Grape: 100% Zibibbo
Region: Pantelleria (SICILIA)
Pairings: cheddar and gruyere cheese, vegetarian or vegetable dishes
Notes: Organic practices with utmost respect for vineyards, non-filtered, without added or minimal sulfites, indigenous yeasts, made in amphora, white wines macerated on the skins, vegan-friendly, volcanic terrain, 350m above the sea, 60-year-old vines, let this one breathe for 30-60 minutes.
Drink by: Now or beautiful over the next 4-5 years
Description: First of all… where is Pantelleria? In the middle of nowhere. Technically in Sicily, but when you arrive there it seems that you’re crossing the border of two continents: Africa and Europe.
Pantelleria is a small island just in between Tunisia and Sicily. People have been living here since the 15th century BC. After that Egyptians, Romans, Arabians, Normans, Aragonese and also pirates for a while, conquered by the famous Corsair Dragut who had been using this place as a strategic outpost in the exact middle of the Mediterranean sea.
But you can read all this on Wikipedia.
Pantelleria is magical. A sleepy volcano, constantly windy, full of thermal baths and fertile black sand, a luxurious vegetation and unique vineyards. Plants here are almost all pre-phylloxera (means not grafted on America roots, really rare in Europe), and they are hidden in special holes in the sand because in this island the wind never, and I mean never, stop to blowing (phylloxera can't live in sand and hasn't reached some extremely remote locations).
The grape variety is Zibibbo, probably coming from North Africa 12 centuries ago more or less. Zibibbo is the grandfather of almost all the aromatic grape varieties all over the world, but while everywhere else it gives a sticky and sickly wine, here produces a unique sweet and salty wine.
Why? Because of the soil, the salty wind, the un-grafted plants, a few hundred years of adaptions, and these plants that can be up to 120 years old, with roots that go deep down into the ground, because of the age and because they don’t irrigate or fertilize at this latitude (Lindsay knows what I’m talking about).
So the tradition says you have to harvest the grapes and lay them down on the sun for few weeks and the result is probably one of the best sweet and salty wines in the world.
But this is not the time for a Zibibbo Passito (sweet wine). What we selected is something even more unique.
Marco de Bartoli, almost 20 years ago, decided the try an experiment: to do a dry Zibibbo, so without using raisins. He was really the first one. The result was incredible. A wine in a borderland from sweet to dry. Because you know more than me that wine is divided into two big families: the sweet and the dry, the easy drinking and the complex, the swimming pool non-challenging white Zinfandel and the bitter, complex Barolo.
Well, Zibibbo Integer is both and more. A nose of ripe fruits, dry apricots, pineapple, ripe peaches and honey and on the palate the salty volcano, the wind from the south, iodine and even a bit smoky. Up and down, left and right, shaking all your taste buds, moving from North to South, from East and West. This wine is a hinge between cultures and times.
I could continue to talk about the amphora aging process, the natural fermentation, the no sulfites added but you can easily learn all this stuff just by watching the video.
Just to let you know that this wine was produced only in 3,000 bottles so drink it carefully and pair it with fish, light blue cheeses, spicy food or pasta with sardines done Sicilian style. Have it on the edge of the swimming pool with your cheesy friends or on a rustic terrace with your intellectual ones. I can guarantee that they’ll both love it.
CERASUOLO D'ABRUZZO 'LE CINCE' 2016, DE FERMO
Grape: 100% Cerasuolo
Region: Loreto Aprutino (ABRUZZO)
Pairings: quinoa salads, vegetable dishes, game
Notes: biodynamic, only indigenous yeasts, no oenological aid, no temperature control, fermentation and refining only in large or cemented woods, no filtration, stabilization or clarification are used before bottling Drink by: Now - 2021Description: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. What is that? Usually a misunderstanding. People confuse it with Nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany (different wine). Often it is a fruity, tight, heavy and cheap wine. Sometimes bold, a bit oaky and commercial tasting. But once in a while, actually on really rare occasions, it can be a masterpiece.
