Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Speaking of Bubbles… Part Two

July 13, 2012

There is a lot of average to shitty Prosecco out there.  That is ok I guess since most Prosecco is meant for aperitivo hour in Italy, just something to casually drink alongside little finger snacks at the local bar before sitting down to dinner where the serious wine drinking and eating begins.  Some people even desecrate Prosecco by pouring peach purée into it, something called a Bellini, supposedly this is a popular cocktail around the world, I don’t believe it.  Prosecco should be meant for better things.

To review, Prosecco is a sparkling wine from Italy, more specifically the Veneto area in the Northeastern corner of the country (where Venice is).  Most of the production takes place in the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, just south of the Alpine mountains.  Prosecco is not Champagne, Prosecco is Prosecco.  Prosecco is made mostly from Glera grapes, also known as Prosecco grapes.  The bubbles in most Prosecco happen when you add sugar and yeast to still wine and let it re-ferment in a pressurized steel tank.  The yeast eats the sugar making alcohol and that gives off  CO2 gas which cannot escape the vat and it is all bottled under pressure.   This is called the Charmat Method or Metodo Italiano or Metodo Charmat-Martinotti (Named after a French guy who perfected an Italian’s invention).  This is a quicker, easier way to make sparkling wine and it is cheaper, and it can be done on a massive scale.

There are many great examples of inexpensive Prosecco produced in the Charmat Method that everyone should chug down, but I want to tell you about an extra special Prosecco that is made the old fashion way.

Christian Ca’ Dei Zago of the farm Ca’ Dei Zago crafts some of the coolest Prosecco from just 4 hectares of vines.  His idea is to guide the grapes from harvest to bottle with no extra energy.  This means no pesticides in the soil, no machine harvest, no extra sulphites are added, no commercial yeasts, all the wine is gravity fed.  The secondary fermentation takes place in each bottle (which Christian bottles by hand) with no dosage (sugar and yeast).

Instead the wine is bottled with a bit of residual grape sugar that eventually re-ferments on its own making lightly textured bubbles.  There is no filtration and no disgorgement (where the sediment is removed and an additional sugary-syrupy mix of wine is added and a cork is shoved in).  This sparkling wine is lively and chalky, lemon zesty and bone cracking dry.  You could start a meal with it for sure but it would easily carry all the way through a butter and cream rich meal.

Delicious, delicious noble lees, embrace them.  Think of them as flavor crystals.

Ca’ Dei Zago “Col Fondo” (with sediment) Prosecco di Valdobbiadene . $20. Imported by Williams Corner Wine.

Finding The Pretty From Puglia

January 24, 2012

Puglia, subtle rolling hills, fertile plains with lots of sunshine, pretty.  Puglia, surounded by The Ionian and Adriatic Seas, very pretty indeed.  Puglia gave us the calzone, the pretty pasta shape of orecchiette and the pretty looking tarantula.

What’s not so pretty about Puglia is its mass production of wine.  Tied with Sicily for bulk output of grape juice, Puglia has long supplied the rest of Italy (and the rest of the world) with cheap, forgettable table swill.  Wine from Puglia is frequently used to thicken up wines from other regions and is also a base ingredient for many vermouths produced in the northern city of Turin.  Commercial wines from Puglia can taste roasted and oxidized, dirty and alcoholic.

Grower-producer wines can be pretty though.  There are people that make distinct and balanced wines from grapes that they grow themselves  from vineyards passed down through generations.  Wines that are a thoughtful celebration of Puglia’s hotter than Africa climate.


Azienda Agricola Pasquale Petrera di Orfino Rosa is a pretty wine estate that produces pretty wines.

Big, rich, spicy and fragrant you would never believe that the pretty Fatalone wines have a sinister alcohol content…

2007 Azienda Agricola Pasquale Petrera “Fatalone” Gioia del Colle Primitivo.  $17. Imported by Williams Corner Wine.  A slick, high octane, dark fruit attack that is perfectly balanced by a refreshing dose of minerality.  Aged for 18 months before release.  Drink it with roasted meats, spicy pasta dishes and aged cheeses.

2009 Azienda Agricola Pasquale Petrera “Fatalone” I.G.T. Terres Primitivo.  $15. Imported by Williams Corner Wine.  From free run juice that is fermented in contact with the grape skins for only 30 hours, this wine is light and lively.  Almost rose in color but structured and spicy.  This is a perfect pizza wine.  Serve it slightly chilled.


