Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

Frescobaldi celebrates its Tuscan estates

Lamberto Frescobaldi
There’s poetry in the Frescobaldi soul, and I don’t just write that because I like so many of the family’s wines. Back in the 13th century, poet Dino Frescobaldi helped his exiled friend Dante Alighieri recover the first seven books of the Divine Comedy, enabling him to complete one of the great masterpieces of world literature. About that same time, the Frescobaldi family also started to focus on making wine in the Tuscan countryside. A couple of years ago, Lamberto Frescobaldi took over the leadership of the family business, and since he has a son at college in Rhode Island, the chief often passes through Boston. When he was here in March, we had a chance to sit down and taste some current releases and talk about new directions he’s taking the company.

Lamberto is a businessman with the soul of a poet and the skills of a winemaker. Since he took the helm, the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi has quietly pivoted from emphasizing the 700 years of winemaking experience behind the entire portfolio to playing up the character of the six individual Tuscan estates that are part of the Frescobaldi Toscano branch of the family company. (They also produce Super Tuscans called Masseto and Ornallaia in Bolghieri, as well as Attems pinot grigios and sauvignon blancs in the sandy eastern hills of Friuli.)
Pomino Benefizio Riserva Frescobaldi The newest bottlings from the Tuscan vineyards play up the vineyard name over the Frescobaldi moniker.

Since we were conversing as well as tasting, we kept to just four bottles. The first was my favorite Italian chardonnay, Pomino Benefizio Riserva 2013. The Pomino estate in the northeast corner of Tuscany is high in the hills. The family has been growing chardonnay here since 1855, first winning a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1878. Since 1973, the estate has been making this barrel-fermented white from a single vineyard at 700 meters. For an Italian wine, it’s very Burgundian—rich and luscious with very gentle French oak. It is a truly voluptuous white that makes a perfect pairing with intensely flavored fish, strong aged cheese, and light veal dishes. It retails around $43.

Frescobaldi Montesodi Although Castelo di Nipozzano is well within the Chianti district, the Montesodi 2012 wine is technically a Tuscan IGT because it is made from nothing but Sangiovese grown in the limestone and clay soil of the Montesodi vineyard at 400 meters. Starting with the 2012 vintage, the wine spends 18 months aging in large (30hl) French and Austrian oak casks. This bottle had been opened about two hours before we sat down, so the aeration had taken the edge off its young tannins without taking anything away from the complex nose. This is possibly the purest example of northern Tuscan sangiovese on the market. It displays strong notes of tart cherries, brick, and a bit of oregano and thyme. Although usually drunk at a meal with red meats, Montesodi would be spectacular with roast chicken–or even better, roast duck or pheasant. Retail is about $43.

Frescobaldi Giramonte 2012 Tenuta de Castiglioni is the oldest of the Frescobaldi estates, but the impressive Giramonte cru—a merlot wine with some sangiovese—has only been made since 1999. It’s a synthesis of flavors that the Frescobaldi winemakers pioneered when they started planting Bordeaux varietals in Tuscany in the 1850s. When I drink Giramonte, I feel like I’m getting both the full lushness of a ripe merlot (a hint of mint and mushroom) with the spice and leather of good sangiovese. We drank an old-style Giramonte 2009, which had an 88 percent merlot content. Lamberto explained that they pick the merlot in three stages, starting when it has only 10-10.5 degrees of sugar. The remaining grapes are allowed to mature more slowly. It’s a silky, complicated red that drinks nicely with red meats—or after-dinner philosophy. The 2009 is still in the market at around $108-$120, though the 2012 is available at about the same price.

Frescobaldi Mormoreto 2012 We finally capped off our tasting with Mormoreto, a Bordeaux-style blend from the Nipozzano estate. The Mormoreto vineyard was planted in 1976 with Frescobaldi vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot first established here in the 1850s. The vineyard is showing great maturity, and the 2012 is truly opulent—with a strong hint of black cherries, blackberries, and respberries. The scorching heat of the 2012 summer was clearly well-balanced by cool nights, as the wine has intense aromatics. The wine spent two years in small oak casks before bottling, and vanilla notes are still pronounced until it’s well-aerated. A large, full wine with all the chest-beating power of a Bordeaux blend, Mormoreto has a lot more finesse than many of Super Tuscans. I know by experience that the elegance becomes more pronounced after a few extra years of cellaring. Retail is around $65.

