A Plethora of Prosecco for the Holiday Season

One of my biggest (wine) pet peeves, is when people use the word Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine. But, while all Champagne is sparkling wine, only those bottles of bubbly that come from the Champagne region in France are entitled to that protected term.

Another well-known sparkler is Prosecco and, as my friend Dan lately noted, Prosecco has become a safe word. Admittedly, he wasn’t referring to the bedroom, but rather, to the bar, where Prosecco’s familiarity offers an easy way to order an effervescent option amidst the hustle and bustle of an overwhelming wine list.

Yet, despite its long history – mention of Prosecco dates as far back as Roman times – this Venetian sparkling wine hasn’t always been as popular as it is today. But, it is precisely this newfound fame that was almost its undoing.

In fact, given its broad name recognition, Prosecco had become a victim of its own success, with fraudulent products flooding the market and its name appropriated much like Champagne as a catch-all for a glass or bottle of bubbles. It was this proliferation of non-Prosecco Prosecco that prompted the consortium to radically revise its rules back in 2009.

Chief among these changes was the introduction of Glera as the name of the grape formerly referred to as Prosecco and the designation of a delimited area as the Prosecco territory: a swath of land that spans nine provinces within two Italian wine regions (Veneto and Friuli), formally codifying the historic and existing production zones and the production procedures themselves. Accordingly, Prosecco DOC is now a protected geographic indication (PGI) and wannabe wines are forbidden from affixing the term Prosecco to their labels. Additionally, a second designation, Prosecco Superiore DOCG was simultaneously created (See Promoting Prosecco, Parlare Prosecco Superiore and Slowing Down in Asolo). These new regulations have helped to protect Prosecco from copycats, but vigilance by the consortium is still required.

The continued growth in demand (and sales) for Prosecco has been met with a steady swell in supply from just under 1.5 million hectoliters in 2011 to just over 3.5 million hectoliters in 2016, with a current volume of over 400 million bottles annually. Three-quarters of these bottles find their way outside of Italy, namely the UK and the U.S.

As a fresh, fruit-driven sparkler, Prosecco gets its aromatic character from the Glera grape, which must make up 85% of the wine and the use of the Charmat, instead of the Traditional, Method of sparkling wine production. Charmat production relies exclusively on stainless steel and omits the lengthy ageing on the lees that Champagne and other similar wines undergo. In addition to preserving fresh and fragrant aromas, this process results in lower costs and speedier sparkles.

Not surprising, Prosecco’s pleasant fruity and floral aromas, low alcohol, lively acidity and persistent effervescence account for its wide appeal. Yet, despite its increased popularity, Prosecco should not be dismissed as merely a cheap and cheerful sparkler. Yes, these are relatively inexpensive ($15-20) compared with their costly ($40 and up) counterparts: Champagne, Franciacorta (page 17) and luxury Cava. But, they still offer complexity and balance on the nose and palate.

In fact, I was reminded of this diversity at a recent comparative tasting of ten Proseccos. While there was a common wine style of peach, pear and/or apple aromas among the selection, they differed in intensity, acidity and sweetness levels.

Admittedly, all of the wines showed well, but I did have a few favorites of the line-up which included: La Jara Prosecco di Treviso Frizzante, Perlage Sgajo Extra Dry Prosecco di Treviso, La Marca Prosecco, Bianca Vigna Brut Prosecco, Astoria Extra Dry Prosecco di Treviso, and Villa Sandi Il Fresco Prosecco di Treviso (tasting notes below).

With its crowd-pleasing characteristics, Prosecco is a perfect option for the holiday season, which can easily work as an aperitif, a food-friendly pairing at the table and as a toast to health, happiness and prosperity!

Just don’t call it Champagne. 😉

TASTING NOTES
La Jara NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC Frizzante, Veneto, Italy
While most Prosecco wines are fully sparkling, a small fraction is produced in a lightly fizzy (aka frizzante) style as is this one. Fresh aromas of peach and honeysuckle greet the nose. The dry palate displays bright acidity and a lighter body, with flavors of lemon curd and white flowers. This is a very fresh and pleasant wine with plenty of acidity to pair well with food. Medium+ length.

Perlage Sgajo Extra Dry NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
This Vegan wine is a bit shy on the nose, but its dry palate offers up ripe citrus and floral notes, along with medium+ acidity, nice, creamy mousse and long length with a slight fruitiness lingering in the finish coupled with some minerality and salinity. Good complexity.

La Marca NV, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
Pronounced pear aromas with some peach and floral notes on the nose give way to a dry, yet fruity palate with flavors of honey, honeysuckle and pear plus a hint of lime. There is a lovely richness on the palate, with a creamy mousse and medium+ length.

Bianca Vigna Brut NV Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
This wine is very floral on the nose with an interesting richness and complexity on the palate reminiscent of Riesling – displaying an oily/petrol character – joined by pear and apple flavors and culminating in long length.

Astoria Extra Dry NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
Aromas of pear and apple dominate the nose while the dry palate features apple, citrus and slight minerality, along with medium+ acidity, a very clean finish and medium+ length.

Villa Sandi Il Fresco NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
This wine shows floral and peach aromas, with a slightly off-dry palate that is round and creamy, balanced by medium+ acidity. Its ripe peach and floral flavors are joined by honey in the finish, culminating in long length.

Pairing Beyond the Ordinary

Once, at a trade event, a woman advised me that the wine I was tasting went well with food. Well, duh! Wine has always been a beverage meant to be enjoyed with a meal and is among the only ones where both are enhanced by one another. In some cultures, drinking wine without food is anathema.

More recently the trend has been to look well beyond the axiom, “What grows together goes together,” in favor of showcasing the flexibility of a given wine by pairing it with less expected culinary options. Think Alsatian Gewürztraminer with Indian curries or Prosecco with sushi.

At Atla, Michelin-starred Cosme’s younger, more casual sibling, Mexican inspired food was served alongside a selection of New Zealand wines from Kim Crawford. This NZ producer has always been one of my go-tos for Sauvignon Blanc, but it was nice to see that the range seems to have been expanded stateside, as we also had the opportunity to taste the Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Rosé and Pinot Noir. Adding a further twist to the evening, dessert was a Mexican Hot Chocolate (recipe below), featuring the Pinot Noir. This was served after I left, so I didn’t get a chance to taste it, but with the cold rain pouring down that evening, I am sure it was a welcome treat.