So Long Joe Dressner, Thanks For Everything

September 19, 2011

By now you probably have heard that Joe Dressner passed away after a long fight with brain cancer.  Of course you know Joe is responsible for Louis/Dressner Selections, an importer that brings in natural wines from small, independent vignerons throughout the world.  Most of the wines that have been discussed on this blog are in fact Louis/Dressner wines.  They are quite special, Joe Dressner was special, he will be missed.

Thankfully the culture of wine, especially his kinds of wines will carry on.  To salute the man I had to check in a few of my favorite wines from his portfolio.Here are a couple of wines from the most northern part of Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige.  The area butts up against Austria and Switzerland and is surrounded by the Rhaetian Alps and the Dolomite mountains.  The region has only been part of Italy since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War 1 and is split into two different cultural areas.  Italian speaking Trentino in the south more associates themselves with Italian heritage, the food is similar to what you would find in the Veneto, a lot of polenta and pasta with an even more heavy emphasis on butter and cream.  You will also find wild game, mushrooms and salt-cured beef.  The German speaking northern Alto Adige (Südtirol as the locals know it) has a more Austrian background, you will find wurst, cabbage, rye bread and buckwheat noodles and of course their greatest contribution Speck.

The Nusserhof estate, run by Elda & Heinrich Nusser, exists on 2.5 hectares within the city of Bolzano.  The steep and difficult to work vineyards are situated in an unusually warm area.  The wines produced have a ripe and concentrated character due to low yields from healthy, organically grown grapes.

(2007) Heinrich Mayr Nusserhof Blatterle. $25.

Blatterle is an indigenous varietal that was nearly extinct (who is knocking down doors to drink Blatterle?).  Traditionally it was made into a sweet dessert wine, this example is bone dry.  The wine is labeled as Vino da Tavola.  By Italian law the vintage can’t be shown but it is identified by the last two digits of the lot number, look for the L07.  By all accounts this wine should have been consumed a few years ago but I was curious to see how it was holding up.  Surprisingly it had a lot of creamy richness to it, not much going on aromatically but the wine picked up a lot of weight in it’s time in the bottle.  The usual apple and pear fruit profile has dropped off and transformed into a salty, mineral thing.  Still very enjoyable, and very different.

2005 Heinrich Mayr Nusserhof Lagrein Riserva. $35.

Lagrein is also an indigenous grape of semi-ancient origins and generally has a clumsy, woodsy tannic structure along with low acidity. Not the case with Nusserhof’s.  The Lagrein Riserva was showing nicely.  It is round and rich, bright and savory, like the oily essence of fresh espresso mixed with black, inky fruit.  This is a wine for mountain men.  Evidently this wine can age magnificently, the bottle I opened was just getting started.  One whiff of its chocolatey, earthy and fresh herbed bouquet you will be in love.“Weingut” is German for wine farm.  Wine labels from Alto Adige are mostly in German.

 Check your back labels for importer information.  If you see the “Louis/Dressner” name it means the wine is going to be something special and unique.  Thank you Joe Dressner for bringing these types of wines to all of us.

“The Natural Wine Movement is not a movement with a leader, credo and principles. If you think there is a Natural Wine Movement sweeping the world, triumphantly slaying industrial wineries and taking no hostages, then you are one delusional wine drinker. The Natural Wine Movement thinks that you might want to lessen your alcohol consumption for a few months.”

Joe Dressner, 2010

Tasting Report With The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar: The Sparkling Wines of Emilia-Romagna!

September 6, 2011

We all love Emilia-Romagna in Central Italy.  We love and lust over the possibility of owning a Ferrari or Lamborghini.  Our favorite cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, our second being Grana Padano.   We can’t get enough Prosciutto di Parma or Mortadella.  We insist on only the finest, aged Balsamic vinegar to drizzle over roasted butternut squash.  We love Lasagna.

What we love most of all are the sparkling wines of this region.  There is nothing more magical then the pairing of fatty foods with these bubbly brutes.  Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s heartland and the center of the gastronomic universe.  Aside from Lambrusco, Emilia-Romagna does not have many press friendly, famous, superstar wines, meaning one can find great value, and great surprise from off the beaten path growers.

For this tasting Richmond Wine Culture is joined by The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.  Tredegar is located right here in Richmond down by the James River and is the nation’s first museum to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African American perspectives.

