Liberation, Partisans and Romeo & Juliet

Standard

Once you start to scratch the surface, wine is so much more than a drink. Of course, there is what you see on a shop shelf as your eye has been caught by a flashy label and you pause to think about varietals and food pairings… but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You may think I’m talking about winemaking – that non-stop rollercoaster ride of sugars, yeasts, bacteria, acids, oxidation and reduction… but even though there are still some things we don’t understand, it has been covered time and time again by people far more knowledgeable than myself and it’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

There’s another aspect to wine which fascinates me, probably because even from a very early age I’ve always loved history. Wine is the vehicle for being able to talk to winemakers and ask questions about their land – not necessarily the age and density of the vines – but the history of the place. Who lived there. What they did. Who they loved. Why.

I have found the Italians to be more open about these things than the French. I suppose it’s because Italians really do live up to that old stereotype of strong family ties and plenty of tradition. I was a 20-something girl who spoke little-to-no Italian when I visited Elena at La Stoppa, Giovanna at Pacina and Emilio at La Busattina. They had no real idea who I was but in each case, a mid-morning visit to the winery turned into lunch together with the family, cousins, etc… Probing into family histories is not to be attempted while tasting tank samples in a damp, frigid cellar but once you reach the end of a leisurely lunch and a waft of freshly brewed coffee reaches your nose, I’ve found that you can tentatively ask your host to tell you something about their ancestors.

Some of the stories that I’ve heard are still too sensitive and private for me to be able to recount here but that does not mean that the stories have been in any way forgotten. In many cases, I’m still filled with gratitude that they confided in me.

Those trees conceal a natural bunker, a strategic position near the crest of the hill but just off the main path.

April 25th is Liberation Day in Italy, celebrating the fall of the nazi-fascist regime at the hands of the Allied troops and the local resistance. Today I went for a walk through another part of the vineyards (you may remember my walk the other week to see the two castles) to go and revisit a partisan hide-out that I know of on the hillside.

This is where you turn off from the footpath. Watch out for snakes as you go through the long grass. I often see harmless black “scarbonassi” around here.
My four-legged companion is agile enough to have found a different route down to the bunker.
Stones from the rudimentary shelter the partisans made.

That pile of stones pales into insignificance compared to the grotto that is hidden at the Filippi winery across the valley near Soave.

I wish I could go and visit to take photos but we’re still in lockdown here so I’ll just describe it to you. There’s a path that runs through the dense woodland just below the Vigne della Brà vineyard. After a couple of hundred metres, look out for two sticks placed “haphazardly” on the left. It’s Filippo’s telltale sign to turn off the path and head even deeper into the forest. After another 40 or so metres, you’ll discover a large grotto carved out by hand by workers wanting the soft limestone rocks to build the house and the entrance arch.

13th century arch made from limestone rocks dug out from the grotto.

The grotto is about 40 metres long, 2 to 3 metres high and 4 or 5 metres deep in places. There is very little natural light as barely any sunshine can penetrate the thick woodland canopy. As a result, it’s an eerily mystical place. When it has been raining heavily, the lower half of the grotto will be underwater and the dogs go there to drink. It was a very important place for the resistance fighters as their local knowledge of the area meant that they could go there for shelter.


Today feels like a fitting day to recount my in-laws’ family link to the partisan resistance. Now the lineage is rather convoluted but the story is centred around my grand-uncle-in-law (that is: my father-in-law’s father’s brother.) At the outbreak of the ear, he was young, determined and not afraid to stand up for his beliefs. Like many others of his generation, he refused to accept the fascist regime and became part of the local resistance.

What makes this particular story more remarkable is that his girlfriend at the time decided to join him in the resistance! There were very few active female fighters in these parts and so because they were the only couple active in the hills near Verona, they were given the code names Romeo and Juliet. They cut off all contact with their families and eeked out an existence on the hills for years, in hideouts like those I’ve seen and described. The story becomes a little less romantic because Romeo’s brother – my grandfather-in-law – was arrested frequently and each time interrogated harshly by the local authorities who wanted to find the location of the two lovebirds but he never yielded.


