Sagrantino: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project

CLICK HERE FOR ALL EPISDOES

Today’s episode of the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project is devoted to Sagrantino, a grape grown in Umbria where it is used to make the eponymous Sagrantino di Montefalco. I asked one of the appellation’s leading producers, Giampiero Bea, to contribute a video to the series and he did so with his signature showmanship.

giampiero bea

It seemed appropriate to feature Sagrantino this week in the wake of my post on Giampiero’s 1998 Sagrantino, 98 Paolo Bea Sagrantino: Holy Shit!, which received a lot of comments here and over on the Facebook. The playful title was partly a play on the name of this grape, Sagrantino, most likely from the Latin sacrum, something holy or sacred (the ampelonym is probably owed to the fact that Sagrantino was used in Umbria as sacramental wine).

Yesterday, I called Giampiero who told me that he believes the 1998 to be one of his greatest vintages. “It was part of a string of excellent vintages,” the remarkable and now legendary harvests that ran consecutively from 1995 to 2001 in Italy. “Many thought 97 was going to be the greatest vintage of these,” said Giampiero, “but ultimately 98 turned out to be the better vintage: it wasn’t too hot or too cold, there was ample rainfall but it wasn’t too humid nor too dry.” In other words, it was the classically balanced vintage that renders unto Italy wines that resonate with the people who make them, id est, Italians. (As many of you know all too well, a handful of American wine writers championed the warmer 97 vintage as one of the best of the century, a harvest that has been come to be called, with no lack of irony, the great “American vintage” in Italy.)

The inimitable Ken V noted in the comment thread that “The 98 is an unusual vintage for this wine. It has drunk well since release.”

When I asked Giampiero about this observation, he told me, “you’ll see a lot of variation from vintage to vintage in our wines because we let Nature — not our work in the cellar — determine what the wine will be. If we get it wrong, it’s because we didn’t do a good job of interpreting Nature.”

I’m here to tell you that the 1998 Sagrantino by Paolo Bea is one of those grand occasions when humankind and Nature sang and continue to sing in perfect harmony.

98 Paolo Bea Sagrantino: HOLY SHIT!

One of the great things about the nights I work the floor at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I author the wine list) is the wines that collectors share with me (Sotto charges $18 for corkage).

And as much as I was digging the Cos 2008 Nero di Lupo last night (100% Nero d’Avola by one of the great Natural wine producers of Europe, recently added to my list), who could turn down a glass of 1998 Sagrantino by Paolo Bea???!!

HOLY SHIT!

I’ve asked Giampiero Bea what he thinks about the aging potential of his wines. Regrettably, he hasn’t kept a library of old vintages and you rarely come across older bottlings. When I asked him about it a few years ago, he told me that, frankly, he doesn’t know how the wines will hold up.

Dan Fredman, wine industry PR guru who generously shared this wine with me, and I agreed that this wine has many years ahead of it. The tannin has mellowed but is still very much present in the wine. The fruit was ripe red with earthy undertones, the acidity still very much alive and nervy, as the Italians would say. Fanfriggintastic wine… THANK YOU DAN! You rock — literally and figuratively…

We had an amazing dinner rush last night at Sotto and the glitterati were out in full force (who knew that rockstars dig rosé from Negroamaro?). Thank you to everyone who has come out to support me and my friends there. We’re having a great time…

I’ll be there again tonight: please come and see me and I’ll pour you a glass of wonderful…

Maybe it’s the way she grates her cheese: Tracie P’s rice balls

Maybe it’s the way she grates her cheese…

Above: When Tracie P asked me what I wanted for my Sunday night birthday dinner, I told her I would love her fantastic ragù. It was great as always, but she surprised me with RICE BALLS. Unbelievably good…

Whether its Faicco’s in the City or the Focacceria di Ferdinando in Brooklyn, Tracie P knows that I love me some Sicilian rice balls. On Sunday she made me one of my favorite dishes of hers, her ragù, but she surprised me with fried rice balls: stuffed with Brooklyn-style domestic mozzarella, using some leftover risotto alla parmigiana that I had made with Arborio earlier in the week for supper.

Or just the freckles on her knees…

Above: Did I mention that the GIRL CAN COOK?

She ALSO surprised me with a bottle of 2004 Sagrantino di Montefalco by Paolo Bea. This wine, at once extremely tannic and ethereal in the mouth, achieves that magic balance of simultaneous power and lightness in the mouth. It showed stunningly well last night and was such a great pairing for Tracie P’s stellar ragù alla bolognese (via Marcella Hazan).

Maybe it’s the scallions…

Above: Our favorite dried (pastasciutta) egg tagliatelle are made by Rustichella d’Abruzzo. Isn’t funny how Tracie P and I agree on the important things in life? ;-)

My good friend Charles Scicolone is not the only one “blessed” by his wife’s amazing cooking!

Maybe she’s Italian…

blueberry pie

Above: She also made me a DELICIOUS fresh blueberry crostata, a tradition for my birthday started by mama Judy.

My goodness, Tracie P, what a wonderful birthday week (I’ll have to hope my birthday falls in the middle of the week again next year!). I love you so… :-)

The lady sticks to me like white on rice…. She never cooks the same way twice…*

Above: We’ve been having so much fun with our new Polaroid 300 instant camera.

