This trip was made possible by Twin Liquors and Folio Fine Wine Partners with a special thanks to the
Serego Alighieri, Masi, and Frescobaldi families
for the hospitality, food, and incredible VINO!
On the trip:Gina Della Vedova – Folio Fine Wine PartnersAl Jabour - Twin Liquors Ross Jackson – Republic National Distributing CompanyAnd journal by Eric Bochner
June 11th, 2010It just so happens that the first day of our trip to Italy is my birthday. I thought that it was a nice, quiet way to celebrate, maybe have a few drinks on the plane, fall asleep somewhere over the ocean and wake up in bella Italia.In other words I was looking forward to a birthday that wasn’t made into a big deal. To my horror, the ladies at the airline check-in noticed the date on my passport and sung in unison what could be the worst celebratory song of all in front of 30 passengers waiting to check their luggage. To soften the blow they gave me some free cocktail vouchers and wished me safe travels to the other side of the world, and people were clapping, though I do not know if it was as congratulations of another year in the bag or me getting out of the way. It’s funny when you think of world traveling, you think about all of the places you’ll go and the treasures you’ll see, about the exotic dishes you may try and the great conversations waiting to be had, but you don’t often think about the flight that will take you there, or the train by which you will reach your afternoon outing, or even the taxi cab that takes you to and from the airport. These modes of transportation are simply that, the how of you getting from point A to point B, and nothing more, right? Ah, but true world travelers might tell you a different story; that the transportation can make all the difference in the world. Seeing the rising hills of Siena from a train banked with double-down windows – you and your companions enjoying a bottle of wine, some local salami, and several cheeses scattered about the table on wax paper. Taking a gondola ride through the Grand Canal of Venice and seeing the city’s crumbling edifices mirrored in the vermillion waves of time. The frenzied drive of the 5am taxi ride through dawning streets to arrive at the airport on time. Or, sitting in coach on a ten hour flight and realizing that the reason your arm suddenly feels hot is that the ten year old who had been stuffing his face with peanut butter M&M’s by the handful two hours ago has proceeded to get sick all over the aisle, his father, and of course, your left arm, leaving me to figure out how to breathe without using my nose or my mouth. I kept wondering just how I would get from this seat 30,000 feet above the Atlantic watching an in-flight movie while sipping on a warm glass of red box wine to the fabled avenues of the Tuscan wine country where some of the great Chianti and Valpolicella is made. Maybe if I just close my eyes…
June 12th, 2010
We landed safely in Venice and took a water taxi to the Hotel Metropole. No cars are permitted in this ancient city, and the canals are busy with taxis and tours, fishermen and gondoliers. The taxi docked at the hotel and we were met by our bags inside the foyer. We decided to check into our rooms and meet in the bar for a cocktail to settle into our new surroundings (and time zone). The rooms were decadently suited with windows that opened to the artist stands lining the canal.
Aperol Spritzes in the hotel bar really marked the beginning of Venice. An Aperol Spritze, for those of you looking for a perfect summer cocktail, is 2 parts Aperol, three parts Prosecco, and a spritz of seltzer water garnished with an orange wedge. Prosecco is a light, fruit-forward sparkling wine of Italy. Prosecco by Borgo SanLeo and LaMarca are perfectly suited for this drink. Your neighborhood Twin Liquors carries all of the necessary ingredients to make this crisp and refreshing beverage.
We made our way through the labyrinthian streets of Venice, each of the narrow avenues lined with restaurants, shops, clothing stores and produce stands. A tour of the Palazzo Ducale and the Doge’s Palace offers a nice blend of architecture, art, and history, with specific relation to man and God, church and state, the barbaric and the beautiful. As you walk from the ornate rooms of the palace, across the Bridge of Sighs, and into the depths of the ancient prison of stone cells racked with iron bars, you can see how two worlds coexisted for centuries, one literally right on top of the other; one world of light and one of darkness. Throughout the city there are amazing feats of art and architecture, and one might even say that the city itself is a great work of art, destined though it may be to return to the sea.
A water taxi drops us off at the Rialto Bridge and we make our way down cobbled streets towards a small restaurant that our Hotelier has recommended. The World Cup match can be heard from the piazza just around the way where people are drinking birra and sipping on prosecco. We venture down one intimate street and then another, passing a small bistro with tables for two lining one side of the street, and arrive at our destination.
La Trattoria della Madonna offers a simple menu largely consisting of fresh seafood dishes. Some of the day’s catches of crab, squid and sea bass can be seen displayed on lit shelves as you enter the ristorante. Vases of gardenias splash color from every corner of the white-tiled room we are escorted to and Picassoesque prints and paintings of Venetian waterways adorn the walls. We opt for the house white – a Friuli that is crisp and dry (perfect for the fried calamari, fresh seafood platter, and vegetables that we’ve ordered).
Meals in Italy are ordered in courses, typically for the table to share. This allows everyone to get a little taste of each dish without filling up completely before the next course arrives. The first course is generally your Antipasto, or appetizer. Antipasti can be anything from thinly sliced meats and cheeses to marinated green and black olives to mixed platters of seafood and vegetables. Next comes the Primi course. Oftentimes this will be pasta or some sort of salad like the insalata mista. The Secondi course is essentially the main event, although everything up to this point has probably been absolutely amazing. This will be the meat dish and the largest portion of the meal, but it doesn’t end there! Along with the Secondi comes the Contorni, or side dishes, and these can range from polenta to cannellini beans to some form of potatoes. And if you’ve still got room, check out the Dolci, or dessert menu, for some Italian classics like tiramisu or gelatto.