16

04 2016

And the winning Champagne is…

Barons de Rothschild blanc de blancs with raspberry tart

What was our best bubbly of 2015? We’ve been fortunate this year to enjoy some spectacular sparkling wines, from a range of proseccos to an elegant pink Franciacorta to several cavas and crémants that we simply drank without taking notes or photographs. (Even wine and food writers are entitled to a day off.)

Barons de Rothschild brut But the champagnes of Barons de Rothschild (www.champagne-bdr.com) really took us through the seasons. We started off in warm weather with the non-vintage brut, which is the company’s anchor champagne. It’s blended with 60 percent chardonnay (mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 40 percent pinot noir (principally from the villages of Verzenay, Ay, Mareuil-sur-Ay, and Bouzy). It has a Rumpelstiltskin straw-gold color, a faintly yeasty aroma, and fine and persistent bubbles, The full mouth feel and abundant acidity make it an excellent food wine, even with something as complex and spicy as mole amarillo. (Mexico did have a French emperor for a while, after all.) The BDR brut retails around $80.

BDR rose Come fall, we moved along to the non-vintage rosé, which might be our favorite sipping champagne of BDR’s non-vintage portfolio. It is produced from 85 percent chardonnay (again, mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 15 percent pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims. Some of that pinot noir juice goes in with the chardonnay at first fermentation, and some is fermented as a red wine before being blended together. The blend marries in the cellar for at least three years before dosage, then another six to nine months after disgorgement. The result is a wine with strong fruit and floral characteristics, with undertones of raspberry, rose petals, and sweet-tart wild strawberries. The color is a salmon pink, which accentuates the spiral of bubbles from the bottom of the glass to the top. We like watching the dance of the bubbles. How long do they last? They’re still prickling the tongue when we empty the last glass. The BDR rosé retails for around $105.

For our money (about $115), the blanc de blancs is the most elegant of BDR’s non-vintage champagnes and the perfect wine for the winter holidays. It is crafted entirely from chardonnay grown in the signature Champagne crus of Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, and Vertus. It is a little paler than the brut, slightly more acidic, and infinitely more sophisticated. Although it has a citrus-like freshness, some of the flavor notes include raw almonds and white peaches. The bubble profile can only be called creamy. It’s great by itself, but we think it’s the perfect pairing with a fresh raspberry tart (as shown above), since the bubbles cut through the unctuousness of the butter crust and pastry cream, while the acidity and mineral notes accentuate the flavor of the raspberries.

31

12 2015

Sherry takes back the bar

Tio Pepe sherry sign in Puerta del Sol
When we were in Madrid in October, we were happy to see that the Tío Pepe neon symbol darkened by the corporate forces at Apple had switched sides of Puerta del Sol and was lighting up the plaza again from atop El Corte Inglés department store. (See above.) The bright lights seem symbolic of the broader rehabilitation of the image of sherry. For a long time, drinking sherry implied that you were were old, prissy, British or all three.

Sherry by Talia BaiocchiBut now that cream sherries (a hideous adulteration of sherry by blending with sweet wine) are all but a thing of the past, cocktail-savvy drinkers are embracing real sherry in all its complex, nuanced forms. And though we’re a little late to the party, we want to call our readers’ attention to a fairly new book, Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret by one of the best wine and spirits writers to come along in a generation, Talia Baiocchi. It’s a great introduction to the wine and makes simple good reading. It’s also a good guide to visiting Spain’s Sherry Triangle if wine is foremost on your agenda.

The editor of the online magazine PUNCH (www.punchdrink.com) was captivated with sherry when she first started tasting the good stuff. So off she went to Spain to chronicle the wine, its production, and many of the leading bodegas that export to North America. She also includes a number of recipes and cocktails, including the directions for a Sherry Cobbler, the number-one cocktail in 19th century America. Classically, it consists of 3 ounces of amontillado, 3/4 ounce of simple syrup, a lemon wheel, an orange wheel, a glass of crushed ice—and a straw. “Don’t forget the straw,” Baiocchi says. The Sherry Cobbler actually popularized the drinking straw way back when.

09

12 2015

Off to Spain. Again.

Pat making photos from CentroCentro in Madrid
Readers who’ve been following us for a while know that we have a special love for Spain and its varied cuisines. In fact, if you just plug “spain” into the search box to the right, you’ll find multiple pages of posts about Spain and Spanish food stretching back to November 2009, when we wrote about the fabulous blue cheese of the Picos de Europa, Cabrales, and gave you a recipe for Cabrales with sauteed apples, walnuts, and honey.

