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Italian Wine Series: Part 1-The Wines of Abruzzo

Whites: Trebbiano (Bombino)

Reds: Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo

Rose: Cerasuolo






Located 150 miles east of Rome, Abruzzo is a dry mountainous region, while its proximity to the sea makes for great growing conditions... producing wines like Montepulciano and Trebbiano, which are the native Abruzzi workhorses. The people from this area were always known to work hard, and it's no wonder they produce such a great value in their wines. Abruzzo deserves credit for greatly improving the quality of their wines.

Montepulciano D'Abruzzo is often confused with the Montepulciano from Tuscany that is technically Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and usually a Sangiovese blend.

My pick in the $20 range Gran Sasso Montepulciano D'Abruzzo Colline Teramane 2004 DOCG

Italian Wine Series: Part 2-The Wines of Basilicata

"Basilicata, also known as Lucania, is an often neglected region of arid hills and desolate mountains that can be bitterly cold for a southerly place. But the cool upland climate has its advantages for viticulture, in wines that can show enviable aromas and flavours. Basilicata has only one DOC in Aglianico del Vulture, but that, at least, gives the inhabitants a source of pride. One of southern Italy's finest red wines, it is gradually gaining admirers elsewhere.

The Aglianico vine - which is also the base of Campania's vaunted Taurasi - was brought to Basilicata by the Greeks, perhaps as long ago as the sixth or seventh century BC. (Its name is a corruption of Hellenico). On the slopes of the extinct volcano known as Monte Vulture it makes a robust, deeply coloured wine that from fine vintages can improve for many years, becoming increasingly refined and complex in flavour. There are also youthful versions of the wine, sometimes semi-sweet and even sparkling, but the dry "vecchio" or "riserva", after ageing in oak casks, rate the most serious consideration.

Aglianico is also used for "vini da tavola" in other parts of the region, notably in the east around Matera, where reds from Sangiovese and Montepulciano also originate. White wines of interest are the sweet Moscato and Malvasia, the best of which come from the Vulture zone and the eastern Bradano valley." excerpt from

In an interview I did with Keith Beavers from InVino Wine Bar, I asked him what was the first wine that made him realize he loved wine? His answer was a wine from Regione Basilicata.

"It was a 1999 Paternoster Aglianico Del Vulture Don Anselmo. It was so full bodied and robust with rose petals and licorice and a tannin structure as mammoth as the mountain it was grown near yet harnessed and balanced. It sent off alarms in my mind and soul telling me this was very important somehow. And here I am a servant of wine, spreading the love...I hope."

Christine in Puglia: Tufjiano 2007, Fiano Biologico, Colli dell Margia; Tempio di Giano 2007, Negroamaro, Veterere
My good friend Christine recently returned from a trip to Puglia and kindly wrote this story about what sounds like a wonderful place.

I had a very special evening in the Puglia region of Italy on the 30th of September. In the town of Ostuni I was given a tour of the exquisite grounds of the Masseria Il Frantoio by its charming proprietor Armando Balestrazzi. He and his wife Rosalba had a vision for this old farm estate 14 years ago and now proudly reap the rewards of this working organic farm and restaurant. I shared in their rewards as well, as I dined on the food and wine from its very own soil. Nothing here is taken for granted and it shows in everything they do.

Most memorable for me that evening was standing in the courtyard by candle light, smelling a combination of the citrus trees (lemon, lime & mandarin orange) along with the most intense grapes of which I held a pure, plump, bunch of in my hand. At the table I was thrilled by the refreshingly cold white wine they served; Tufjiano 2007, Fiano Biologico, Colli dell Margia. It was sweet, smooth, crisp and pure and went perfectly with the green-beans fricasee served in a crispy basket of sheeps cheese.

I am not usually a white wine drinker, but this was really wonderful. It impressed me more than the red served later with our meal; Tempio di Giano 2007, Negroamaro, Veterere, very traditional to the region along with their seasonal, wild fennel pasta with fava beans puree and green peppers.

