Vignobles Ducourt plants “disease-resistant vineyard”

Read this Decanter article:

This is an important piece of news. As we struggle all over the world with the need for increased agricultural production, we are also facing a determined onslaught by unscientific and ahistoric “back-to-the-past” fundamentalists who wish to ban all pesticides etc. while at the same time banning genetically modified organisms. I am certain this is an untenable position in the long run, but in the short to medium term their influence is great, and has already set the world back decades in the development of sustainable methods for nourishing the world in a clean and safe manner.

The vine is a notoriously heavily-sprayed crop, whether the sprays are “conventional”, organic or biodynamic. Vitis vinifera, such as we use it in the vineyards of the world today, is to a large extent (and with large variations among varieties) a highly manipulated and very fragile being. It is of course a fallacy to say that just because a spraying agent is organic or biodynamic, it is intrinsically “natural” and therefore not harmful to the environment or people’s health. There certainly is a tendency for less spraying in organic and biodynamic and other “natural” practice, but a complete avoidance is extremely rare, and I would contend that some of the sprays used in biodynamic practice in particular are poorly understood in terms of their long-term effect on health and the environment.

If there is a need for avoiding or minimising spraying in vineyards – and I think there is – we need to grow intrinsically healthy, disease-resistant vine varieties. There is much research being done to achieve this, and this has brought about some very resistant and healthy varieties, many of them so-called inter-specific varieties. However, the issue is that these are new varieties. There are several problems with new varieities, chief among them that they do not taste like the varieties that are already known and loved. This gives problems with commercialisation, and also potentially with the perceived terroir expression of any given area in the longer term.

While I welcome Ducourt’s will to address several serious issues, as professed in the Decanter article, I have to deplore the fact that they feel the need to repeatedly stress that the varieties planted are conventional crossings bred specifically for health. While the new varieties may be excellent varieties, we have come to associate the great wines of Bordeaux with very specific varieties and their expression in that area. What if suddenly Bordeaux came to be made from very different varieties with a completely different expression, only in the name of vine health?

Surely, the proper way to go about this – not just in terms of health and environment sustainability, but also in terms of climate change robustness – would be to genetically modify existing varities to be much more robust, while maintaining their well-known and much-loved characteristics? This may be much easier said than done, but surely it is worth the effort. I am not so much a fool that I think that an area’s vinous expression, or the varieties grown in that area, remain immutable over time; that is demonstrably not the case. But to potentially resort to wholesale replacement of varieties that have been demonstrated to produce some of the best wines in the world would be commercial and cultural folly, and all that because caveman ignorance makes it politically impossible to use the best and safest method at arriving at solutions that would not entail such potentially devastating changes.

And no, we cannot in the longer run sustain the world – or, indeed, that small fraction of it that produces wine – with organic and biodynamic farming practices. Not in the face of the future onslaught by climate change and the inevitably much-stricter demands that will be placed on environmental factors and food safety as a result of an ever-increasing world populace.

Yours truly

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Natural Wines and Sexism? – Punch Drink Article

Interesting article by Rémy Charest in Punch Drink here:

Thoughtful stuff. I generally like the article, particularly that it does not set out to judge the trend. Read the article first, then read the below, if you wish.

There are a couple of things I would have liked to see discussed in the article:

Firstly, in Western Europe, at least, after decades of sexual liberation from the late 1960’ies through, perhaps, the 1990’ies, we are now going through a phase of great sexual conservatism in the public space. Beaches in my own Denmark used to be full of stark-naked people, with no-one frowning at that, and nakedness was accepted as natural and generally harmless in advertisement etc. That is no longer the case. Nudity at beaches seems drastically reduced and apparently requires you to be a dedicated nudist, practicing your predilection at specific beaches or specific sections of beaches. Nudity in advertisement is generally frowned upon. Now, I am not arguing that everyone should run around naked and that all advertisment should feature unclad people, but I worry that the public frowning-upon of nudity and sexuality generates some very negative images in people in terms of their own bodies and sexuality, the acceptability if their bodies and sexuality, and the general fact of them having bodies and/or sexuality at all. Are we raising an entire generation to be acutely negatively body-conscious? Could the natural wine crowd – habitually counter-current and iconoclastic – also (knowingly or unwittingly) be reacting to the new (or, rather, old) prudishness? If so, I think that aspect should be welcomed.