We chose a Rosetto and a Valpolicella for our next wines, the former being a perfect little rose similar to the Casal Garcia Vhino Verde Rose of Spain (available for less than $8/bottle at Twin Liquors). The Rosetto was a great palate cleanser as we sampled artichoke, peas, carrots, zucchini, snail, small shrimp and fresh calamari, and the fruit forward Valpolicella wrapped around the fish that we selected for our Secondi. The fish on the daily menu was called a Scorfino, translated by our server as Scorpion fish. They are very difficult to find and are only fished three times each year, and are apparently very difficult to bring in due to their speed. Suffice it to say, we owe the fisherman who reeled ours in a thank you because it was perfect. Our server deboned the fish at the table and we dined. A little bit of sea salt and lemon over the sea bass and Scorfino was absolutley wonderful, made better by good wine and great conversation. We had no trouble cleaning off the myriad plates that cluttered the table and made our way back towards the waterfront. An oboe sang sweetly into the Venitian night from the Rialto Bridge and people gathered to take pictures of the gondolas and storefronts reflecting their lights into the inky waters of the canal.
We caught a water taxi back towards the Hotel Metropole and got off at Riva degli Schiavoni, but decided it was a nice night for a stroll, and cut back towards Venice’s largest square, Piazza San Marco. We left the Grand Canal and zig-zagged our way through the exiguous streets, our footsteps echoing off the stone and brick buildings so tightly packed together. Venice is a twin city; one by day and another by night. A veritable tourist mecca (perhaps now more than ever since its listing as one of the top ten places to see before its gone), by day Venice is tightly packed with shoppers and seers, art lovers and peddlers, not to mention the people who actually reside in the city. Tourist groups of 25-50 wear matching neon t-shirts and you cannot possibly take in all of the sculptures, frescoes, mosaics and canvases spread throughout the city. But by night, Venice is a silent giant. The vendors wheel their wares away and the black opaline gondolas bob up and down beneath waterproof tarps. We follow the music of a quartet playing in San Marco square that has flooded with water. Tables of the little café are full with patrons too enchanted to find dry land, and who have simply removed their shoes and rolled up their pants while they listen to the music and finish their wine and coffee. We find a table overlooking the Grand Canal and discuss our highly anticipated journey to Masi for some of the world’s finest Amarones. The churchbell rang out a dozen times to mark midnight in Venice and we made our way back to the hotel with the moonlight shining overhead.
June 12th, 2010
Breakfast at Hotel Metropole is served in a private courtyard lined with a tall hedge bearing white flowers in bloom. Pear trees spire their way up in crooked lines and beyond the walls of the garden, Venice’s stone and stucco walls rise up against the clouds. Honeyed bananas with hazelnuts and stewed pears with cinammon sticks are but a couple of dishes worth mentioning, but perhaps more than the food, I feel that the service is worth noting, This must be the land where hospitality was concieved, and if not, this is certainly where it was honed to a razor’s edge on the whetting stone. Ivy spindles around wrought iron trellaces and centuries old crucifixes subtly erupt from the leafy nest and as I take a drink of fresh pineapple juice and have some Montasio and Dolomitti cheeses, hard boiled egg, prunes with fresh mint, and black coffee, I cannot help but feel the charm of the old world all around me. This meal would have been perfect with a Mimosa or Bellini using Gloria Ferrer Brut as the buscuity backbone.There is no question as to why Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust, and Sigmund Freud stayed in this hotel, and having been built in 1300, I imagine many more names of note spent a night or two in this waterfront spot next door to the oratory where Antonio Vivaldi taught music and composed many of his best works. The great market of Venice is closed on Sundays, so instead of shopping we decided to get some culture. We toured la Galleria de Academia; a truly magnificent collection of art painted by some of the great Italian masters.
June 13th, 2010
From Venezia we travel by train to Verona. A bottle of Rodana and some thinly sliced San Danielle with Asiago and gorgonzola cheeses make the ride by rail through the countryside like something out of an old film. Cars can be seen for the first time since our arrival on the highway running parallel to the tracks. However, it is quickly apparent by the swarm of Vespas and scooters which is the preferred mode of transportation on the roads. We were met at the station by a driver from Masi and made our way past the endless sea of orchards and vineyards (an abundance of Prosecco and Corvina grapes) into the Valpolicella region to the Serego Alighieri Estate.
The Serego Alighieri Estate is nothing if not a perfect picture of Italian romanticism. A narrow drive lined with 100 ft. Cypress trees that pull double duty as sentinels fortifying the landscape and windbreaks for the vines. This is where Dante Alighieri came following his temporary exile from Florence by the Medicis in the mid 14th century, and even now is the home of Count Alighieri – a 26th generation descendant of the poet himself.The farmhouse in which we stay has been remodeled into apartments with rustic charm unsurpassed by anything we have so far encountered. Potted lemon trees in the private gardens, figs and cypress trees at every turn, Oleander in bloom overlooking the terraced hillside where Rondinella and Corvina grapevines line up in perfect rows. At the end of each vine one can find roses planted, and while this is yet another sublte form of beautification, traditionally the flowers also served an important purpose. Roses are a finicky flower, visibly turning for the worse if there is a problem. Roses in the vineyard are much like the canary in the coal mine in that the farmers could tell if something is wrong in the vineyard through the roses before there is irreversable damage done to the vines. This is now done more out of tradition than necessity, but these little nuances add to the love affair between man and wine, and manage to tell a bit of the history behind the progress of vinification.