For me, these were a few special hours spent in heaven! See their website:

Ciao! Christine Rubinelli

Cereghino Smith Sangiovese Reserve 2004
A little background about Cereghino Smith Sangiovese Reserve 2004 provided by Keith Beavers: The story goes like this: Fred Smith from the band Television and his wife whose name I cannot remember (note from Dave T. I believe her name is Paula Cereghino) lived on Houston back in the late seventies and eighties. His wife (girlfriend at the time maybe) comes from a wine producing family from Washington state. Her grandfather was a winemaker, and one vintage, he passed away before harvest--so her father took on the responsibility of running the winery. So wine making was in her blood from the get. One day the two of them went to the Brooklyn Terminal Market and bought a bunch of grapes from California and had a de-stemming party in the backyard of their building in Houston. They started having fun making homemade wine, and their friends got into it, too. Their friends Tish and Snooky, who were starting their own line of hair dye called Manic Panic, used to take a bottle of Fred and his wife's wine to clients as presents. Fast forward a decade, and they now live in Bloomington, New York and make wine on a more professional level. They have a line of five or six wines that are mostly blends and have great flavor.

I was introduced to Fred and his wife through a customer who happened into our shop a couple of months ago. This lady walks in wearing ripped up jeans and black, worn Chucks with a CBGB's t-shirt ripped "Flashdance" style and Manic Panic "wild fire" red hair. Her little chihuahua is dressed in a similar shirt, and she is in love with the shop because of the location and how the hood has changed (she has got to be in her sixties). She starts telling me about Fred Smith from Television and how he and his wife make wine upstate and that I should try it. I agree, and she calls him right there on the spot and hands me the phone. So Fred and I have a convo and agree to meet. His wife and him come by the shop, and I try the whole line. This is NYC, East Village, Alphabet City history here. I couldn't not take one or two bottles. The cool thing is the wines are good. You can tell there is some family history of craft in the works here. That and pure passion.

Keith Beavers

What is Meritage?
The short and sweet answer is... old world wines (European) were known and labeled according to the region of their origin, while new world wines (the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc) were known and labeled by the grape or varietal. When they began blending different grapes they had trouble defining the wines, and knew that these wines would be better than just "table wine" they needed a term to use in order to get closer to old world processes. They had a contest and the winning term was "Meritage" (pronounced like "heritage") which was a combined form of Merit and Heritage.

What makes a wine Organic or green?
Organic Wineries who are working to save the planet these days have a long list of weapons to use. The limiting or elimination of pesticides or herbicides has been the main tool, but there's much more... water conservation, solar power, the use of bio-diesel for farm vehicles, tractors and trucks, earth friendly packaging (recycled paper & cardboard), and carbon-neutral status (to neutralize the effect of personal greenhouse gas emissions, and not contribute to dangers of global warming). Besides the wines will end up tasting better.

House Wines
There was a time when ordering a house wine at a restaurant would be a gamble. You could just imagine the owners gathering all the unfinished bottles and siphoning them into a big carafe in the back room. I hope that only happened in my imagination. But nowadays restaurateurs, wine managers and sommeliers seem to be going to greater lengths to provide their customers with good, not-too-expensive wines. In an informal interview I found that 13 out of 14 people out for dinner would order the house wine. I think that says to me that they have much more confidence that they will get a good deal. Some of the wines I discovered and reviewed on this site were wines I ordered as house wines. So, if you don’t recognize anything on the wine list, give the house wine a chance. Cent’anni.

Italy's DOCG Wines
Story to come.

What is Terroir?
(Ter-war) Wines are defined mainly by where their grapes are grown, or their Terroir. The amount of sun, dew, fog and rain, the soil composition, drainage, heat retention of the soil, warm days, cool nights, are all factors that make up Terroir. Topography also plays a big part, is the vineyard near a lake? near a mountain? in a valley? at a high altitude?

Gallo Nero
... which in Italian means black rooster, is the symbol for a region in Italy between Florence and Siena called Chianti that produces some of the greatest wines in the world. The original Chianti was defined in 1716 by the Medici family and included the area around Gaiole, Greve, Radda and Castellina. The borders were extended and redrawn in 1932 to stretch to the north of Firenze, south to Castelnuovo Berardenga, west to Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and east to the Chianti Mountains. There are now 8 sub-zones: Classico, Colli Aretini Colli Fiorentino, Colline Pisano, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli & Rufina The black rooster signifies the Chianti Classico producers association and you will find it on the necks of the bottles from this region. The following legend I heard a few years ago describes the black rooster's origins (keep in mind it was told to me by a Sienese). In the 12th century, Florence and its rival Siena had had a long dispute about the rich territories between the two cities. Legends say they would resolve this quarrel with a race involving two knights, one from each city. The rules were agreed upon... the two knights would start the race when the cock crows. The point where the knights meet would be the new border their respective city would control. This is where it gets interesting... allegedly the Florentines had a black rooster (galletto nero) which they kept unfed for days, so by the morning of the race it crowed well before dawn. So the Florentines had an advantage because their knight left first and rode many miles deeper into rival territory, reaching Fonterutoli, a territory of Castellina. So the border was established in Castellina, close to Siena, in a place they named Croce Fiorentina.

