Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

Valori wines show strong organic backbone

Luigi Valori at Boston tasting
“When you grow completely organically,” says Luigi Valori of Azienda Valori in Abruzzo, “an interesting thing happens to the grapes. The skins become very thick.” That’s more than an obscure botanical fact. It completely changes the potential of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape.

Color, tannin, and polyphenols all dwell in the skins of red wine grapes. More of those things make up for the shortcomings of mass-produced wine. Like many Italian wines, the reputation of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo suffers from a tradition of overproduction. Wines can still meet DOC standards while being grown at weights up to 10 kilograms per vine. Since the grape has naturally sweet and soft tannins, overproduction creates wines that are soft, flabby and don’t age well. But properly grown with a limited yield and vinted with care for its peculiarities, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be an elegant, structured, and noble. It is one of my personal favorites.

Valori Sant'AngeloA former professional footballer for Ascoli Calcio, Valori is a botanist by training. His vineyards in the commune of Teramo in northern Abruzzo near the Marche border are certified 100 percent organic. He has been producing wine on the estate since 1996. His yield is aaround 1.5-2 kilograms of grapes per vine/ In keeping with organic regulations, he treats the vines only with copper and sulfur. But he notes that grapevines find the copper mildly toxic. They react to it by forming slightly smaller berries with much thicker walls. By growing organic grapes with skins packed with tannins and polyphenols, Valori gives himself a leg up in the quest to make a great wine from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

He was in Boston recently for an industry tasting of wines distributed by Masciarelli Wine Co. Masciarelli’s property in Abruzzo adjoins Valori’s vineyards. When the American branch of the family began their outstanding boutique distribution of fine wines, Valori was happy to sign on. He would rather grow grapes and make wine rather than make sales calls.

Valori keeps striving for an ever better synthesis of the vineyard and the winery. He speaks of the temperature gradient of the Teramo hills that sweep down to the Adriatic just 30 kilometers away. The wind flows down the hill, then it flows up the hill,” he says. That ventilation eases the job of the organic grower. Late in the growing season (Montepulciano ripens late), he prunes away leaves to expose the berries. “My goal is to grow perfect grapes.”

Taste of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder—or the palate of the taster. Valori harvests entirely based on his subjective taste of the grapes. “You need all the science and stainless steel to make clean wine,” he says. “But you need the human senses to make great wine.”

I’d argue that he does that. His traditional Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is a bargain red with great fruit extraction and enough structure to stand up to light meats and most pastas. It’s about $10.

Valori calls his riserva Vigna Sant’Angelo. The grapes come from a 3-hectare plot of vines that are more than 50 years old. He macerates for an entire month for maximum extraction of color and polyphenols. (“The skins are almost white when it’s done,” he says.) The wine spends 18 months in new French oak barrique, where it undergoes a malolactic fermentation.

The result is one of the truly great Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines at about $30 a bottle. With an almost inky color in the glass, it exudes dry dark fruits, tobacco, hints of vanilla—all complemented by a bright note of tart cherry.


09 2016

Christo’s Floating Piers rise like Franciacorta bubbles

Floating Piers by Christo
For 16 days in late June and early July, the artist Christo let art-lovers walk on water. His “Floating Piers” project was his first outdoor installation since 2005 when he and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, installed 7,500 panels to make gates in New York’s Central Park. Like the gates, the piers gleamed with celebratory saffron-colored fabric. Some 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes supported the 53-foot wide walkway.

Christo at Lake Iseo Nearly two years in the making, the environmental artwork connected two small islands in Lake Iseo with each other and the mainland. And now it’s all gone — but not before an estimated 1 million visitors experienced it.

The poignancy of Christo’s works lies in the tension between the heroic scale of their vision and their ephemeral nature. How appropriate that he chose the wine district of Franciacorta, one of Italy’s great sparkling wines! Years of work go into every bottle. When the wine is poured, the bubbles rise and form a delicate mousse at the top of the glass. But they burst, and the moment is gone—just like “Floating Piers.”

