The Effect of Confinement

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There’s a beautiful walk to be done from our house. You cut through the old vineyard, leaving the vegetable patch and the beehives to your left and the chicken coop and the row of hops to your right. In the springtime, this vineyard is in constant motion as butterflies and other insects flutter from one flower to another.

Once you read the end of the vineyard, you find yourself on an old shepherds’ path. It skirts another of our vineyards before heading up the hill into the woodland. Admire the makeshift wall of volcanic rocks as you go. No-one but us walks up this path anymore so brambles may be an issue occasionally. Just 20 years ago, as many as one hundred sheep and goats that were led to pasture up on these hills would have cut them back for us. The owner of the vineyards, however, my father-in-law, is pleased that there are no sheep or goats anymore; they didn’t always stick to munching on brambles.

Stop for a second to smell the flowers on the quince trees which have only just opened up. They were still tight buds just a couple of days ago but now they are in full bloom and the fragrance is glorious.

Before the baby arrived and my daily routine changed beyond recognition, I did this walk everyday. It takes about 10 minutes, depending on how actively you take on the slopes. It’s a good work out because in some places, there’s a 40% gradient.

Vineyards in late March

Arriving at the top, the effort is justified. Any beads of sweat (quite common in the summer) get brushed away and forgotten once you set your eyes on the two magnificent castles in front of you.

What is lacking in photo quality can be compensated by your imagination…

They are the original Romeo and Juliet castles, dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, which inspired an injured soldier turned novel writer named Luigi Da Porto to write a story, which was later plagiarised by the copycat William Shakespeare.

I like the idea that Luigi da Porto was able to construe something which became as significant as the story of Romeo and Juliet from the confines of his chair. Who knows what could be created during this period of enforced isolation?

On days with good visbility, beyond the castles, you’ll spot the snowcapped peak of Monte Grappa. Standing at 1775m high, this mountain is the main focal point on the skyline for miles around and it looms menancingly above the castle ruins, itself a reminder of war and struggle.

During the First World War, Monte Grappa was the main point of conflict between the invading Austro-Hungarians and the Italians protecting the Venetian plain. Being such a strategic place, many lives were lost.

I don’t know if that was still playing on my mind when I chose which wine to open last night because it was “Muscat Freyheit” 2017 from the Austrian winery Heinrich.

Composed of muscat (70%) with a small part (25%) of pinot blanc and even smaller amount (5%) of chardonnay, the back label also reveals some secrets of the vinification: 14 days skin contact, aged in oak barrels and bottled with no SO2. I was wary of the cement bottle from this biodynamic winery because previous experience has taught me to watch for hot-ass reduction. In this case, I needn’t have worried; it’s perfect.

It has a wonderful suggestive and exotic nose, which conjures up images of faraway places, warm evenings and heady spices. There’s preserved lemon, camomile tea, cardamom and lime cordial. Mouth is very slightly off-dry (there’s a hint of the syrup that comes with a tin of peaches) but finishes with a whisk of salinity which works perfectly with the spread of food that’s on the table this particular evening. We drink glass after glass of this wine, enjoying its abundance of texture and character. To some people wine is superfluous and extravagant but to us, at this particularly strange time, we’re appreciating the good things in life and savouring every sip.


To read more about the Heinrich winery, Valerie Kathawala recently wrote a very comprehensive overview on Grape Collective.

Crazy Times Call For A Lun’Antica 2014

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It’s been a long-standing joke amongst my friends that in the case of nuclear war, my house would be the bunker in which we’d see it out. I am – and have always been – a hoarder. My pantry is always stocked with beans, lentils, grains and, this being an Italian household, there’s no chance of a pasta shortage here! Nor is there a run on jars of tomato sauce because last year’s crop was so abundant that we’ll be good for many more months.

Whilst I’m pleased that World War 3 hasn’t broken out, I honestly hadn’t thought that I would ever need to break into that great stockpile of groceries but now with all of Italy in lockdown, it has become a reality. The one thing that hadn’t featured into my plans was a 6 month old baby. We adults might be able to get by with a little improvisation here and there but there’s no getting around the absolute need for powdered milk and nappies… fingers crossed the shops don’t run out! The one upside of having a baby is that those little bottles of hand sanitiser, which are now worth their weight in gold, were already lurking in each and every handbag.