Whilst wine has allowed me to discover these stories, it feels horribly limited and superficial at times. The majority of people only care about the taste on their tongue and the buzz afterwards. Is there a wine which would be a fitting tribute to the Romeo and Juliets, to honour those who walked back alone from the other side of the Mediterranean after they found out second-hand that the war had ended, to remember those who fell in love with the wrong person at the most inopportune of times? Or is it enough to spend a few minutes thinking about them and about how, for all we complain about our current situation, 75 years ago it was far, far worse?

Crazy Times Call For A Lun’Antica 2014

Standard

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.

Standard

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!

Harvest 2018 – A Bumper Crop

Standard

Harvest 2018 is well underway and it’s looking like one of the very best years in recent memory for winemakers across most of Italy and France.

Despite a worrying amount of rain in the springtime and outbreaks of mildew/peronospora, the summer was hot, constant and mercifully allowed the grapes to come to maturity.

Largely because of last year’s frost but also because of this year’s gentle flowering season, the vines have produced a much larger quantity of grapes than usual.

So much so that winemakers have more grapes than they know what to do with! My boyfriend’s phone keeps ringing with nearby growers trying to sell him grapes because their cellar is already full. Theirs is full to the brim too!

img_20180921_115327472_hdr.jpg

Stamping down on the grapes in order to fit them all into the press!

Today, Monday 24th September, the cantina sociale of Gambellara (a small town near Soave) didn’t open its doors to its members because it needed a day of downtime to sort and make space. It has been completely overloaded and it’s not the only one.

It’s not hard to imagine how busy the cooperatives are when you watch the video below showing the street leading to one of the Prosecco coops. A traffic jam of tractors!!

There’s another video which has gone viral because it shows a man machine-harvesting his grapes but leaving them on the ground. “You realise this is a sacrilege,” the guy filming says to the driver of the tractor. Better than seeing them rot on the plant, is the unsaid message.

One of the consequences of having so many grapes on the plant is that the sugar levels remain relatively or unacceptably (depending on your point of view) low.

We’ve heard of prosecco vineyards near us which were harvested two weeks ago (i.e. early September) but which only yielded a sugar level of between 9 and 12 babo. That means between 6 and 9% potential alcohol. Insane.

What can you do? Well, like many quality winemakers, in the summer, you do what is called green harvesting. In some of Angiolino Maule’s vineyards, he removes 50% of his grape bunches in late June/July when he’s got an idea of how the year is going. Crop thinning allows you to manage the yields better; you lose quantity but you gain quality, sugar and complexity in both the grapes and in the resulting wine.

Alternatively, you can do what we know some conventional producers in Soave are doing this year: reverse osmosis.* In this case, you keep as many grapes on the plant as possible but once the grapes have been brought into the cellar and are being vinified, you pass the must through a membrane which separates some of the water content and allows you to concentrate the sugar. All the quantity and now a wine which you can bottle at an acceptable 12% ABV.

Where I am (in the Veneto, Italy) we’ve just about finished 40% of our harvest…. and we’ve been harvesting since the last few days of August. It’ll be at least another (long) three weeks until we’ve brought the last of the grapes into the cellar.


* n.b. I know that reverse osmosis is more commonly used for reducing alcohol content, but unless I’m mistaken, it can also be used for increasing the ABV.

 

R.I.P. Stefano Bellotti

Standard

If you haven’t already heard, Stefano Bellotti, winemaker and biodynamic guru from Novi Ligure in Piedmont, sadly passed away last week. What he suspected to be a dodgy oyster turned out to be pancreatic cancer and it was to prove fatal. 

Stefano was a hugely important figure to me, as he was to many other people in the industry. (Read the Kevin McKenna and Jules Dressner’s touching blog post here.) If you’ll allow me to indulge in a touch of nostalgia, I’ll explain how I met Stefano and how he changed, irrefutably, the path of my career.

I first met Stefano in 2012. We were at a small “Triple A” wine tasting in Paris, pouring from behind adjacent tables.

I don’t remember precisely if it was the first time I tried his wines (it was almost certainly the first time I tried the more complex cuvées, not just Semplicemente Vino) but I do remember that I didn’t understand these wines. There was something edgy, different and uncompromising about them.

Stefano and his wines are much alike. If you stick your nose in too quickly and ask too many questions, both the man and the wine close up. If you allow them time, gain familiarity, and return repeatedly, you start to not just understand but also warm to them. 