The first 2 wines come from Cà de Noci, a property run by two brothers intent on continuing the thousand year old legacy of working with indigenous grapes and crafting wines that taste of the region.  Their farm sits up against a walnut forest (Noci means walnuts) and has just 5 hectares devoted to vines planted on rocky limestone soil.  “Querciole” is 100% Spergola, which in the old days was confused with Sauvignon Blanc and has a naturally high acidity level making it ideal for sparkling wine production. “Sottobosco” a blend of three different red grapes: Malbo Gentile, Lambrusco Maestri and Lambrusco Grasparossa.  These particular clones can resist the humid growing conditions in the area and are able to flourish without the use of pesticides and chemicals.  The wine is labeled as simple table wine because it does not grow within any of the delineated DOC Lambrusco Zones.

Richmond Wine Culture:  “I love this bottling of “Querciole”, it has a natural secondary fermentation that takes place within the bottle giving it a dancing frizzante characteristic.  The aromas are fascinating, something like orange peal and wheat.  In the mouth I get plenty of salty fruit and sprightly zing.  Perfect for cleansing the palate for that next bite of cured meat.”

The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar:   “Upon entering the newly constructed pavilion, visitors begin their tour with “What Caused the Civil War?” an interactive film which orients your visit. As you continue through the exhibit, enjoy rotating artifacts, detailed timelines, unique hands-on activities, additional films, and more. Continue to move into the War years (1861-1865) and finish with the post-war “Legacies” section which helps to put our world today into perspective.”

Richmond Wine Culture:  “The “Sottobosco” for me is the most exciting of the two, like the “Querciole” it gets its bubbles from a natural secondary  fermentation.  People tend to think sparkling reds from this region are sweet and syrupy, not this wine!  It is tannic and chalky, superb with rich cream sauces and cured pork neck.  Definitely a little strange.”

The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar: “In 1860-1861, the United States split apart. How did we get to that point?  Why did the Southern states leave the Union?  Was war inevitable?  What were the combatants fighting about?  You can explore these and other questions at the Center and learn what motivated Unionists, Confederates, and African Americans.”
Camillo Donati is a third generation wine grower located right outside of Parma.  Malvasia is an ancient varietal historically associated with the Mediterranean but now can be found throughout Italy.  Camillo produces both sweet and dry versions.  All the wines are fermented on their skins without temperature control or added yeasts or any form of acidification.  The Malvasia Secco also has a secondary fermentation naturally in the bottle without the addition of any sugar.  The bottle is closed with a crown cap and will throw off a lot of sediment.

Richmond Wine Culture:  “I am really taken by this example of Malvasia Secco.  It has a very unusual orange color, like a hefeweizen or an IPA, even some kind of cider.  Kind of smells similar to beer as well.  There is plenty of bitter almond notes to go with the coriander laced fruit.  It is almost painfully dry.  This bottle screams for grilled sausages and fried dough.

The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar: “The Center is a place to learn about the Civil War—its causes, its course, and its legacies. It is a place where the people who decided America’s future tell their stories. Here, all of the main stories—Union, Confederate, and African American— get significant space together for the first time. By understanding these three perspectives on a subject that is still divisive almost a century and a half later, we can begin to see the war differently—as a shared national heritage.”

Alberto Tedeschi makes only one wine from one grape, Pignoletto.  Alberto farms just 2 hectares of land by hand, too small to bother using a tractor.  No fertilizers, chemicals or any other nonsense are used in the vineyard.  The grapes are fermented in open vats and then the finished, dry wine is transferred to large wooden barrels to mature and rest on its lees for 15 months before bottling.  Theses wines with their big structure can evidently age for years.

Richmond Wine Culture:  “Alberto Tedeschi has produced an exciting and racy wine.  The color is golden, the nose is complex almost overwhelming with big time rosemary, sage and dried fruits.  The mouthfeel is rich and opulent but is very fresh and cleansing.  The aromatics circulate within the back of the throat.  This is relatively inexpensive compared to other sparkling wines meaning it could be hard to find if it wasn’t a little strange.  Another great bottle for the table, I love that it also has a crown cap. ”

The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar: “What effects do you think the war continues to have on America? We hope that you will visit the American Civil War Center to learn more about how the Civil War and its aftermath shaped our country today. The Center provides a framework for thinking about the impact of the war on us today. We encourage you to think about these issues, learn about them, and discuss them with others.”

