The fascinating history of green manure in Italy (sovescio)

cover crop sovescioAbove: the term “sovescio” has a long history in Italian agricultural studies. It’s properly translated as “cover crop” or “green manure.” But “sovescio” denotes, in particular, cover crops that have been sowed by breaking the soil and planting the seeds at different depths below the surface, depending on type of seeds and the desired effect. Not all cover crops are planted in this manner. The etymology of the term is uncertain but most philologists speculate that it is derived from the spoken Latin “subversiare,” meaning to “turn under” (image borrowed from a post by my client Bele Casel, an organic Prosecco producer).

Every time I fall down a rabbit hole like this one, I am reminded of a famous aphorism by the twentieth-century Austrian essayist Karl Kraus: “The closer you look at a word,” he wrote, “the more distantly it looks back” (see this note on a word’s “aura”).

It all began yesterday when California-based importer of Italian wines Justin Gallen wrote me suggesting that I add an entry for sovescio to my Italian Wine Glossary.

The term sovescio is rendered in English as cover crop or green manure.

As Justin noted in an email, these days “you can’t talk to an Italian wine grower without them mentioning that word.”

The practice of planting cover crops to replenish nitrogen levels in farmland soil dates back to Roman times.

“First consideration belongs to the lupine [a legume],” wrote Columella in the first century C.E. (De re rustica), “as it requires the least labour, costs least, and of all crops that are sown is most beneficial to the land. For it affords an excellent fertilizer for worn-out vineyards and ploughlands; it flourishes even in exhausted soil.”

But the practice of planting cover crops as a means to improve soil “health” became a hot button issue in early nineteenth-century Italy when Piedmontese chemist Giovanni Antonio Giobert published his revolutionary research on sovescio and its farmland application. His experiments centered on the use of rye for green manuring (crop rotation was another focus).

His work was met with unbridled disbelief in some quarters. After his greatest detractor, Count Carlo Verri, issued his response refuting Giobert’s findings, one of their contemporaries noted that their dialectic represented the dawn of a “new era” in Italian agriculture.

Ultimately, Giobert’s theories were embraced by hundreds of Italian farmers according to the anonymous author of an 1820 report on Verri’s polemic.

Today, as Justin observed, the popularity of green manure among Italian grape growers is growing rapidly as more and more of them embrace organic and biodynamic farming practices.

That’s good news for all of us, at least in my book. But it seems that the novel technique isn’t as new as some would think.

Thanks for reading… and thanks, Justin, for suggesting the entry.

Italian wine glossary UPDATED and state of emergency in Puglia

italian wine terms translation glossaryA ritocchino?

A giropoggio?

Please see below my updated glossary of Italian wine terms translated. I’m always trying to add new entries and I’m always happy to receive requests and suggestions. And if you catch an error or typo, please let me know.

Thanks for reading and thanks for speaking Italian wine! I hope you will find the glossary as useful as I do.

In other news…

The Italian government has finally declared a state of emergency in Puglia: there are fears that, if left unchecked, the alarming and widespread outbreak of Pierce’s Disease could threaten agriculture beyond Puglia’s borders.

Please see this post that I published yesterday for my client Cantele.