I usually never answer to the question: what’s the best wine you ever had?
An answer might sound like betraying all my lovers (I mean wines). But if you ask me what’s the most surprising red I had in the last 10 years, it would be a Valentini Montepulciano 1990.
Edoardo Valentini was a genius, not just a winemaker. He said that the secret of wine was in the Presocratic philosophers (you can guess what that might mean). He was the owner of a 6-century old winery and had a holistic and philosophical approach to wine. His Trebbiano and Montepulciano were endless wines that could be aged for 30-40 years.
Now that Edoardo is gone we refer to his heirs and Stefano Papet from De Fermo is one of them.
What we propose here is the complexity of simplicity. That what Cerasuolo is. It’s not red, it’s not rosè. It is Cerasuolo - exactly in between. And in between, this wine is able to be light and complex, fresh and deep, earthy and fruity. Nothing else to say that Stefano is not saying better than I can possibly do. Listen to him and follow his pairing suggestions.
MONTEPULCIANO 'ARSHURA' 2015, VALTER MATTONI
Grape: 100% Montepulciano
Region: Castorano (MARCHE)
Pairings: roasted meats, meat dishes, game.Drink by: now through 2025
Notes: biodynamic philosophy, indigenous yeasts, 16 months in new French oak and 4 months in the bottle, 35-year-old vines, 4000 bottles producedDescription: The more I write these noes more I think: what’s the point?
There’s a video with the winemaker telling you everything and there’s a bottle in front of you and there’s me that I spent the last 10 years saying: there’s no point in describing a wine, it is technically unnatural, words and taste don’t match, literally from a neurological point of you. And all those fancy descriptions, those hints of Mexican lime and Provencal lavender (and don’t forget the evergreen Russian leather). I mean all those professional tasting notes that make you feel so stupid in both cases: when I say them (what the f…k am I talking about?), and when you hear them (what the f…k is he talking about?).
And I’m not alone. I can prove it with the coming out of some of the best palates in the world.
And even if I wanted to try to describe Valter Mattoni wines in an official way, he won’t let me. He would surely say: wine is to get rid of the Arshura (that means something like dryness or burning thirst). Because, as he says, we have Arshura of everything: things, food, love, sex and surely wine.
But I have to say (forgive me Valter) that his wines are incredible. They are a synthesis of rural and intense flavors and they have a great balance between simplicity and complexity. Wines for intellectuals that want to get rid of the burden of sophisticated matters and want just to simply drink it, and wines for easy people that what to shock their simple existence.
In Arshura, feel the strong tannins and the ripe fruit. That sense of creamy dryness that fills all your palate and calls some fatty food. Have it with your best friends, in a cozy and loud evening full of laughs, jokes and stories for an endless night of fun.
GATTINARA 2013, ANTONIOLO
Grape: 100% Nebbiolo
Region: Gattinara (PIEMONTE)
Pairings: steak or red meats, stews, aged cheeses like ParmigianoDrink by: Now - 20230
Notes: natural fermentation, practicing organic, no added yeasts, 30 months in large barrels, most vines over 30 years old, very low sulfur
Description: The first time I visited Lorella Antoniolo I was with Margrit Mondavi (Robert’s wife) And I still remember it as one of the greatest wine days of my life. Let me tell you that Margrit has been one of the greatest women I’ve ever met.
What was I doing there? A travel agent contacted me because a group of Americans wanted a guide / professional sommelier to visit some wineries in the north of Piedmont. I suddenly understood that they were experts/wine lovers. When we talk about Piedmont wines, we refer to Barolo and south Piedmont, not to the north. But my surprise was even bigger when I discovered that the client was Margrit Mondavi, with a group of friends from Chile.