2008 Cà de Noci Vino di Tavola Sottobosco Frizzante. $20. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections

2007 Cà de Noci Vino di Tavola Querciole Frizzante. $30. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections

2008 Donati Camillo Malvasia Secco dell’Emilia IGT. $25. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections

2008 Alberto Tedeschi IGT Emilia Spungola Bellaria.  $25. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections

All available in the Richmond area!

Weird Wines!

July 29, 2011

Not so much weird but rather a pleasant surprise.  Surprise coming from the loud ‘pop’ when you uncork it, this wine has bubbles!  Not fine like Champagne or Franciacorta, more like a light, frothy Saison ale.   Imagine if wine and beer had a baby, sort of.

2009 Bera Arcese Bianco Piemonte, $13.  Imported by Louis Dressner Selections (yet again!).

The Vittoria Bera family hails from Sant’Antonio which lies in the village of Serra Masio which belongs to the municipality of Canelli inside the province of Asti in the region of Piemonte in the country of Italy.  The Bera’s have been making wine since 1785 specializing in the production of fizzy Moscato d’Asti.  They were the first to grow and bottle wine in the Canelli area and never succumbed to the international 80’s craze and desire for sugary, mass-produced Asti Spumante.  They also grow Arneis, Cortese, Favorita, Dolcetto and Barbera, all on slopy, steep, calcerous marl soils.  The farming is entirely organic and the handpicked and sorted, crushed grapes are vinified simply on its native yeast culture.  The Arcese Bianco is a blend of Arneis, Favorita and Cortese.  The bubbles come from a natural, secondary bottle fermentation.  It is slightly yeasty, a little pine nutty but soft and peachy with lovely acidity making this wine refreshing and chuggable in the summer.  Drink it in The James River with an egg salad sandwich and a bag of salty chips.

Welcome to Richmond Wine Culture

February 27, 2011

There are a lot of ways to make wine.

The number of methods makes it seem like wine can be made anywhere in the world. One can easily create a vineyard on a plot of land (away from trees) with well-prepared soil (through tilling, weeding and composting) that has good drainage and a steady flow of water (either by rain or irrigation) ample sun (from Spring through Fall) and enough dry air (or chemical spray) to keep rot and mold away.

If owning and maintaining a vineyard is too costly or labor intensive, one can easily source grapes from differnet growers and have the fruit delivered
to his/her newly constructed, state of the art winery. There, one can fill the mechanical hopper and crusher-destemmer (to separate leaves and twigs and such) to prepare the grapes for a brief, chilly stay in a heat exchanger.  After this, the grapes will get blasted with sulphur dioxide (to prevent fermentation and to slow down oxidation) then move on to a full-on mechanical stomp in a pneumatic press to produce the juice. The juice is then pump pump pumped into settling tanks (add some carbon dioxide in gas form) and then pumped again into the fermentation tanks.

Added here are some specially selected yeast strains intended to impart special characteristics into the finished wine.

The colder the fermentation, the fruitier and more aromatic the wine; the hotter the fermentation, the quicker the tanks can be refilled with the next batch. From there, the wine can be refined in new, more costly oak barrels, or, to keep it cheap, oak chips and saw dust can be thrown into the fermenting wine. After a run through the sheet filtration system the wine is ready to be bottled and slapped with a label!

These are generalized steps of course. One can easily buy the juice already crushed to ferment at will, or buy finished wine and manipulate anyway wanted. The easiest way to make wine, though, is to hire a consulting oenologist to do it all…

There are ways to grow wine, as well.
Wine is an agricultural product and comes from longstanding cultural traditions. Many Artisan growers uphold responsible farming and reflect a sense of place through their wines. When wine is grown rather than constructed, the process honors the land, natural growing cycles, and the integrity of heritage. And, it often tastes better, offering more complex and fresh flavors.

Richmond has access to all kinds of beautiful, real wines. Richmond Wine Culture will let you know where to find these special wines in local shops and restaurants. Join us online for discussions with wine distributors, restraunteurs, and wine shop owners to explore our city’s wine culture. Here, you will find information about noteworthy wine events around town (and notes on which tastings to avoid.)  To thoughtfully think about wine, Richmond Wine Culture will not provide unclear tasting notes like “Stewed gooseberries” or “Asian-spice box” or “Peruivan tree bark” or other ultimately senseless descriptors.  Instead, we’ll talk about how a wine is used to complement cuisine. Richmond Wine Culture will explore off the beaten path wine regions and direct you to wines that celebrate those regions.  We’ll cover the best ways to enjoy these special wines.

We look forward to tasting with you!