Image courtesy of Susannah Gold

A few blocks away, I was introduced to the wines of Lugana, a small Italian wine region, which spans both Lombardy and the Veneto. These wines, primarily produced from the Trebbiano di Soave grape variety, may be dry, sparkling or, in the case of late harvest, sweet, dessert style wines. During the dinner at La Pizza Fresca, these beautiful white wines were more traditionally matched with a traditional Italian meal of arugula salad, beets, pizzas and a selection of fish, chicken and meat.

Among the less traditional decisions was choosing to pair these white wines with short ribs, but it worked well due to the richness, depth and full-bodied nature of many of the wines. My tasting notes are a bit spotty, but I was particularly impressed with the light, freshness of the Olivini Lugana DOC 2016, the complexity and richness of the Selva Capuzza Lugana Riserva DOC Menasso 2013 and the beautiful balance of the Margona Lugana DOC Vendemmia Tardiva dessert wine.

Both the Kim Crawford and Lugana events worked well primarily due to the basic pairing principle of ensuring that the wines had sufficient acidity to go well with the various dishes. Accordingly, their crisp, clean nature meant that one’s palate was cleansed between bites and ready for more, while simultaneously they highlighted the flavors in the accompanying food; an overall reminder that simple rules can serve us well even when we think we are breaking them.

The next night found us in Williamsburg at an unusual venue for the launch of Enjoy la Vie from Bordeaux negociant, Cordier. Entering through a loading dock, we were immediately struck by the quirky, high-ceilinged, warehouse-style space of ACME Studios. The space appears to be more regularly used for photo shoots, but it was a fun place to explore these new, entry-level wines.

The focus was on decidedly on France, with the classic pairing of cheeses and charcuterie. Similarly, attendees were invited to don a beret, grab a baguette and pose for a photo, instantly transformed (and immortalized) into cute, French clichés. But, despite the expected match, the event was far from boring and not all things were classically French. Namely, the brass band with its bold and boisterous jazz music meant that this was not a typical Bordeaux tasting.

With regard to the wines themselves, I was more impressed with the Bordeaux Blanc and Bordeaux Rouge wines than the varietally-labeled Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Regardless, I had a great time at the event. Most likely because I was paired with my wonderful husband. Which just underscores that context and company are is often just as important as the cuisine.

 

 

 

MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE
INGREDIENTS:
4 oz Kim Crawford Pinot Noir
2 oz dairy milk or non-dairy milk (almond is a good option)
3 Tbsp powdered baking cocoa
1 oz coffee liqueur
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch chili powder

DIRECTIONS:
Pre-warm an 8-10 oz coffee mug. In a saucepan, combine chocolate powder and brown sugar with milk to make into a rich syrup. Add coffee liqueur and Kim Crawford Pinot Noir. Stir until ingredients are hot. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and ground cinnamon. Pour into pre-warmed mug and garnish with whole cinnamon stick and pinch of chili powder.

A Devil of a Merlot for International Merlot Day

As Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly notes, national and international wine holidays are actually quite unofficial, but they are certainly a great excuse to drink wine and focus on a specific grape variety or wine category.

Consequently, International Merlot Day, which Puckette traces back to 2011, has a designated date of November 7 and is as good a reason as any to drink more Merlot, particularly if this grape isn’t in your usual repertoire!

No longer widely maligned, Merlot has found renewed favor, which it richly deserves and is among the most popular red varieties in the U.S. This great grape originally hails from France and is wonderful on its own or as part of a blend (especially the wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank). Generally, these wines offer up red fruits, coffee and herbal notes, along with good acidity and soft tannins, but the wines will vary depending upon where the grapes are grown.

Merlot adapts well to many climates and has been transported from its ancestral home to almost every wine region across the globe. Within the U.S., the variety does well on Long Island and in Washington State and in California. Worldwide, there are an estimated 660,000 acres of Merlot planted, so there is definitely no shortage of Merlots to try.

To help you get started, here’s one option worth checking out:
Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot 2015, Washington State, U.S., $12.99 (SRP)
With an intense nose showing plum, coffee and meatiness, this wine is dry with very ripe fruit character, medium+ body, medium acidity and present tannins. Flavors of plum, fresh herbs and dried herbs dominate the palate, along with a hint of earth and spice. These latter notes add to the wine’s complexity and give it a fall-weather feel, which may be why it paired so well with roasted butternut squash.

If you still have friends in the anti-Merlot camp, it might be time to find some new friends or you could simply tell them, the devil made me do it.

 

Ancient Lakes AVA: A Meeting of Mountains, Music and Merlot

Arriving in Seattle on an unusually clear day, we could see the majestic Mount Rainier through the airplane window, which we took as a good omen of the trip to come – our first foray into Central Washington and our maiden voyage in an RV.

Although the impetus for this visit to the Pacific Northwest was a two-day music festival at The Gorge Amphitheater, as wine lovers we could not resist the siren call of the local vinous culture and were excited about exploring this region along with immersing ourselves into the music.

We loaded up the vehicle with our possessions and hit the road, essentially heading due east. Our route took us through the Cascade Mountain range, which offers up beautiful views and is also responsible for keeping most moisture to the west. Consequently, Washington State’s eastern areas are sunny and dry (and well-suited to irrigated agriculture), while Seattle is steeped in foggy, wet weather.

Our final destination was in George, WA (someone had a sense of humor), but we found a welcoming oasis along Interstate 90 in Ellensburg. This small town (Population: 19,786) is home to Central Washington University and several wineries. We selected Brix Wine Bar as our early dinner option. Owned by Elevage Wine Co/Raised by Wolves, the restaurant lists several wines by the glass (or bottle), but doesn’t provide a tasting option. Surprisingly, they do have gluten-free pizza on the menu, which was quite delicious. We ordered one glass of Malbec and one of Cabernet Sauvignon, with a unanimous preference for the latter.