It was also soon evident that I was completely useless as a guide. Margrit knew about Gatttinara, Ghemme, Lessona more than I did. She spoke some 4-5 languages and she was a Burgundy and Nebbiolo lover (when I asked what she considered the best vintage of Opus One she answered: I usually don’t drink that stuff).
And at 89 years old, this amazing lady was running in the vineyards able to recognize the grape variety, the style, the clones. She was originally from Switzerland (not so far from Gattinara, then) and she said that Nebbiolo was her wine for everyday drinking.
She told me also that in the 18th century, nobody knew about Barolo and rather Gattinara was one of the most famous wines of Europe. The French used to come here to buy wines, where you find 10 thousand acres of vineyards (while Barolo now is less than 6 thousand), and wines that were able to age up to 40-50 years.
How many Barolo older than 30 years I've opened that were completely gone and how many Gattinara from the late 50’s I drunk that were still in perfect condition... One was a Ghemme 1955, that we had with Margrit that day. She went back to memories - in the late 60’s when Napa Valley was just a small niche market of high-quality wines, not trendy and commercial yet, like Gattinara today, probably.
I remember tasting a JuveniaCoste della Sesia, a floral and delicate Nebbiolo, refreshing and perfumed, paired with a lightly dressed beef tartare. After that a Gattinara, more powerful, with the strength and the tannic density of a wine that could age for 20-30 years (and probably more). We had it with a beef stew.
And after that, a long discussion about how Gattinara sometimes is more elegant than Barolo, how the slate soil gives a metallic minerality with softer tannins, balanced by a refreshing saltiness and acidity. Wines that are not corrupted by marketing - over fruity with a strong oaky flavor.
I suggest to have it with your grandmother, in her old, moldy house, smelling those familiar aromas, while listening to her stories.
PS... Before we left, I told to Margrit that meeting her was an epiphany, how profound were her thoughts and stories, especially in a world of wine-marketing that is destroying the concept of wine itself. And she answered (probably a bit offended but with a motherly smile): You’re right my son, marketing is killing the wine, but not as much as snobbish sommeliers.
TERRE DEL VOLTURNO ROSSO 'SABBIE DI SOPRA IL BOSCO' 2016, NANNI COPE
Grape: Pallagrello Nero 85%, Aglianico 12% and Casavecchia 3%
Pairings: aged cheeses, red meat dishes, venison, nice occasionsNotes: natural wine (Vignaoli), non filtered, organic practices, most vines 35 years old, some up to 150 years old, 7300 bottles produced
Drink by: Now through 2023
Description: Right, if you’ve been to our tasting you know about the story of all the grape varieties we have in Italy, right? If you don’t, well let me tell you that there are a lot. If you’ve never been to our tastings, you probably don’t know either that wine is not just made of Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.
But what is wine about, then? I’ve been asking myself this question for years and years and I still haven't found a proper answer. For sure, I haven't found a firm and apodeictic one. So, wine for me is not a fixed statement, nothing strictly determined by unchangeable rules. I’ll say it in ancient Greek: Pánta Rheî - which means, more or less, everything flows. A meta-statement written by the philosopher Eraclito, 2500 years ago, I guess. This non-statement has been in opposition to the rational philosophy of Aristoteles (100 years later) and his concept of aesthetics and fixed ideas of how things are determined and unchangeable.
So, on one side you have those wine journalists that tell you that a wine is 95 points, that is scientifically made and scientifically good and on the other side people like me that change their mind and attitude on wine every two days based on my mood, the mood of the wine, the mood of the winemaker, the vintage, the soil, the grape variety, the climate and thousands of other beautiful, undetermined and unpredictable matters. Because wine is an alive metaphor.
And what about tradition? What about all those statements based on the concept that a unique wine is made by a fixed routine repeated for hundreds of years? What about all the time I said (if you’ve been to our tasting you heard that) that good and unique wines come from places that were able not to change too much during the centuries? It sounds like a contradiction, one of those that Eraclito would have surely like. Or a paradox in the Zenone style (check on google).