Our stroll around the estate takes us to the stone courtyard where trellaced vines grow along cobbled walls and wooden shutters. A Molinara vine planted in 1873, and serving as the single vine that was not affected by philoxera on the estate, wraps its way along its own trellace. It is here that VinItaly is held, and though this space lies empty today, each year it is filled with amzing Italian wines, winemakers, estate representatives and is, overall, one of the wine events of the year. Our path winds through a dense forest of deep greens and stone statuettes staring off into the ages.
Our driver takes us back into Verona for dinner. Black cobblestone streets are banked with shop after shop and the fashionable residents strolling past have a beauty all their own. We take a seat at an outside table in the Palazza Herbe and order some cocktails. Aperol Spritzes, Hendrick’s Gin and tonic, Caipiroka alla More (lime, cane sugar, vodka, and muddled strawberries). People watching at its finest. The locals describe Piazza Herbe as a large dining room filled with friends due to the fact that the tables of one restaurant run into those of the next and there is no discernable end. The ancients used to wheel their fresh herbs out to the center of the square, hence the name, and there is quite a bit of mystique that still hangs over the city from the days of yore. Down the street we found the fabled balcony of Juliet and each of us posed with the bronze statue of the fated lover.
Back in the Piazza Herbe we arrive at the highly recommended Café Fillipinni. We open up the meal with Pieropan Soave for a light white to compliment the salad and seafood, and then move into a 1998 Osar; a nearly perfect example of Italian wine of the Veneto using a nearly extinct varietal that Masi has worked diligently to bring back into play. The 1998 was a blend of Oseleta (80%) and Corvina(20%), but the newest vintages are 100% Oseleta to give the full expression of this deep grape. It has bewildering concentration and color, and while it is fantastic right now, the tannin content will allow this wine to age. 24 months in the barriques soften the tannins into a highly acidic wine with lasting structure. This wine is meant to be enjoyed with roasted meats, game, and spicy cheeses. Wine enthusiasts will be avid fans of this in the states, and Texas especially with the multitude of barbecue and game to choose from. Tuna, scallops on the half-shell, bistecca, lamb chops…everything adding to a perfect meal as the cold front pushes the humidity of the day out of the square. In the morning, we will tour the Serego Alighieri winery and then take an in-depth tour of Masi.
June 14th, 2010
Espresso and cereal in the morning, and then we’re off! We began at Serego Alighieri, where we had stayed the night, and started in the old farmhouse compound where the bamboo drying racks are located. The room is up a stone staircase on the second floor, long and narrow with rows of racks lining the wall. This room was also used to make silk, but is now solely used in the appasimento process where the grapes are spread out on the racks and dried for 100 days. The grapes then lose 30-35% of their weight due to water loss, concentrating the sugars. There is a small window cut in the stone wall which overlooks the vineyards. The family vineyards are surrounded by stone walls as all vineyards used to be, and such enclosed vineyards are known as brolos, from a French word meaning closed. The brolo which we overlook now was the original vineyard of Masi’s extraordinary Valpilicella red - Campofiorin.
Campofiorin is a Veronese red blend which is refermented with some of the semi-dried grapes. Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara are among the region’s native varietals which go into this rich and velvety wine bursting with subtle complexities. The lengthy process by which this wine is made shows in the wonderful round body and distinct characteristics of the area, and I am reminded of an article by Matt Kramer in Wine Spectator which discussed how essential it is to put wine into context. He explained that someone may enjoy a wine, but in order to fully know a wine, one must not only travel to a wine’s geographic source, but also its originating culture. I see immediately how generations worked to develop these unique wine-making techniques, and how they continue to experiment in order to find new, and perhaps better ways to bring their culture to the glass.
As we continue along through the gardens to the Serego Alighieri winery the four of us become acquainted with the family history. Dante Alighieri had been exiled from Florence and came to Valpolicella in the 14th century. When he became favorable again, Dante returned to his beloved Florence, but his son stayed on here. Subsequent generations came and went, until it seemed there would be an end to the Alighieri line, so, in order to preserve the history of the family name, the noble family of Alighieri arranged a mairraige with the noble family of Serego and two houses became one. Serego Alighieri has been making wine for hundreds of years, and only recently has it become comercially available due to its collaboration with Masi, started in 1973. Serego Alighieri uses Fusto Veronese, traditional barrels that are made of cherry wood. Cherry wood is porous so the wine is only put in after oak for 3-4 months. The Serego Alighieri family is the only family to use these barrels and it adds an unmistakable note to the wines that are selected for these casks.
Masi has been in the vinification game for a long stretch as well, and although they didn’t team up with Serego Alighieri until the early 1970’s, Masi planted its first vineyard in the Valpolicella Classico region in 1772. Masi now has vineyards in Friuli, Montelcino, Veneto, and Trentino, known as the Venitian territory. They are also making wine in Argentina, planting Corvina and Friuli in the New World and pursuing a wine with “Argentinian heart and Venitian soul” called Passo Doble. Masi might be called the masters of the appasimento process, and it is a real delight to see how these cavernous reds that go on for days begin their journey. The grapes are hand picked and scrutinized before making their way to the drying room using racks based on those of the ancient Romans. Vertical and horizontal ventilation on the bamboo drying racks is closely checked several times each day. The grapes are dried for 3-4 months. Botritis, or noble rot, affects the Corvina grape which will give the wine an additional velvety layer. But Masi has an oath; Tradition and Innovation. In addition to the traditional methods of drying the grapes, Masi has installed an Apassimento Regulator. This regulator checks the outside conditions against ideal conditions (set after key ideal years such as 1988, 1990, 1995, and one average year, 1991). If the outside conditions are undesirable and threaten the appasimento process, the regulator will reproduce the ideal condition in the drying room. Now that’s progress!