a giropoggio east-west row orientation
a ritocchino north-south row orientation
acciaio [inossidabile] stainless-steel [vat/tank]
affinamento aging
alberello head-trained [vines]
allevamento training
argilla clay
arresto di fermentazione stuck fermentation
assemblaggio blend
barbatella grafted cutting
barrique barrique [small French oak cask]
bâtonnage stirring on the lees
biodinamica biodynamics/biodynamic
biologico organic
botte traditional large cask
bucce skins
Cabernet [Sauvignon] Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Franc
calcare/calcareo limestone/calcareous [limestone-rich]
cappello sommerso submerged cap maceration
chioma canopy
cordone speronato cordon-trained spur-pruned [vines]
cru vineyard designation/single vineyard
cuvée blend
délestage rack and return
deraspare/deraspatrice de-stemm/de-stemmer
diradamento pruning/thinning grapes/dropping fruit
DOC DOC [designation of controlled origin]
DOCG DOCG [designation of controlled and guaranteed origin]
DOP PDO [Protected Designation of Origin]
doppio capovolto double-arched cane [training]
esca esca [alt.: black dead arm or black measles]
escursione termica [diurnal] temperature variation
fementazione arrestata stuck fermentation
femminella lateral shoot
follatura punching down
galestro galestro [a marl- and limestone-rich subsoil unique to Tuscany]
giropoggio east-west row orientation
grappa grappa
grappolo cluster/bunch
Guyot Guyot
IGP PGI [Protected Geographical Indication]
IGT IGT [typical geographical indication]
leccio holm oak
lievito naturale native/ambient/indigenous/wild yeast
lievito selezionato cultured yeast
limo silt
macchia mediterranea Mediterranean maquis [shrubland]
maestrale (vento di maestrale) north-westerly wind
malolattica malolactic fermentation
marna/marne marl
millerandage millerandage [alt.: shot berrieshens and chicks, or pumpkins and peas]
monovitigno single-grape variety [wine]
mosto must
oidio oidium [powdery mildew]
peronospora peronospora [downy mildew]
pied de cuve pied de cuve [native yeast starter]
pigiatura pressing
portinnesto rootstock
quercia oak
rimontaggio pumping over
ritocchino north-south row orientation
sabbia/sabbioso sand/sandy [sandy soil]
Sauvignon [Blanc] Sauvignon Blanc
siccità/stress idrico hydric stress
sistema di allevamento training
sottosuolo subsoil
stralciatura deshooting
stress idrico/siccità hydric stress
sulle bucce skin contact [macerated on the skins]
sulle fecce nobili lees aged [aged on its lees]
sur lie lees aged [aged on its lees]
terreno/terreni soil
tignola della vite vine moth [Eupoecilia ambiguella]
tralcio shoot/cane
tramoggia hopper/feeder
tufo tufaceous subsoil [porous limestone]
vasca vat/tank
vento di maestrale north-westerly wind
vigna/vigne vine/vineyards
vigneto vineyard
vinaccia/vinacce pomace
vite vine
vitigno grape variety

West coast port dispute creates wine drought, Lacryma Christi’s blasphemy, and good food in LA

nagila best falafel los angelesAbove: the falafel combination plate at Nagila Meating Place in LA’s modern orthodox neighborhood. Maybe it’s because the climate is more mediterranean but west coast falafel always takes first place over east in my book.

Usually when I return from my weeklong west coast late winter swing, I post a shortlist of the standout wines that I’ve tasted for Sotto’s spring wine list update (I’ve been co-authoring the wine list there for nearly four years).

But this time around, a number of my sales reps either cancelled on me or had no new wines to show.

pan drippingsAbove: I finally had a chance to taste the famous “pan drippings” at République. As silly as the dish sounds, there’s a reason why it’s so popular. The quality of the bread alone was worth the price of admission. République isn’t just one of the best restaurants in the U.S. right now. It’s also the apotheosis of how a highly profitable and overwhelmingly satisfying food and wine program can be run today.

The current longshorepersons labor dispute has begun to have a sizable impact on the west coast wine scene. (Here’s the LA Times most recent update on the dispute, the best account I was able to find on the internets.)

At least four of my wine purveyors at Sotto told me their containers were stuck in Oakland, the port where most European wine comes into California.

italian wedding soup recipeAbove: Chef Steve Samson’s “Sicilian Wedding Soup” with barley, lamb meatballs, pecorino dumplings, escarole, and egg drop. His cooking at Sotto (where I co-author the wine list) is better than ever. Just look at that color of that egg! I should have some exciting news to share about my work with Steve in a few months.

At Sotto, we’ve already had a couple of by-the-glasses drop off our list because of the European wine drought and reps have been telling me that the problem is much more widespread and worrisome than our microreality at the restaurant.

I’m going to have to make a second ad hoc trip in March because we simply weren’t able to taste enough new wine.

lacrima cristi bianco bestAbove: Italian wine nerd alert! The main grape in this Lacryma Christi Bianco is Caprettone.

Of the few new wines my colleague and Sotto’s wine program manager Christine Veys and I were able to taste, this Lacryma Christi Bianco by Cantine Olivella was a wonderful standout. Great acidity, great balance, and lovely white and white stone fruit and healthy, although not robust, minerality.

When you talk to consulting enologists in Italy today, they tend to be dismissive of Lacryma Christi, noting that it’s an overarching, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink appellation with not a lot of direction or character.

Regardless of its disfavor today, the appellation was wildly famous by the end of the nineteenth century. And it’s often referred to as one of Italy’s most celebrated wines (outside of Asti) in travel journals of the time.