Secondly, inebriation, lack of inhibition and sexuality are inextricably linked. Entire religions have been founded upon the combination, with Dionysus/Bacchus leading the way. The natural wine crowd generally sees itself as less inhibited, less mainstream than people at large, and also generally praises the drinkability and non-hangover-inducing aspects of their wines, even if there is probably little evidence for these aspects other than personal perception, heavily tinged by confirmation bias. There is a celebration of the sensuous aspects of life in the natural wine ethos, a typically big-city dream of connection with the soil and the primordial aspects of life (it is my contention that natural wine is chiefly a big-city phenomenon). The natural wine ethos certainly has some remarkably metaphysical sides to it, and a celebration of nudity and sexuality, for me at least, rhymes well with the historical metaphysical aspects of wine.

I personally think most of the labels mentioned are crass and rather sophomoric in their humour, but I cannot be offended or think there is something intrinsically wrong with them. Indeed, I welcome some of the aspects that these labels conjure up. Yes, by all means, do also feature naked men on labels, or even erotic content. We don’t need more inhibited people, we need more uninhibited people.

And remember, wine was invented so that ugly men would also have a chance:-)

Yours truly

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Radici del Sud 2014 – Day 5

Saturday, 7 June: Competition tasting was now in full swing, and “my” jury sat down to a morning of Pugliese rosés and an afternoon of rosés from the rest of southern Italy.

Puglia rosés:

Puglia is, of course, a great source of rosés. Historically, there are two main reasons for this: 1) The need for quick cash flow in the Salento area, and 2) the bombino nero variety in the area around Castel del Monte.

In the Salento area, making rosés has a long history. The area has for ages supplied strong red wines to bulk up more insipid wines further north, however, in terms of cash flow, these wines had first to be made, which involves a somewhat lengthy process, then transported north, and then paid for by stingy northerners using long payment terms. In order to generate faster cash flows, the practice of selling rosés locally and more or less immediately after the harvest therefore developed. The method used was frequently the one called lacrima, whereby juice is macerated with the skins for a brief while, then statically decanted and fermented. Not using the saignée method, which involves draining fermenting must from red wine fermentations, meant that the grapes for rosé winemaking could be picked fairly early to preserve light red fruitiness and good acidity, rather than waiting for the harvest destined for red winemaking, which would entail darker fruitiness and lower acidity. Excellent, deliberately made rosés – with a real historical raison d’ètre and pedigree – ensued, and it was therefore not by chance at all that the first Italian rosé ever to be bottled, the Five Roses from Leone de Castris, was from the Salento.

The Salento area is blessed with one of the truly great varieties for rosé winemaking, negroamaro. Negroamaro, of course, frequently makes powerful, structured, medium-acidity red wines of considerable spiciness and dark fruitiness, however, when picked early it yields dry rosés with fairly high acidity/sapidity and wonderful aromas of wild raspberries, sweet garrigue, light spice and a floral/mountain-brook minerality. I unreservedly count the best examples of these rosés among the best rosés in the world.

Further north in Puglia, roughly inland from Bari, they grow a grape variety called bombino nero. This variety is a difficult customer, because the grapes tend to ripen unevenly within the same bunch, meaning that there will be ripe, dark red grapes and quite unripe, green grapes in every bunch. This makes the variety difficult to use for commercial styles of red wine, as acidity and bitter greenness tend to be high, while colour tends to be low. This was realized by the pioneering commercial winery in this area, Rivera, back in the 1950’ies, and the obvious connection was made: With its light colour and good acidity, bombino nero was perfectly suited for making rosés. Rivera’s owner, Sebastiano de Corato (grandfather of the present owner, also Sebastiano), proceeded to make a fresh, lively and well-made rosé, which with his hard work and perseverance became a huge commercial success all over Italy, to the point of being an actual brand and representing Pugliese wine to a large part of the Italian population. While frequently somewhat neutral, the best examples of bombino nero rosé these days have beguiling red floral, red berry and granite minerally aromas, with dry, sapid but rounded palates. Far more than just summer charmers, these wines go exceptionally well with food due to frequently considerable dry matter.

In contrast, Puglia’s primitivo does not frequently lend itself well to rosé winemaking. Primitivo rosés tend to be somewhat flabby and alcoholic (which of course can be a popular style, just consider Provencal rosés…), and only from terroirs that lend the wines great minerality and/or acceptable acidity do we see good examples of the category, although frequently blended with other, tauter varieties such as aglianico. The primitivo rosés from the Gioia del Colle area therefore tend to perform better than those from around Manduria or, more broadly, the Salento. When they are really good, however, primitivo rosés can be among the best rosés of Puglia, as evidenced by a couple of wines tasted.

The morning’s flight counted 48 rosés from Puglia, almost half of which were 100% negroamaro or negroamaro-dominated. The rest of the bunch was distributed among several other varieties, with bombino nero and primitivo in evidence, but also counting nero di Troia, malvasia nera and susumaniello. The latter, in particular, is an exciting newcomer to the rosé scene and has recently garnered much attention in that role. Expect a rush towards susumaniello rosés in the near future. The quality was generally high, as expected, with a good number of excellent wines from each of the main varieties.