Thus, we added a bottle of the Cab Sav to our tab to enjoy later, before heading around the corner to Gard Vintners. Its Ellensburg tasting room is open late on Friday nights (4:00-9:00 PM) with the winery’s full range available for tastings as well as by the glass and by the bottle. Live music was a welcome treat as we sampled several different wines, under the tutelage of Riley, our tasting guide that evening. Founded in 2006, this family winery has garnered high scores from the wine media and it was easy to see why. We were wowed by the Roussanne, Vaucluse (a Rhone-style red blend of Syrah and Viognier) and their Provencal-style rosé and added these to our growing collection.

Before we headed out, Riley recommended visits to: Cave B Winery, Beaumont Cellars and Jones of Washington, all of which are in Quincy, WA and situated within the Ancient Lakes AVA.

Created in 2012, the Ancient Lakes AVA’s geology is the result of being carved out by ancient ice age floods, leaving behind 35 namesake lakes. It encompasses 1,600 planted acres with Riesling and Chardonnay as the most planted varieties due to the relatively northern latitude and cooler weather compared to other areas within Columbia Valley.

As a state, Washington ranks as the second largest premium producer of wine in the U.S. Grapes were planted as early as 1825, but today’s vineyards were more recently established during the 1970s. Currently, there are 900 wineries, spread out over 14 AVAs, with the majority (75%) of production centered on Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah. However, diversity does still exist with more than 40 different grapes grown within the state.

Beyond the Ancient Lakes AVA, the wider wine touring region is known as the Cascade Valley and North Central, which is situated between Seattle and Spokane. Within this area, there are 34 wineries or tasting rooms on the Cascade Valley & North Central map in Washington State Wine’s magazine, with another 21 listed in nearby Leavenworth and 7 in Wenatchee, providing tourists with plenty of places to taste.

After departing Gard Vintners, we arrived at The Gorge, queuing up behind a long line of fellow RVs. As we made our way, we were both welcomed and warned to adhere to the campground rules. First and foremost, we were admonished to have a fkin’ good time! In truth, the rules do forbid weapons, but, thankfully, alcohol is permissible (at least for the show we attended). Once in place in our assigned campsite, we unpacked our bags before setting off to explore the venue, then it was time for bed.

The next morning, well-fortified with a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast, we walked the two miles to Cave B Winery (Riley’s other suggestions were too far for a walk and getting the RV out of camp was just too difficult a proposition). Originally founded as Champs de Brionne by Dr. (a neurosurgeon) and Mrs. Bryan in 1980, Cave B Winery’s vast estate boasts 140 acres of vines comprised of 17 different varieties; orchards; a spa; a restaurant with stunning views of the Columbia River; and a myriad of lodging options, including yurts and cave rooms.

All of Cave B’s wines are produced with estate-grown fruit and a $10 tasting fee will get you a sample of 3 whites and 3 reds. While I liked all six wines, I was especially enamored with the Tempranillo. Among the whites, their off-dry Riesling stood out. Overall, this region and its wines were quite unfamiliar to me before our arrival, but I was impressed with what we tasted.

During Champs de Brionne’s early days, a natural bowl on the property was discovered to have near-perfect acoustics and the idea of a music venue was born as a way to draw people to the winery “in the middle of nowhere.” Before long, the popularity of these summer music began to grow, transforming the original concept from a small theater into the grander The Gorge Amphitheater, accompanied by the build out of a much larger stage and capacity for 20,000+ participants.

By 1993, the Bryans divested themselves of The Gorge Amphitheater and its campgrounds, but retained the vineyards and additional acreage. During this period, they continued to grow grapes, which they sold to other wine producers. But, in 2000, the couple was ready to re-enter winemaking with the creation of Cave B Winery, a smaller, premium winery. They added the inn and restaurant in 2005.

Given this history, it was fitting to have tasted at Cave B before heading back to our campsite for the main event: ABGT250.

DJs and musicians, Above & Beyond, comprise three London-based guys (Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki) who started making music together in 1999. They have cultivated a rabid following that spans the globe and inculcated a special ethos among them. They have also launched record labels Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, giving a start to other EDM artists. Fans assert that their concerts are life-changing experiences after attending just a single one, so it is no surprise that their events are well attended.

Named for their podcast series, Above & Beyond Group Therapy (ABGT), their ABGT live events draw fans from around the globe. The group began doing live shows on the occasion of the 50th podcast (ABGT50), a tradition that has carried forward each year (coincident with the next 50th show). The first was held in London, followed by New York, Sydney, Amsterdam and now Washington State. Rumors have it that ABGT300 will be in Asia.

The festival itself kicked off with a free screening of Above & Beyond’s live filming of a recent performance on Friday night as a thank you to those who arrived early, but the main event took place on Saturday evening with a special set by Above & Beyond. The line-up included Luttrell, Yotto, Oliver Smith, Genix & Sunny Lax, a reprise from the headliners at 11:00 PM, accompanied by fireworks and glowing digital bracelets (from sponsor TMobile), before concluding with Seven Lions & Jason Ross.

Sunday’s daytime set was more mellow, with Above & Beyond’s music as the backdrop for a morning yoga practice and the use of the venue’s smaller stage. Highlights included Moon Boots, Eli & Fur, Jody Wisternoff & James Grant, 16 Bit Lolitas, and a joint return to the stage by Yotto and Luttrell at the end. A brief rain shower on Sunday evening did not seem to put a damper on anyone’s spirits, with music continuing long into the night, thanks to “pop-up” concerts embedded in the food court area and the campgrounds.

We were up early Monday morning ready to return to civilization, but would certainly consider the trip a success. Admittedly, it was an interesting combination of hobbies, but this meeting of mountains, music and Merlot was a perfect balance for us, as we navigated new adventures and divergent musical tastes. And, I didn’t hate the RV; it was definitely much more comfortable and luxurious that a tent would have been.

 

Fierce, fabulous and Femme!

Last week, my friend and Femme! Creator, Bernadette Pleasant, shot and produced a video to promote her amazing movement classes, Femme! This “fusion of sensual movement, dance, meditation, creative visualization and celebration of the feminine form” offers women a safe and sacred place in which to celebrate their bodies and themselves.