Exploring Franciacorta

People on Floating Piers Timed to the Franciacorta Summer Festival in June, Christo’s work brought a million people to the Franciacorta area, about an hour northeast of Milan. Because so much of Lombardy has cutting edge industry, many wine drinkers don’t realize how bucolic the region can be. In fact, the Strada del Franciacorta was established in 2000. The wine road promotes the region for tourism focused on wine and food. More than 100 wineries along the route handcraft their wines in the metodo classico—with a second fermentation in the bottle. The road also details more than 30 restaurants and wine bars and 30 hotels, bed and breakfasts, and agriturismo farm stays. The Cappuccini Resort is a restored 17th century monastery. (For information in English, see the web site:

The area is also great for cycling. The wine road association also details five cycling paths. Each traverses a different section of the region, passing through small villages and vineyards. They are named after different styles of Franciacorta.

The fall Franciacorta Festival takes place September 17-18 this year. It features concerts and food and wine exhibitions throughout the region. For complete details, see the downloadable flyer at

Franciacorta with food

Franciacorta Contadi Castaldi Saten Franciacorta wines are great for celebrating. But given the modest prices (most $25-$40), you don’t have to wait for a milestone or life-changing event. We recently celebrated the annual tomato glut with pasta tossed with chopped basil and peeled cherry tomatoes. (Dip them for 5 seconds in boiling water, immediately chill, and pierce with a sharp knife. The tomatoes pop whole from the skins.) We drank a Contado Castaldi 2010 Sàten. The “silky” style, unique to Franciacorta, emphasizes tiny pinpoint bubbles. By DOC regulations, that’s a wine made only from white grapes. This was all Chardonnay. It has a lot of acidic backbone, so it held up well with the tart fresh tomatoes. Several years of bottle aging on the lees gave it a toasty nose and faintly bitter aftertaste that complemented the food nicely. The yeasty nose was a perfect counterpoint to the spicy, floral notes of the just-picked basil.

For more about Franciacorta, see our post from last September: “Franciacorta: effervescent joy from Italy.”


08 2016

Drinks rival meals during Lexus Gran Fondo

Cocktails at Chatham Bars Inn during Lexus Gran Fondo
As wine and Champagne flowed throughout the weekend of the Lexus Gran Fondo, summer cocktails on the lawns stole the spotlight. For the opening night lawn picnic, the Chatham Bars Inn concocted a pair of perfect summer drinks.

The flute (above) contains a Beach Plum Royale. Ingredients include orange simple syrup and a dose of beach plum liqueur. The hotel staff makes the liqueur when beach plums are in season, They lay down the liqueur to age and use it throughout the year. A generous pour of Veuve Clicquot Brut tops the glass. Bubbles buoy up a thin rim of orange peel, keeping it in suspension halfway up the glass.

The deep goblet holds a spectacular ginger-infused version of Sangría. Lillet Rosé forms the base. The rosé version of this old-time favorite aperitif wine is a fairly new product. It is fermented from Muscatel as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. Just before bottling, a small amount Lillet Rouge joins the mix. Additions of bitter orange distillations and a touch of quinine make it a great mixer. For the party sangría, the Chatham Bars Inn bar staff added ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, and guava juice. They topped each glass with ginger ale and added a blueberry for color. The combination is remarkably refreshing.

Just as Lexus imported some Lexus Master Chefs for the Gran Fondo, it also brought along Lexus Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy, the wine director of Little Nell in Aspen and one of the youngest master sommeliers in the U.S. McCoy guided wine choices at the dinners. But he also shook, stirred, and poured some nifty cocktails of his own for brunch on the day after the big ride.

Carlton McCoy cocktails

Carlton McCoy pours Blood Orange Mimosa at Lexus Gran Fondo At left, McCoy is creating a Blood Orange Mimosa. The gorgeous drink is deceptively simple to make. His mixer contains blood orange juice and a bit of Cointreau, a sweet orange liqueur without the bite of Grand Marnier. For each flute, he poured in a generous shot (about 2 fluid ounces) and topped with Mumm Cordon Rouge brut Champagne. It was such a popular choice that most drinkers didn’t even wait to get the orange peel garnish.

The White Peach Bellini, a similar but less colorful drink, began with a mix of fresh juice from white peaches mixed with lemon juice and sugar. The same Champagne topped off the flute, and if drinkers were patient, they also got a spring of mint as a garnish.