For the negroamaro category, the past few years has seen a perceptible movement away from the original dry, sapid style of Salentine rosés towards a somewhat more rounded style with more obvious fruit-sweetness in both nose and mouth, and in some instances a more Provencal style. I don’t necessarily fear for the disappearance of the original category, for there is a good number still being made in the proper style, but if I were a Salento rosé producer I would not try to internationalize and thereby neuter my style if I had such an excellent, recognizable and unique product with the original style. Surely, the way forward is to have uniqueness, and surely, the road of competing with a host of somewhat standardized products on the international scene is fraught with danger as it leads to mere price competition.

Other rosés:

The afternoon was dedicated to rosés from the other South Italian regions, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria and Sicily. Basilicata and Campania were represented by aglianico, and Calabria mainly by gaglioppo, but with a few wines from magliocco, both dolce and canino. Sicily was represented by nero d’Avola, frappato and nerello mascalese.

Aglianico is a truly great, noble variety, and like many other noble varieties lends itself exceptionally well to making rosé wines. In the cool, elevated zones where it is chiefly grown, it acquires the cool fruitiness, minerality and acidity that can form the basis of truly great rosés. They are not frequent, however, probably because emphasis is so squarely on red winemaking, and on this occasion aglianico also did not quite deliver at the top of the range.

The great news was that gaglioppo from Calabria really delivered the goods, with several fantastic wines of great character and terroir fidelity. Overall, this was probably the most successful rosé category of all, and quickly became the talk of the event. While there have been very good rosés from gaglioppo in the past, their appearance has been patchy, so to see so many good wines in this category bodes really well for Calabria’s vinous future.

Sicily’s performance was somewhat more sedate, but a single wine from nerello mascalese really convinced me, although its strong character was somewhat controversial.

For winners and my favourite wines in all categories, see upcoming post on Radici del Sud 2014 impressions and results.

For the evening meal, we stayed at the Masseria for a happy, friendly evening with the lovely wines and ladies of the Puglia chapter of Le Donne del Vino.

I hope I won’t be ridiculed when I say that the South seems to have changed dramatically in terms of the role of women in the economic life of the area during the past 20 or 30 years. When I started my interest in Southern Italian wine, the business seemed heavily male-dominated, and fairly traditional gender patterns were in evidence. These days, so many of the new producers, and – it seems to me – an even higher proportion of my favourite new producers, are owned and/or lead by women.

Now, I don’t hold ideas that women are necessarily better winemakers or somehow by nature are better owners or managers than men, but I am a great believer in balance and freedom, and I am sure that previous periods’ tendency to hold back an entire gender from unfolding its full potential was unjust, misguided and wasteful of talent. The new and strong role for women is to be welcomed and encouraged, and I am certain that if the trend I think I have seen continues, we will see a further acceleration of great wines from the South.

The participants from Le Donne del Vino had each brought a single wine to represent the house. Many of those were wines already tasted during the producer tastings, but a couple of them had been brought especially for the occasion:

Soloperto, represented by Sabrina Soloperto, make small numbers of a very special, semi-sweet primitivo from a rather new vineyard. The special character of the wine comes from two circumstances: 1) It is planted in an extremely rocky vineyard that had previously been thought unfit for planting vines; results, however, would seem to vindicate the decision to plant there. 2) It is made exclusively from the racemi grapes from those vines; racemi are the second set of grapes that a few varieties set, and which ripen later. Racemi grapes will tend to be slightly lower in alcohol and higher in acidity, and these tendencies, married to very late harvest, provided for a lovely wine, large and full of character, but with the sweetness well balanced by good acidity and powerful structure. This wine is not for general sale, I gather, but I do hope that once the new vineyard comes into proper production, we will see the results on the market.

The second wine was brought by Renata Garofano of Tenuta Monaci, and turned out to be a version of their Girofle rosé, but from 2011, labelled Controcorrente and made especially for aging, therefore also bottled in magnums. The resulting wine was beguiling; it may have turned down some of the exuberant berry fruitiness and sapidity of the typical Salento negroamaro rosé, but fully made up for that with a highly drinkable, rounded wine with added mineral and garrigue complexity and great weight and length. A serious rosé, for sure, and without doubt a wonderful food companion, but charming and light-hearted nonetheless. Not sure this wine is in general commerce, either, but it showed such interesting potential that the Garofanos will have to do something about that some day.