One of its great ironies is that its name is a blasphemy and not an unlikely allusion to Christ’s tears dropping to earth around Mt. Vesuvius as He ascended to heaven (as many would tell you).

To the ears of a nineteenth-century European, the mention of Christ in reference to something as mundane as wine was wholly sacrilegious and many of the early reports of the wine observe this fact.

The art of blasphemy is still very much alive in Italy and the irreverent etymology makes perfect sense: grape growers had a lot to gripe about during the age of Italy’s Risorgimento. But that’s a bigger story for another time.

cantico gostolaiAbove: I’m consistently blown away by nearly every white produced by Sardinian winemaker Gostolai.

Another stand out was this late-harvest Barbagia Bianco called Cantico by Gostolai. It’s made from Vernaccia and Moscato and its delicate sweetness danced like a swan over the waters of its fresh minerality.

I really loved this very soulful, thoughtful wine.

Of course, with a name like cantico (KAHN-tee-koh, meaning canticle, it already had a prosody-loving wine guy like me at hello its incipit.

So much to tell, so little time… Thanks for reading this prolix post!

Wine glasses that sing and sexual chemistry in wine pairing coupling for V-Day

pizza champagne pornAbove: a little soft gooey porn to get your Valentine’s Day weekend started off on the right slurp.

First of all: happy Valentine’s Day weekend, everyone!

I had a lot of fun with my post today for the Boulder Wine Merchant: “Sexual chemistry matters: Valentine’s Day wine couplings.”

This year, put some sexual chemistry into your V-Day wine pairing.

glass harp michael andrews composer musicianAbove: while in LA this week, I got to play a glass harp.

Secondly, check out the video below of my friend Mike Andrews’ glass harp (you know Mike’s music from his career as a film composer and music producer; his break-out score was the sound track to the 2001 film Donnie Darko).

Mike is a collector of vintage instruments and it’s always a wonderful experience to visit his studio in Glendale.

But listening to him play and then getting to play his glass harp, the latest addition to his collection, was truly magical. We paired it with a bottle of Cirelli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Anfora that I swiped from Sotto (wine directors get to do that, btw).

Happy Valentine’s Day weekend, everyone! Squeeze and hold your loved one tight tomorrow. And remember what a blessing it is to live in this world, to love, and to be loved.

Sagrantino stories: Umbria gave LA its name

From the department of “de urbe angelorum”…

perticaia sagrantino 2010Yesterday found me tasting wine in Los Angeles at Sotto, where I’ve been co-authoring the wine list for nearly four years.

There wasn’t a lot of wine to taste: the longshorepeople strike in Oakland has left many California-based importers without any new wine to show.

I did, however, get to taste with Alessandro Meniconi (above), the winemaker at Perticaia in Montefalco, Umbria (at Sotto, we serve southern Italian wine nearly exclusively but I when I’m in town, I occasionally taste central and northern Italian wines for my personal betterment).

When he arrived at the restaurant, the last tasting in my schedule, he happened to be using his phone to search for the origins of the toponym Los Angeles.

As fate would have it, the name’s origin stretches back to the village of Assisi, not far from where Alessandro makes wine.

A Franciscan missionary, I learned, named the Los Angeles river after the Porziuncola, the small church in the hamlet of Santa Maria degli Angeli, just outside of Assis: El Río de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula (the River of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula).

The city that grew there would ultimately be known as Los Ángeles.

I also learned that Perticaia, the name of the winery where Alessandro has been working since 2008, gets it name from an Umbrian dialectal word for plough. It’s not an -aia wine, as many would imagine.

His 2010 Sagrantino showed beautifully in the tasting and although it’s aged for twelve months in barriques of varied age (including some new), the wood was perfectly integrated into the wine.

I was really impressed by the gorgeous balance of this vintage, which by all accounts has delivered some fantastic wines in central Italy.

His 2009, also very good, was big and bold, with rich fruit. But the 2010 was much more approachable thanks to its equilibrium. I liked it a lot and Alessandro is pouring it today at the Tre Bicchieri tasting in San Francisco.

That’s the only LA story I have time for today. Time to get back to the tasting block. Check back tomorrow for my amazing encounter with wine glasses that sing (no joke).

2007 Barbaresco for a one-in-a-million friend

barbaresco giamello vicenzianaYesterday’s lunch found me in North County San Diego at the home of a one-in-a-million friend.

