Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My New Job: Diary of a Winery Assistant

Tomorrow is the big day. I'll head into the Oregon hills and begin to learn how to make wine. Dobbes Family Estate Winery, which also makes Wines By Joe, has hired me on as winery assistant for the 2010 harvest. Another guy approaches the vine.

Another harvest season for the history books... And the ancient ritual ensues. In Italy, grandmothers, daughters, sons, wives and their husbands, twenty-somethings home from the north---anyone willing and able partakes in the harvest. Family-run wineries become reunions during the harvest period. Will it be the same at the Dobbes Family Estate, the 4th largest wine-producer in Oregon?

I do know that I'll be working alongside Winemaker Joe Dobbes (a privilege that I don't take lightly). The work will be hard and the hours long. A reasonable prediction is 12 hours a day, six days a week. It's too early to begin complaining, but the schedule is daunting. I take strength from the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people have done this before. If a nonna can harvest grapes in the Italian south in 90-degree weather, I can put up with Oregon's cool climate.

When I have time, I will try to document the experience in a series called Diary of A Winery Assistant. Tomorrow is orientation....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Top 10 Primitivo Wines from Puglia

I spent the last year and a half in Puglia---a land that I truly love---trying to find the ultimate Primitivo wine. Did I find it? Yes and no.

The best Primitivo---the ultimate Primitivo---is as time-sensitive as the best iPhone: Every year it changes; it advances; it ages; it re-invents itself. But unlike the iPhone, Primitivo wines will never be obsolete. These days are particularly transitory for Primitivo because Puglia is a rapidly emerging wine-producing region, where winemakers are still testing out newly acquired technology (as well as their international attention). But I like what I'm seeing.

I wouldn't call any of the wines below the "ultimate" or the "best" Primitivo. I'm still looking toward the horizon.

I've tasted hundreds of Primitivo wines made in Puglia as well as many wines made using Primitivo grapes grown in Puglia but made elsewhere in Italy. My favorites are those made in Puglia using grapes grown in Puglia. I haven't tasted every Primitivo, but I've come close.

I've written more on the Primitivo grape, which is identical to California's Zinfandel grape on a genetic level, here and here.

Top 10 Primitivo Wines From Puglia
(in order)

1. 2007 "Primitivo di Manduria" DOC by Attanasio Winery
2. 2003 “Elegia: Affinato in Barrique" DOC by Consorzio Produttori Vini
3. 2004 “Terragnolo Primitivo” IGT by Apollonio Winery
4. 2002 “Dunico” DOC by Masseria Pepe Winery
5. 2006 “Elegia: Affinato in Barrique" DOC by Consorzio Produttori Vini
6. 2006 “Lirica” DOC by Consorzio Produttori Vini
7. 2003 “Santufili” IGT by Mocavero Winery
8. 2006 “Felline” DOC by Racemi Winery
9. 2007 "Patrunu Ró" IGT by Botrungo Winery
10. 2006 “Amativo” IGT by Cantele Winery (this is a blend of 60% Primitivo, 40% Negroamaro)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Other Quotes from a Recent Trip to Tuscany

From the Department of Common Sense

What is the biggest problem in Tuscany today? Is it that winemakers are succumbing to pressure from the world market and conforming to international flavors and styles? Is it the poor economy?

When I spoke with winemakers in June, it sounded like deer were the big challenge. The animals are not hunted (as locals prefer to pursue wild boar) and their numbers have grown outrageous. Neither fences or alarms are able to keep the beasts from eating those delicious Sangiovese grapes.

In other news, "It is not incredible that one movie could change the minds of so many people. It's that so many people are so stupid." ---of the phenomenon of the movie Sideways
--Franca Gatteschi of the Tuscan Mammas Culinary Tours

To conclude our program, I'd like address the impact that Italy has upon visitors, as well as the Materialistic World verses the World of the Dinner Table. "At the table you never get old. You stop thinking about what you put on the outside of your body, and begin thinking about what you put inside.”
--Georgeta Perhald, Sommelier for Rocca delle Macíe

That concludes our program. See you next time on By The Tun.