During the same week, in another feminine celebration, Carol Duval-Leroy was in New York to launch the re-release of Femme de Champagne 1996. Known as the “Lady of Champagne,” Carol has been at the helm of Duval-Leroy since 1991 and is now joined in the family business by her three sons. Duval-Leroy’s tête de cuvée (top wine) was named in Carol’s honor and was initially produced in 1990 to take advantage of the vintage’s unique weather conditions and the (then) newly built winery’s smaller tanks.

Femme de Champagne was next made in 1995, followed by the spectacular vintage of 1996. The 1996 vintage of Femme de Champagne was first released to rave reviews, garnering high scores from the wine media and prompting the Champagne house to hold back a substantial quantity for additional aging. These bottles were then carefully stored upside down in the caves to avoid any oxygenation. After spending 21 years on the lees (yeast), these wines were recently disgorged (had the lees removed) and are now ready to hit the U.S. market.

The 1996 vintage has repeatedly been hailed as one of the best Champagne vintages and one I have admittedly been partial to because it is also my anniversary year. But, the Femme de Champagne 1996 is worthy of the hype. It was a beautiful, breathtaking wine!

While I did not take formal tasting notes during the celebration, perhaps the most amazing characteristic of these wines (we also tasted the 1990 and 1995) was their youthful freshness. I know that their RD (recently disgorged) status lends itself to this fresh quality, but it was remarkable not to find any hint of age in the glass. There were no oxidative notes, no mushroom aromas; nothing to imply that these wines were as old as they were.

But, they did have spectacular elegance with laser sharp acidity, bright citrus fruit, complex yeast aromas, well-integrated bubbles and long length.

Established in 1859, Duval-Leroy is among the smaller Champagne houses in the Champagne region. With only 494 acres under its ownership, Duval-Leroy limits its production to estate grown grapes, which is quite unusual for a region in which the majority of large producers buy grapes from its many small growers.

Yet, despite its size, the House prides itself on its innovation and its number of “firsts” including Carol Duval-Leroy’s distinction of being the first and only woman to date to be appointed president of the Association Viticole Champenoise and having the first vat room in the world to use photovoltaic solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system and a green wall for heat and sound insulation. A further hallmark of Duval-Leroy is that its wines are released when ready, even if that means that they are out of sequence.

The woman-only event was held at Air’s Champagne Bar, which opened earlier this year. The unique venue is owned by Ariel Arce, named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 under 40 for 2017. In addition to having a deep menu of Champagne and other sparkling wines, Arce is also known for her Parlour Hour (5:00-7:00 PM daily) during which patrons can purchase three glasses of bubbly plus snacks for $30. Wednesday’s focus is on female winemakers, while Sundays offer a twist: serving up “one wine that we should never pour by the glass” along with snacks for the same $30. Not surprisingly, the menu includes an assortment of bubble-friendly food such as the oysters, caviar and charcuterie that were perfectly paired with the Femme de Champagne.

With a limited production, there won’t be much Femme de Champagne 1996 to go around, but it is currently availa ble at Morrell Wine for $295 if you wish to buy a bottle for yourself. After all, while Americans tend to save Champagne for a special occasion, Duval-Leroy’s export manager touted that the Champenois open a bottle of Champagne in order to create an occasion of the every day.

Certainly, enjoying a glass of Femme de Champagne will elevate any day of the year and we should always celebrate the feminine in all its forms!

Terlato launches next chapter in Pinot Grigio story with Italy’s Simonit & Sirch

They wear plaid and are forced to check their pint-sized chainsaws in their luggage when they travel. They are the SVU – Special Vine Unit – not the investigators of crimes, but rather the investigators and proponents of healthy grapevines.

The Friuli-born Marco Simonit and Pierpaolo Sirch met in high school, having spent their childhoods running around their respective village farms, both clearly at home in the outdoors. After attending viticultural school, they worked at the Istituto Agrario, went on to other posts and then renewed their acquaintance several years later when they noted that what they had been taught in school wasn’t actually working in the vineyard.

The duo spent considerable time researching and observing what was going on and ultimately developed their trademarked Simonit & Sirch pruning strategies, which seek to promote sap flow and reduce pruning wounds (which are susceptible to disease).

Interestingly, in an age when the words “natural” and “organic” are bandied about as being superior, we tend to forget about the importance of the role of humans in the vineyard. Vineyard pruning practices have not been a major focus; however, as Simonit and Sirch discovered, these practices can limit the health and life expectancy of a vine.

Accordingly, their intervention techniques improve the overall health of the vine, eliminate potential weakness and, when necessary, they eradicate disease with the aforementioned mini-chainsaws. Further, their approach concentrates on saving prized, older vines, which have the capacity to extract the characteristics of the soil, as opposed to the more common alternative of grubbing up diseased vines and replacing them with new plants that will take years to develop quality grapes.

Now they have become celebrity pruners, traveling the globe to save the world’s greatest vineyards and preserve their longevity. As a result, they have a robust client roster that reads like a wine list at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Sometimes they can’t believe it themselves. When famed Sauternes producer, Chateau d’Yquem, came calling, they initially thought it was a prank call!

Several years ago, the pair were introduced to Bill Terlato through a mutual friend, kicking off what was to become a fruitful partnership. At the time, Terlato was ready to write the next chapter of his company’s Pinot Grigio story and was looking for great grapes.

Terlato’s father, Anthony Terlato, was responsible for launching the Santa Margherita brand in the U.S. back in the 1970s, but, despite the profitability of the lengthy Terlato-Santa Margherita partnership (now dissolved), Terlato had become disillusioned with the product. A victim of its own success, Terlato felt that the wine’s quality had diminished over time as quantity was increased to accommodate growing demand. He believes that a product becomes commercial, rather than artisanal, when you make hundreds of thousands of cases.

While the original intent was for Simonit & Sirch to simply supply the contacts for Terlato’s project, they saw the opportunity for their hometown region – Friuli’s Colli Orientali – to gain the global exposure they felt it deserved. Colli Orientali is known for crafting some of the best Pinot Grigio in the world, but, since the region is made up of many, small growers who produce many wines with limited production, it is very difficult for them to get traction in the market.