That was the time in fact where rational and undetermined philosophy had a conflict.
And here comes Giovanni Ascione, alias Nanni Cope’, to solve the contradiction, some 2500 years later. Here comes a winemaker who discovered an unknown grape variety lost in time called Pallagrello. He rescued plants of Casavecchia that were around 180 years old (yes, it’s not a typo). He decided to make a modern wine based on an ancient tradition, a synthesis between determinism and unpredictable and the result is unique and great.
I won’t talk about the beautiful and silky tannins and the unique characteristics of the Pallagrello (a grape variety today planted in less than 15 acres all over the world and all near Naples), because Giovanni will tell it to you much better in the video.
Just let me tell you that tasting Nanni Cope’ means matching youth and history, today and yesterday. Fruity and soft, tannic and earthy, spicy and juicy, powerful and elegant. But don’t drink it now, let it flow because Pánta Rheî. Forget the bottle somewhere in the cellar and go back to it after few years and you’ll discover a wine that changed completely, which has moved from a refreshing superficial youth to a deep and profound complexity. Have it with a spicy stew and let it flow in the glass and on your palate, trying to fix in time and space all the unpredictable and changeable flavors this wine will give you.
BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2013, BARICCI
Grape: 100% Sangiovese Grosso
Region: Montalcino (TOSCANA) from the prestigious cru of Montosoli
Pairings: Bone-in steak, salami, red meat dishes, savory dishes, aged cheesesDrink by: now until 2028+Notes: traditional winemaking, organic practices, 36 months in large Slavonian oak barrels, open 2 hours before
Description: What is it? What should it be? What do I expect it to be?
I could ask the same questions about any other wine regions in the world from Napa to Burgundy, where a wine region is a middle answer between modernity and tradition, marketing and hard work, appearance and substance.
How do you define a wine from Napa Valley?
Which are the 'real' ones, and which are the 'good' ones?
What ones do I like and why? If you are getting into wine, these are the first questions that you will ask yourself.
Shall I start my Montalcino experience from Biondi Santi (historical) or from Banfi (modern and fancy)?
What if my palate prefers tradition and my brain prefers commercial flavor?
So what is the solution... drinking and listening to the wine, the winemaker, about soil, climate, history.
How many stories we've heard from fancy winemakers telling us a bunch of lies about how traditional and natural their wines are and how can you know if they are even telling the truth?
This is what I do... I perceive winemakers as actors.
They have to convince me. I perceive wine as a script and it needs to get me involved.
So why should I believe Francesco over the other thousands?
I don't know but there was something in the tone of his voice, and in the time it takes to answer a phone call or email (weeks).
Maybe the fact that his family has been producing wine here 50 years before Montalcino became famous and fancy, and the age of the plants can prove it.
I simply like him...from the tone of his voice to what he says, he makes me feel comfortable.
He gives me hope for the future - that you can still do your job where your job is the main issue...growing vines, and making wine, nothing else. But the final proof is the tasting experience.
You are in front of a wine that is 'naked'.
You perceive the grape, the soil, the metallic flavor coming from galestro soil, the powerful and refreshing acidity, the velvety tannins, with no hints of oak or sulfur or over-ripe Parkerized aromas which makes the wine so 'easy and conventional'.
I will put Francesco on my short list of the 5 or so producers of Montalcino that I can call 'real' (aware of the fact that reality is a transient metaphor).
I could speak about the Montosoli hill and the history of the Baricci family, but isn't it much easier to hear it directly from him?
Share this wine with someone who cares about wine to show off an excellent and complex expression of Brunello that radiates with elegant power, not a heavy one. With this elegant, earthy wine laced with red fruits, minerality, leather and an enduring persistent finish, you'll be in heaven and wishing it would never end. This is a perfect Brunello to show that even though it ages for 2 years in oak, it doesn't have to be a heavy and oaky wine. This wine gives me a reason to like the wines of Montalcino.
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