There are several wines that use this process of using semi-dried grapes in the refermentation. Masi’s Campofiorin made the first Ripasso –a word meaning repassed, or double fermentation- in 1964. The wine refermented with the semi-dried grapes gains added sweetness, complexity, and a bouquet of aromas. Their Argentinean property is producing a primo wine called Passo Doble which uses the double fermentation process with Corvina and Malbec. And we cannot forget about the king of the double fermentation process, the blissful Amarone. To give you an idea of the work it takes to make this delectable wine, 2 kilos of fresh grapes are necessary to make 1 bottle of Amarone!
The Masi Research Team spends much of their time in the underground experimental chamber. This room is replete with oddities such as rectangular oak barrels and curiously shaped tanks, and exploratory wine blends peek out their numbered necks from the vertical racks surrounding the stainless steel tabletop. The rectangular barrels, we are told, work well for stacking but not for aging wine. The wood is cut by a different process which does not lend itself to the benefit of the wine, but the square casks are kept to remind the team that innovation knows a thousand failures before success is born.
We go deeper still into the dark cellars of the Masi estate, entering a chamber with casks of different sizes, the only light entering through stained glass windows filtered down from the floor above. The air is considerably cooler here, kept at 16 degrees C with 60% humidity. The various wines are aged in French, Russian, Hungarian and American oak. Amarone is placed in the larger barrels because it is so fruity and round already there is little need for the oak influences of spice and vanilla imparted on the wine. Masi produces 5 Amarone, 3 of which are crus. Two of the cru vineyards (Costasera and Campolongo di Torbe) sit 400 meters above sea level, and while they are very near in proximity, they differ greatly due to their soil, whereas one is chalky, the other is clay. Masi has classification of vintages starting from 1964, and the Masi Technical Team that classifies the wines give out the highest rating of 5 stars very judiciously. Only 7 in 20 years have had a 5 star rating, and to further bolster the shrewdness over quality, Masi won’t even produce Amarone on a bad year (2002).
The tour ends in a small room tattooed with photographs of celebrities and winemakers visiting Masi, old presses, antique bottle openers, and the coveted private cellar of the Boscaini family, who are at the helm of this gorgeous winery. Through the locked gate one can see a plethora of wine, some of them with wax seals reminiscent of the late 19th century. Our group is escorted into a tasting room with a row of Riedel glassware standing in wait at each of four desks. We find our seats with Masi’s Annachiara Zanoni taking us through the portfolio.
Masianco Pinot Grigio & Verduzzo Delle Venezie IGT 2009 13% alc/vol
Deep yellow, excellent body and structure with fruit (specifically peach and pear) and exemplary acidity. This white wine is both refreshing and clean, lending itself as an apertif or to be paired with white fish and fowl. This is the flagship white wine of Masi from the Friuli region that uses the appassimento process.
Campofiorin Corvina, Rondinella & Molinara Rosso Del Veronese IGT 2007 13% alc/vol
Using the classic indigenous grapes of Valpolicella, this versatile wine will pair with simple foods like pasta and grilled meats, with an aging potential of 15 years. This is one of the 5 star wines, characterized by cherry aromas, a small amount of spice, chocolate notes, and rich, dark fruit.
Passo Doble Malbec & Corvina Rosso Di Argentina 2008 13.5% alc/vol
1000 meters up in Tupungato at the foot of the Andes, Passo Doble is born. It is a blend of Malbec (70%) and semi-dried Corvina (30%). The Malbec is revinified on Corvina before spending 9 months in oak. The resulting wine offers blackberries and currant, mocha with a subtle after spice and a touch of vanilla. The rich and long lasting finish dances on the tongue. Barbecue madness! Passo Doble got its name from the dance, the double step tango, and also from the refermentation, or double step.
Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2006 15% alc/vol
2006 was one of Costasera’s 5 star vintages and let me tell you, WOW! A minimum of 24 months in oak in 600 liter casks, then down to barrels of 30, 60, or 90 hl. The western exposure on this cru vineyard has the benefit of longer days, which means more light. Cinnammon, raisins, chalky chocolate and cherry swathe the senses. They call this one the gentle giant with a velvety touch and this titan can lay down for up to 40 years. The ruby color will appear tawny as time goes by but the wine will continue to evolve in the bottle.
Vaio ArmaronAmarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2003 15% alc/vol
The Vaio is another of the cru vineyards, cellared at Serego Alighieri where it spends 36 months in oak, the last 3 of which are in cherry casks. A port-like nose and slight touches of licorice with semi sweet cherry mingling together draws you into this signature wine. It is tannic with rich spice notes and slightly more fresh fruit than the Costasera. Very complex, very excellent, imparting a different flavor, from the porous nature of the cherry wood.