To our taste, the most unusual McCoy concoction was a variant on the St-Germain Cocktail. The base liqueur is distilled from elderflowers gathered in the French Alps in the spring and swiftly rushed to the distillery on bicycles. (This is according to the official St-Germain propaganda.) Nothing quite tastes like St-Germain, though the aroma might remind you of a cross between fresh lilac and freshly cut grass. It is sharp and floral at the same time. Most cocktails drown the liqueur in a lot of wine or Champagne and sweeten heavily. McCoy took a different approach, combining some fresh lime juice with the liqueur and topping it off with a pour of cold Prosecco. With a lemon twist, the drink is light, bright, and surprisingly adult.


07 2016

Paso Robles wine comes into its own

tasting at a Paso Robles winery
Paso Robles has a frontier spirit. Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Central Coast community lends its name to California’s fastest growing wine region.

wine signpost Paso Robles Known since Native American times for its thermal hot springs, Paso (as locals call it) had only 35 wineries in the late 1990s. But this district of limestone bedrock and huge day-night temperature differential has caught the eye of winemakers large and small. Located in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountain range about a half-hour drive from the Pacific Ocean, the region boasts more than 250 wineries and 26,000 acres planted in more than 40 wine grape varietals. The power of Paso Robles goes well beyond the numbers. The palpable air of experimentation and possibility is so infectious that even short-term visitors get a lift.

Upscale boutiques, Western-style clothiers, restaurants, cafes, and more than 20 wine tasting rooms give a bustling air to the tidy downtown around City Park. While downtown is the best place to taste across the whole region, many vineyards are nearby. On Highway 46 alone, 25 tasting rooms dot the roadside within a five-mile stretch.

Coy and Sarah Barnes founded the first wine tour company in Paso. Their Wine Wrangler (the offers both half- and full-day tours.

“Wine has been grown here for as long as in Napa,” says Coy, “but the area is not as well known. There are only about one-third as many vines as there are planted in Napa. But it is an area that is young, growing, full of people who like to experiment.” Even a short tour gives a sense of the proud history and dynamic growth that give the region its unique character.

J Dusi shows Zin is no sin

Janelle Dusi of J Dusi Wines in Paso Robles Janelle Dusi is the fourth generation of a grape-growing family. She grew up on 100 acres planted in old-vine Zinfandel. “We’re farmers. My great grandfather began growing Zinfandel in the 1920s,” she says. “It’s Paso’s heritage grape and the vineyards are still intact and family-owned.”

Her grandfather taught her the basics of winemaking and she is now both winemaker and proprietor of J Dusi Wines (1401 CA-46, Paso Robles; 805-226-2034; True to her family roots, Janelle makes a medium-body Zinfandel.

“I restrain the jam and alcohol. I’m not embarrassed to do a more restrained style with a little more finesse,” she says. “I don’t need to come out of the gates with a chewy meal in a glass. My wine is more food friendly.”

While she is proud of her Zinfandel, Janelle has become increasingly interested in some of the most full-bodied Rhone grapes. She produces single-varietal bottlings of Grenache, Syrah, and the Rhone-like Petite Sirah.

SummerWood strikes a French pose

Shayne Kline of SummerWood in Paso Robles Shayne Kline, general manager at SummerWood Winery, agrees that Rhone grapes are a good fit for Paso Robles. “This area is known as the ‘Rhone zone,’” he says. He points out that the weather and the soils in the two regions are comparable, while noting that the night-time cooling is the most important aspect of the climate.

SummerWood (2175 Arbor Road, Paso Robles; 805-227-1365; is known for its limited-production American Rhone and Bordeaux wines and for Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite of winemaker Mauricio Marchant.

“I’m originally from Chile, and I love Cabernet,” Marchant says, He spent time working in Napa Valley where “it’s Cab and Chard all day long. Here we’re still learning, trying to figure out what will work. Trying new things all the time. I love Syrah—powerful, inky black, manly man wine.” He also makes a huge, intense Rhone-style Mourvèdre.

Villicana shows a spirit of its own

Alex and Monica Villicana of Villicana Winery & Vineyard (2725 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles; 805-239-9456; share that sense of adventure.

Alex and Monica Villicana of Villicana Winery & Vineyard in Paso Robles “We were the 17th winery in the area in 1993,” says Alex. The couple has planted their 13 acres in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot from Bordeaux, and Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah from the Rhone. “It’s Bordeaux meets Rhone,” Villicana says. He could add Puglia as a footnote, since Villicana also grows a lot of Zinfandel.