He had prepared cheeseburgers and I had brought a bottle of 2007 Barbaresco Vicenziana by Silvio Giamello, a wine that I had cellared in my wine locker in San Diego since its release.

I wanted to bring a Nebbiolo with some age on it: our get-together was long overdue and I was excited to see my old friend; I wanted to share something memorable with him.

You see, he’s that one-in-a-million friend with whom I played in a band and wrote some of my first songs back in high school in La Jolla.

He’s that one-in-a-million friend with whom I went through my teens, the acne, the insecurity, the Duran Duran concert where we locked our keys in the car, the visits to the gym trying (unsuccessfully in my case) to “beef up,” the first experiences in a recording studio, the prom…

Later, he’s that one-in-a-million friend with whom I played in bands in Los Angeles and with whom I went on tour as a cover band in Italy.

In our teens and in our twenties, in high school and then in college (me at UCLA and he at Loyala Marymount), we experimented, played music, partied, and learned through joy and sometimes bitter disappointment about the challenges and rewards of our southern Californian upbringing.

We ended up not opening that bottle yesterday with his burgers.

You see, he’s also that one-in-a-million friend who is battling aggressive melanoma.

We decided, instead, that we’d open it a year from now when he’ll have complete the next phase of treatment.

“In another year,” I told him, “it will only be better for the age.”

I’m looking forward to tasting that bottle and so is he.

Austin: Franciacorta tasting February 25

austin music sceneAbove: Tracie P and I lived in Austin from 2008 until last year. Ginny’s Little Longhorn was one of our favorite honkytonks and Tracie used to go there back during her college days at UT. I tried to get Ginny’s to host our tasting but Vino Vino, the “best little wine bar in Texas,” seemed like a better fit.

Just enough wine was left over from our Feb. 4 Franciacorta tasting in Houston that I have critical Franciacorta mass for a Feb. 25 in Austin at Vino Vino.

Spaces are extremely limited: we only have one bottle of each wine from the Houston tasting.

And Jeff Courington, Vino Vino owner (and my client), is graciously and generously giving us one hour in the back of the bar to taste through these bottles. We’ll start promptly at 4 p.m. and will close shop at 5 p.m. sharp when Jeff’s happy hour starts.

Click here to email me and reserve your spot.

Click here for event details (in case you don’t know where Vino Vino is).

And of course, I’ll be hanging out at Vino Vino afterwards if you want to sip and nosh together. Later that night you can catch me at Ginny’s… Feb. 25 is “Hot Rods and Customs Day” in the parking lot and Carl Hutchens Band is playing that night in the bar.

I know it’s been a little bit Franciacorta-heavy over here on Do Bianchi. We’ll get back on track tomorrow. Thanks for being here!

My new gig: Franciacorta “the Real Story”

jeremy parzen camerata franciacortaAbove: we poured twenty-two expressions of Franciacorta from eleven wineries yesterday in Houston (photo by David Keck, co-owner of Camerata, Houston’s coolest wine bar, and co-founder of the amazing Houston Sommelier Association).

Last year, in the days that followed Vinitaly (the annual Italian wine trade fair held in Verona), I met up with Franciacorta consortium president Maurizio Zanella for a chat and tasting at his Ca’ del Bosco winery.

We had just tasted though an extraordinary flight of his wines when he asked me a question that took me entirely by surprise.

“What do you think is the best way to market Franciacorta in the U.S.?” he asked (he speaks impeccable English).

Wow, I thought to myself, here’s the guy who singlehandedly built the Franciacorta “brand” in the U.S. and one of the most revered and powerful winemakers in the world. And he’s asking me for my opinion.

I took a deep breath and told him the truth.

“The problem,” I said, “is that Franciacorta has always been positioned as the step-sister of Champagne.” (See my post “Franciacorta and the ‘C’ word” from last summer.)

“Unfortunately,” I explained, “samples are sent to editors at high-profile mastheads who don’t normally write about wine. And when they finally wrap their minds around Franciacorta they invariably call it ‘Italy’s answer to Champagne.'”