The Zen of wine tasting
When asked to describe a wine's aroma most people would just answer, "It smells like ... GRAPES, I guess." They don't trust their own senses enough to pinpoint a particular smell, and would feel more comfortable describing its taste. But I think you can dig up a smell from early childhood much easier than a taste. I can remember vividly the lilac smell of my mom's jewelry box... and in first grade when the teacher passed around tests on mimeograph paper, or walking into the candy store and being hit by a wave of sweetness. These odors are burned into my memory and wines give me the chance to use my life experiences to describe them.

I found that if you THINK about it too hard, the description won't come. But fear not ... there are ways to wake up your senses. The trick is to close your eyes and breath in deeply and slowly. It's almost as if your looking for the FEELING the wine evokes on your senses more that the AROMA.

Lots of good wines have so much to offer in the way of aromas. Some wines are complex and have multiple layers of flavors and smells... you might smell oak from the barrels and smoke, or licorice, chocolate, coffee, leather... it just goes on and on.

So open a good bottle, let it aerate for an hour or two, then pour a glass and plug into your untapped past and you'll look at wine in a different way. Don't miss out on all the great things it has to offer.

Dirty socks. Barnyard. Wet dog. Burnt match. CAT PEE.
Wondering what could possibly be the question to these answers? You guessed it, “what is the aroma I’m getting from this wine?” And if the answer is any of the above, don’t sweat it, because they can be good things.

Wines exude all kinds of aromas and it’s not necessarily because the grapes were growing in a vineyard near a family of cats. The terroir of each vineyard gives each locale of grapes it’s own unique chemical composition—and that composition corresponds with a particular aroma. For example the chemical profile of real chocolate corresponds exactly with the chocolate flavor you will find in a wine.

So the next time you have a Cabernet Sauvignon and you’re concerned about how many calories you’ll get from it's chocolate nuance… have another glass.

Vertical & Horizontal Tastings Defined
VERTICAL TASTING: All the wines tasted are from DIFFERENT vintages but from the SAME wine type and winery. Eg.: First a 1999 Luciano Bruni Brunello di Montalcino; Second, 1998 Luciano Bruni Brunello di Montalcino; and third a 1997 Luciano Bruni Brunello di Montalcino.

HORIZONTAL TASTING: All wines tasted are from the SAME vintage, say 1997, but DIFFERENT wineries. Eg.: First a 1997 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino; second a 1997 Luciano Bruni Brunello di Montalcino; and third a 1997 Antonio Sanguinetti Brunello di Montalcino.

How to Pop Your Cork
...or how to use a waiter's corkscrew... use the knife on the opener to cut thru the foil/plastic that covers the neck of the bottle. Make the cut at about ¼” down from the top edge of the bottle (or wherever the first ridge is). Hold blade in right hand (parallel with the ground) to bottle neck while twisting the bottle counter-clockwise with the left hand. After a full turn, remove the end of the foil. Close the knife blade and pull the corkscrew out so it’s perpendicular to the handle and the lever fully extended.

Hold bottle in left hand. With right hand, center the tip of the corkscrew on top of the cork… insert corkscrew while turning clockwise until it is fully inserted into the cork.

Push the end of the handle down to 45º and fold the lever down and lock onto the top ridge of the bottle neck.

Now pull the corkscrew up slowly and evenly and twist slightly as the cork is about to exit.

Cycling thru Tuscany
Cycling thru Tuscany in October, 2006 was a great way to see the Italian countryside because I could stop whenever I wanted... and when I did stop it was so still and quiet. Actually, there were so many lookout points to choose from, that eventually I had to pick the best of the best... otherwise I'd be late for dinner, and I wouldn't want that to happen. So, I ate and drank my way thru wine country without having to worry about gaining weight... biking 35-40 miles a day was enough to burn away enough calories so it was a wash in the end.

Competing with the Biggies for the Best Wine Deal
Oct. '08- Keeping pace with the economic crisis, Wall street bonuses are down 60 percent this year. That would, I think, translate into consumers thinking twice about luxury items and real estate... but it will most probably even trickle down to items like expensive wines. On my limited budget, I'm always looking for the next great deal on a reasonably priced wine. But now because of the bailout there might be more of the previously higher end wine consumers in competition with guys like me for the best deals out there... and as a result they might get more difficult to find.

A Taste of Italy.... Sassicaia