Campolongo Di TorbeAmarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2001 16% alc/vol
The Campolongo is the third of the 3 cru vineyards of Masi and Serego Alighieri. The vineyard stretches out 400 meters above sea level, and offers more raisins, darker, dried fruit with a more distinct tawniness in appearance. These are all the characteristics of an aged Amarone, and on this 2001 the alcohol is more apparent on the palate. This Amarone lies in wait for 36 months before emerging a tannic monster that gets the heart racing. All senses meld together; clay, soil, so incredibly silky…a truly harmonious wine from Masi. 15,200 bottles produced.
And I think to myself, How the beauty of life is amplified after drinking good wine!
The view from the train to Florence was off of a postcard. Florence is much more urban, her streets lined with vendors selling Italian silk and fine leathers, her churches standing beautiful despite age and augmentation, the art laid thick like a fog over the Arno. Our taxi delivers us to the Hotel degli Orafi. I will note here the room in which I spent the next 3 nights (402), as I cannot imagine that there was a better view in the rest of the hotel, and perhaps in all of Florence. I am handed my bags, and in return hand a tip to the porter, and turn to see the most picturesque view of Italy I could have imagined. Below me the Arno River suns in the Tuscan afternoon. To the east runs the Ponte Vecchio, also known as the Gold Bridge for the parallel rows of jewelry shops that span from one end of the bridge to the other, offering a spectacle of shimmering jewels and glittering gold bands, bracelets, earrings and necklaces. To the west is Ponte Santa Trinita. Beyond the restaurants and shops and apartments on the opposite side of the river there are churches and estates that sprawl out on the hillside, regal manors of old.
We dined in one of the restaurants that faced my room; a classic outside patio dimly lit by glowing candelabras on each of the tables. Across the river the white marble columns of the Ufizi stand out against the fading sky and our table toasts to Florence and a great trip thus far. The ritual of bread and olive oil with a sprinkle of salt leads the charge into our next meal. We order 2 salads and split them between us; one was a pear and pecorino masterpiece served over lettuce and riddichio and the other involved spinach, crumbled bleu cheese and crushed walnuts. The specialty of this restaurant was burgers, but I’m not talking about just any old hamburger. Irish Black Angus in 6 cuts of bull make up the entire entrée menu, and a description of the history of the bull and the cut of meat is given under each selection. All of the beef is organic, and the lack of conversation at the other tables (due to full mouths) tells us that we are in for a treat. Gin and tonics, Peroni beer and a bottle of rose settle us in and the final few minutes of the FIFA game seem to take over the staff for a spell, but when the food arrives it is evident that the wait was well worth it. The burgers are enormous and there is little room, or need, for the French fries. Although the name of the restaurant escapes me, I could find it blindfolded from anywhere in Florence by the smell of those ambrosial burgers.
Bursting at the seams, the four of us cross the bridge to the plaza outside the Ufizi. Statues of some of Florence’s greatest minds line the walls, each in his own little nook overlooking the museum’s visitors. Da Vinci, Rafael, Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Amerigo Vespucci. Just beyond the courtyard where these men of marble stand there is another collection of statues, these larger still, including Perseus’ beheading of Medusa and Hercules slaying the chimera. Exhausted from travel and weighed down by food, we make our way back to the Hotel degli Orafi to get some shut eye.
June 15th, 2010
Breakfast at the Hotel degli Orafi with our table overlooking the Arno and a waking ancient city. We tour the Ufuzi to absorb the intensely beautiful paintings and sculptures, some dating back to the 1st century A.D. Words cannot describe…the masters all gathered together; Da Vinci, Boticelli, Rembrandt. A feast for the eyes.
A private car picks us up at the hotel and drives us to the Nipozzano Stronghold in the Chianti Rufina district (1 of 7 Chianti districts, and the highest elevation of them all). The Nipozzano estate is over 1,000 years old. It is planted with 90% Sangiovese (the main varietal used in Chianti wine), and 10% split among Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot (these are the classic Bordeaux varietals). Nipozzano is owned by the Frescobaldi family, and we are warmly greeted by Giacomo Fani, Public Relations Manager for Marquesi de’ Frescobaldi. Upstairs a table is set and waiting for our arrival. We sit down to bread and olive oil as an estate server pours a white wine, Attems. Douglas Attems was a co-founder of the area and the wine that bears his name has a wonderful nose, almost melted butter with floral aromas. It does 36 hours of maceration with the skins to produce the wonderful golden color. The olive oil that we dip our bread into is made here, pressed 12 hours after it is picked to preserve the flavor and quality. It is a wonderfully earthy and herbacious oil.
We discuss how each of the estates has its own vinification system, allowing there to be flavors and aromas captured in the bottle. The higher altitude of the Rufina district gives a fresher Sangiovese, and it also adds to the ageability of the wine. The Sangiovese at Nipozzano is planted in very dry soil. Nipozzano translates to “no well”, and through over 200 years of winemaking the family has come to understand this wonderful indigenous grape. Sangiovese will swell up if it is given too much water which will cause it to lose much of its flavor. The vines are given just enough water to survive which has resulted in some of the most elegant Chianti available.
Pomino Bianco Vendemmia Tardiva 2007
The Pomino Bianco is an eloquent white blend of Chardonnay (70%), Pinot Bianco (10%), Pinot Grigio (10%), and Gewürztraminer (10%). It is crisp with nice apples and pear notes followed up with a curling citrus finish that lingers nicely with hints of melon.
