell’agricoltura. Stefano Papetti, produttore dell’azienda Torre dei Beati: un progetto che nasce a fine anni ’90 con l’assunzione di terreni di famiglia e la conversione in biologico. Fausto Albanesi, biodinamico al servizio della terra, “operaio e vignaiolo” della cantina De Fermo, “servitore del vino che nasce da sé”.

Un orgoglio comune affiata le tre voci, un solo credo supporta il loro lavoro: l’essere artigiano al servizio della materia. Un concetto alternativo al controverso mondo del vino naturale oggi tanto di moda, ma poco compreso dal consumatore poco attento che non guarda ai contenuti.

Ma chi è l’artigiano del vino? Che cosa fa e come traduce il suo lavoro?

Decisiva la risposta di Francesco Paolo Valentini tinta di pura passione e fermezza. L’artigiano è colui che lavora la materia, che asseconda ed interpreta il frutto della terra, che vive la sostanza nella sua essenza e che non scende a compromessi. L’artigiano è l’artista, nel suo genio sensibile che osserva, assimila, filtra e ordina in una logica interiore che poi si traduce in opera d’arte. Lavorare la materia seguendo l’andamento climatico e stagionale, nelle sue svariate sfaccettature essere sinceri con se stessi e con il consumatore finale. Tradurre l’uva in vino con il minimo interventismo, accompagnando il processo fermentativo assecondando temperature libere che possono raggiungere anche i 37°c, usufruire dei lieviti indigeni contenuti nell’uva, unici veri marcatori territoriali, traduttori sinceri del concetto di terroir. Fare vino con pazienza, osservando ogni minimo dettaglio e non lasciando nulla al caso.

All’artigiano non servono certificazioni, la sua è una scelta consapevole da offrire solo a quel consumatore attendo e sensibile.

In un mondo centrato sul protagonismo del branding dei flussi economici che vedono sempre più il consumatore dettare le regole del gioco, la sopravvivenza dell’artigianalità risulta quanto più importante. Solo il produttore, interprete e creatore, può offrire un altro punto di vista guardando al risultato finale senza scendere a compromessi di alcuna sorta. Come giustamente osserva Valentini, l’essere artigiano preclude una responsabilità verso se stessi e verso gli altri: è un atto di onestà che non può essere servitore di mode passeggere. La natura non è una moda, le stagioni nelle più svariate sfaccettature devono sapersi raccontare attraverso il vino. Standardizzare il prodotto per seguire un gusto comune significa de-naturalizzare quello che l’annata voleva raccontarci nel suo essere bello, nelle situazioni felici, e nel suo essere brutto, in quelle in cui l’andamento climatico ha richiesto uno sforzo ulteriore.

Ed in effetti sotto questa luce illuminante e profonda che parlano i vini di tutti e tre i produttori.

Il primo campione proposto è un Pecorino in purezza figlio dell’annata 2015. “Giocheremo con i fiori” il nome del vino non a caso scelto proprio per l’aromaticità che il bicchiere offre: alla foglia di limone si accompagna il gelsomino bianco e nella trama agrumata s’intreccia la spinta acida ed una materia sostenuta dalla scelta di lasciare il vino sulle fecce fini per dare carica autolitica e briosità dinamica in bocca.

Il Trebbiano d’Abruzzo di Valentini è l’annata 2012 vinificato in botte grande di legno di Slavonia: potente l’impatto olfattivo che non lascia spazio ad aromaticità di frutto e fiore, ma rivela sensazioni quasi idrocarburiche, la canna di fucile unita ad una nespola gialla fresca. Il vino è profondo, misterioso, ricco di sostanza estrattiva. I caldi dell’annata 2012 hanno portato a maturazione zuccherina le uve, la vendemmia è stata anticipata, ma oggi sempre più maturità fenolica e maturità zuccherina non coincidono e l’aspetto preoccupante è l’osservare uno scompenso naturale frutto del cambiamento climatico a cui aimè l’uomo moderno ha contribuito.

Francesco Paolo denuncia a cuore aperto la sua preoccupazione verso un futuro vitivinicolo a cui personalmente penso dovremo dare delle risposte trovando soluzioni alternative per non soccombere al negativismo e all’immobilità.

I cerasuoli che seguono nascono da scelte enologiche diverse. “Le cince” 2015, dell’azienda De Fermo, presenta un colore che più ricorda la natura del cerasuolo: Stefano lascia le bucce a contatto per qualche ora estraendo colore dall’uva Montepulciano. L’acidità affilata come una lama sostiene un vino verticale che viaggia come un treno ad alta velocità. Sanguineo, succoso, con punte di bacca rossa selvatica, è sorretto da sostanza materica che lo rende versatile e dinamico nelle nostre tavole quotidiane.

Petalo di rosa, invece, il Cerasuolo di Valentini 2014, più vicino ai colori dei vini provenzali. La vinificazione del Montepulcino è fatta in bianco ed il rosa pallido che ne deriva è frutto del mosto fiore. La componente floreale vuole essere protagonista sorretta da una spalla acida che racconta l’annata 2014. C’è meno materia in bocca, ma tanta freschezza ed ancora una volta è quella facilità di beva che ammalia ed incanta.

La batteria si chiude con due rossi da uve Montepulciano: “Prologo” 2011 è figlio di una vinificazione in vecchie vasche di cemento della cantina De Fermo. Amico dell’ossigeno, così definito dal suo autore, rimane a tini aperti dopo la fermentazione. L’attenta osservazione del vino ha portato a capire che non si poteva chiudere la materia ricavata all’interno di serbatoi, il vino aveva ancora bisogno di tempo, dinamico e vibrante, andava assecondato. La matrice scura come l’inchiostro tinge di rosso le pareti del bicchiere, la dominante olfattiva ci racconta di terra, frutto scuro e ferro, anche qui ritrovo quella nota sanguinea, intrisa di spezie. Non manca la freschezza ed un tannino dalla trama fitta e compatta.

“Mazzamurello” 2011 è l’ultimo vino che ci viene proposto di Torre dei Beati. Vinificato con l’utilizzo di barrique e ripetuti batônnage esprime un frutto tinto di sentori vanigliati, spezie dolci con accenni floreali. Deciso il tannino ancora non perfettamente composto, il vino ha bisogno di tempo, e la trama tannica si discosta in un viaggio assolo.

 

Grazie artigiani del “savoir faire”, grazie Amelia Doc, grazie Giampaolo Gravina per questo viaggio intimo nel cuore di Loreto Aprutino e dei suoi protagonisti difensori di un concetto di artigianalità che oggi accolgo con immenso piacere pensando che forse proprio questo termine conia al meglio un flusso di vini alternativi all’industria.

Accolgo anche l’invito di visitare il piccolo comune di Loreto Aprutino per conoscere nell’essenza di quanto il bicchiere ha saputo tradurre. Il loro è un invito sincero, un gesto di coraggio in un mondo della globalizzazione che tutto sta omologando anche il nostro tanto amato vino.

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.