Peruse those pages and you’ll find recipes for authentic paella, patatas riojanas, and a number of other Spanish classics. There are also some Spanish-inspired originals, like saffron shortbreads and orange and almond tart.

We’re heading back to Spain this week for some extended research, with stays in Madrid, the wine country of Toro and Rueda, a stopover for prayer (literally) in Córdoba, and longer stays in Sevilla and Palma (Mallorca). We have meetings and visits scheduled to flesh out research for about 40 essays in the new book Pat is writing, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, for Travelers Tales. Publication is scheduled for fall 2016. We’ll try to keep you apprised of tastes we encounter along the way, but given our busy schedule on the road, new posts may have to wait until early November.

Pats subject By the way, if you were wondering, the photo above is Pat taking pictures from the observation deck on CentroCentro, the former main post office building on Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid. She’s taking a picture of the Metropolis office building at the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía, the first Madrid thoroughfare designed for the automobile. Inaugurated in 1911, the Metropolis is a rare Beaux-Arts beauty in what Madrileños hoped would become the new modern district of the city.

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13

10 2015

First Vineyard marks origin of American winemaking

Tom Beall on porch of tasting room at First Vineyard The first libations that come to mind in north-central Kentucky are likely to be bourbon, and, if you’re a craft brew fan, beer. But the first commercial winery licensed in the Midwest and adjacent South was actually in Jessamine County, Kentucky in 1799. (Franciscans, of course, were making wine in the missions along the Rio Grande and in California a century and a half earlier.) The current owner of the land, Tom Beall, has rescued that tidbit of history by resuming production at First Vineyard (5800 Sugar Creek Pike, Nicholasville, Kentucky; 859-885-9359; www.firstvineyard.net).

John James Dufour hailed from a wine-making family in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. In the 1790s, he purchased a piece on land on the Great Bend in the Kentucky River that had been first surveyed by Daniel Boone in 1783. Dufour published his business plan for a vineyard in the Kentucky Gazette in 1798. A year later, he was licensed as a winery and planted his terraces above the river.

Dufour managed to produce a few small vintages, but a killing freeze in 1809 put his Kentucky property out of business. He and some relatives launched Second Vineyard in Vevray, Indiana, which became America’s first successful commercial winery. Dufour’s book, The American Vine-Dressers Guide, Being a Treatise on the Cultivation of the Vine, and the Process of Wine-Making, Adapted to the Soil and Climate of the United States, published in 1826, was the bible for aspiring wine-makers throughout the middle of the country.

Alexander grapes at First Vineyard There are a slew of details to the story, and some very handsome, if steeply terraced land to look at if you visit First Vineyard, where Tom Beall (above, on the tasting room porch) is again producing wine on Dufour’s site, mostly from French-American hybrid grapes and native fruits. The wines are actually crafted on contract by another Kentucky winery using First Vineyard’s fruit.

In researching the history, Beall discovered that Dufour’s main grape was probably the Alexander, not the Cape of Good Hope that he thought he was planting. The Alexander was named for James Alexander, who discovered it growing in William Penn’s vineyard as an accidental hybrid between a North American native labrusca and a European vinifera wine grape. Alexander became popular in 19th century vineyards but most scholars had thought the variety lost. Beall, however, tracked some vines down to a USDA depository in the Finger Lakes. Starting from 40 cuttings in 2008, he has planted it extensively. It is a very vigorous grower and producer of fruit, but the vines are just beginning to mature so the taste test is still a few years away.

tasting glasses at First Vineyard Meantime, Beall offers tastes of three wines for $3 in the picturesque log cabin tasting room. The most striking of the whites, made from American Diamond, has a brisk fruitiness,. The best of his reds is Chambourcin, a 19th century French hybrid of uncertain parentage. The nose has a distinct note of wild cherry and the aftertaste is lightly but pleasantly bitter with a bit of smokiness. It’s a pretty good wine with barbecue.

The tasting room is generally open 1-7 p.m., Friday-Sunday, but call first to make sure. The winery is less than 30 miles south of Lexington, but the rural road can be tricky in bad weather.

02

10 2015

Franciacorta: effervescent joy from Italy

Franciacorta rose with lemon risotto and insalata caprese Contrary to common usage, there’s nothing like real Champagne, the sparkling wine made in a delimited area in France. We’d suggest that there is also nothing like Franciacorta, the elegant and more affordable sparkling wine made in the Lombardy countryside an hour east of Milan. In fact, that city’s fashionistas have been drinking a lot of Franciacorta for the last several days during Milan Fashion Week.

