Feudo d’Ugni’s “D’Ugni” 2007

Standard

In my line of work, I get to taste a lot of different wines. I’m not going to even try to deny that it’s one of the perks. That said, most of the wines tend to fall in the middle of the spectrum: a handful are banal, most are decent, many are good and a few are very good. Just a very small number of the wines I drink are showstopping.

I was at a dinner last night. The first wine was an Italian natural wine so extreme that drinking straight vinegar would almost have been preferable. Next, there was a soulless wine from a leading conventional producer in France. The third wine was a little bit like Goldilocks: there was no off-putting SO2, and it was balanced and pleasant to drink. The fourth wine, though, blew the others out of the water.

It was a magnum of Cristiana Galasso’s top wine “D’Ugni.” I tasted her range at a Vini Veri tasting about three years ago, on the advice of Helena from Colombaia. Sage advice, as always.

Last night, just a splash of this wine was poured into my glass, without me paying any particular attention to the label. It was a casual dinner with friends and winemaker colleagues but bottle exhibitionism wasn’t the focus of the evening. It could go any way. As it happened, I brought the glass up to my nose and inhaled. Time stopped.

There’s an animality to this wine which blows your senses away. No, it’s not reduction, nor any kind of brettanomyces. It’s a noble animality. Meaty, spicy, and pure. I remarked to whoever was listening that red wines from the Veneto just don’t reach this level of aroma intensity. It had to be Montepulciano.

To be honest, you can detect the alcohol content (14.5%) which was probably better masked ten years ago when the wine was made. But I’m nitpicking.

There’s absolutely no question in my mind: this is a perfectly mature wine, which shows delicious tertiary characters without losing its grape variety or its terroir.

The tannins are amazing integrated. There’s no indication of any heavy handed cellar work (either oak barrels, sulphur or chemical trickery.) The wine is simply earnest and genuine.

After that intense animality, you get the full range of savoury Mediterranean flavours: mainly rosemary and black olives, with prunes and cooked berries. Any generous plush fruit has passed on, leaving behind a very graceful, precise wine which is absolutely, utterly, lip-smackingly delicious.

Price: not cheap for sure, but worth it…

Rating: *****


Tasted on 29th and 30th April 2018


If you’re based in the UK, you can buy this wine via the Buon Vino website.

Advertisements

In The Vineyards With: Olek Bondonio (Barbaresco, Piedmont)

Standard

When you go to visit winemakers in Barbaresco and Barolo, you probably expect established stately families, snobbish talk and high prices to justify the extensive and inaccessible wine cellars.

Olek Bondonio is the antithesis of all that. Despite being “the guy next to Gaia,” he’s a straight-talking, down-to-earth man who just happens to make wine and incidentally has a passion for snowboarding.

Olek currently lives and works in a house (La Bercialla) that dates back to the 1800s when his ancestors made wine. As a child, though, he grew up in Torino, only coming to the farmhouse during the summer months. Before taking the reins in 2005, he travelled extensively to France (one year as an exchange student in Bordeaux) and to Australia and New Zealand for harvest. Starting with the two hectares of the land in the photo below, Olek now works six hectares of vineyards organically.

img_20180308_144529162_hdr882519399.jpg

The beautiful, south-facing Roncagliette vineyards. Photo credit: Emma Bentley, 2018.

The six hectares are split over three different plots: Roncagliette (in the Barbaresco DOC), Starderi (also in Barbaresco) and Altavilla (where he has planted barbera and dolcetto.)

His Roncagliette vineyards (the initial two hectares) actually border those of Gaia. Olek has only good things to say of his more famous neighbour. “Angelo Gaia would be in the vineyards at 4 or 5 am, one hour before his team started, walking through assessing the vineyards. Many producers today outsource everything and they don’t even know where their vineyards are!”

screenshot_20180308-233225495903047.png

Yeah, that’s my dog casually gatecrashing (literally!) to get in the pic.

Olek makes down-to-earth, honest wines. As a general rule, the fermentation takes place in large cement tanks, maceration normally takes place for about a month and the nascent wine will subsequently be aged in large wooden barrels (as in the photo above) until they’re ready for bottling. Along the way, there’s minimum intervention and very little sulphur; no chemical or oenological “make-up” going on in this wine cellar.

We tasted several barrel samples of the 2016 vintage. By calling them simple, honest and down-to-earth doesn’t quite do them justice; they’re wholesome, vibrant and expressive.