Thus, the viticulturists decided to participate as full collaborators with Terlato. They underscore that what makes this particular wine project different from others is that not only is the quality of the wine evident, but it is scalable. a situation which Terlato describes as “1 + 1 = 3; We [Terlato] bring the marketability on a global basis.”

Overall, the goal is to produce “Grand Cru quality” Pinot Grigio that is evocative of its place, with both character and ageability. Speaking highly of this much-maligned grape – thanks to the glut of insipid Pinot Grigio on lists and shelves – Simonit stresses that, as a relative of Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio has good genetics and has the capacity to produce excellent wines.

In general, the fruit is sourced and hand harvested at low yields from 20-to-40-year-old vines grown on marl and schist soils on hillside plots. Recognizing the subtle differences among various soil types and microclimates, grapes from different plots are vinified separately and then blended together to produce a balanced and complex wine. As Terlato explains, “We want something distinctive, with complexity, salinity, minerality and length.”

Vintage variation is evident and, while they hope Mother Nature will be kind to them each year, such variation is not discouraged or covered up. The first vintage of the project was 2014 (although they produced Friulano in 2013), which proved to be a challenging harvest. The 2015 vintage was more bountiful, permitting them to expand their reach, which they are growing cautiously, primarily targeting on-premise accounts.

Present production stands at 40,000 cases and Terlato believes that a maximum output of 150,000 cases is feasible before the quality is compromised – a far cry from the current Santa Margherita case production of 700,000 annually.

Time will tell how this newest Pinot Grigio chapter will end, but so far the wine has been well received in the market.

Summer sippers (and others) from Feudi di San Gregorio

Southern Italy beckons tourists to its rocky beaches and winding coast line. Just south of Naples, the famed Amalfi Coast runs from Sorrento in the north to Salento in the south, encompassing tony towns in between such as Positano and Ravello. But, the local wines crafted further inland are less familiar, which is an unfortunate oversight.

About an hour’s drive from the coast, Campania’s wine growing is centered in the north-central area of the region, near the towns of Avellino and Benevento. Here, the climate is vastly different from the Mediterranean feel of the coast, receiving over 200 days of rain, due to its location in the mountains. Home to Pompeii and Vesuvius, the region offers up volcanic soils.

The emphasis is on indigenous varieties with the main white grapes being the floral Falanghina; the structured Greco; and Fiano, which displays a little of each of the characteristics of the two. Fiano and Greco are both long ripening grapes, usually not picked until October, that keep their freshness despite the long hang time. The best examples of the Greco grape are those from the Greco di Tufo DOCG, so named for being grown in volcanic, chalk soil called tufo. Interestingly, the Greco vines were traditionally planted in separate vineyards (and consequently, on different soil types) from the Fiano vines, with early recognition of their unique terroir affinities, rather than being planted within the same field as was often done in the past.

Among the red varieties, the most prized grape is the indigenous Aglianico, which is best known for the Taurasi DOCG wines produced in the region. By law, Taurasi wines must be aged for a minimum of three years, including one year in barrel (and 4 years with 18 months in barrel for the Riserva wines). While this wine was frequently aged in small barriques, the more recent trend has been toward the use of larger-sized oak vessels.

With its reputation for producing full-bodied, powerful, concentrated, tannic wines, it is said that Taurasi is often called the Barolo of the South. But, when asked about this point when I met him several years ago, Antonio Capaldo, whose family owns Feudi di San Gregorio, suggested that, “Perhaps Barolo is the Taurasi of the North.”

More recently, I had the chance to catch up with Feudi’s young chairman and commercial head. One of the better-known names in the region, the winery just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Established in 1986 in Sorbo Serpico, within the Irpina region, Feudi di San Gregorio is named for Gregory the Great, reflecting the Roman, Greek and papal history of the area.

Among Feudi’s most highly acclaimed wines is its Serpico, crafted solely with Aglianico grapes and produced in limited quantities (only 10,000-12,000 bottles produced annually). Rather than use the Taurasi Riserva DOCG, in a nod to the Supertuscan movement, which saw the birth of fantasy names for many wineries’ top wines, Serpico, takes its name from the town in which Feudi di San Gregorio is situated. The grapes for the wine, harvested over a period of 20 days, come from a single, three-hectare vineyard of pre-phylloxera vines that range in age from 120 to 180 years. Antonio stresses that the pre-phylloxera nature of the vines is as important to the quality of the wine as is the vines’ old age. There are 80 to 90 different clones within this vineyard and the winery has selected 40 of these clones to use in propagating other vineyards.

Now that Feudi has built a strong reputation for its Campanian wines, the company has begun to look elsewhere for expansion. As a staunch proponent of Italy’s southern wine regions, the winery has recently made investments in Basilicata (having purchased Basilisco in 2010), Puglia (with two properties here) and Sicily, with five hectares planted on Mount Etna.

While Antonio is focused on building the business and promoting its wines, the agricultural aspects of Feudi are handled by Marco Simonit and Pierpaolo Sirch. Pierpaolo has been actively involved with the company since 2003 and became managing director in 2009, a post he still holds today.

Having first visited Feudi in 2010, it was a pleasure to reconnect with Antonio and his wines on the first summery day of the season in New York. The two stainless-steel whites and rosé are perfect summer sippers that offer up freshness, complexity and the opportunity to savor some lesser-known varieties, although they work well all-year round. And, while the reds can be enjoyed now, I would suggest you hold them for the fall and winter seasons, since they need time in the cellar anyway.

TASTING NOTES
Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2015, Greco di Tufo DOCG, Italy, SRP $25.00
This is an angular wine, with excellent structure and lots of complexity. It offers up good acidity, a full body and concentrated flavors of apricots, peaches, a hint of nuttiness and a lovely salinity that remains in the long finish.

Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino 2015, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Italy, SRP $25.00 The more feminine of the two, this wine is richer and rounder on the palate, with floral, pear and ripe melon aromas and flavors, culminating in long length. Antonio remarked that it is the more flexible wine with regard to pairing options.

