On January 27 I had the privilege of obtaining a press pass to the Slow Wine Magazine 2016 Tasting at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood. This was a marathon tasting of over 58 Italian producers and just over 150 wines. Below is a snippet pulled from the “About” section of the Slow Wine Magazine website:
Our Philosophy: Slow Food believes that wine, just as with food, must be good, clean, and fair – not just good. Wine is an agricultural product, just like any of the foods we eat, and has an impact on the lives of the people who produce it, as well as on the environment - through pesticides, herbicides and excessive water consumption which are all commonplace in conventional wine production.
Our Initiatives: Through our guide, online magazine and international tour, we support and promote small-scale Italian winemakers who are using traditional techniques, working with respect for the environment and terroir, and safeguarding the incredible biodiversity of grape varieties that are part of Italy’s heritage.
Italian wine is a magical thing in my book. Italy has over 2,000 indigenous grape varietals, which makes for a lot of fun and interesting wine! In my opinion, I'd say that Italy makes the most honest, regional wine in the world. Yes, there is a lot of one dimensional and unremarkable wine made there, but I feel that much of the wine produced is exactly what it should be: good wine that goes with the food of the region. This is a simple and often overlooked fact that makes Italian wine so special. And let's get it straight, Italian wine is not the darling of most somms at the moment (yes, there are exceptions...Sardinia anyone?). A lot of Italian wine is usually dismissed as too acidic, flabby, and uninteresting. The only type of Italian wine that has any sort of somm respect is Barolo and the Piemonte region in general.
Upon arrival at the tasting, I had to lay out my plan of attack. There was no way I was going to taste all 150 wines, so I had to strategize. For one, I decided to taste sparkling first, then whites, then reds, then dessert wines. The tasting booklet was laid out by region, and then by producer, which was SUPER helpful (SEE PIC BELOW). In fact, I wish all events had a tasting booklet like this. How many times do us wine geeks go to a tasting and spend so much time writing down the label details of each wine you're tasting or try to fervently upload Vivino notes. Here, they're laid out and pre-printed with space to write your tasting notes. Brilliant.
I narrowed down by tasting only 1-2 producers per region within each category (i.e. whites, reds, etc). I also narrowed down by (as a general rule) selecting the smaller producer from within a region.
Below are notes on the standouts I tasted that day.
The Pizzini are pioneers of natural farming in Franciacorta, which is in the Lombardia geographical region. The Franciacorta DOC was recognized in 1967, and they were one of the first wineries registered. In 1998 they experimented with organic grape growing and by 2001 they started the process for organic certification. The wines I tasted were the non-vintage (NV), the Naturae (zero dosage), and the 2008 Riserva. The lees aging is extensive on all 3 wines, from 20-70 months. These wines rival a nice Champagne with their yeast/dough aromas and palate. The Riserva is a small production and only made in the best years. These wines are imported to only 19 states (but unfortunately not to California).
I tried 2 Piemonte sparklings from this winemaker and I pretty sure that these are the only bubbles from Piemonte I've ever had...I'm impressed! Cascina Bretta Rosa plants on limestone soils and the family manages the vines. They use hand-harvesting and also native yeasts for their fermentations. The gentleman who was representing this winery was great. He even asked me to take a picture of him with the bottle. Gotta love the Italians! I tried their Alta Langa Cuvée Leonara 2009 as well as the Rose 2010. The Alta Langa is a new DOCG appellation. These two cuvées were lovely with great acidity and a lot of leesy notes.
Most people think of cheese when they hear the word Pecorino. In this case we are talking about a grape native to the Marche region of Italy. Interestingly enough, the grape and cheese have nothing to do with each other. The grape got its name because sheep (pecora, in Italian) used to eat the grapes in the vineyards. Pecorino is one of my favorite white Italian varietals. This wine reminded me slightly of a Chardonnay, yet not exactly. Some interesting notes in the winemaking are that these grapes are picked by hand in the Offida DOCG. The wine is fermented in stainless steel to preserve the fresh fruit aromas. Also, the fermentations begin with only wild/native yeasts. Once the wine reaches its mid alcohol point, commercial yeasts are added to finish the fermentations. The lees are pumped over in the vat multiple times, which helps give the wine mouthfeel and texture (this is probably what reminded me of Chardonnay). One of my favorite things about this winery is that under the "Contact Us" section on their website, they list the email addresses for not only the winemaker but also for the owner. Only in Italy.
G.D. Vajra is a family-run winery in the Piemonte region. They use no irrigation on the vines and do all hand harvesting. The Barbera I tried was expressive and held its own, as non-Nebbiolo grapes have to do in Piemonte. If you’re a grape in Piemonte, you can’t try to compare or even be like a Nebbiolo. If you do, you will fail. You need to be the best little Dolcetto or Barbera that you can be!
Ahh, Aglianico del Vulture DOCG. I love this grape. Aglianico is an ancient Greek varietal grown on volcanic soil in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy. It is sometimes called the Barolo of the South. Actually, my grandfather's family was from Potenza, a town in Basilicata. So, in a way, one can say that Aglianico runs through my veins! This wine had intense tannins, ripe fruit, and a whole lot of earthiness: one of my favorite qualities in a wine. Cantina del Notaio is a family-owned venture.
The rep who poured this wine was every bit Italian. She was a stunningly beautiful woman with big, curly black hair, makeup for days, and a tight little dress. She was SO Italian and made me look SO American with my sensible flats, hair pulled back, and glasses! The Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso was a lovely red from the Friuli Colli Orientali DOC. Mostly black fruit and oak/wood aromas. After hand-harvesting, they store the grapes in trays for about a month to soften the tannins. Unfortunately, this wine is not available in the U.S. I also fell in love with their dessert wine. It is made from 100% Verduzzo Friulano with notes of orange peel and honey. I ate it with a rose-flavored Turkish delight and it was a slam dunk. The grapes are allowed to raisin on the vine (aka late harvest) and further ripening is done in storage after harvest.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of these Italian gems. Hopefully, this inspires you to perhaps pick up a bottle of Italian vino the next time you stop at your local wine shop. Off to continue with my spirits study. Arrivaederci!