We met each year at the Renaissance tastings in the Loire until on one occasion which will remain engraved in my mind forever, I tell Stefano that I’m going freelance. It’s because of his “je te prends tout de suite” that I also met Dettori, and through them that I met Filippi, and through that connection that I’m where I am today.

At the Paris launch of “Natural Resistance.” Photo: Bertrand Celce / Wine Terroirs, 2014.

Over the next four years, I stayed at the Cascina degli Ulivi many times and helped in the fields, whilst following him through life’s ups and downs. From Jonathan Nossiter’s film “Natural Resistance” and the planting of a new Timorasso vineyard high in the hills to the various problems in the Cascina and the different deceptions that he bore personally. I wrote about it at the very beginning but it remained true until the end:

Stefano himself is a sweetheart. He has such a kind, generous character and (but don’t tell him I have written this) he’s also very sensitive. A pioneer of biodynamics, he has long been questioned and attacked for beliefs that were against the norm but which for him are so inherent that it’s as if it’s woven into his flesh. Sure, I don’t always see eye-to-eye with Stefano but I respect him massively for who he is and what he’s done. (2014 blog post.)

From Stanko Radikon (of whom I will forever have the image of him beaming in sheer joy, because of the novelty of sitting in the passenger seat of my English car), to Beppe Rinaldi, over to Ernesto Cattel, and now Stefano, this has been a rough year for us earth-dwellers but there’s definitely one massive party happening in the after-life.

RIP Stefano. I just hope there’s enough soil and biodiversity in heaven for you not to get bored.

Shock, Horror and a Golden Lining

Standard

My alarm clock seemed louder than ever this morning. I got back from Paris late last night and having enjoyed every baguette crumb, every bite of cheese and every drop of wine, I was running a high sleep deficit.

The alarm sounded at 6.30am. Half an hour later, I was standing at the top of a vineyard, secateurs in hand, admiring the view down the Val d’Alpone and over to the Soave hills.

We were picking garganega grapes for our recioto today. The Recioto di Gambellara is a traditional dessert wine made in my adoptive town by letting the grape bunches dry out over a period of about 4 months. Gambellara’s Recioto is not like other passito or straw-wines, because we hang our grapes on vertical nets…… which is exactly what we then spent the afternoon doing!

Brutal as my wake-up call was this morning, it is nothing compared to the shock, 3 days ago, when the De Bartoli family in Sicily discovered that someone broken into their winery during the night and stolen 600kg of passito grapes.

Screenshot of their Facebook post. Click for full-screen.

Continue reading

Who Will Take Forward The Costadilà Winery ?

Standard

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Isaac Newton’s third law remains as true today as it was when it was first written 300 years ago.

Because it’s very easy to get distracted by all the Prosecco merchandising on Pinterest and Facebook, you might have missed the underground resistance movement which is Prosecco col fondo.

Only a handful of winemakers held out against the advances in technology and the ease of producing good (but generic) wine that the arrival of Charmat (tank) method permitted. Instead, they continued to allow the wine to referment in its bottle and didn’t degorge or decant – col fondo.

The Costadilà winery started in 2006 as a wine-child of a group of friends, who wanted to protect and propagate this col fondo tradition.

Their philosophy – single vineyards at varied elevations, indigenous yeasts, no added sulfur – was an instant success. They were sold through the most reputable of natural wine distributors (Velier in Italy, LMDW in France and Louis Dressner in the USA) and I saw personally how their wines took Paris’ most pioneering restaurants and wine bars by storm.

It was THE col fondo Prosecco in Paris and the Costadilà wines opened the door to other atypical wines in these second-wave bistronomy establishments.

That I hadn’t written about the Costadilà winery on this blog before was a deliberate omission. I had a visit scheduled with Ernesto Cattel (the man behind these enigmatic wines) in March 2015, to meet in a café just off the Vittorio Veneto Autostrada but I waited an hour just to realise that I’d been stood up. 

This morning, like most mornings, I scroll through Facebook to see what’s been going on and woefully, I learn that Ernesto, after a battle with cancer, has died. 