The district has been growing grapes at least since the 16th century under the aegis of the region’s monasteries. (The name of the region indicates a region of monasteries not subject to ducal taxes.) Serious spumante production is much more recent, dating from the years after World War II, and the big players are industrialists, not monks.

That said, Franciacorta did almost everything right from the start, and won DOCG status (Italy’s top quality designation) before any other sparkling wine in Italy, including Prosecco DOCG. The grapes are a familiar bunch to Champagne lovers: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot blanc. Secondary fermentation is carried out in the bottle in what the Italians call metodo classico and the rest of the world calls méthode champenoise. The chief advantage is that the wine develops on the lees, gaining a yeasty complexity that bulk carbonation cannot impart.

The DOCG regulations recognize two styles and three aging designations, each of which can be made with varying residual sugar ranging from brut to demi-sec. The Non-Vintage must be made of chardonnay and/or pinot noir (with up to half pinot blanc) and be aged at least 18 months. Sàten is a blanc-de-blancs style made with only white grapes, of which chandonnay must constitute more than half; it’s aged a minimum of 24 months. Rosé is made with chardonnay and pinot blanc with a minimum of 25 percent pinot noir to give it the desired color. Millesimato is a vintage Franciacorta in either style and indicates that at least 85 percent of the wine came from a specified quality vintage and has been aged a minimum of 30 months. A riserva is a vintage-dated Sàten or Rosé aged at least 60 months.

The Sàten style is something of a misnomer, since silkiness is characteristic of all good Franciacortas, which typically sell at retail for $20-$40, except for a few rare riservas. Personally, we like the Rosé style, since the pinot noir gives it a little fruitiness and extra structure. We popped a 2010 Millesimato Fratelli Berlucchi Rosé (fratelliberlucchi.it/) for the meal shown above: lemon risotto (Franciacorta is splendid paired with the acidity of the risotto) and a plate of our final garden tomatoes in an insalata caprese.

We expect to be drinking even more Franciacorta as the holiday season approaches.

Salute!

26

09 2015

Craggy Range shows original NZ wines

Matt Stafford of Craggy Range
Matt Stafford (above) isn’t just any winemaker. He’s a winemaker who came to the trade originally as a soil scientist. The post-grad diploma in viticulture and oenology came later, but the grounding (no pun intended) in soil might just make him the ideal person to make wine for Craggy Range (www.craggyrange.com) in New Zealand. Stafford was in Boston a few weeks ago to introduce some of his wines. New Zealand has become notorious for popular sauvignon blanc and pinot noir–even though the former often tastes medicinal and the latter like cherry cough syrup. It was a pleasure to taste elegant New Zealand wines that spoke first and foremost of terroir.

It was clear that Stafford wanted to confound expectation when a few of us gathered at L’Espalier for dinner. Instead of pouring a sauvignon blanc as an aperitif, he poured the intense Kidnappers Vineyard chardonnay that drank like a Chablis. It’s grown in Hawke’s Bay on a shallow, clay loam soil aired out by cool sea breezes, a combination that intensifies the varietal flavors. At $22 a bottle, it’s a good alternative to its French counterpart.

By contrast, Craggy Range’s Gimlett Gravels vineyard, also in Hawke’s Bay, is a patch saved from being turned into a gravel mine. The combination of stony soil with terrific drainage and intense sun and heat makes the vineyard excellent for growing the very ripe components for Te Kahu, a soft Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec. Also priced at $22, it was gentle enough to pair with quail breast served with walnut polenta.

Stafford contrasted Te Kahu nicely with Sophia, a different Bordeaux blend (it includes more petit verdot than malbec). Although the blend is closer to the right bank Bordeaux wines, the cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc are much more pronounced than in Te Kahu, giving Sophia more of a left bank flavor profile. Le Sol from Craggy Range All the grapes represent the best from Craggy Range’s vineyards and they’re all hand-selected and destemmed. At $76, Sophia has good aging potential. The 2013 we tasted is still a little closed and the tannins are tight, but there’s a lot of promise in the fruit.