As winemaker, Alex stems the grapes and removes 30 to 40 percent of the free-run juice. “We change the ratio of juice to skins to get richer red wines,” he notes. In the process, “we stumbled on the fact that you can make vodka out of grapes” in place of the more traditional potatoes or grains. In fact, the Villicanas opened Re:FIND (, the area’s first craft distillery.

During the harvest, Alex saves their own free-run juice and buys this “saignée” from other winemakers. He makes vodka and gin by fermenting the juice and triple distilling the product.

“Twenty years of winemaking helped me in distilling.” Alex says. “I use the same sense of smell and taste to decide what to keep and what to get rid of.” He considers the venture to be “the ultimate in spirit-making sustainability.”


07 2016

Ocean meets wine country in Pismo Beach

sunset and the pier at Pismo Beach
California beach country is often also wine country. On the Central Coast, wineries nestle in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountain range only about five miles from the ocean. The San Luis Obispo wine country comprises about thirty wineries squeezed into the hills between Arroyo Grande in the south and San Luis Obispo in the north.

Pelican preens on Pismo Beach pier Over the hills in Pismo Beach, Lissa Hallberg of the Tastes of the Valleys wine tasting bar and bottle shop was eager to introduce me to their products. The coastal village just over the mountains from Arroyo Grande boasts a long strand of soft sand. The town resists modernization, preferring to embody the classic, low-key beach getaway. In the morning, fishermen cast for Spanish mackerel off the 1,200-foot pier where seagulls and pelicans also perch. A gentle surf usually accommodates boarders and everyone can find enough sand to spread out a blanket. Dog walkers and joggers follow the shore south to wander among the undulating dunes. Shorebirds touch down in little lagoons, taking turns flap-flap-flapping to shake out their wings once they land.

Waiting for the sun to go down

Lissa Hallberg of the Tastes of the Valleys purs a sample in Pismo Beach As befits a beach vacation, Pismo Beach boasts plenty of arcades, salt water taffy pullers, ice cream parlors, and retro souvenir shops. But when the sun sinks low in the sky, all eyes turn to the pier. Local custom dictates buying a bottle of wine, pouring some into a Solo cup, and strolling down to the pier before sunset. I selected a bottle of Laetitia Vineyard and Winery Estate Chardonnay. Hallberg grimaced a bit at the thought of the plastic party cup adulterating the honeyed, mineral-driven taste of the wine from the Arroyo Grande Valley. (The region resembles Champagne in its soils and growing conditions, and the best wines are simple and unoaked.) Hallberg needn’t have worried. Watching the sun set, the taste of terroir came through fine without a crystal glass. I could get used to the ritual.

Tastes of the Valleys is at 911 Price Street, Pismo Beach; 805-773-8466;


07 2016

Endrizzi ecological stewardship inspires great wine

Endrizzi vineyards in San Michele
Vineyards can be some of the most beautiful places on the planet, but few have charms to rival the original family vineyards of Endrizzi. Located in San Michele all’Adige (locale Masetto; tel. +39 0461 650 129: www/, the winery launched in 1885. Masetto is also the name of the name of the family homestead. In those days, the area was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Endrizzi operated wine shops in Vienna, Prague, Belgrade, and Switzerland. After World War I, Trentino reverted to Italian control. The wine, however, has always been bilingual.

Trilingual, if you count the origin of some of the grapes. Founders Francesco and Angelo Endrici (the Italian spelling of the family name) pioneered Trentino plantings of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Those French grapes complemented their native teroldego and lagrein as well as riesling and gewürztraminer. In more recent decades, Endrizzi has also added chardonnay, pinot bianco, and sauvignon blanc.

The range of grapes isn’t even the most striking thing about Endrizzi vineyards. When I stepped out of the car at the Masetto facility, blooming flowers scented the air. Birdsong was everywhere. Amber sunshine spilled down the vineyard rows, reaching to the Dolomites in the background. Rarely have I arrived somewhere that exuded such health and harmony.

There’s an apropos quote from Goethe near the door of the winery: “Nature and idea cannot be separated without destroying both art and life.”