Nipozzano Riserva 2007
The Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva 2007 is a traditional wine and a traditional grape of the highest quality that characterizes Nipozzano and the terroir. Deep and earthy with an intensely smooth introduction of dried cherry and wisps of smoke drawn in through the nose. The herbaceous notes on the palate impart a mélange of lavender, sage, thyme and rosemary, all of which grow in tufts near the lookout decks in the vineyards. A truly excellent Chianti. The Pomino Bianco and the Nipozzano Riserva pair nicely with the eggplant dish, consisting of layered eggplant, tomato, pesto, and Pecorino.
Montesodi Riserva 2007
Montesodi is 100% Sangiovese from a single 24 acre vineyard planted in 1972. Referred to as “Tuscany in a glass”, this wine goes through a rigorous selection process before it ever gets to the bottle. Three passes through the vineyard where the grapes are handpicked, berry for berry selection. The wine spends 24 months in new oak, much more time than a Chianti, resulting in a dazzling color not unlike a Brunello. If the vintage is not good enough, the wine is simply not made. As our host explained, “If the grape in the vineyard is not good, the wine will not be good.” Only 20,000 bottles of Montesodi are produced each year so if you find some, get all that you can carry!
Mormoreto 2007 25th Anniversary
This wine draws on several grapes that are traditionally found in French blends and is indeed comparable to an excellent Bordeaux. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Ripening for this vintage was slow and gradual with sunny days and cool nights. Each variety is vinified separately for 15 days, followed by 20 days of maceration on the skins. After the tanks, it spends 24 months in barriques and 6 months in the bottle. It relays the elegance of the estate and is an excellent expression of this style of wine. Smooth on the nose with nice fruit and a long finish.
Late Harvest 2007
A wonderful dessert wine with a great balance of sweet and aromatic complexity. Lingering pear, honey, peach and floral notes intoxicate the senses. This wine was paired with a fruit dish (peach custard with whipped cream, garnished with a sprig of mint and dusted with powdered sugar) rather than chocolate and proved to be a delectable finish to the lunch and wine tasting.
The Frescobaldi name holds a lot of juice, quite literally. The 29th generation is at the helm of the family operation, the first generation dating back to 1250. The Frescobaldi family built the first bridge, Santa Trinita (the bridge I see when I look to the left from my hotel window), in Florence that crossed the Arno River. Frescobaldi believes that food is imperative to appreciate the power of the wine. The family owns farms where cows and pigs and the like are raised specifically to showcase the pairing of food and wine. We will have the opportunity to see this operation fully realized tomorrow evening when we have dinner at the Frescobaldi Wine Bar, where the menu is the entire Frescobaldi portfolio of wines and an array of mouthwatering dishes made from their own farm-raised ingredients. This lunch was all I could ever ask for in terms of service, presentation, quality of food and wine, and conversation.
The Nipozzano estate is 350 meters above sea level. We drive up toward the Nipozzano vineyard (450 meters) and arrive at the Montesodi vineyard. Sloping valleys and rising mountains command the landscape beyond the set rows of Sangiovese. Maggio bushes break up the greenery with their bright yellow dress and ancient villas pepper the hillside, homes now to the workers who tend to the land. There is no irrigation here and the grapes are just alive enough to produce. Nipozzano’s soil is more clay-based and at 450 meters it is the highest elevation of all of the Chianti districts. We venture on, rising ever higher to Pomino.
Pomino is 3,000 acres of property, 300 of which are vineyards. It offers the ideal height and exposure (southern) for white grapes. Pomino is 850 meters above sea level and the cypress and olive trees gave way to evergreens. Castiglio al Pomino is a white stucco estate with a red tiled roof and an ancient sun dial looming over the courtyard. The estate is split to produce 50% wine and 50% wood for export. Up here, the air is much cooler and ideal for Pinot Noir. In 2006 DOC regulations changed to make it possible to produce a 100% Pinot Noir and Frescobaldi has one in the works, though it is not yet available. Pomino has a number of firsts under its belt; having the first gravity cellar built in Italy, having the first Burgundy varietal in Italy (Pinot Noir), and being the first monopoly. Our tour winds through the drying rooms, tank rooms, and cellars, arriving in a large room with a grand fireplace where a table was set for another wine tasting.
Pomino Bianco 2007
The first vintage of the Pomino Bianco was 1973 and during a recent vertical tasting our host tells us that to nearly everyone’s surprise, it is still drinking fabulously. It shows a glorious gold and boasts a wonderful minerality along with fresh fruit. This is a surprising Chardonnay from the region that was one of the first recognized in Italian legislation as a desirable appellation, and the first to produce a white. In fact, Pomino has been producing for over 500 years, all estate with no outside sourcing. The Pomino Bianco spends 12 months in oak. A wonderful mouth feel.
Pomino Rosso 2006
The Rosso is a blend of Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Merlot, offering herbaceous tones with cooked cherry. A little pine and spice slide through the extremely complex nose. The body is subtle and delicate with incense and exotic spices on the finish. A perfect wine for game or spicy fare.
Vin Santo 2004
Vin Santo is air-dried by hanging from September-February before it is pressed and aged for 4 years in French oak barrels. 50% evaporation makes the Vin Santo an extremely low yield but this is a treasured blend of Malvasia, Pinot Bianca, Trebbiano, and Chardonnay. The nose picks up alcohol and orange rind with hints of brown sugar and oak, reminiscent of bourbon. It is weighty and beautiful on the tongue with a semi-sweet finish. Try serving Vin Santo as an aperitif rather than a dessert, pairing it with cheeses, marmalades and bread, or pastas. Serving dessert wines before the meal is coming up in a big way.