“If I were asked to work on a Franciacorta campaign,” I said (and at this point, I could feel a bead of sweat roll down my temple), “I would reach out to the growing number of U.S. wine professionals who are thirsty for Franciacorta knowledge and who have the technical preparation to understand the uniqueness of these wines. They are the ones who work on the front lines of wine education every day and they are the ones that can turn perceptions around. I’d create a blog especially for them and I’d organize ’round-table’ tastings where they could share their impressions of Franciacorta wines.”

houston sommelier associationAbove: the vibe at the Houston Sommelier Association is super friendly and inclusive. Everyone is super professional and the cost of admission is polishing glasses at the end of each meeting.

In November of last year, I met with Maurizio at the offices of the Franciacorta consortium in Erbusco in the heart of the appellation. And he and his team gave me the go-ahead to launch my “Franciacorta, the Real Story” campaign.

For the next eleven months, I’ll be blogging about Franciacorta regularly and leading a series of tastings for wine professionals across the U.S.

Please check out the blog here.

Please follow the blog on Twitter @ClassicMethod.

Please like our new page on Facebook here.

But most importantly, if you’d like to host a tasting, if you’d like to contribute to the blog or if you’d simply like to learn more about Franciacorta, please send me an email by clicking here.

I truly love Franciacorta and I am extremely excited about this new project. You can check out notes from yesterday’s tasting here.

And I’m currently working on doing a mini-version of the same tasting in Austin later this month (stay tuned for details).

do bianchi franciacortaAll images, except for top photo, by Ryan Cooper.

Franciacorta tasting TODAY in Houston: tasting book and useful images

franciacorta alps mapIn case you can’t attend our Franciacorta tasting today at the weekly meeting of the Houston Sommelier Association, please click here for the tasting book and some useful images.

I’m really excited about the event: twelve wineries, twenty-four expressions of Franciacorta.

Thanks again to the Houston Sommelier Association for hosting this extraordinary event.

Amarone: controversial appellation expansion overshadows 2011 debut tasting

hillside vineyard valpolicella amaroneAbove: a view from a hillside vineyard looking out on to the valley floor in Valpolicella (image courtesy the Venturini winery). In a general assembly in May 2013, Valpolicella Consortium members approved a change in appellation regulations that would allow Amarone producers to blend hillside and valley floor fruit in the wines. Some prominent producers and growers groups have vehemently opposed the change.

Members of the Valpolicella Consortium gathered at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia in Piazza Brà in Verona over the weekend to present the 2011 vintage of Amarone (click the link for the list of presenting wineries).

But as top buyers (some from as far away as the U.S.) and leading Italian wine writers and bloggers tasted the soon-to-be released wines, a shadow of controversy hung over the event.

In May 2013, the Consortium proposed a change in appellation regulations that would allow winemakers to supplement hillside-grown fruit with valley floor-grown fruit for the production of Amarone.

The proposed change was ratified in a May 2013 consortium member vote. But it has yet to be approved by the Italian agricultural ministry’s committee on wine. A number of prominent producers and growers associations, including the Federation of Independent Grape Growers (FIVI) and the Amarone Families group, have vehemently and vociferously opposed it.

The as-of-yet unchanged appellation regulations state that grapes grown in “fresh soils on the plains or valley floor must be excluded” from Amarone production (article 4, section 2).

The Consortium had proposed deleting this wording, calling it an obsolete “discrepancy” and a “typo” in an official statement.

While the proposed change would not technically expand the production area, it would allow producers to use inferior quality grapes for the production of the wine — the appellation’s flagship.

“The problem with the valley floor was evident in 2014 because of the heavy rains,” wrote Ilenia Pasetto of the Venturini winery in a recent email exchange. “Valley floor vineyards suffered greatly and the fruit was heavily damaged. At the same time, thanks to the varied shape of hillside vineyards, the rainfall flowed down from the hills toward the valley. Because the water didn’t stagnate and because the hillside vineyards are more ventilated, quality was good even though they produced a smaller amount of grapes than usual. The warm, sunny weather started at the end of August continued through September and it helped to dry the bunches and prepare them for [the Amarone] drying [process].”

Some trade observers have speculated that the Consortium’s move was inspired by the impressive growth in Amarone sales in recent decades.

According to a report published in 2013, the number of bottles of Amarone increased from 2,480,000 to 8,570,000 between 1998 and 2008.

Roughly 90 percent of the wine produced are sold outside Italy, according to the Consortium, mostly in northern Europe, the U.S., and Canada.

In a phone call today, a Valpolicella Consortium representative said it’s unclear when the proposed change will be reviewed by Italian government officials.