I guess the other reason that friends earmarked my house is because maybe they hoped I’d also be forced to reach into the dusty section of the wine cellar or spirits cabinet and open something that had been saved for “a special occasion.”

As it so happened, the bottle that I chose last night was Lun’Antica 2014, a refermented vermentino from Terra della Luna in Liguria. It’s a small winery, making natural wines, located just south of the Cinque Terre on the Mediterranean coast.

One of the signs that I haven’t yet become completely Italian-ised (besides my deep suspicion of the existence of a colpo d’aria!) is that I love a slight oxidation on a white wine. That nuttiness. The exhilaration that comes from combining salted pistachio with flint stone. The 2007 Filagnotti from Stefano Bellotti had that same quality when I still had some of it back in 2014-2015 and it’s stupendous!

They say that oxidised wines lose their fruitiness… but in this case, whilst the initial headiness of the wine’s youthfulness has indeed faded, it hasn’t gone flabby in any other way. In fact I’d even go as far as saying that the fact that this has been on the lees for these past 6 years has only helped the maturation of the wine. It has a dark gold, honeyed colour and a muscly mouthfeel. I love how vermentino so often and ably carries the salinity of the Mediterranean. This is no exception, and the power and elegance tantalises your gums.

“But what is this wine?” asks my long-suffering husband. “Is it sparkling? Is it not? Was the refermentation intentional?”

“Don’t think too much,” I reply, “Drink!”

Price: €€

Rating: ****

Rosé, you say? No, I’m drinking Rossese.

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Gosh, this blog has taken a hit. It’s well-documented that the arrival of a baby can have a disastrous impact on social life, personal hygiene and the like, and I suppose it was always going to be inevitable that I’d have to put the blog on the back burner for a while. The thing is, not only has time been reduced to 3 minute fragments and my drinking been reduced to one small glass with dinner but I’ve also been suffering from a psychological block.

Which wines do I talk about? In the past I’ve always abided by the policy of not writing about wines from wineries with whom I work – unless there’s something really, really noteworthy about them. But in the last year or so, I’ve also been working for the VinNatur association… and the problem is VinNatur is made up of over 200 wineries. Do I not write about any of them?! Ok then, I only write about wines I buy myself? Not a bad solution but consequentially, that probably means writing off the wines I taste at fairs and I love tasting wines at fairs. What about wine other people give me? Hell no, that’s even worse. What about wine that is given to me by people who are not producers or PR pros? Well, that would be ok, I guess…


I’ve found a burst of inspiration to dust off the keyboard because the wine I’m writing about today was given to me by a French-based wine writer who was road-tripping through Italy last summer.

The first part of his road trip took him to Liguria where he picked up a bottle of Rossese 2018 from a winery called Laura Aschero. Beyond that, and the words “Rossese di Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC” written on the label, I know nothing about this wine and it turns out that not having much context is strangely liberating.

So that brings me to the present; sitting outside on the patio, congratulating myself on the fact that I’ve managed to do most of the household chores AND also put the baby to sleep for long enough that I can sit down and enjoy a glass of wine!

It’s February 7th today and it’s the first day warm enough this year that I’ve been able to sit outside and it’s wonderful feeling the warm sun on my face. The dog is basking in the sunshine too. I can hear the boys working in the vineyard nearby and see a truck with PU plates indicating that the Croatian agronomists have arrived to take away a bundle of prunings for some experiment of theirs.


Rossese is a new variety for me. I haven’t spent much time in Liguria and, as we know, Italy has a myriad of native varieties that are nigh on impossible to find outside the immediate area. I consult Ian D’Agata’s book to learn that there are just 280 hectares planted with Rossese but that despite the low number, it is by far the most dominant red grape in that part of Liguria, by which I mean the western part, around the town of Imperia.

“In Italy, the list of native grapes that strongly mark the territory they are grown in is almost endless, but few do so to the extent of Rossesse. There are no other red varieties of similar relevance in its whole production area, and so for locals Rossesse is a family member of sorts.” (Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Ian D’Agata 2014.)