We departed from the Pomino estate with a firm understanding of what makes this terroir unique, and how innovation while retaining tradition is really starting to take hold in Italian winemaking. While Nipozzano has been producing wine for 500 years, only in the last 25 have they come to make truly great wines, expressions of the land and people and culture behind it.
The Frescobaldi Wine Bar is at the far end of the square around the corner from the Hotel degli Orafi. It is a small restaurant with a standing bar as you walk in. Beyond that there are two doorways, one that leads into the main dining room and the other that snaked around to the clink and clatter of the kitchen. We were seated at a table for four on one side of the room and watched as the abundance of empty tables filled up entirely within 15 minutes of our arrival. Always a good sign. Everything was very impressive, from the chicken liver to the Bistecca Fiorentina served medium rare, a dinner I would recommend to everyone who makes it to Florence. Our selections from the Frescobaldi winelist went as follows.
Done in Method Champenois, this buscuity golden Brut was a perfect way to start off the meal. Champagne and sparkling wine pair with just about anything you can come up with, so if you are in doubt about what wine to put with a particular dish, pick up some bubbly. There was a nice toasted note to the wine, creamy on the palate.
Tenuta di Castiglioni 2008
Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc
More of a fruit-driven wine, the Tenuta matched well with the various risotto and vegetable dishes on the table. Cherry with creases of vanilla and darker fruits on the finish.
80% Merlot, 20% Sangiovese
The Giramonte was divine with the Bistecca Fiorentina, a traditional Florentine t-bone steak that easily serves 4 people.
I had promised myself that I would try some good grappa in the land that gave it life, and in relaying this to the friends seated around me, I soon found myself surrounded by the famous Italian digestif. We selected 4 to sample between us along with some biscotti, panna cotta and slice of a dark chocolate creation. Of the 4 that we tried, 2 of them especially stood out, the Attems and the Luce. These are both oak aged, so the grappa takes on a burnt orange hue. The Luce is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Sangiovese. It is incredibly smooth with waves of vanilla and apricot in tow.
June 16th, 2010
After breakfast at the hotel we jumped a train to Siena, about two hours outside of Florence by rail. The markets were packed little tents with hundreds of people jammed together bidding for articles of clothing, jewelry, and trinkets. The rows of vendors took off in all directions with no end in sight down any of the avenues, so we abandoned our trek through the flea markets of Siena and chose to walk down her narrow winding streets.
There is a tradition in Siena, an annual event held in la Piazza Il Palio, the name of the event derived from the name of the piazza, or vice versa. Il Palio is a contest, the 17 contratae (districts of Siena) competing with a single horse and a single rider. They ride bareback around the outer ring of the piazza, a large imperfect circle that looks to be about a quarter of a mile around. The sidewalk café at which we sat is in this ring, and during the competition the tables are cleared away and dirt is poured and packed over the cobblestones. Thousands of people pack into the center of the piazza for the races and the vendors all around sell photographs of the intensely popular event. It will be something to plan for on the next visit over.
Our party met at a tiny restaurant just down the street from Il Duomo called Osteria il Tamburino. I highly recommend this little eatery which can hardly seat more than 35, and every one of the seats was occupied during our lunch. The day was hot and the sun blazing overhead did not appear as though it would withdraw behind a curtain of clouds, so we took our seats inside and ordered a bottle of rose. The Monte Chiaro Rosatum is a Sangiovese rose, a wonderful palate cleanser for the caprese salad and insalata mista. The wine also worked with the porcini stuffed ravioli with a rich walnut and gorgonzola cream sauce. I love the intimate, loud nature of Italian restaurants alive with conversation and the clinking of wine glasses and forks scraping against empty dishes. Fresh herbs and simmering sauces scent the air as I take another sip of the rose. These wines really pair with just about everything, and if you find an older vintage on your wine rack you can always use it for salad dressing and cooking.
From Siena we went on to Castel Giocondo and Luce, a Frescobaldi property high in the mountains in Montalcino. The cliffside roads curl and bend through tightly packed towns overlooking the rolling agrarian hills perfectly plotted. The Rosso di Montelcino vineyard manifests at the entrance of Castel Giocondo as we drive through the gates, each pillar marked with a coat of arms. I white gravel road winds along the green countryside. The ground here bears large stones and clods of clay. We met Nadine, the Public Relations Executive, and were joined by Elisa, the Assistant Winemaker. The beauty of this place extends far beyond the bottle. The estate is, of course, another gorgeous example of rural Tuscan architecture and soon we are off towards the cellars.
Galestro and slate are in the soil as we head around the villa to the cellar entrance. There are 4 types of soil on the estate; limestone-derived clays, galestro, clayey marls, and sandy mixtures. A resevoir atop the cellar helps to keep the temperature down as well as and assists with humidity control, and I cannot help but stop and take a look at the view from here. Hills and plains stretch out below us in this ageless country. There are many microclimates here, effected by the soils and altitude. The lower vineyards have more clay, such as I saw on our drive in. Up on the hillside the soil contains more shale and marl. Disease can be prevented easier in rocky soil by helping the drainage process. Accordingly, the Sangiovese is planted higher up so that the water will drain out, keeping the grapes tight. Merlot is planted in the lower vineyards as it thrives in the water and clay of Castel Giocondo. Luce majors in Cabernet Sauvignon.
