Monthly Archives: November 2011

Italy’s heel: Day 2


Before we set off for Trani to meet the rest of the 50 journalists who had been crawling around Apulia, as my group has been, for the last two days, we hopped on the bus to see a couple more producers.

Our first visit was to Tenute Mater Domini, the project of Pierandrea Semeraro, one of four children of an ex-bank owner who upon selling the bank wanted the children to invest in a project that would demonstrate everything Apulia has to offer. Pierandrea chose wine.

I’m assuming the bank was pretty successful as no expense has been spared here. Eyeballing all that obvious wealth as we toured the winery gave me an uneasy feeling that the wines would be devoid of Pugliese character and internationalised to the extreme.

Thankfully they weren’t like that at all, and their wines, especially the cuvee Casili, struck a very good balance of being authentically rustic but approachably juicy. Good work. I hope they stick to their guns with this as the international varieties they’ve planted start come on board…. Having said that, they’ve also planted Susumaniello, a very rare local grape variety with high acidity and colour.

Next up was Castello Monaci, a winery which is partly owned by Gruppo Italiano Vini and which gave us a fascinating vertical tasting of its Primitivo cuvee, Artas, from 2009 to 2004. The vintage variation was especially obvious in these wines, and with the 2006 being soft, plummy and voluptuous so it was no surprise this was the group’s favourite.

After an incredible lunch in the handsome but beautiful castello of Castello Monaci, we moved on to Trani, our home for the next few days and where the Apulia Wine Identity tastings take place (#ApuliaWI). Trani is a beautiful port town north of Bari, with a strong Jewish history (4 synagogues, only 1 still in use) and a very important fishing community too but I wasn’t quite sure who was going to buy this poor thing (below) on offer at Trani’s evening fish market on the harbour last night.

On our first night in Trani we completed the first of Apulia Wine Identity’s three blind en primeur tastings. Tonight it was the turn of the variety Nero di Troia.

Before we tasted, we had a long history of the variety’s origin, characteristics and potential. Apulia’s new-found faith in this grape variety is clear: 15 years ago only 2-3 labels of pure Nero di Troia wines could be found and today there are more than 80. Overall, I think the tasting proved that Nero di Troia is still work in progress as its tannin profile is still pretty momentous, then again there were glimmers of hope tucked in behind that tidal wave of tannin, glimmers that showed Nero di Troia can produce a wine with gentle spice and smoky undertones. More of that please.

Tomorrow – Primitivo goes under the spotlight. Ciao.

BTW – I’m so happy to hear that Vini Italiani the new Italian wine store has flung its doors open in London’s well-heeled area of South Kensington. I’m doubly pleased because it means I can pass on my newly acquired Apulia knowledge when I do some tastings for their customers (one is specifically on Apulia and Piemonte) early next year. Watch this space…

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Italy’s heel: Day 1

Greetings one and all from the Florence of the south, Lecce, in Apulia, which I’m visiting after being invited to take part in the pioneering inaugural event Apulia Wine Identity (#ApuliaWI).

AWI is an ambitious programme where the region is hosting 49 journalists from 21 countries. We’ve been split into 5 groups for the first 2 days, followed by 3 days where where the groups join together to take part in a series of en primeur tastings and discussions surrounding the three main red grape varieties of the region; Primitivo, Negroamaro and Nero di Troia.

Baroque Lands: Wine and Culture is the title for my 2-day group, which includes a good mix of people; two Swedes, a French Swiss, a Brazilian, three Italians, a Japanese sommelier based in France and a sommelier from Dublin who works in Apulia.

Last night’s meal at Lecce restaurant Il Vicerè was a typically generous Italian feast partnered with 5 wines – and an evening which gave us a fast-track insight into the enormous diversity of styles, attitudes and quality of wines coming out of Apulia.

We witnessed the same differences when we visited the wineries today. First up was the co-operative Cupertinum, a producer which churns out 50% of the Copertino DOC wines and which still seems to stick to its traditional roots given its reds were pretty oaky and rustic. That said there are (small) signs that modern changes are afoot.

I really enjoyed the visit to the next winery, Schola Sarmenti. It has converted its underground cement vats into the cellar so the red wine has stained the walls to give them this beautiful marbled effect (sorry about the embarrassing quality of the photo btw).

Stained vat walls, now the cellar

As for Sarmenti’s wine style, it’s quite difficult to explain or generalise, because it respects modernity and tradition at the same time. Maybe that explains why it doesn’t have a UK importer, which, given the standard of the wines I found quite surprising to hear. My favourite wine there was the Nero 2006, a blend of 80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia Nera and a wine which showed seemed to show class, fruit and restraint all in one go.

The last visit was to Conti Zecca. A large operation that makes mostly IGT wines, but which had a very interesting wine (it labels this wine as an experiment, even though they’ve been growing it for 20 years ) made from Aglianico with a dollop of Primitivo and Negroamaro.

Given this positive Apulia experience with Aglianico, plus the fact that my favourite wine from dinner last night was Castello Monaci’s Malvasia Nera di Lecce 2010, and then my favourite wine from Sarmenti also included Malvasia Nera in the blend, it seems as though the less prolific red varieties show great potential in Apulia, which is food for thought before I head into the en primeur tasting of Apulia’s three main red grapes tomorrow.

A domani! x

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Krug 2000: the greedy vintage

I resisted the urge to tweet that I was having Krug and croissants at The Dorchester for breakfast a couple of weeks ago. At best it would have sounded indulgent but at worst it would have sounded cringingly smug.

Nonetheless, I was pretty chuffed to be given the opportunity to have sneak peek of the newly released Krug vintage, the 2000, when Krug’s winemaker, Julie Cavil, popped over to London for the day at the end of October.

Even though I’ve been to Krug several times and she’s worked there for six years, our paths had never crossed before, but I quickly discovered that beneath her polite and unassuming charm the trademark Krug obsession for individuality has made an indelible mark on her too.

Julie with her glass of 'indulgence'

The 2000, which was the hottest year in Champagne for 40 years, is vastly different to Krug’s last vintage, the 1998, which was all about precision with that tight and focussed finish (not to mention the fact that it was – unusually for Krug – dominated by Chardonnay).

Nicknamed ‘indulgence’, the 2000 is full and frank, big and bold, broad and ballsy. I can’t think of a Champagne that’s better equipped to be paired with food and is rich in the extreme. It moves from Digestive biscuit flavours to being mineral, earthy, mushroomy and then embraces a rich baked bread character and spiciness towards the end. It’s a beguiling wine.

I wouldn’t say the wine is so much indulgent as greedy, which is how I felt as I supped on Krug and munched on pastry well before 10am, but if anything, I like to think of it as a selfless dedication to the beautiful greedy cause that is Krug 2000.

Oh, and talking of Champagne, don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Financial Times this weekend to read my piece on Champagne and disgorgement dates in the How To Spend It magazine (the Christmas issue).

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