Lisa María and Paolo Endrici of Endrizzi Dr. Paolo Endrici is the fourth generation to operate the company. His wife Christine, a German architect, designed the winery. Their daughter Lisa María recently concluded wine management studies at Geisenheim in Germany with graduate work in Bordeaux. (Paolo and Lisa María are shown at left.)

The family also operates Serpaia di Endrizzi in La Maremma in Tuscany. I have written elsewhere of the elegance and intense fruit of their Morrelino di Scansano, so it was a pleasure to taste through the Trentino production. For brevity’s sake, I’d like to focus on just a few of the Masetto wines. They are just barely available in the U.S. I’d be thrilled if a broad-based importer were to pick them up, since they offer extraordinary quality at modest prices.

Masetto di Endrizzi

Masetto Bianco from Endrizzi If I had my druthers, I would drink Masetto Bianco at dinner several nights a week. This is a complex white blend of chardonnay, pinot bianco, riesling, and sauvignon blanc. All the grapes come from vineyards that are either biodynamically farmed or tending that way. The traditional pergola vineyards are being retrained to guyot wire. While a tiny amount of phosphate is added in mineral-deficient portions of the vineyards, none remains in the juices. Endrizzi vinfies most of the must in stainless steel, but ferments about 20 percent in oak. The winery employs powerful air-splitting machinery. The nitrogen provides a neutral atmosphere for bottling and capping off fermentation tanks. The ozone takes care of almost all sterilization within the facility, drastically reducing sulphites.

Masetto Nero is the red version of a daily table wine. This blend of native and French grapes spends just a short period in barrels to meld the flavors without adding strong oak flavors. Blueberries, raspberries and cocoa are the dominant flavor notes, with a slight undertone of vanilla.

Gran Masetto

Gran Masetto from Endrizzi The pride and joy of the family, however, is Gran Masetto. This wine shows the potential of the local teraldego grape for making an important wine. The must comes from two pressings. Grapes from a vineyard where the fruit has been reduced 50 percent by a series of green harvests make up the first pressing. The second pressing squeezes passito, or raisined, grapes. These are ripe grapes stored in small baskets under refrigeration until around Christmas. This cold desiccation concentrates the flavor, sugar, and acids. It keeps the aroma intact and avoids the marmalade qualities of grapes dried with sun or heat.

The color is extremely deep—almost black. The wine spends about 18 months in old oak barrels, and often several years in the bottle before release. Paolo poured verticals of the Gran Masetto from 2006 through 2011. Each displayed some caramelized fruit on the nose along with a characteristic teroldego spiciness. The younger wines also showed a hint of black pepper. Consistently ranked among Italy’s top 100 wines, this striking red retails around 45€. It could easily fetch twice the price.

Endrizzi’s Vinoteca is open daily except Tuesday for tastings and sales. Hours are 9am-noon, then 2-7pm. Slightly shorter hours prevail in October and November, when the winery commands everyone’s attention.


07 2016

Mezzacorona proves big wineries can make fine wines

enologist Mateo Covazzi at Mezzacorona
Not all Trentino wine producers are modest family affairs. Established in 1904, the Mezzacorona cooperative ( comprises 1,600 members. Their vineyards stretch across 3,000 hectares (about 11.6 square miles). They grow a third of the grapes in Trento province—about 30,000 tons per year. And they make surprisingly good wine.

Three-quarters of the grapes grown by Mezzacorona members are white. The most important are pinot grigio and chardonnay. Mezzacorona pinot grigio is certainly well-known in the U.S. and Germany, where it is a nationwide top seller in both countries. Wine Enthusiast magazine gave the 2014 a score of 87 and rated it a “best buy.” Annual production reaches about 50 million bottles. In the U.S., it sells for as little as $8 at a discount wine supermarket to $12 at a convenience store.

According to winemaker Mateo Covazzi (above), 2014 was a very challenging year. The cooperative had to lower its ripeness standards for the members, as late rains put a literal damper on the harvest. But Covazzi and his winemaking colleagues work with truly state-of-the-art tools and equipment. Pinot grigio is the flagship of the cooperative, so it must be consistent from year to year. Drinking the 2013 and 2014 side by side in a blind tasting, I detected a little more acid and fewer floral notes in the 2014. Otherwise, I found it hard to tell the two vintages apart.