The biggest red from Craggy Range is another Gimlett Gravels wine, Le Sol. Made from 100 percent syrah from heritage stock brought to New Zealand 150 years ago, it provides a powerful flagship for the winery. Rich, seemingly sweet from the high alcohol content, and full of fruit with licorice and green herbal overtones, Le Sol has the approachability of a good pinot noir, but the body and intensity to drink well with strong meat dishes. L’Espalier threw a veritable mixed grill at the wine—rack of lamb, spare ribs spiced with ras el hanout, garlic sausage, and some charred eggplant. The spare ribs and eggplant were the best match, but it was interesting to see how a New Zealand syrah could bridge the gap between the balanced style of the Rhone Valley and the more aggressive hot-weather style of Australia. Suggested retail is $107. It would be spectacular with a powerful game dish, though we’d suggest double-decanting.

12

07 2015

Mullan Road shows the grandeur of Walla Walla red

Dennis Cakebread having Mullan Road poured at Strip by Strega in Boston
Given that his family name is practically synonymous with Napa, it was a pretty good bet that when Dennis Cakebread started making wine near Walla Walla, Washington, he was going to call it something else. So he named his new winemaking venture for the historic wagon road across the Rockies from present-day Montana to present-day Walla Walla that was surveyed in 1854 and built 1859-60. We suspect that what appealed to Cakebread was that Lt. John Mullan was a pathfinder and a visionary. More than 150 years later, portions of I-15 and I-90 follow the same path that Mullan took over the Rockies. Cakebread is looking to pioneer a Washington red worth laying down in your cellar. His first Mullan Road Cellars red (2012) was released last fall.

As Cakebread looked into the Columbia River Valley for a possible expansion project, he was both impressed with the unusual soils and with the camaraderie of Walla Walla winemakers. Not that Cakebread has completely made up his mind exactly which terroir Mullan Road will attach itself to. “When you think you might move to a new city, you don’t just go out and buy a house,” he says. “You rent a while and see how you like the neighborhood.”

Mullan Road 2012Mullan Road Cellars purchases most of its grapes from other growers, most notably Seven Hills Vineyard on the south end of the Walla Walla Valley appellation and a number of vineyards in the area close to the Oregon border soon to be recognized as Royal Slope. Other parcels it leases on a three-year recurring lease program. Compared to many winemaking regions, eastern Washington is very dispersed, with miles of rough road between vineyards. “One thing you really need to make wine in Washington,” says Cakebread, “is a good truck.”

Leasing parcels also lets Mullan Road experiment. One year Mullan Road contained a small percentage of Malbec, but it wasn’t up to Cakebread’s standards or those of Washington native winemaker Aryn Morell. The next blend used cabernet franc to balance the merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

At this point, Mullan Road Cellars makes just one wine known as a Columbia Valley Red. It’s a Bordeaux blend carefully balanced to cellar well yet also drink fairly well while young. Cakebread calls it “balanced and robust,” and we have to agree. We enjoyed a bottle of the 2012 at Strip by Strega in Boston at a working lunch over a grilled pork dish and a steak. The wine held up well with both, showing a little cassis and dark berry fruits on the nose, supple tannins to grip the meat, and finished with a satisfying Bordeaux-style bittersweet note. We can barely wait for the 2013, due to hit the shelves in October.

Click here for more about Mullan Road Cellars.

06

07 2015

Bordeaux is just the beginning for Lafite

Lafite wines at The Palm Boston Château Lafite Rothschild is legendary for its red Bordeaux, many of them too expensive for all but special occasion meals. Fortunately, the parent company, Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) (www.lafite.com), has been spreading Lafite’s winemaking skills around the globe to create more affordable wines. And back home in Bordeaux, they’ve developed a series of soft, ready-to-drink red and white wines under the Réserve Spéciale line. We had the chance to try several of the different branches of Lafite at a wine dinner at The Palm Boston, and we’re happy to say that the Lafite junior lines show that good wine can be made at a good price.

We started by drinking the Lafite Réserve Spéciale Blanc 2013. White Bordeaux, especially from the Entre-deux-Mers district, doesn’t get a lot of respect but this Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc combination had just enough fruit to complement its pronounced acidity. The minerality made it a fine aperitif wine while our palates were still fresh. It nicely complemented a course of seared sea scallops. Wine shop price is $13-$15.