The evening continued after the official dinner had ended, and once again saw us on the terrace, joking, laughing, discussing and, especially, singing. I will always remember the sight and sound of Antonio Muci, elder statesman among Pugliese enogastronomic writers and now a new, great friend, playing Giovanni Gagliardi’s guitar while reciting popular songs in a veritable Giro d’Italia of music.

I also finally managed to taste with Manila Benedetto the various special Danish beers I had brought along for her. Wonderful Manila is a beer inventer and -writer, and was especially taken with the extremely small-batch ale from Langeland barley made by the Bøgedal brewery.

Needless to say, I got to bed a bit late again, but when one is so full of impressions and happiness, it makes little difference, for sleep is deep and sound.

Yours truly

Posted in Apulia, Basilicata, Beer, Calabria, Campania, Italy, Red wine, Rosé wine, Sicily, Wine, Wine producers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Radici del Sud 2014 – Day 4

Our fourth day, Friday 6 June, would feature a morning of producer tastings and an afternoon of the first competition tastings, ending at the Cibus restaurant in Ceglie Messapica with a vertical of Cefalicchio’s Jalal moscato bianco.

Another round of tasting of old friends’ new wines and new discoveries yielded the following:

“Old friends”:

Salentine producer Mottura’s Le Pitre range continues to impress. For their best wine that day, there was little in it between the negroamaro 2011 and the primitivo 2011, but my vote went to the negroamaro, with a lovely, typical, quite deep nose of plums, blackberries and bakelite/graphite. Juicy, with live tannins, this ended on notes of minerals and incense.

I Buongiorno are fairly recent, but, as reported last year, seem to be onto something really good. I found all of their wines even better than last year, with a delicious, not-too-aromatic 2013 minutolo white, a lovely, slightly sapid 2013 negroamaro rosé and really good, typically Brindisi-rounded 2010 negroamaro and primitivo wines with modern, firm fruitiness. The big news, however, was Nicolaus 2012, a blend of equal parts of negroamaro and primitivo. This had a lovely, broad, soft and deep nose with mineral and cherry notes, and a juicy, elegant, live palate of cherries and spicy tannins. This wine has not been released yet, and may in its final blend have a somewhat higher primitivo content, but the class and promise for the future are evident.

Duca Carlo Guarini, from the southern end of the Salento peninsula in Puglia, featured their usual line-up in new vintages, as always all really well-made and typical, and then some news. I particularly noted the following: Taersia 2013 was a negroamaro white (!) with a lovely peach, granite minerals and light green herbal nose and a soft, dry, minerally palate. Nativo 2012, an organic negroamaro red, had a delicious, juicy nose of blackberries, hydrocarbon minerality, graphite and violets, and a soft, sweetly fruity palate well balanced with a slight rasp of rounded tannins. As usual, the 100% malvasia nera red Malìa, this time in the 2012 vintage, was absolutely gorgeous, with a plum and spice nose enlivened by fresh hydrocarbon minerality, and a full, soft, but juicy and slightly tannic mouthful ending long on fresh notes of that hydrocarbon minerality.

Pugliese house Valentina Passalacqua presented a broad range of wines, all fully organic and low-sulphur. The usual strong, salty/sapid minerality from this excellent producer was present throughout the range, whose wines manage the difficult balance of expressing both grape variety/ies and terroir really well. My favourite, epitomizing exactly that balance, was the Falanghina 2013, with a lovely, juicy nose of peaches, soft green herbs and citrus peel, and a soft, herbal/resinous and very characteristic palate, salty minerality at the end.

Carbone Vini, from Monte Vulture, is on a strong run of form. The full range is of very high quality, with beautiful expression of that mountain terroir throughout. While top-of-the-range Aglianico del Vulture Stupor Mundi 2009 had great quality and intensity – and for me a welcome reduction of oak flavour compared to previous vintages – as usual it was the Aglianico del Vulture 400 Some that pleased me the most. The 2011 version was a proper mountain wine, featuring a macho nose of deep dark berry fruit, hydrocarbon minerality, sweet meat and garrigue, and a juicy, live and long palate with massive but noble and ripe tannins and singed garrigue notes.

Cantina Carpentiere, of central/northern Puglia, presented an innovative and really strong range, centred around the area’s typical grape varieties of bombino nero and nero di Troia. The peachy, slightly garrigue-liquoricy white wine Come d’Incanto 2013, from nero di Troia was lively and charming, while a red nero di Troia 2013 without added sulphur was soft, liquoricy, beetrooty and slightly spicy, with a typical but not unpleasant low-sulphur hint of walnut skin in the aftertaste. My favourite, however, was the Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva Armentario from 2009: Dark, spicy, granite-minerally nose with typical notes of beetroot and humus, and a long, juicy-soft palate with rounded tannins and liquorice hints in the aftertaste.