Feudi di San Gregorio Ros’Aura 2016 Rosato, Irpina IGT, Italy, $14.00
Produced from Aglianico grapes, this is a medium-deep hued rose. It is very fresh with aromas and flavors of apricot and citrus, with long length.

Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi 2011, Taurasi DOCG, Italy, SRP $48.00
This wine is released five years after harvest, having spent at least 24 months in bottle before release. It is quite powerful, with red and black fruit notes, joined by oak, toast and minerality. The palate is structural with good acidity and dusty, yet ripe tannins and long length.

Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico 2011, Irpinia IGT, Italy, SRP $99.00
Complex aromas of smoke, oak, meatiness, red fruits and black fruits greet the nose. On the palate, the wine is powerful with lots of ripe, red fruit, and notes of smoke, toast, oak and minerality. It also manages to be quite elegant and pretty despite its power and firm tannins. Needs time to develop; Hold.

Slowing down in Asolo

In an era of fast food and living life in the fast lane, we truncate words and distill whole phrases into three letters. With such high velocity living, we often lose sight of the good life and forget to slow down and take time to savor and enjoy.

Back in the day we were not always in such a hurry. In this vein, the upper class would take the Grand Tour and travel the world in search of new vistas and adventures. Among their various stops was the town of Asolo, which fittingly takes its name from the verb asolare, which translates as “to enjoy on the open air.” Upon my own arrival in Asolo, I was advised by the consorzio president that this was a precise state of mind in which to appreciate life.

In perfect harmony with this philosophy, we kicked off our visit with a welcome dinner featuring local Slow Food products. The Slow Food movement, founded in 1989, seeks to not only preserve local food cultures and traditions, but also to combat our fast food society, emphasizing food that is “Good, Clean and Fair”.

Situated in the Veneto’s Treviso province, Asolo has a lengthy history of savoring the good life. This picturesque town sits atop a hill with beautiful vistas in every direction. In fact, poet Giosue Carducci dubbed it, “The city of 100 horizons.”

Originally built in the fifth century BCE, the city was initially Roman, but it was during the Middle Ages that Asolo really made its mark. Whereas wealthy New Yorkers flock to the Hamptons and Bostonians head to the Cape, during this period, Venetians decamped to Asolo in which to enjoy the lazy, hazy days of summer. Here, the renowned architect Palladio and his contemporaries were employed to build grand palaces such as the remaining Villa Barbaro, which now serves as a museum.

As the saying goes, Asolo is Venice and Venice is Asolo, with a strong link forged between the two for centuries. Not only did they share a similar architecture, but the oak forests of Asolo supplied the wood to build the homes of Venice and to craft boats to protect the region.

These woods offer great biodiversity and are home to wild boars and deer. They are presently protected and now belong to the people of Asolo instead of being solely for the use of the Venetians as they were in the past. Today, local residents enjoy hunting, foraging and nature walks within this natural preserve.

Moreover, while Venice certainly maintains its prestige, Asolo built a reputation in its own right, thanks to Queen Caterina Cornaro. Forced to marry the King of Cyprus for political reasons, Caterina was eventually exiled to Asolo in 1489 and took the opportunity to transform the city on a hill into a center for art. She established a humanist, renaissance court of writers and painters within the city, attracting the top artisans of the time.

With Asolo firmly recognized as a destination for culture, as noted, the town became a much beloved stop on the European Grand Tour, with many staying on instead of returning home. In more recent history, artists and musicians continued to find their way to the town such as Robert Browning, Igor Stravinsky and Ernest Hemingway.

Presently, the town’s population has dwindled to 8,000 –with only 400 of them living within the city walls –thanks to high rents and a lack of modern amenities. But, it still remains a top tourist destination due to its heritage and beauty.

As elsewhere in the Veneto or anywhere in Italy for that matter, Asolo has a long history of grape growing and winemaking. The most historic accounts date to the Middle Ages when such activities were in the hands of the Benedictine monks. During the second half of the 14th century, the wines were highly prized, commanding a higher tax than others due to their perceived quality.

Despite this early fame, wine production languished for decades and it wasn’t until 1985 that the Consortium Vini Asolo Montello was founded. Today, this single consorzio protects three separate quality wine denominations: the initial DOC of Montello e Colli Asolani, which has existed since 1977; Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, created in 2009; and Montello Rosso DOCG, added in 2011. Within these three appellations, local producers can make a wide range of still, sparkling, white and red wines.

The consorzio’s 35 members (representing 85% of producers in the region) oversee a small territory comprising 20,000 hectares, of which less than 2,000 hectares (less than 5,000 acres) are planted to grapes. The majority of plantings, approximately 1,350 hectares, are given over to Glera, which is grown for Prosecco Superiore production. The Montello Rosso DOCG has a much smaller land allocation with only 250 hectares planted.

As its name suggests, the territory can be split into two distinct areas: Asolo hills and Montello plains. Between the two, there are soil differences, with more stones found in Asolo and a higher clay content existing in Montello. Yet, similar wind conditions exist on both hills and the same unique microclimate prevails, permitting olive trees to survive here, but not a mere 20 km away.

The area boasts of tremendous biodiversity, with varied flora and fauna abounding. In an effort to preserve this diversity, the consorzio has begun to focus on sustainable agriculture with an eye toward reducing the use of chemicals in the area and lowering the impact of farming on nature and on the workers, all while also conserving the wineries’ economies.

To this end, they have instituted new regulations that come into effect with the 2017 vintage that forbid the use of 18 dangerous chemicals that are actually still permitted under Italian and/or EU law. The consorzio has also developed a secondary list of  substances that are allowed, but not recommended as a further inducement to minimize chemical use.

This nascent region is slowly finding its footing as it not only focuses on its sparkling wines, but also works to develop a reputation for Bordeaux-style reds and reclaims several local grapes. Given its youth and size, it is not surprising that there is a lot of cooperation among members as they experiment with old techniques and collaborate on new ideas.

Meanwhile, Consorzio President, Armando Serena, is supposed to be slowing down, having handed the reigns of his winery to the next generation. His wife is eager to have him home, but instead he violates his own rules, eschewing the injunction Asola! (Slow down!) and choosing instead to devote his time and energy to promoting Asolo.