Los Vascos Chardonnay Among the white wines, Los Vascos Chardonnay 2013 stole the show. In 1988, Lafite became the first French firm to invest heavily in Chile and the reward for their boldness are the Los Vascos wines. They are distinguished among bargain Chilean wines (about $7!) for the cleanness and clarity of the fruit. The chardonnay character is well-rounded and the full mouth feel makes it a real contender with strongly flavored seafood and even soft-rind cheeses. (Yes, it’s the perfect arts reception wine with a wheel of Camembert.) At this dinner, it more than held its own paired with a roasted beet and arugula salad that had been dressed with a quite tart champagne vinaigrette.

Bodegas Caro We also drank two reds that demonstrate Lafite’s flexibility. Lafite isn’t the only Bordeaux name to team up with a top Argentine wine producer, but Bodegas CARO (a Mendoza partnership with Nicolas Catena) is one of the most successful, at least to our taste. We drank a Bodegas CARO Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2010 with a powerfully beefy serving of braised beef short rib. Harvested from old vineyards at very high altitudes, the two grapes were fermented separately and underwent malolactic fermention separately (15 percent in barrel, 85 percent in stainless steel). The blended wine was aged 18 months in French oak from Lafite’s Bordeaux cooperage and allowed to mellow in the bottle for a few years before release. The resulting wine has the hairy-chested bombast of great Malbec with the tuxedo elegance of superb Cabernet—just about perfect with an intense beef dish. Retailing at $60-$65, this wine is worth planning a meal around.

Lafite Pauillac We also drank a Lafite Réserve Spéciale Pauillac 2011. It was a classically balanced light Bordeaux—almost a throwback to old-style claret—redolent of nutmeg and cedar cigar box. It’s Bordeaux as winemakers used to make it for the English market. Soft Bordeaux calls for a lower-profile meat, at least to our taste. The Palm served lamb, which was a good choice, but we thought the aggressive spice rub overpowered the wine a bit. At about $40 per bottle, it’s a pleasant Bordeaux for everyday drinking—if you drink $40 bottles every day.

At the end of the night, we enjoyed a sip of Sauternes (Château Rieussec 2009) with apple strudel. It’s a classic pairing, but the wine wasn’t quite ready. Unctuously fruity, this Sauternes needs more time in the cellar to marry the intense sweetness with the full-bodied Sémillon fruit. It’s retailing around $35 for a split, $55-$70 for a full bottle. Buy it now and lay it down for five years.

19

05 2015

Pantelleria vineyards honored by UNESCO

Bringing in the harvest of Zibibbo grapes on Pantelleria It’s a delight to learn that the United Nations has honored the grape growers of Pantelleria, naming the island’s viticultural technique part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And here I thought it was merely heroic. That’s what the Pantellerians themselves call it.

Donnafugata Zibibbo vineyard About halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, the rocky island of volcanic origins is arid and scoured by ferocious winter winds that stunt even the olive trees. Typically, houses are cut into the rock to provide protection from the wind and the blistering sun. The grapes are grown on “head trained bush vines” (vite ad alberello, in Italian). Each one is planted in a depression and trained in a low, broad bush system with two to four branches. Vines are typically 100 years old at minimum, and the vineyards are terraced inside rock walls, as if each area was a cellar hole. Maintenance is minimal, as the winds tend to keep the vines pruned. Picking is all done by hand.

Zibibbo grapes set to dry on Pantelleria The main grape grown on Pantelleria is known locally by its Arabic moniker, Zibibbo. Genetically, it is the ancient Muscat of Alexandria—considered one of the oldest genetically unmodified grape varieties in existence. Tradition holds that Cleopatra drank wine made from it. One of the world’s great aromatic wine grapes, this strain of Muscat is found all around the Mediterranean rim.

Antonio Rallo Pantellerian viticulture is the model of small-plot vineyards. Of the island’s population of 7,679, about 5,000 inhabitants own a plot of land where they cultivate Zibibbo in the traditional way, handing down the techniques from generation to generation. The old vines produce grapes that achieve powerful sugar and acid levels as well as a spicy aromatic quality lacking in a lot of hot-weather Muscat. Although Zibibbo is a tasty table grape (albeit with a tough skin and big pips), most of the harvest is dried on screens to concentrate sugar and acid before being pressed to make a sweet passito wine.

Ben RyéThe Khamma winery, owned by the Rallo family of Donnafugata (that’s Antonio Rallo above holding a cluster of grapes), handles the lion’s share of the island’s harvest, drying and pressing each region’s grapes separately to create a final blend for Donnafugata’s Ben Ryé, possibly one of the greatest Muscat wines in the world.

26

12 2014