New discoveries:

Fonzone, of Campania, showed a modern, well-made and highly drinkable range of wines from Irpinia’s typical varieties of fiano, greco and aglianico, with a Campi Taurasini Aglianico 2011 on top. A nose of cherries, garrigue, tobacco and hydrocarbon minerality lead to a juicy/tight palate with soft but barky tannins, good freshness and bubbling minerality.

Tiny, new producer Baglio Ingardia from western Sicily showed great promise. I loved their Catarratto Munir 2013 with its aromas of flowers, grape fruit, granitic minerality and light peach, and its light, dry and soft palate. While the nero d’Avola Ventu 2011 was perhaps slightly too hot and exotically woody in its expression, there was no mistaking the potential of the site as witnessed by a very characterful nose of plums, cherries, sweet exotic spices and minerals. Judging from the proprietors, a lovely, young couple with fire in their eyes and passion in their hearts, and from pictures of a completely enchanting place, this is most definitely a future star.

Casa Comerci of Calabria have specialized in the magliocco canino variety (not to be confused with the resurrected Calabrian darling variety magliocco dolce). Wines are typically snarly (!), with light red, juicy berry fruit. I particularly liked the very characterful, sapid/juicy 2013 rosé.

The afternoon session featured the first competition tasting session. Due to the large number of wines this year, both the international and national juries had been split into two. An international and a national jury would taste the same wines, while other wines would be tasted by the other international and national jury. I had the honour of being made chairman of international jury #1.

This afternoon “my” jury was given the pleasant task of judging Pugliese white wines. This flight was split into 4 groups, beginning with bombino bianco, on to fiano, then minutolo, and ending with a mixed group of varieties, such as malvasia bianca, greco, verdeca, moscato and bianco d’Alessano. 44 wines were tasted, the general impression being one of technically well-made wines, with few negative exceptions, and with a few wines that excelled. A general note could be a point made by Tom Cannavan, not relative to this specific flight, but to another flight of white wines in the second international jury: attractiveness and freshness in white wine does not only come from acidity. A certain roundness and ripeness of fruit is also required. In a hot climate, striking the right balance between ripeness of fruit and sufficient acidity to maintain freshness can be difficult, but the best wines in this flight tended to be those with good fruit ripeness and character.

For results and my favourites, see my upcoming Radici del Sud 2014 post on results and impressions.

For the evening, we drove to Ceglie Messapica for a brief tour of the old town centre and then a divine meal at the Cibus restaurant. I have written of this place before, praising its wonderful food and especially its incredible cheese selection. This evening, we had a lovely dinner, crowned by amazing cheese, one of which was a five-year-old caciocavallo in great, searingly intense form.

The wine subject, as stated above, was a vertical of Cefalicchio’s dry moscato bianco Jalal, vintages 2009 – 2013. The aromatic character of the variety was in evidence in all the wines, here with highlights of white flowers and elegant citric notes, but that character was neither overblown nor disturbing, and was underpinned by a lovely minerality of the mountain brook variety. None of the vintages had suffered from ageing, which merely seemed to bring greater depth and mouthfeel, with slightly receding aromatics over time. Of the vintages tasted, I narrowly preferred the 2009, which had the greatest complexity allied with a fullish, juicy palate, but all vintages showed great form. The 2013 did seem to be slightly lighter and shallower than the rest, but that is very likely to be a combination of extreme youth and recent bottling, as winemaking has not changed.

Further festivities started already in the restaurant, where the combination of great food, great wine and great company prompted much happiness, gradually sliding into guitar playing and singing. A rustic version of the music accompanying the Pugliese pizzica (very roughly the Pugliese version of the tarantella dance) will be indelibly etched into my memory, while I hope that my own attempt at teaching the crowd the Danish version of famous Italian hit song “Volare” will be forgotten swiftly. Once safely back at the Masseria, singing, discussing and general merrymaking continued unabated for another great and late night.

Yours truly

Posted in Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Food, Italy, Red wine, Restaurants, Rosé wine, Sicily, White wine, Wine, Wine producers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Radici del Sud 2014 – Day 3

The third day, Thursday 5 July, was also dedicated entirely to producer meetings. Again, a lovely mixture of old acquaintances and new discoveries.

Among the “old friends” I particularly noted the following:

Tenuta Monaci/Severino Garofano were in fine form, as always. There is a constance with this producer that few others can show. That is not to say that there aren’t vintage variations and tiny changes here and there, but the level of winemaking and territorial fidelity are just very high. Highlights here included a lovely Girofle 2013 rosé, back in old, juicy/sapid Salentine form (2012 was just a tad soft due to a torrid vintage) and the complex, large but fresh and rounded negroamaro Le Braci 2006.