Cantina Tramin: Soaring to Great Heights

Driving north from the Venice airport to the Italian region of Alto Adige, the scenery and topography abruptly shift as we arrive in the river valley. Greeted by snow-topped peaks, verdant mountains and Swiss chalet-style architecture, you would half expect Julie Andrews to suddenly appear and belt out songs from the Sound of Music. While there was no sign of Julie or the von Trapp family, this northern-most province borders both Austria and Switzerland and was under Austrian rule until 1919. And, to this day, both Italian and a dialect of German are the official languages.

Instead, the hills of South Tyrol (Südtirol) are alive with the sound of viticulture. When considered separate from Trentino, Alto Adige is the smallest of Italy’s 20 regions. Yet, despite its limited size, 98% of its production is at the Protected Designation of Origin level – the most of any Italian region – and the region is highly regarded for its white wines, which account for 60% of regional production.

With the Dolomites to the East and the Alps to the north, these mountain ranges shelter the area from the cold forces of the North, trap air from the lakes and limit the annual rainfall, resulting in 300 sunny days per year. Conversely, the strong Ora winds coming off nearby Lake Garda help to temper the summer heat. Given this duality of cooling and warming influences, Alto Adige is home to both Mediterranean and Alpine botany along with vineyards and apple orchards.

In fact, the steep slopes at the highest elevations (820 to 2800 feet) are given over to white varieties such as Pinot Bianco (aka Pinot Blanc), Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, while the lower, rolling hills are planted to reds (predominantly Schiava, Pinot Nero and Lagrein). The high-altitude vineyards benefit especially from the area’s wide diurnal shift, permitting the grapes to ripen fully, while retaining high levels of acidity. The region’s diverse soils include limestone, quartz and volcanic porphyry, which further retain acidity in, and add minerality to, the wines.

Despite the region’s diminutive size, it is divided among seven different subregions, with the largest and southernmost being Bassa Atesina. Here, within the small town of Tramin is the home of Cantina Tramin.

With deep roots in the Tramin community, this cooperative was originally founded in 1898 at the suggestion of the local priest. It later merged with the coop of Neumarkt in 1971, growing in size. But, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that things got interesting. At that time, the members of the cooperative made the conscious decision to pursue a quality agenda and, as a result, made significant changes in the vineyard and in the winery. More recently, Cantina Tramin undertook an extensive remodel of its winery and offices, which were designed by a prestigious, local architect, Werner Tscholl.

Coincident with the shift toward quality, Willi Stürz has been Cantina Tramin’s guiding light for 25 years. The local native joined the cooperative in 1995 and serves as both winemaker and Technical Director. His efforts were rewarded with the title of “Winemaker of the Year” in 2004 by Italian wine guide, Gambero Rosso. The affable man is clearly passionate about the territory and winemaking. He is allied in his endeavors by a small team, permitting them to work collaboratively with their 300 member-growers in crafting well-made wines.

One of the unique aspects of Cantina Tramin as a cooperative is that they are relatively small, with only 260 hectares under vine, representing 35% of local vineyards. Many of Cantina Tramin’s members hold only one hectare each, earning the majority of their income from apples rather than grapes; only 5% of members sustain themselves entirely on their vineyards. Throughout the year, Willi and his colleagues advise members on various viticultural decisions such as which vines to replant, when to harvest and how best to combat disease. Quality is continually the watchword with yields set at 30% lower than that permitted by DOC law.

Once the grapes reach the winery, the emphasis is on softer, but lengthier pressing, to maintain their intense aromatics. Although the oldest tanks are made from concrete lined with stainless steel, more recent tank purchases favored stainless steel tanks that can be divided as needed to accommodate various-sized fermentation lots. Meanwhile, red wines are fermented in large casks, with a preference for punch downs rather than pump-overs. The top reds – Pinot Noir and Lagrein – are aged in barriques, with all red wines now being matured for a minimum of two years, qualifying for Riserva level. Despite Schiava being the most widely planted red variety in the region, Cantina Tramin is less bullish on this grape. Today, the winery has become well regarded for its wines and, in particular, for its Gewürztraminer (see below). The wines are marketed in two ranges: Selection and Classic, with the best wines being those in the Selection range.

The Spice of Life
Viticulture in the region dates back as far as 500 BCE, thanks to the ingenuity of the indigenous Rhaetian people. Their precociousness shocked the Romans who arrived on the scene in 15 BCE finding evidence of wine stored in wooden vessels, while the Romans were still using amphorae. As a result of this Roman influence, the village of Tramin took its name from the Latin word for border and later gave its name to an indigenous variety grown in the area for centuries. With the German “er” suffix indicating origin from Tramin the grape was first called Traminer, and later earned the prefix of gewürz, which is German for spice.

As the area’s most historic and important variety, Cantina Tramin is keen to preserve and promote Gewürztraminer. Along these lines, the winery manages 57 hectares of Gewürztraminer vines, which represent 22% of the coop’s total plantings, more than double the percentage for the region as a whole. In general, the Gewürztraminer grape is known for its powerful aromas of spice, floral and exotic notes such as jasmine and herbal tea, along with tropical fruit and lychee. Given its name, the variety is frequently associated with Germany, but it also grows well in Alsace. Yet, despite these more well-known links with the grape, the variety understandably performs well in its birthplace. Specifically, the extensive sunshine results in higher spice notes, while the volcanic porphyry subsoil and calcareous topsoil promote perfume aromas.

Not surprisingly, Cantina Tramin knows how to handle this variety and produces several different wines that feature it, from its Classic Gewürztraminer to its Terminum late harvest dessert wine. But, the jewel in Cantina Tramin’s crown is its Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer.

As evidence of the success and acclaim of this wine, it has received more awards for its Gewürztraminer than any other winery in Italy and was awarded the Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) rating, not once or twice, but 23 times. And it was named by Gambero Rosso “as one of the 50 wines which have fundamentally changed the Italian wine scene.”