Sparkling wines carry Rotari label

Mezzacorona facility The sheer size of the Mezzacorona facility is hard to fathom. It is several wineries under one undulating roof at the edge of town in the shadow of the Alps. Built of local wood, the roof echoes the structure of the pergolas traditional in local vineyards. In addition to varietal still wines—pinot grigio, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot nero, and moscato—the same company also makes 2.5 million bottles of sparkling wine under the Rotari label. (The cooperative also makes and bottles smaller amounts of other varietals for local consumption.)

riddling cages at Mezzacorona Rotari Mezzacorona sorts its grapes carefully, grading them for their final use. The best of the chardonnay grapes are reserved for Rotari sparkling wines. The sparkling wines spend a minimum of 20 months on the lees. Riservas sit on the lees for three to four years, flagship wines for six years or more. Although production of sparkling wines is more fragmented than the still wines, the volume of production permits some considerable economies of scale—like the 360-bottle riddling cages shown here. The standard Rotari Brut is comparable to a good entry-level Champagne. At $12-$16, it is half the cost.

Mezzacorona offers guided tours and tastings Monday-Saturday 8:30am–12:30 pm and 2–6pm. Call for an appointment. The Cittadella del Vino (“Citadel of Wine”), as the company calls its new cutting-edge facility, is 300 meters off the A22 at Via del Teroldego, 1/E in Mezzocorona; tel. +39 0461 616 399;


07 2016

Warm wind makes fine Letrari wines in Vallagarina

Letrari vineyards in Isera
Every afternoon at 3 p.m., warm air sweeps north from Lake Garda into the Vallagarina, the low hills around Trentino’s southern portion of the Adige River. Vineyard owners call it “L’Ora,” or “the hour,” and swear that you could set a clock by it. All through the summer, this steady breeze provides warmth and aeration to the grapes. It drives up the sugar concentration and sweeps away potential fungal infections. The warm, dry wind makes the Vallagarina one of the best places in Italy to grow heat-loving grape varieties. The big reds from Bordeaux flourish here. So do the classic grapes of sparkling wine: chardonnay and pinot noir.

Lucia LetrariThe Letrari family has been making wine in Italy’s Trentino region for the last few centuries. The modern Letrari winery ( was founded in 1976 by Leonello Letrari and his wife Maria Vittoria on the family lands in Borgetto all’Adige. Daughter Lucia (right) graduated from the region’s prestigious Institute of Agriculture and Enology in San Michele al Adige in 1987. She now runs the family winery, and her son is already working at her side.

Casa del Vino

The Letrari tasting room is a bit off the beaten path. As a result, Lucia often holds business meetings at the Casa del Vino della Vallagarina (Piazza San Vincenzo, 1, Isera: tel. +39 (0) 464 486 057;

Casa del Vino della Vallagarina Part restaurant, part enoteca, part wine shop, the Casa del Vino is an essential stop for a wine tourist. It is in the heart of the mountain village on the wine route known as the Strada del vino e dei sapori del Trentino ( It has a few hotel rooms starting at 90€ per night.

Impressive sparkling wines

Letrari produces a dizzying array of wines, but Leonello was a pioneer in making sparkling wines. The family still prides itself on sparkling wines made from high altitude chardonnay and pinot noir.

The very impressive Brut Riserva—60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay—was surprisingly good with a beef carpaccio topped with paper-thin swirls of sweet golden apple. The wine spends a minimum of 48 months on the lees. That produces a creamy head, notes of toasted bread, and a lingering taste of fruit. The prickliness of the tiny bubbles was a nice counterpoint to the raw beef. That wine, however, was only a warm-up for Letrari’s Riserva del Fondatore. This deluxe wine spends 96 months in contact with the yeast, developing a complexity comparable to high-end Champagne.

Letrari lunch canderli Letrari’s Dosaggio Zero is made without adding sweetness for the second fermentation. Tart and dry, it has a delicate apple-pear fruitiness. It mated nicely with a plate of canderli, breadcrumb dumplings laden with local herbs and served with cheese fondue. The yeastiness is less pronounced, since it only spends 24 months on the lees. The tart delicacy makes it perfect for pairing with cheeses and shellfish. With just a hint of brassiness like rice wine, it would be good with sushi. It’s also great this time of year as a picnic wine.


