Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Apulia Wine Convention in Lecce

In typical Italian fashion, the Apulia Wine Convention held in Lecce, Italy, started two hours late. As a struggling-young-thirsty-as-all-hell-wine-writer just getting my sea legs on an ocean of 12%-15% alcohol I decided to show up early to take a few photographs. Big mistake. But I also wanted to make sure I didn’t miss a sentence of the discussion (in Italian) of the “new tradition” of wine in the region, as well as a discussion of the local wine cultures continued growth and success, which I took to mean wine tourism, both of which were to begin promptly at 4 p.m. (16h). By 6 p.m. (18h) the event was still in the process of just getting started, so I’ll fast forward and begin by saying, man, what a killer party.

It took place over three days in the beautiful courtyard of the Palazzo dei Celestini, which was decorated with candles and white LED lighting that wrapped around the multitude of arches. The wines were poured beneath the sweeping portico that wrapped around the courtyard. Hundreds of wines were opened and, from my notes, I tried over seventy of them. Puglia being best known for its reds, they comprised around 64% of the wines, with the remaining 36% split evenly between whites and rosès. I was greatly pleased to see that Pugliese winemakers were not only finding a unified character and style among their Negroamaro and Primitivo wines that might be called a “voice,” but that several of the lesser known native grapes were creating successful, unblended wines. If you want a more in depth view of the wines themselves, their nuances and the style that I believe is beginning to emerge in Puglia’s red wines, I wrote an article published by i-Italy on the event. It doesn’t include all the whining that you will experience below.

I’d like to address the aforementioned discussions, which, though promised, did not take place. First, the discussion of “new tradition.” Since Puglia’s entire wine production is itself a new tradition, clocking only 30 or so years of high-standard wine production - the prior 4,000 years suffering from the lack of temperature controlled fermentation and underappreciated varieties of native grape (even by the natives) - I was particularly interested in hearing their views on it. This cutting edge knowledge, I thought, could interest even the most educated reader.

Equally important was the discussion on the commercial side of Puglia’s wine. Promoting wine tourism in Puglia involves promoting the second highest wine production area in Italy (Italy itself being the country that produces the most wine in the world) to sock-and-sandled tourists with one-day rental cars and without any reliable online resources. Really I know. I recently tried to visit some of the wineries in Puglia, which proudly reports 26 DOCs within 7,469 square miles (19,345 km²) . Somehow I failed. Completely.

The main problem so-designed-winetasters meet is that the tourist points in Puglia do not offer detailed maps with locations of wineries. If a winetaster, who were say, use to tasting in an area like Sonoma Valley, had come expecting to be greeted with long lists of open tasting rooms with shuttle service, they’d been completely baffled. Where, did you say, are the wineries? You don’t know? You mean, I have to call them all in advance and you have to speak fluent Italian? Oh, and most wineries require a week’s notice. Ok. Sure.

My own ill-fated experience wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d actually been made aware of the above. Rather, the tourist office in Lecce’s Duomo told me none of above. They did however offer me some phone numbers, and, in all due respect, were very friendly. But the region just doesn’t have it together as far as wine tourism is concerned. So, like I said, I was interested in hearing the plans for future action.

And but so, like I said, the Apulia Wine Convention kicked off two hours late, and the promised interview and discussions, which were scheduled for 4 p.m. (16h), were somehow turned into a discussion on using food to seduce women that featured, Guido Guidi Guerrera, the author of Vivere alla grande , and a gentleman who, as one lady put it, stars in “the Italian Sex In The City.” No cutting edge information here folks. But I did taste hundreds of wines to live jazz.

The real beauty of the event is that, the lack of important information aside, Lecce really knows how to enjoy wine. The Apulia Wine Convention was completely packed, suggesting that the wine scene is growing. Further, the people pouring the wine were knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly. I’ve since been in touch with a few regional winemakers and will be tasting at their estates but even if I weren’t Lecce is offering several wine events this summer that will take place in the center of town. If you plan to visit the area, try to make it to one of these events, that way you won’t have to go through the trouble of calling each winery in advance. Salute!

Here is a list of wineries and their wines that I thought stood out, as well as links to their web sites:


Leone De Castris, 2008, “5 Roses Anniversary Rosato” 80% Negroamaro 20% Malvasia Nera of Lecce
Tenuta Cocevola, “Castel Del Monte” 100% Nero di Troia


Ionis, 2004 “Suavitas Salice Salentino” 90% Primitivo 10% Malvasia Nera
Taurino, 2003, “Patriglione” 90% Negroamaro 10% malvasia nera
L’Astore Masseria, 2007, "Filimei," 100% Negroamaro
Torrevento, 2005, "Vigna Pedale," 100% Aglianico
Tenuta Cocevoli, 2006, “Vandalo” 100% Nero di Troia


Taurino, 2008, "Sierri," mostly Chardonnay some Malvasia Bianco
Torrevento, 2006, “Castel Del Monte” 70% Bombino 30% Pampanuto


Taurino, “Le Ricordanze” (Semillon and Riesling)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lost In Piedmont...