Vin Santo and Oxygenation

From the Dessert Wine History Department

“The width of the barrels used to age the wine is very important. The thinner the wood is the more oxygen can get into the wine. This imparts more flavors from the barrel into the wine.

"Why do so many producers use such thin barrels when making Vin Santo? Well, the history of Vin Santo begins in the attics of Tuscan winemakers. Winemakers used to use small barrels, barriques, and put them in their attics because during the day it was very, very hot, and during the night it was cooler. They left the windows open and the night wind would come in. So the fermentation process was constantly starting and stopping. Starting, stopping. Starting, stopping. (High temperatures initiate the fermentation process and cold temperatures slow or stop it---MB).

"During the 3 months of fermentation, the entire time on the lees, the wine draws this nice oxidation flavor because the oxygen is able to penetrate so quickly (including the cool night wind of Tuscany---MB). Oxygen has a very important role during every step of the process of wine. Even when we open the wine to drink it! If we don’t allow a 20-year-old bottle of wine to breathe, it greatly affects the nose.

"The nose is 25,000 times more sensitive than the tongue. Our palate has only sweet, bitter, acidic, salty, hot, and cold. How many times do you go in front the window of your neighbor and know what she is cooking? And you can’t see anything! But you know that she's cooking tomatoes and meat. And you pass in front of the window of your other neighbor, and she’s burned the garlic!”

---Georgeta Perhald, Sommelier for Rocca delle Macíe

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where to Find Taurino's Notarpanaro

This post has been a long time comin'. The two times that I wrote about Notarpanaro, I received comments from people who also adore it. After two years of wine blogging, this is the only wine that has received such powerful feedback. The trouble is, it fell out of the American market when the Taurino and its long-time distributor parted ways. Two readers wrote in and asked me if I knew where to find Notarpanaro, and this post is foremost a response to them.

Taurino Winery was the first winery in Puglia to import to the United States. It has been a symbol of the somewhat unknown and sometimes mistrusted region, standing for reliability. Its most basic red, the Salice Salentino Riserva, is an amicable tablewine. Notarpanaro, on the other hand, makes people sing, and it runs for about $19-22. This, in my opinion, is a seriously under-priced fine wine.

If you're having a tough time finding this wine, there's good news. The winery has picked up a new distributor, IMA Imports, and its wines are now being distruted in areas of the U.S. that haven't seen it in years. IMA Importants has recently given me a list of stores and winebars offering Notarpanaro in northern California, particularly around San Francisco. I've also seen the wine in stores throughout New England. New York City obviously has it covered. Please write in with any specific questions or opinions.


Piedmont Grocery, 4038 Piedmont Ave (between 40th St & Glen Ave), Oakland, CA
Unwined, 6946 Almaden Expressway, San Jose, CA
Coach House Wine & Spirit, 1655 S. De Anza Blvd., Cupertino, CA


Caffe Venezia, 1799 University St., Berkeley, CA
Bubbles Wine Bar, 17105 Monterey Street, Morgan Hill, CA

As always, if you really want a wine but don't see it on the shelves, make sure to mention it to one of the wine store employees. They can at the very least order it.

When I visited Cosimo Taurino winery, it was 2009 Cantine Aperte. It was a burning hot day in the south of Italy, and the winery provided its wines as well as traditional Pugliese food, including delicious polpette, aka mini meatballs.

I was very happy to see all of its wines being liberally poured, including its Patriglione (the next step up from Notarpanaro, it runs 28 euro a bottle in Italy and hasn't made a dent on the American market).

There was a band playing the pizzica (click here to hear the real deal).

And they tried to make us dance.

Unfortunately, my behavior helped prolong a common stereotype Italians have concerning Americans.

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