06 2016

Grigoletti makes superb wines a family affair

Grigoletti vineyards in Nomi, Italy
Slender and willowy, Bruno Grigoletti reaches his big hands into the canopy of a grape pergola and starts ripping out the extra foliage. In his late 70s, he works at a pace that would exhaust a man a third his age. Bruno manages a dozen family vineyards. They total about 15 acres (6 ha) in and around the commune of Nomi on the west bank of the Adige river, 9 miles (15 km) south of Trento. Some of the heat-loving varieties grow at the edge of the village in the alluvial soils of the Adige. But the most striking wines come from steep vineyard plots on the limestone hills behind the village.

Grigoletti brunoBruno prunes the white grapes—mostly pinot grigio, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc—three times across the summer. He then cuts out foliage a few weeks before harvest to improve air circulation and maximize sun exposure. Some special plots of white grapes and all the red grapes—merlot, marzemino, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and schiava—get an extra pruning across the summer to keep their yields in check.

Although this end of the Adige valley lies far north in Italy, the southern end is strongly influenced by Lake Garda. The lake effect makes it warm enough to raise lemons and olives. A warm wind siphons up the valley, extending the growing season around Nomi and providing warmth and moisture to go with the intense summer sunlight. Vineyard managers work hard to keep yields down and acids and sugar up.

Vineyard management is just the beginning. Azienda Agricola Grigoletti is a true family affair. Bruno commands the vineyards, and his son Carmelo makes the wine and runs the cellars. Marica, Carmelo’s wife, runs the tasting room and sales. They produce about 50,000 bottles per year of a dozen wines. Ten are table wines and two are sweet wines they call their “Meditation” series.

Grigoletti winery signI can heartily recommend them all. But I confess a special affection for Marzemino and for the four “selection” wines. Marzemino is a native grape, probably an offspring of Teroldego. It’s best known outside the region through a reference in the opera Don Giovanni. The rake calls for a glass just before he is cast into hell. (The librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, probably drank Marzemino when he grew up a few miles away.)

Most of Marzemino Trentino D.O.C. that I tasted at the big Trentino tasting in May (Mostra Vini) were an almost opaque dark plum color with a gentle warmth and very little tannin or acid. Grigoletti’s version is a cut above. It shows pronounced red fruit on the nose and a dried fruit aftertaste that’s very pleasant with food.

At the moment, North Americans must visit Italy to try these wines. But if Grigoletti breaks into distribution on this side of the Atlantic, the four “selection” wines will lead the way. They stand on their own with anything similar in the world.


L’Opera chardonnay (9€ at the winery) comes from a mountainside vineyard where the vines are all at least 25 years old. Most of the soil is dolomitic limestone with a thin covering of topsoil, but part of the vineyard overlays a band of gravel. The grapes are soft-pressed and the juice is fermented in stainless tanks. The wine rests on the lees (with regular stirring) for six months. L’Opera is never touched by oak, but the influence of the lees and and high mineral content of the soil gives it an intensity and backbone usually associated with barrel aging. This is a chardonnay with pronounced fruit (golden apples more than pineapple or banana), a honey-like viscosity. and a well-defined structure. It mates well with ocean fish and mild young cheeses.


Retiko (11€) is Grigoletti’s complexly flavored white blend—70% chardonnay, 30% sauvignon blanc. Sauvignon blanc is very aromatic in this part of Trentino, almost mimicking riesling and gewürztraminer in its intensity, though the flavor is much more like lychee. Carmelo ferments the wine directly in large barrels made of French acacia (black locust). That gives the developing wine access to oxygen without picking up the vanilla and other flavors from oak. He leaves it on the lees for another five months (with regular battonage) and then rests the wine in bottles six months before release. It’s clearly a sister wine to L’Opera, but with a more sprightly personality and a prickly acidity that makes it a good complement to veal carpaccio.


Grigoletti makes Merlot Antico Vigna (13€) from vines that are 60 or more years old. During the harsh economic times after World War II, merlot was “the family bread.” In those years, the Grigolettis overcropped the grape. But they have narrowed the historic pergolas and have retrained many old vines to wire. That drastically reduces yields and concentrates flavor and sugar. Carmelo makes a simpler merlot for ready drinking. But the grapes from the old vines are fermented in wood, then spend six months in French oak barrique, and two years in the bottle. The resulting wine tastes of cherries and bramble fruits with a pronounced spiciness. It is merlot in a very Trentino style—warm and round and slippery in the mouth due to soft tannins. Drink with a country salami, grilled lamb, or aged cheese.