The most striking thing, at least initially, is the colour; a beautiful, clear, bright, ruby red. It’s exactly the colour that you think red wine is until you realise that actually most red wines are a deep purple hue.

It has a light, fruity nose – wild strawberries – which is charmingly fragrant. It’s so light bodied it’s over half way to becoming a rosé; there are practically no tannins. Ian D’Agata once again comes to the rescue explaining that the Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC wines are less intense and lighter bodied than its Dolceacqua DOC counterpart.

That certainly seems to be true in this instance. The mouthfeel is thin but elegant. Clearly filtered, but that’s the style and it works perfectly on this warm, sunny day. I feel I’ve stumbled across the Italian equivalent of a good Rosé de Provence.


I unfortunately don’t have a photo of the bottle because as I got to this stage of my tasting notes the baby woke up, causing me also to stir from my reverie. As we all know, you can never take your eyes off a 6 month baby, not even for a minute and so my daaarling husband (can you hear the sarcasm?) was able to pour the last fond de bouteille down the drain and whisk the bottle away, down to the recycling centre before I noticed!

It’s not the first time that’s happened either….. see what happened to the Spessari 2014 here!

Andreas Nittnaus “Tochter” 2018 at only 10% abv

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A year ago, besides the vintage, I didn’t bat an eyelid at any number on a wine label. Seeing a shiny medal with the words “98 Points from Uncle Bob” on a bottle rarely happens in the company I keep but if it had any effect, it would only be to spur my eyes towards the next wine on the shelf. (Yes, I’m one of those people who actively snub guides and medals. “A millenial,” you might say.) I also paid absolutely no attention to the number preceding the percentage sign on the label. I’m ashamed to admit that I would sometimes silently judge customers who came into the shop, pick up a bottle from the shelf only to put it down again in a hurry and turn away, all whilst exhaling, “oh no, no, I can’t, it’s 13%.”

For that reason, it was a surprise to catch myself picking out the following wine from all the others that were staring back at me *because of* it’s low-alcohol level.

Admittedly, it’s one the more minor consequences of having a baby but nine months off the sauce have hit both my tolérance and my taste buds. I went out with a couple of girlfriends last week and realised what a cheap date I’ve become: two drinks and it was time for carriages!

So, as I was fumbling around in the cellar the other day, I came across this bottle and the “10%” written on the label drew me to it. I don’t know much about the winery – but Google tells me that Nittnaus is a family-run winery with 11 hectares of vineyards in the Neusiedlersee region, near Gols in Austria. That’s a good sign because this is one of Austria’s most exciting regions for natural wine, with a new crop of emerging passionate and dynamic winemakers. (Judith Beck, Claus Preisinger, Paul Achs and Heinrich, to name a few.)

With all to play for and no time to lose, I reached for the corkscrew and plunged my nose in the glass. Beautiful deep violet colour, aromatic nose of cassis, cherry and orchard fruits. A hint of reduction at the very beginning but it disappeared after a minute in the glass. The aromas are of only medium intensity but they are present. There’s a whiff of parma violet sweets too. Moving on, the mouth is harmonious, youthful and tending towards the spices of cinnamon and cloves. Light bodied but surprisingly elegant for its low alcohol. There’s relatively low acidity and no sign of garishly under-ripe grapes that I was afraid of. Tannins are easy and fine-grained. The main body slips away but a pleasant after-taste lingers on.

Sankt Laurent is a sibling of Pinot Noir but don’t be fooled: this wine bears no resemblance to a Burgundy and only a passing one to a new world Pinot Noir. There’s none of the French austerity and even after the bottle has been open for two days, it remains intact and lively. It’s a refreshing, simple but satisfying wine and if they’re all like this, I’ll be more likely to pick one out again in the future.

Price: €

Rating: ***

Judith Beck “Bambule” Pinot Noir 2017

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I discovered Judith Beck’s wines at the Live Wine fair in Milano over a year ago. On such an occasion, especially when you are power-tasting as many producers as possible, your palate goes into overdrive but every so often you come across a wine which stands out and screams to be taken seriously. This is one such wine.

Impossible to refuse its call, I bought a bottle to bring home and taste at a moment when I’d be sitting at my kitchen table with enough time to really spend listening to the wine.

