Wine goes off the deep end

There is something for everyone in the study of wine.  Like science?  We’ve got Biology, Chemistry, Meteorology, and Geography.  Is Business your thing?  Great, there’s Marketing, Finance, Taxes, Economics, Logistics, and Human Resources.  History and Archeology?  Yep, wine’s got it.  The one thing you probably don’t have to know when it comes to wine-making is how to swim.  Well, grab your swimsuit, snorkel, fins and facemask and get ready to dive in because there is a new frontier in the world of wine: the ocean. 

An article from Wine Spectator I read recently talks about how winemakers in Europe are conducting underwater experiments to understand the effects of undersea fermentation.  They are trying to discover how wine will age and ferment when submerged in the ocean, specifically the differences in oxygen, temperature and pressure versus wine stored on land.  

Several producers have liked the results. 

Last year Bruno Lemoine, director of Bordeaux’s Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion, sank a 56-liter oak barrel of 2009 Merlot in an Oyster bed in Arcachon Bay.  Six months later they had the wine analyzed by a lab.  The results found that the wine had a more youthful color, better polymerization of tannins, and a touch of salt that masked the bitterness and heightened the flavor.  The process lowered the alcohol level and rounded out the tannins.  Final results stated the ocean wine was better than the wine aged on land; that the sea wine had a more complex, more intense flavor. 

Italian wine maker Piero Lugano began aging Spumante underwater in 2009, initially because he had run out of cellar space.  He tossed 6,500 bottles into a metal cage and lowered it 196 feet in Portofino Marine Park; letting is sit for 16 months.  Reims University expert Gerard Liger-Belair says the wine had finer bubbles because of the cool temperature and lack of oxygen. 

Wine makers in Greece are experimenting with white wines made from the Assyrtiko grape.  White wines are very susceptible to oxygen contamination and undersea storage might be a huge development for the industry.  So far the experiments have shown that red wines stored under the water fair better than whites. 

If the trend continues, winemakers may soon realize that, to steal a line from The Little Mermaid, “darling it’s better down where its wetter, take it from me,” and make ocean storage an industry standard.

 

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A tale of two wines

IMG_0282[1]Have you every had an AHA moment? What’s that you say? An AHA moment is when something takes the dramatic step from facts to knowledge. It’s the feeling you get when you first truly understand something. I’m sure you’ve all experienced this at some time in your lives. I’ve just had an AHA moment. And of course, mine was about wine. I’ve been studying wine from Puglia lately, in particular wines made by D’Alfonso Del Sordo. Southern Italy is like the South here in the United States, a fine place that doesn’t get any respect. I remember one of the commentators after University of Alabama beat Norte Dame in the BCS championship game, “enjoy the win, but tomorrow you’ll still be living in Alabama.” He made it sound like that was a bad thing. Southern Italy deals with the same perception.

Both Puglia and Sicily, another place I’ve grown to love, are home to bulk wine. Some unkind individuals would say “plunk,” but that isn’t fair. Most of the wines end up being used in Vermouth and blended with wines in Northern Italy and in France. Both Puglia and Sicily trying to buck the trend, and are now engaged in making better wines. Both have dozens of DOCs and vintners are starting to make some very good wines form the local grapes.

Our tale consists of two wines from D’Alfonso Del Sordo, “Casteldrione” and “Guado San Leo.” Both are made from the Black Troia Grape and both are from the San Severo countryside. However the wines are very different. “Casteldrione” gets its name from the legend of the marriage of Diomede and Driona, king Dauno’s daughter. She had a small temple with an alter to Calcante built on a slightly-elevated hill, called Drion. On that spot called Castrum Drionis, or Casteldrione, San Severo rose.

The story here is the science and art of wine making. Being from the same grape these wines should be very similar, but they are not, and each gives you a completely distinct experience. The Casteldroine is a clear ruby red, very clear, with a hint of orange. The Guado San Leo is a darker red with a hint of purple. The aroma of the Casteldronie is slight–red fruit and a little spice—while the San Leo is a stronger, fuller scent of sour cherries. The Casteldronie is smooth and light on the palate with not very much of a finish. The Guado, on the other hand, is a full-flavored, strong tannin; very dry, extremely well balanced and has a long finish. Both are very good wines, but the question remains, why so different?

The Guado San Leo is the better knitted wine. The grapes are hand-harvested in crates that the only contain fifteen kilos. The grapes are then carefully selected; the stalks are removed and gently pressed. The wine goes through a long macerating period, then is fermented in new barriques for nine months. The vines at San Leo are about 15 years old. Casteldrione vineyard is about 25 years old. The macerating period is long but not as long as the San Leo. The wine is fermented with the skins of the grapes, and aged in large oak barrels for six months before getting stored and aged in bottles.

If you asked me which the better wine was, I couldn’t say, I liked them both. Like any good wine enthusiast, I’m going to encourage you to try both wines. Conduct your own tasting and experience the difference technique can have on the flavor and character of wine. Trust me it will be worth the expense and time it takes, as it will help you to better appreciate your own tasting abilities and the skills of the vine maker.