Carmelo Grigoletti with a magnum of Gonzalier Gonzalier (16€) is Grigoletti’s meritage. It contains 50% merlot, 25% each cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. They harvest most of the grapes a month later than the rest of the family vineyards. That is always tricky here, since they run the risk of rain. Gonzalier is fermented in oak and aged in a mix of oak and cherry barrels. Vineyard management is key, and the wine displays none of the green pepper aromas common in unripe Trentino cabernet. Carmelo has elected to make Gonzalier velvety and fruity with just a hint of vanilla and spice, and has kept the alcohol level to 14 percent. Every few years, he will blend three vintages to create magnums, available only at the winery for 65€.

Grigoletti welcomes visitors to the tasting room and store at Via Garibaldi, 12 in Nomi Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Call them at (011-34) 0464 834 215 or visit the website at


06 2016

Hearty Trentino dishes complement the wines

chef in Trento at Mostra Vini
If you’re going to spend all morning tasting 128 wines, you really need some hearty food to follow up. The Trento cuisine is a fascinating blend of Italian and Germanic foodways, and it’s well suited to the regional wines. After we sampled our way through the wines, most of us had absorbed enough alcohol, even without swallowing, that we really needed a good meal. The Trentino wine consortium made sure we got it!

We started with a glass of light white wine made from the Incrocio Manzoni Bianco grape. It’s part of a group named for professor Luigi Manzoni (1888-1968), who experimented with crossing a number of grapes during the 1920s and 1930s at Italy’s oldest school of oenology in Conegliano, north of Venice. The bianco cross of riesling and pinot bianco (pinot blanc to French speakers) does quite well in cold climate, high altitude vineyards like Trentino’s. In fact, it’s often too vigorous and has to be aggressively pruned to keep from overcropping. A fairly delicate wine, it has just enough astringency to clear the palate before a meal.

Mostra Vini del Trentino lunch of braised veal cheeksThe meal was a humble feast of straightforward dishes typical of the region. We started with a red wine risotto—a treat when it’s made with the local Teroldego red and the local grating cheese—before moving on to braised veal cheeks with roasted potatoes (right) and, for dessert, a beautiful apple strudel.

The local grating cheese, Trentingrana DOP, is made in a part of the province that falls within the delimited region for Grana Padano DOP cheese, but it has the name “Trentino” prominently stamped in the form that makes the big wheels. Since it’s hard to find in the U.S., substitute a 24-month Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for the same effect.

Note that the chef stirred the risotto vigorously (see photo at top of post), almost folding the mixture as it cooked. The recipe below follows the traditional way to make risotto—about a half hour of stirring—though you could also use our pressure cooker method (see this post: by reducing the volume of liquid to about twice the volume of rice. Note that the alcohol and the tannins in red wine affect the cooking time, making it about 25 percent longer than using mostly broth and a white wine. But the extra time is worth it for the perfect melding of red wine and aged cheese with the creamy mouth feel of the dish.

Mostralunch red wine risotto


Serves 4


2 cups beef broth
2 1/2 cups red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
4 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Trentingrana (see above)


Place broth in a medium saucepan and add 2 cups of the red wine, reserving the remainder.. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat so wine-broth is hot but not simmering.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottom pot (a Dutch oven works well) over medium-low heat. Add shallots and and cook, stirring occasionally until shallots are soft and translucent. Add rice and 2 tablespoons butter and stir to coat.

Stir in the reserved half cup of wine and cook over medium heat, stirring until wine is absorbed. Stir in a half cup of the hot wine broth and adjust heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed. Add more wine broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until most of the liquid has been absorbed. It will take 25-30 minutes for nearly all the liquid to be absorbed. At this point, the rice should be creamy and glistening with a starch coating but still be al dente when sampled.
Adjust to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and remove from heat.

Remove pot from heat and cover to let rest about two minutes before serving in shallow bowls. Pass extra grated cheese.


06 2016