Whilst being light, pinot noir is rarely carefree, easy drinking. A consequence of my time living in France is that those two words P & N together tend to trigger a mental checklist of what can only be honestly described as an instant mood-killer: appellations, climats, vintages, etc.

I think this is part of the reason why I found this wine so refreshing – both for the brain and for the taste buds. It is neither earthy like many Burgundies, nor austere like Alsace can be, but instead has its own childlike personality.

It is juicy and vibrant with ton of fresh strawberry fruit and some darker undertones of blackberries, cassis and bramble. It is light to medium bodied, with soft, ephemeral tannins that make their presence known only in the after-taste.

I’ve been getting more and more into Austrian natural wines recently; they tend to have a playfulness that I very much enjoy, especially when accentuated by the absence of SO2. I’m definitely going to be looking out for Judith and her wines in the future.

Price: €€
Rating: ***

Gramenon’s “L’élémentaire” 2016

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I was in Nice a couple of months ago and, because I had the car with me, I stopped by La Part des Anges, a well-known wine shop filled-to-bursting with natural wines, to stock up.

Whilst I love the diversity of wine made in Italy, that same diversity means that it is particularly hard to import wine here because there are so few gaps in the market. Besides Champagne and some of the usual big names, there are many French wines that I can’t find anymore and that I miss. Continue reading

“Maresa” 2016 from Masseria Starnali. Orange or Not?

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I’ve spent the last few days with Simon Woolf, a personable and knowledgable wine writer with a particular passion for orange wines.

Now, we all know that orange wines can be rather divisive and you won’t be disappointed to know that there were plenty of in-depth discussions but also lots of friendly jibes on the subject.

Knowing that many drinkers don’t find massively tannic, powerful macerated wines to be their cup of tea, some winemakers have started maintaining “but I don’t make orange wine” even though their grapes are kept on the skins for at least part of the alcoholic fermentation.

We’ve ended up in a situation – at least here in Italy – where there’s an ‘is it or isn’t it?’ grey area and where ultimately whatever is said is based on an arbitrary decision rather than widely recognised consensus or actual facts.

As with so many other things however, time has proven itself to be a great healer because as the category becomes more established, an expert will emerge and a particular definition will prevail.

Simon’s definition (and I’m hope I’m not revealing too many secrets from his upcoming book Amber Revolution) is that you should think of an orange wine as another technique in a winemaker’s armoury.

Rather than widely accepted three, we should think of four categories.

Red wines are the result of red-skinned grapes with lengthy skin-contact maceration. Rosé wines are red-skinned grapes with barely any time on the skins. Whites are white grapes but the grapes’ skin never comes into play. Orange wines are made with white grapes and their skins were used (for an indeterminate length of time) during winemaking. Each of these different “colours” can lead to different styles of wine – some oxydised, others clean.


As it happens, I have a ton of open bottles of wine underneath my computer table this evening. (It’s one of the unavoidable consequences of organising a tasting of 215 wines!)

I was thumbing through the bottles, much as most people flick through a recipe book wondering what to make tonight, when I came across “Maresa”, a wine from Masseria Starnali in Campania.

It’s 100% Falanghina – a local white wine grape – aged only in stainless steel tanks and bottled with very few added sulfites.

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The colour, well, I would describe it as golden. It’s not a shade of amber which would scare off the uninitiated but the hue is just deep enough to raise suspicions.

Because I’ve drunk this wine with Maria Teresa and her son Luigi several times, I know that this wine has been made with a couple of days of skin-contact maceration.

Let it be said, this is a superbly elegant wine. There’s fruit – ripe bergamot, citron, and plums; and there’s salt and sapidity – surely coming from the volcanic soils and the proximity to the sea. But there’s another layer too: the maceration, albeit brief, gives structure and soul to what could have been just another crisp, mineral Italian white wine. The maceration gives a chewiness and a fullness to the mouthfeel which coats your taste buds and leaves you begging for more.

It’s also a perfect example of how a technique which doesn’t originate from that region (at least, I hope that’s not the twist in the tail of Simon’s book!) can be implemented succesfully in a place without the history.

If this is orange wine, I’m 100% on board!