I mentioned before that the Costadilà brand (the real company name is actually Ederlezi) is made up of a group of similarly-minded wine folk. At the beginning, they all had full-time jobs and this was just a side-project. Ernesto was the one to give up his day job and throw all the hours in the day into making and selling these bubbles.

But, with Ernesto’s sad quietus, will one of the other partners step forward to take the winery forward? Or will they bring in someone from outside and how would that affect the company’s dynamic? The loss of Ernesto means one less proponent of a style of wine that I’ve come to love.

Other producers of prosecco grapes vinified in the col fondo way include:

Ca’ dei Zago

Casa Belfi

Casa Coste Piane

Coletti Wines

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.

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

“Would You Like To Try My 2014?”

Standard

I was chatting to Daniele Portinari in Paris last summer. He explained how many Italians reply “oh no, no, no” to the question “would you like to try my 2014?” It was a notoriously wet and cold year in northern Italy with sporadic hail for the especially unfortunate. Many locals would rather forget this annus horribilis.

Daniele was enjoying being amongst Parisians who either didn’t know or didn’t care. They simply heard “Would you like to try my wine?” and the instant reply was “Yes, sure!”

screenshot_20180222-1940141194195922.png


On Wednesday, I had a whole spread of 40 or 50 wines to taste – it was a good day! – but the Guiry 2014 (100%  Sangiovese) from Tenuta Mara in Emilia-Romagna particularly stood out.  Leonardo Pironi, their winemaker, explains that because it had been a wet and difficult year, they didn’t make their high-end wine “MaraMia” and instead those old-vine, usually superior grapes went into this one, the Guiry. They selected only the very healthiest grapes, which meant that yields were exceptionally low, and they did a relatively short skin contact maceration but the result is a wonderfully drinkable wine.

img_20180221_142740941_hdr1696203574.jpg


In this day and age, a good winemaker is able to make a good wine regardless of how bad a year it was. A less talented winemaker, or maybe one who likes experimenting too much, will end up with a faulty wine regardless of what the elements threw at him or her.

Obviously some years are less stressful for the vineyard team and easier in the cellar than others. It’s also completely normal for one vintage to taste different from the next. You might prefer the balance in 2013 or heat of 2015 but don’t write off 2014 because everyone said it was a bad year.

Side note: if you’re looking for important wines to lay down (Barolo, Brunello, Amarone etc) you would, 99% of the time, be better off going for a different vintage. But, if it’s an everyday drinking wine that you’re after, chances are you might end up with something better than you expect.


TENUTA TERRAVIVA (Abruzzo) “Lui” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2014 Montepulciano (13.5%) 

Highly aromatic wine with tons of black fruit, morello cherries and spice. It’s meaty, earthy and almost smoky. Medium-bodied and continues with lashings of fruit – particularly blueberry and fresh blackcurrants – and super soft tannins. A crowd pleaser.

Incidentally, I also tried their 2015 which was just as exuberant – with just as much fruit – but at this particular time, it had a slight reduction and was a little more flabby.

IL GELSO MORO (Marche) Marche Rosso IGT 2014 Montepulciano 60%, Sangiovese 30%, Lacrima 10% (14.5%)

What style! From the dark-as-night colouring and the relatively high alcohol content, I was expecting a full bodied wine with potentially obtrusive tannins but I am stunned by its elegance. Fruit takes the leading role, with pepper and spice playing the supporting actor. Beautifully balanced and supremely elegant.

ROCCA RONDINARIA (Piedmont) “Spessiari” Dolcetto di Ovada DOC 2014 Dolcetto (12%)

I really like the wines from Rocca Rondinaria. They’re a small winery in this stupendous rocky cliff in Rocca Grimalda, in Monferrato, just north of Ovada and very near Gavi.

“Spessiari” means “pharmacist” in the local dialect and, incidentally, a pharmacist was exactly what I needed when I realised that my boyfriend had decided to pour this wine into my vinegar barrel “because there are too many bottles on your desk.”

I’d had a few sips before the bottle met its untimely end, but I prefer sitting with the wine in my glass for about 15-20 minutes before writing about it. In this case, I didn’t get that possibility.* What I remember is that this wine was more austere and a little more concentrated than its other vintages. This is surely the impact of this cold, wet vintage has had on the native characteristics of Dolcetto but it’s in no way a lesser wine.


* but I will get my own back in other ways….