Castel Giocondo became part of the Frescobaldi family in 1989 and is 1 of 9 Frescobaldi properties. 50% of the grape bunches are left behind during harvest which means 2 things; extremely low yield and extremely high quality. The grapes are mostly hand-picked, destemmed, and then pressed. From there they go to temperature controlled stainless steel tanks where fermentation begins at 25-30 degrees. The skins concentrate on the top of the tank during fermentation and 20 days of maceration. Each tank is equipped with an auto pump, and it is important to have short pump overs many times throughout the day to keep the cap moist, preventing oxidation.
The oak is French and Slovenian, between 15-20 years old. The wood is intended to give clean structure rather than aromatizing the wine. Wood and tannins react to give agability and the wine is aged in small barriques and then large casks. The casks are cleaned after each racking and replaced after about 25 years. Larger barrels hold 17,200 liters while the smaller barrels hold 8,200 liters. A concrete system is used to blend at the end of the aging time for days before bottling. Giocondo is the only estate with an inside bottling facility. The bottles are standing upright to let the corks fully open for approximately 1 month. The wine is then bottle aged for 4-6 months before it is shipped to the warehouse in Florence.
The new cellar holds Luce, mostly French oak barrels with a small percentage of American oak, about 2,700 all together. The new small barrels are used for a maximum of 4 years. 65% of the wood properties that impart aromas of oak are lost after the second year. And if that sounds like a short life for the barrels, consider that the going rate for new French oak barrels is 600 Euros each. The labor, types of cork, barrels, labels, aging, and overall quality all affect the price of these wines, and just as the Amarone of Masi through its long appasimento process and double fermentation, some of these wines can be higher dollar purchases. It is the difference between good and great, and wines like Lucente, Mormoreto and Costasera are worth the difference knowing everything it takes to make each bottle.
Luce is a wine that is a split of Sangiovese and Merlot. The first true vintage was 1993, but it was not until 1995 that the joint venture with Robert Mondavi began, and 1997 when the first official vintage was released. The idea behind the wine is to have the old world Sangiovese with the new world Merlot, expressions of each together in one bottle, a very successful experiment indeed.
The vineyards are uprooted every 30-35 years with 5 years between harvests on the replanted vineyards. Drip irrigation is used in some of the vineyards, such as Luce, which contains quite a bit of volcanic shale. Luce, Brunello and Castel Giocondo all practice sustainable farming, evident by the composted herbs between the vines to keep organic substances in the soil.
After the tour of the vineyards we arrive at the castle that stands on lookout over all of the vines around it. It is the castle of the noble Angelini family built in the 12th century. The site was chosen for its point of view to defend the road between Siena and the sea and was partly destroyed in the bombing of World War II before it was rebuilt. Behind the castle there is a glass house that overlooks the southern crops and we sit down around a large square table for a light lunch and wine tasting. Shaved meats and cheeses, spinach fritatta and the Italian staple of bread and olive oil help to accent the lovely wines of this unbelievably gorgeous vineyard.
Campo ai Sassi 2007
The Sassi is a Rosso di Montalcino, 100% Sangiovese with 1 year in small casks, 1 year in large casks, and 6 months in the bottle. Lighter shades of ruby in the glass with fruit on the nose. The acidity is typical of Sangiovese, able to cut through pastas with red sauce and the fattier meats, and the wine as a whole is very approachable and drinks nicely. Only 45 HL of the Sassi are produced.
Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2003
2003 was a hot season, resulting in much more concentrated fruit with a deeper color.
Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2004
2004 was a nearly perfect season. Smokier on the nose than the 2003 with a nice tannic structure inlaid with deep cherry. This was #15 of the top 100 wines.
Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2005
The 2005 offers up more apparent smoke and fruit on the nose. Only 35 HL of the Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino are produced. The Brunello can be aged for up to 10 years.
Lucente Lavite 2007
50% Merlot, 35% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. 12 months in barrels, 5% American oak.
The sea is only 70km away and the breeze from the sea affects the grapes differently by cooling at night. Luce is ready to drink and the structure and mouthfeel are wonderful, set off by the wine’s beautiful extractions. Luce has a very long life, assuming you don’t drink it all right away. 55% Merlot, 45% Sangiovese with 18 months in French oak (90% new oak, 10% second passage).
Our final dinner in Italy had to be the country’s most famous and copied dish of all – Pizza. A café in the square around the way from our hotel in Florence, outside tables tightly grouped in the shadow of the cathedral’s tower, tiny figures high above walking the pareipet. We walk around the busy streets of Florence cloaked in night, sampling gelato, our conversations drifting from music and travel to good times and bad, heartbreak, budding love and good wine. I feel that just as my internal clock has adjusted to the 7 hour time difference we will be making our way back across the Atlantic. Our flight leaves early in the morning, well before any coffee or espresso is served in the breakfast salon, so I take a final look out of my room at the beautiful Florentine cityscape. This has been a trip of spectacular sights, wonderful wine, and education.
Check with your neighborhood Twin Liquors for the availability on these wines. For more information on these fine wines, contact Gina Della Vedova, Central Business Manager and Partner at Folio Fine Wine Partners.
Twin Liquors Website www.twinliquors.com
Folio Fine Wine Partners Website www.foliowine.com
Gina Della Vedova email@example.com
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