If I got lost in Piedmont, I blame it all on the Moscato d'Asti. The sweet dessert wine commonly known as Moscato or Muscat, which is currently being cultivated with wild success in California from wineries like St. Supery, is here named after its town of origin, in this case Asti. The Moscato d'Asti I tried all had a perfect balance of intense honey-suckle sweetness and light, dance off your tongue cleanness; a feat I am always amazed at. I'm glad to see that the oldest grape variety in the world has aged so delicately.

Recently the editor for a travel guide I write for asked if I'd found any Italian white wines that I'd recommend. Since the Moscato, I've been tasting mostly reds and I haven't been paying too much attention to Pinot Grigio, but the wonderful Fiano grape is currently doing very impressive things, particularly Fiano di Avellino and Lacryma Christi.

I have found that most Fiano based wines have a wonderful lemoniness to them (though some, such as I Pastini's Fiano Minutole, verge on dish soap) with a cutting acidity that makes the finish almost bitter. It is a great palate cleanser. Fiano di Avellino is a DOCG wine. I liked A Casa's when I tried it, having both a brightness and a limey, pithy finish. It was light bodied. As far as I know, however, A Casa's wines are not available in the U.S. Try out Terredora di Paola's instead.

If Fiano di Avellino is a more balanced take on Fiano, then Lacryma Christi (literally translating to "The Tears of Christ", full history offered in this prior post) leaves no holds barred. I like to try Lacryma Christi bianco as often as possible because it is very versatile. My favorite so far is Vinosia's Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio 2007, also unavailable in the U.S., named such because the grape vines grow in the volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius. Lacryma Christi is often medium to full bodied and reminiscent of Chardonnay for this reason. However, instead of the toast or butter of California's Chardonnay, Lacryma Christi has intense minerality with a great depth of character. I can even say it reminds me of Limoncello for a moment before the peppery bitterness envelopes.

Since traveling through Piedmont, I've made it to Puglia, where I'll be living for the next months. Once moved in, I thought it would be a good idea to acquaint myself with as many Pugliese wines as quickly as possible, and I attended a wonderful wine convention in Puglia last night, where I tried hundreds of local wines. In my next post, I'll try to sort them out and offer my first impressions.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Alba’s White Truffles

Alba and its surrounding towns, such as Cannelli and Acqui Terme, are the only place in the world where you can find true white truffles. There are similar truffles found in Yugoslavia, but they are not as potent from what I hear. So, once again, Italy provided us with rare delicacies at low prices. The tiny jar of truffle honey that costs 23 dollars in the U.S., is 5 euro. The 250 milliliters of real, actually flavorful white truffle oil, which goes from 20-50 dollars in the U.S., is 8 euro. If I didn’t appreciate traveling light, I would have a backpack full of oils, honeys, tapenades, and crema.

I think it’s important to note that fresh white truffle cannot be found in Alba, or anywhere for that matter, from February-August of each year. Truffles cannot be stored for a long time, unless they are turned into oil or honey, so many people arrive in Alba throughout the year and are disappointed to discovered that no authentic restaurant menus feature the rare fungus.

I spoke with a very friendly and hospitable shop owner named Stefano, whose grandfather was the president of the truffle association in Alba. In his shop, Tartufi & Co., there’s a large photograph commemorating the work of his grandfather. Stefano, after pouring Kristin and I glasses of wine and plying us with samples of truffled concoctions of all sorts, showed me black truffles and another type (which I thinker were the truffle of rocche), which are better than black truffles, but not as good as white truffles. To show us just how temperamental truffles are, Stefano showed us a black truffle which he had bought two days prior. When he purchased it it weighed .3 etto (100 grams): now it's only .27.

Another temperament element of the business is exporting. Stefano says that an etto of white truffle is sold to the restaurants in Alba for 300 euro, but the same amount is sold for 3000 dollars to restaurants in the U.S.

Stefano clearly loves what he does, and I was so happy to have him teach me all about it. He had a video that shows him hunting truffles with his dogs Kira and Charlie. Truffles grow under the ground and it takes specially trained animals such as dogs or pigs to find them. His dogs were digging excitedly in the video because Stefano gives them treats whenever they find truffles. He then showed me marks on some of the truffles where the dogs had scraped them with their paws.

Alba holds a truffle festival for two weeks every October and I hope to make it back. If so, I’ll certainly be in touch with Stefano, and see if he can take me truffle hunting with Kira and Charlie.

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