Tenuta Petrera/Fatalone, organic and sound therapy pioneers from Gioia del Colle, were particularly showcasing their Primitivo Riserva 2006, a large, complex, minerally wine with firm structure and good freshness; a lovely terroir wine.

Biodynamic Cefalicchio, from the Castel del Monte area, has been taken over by Feudi di San Gregorio, but will continue with its own identity and own label. The range is well made, and noteworthy wines included the lovely moscato bianco Jalal 2013, a lovely, minerally wine with elegant aromatic notes of apple, flowers and soft green herbs and notable elegance, as well as the Rosso Canosa Riserva Romanico 2009, made from 100% nero di Troia, with very typical aromas of cherry, beetroot, sweet meat and resinous green herbs, and a large structure with nero di Troia’s typically big but soft tannins.

Casa Maschito, from Basilicata’s Monte Vulture area, were justly proud of their minerally range of mountain wines, the best one for me being the Aglianico del Vulture Porta Adduca 2011, which sported a huge hit of hydrocarbon minerality on top of aromas of fresh cherries and singed garrigue. Juicy, with Aglianico’s typically abundant but very fine tannins.

Sergio Arcuri, from Cirò in Calabria, makes tiny quantities of two highly personal, utter-no-compromise wines, a Cirò Rosso called Aris and a Cirò Rosato called Il Marinetto. Sergio goes his own way, so served the Aris 2011 first, then the Il Marinetto 2013. The Aris was a typically soft-fruited, complex, big-tannin gaglioppo with notes of plum, leather, sweet meat, orange peel and iris, while the rosé had a no-holds-barred, wild, salty-minerally sapidity overlaid by lovely aromas of wild raspberries. Fascinating wines, highly characterful and personal. Methods here approach “natural” winemaking.

Cote di Franze, also from Cirò, particularly excelled with the Rosso Classico Superiore 2011, wrapping a good dose of gaglioppo’s large tannins in a layer of big, firm plum fruit with sweet spice and floral highlights.

Mount Vesuvius standout producer, Sorrentino, had brought his lovely range of firm, sapid, volcanic wines. I was particularly enthused with the coda di volpe 2010 called Nati, with deep, waxy fruit with sulphurous, nutty highlights and great firmness, acidity and mountain-brook minerality, and the piedirosso Frupa 2011, a juicy, sapid, fresh wine with a drop-dead charming, live plum fruitiness and a light rasp of tannin to lend some real drinking interest.

Raffaele Guastaferro excelled, as usual, with his Taurasi Riserva Primum from vines of up to 150 years of age, this time with the 2007 vintage, which showed wild hydrocarbon minerality and thick/sweet garrigue over a core of sweet, massive cherry fruit. Searingly intense, with massive noble tannins and great length and complexity, this wine takes no prisoners. Don’t underestimate, however, Raffaele’s other wines, with both the “normal” Taurasi Primum 2008 and the “base” aglianico Memini 2011 showing really well.

Beniamino d’Agostino of Botromagno was showing his new range of Poderi d’Agostino wines, all at a high level. I was taken with the the Greco Vigna La Selva 2013, with lovely aromas of waxy apple and resinous herbs, as well as the nero di Troia 2013 Serre al Trono, which had sweet berries, sweet garrigue, fresh minerality and a lovely, juicy mouth with soft tannins.

Di Meo, from the Irpinia area in Campania, showed a broad range of wines. Of particular note was a 2000 Fiano di Avellino named Erminia di Meo that will be released later this year. This was amazingly young, with typical aromas of waxy fruit, resinous green herbs and nuts, and a lovely, round but dry mouthfeel with good extract and excellent acidity.

New discoveries included:

Antica Masseria Jorche is a family business in the Manduria area of Puglia, newly on the market. Despite being in Primitivo heartland, one of the standout wines was a basic range negroamaro with lovely, typical plum, tobacco and graphite aromas and a rounded mouth full of berry fruit, spices and floral notes. The primitivo range dominates, of course, and I particularly liked the straight Primitivo di Manduria 2011, which had lovely prune juice, garrigue and sweet pipe tobacco aromas working around a dry, firm, softly fruity and minerally palate.

Antico Castello, from Irpinia, presented the full range of white and red wines from that viticulturally blessed area. A strong note of granite minerality runs through the entire range of really good wines, ending with a seriously impressive, powerful, complex, almost briary and highly typical Taurasi 2010 with great prospects for longevity.