Kurni

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Enthusiasts, we’re all the same, passionate about our interest and just a little nuts.  It doesn’t matter what we’re into, the behavior is the same: waiting by the mail box to get this month’s magazine, hours on the internet researching the newest gizmo-thing-a-bob.  Cars, boats, audio equipment, snowmobiles, cameras, guns and ammo, skiing, motorcycles, the symptoms are different but the disease is the same, passion!  We dream about the ultimate expression of our interest.  Ask us, we can tell you in great detail the specs and cost of the objects of our desire.  We live to hop into “that car,” tear down “that road,” hunt “that animal,” ski “that slope,” dive “that piece of ocean,” sail “that boat.”  What holds us back?  MONEY!  For no matter how much I see myself as a Bentley Continental GT guy, I can only afford to drive a Nissan Altima.

Now, each of these passions has its own experts, authorities, and pundits.  They fill magazines, books, TV shows, radio programs, blog sites, shows, retail stores, and catalogs with all the latest and greatest stuff, all with only one aim, to sell us our dream.  And we love it!  We go to the stores, the shows, the catalogs, and TV programs to increase our knowledge and fuel our passion.

I’ve often wondered what if all these guys got together and, through an independent source, said “here is a list of the best of the best, here is the car that costs $32,000 but performs like $125,000, or the snowmobile that cost $3,200 but performs like a $14,000 machine.”  Well, as my passion is wine, I can tell you that in my version of that list you would find Kurni at the top.

Milano Finanza, which is the Wall Street Journal of Italy, took a look at 19 of the top Italian wines, rated by the top 5 rating companies, and had them pick the best of the best wine Italy had to offer.  Many of these wines averaged about $500 a bottle but their pick, Kurni, sells for around $100 a bottle.  Gambero Rosso, Italy’s most famous wine publication, chooses the top 300 wines out of over 40,000.  The guide only includes wines which the editors deem, “extremely above average.”  The ratings are based upon blind tastings by independent experts.  The wine ratings are built on the number of glasses (bicchieri) awarded. The highest rating, three glasses (Tre Bicchieri), indicates “extraordinary wines,” two glasses are used for “very good wines,” and one glass for “good wines.” Kurni has won Tre Bicchieri 12 of the past 14 years.

Well-known U.S. journalist Craig Camp wrote the following: “Soon, Gambero Rosso will have to establish a prize of four glasses,” in order to keep pace with the ever-increasing quality of Kurni.

Kurni is made from the Montepulciano grape, but it is unlike any Montepulciano you have ever tasted.  It’s fabulous!  The deep purple color is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a wine.  Take a piece of blank white paper, pour a little Kurni into a wine glass, turn the glass sideways, hold the wine over the paper and allow the light shine through the wine you’ll see the wines color on the paper.  The color will coat your glass!  Allow the wine time to breathe and soon you’ll be enjoying the delightful fragrance of Kurni.  The wine is aged in New French Oak for a year then transferred to another new French Oak barrel for another year.  The flavor this process produces is just unbelievable; rich, deep and balanced.  This wine has it all: character, uniqueness, insight, and value. 

Wine Spectator calls Marco Casolanetti one of Italy’s most innovative wine makers.  Marco, an engineer by training who used to design motorcycles at Ducati, and his wife Eleonora, and actress, wanted to live closer to the land.  After looking at some land owned by Eleonora’s family, Marco saw the potential and the rest is history.  At the vineyard you would think everything is done the old-fashioned way, by instinct. In fact, everything is very methodical and ultra-modern.  Marco and Eleonora’s farming–they also make a fantastic olive oil–and winemaking practices are as novel are they are courageous, and you really do owe it to yourself to try this wine. Production is only 5,000 bottles a year, and the only place you can get this wine in America is at Center Street Wine and Spirits in Wallingford CT.  Tell them Giffy sent you!

Catapanus Bombino Bianco

IMG_0280[1] I’m enjoying my second wine from D’ Alfonso Del Sordo. This wine is called Catapanus, a white wine made from the Bombino Bianco grape. I love saying that.

There are several explanations as to how the grape got its unique name. The grape bunches looks like a little baby (Bambino) stretching out its arms. I’ve never seen a bunch of grapes look like a baby to me but it’s a cute story. The second one is only slightly more believable. This story states that the grape is from Spain. The Spanish name is Bonvino, or “the good wine.” Now, in Spanish the letter “V” is pronounced like a “B” and the word got corrupted by the Italians. Story three is where I’ll put my money. The grape in the area is called “pagadebit” or “pagadeito” which means “the debt payer.” Now several grapes are called that name and sometimes they are called “stracchia cambiale” which has an even more colorful meaning of, “tear up the invoices.” The Bombino is a very high yield grape so I’d bet this is the answer.

I think answer number three gains in value when we explore the name of the wine Catapanus. Catapanus was the name of the governor to Calabria and Puglia under the Byzantine Emperors. I’d bet they had to pay a few debts to him!

I enjoyed this wine with my Christmas Eve meal, Feast of the Seven Fishes. If you are not familiar with this traditional southern Italian Christmas Eve meal it consists of some fried seafood, some marinated seafood, some braised or baked seafood and of course pasta, along with family and friends and wine, lots, and lots of wine.

We shot though the Bombino very quickly as everyone enjoyed it. Like most whites it had a faint nose of fruit; I got pears and apples. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with flavors of pears and a little lemon. It paired well with the baked and fired fish; we switched to a red wine for the pasta. The finish wasn’t strong enough to really pin down and was a little chalky. I’m not really a good judge of white wines, but I enjoyed this wine with my meal and everyone else did too!

I got my bottle of Bombino Bianco at Center Street wine and spirits in Wallingford CT.