P.S. Top Tip: the Langhe Nebbiolo wine is great value-for-money. Unlike the vast majority of producers in the area who make a selection based on the quality of grapes, Olek’s Langhe Nebbiolo wine comes from high-quality nebbiolo grapes in the famed Barbaresco vineyards, but is bottled just a year or so too early to qualify as Barbaresco.

There’s no official website but you can find Olek’s wines in the UK through Tutto Wines and Berry Bros Rudd.

Visit: 8th March 2018

In The Vineyards With: Franco & Giulia Masiero (Veneto)

Standard

When I think of the wine-producing regions in the Veneto, my mind goes to immediately to Valpolicella, Soave, Prosecco. After a short pause, I go to the Colli Berici (south of Vicenza, where there’s young, promising producer Sauro Maule) and the Colli Euganei (home to the eccentric Marco Buratti) but the truth is that there’s actually so much more.

I myself am now based in one of the smaller winemaking towns which was summarily  described by Nicolas Belfrage in “Barolo to Valpolicella” (1999) under the title “other garganegas of the Veneto.” We’re effectively satellites of Soave and that comes as a cutting blow because there is so much talent that deserves to be uncovered. Discovering and sharing these other areas in the Veneto is going to be my focus of the next year or so.

img_20180111_183324251_hdr900979117.jpg

Franco Masiero

Let me introduce you, therefore, to Franco Masiero. His eponymous winery, Masiero, is based in the Lessini hills in what is essentially a viticultural no-man’s-land.

8 different wines are made from a gamut of grape varieties: garganega, chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot, tai rosso, cabernet franc, pinot nero. In fact, there are so many micro-cuvées that many of them never get released onto the market but remain as treats for guests and friends.

These wines originate from just 4 and a half hectares of vineyards, which are split over two sites: in volcanic Selva di Trissino and limestone-and-fossil-heavy Sant’Urbano. The vineyards are farmed according to biodynamic principles and the cellar sees next to no sulphur, only natural winemaking. Speaking of winemaking, you’ll find all kind of receptacles: cement tanks, stainless steel, large old wooden barrels and even a doll-sized marble vat.

img_20180111_185741142_hdr2081339281.jpg

This is where Giulia comes in.

To construct a winery was Franco’s dream but it falls on his elder daughter Giulia’s shoulders to take it forward. Her first vintage was 2015 and whereas you might have expected her to be something of a puppet, in the shadows of her charismatic father, she’s actually shown herself to be highly competent. One of her first moves (implemented just in time for the 2016 vintage) was to install large, untreated cement tanks. A risky decision but it has paid off. She works in the fields, tending each vine manually – day in day out. Multi-lingual, poised, and she’s only a mere 24 years old!

img_20180111_183631455_hdr1757959052.jpg

Giulia Masiero

Winemaking is not something that’s been in the Masiero blood for generations so I wondered how this initial dream of Franco’s came about.

Apparently Franco’s best childhood memories are of him, with his father, going up into the hills for a week in November, hunting small game and drinking locally-made grappa. This precious week in the hills was essentially a moment of bonding between father, son and their guests. As I see it, Franco wanted to create an environment in which those same back-to-the-roots, simple pleasures were present in the modern day…. and what better way to spark conviviality than with a bottle of wine.

“Most people spend their disposable income on fast cars or fancy holidays. I could have bought a couple of Ferraris but instead I built a winery.”

I inquire as to the extent of his implication in the winery but whilst he maintains a strong interest, he has new dreams that he wants to see through. What I’m therefore looking forward to following closely is how Giulia will make her mark. They’ve had some difficult years recently – the elements have not been kind and the yields have been low – but this is a winery with huge promise.

Il Verdugo cresce, le annate cambiano, ma le emozioni restano. 💣💣💣 #Repost @perrikinobevevino with @insta.save.repost • • • Good people make good wines. I still remember when I tried this Merlot with @mathiasskovmand for the first time… we were immediately blown away. Without thinking to much, we both decided we had to bring some bottles back to Denmark! They told us we could buy as many as we wanted, but up 48bottles! The production of Verdugo still is so limited, but I eventually managed to increase the volume of my allocation year by year (now is 60bottles). A wine made by the most genuine family I know, where you breathe nothing but joy, and when you drink their wines you get it all. Yesterday I had the 2015 at Bæst: BOMBA!