From the Colli di Salerno area of Campania came Lunarossa with two white (falanghina and fiano) and one red (aglianico) wines. The Quartara Fiano 2011, which had been fermented for two months on its skins in amphorae, was particularly interesting, with a broad nose of sweet peach, light honey and a dry, slightly spicy element. The palate was dry, fresh and full with very light tannin and light-toned minerality. A highly drinkable, “gastronomic” wine, this was another favourite that we reverted to several times during our social evenings.

Cotinone, from the San Severo area of northern Puglia, showed an interesting sémillon and two reds made predominantly or only with nero di Troia. I liked the 100% nero di Troia from 2012 a lot. It had a delicious nose of cherries, singed garrigue and the lightest touch of humus, with a fresh, mild palate with live tannins and lightly balsamic cherries on a long aftertaste.

The evening was dedicated to a fantastic tasting of Cantina del Notaio’s mid-range Aglianico del Vulture Il Repertorio. The owner, Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti, showed up with vintages 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 20006 and 2007, and with a presentation featuring single-year weather patterns and overall climatic and soil data for this unique – and cool! – mountain terroir. Aglianico here is picked, depending on the vintage, between the end of October and the beginning of December. The long hang time shows itself in ripe tannins and lovely balance between fruit and structure. Of the vintages tasted, the 2001 was clearly the greatest wine for me, featuring a fresh, deep, dark and complex nose with cherries, hydrocarbon minerality, perfume, leather, garrigue and sweet meat, and a palate of great power, freshness, balance and length, with the typical, slightly briary tannins of Monte Vulture. A great and still very young wine, seemingly with endless life ahead of it. 20003 was a wonderful surprise, the vintage being famously hot, but the wine being still fresh, fruity and young. It is significant that this was a tasting of the mid-range wines. Just think of the potential power, greatness and longevity of the top-of-the-range La Firma.

Another night featured many wines, a bit of beer if memory serves me right, great companionship and much humour. Wine gathers the best people.

Yours truly

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Radici del Sud 2014 – Day 2

Wednesday 4 June marked the beginning of single-producer tastings. There are two sessions in a day, with 15-20 producers at each session. I knew many of them already, but some were new. It was great to reconfirm the excellence of many friends’ production, and even greater to taste hitherto undiscovered excellence.

Highlights among “old friends”:

Cannito in Gioia del Colle makes typical, firm, juicy, cherry-fruited primitivos by the name of Drumon. All the new wines were good, with the 2011 Drumon gold version probably being my top wine of the range, with lovely essence of cherry and good, tight and firm structure.

Cardone are still the best of the bunch in Locorotondo. The entire range is good, with keen pricing, but my favourite on the day was the Prosit sparkling rose’, a lovely, zingy, berryish number.

Donnachiara’s range is all good, too, and the new late-harvest dry wines – Fiano Esoterico and Greco Ostinato – were very interesting, pointing towards very full, rather powerful interpretations of those lovely varieties.

Masseria l’Astore continues its strong run of form, with the great negroamaro Alberelli continuing to take on strong varietal definition and pointing the way towards the future for negroamaro. Also lovely dry malvasia bianca and excellent, firm/sapid negroamaro rosé.

Tenuta Patruno Perniola keeps improving, and the primitivo Battaglio 2010 is, to me, Paolo Patruno’s best yet. Watch out, world, for Paolo is on a strong run and has some really interesting things going on in the background.

Vinicola Savese/Pichierri continue to make glorious, traditional Primitivo di Manduria, my favourite on the day being the Dolce Naturale Il Sava 2007.

Pietraventosa’s Marianna Annio is going from strength to strength. Her rosé EstRosa is lovely, juicy and fruity in its 2013 version too, and the 2010 Gioia del Colle Primitivo Riserva is her best so far, with great depth of fruit and typical Gioia firmness promising a long and happy life indeed.

Luigi Maffini is a relatively new discovery for me. He makes strong, flavourful, deeply hydrocarbon-minerally whites and reds near Paestum in southern Campania. The entire range is excellent, and to show the longevity of his wines he had brought allong a few older samples. So on the day, we tasted his Fiano Pietraincatenata 2002 and Aglianico Cenito 2006, both in excellent form. The highlight for me, however, was the Fiano Pietraincatenata 2012 a firm, intense, juicy and minerally number built for the long haul.

Among new friends the following stood out:

Cantina Nistri makes a range of typical Salento wines. The negroamaro Mezzetto 2013 stood out for me with its fresh, firm fruit and precise varietal aromas of garrigue and graphite.