While the grapes bound for the Selida Gewürztraminer hail from steep slopes and honor the small-holdings nature of Cantina Tramin’s members, grapes for the Nussbaumer provide an opportunity for an elegant expression of an individual vineyard. Of note, Willi advised us that as a young wine, the Gewürztraminer grape is charming, but its elegance increases with age as it loses some of its spice, yet gains freshness.

Accordingly, a vertical tasting of the Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer provided a fascinating look at both vintage variation as well as aging potential of this wine. My favorites were the 2015, 2009 and 2003, but all of the wines were consistently good, with dry palates, nice acidity levels and beautiful fruit. Moreover, they all favorably lacked the soapiness that some Gewürztraminers have for me.

How Sweet It Is
In pursuit of its passion for Gewürztraminer, Cantina Tramin has recently expanded its Gewürztraminer range with Epokale. From the root of epoch – a period – the intent was to create a wine similar in style to those produced in the past, but have been lost with time. This traditional, semi-sweet wine was made from grapes from the same vineyard of Nussbaumer and is a late harvest wine.

First produced in 2009, this wine made its debut during our visit, after having spent seven years aging in an abandoned silver mine, which provided perfect conditions: correct and consistent temperature and humidity, which ensured that no tartrates were formed. Only 1,200 bottles were made.

To launch the release of the Epokale, we were provided with an opportunity to blind taste a selection of Gewürztraminers from around the world. We were told only the vintage of each wine and that the wines were being presented in ascending order of residual sugar, from driest to sweetest. Upon reveal, the wines were predominantly from Alsace, but with a German Spätlese thrown in for good measure. The Cantina Tramin wines were in good company with the likes of Zind Humbrecht Hengst Grand Cru and Trimbach. Four of the wines were the winery’s own: two vintages of the Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer, Epokale and Terminum.

Although I didn’t know the identity of the wines, I was immediately impressed with the 2009 Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer, which displayed brighter acidity than the 2015 Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer tasted immediately prior to it. Similarly, during the blind portion of the tasting, I really enjoyed the Epokale 2009. Another blind favorite was the Zind Humbrecht Hengst Grand Cru Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2006, with its amber color, slight oxidative note, along with intense aromas and flavors of honey, burnt orange and orange marmalade. ™

TASTING NOTES

WHITES
Moriz Pinot Bianco 2016, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $12.00
The Pinot Bianco grape variety has grown in the area for over 150 years. Aromas of pear and flowers. Slightly off-dry, bright and fresh, nice texture, long length.

Pepi Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $13.00
This wine takes its name from the two different micro-zones of the valley from which the grapes are sourced: Pezone and Pinon. Vinified for six to seven months entirely in large oak casks, this wine has a pronounced nose of herbs, citrus and smoke. The dry palate has high acidity, an oily texture and long length.

Stoan 2012, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $30.00
First produced in 2002, this white blend brings together a minimum of 60% Chardonnay, with Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Bianco as supporting players. At five years of age, this wine displayed some development, with a deeper gold color, honeyed, spice and tree fruit aromas. Dry, with high acidity, medium+ body, gorgeous and rich, complex, slight woodiness in finish, long length

Since 2014, white wines are given more time in large casks. Stoan is matured for a minimum of fifteen months, with additional time in bottle. This change was challenging at first since the winery didn’t have the wines available in the market, but now that the 2014s are ready, they are back on track.

Stoan 2015, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $28.00
According to Willi, this is one of the best vintages of this wine and he further noted that it provides a strong interpretation of the given vintage. With the lengthier aging protocol now in place, this wine was on the lees until August. It is woodier on the nose than the 2012, but the oak is not overpowering. Notes of floral, citrus peel, orange greet the nose with a dry, full-bodied palate that shows floral, apple, citrus and minerality, with medium+ acidity and long length. Can age for 10-15 years.

Selida Gewürztraminer 2016, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $16.00
From an ancient, local word for barn, the Selida Gewürztraminer offers up pronounced floral and exotic musk aromas. It is dry, with medium acidity, and flavors of floral, tropical fruit, lychee and spice.

Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $36.00
*2015: Rich and complex with spice, tropical fruit and lychee, this was one of the best vintages in the past ten years, with very dry conditions during the ripening season.

*2012: Showing smoky notes with depth and spice, this was a less sunny year, but provided good freshness to the wines as a result.

*2011: Aromas and flavors of honey, wax, spice and roses with long length from what was a very hot year.

*2009: Pronounced nose of honey, perfume and lychee, with vibrant acidity and intensity on the palate; considered to be a balanced vintage.

*2005: With floral, tropical fruit and honey aromas, this wine was a bit light on the palate.

*2003: As the oldest, this wine was the deepest in color, with an intense and concentrated nose of spice, perfume and honey, all of which linger in long finish; it was a hot vintage, yet the wine is still quite fresh.

ROSÉ
Lagrein Rosé 2016, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $8.00
We kicked off the trip with a light lunch in Verona, paired with the winery’s rosé, which was perfect with a range of dishes. This medium-deep pink offers up cherry and slight herbal notes. On the palate, it is dry, with a fruity attack, medium+ body and long length. A nice, food-friendly rosé.

REDS
Pinot Noir 2014, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $17.00
This wine is very earthy and herbaceous on the nose. On the palate, it is dry, with high acidity, flavors of cherries and herbs, culminating in long length.

Maglen Pinot Noir 2012, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $23.00
Showing slight development, with pronounced earthy notes, this wine offers up earth, ripe cherry and spice, along with medium acidity and long length.

Urban Lagrein 2011, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $22.00
A nose of dark red fruits, almost brooding in nature, with some vanilla and oak aromas. Dry, with medium acidity and firm tannins, the full-bodied palate displays dark red fruit and wet leaves, reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.

SWEET
Epokale 2009, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, 50.00 €
Beautiful aromas of honey, spice and lemon peel persist on the viscous, medium-sweet palate, with balanced acidity and very long length.

Terminum, Südtirol/Alto Adige DOC, Italy, $80.00 (half bottle)
Another late harvest Gewürztraminer, this wine was among the winery’s first forays into high quality wines. Admittedly, I neglected to take formal tasting notes on this wine, but I assure you that it was delicious!