A post shared by Giulia Masiero (@giuliamasiero) on

Visit: 11 January 2018

Official Website / Facebook

Terre di Pietra’s “Stelar” Valpolicella Classico 2017

Standard

Last week was a busy week in Verona because the who’s who in the wine world came to Romeo and Juliet’s historic city for the Anteprima Amarone.

As you may have deduced, Anteprima is a sneak peak at the just-released vintage, which this year for Amarone is 2014. But…. and this is a big but…. 2014 was a disasterous year in this part of the world and many quality producers chose not to make an Amarone.

The brave souls who came from all four corners of the world were secretly asked “but you’re not really going to drink and actually rate that, are you?” by the local wine trade.

Despite there being a bad year here or there, Amarone doesn’t need any help to be sold. Exports to Germany (its biggest market) are up 30%, + 15% to China and Japan, + 10% to the USA. Nomisma Wine Monitor reckons that the total value of Amarone sales in 2017 was an eyewatering 355 million euros (as reported in the local newspaper, link here.) Today, I wanted to stay in the Valpolicella region but to talk about something a little different: the most recent vintage from Terre di Pietra.


This might be a rather strange thing to say out loud but I prefer tasting entry level wines. A winery’s entry level gives me a better idea of the personality and the spirit of its other wines. High-end wines tend to be rather monotonous – mostly fruit forward, barrel aged, full bodied – but a base wine is more revealing and more telling. Also, if you are capable of making a good base wine, now we’re talking!


TERRE DE PIETRA “Stelar” Valpolicella Classico barrel sample 2017 (Corvina 40%, Corvinone 30%, Rondinella 20%, Molinara 10%)

Terre di Pietra is a relatively recent winery, based in the eastern section of the Valpolicella region. It started off in 2005 when a talented, passionate woman, Laura Albertini, just 25 years old, was given a bit of garage space at her father-in-law’s house in which she could make wine. Her own father had pushed her into a degree in chartered accounting and wanted her to lead a ‘conventional’ life. She, however, had her own mind.

It took 5 years to convince her father but finally, in 2010, construction started on a fully equipped winery. The first vintage at this new magnificent winery in Marcellise was in 2011. She was widely touted as one of Valpolicella’s upcoming winemakers to watch.

This story has a tragic twist because Laura died suddenly in March 2017. In the past year, her widow, Cristiano Saletti, has had to wrangle with the loss of his wife whilst also making important decisions about the future of the winery.

img_20180207_134236940_hdr2130300766.jpg

I managed to get my hand on a couple of barrel samples from 2017. This, therefore, is the first vintage of Cristiano calling all the shots. but it should be said that he was given a helping hand by reputed oenologue, Franco Giacosa. I wanted to get a taste of the direction that the winery was heading.

Initially, the most striking thing is its colour: a beautiful dark pink, reminiscent of wild raspberries or the ideal tint for a trusty, go-to lipstick. Aromas are vinous, spicy and inviting. Lots of morello cherry.

One sip becomes two and two sips become three. I catch myself reaching for the bottle and refilling my glass. Of the barrel samples that I tried (and there were several) this is my favourite. There’s nothing pretentious or out of place about it: very light, bone dry, easy-drinking, and despite having been such a hot, parshed year, it retains an amazing amount of freshness and minerality.

It is so light that it would probably be overwhelmed by most food pairings but it will excel on a hot day on its own or with a a slice of salami or a bit of cheese (like the local cheese Monte Veronese.)

Based on the previous vintages, I get the feeling that Cristiano will be continuing along the natural path that Laura started and maybe taking it even further. Time will tell.

I imagine the wine will be released for sale in the springtime. It’s wonderfully juicy and definitely up there on the drinkability level with the Poulsard that I wrote about last week.  Served slightly chilled, it would make for perfect summertime drinking. Retails for around 10-14 euros.

Tasted 7th February 2018.

Terre di Pietra official website and Facebook

Lusenti’s Bianca Regina 2010

Standard

I went to Venice yesterday. Had a delicious lunch at Estro (highly recommended, by the way!) and then decided to see if I could retrace my steps to a cute, little wine bar that I stumbled across in December.

Fortunately, my trusty nose / ability to find wine / sense of direction is pretty good and, even though I didn’t remember the name or address, I was able to find my way back to the Cantina Arnaldi (also totally worth the visit.)