Cataldo Calabretta makes a really zingy range of highly characterful, salty-minerally wines from Cirò in Calabria. I was especially enamoured with his Cirò Rosso, a great representative of the gaglioppo variety with typical red berries, meat and iron/clay aromas, and the Malvasia Passito 2012, which had an amazing nose of orange rind and saffron (!). But the white Ansonica and the rosé Alicante were not far behind. Great new discovery.

Also from Cirò, Tenuta del Conte, showed a nice, typical range of the traditional Cirò wines, with the austere, but soft and complex Cirò Rosso Riserva 2006 taking the prize. Cirò is really hopping these days; so many great producers are coming out of the woodwork.

Borgodangelo from Campania makes the entire range of typical Irpinia wines. Good, firm, mountain-brook-minerally Greco and Fiano, and a lovely, firm, tannic, really complex Taurasi 2009 on top.

My discovery of the day – and perhaps of the entire 7 days event – was Le Ormere (dialect for elm trees). This tiny and completely new producer makes a single wine, a Greco di Tufo with no added sulphur, in vanishingly small numbers. But what wine! From 2012, it had a big, powerful chalky-minerally nose with quince, citrus peel and hazelnuts. Full, dry, firm and salty-minerally in the mouth, great length with citrus, hazelnuts and resinous herbs. Wow! This wine went like hot cakes the rest of the week whenever we had a bit of time to sit back and socialize. And I’m sorry, but there is probably no longer any wine for sale, for some of the buyers among the international contingent seemed exceptionally keen to snap it all up.

Salentine Masseria Cistonaro showed a single but attractive wine, a warm, full negroamaro 2012 called Maricò, with hints of wood tar and graphite.

Another big revelation for me was Antico Palmento from Manduria in Puglia. This is a tiny producer owned and managed by the family of Bruno Garofano, brother of legendary Salento winemaking legend and hero Severino Garofano. Bruno showed only two wines, a dry Primitivo di Manduria from 2011 and a sweet Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale called Dolce Vite from 2009. Both wines had huge, cherry-essence fruit intensity, great freshness, great concentration and complexity and never-ending length.

In the evening, we were treated to a vertical tasting of the legendary Salento negroamaro Le Braci from Severino Garofano’s property Tenuta Monaci at the lovely Casale Ferrovia restaurant in Carovigno. We tasted 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007 (not yet for sale). There was amazing consistency and youth across the lineup, and it was nigh-on impossible to choose a favourite. 2003 was probably the greatest surprise, as the vintage was insanely hot, but the wine had great freshness and youth still. Hard-pressed I would choose the 2004 as my favourite This was a gentle giant, with massive plum fruit, liquorice, violets, hints of tobacco and sweet meat on the nose, and a full, intense, hugely long palate with great acidity, firmness and polished tannins.

The entire contingent was hopping, so festivities continued into the night with great company, much laughter and small pockets of great, philosophical discussion.

Yours truly

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Radici del Sud 2014 has begun

My favourite wine event of all, the delightful Radici del Sud, has started its 2014 edition. This year – as last year – at the lovely Masseria Caselli resort near Carovigno.

The focus of this event, indigenous Southern Italian grape varieties, is in itself enough to endear it to me. But on top of that, the relaxed, warm and friendly atmosphere and the quality of the people invited renders it unbeatable in my book.

This year, the organizer Nicola Campanile, has asked me to take a modest part in inviting people for the event and moderating presentations, a task I have gladly accepted. There is so much good wine and so much knowledge bursting to be imparted.

What with me also helping to invite attendants, I am even more among friends than usual, so apart from the even greater number of participating wineries, the friend quotient is now such that this is bound to be the greatest Radici del Sud yet. For me, at least.

Yesterday evening, 3 June 2014, certainly started auspiciously, with a vertical tasting of all vintages so far made (2009 – 2013) of the fabulous Fiano di Avellino from Tenuta Sarno. Of all the wines, my preference goes to the 2010, a stunning wine of great complexity, depth and structure, beautifully balanced between fruit, structural components, lovely ripe acidity and strong hydrocarbon minerality. But the 2012 was not far behind and may at some point overtake the 2010, while the 2013, a tank sample, looked very promising.

To end the evening we were treated to a sampling of Vinicola Savese/Pichierri’s 1990 Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale directly from the terracotta jars called Capasone. The Pichierris sometime bottle this under the name of Capasonato, the last bottling being a blend of the 1984 and 1985 vintages, which we also tasted. While great, the 1984/1985 was surpassed by the 1990, a glorious wine of great depth and character, marked by dark and dried fruits, leather, tar and almost umami character. A semi-sweet wine, this had the strength and concentration to last many years into the future, so look it up if you can.

More from Radici as we move along this week-long event.

Yours truly

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