Andrea at Cantina Arnaldi, Venezia

Andrea of the Cantina Arnaldi, Venezia

I actually had a secret agenda – I wanted to bring a bottle of something a little different back for my boyfriend, “A”. I asked Andrea at Arnaldi (pictured above) for a suggestion… and it turns out to have been spot on. It’s one of the most interesting wines I’ve drunk recently.


LUSENTI (Colli Piacentini DOC, Emilia) Bianca Regina 2010 Malvasia di Candia Aromatica (13.5%)

Lusenti is an organic winery and part of the VinNatur association but one that I didn’t know of before. They’re located near Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna, set in a unique micro-climate between the Po river and the Apennine mountains.

Once harvested, the grapes are left for three or four days for a skin-contact maceration at controlled temperatures.

I’m actually a pretty mean girlfriend because, once I got home, I put some aluminium foil around the bottle and poured a glass for “A” to taste blind.

On first impressions, it smells sweet: lots of ripe apricot, honey, quince and fresh nutmeg. “A” got it straight away, “Malvasia!”

With a traffic-light amber colour, the wine’s vintage was harder to guess. It’s clearly relatively mature because the juice is completely in place but there’s no hint of oxidation. Timeless.

What I found particularly enjoyable about this wine is the gustatory sensations. Despite the sweet nose, the wine is almost completely bone dry. It seduces you in phases: starting with fleshy fruits and almonds, moving through tannins, acidity and mentholated freshness and finishing on a slight bitterness, very typical of skin-contact wines. Lipsmackingly moreish!


Tasted: 13th March 2017

Price: €€

Rating: ****


Lusenti website and Facebook

Getting Ready for Vinitaly and the Natural Wine Tastings 2017

Standard

Sometime in early April every year, the city of Verona and the surrounding areas come alive for one week.

You see, it’s our annual appointment with Vinitaly, the largest wine exhibition in the world… and exclusively dedicated to Italian wines.

As I sit here, in my rural ‘office’, a helicopter has just flown by heading towards the city of Romeo and Juilet and reminded me of the frentic energy that always accompanies this event. (9 – 12th April, 9.30am – 6pm.)

Photo: Paola Giagulli

Photo: Paola Giagulli (April 2016)

If you are in the wine industry and looking for the classic trade show experience, you can amuse yourself for at least a couple of days amongst the dozen pavillons and the countless stands. You’ll find all the regions of Italy represented from Alto-Adige and Basilicata to Umbria and the Veneto.

As evening entertainment, you have various events organised under the umbrella of “Vinitaly and the City“.

 

To be honest though, I have only once managed to get into central Verona and participate in the Vinitaly and the City events.

My days look more like this:
– 7.30am: I hit the road. Parking around the Expo is always a nightmare and traffic is often at a standstill. If I leave early enough, I will miss the worst of it.
– 9am: The fair is not yet open, but there is a café by the entrance where I’ll have a cappuccino with a fellow sommelier.
– For the best part of the day, I’ll be juggling between giving a helping hand to the winemakers with whom I work whilst also tasting wines for my own pleasure. You may remember from previous years (2015 (1 and 2) and 2016 (1 and 2)) that I have enjoyed the Young To Young tastings.
– I try to leave the Fair before the main rush so normally I’ll get to the restaurant for dinner with a few minutes to spare. There’s nothing like a cold beer after a whole day of wine tastings!
– I’ll have dinner just outside Verona with one of my winemakers and his importers… until about 10.30pm, when it’s time for me to gate-crash another dinner with another winemaker!
– Needless to say, by 1am, I’m ready for my bed!

If, like me, you’re into organic, low-intervention wine, you should not miss out on the unofficial parallel tastings.

The VinNatur Association are hosting 170 natural wine producers from 9 countries in a stunning location (see featured photo) closer to Vicenza called “Villa Favorita.” (8, 9, 10th April 2017, 10am – 6pm.)

A little further south of Verona, in the town of Cerea, Vini Veri hold a smaller tasting – of approximately 100 producers. (7, 8, 9th April, 10am – 6pm.)

In 2016, a third parallel tasting popped up, organised by Meteri. They cleverly decided to shake up the programme by scheduling their event in the late afternoon and evening. 40 winemakers at “Notturno.” (9, 10th April, 4pm – 1am.)

By now, you’ll probably understand why I described the “Vinitaly week” as frenetic! Repeat my schedule for a full five days and you’ll understand why they call this work!