Rev. and Mrs. B and the B family gave me a power drill for my birthday over the weekend when we visited with them on Canyon Lake in the Texas Hill Country. We SO NEEDED it for our little home and the new library I’ve been setting up. :-)

Thanks, so much Rev. and Mrs. B and B family!

Birthdays used to be a nagging reminder of all the things I haven’t done yet in life. Now they remind me how lucky I am to be surrounded by wonderful folks who share such rich love and warm joy for living with me. Thanks again, also, to everyone for all the warm birthday wishes this week on Facebook, Twitter, and here at the blog… I’ve got so much to be thankful for this year… The words of support mean so much…

* “Eggplant” 1975 (same vintage as Tracie P!) by Michael Franks (my fellow La Jollan)

In other news…

Everyone in Italy is reading BrooklynGuy’s excellent post on old vintages of Vallana Spanna. Be sure to check out Alfonso’s comments to the post as well.

Vini Veri Tasting details, April 8-10, 2010 in Cerea

giampiero bea

Above: Giampiero Bea, owner of the Paolo Bea winery and one of the founders of Vini Veri. I took this picture when tasted with him last April at the Vini Veri fair.

A lot of folks have been writing me asking me what other events they should attend during the week of Vinitaly, the Italian wine industry’s annual trade fair.

Every year, one of my top destinations is the Vini Veri tasting. I finally got my hands on event details for the tasting, which will be held in Cerea (and not in Isola della Scala) this year.

My good friend (and fellow San Diegan and UCLA alumna) Marisa Huff, who’s working on event organization and media relations, told me that convention-center space at Cerea will help to accommodate the fair’s growth and that the entire tasting will take place in the same hall, making it easier to navigate and negotiate. Some of the charm of Villa Boschis (where the event was held in the past) will be lost, she said, but the new venue will make it a lot easier for attendees to make the rounds. Thanks, Marisa, for sending me the info (below)! :-)

Hope to see you there!

    Vini Veri 2010

    The Dates: Thursday, April 8th to Saturday, April 10th

    The Time: 10 AM to 6 PM

    The Place: AreaExp Events Center, in Cerea (Province of Verona), about a half-hour drive/train ride from Vinitaly.

    The Producers: over 130 natural wine producers, from Italy and beyond.

    The Organizers: Vini Veri Consortium and Renaissance Des Appellations.

    A complete list of the participating winemakers will soon be available on our website, www.viniveri.net.

Our date with the City, part 1: pizza at Kesté

faicco

Above: It was such a beautiful fall day in Manhattan yesterday, perfect for some noshing, tasting, and strolling. Before we hit Kesté Pizza e Vino, I took Tracie B for some rice balls, prosciutto balls, and potato croquettes at Faicco’s Pork Store on Bleeker (old school, no website). There aren’t many things I miss about living in the City, but Faicco is one of them. (Photos by Tracie B, except for this one, obviously.)

Ever since reading Eric’s post in April, Tracie B and I have been dying to get to Kesté in Manhattan. We both needed to be at work on Monday morning so we only had a few precious hours yesterday to visit the City before we jumped on a plane to head back to Austin. (That would be The City, the apotheosis of cities!)

Above: The Regina Margherita at Kesté. Tracie B also ordered another Neapolitan classic, Broccoli Raab and Sausage (white) Pizza, and pizzaiolo Roberto also sent over his signature Battilocchio, yesterday with figs and gorgonzola.

Who better to eat authentic Neapolitan pizza with than our good friend Michele Scicolone? Charles was otherwise occupied on his way back from Montefalco and the “Experimental Classification of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG tasting” and conference so it was up to me to accompany these two beautiful ladies to lunch.

Above: Michele is the author of countless tomes on Italian cookery. She and Charles are another thing I miss about living in New York.

I wish I could share with you the joy of dining alla napoletana with Tracie B, who lived for nearly five years in Ischia off the coast of Naples: at Kesté, she was like a kid in a Neapolitan candy store and with her eagle eyes, she swiftly selected a wine that wasn’t on the list and that I had never tasted before, Lettere.

Above: I had never had a wine from Lettere (Penisola Sorrentina) before. It was delicious.

But you’ll have to tune into her blog My Life Italian for a report on that part. As they say in Latin, ubi major minor cessat: I don’t know anyone else in the world who knows more about Campania wines than her and she’s promised us a blog post about this wonderful bottle.

I guess there are a few things (bagels, pastrami, pork stores, friends like Charles and Michele, not necessarily in that order) that I miss about living in Manhattan. But without Tracie B at my side, they just wouldn’t be any fun, would they?

We had a great time on the East Coast but we were both so happy to get back to Austin where we belong. There’s no place like my new home, Dorothy…

Tomorrow, part II: tasting natural Beaujolais with you-know-who (who else?). Stay tuned…

CMO reforms and how they relate to Italy

Tracie B and I recently opened a bottle of 2004 Sagrantino by Paolo Bea (a DOCG) that we had picked up at The Austin Wine Merchant. The wine was super tannic yet also had a wonderful “lightness of being.” We could not stop talking about it. So good… Photos by Tracie B.

In the wake of yesterday’s post on why the Italian DOC/G does and does not matter, I received a lot of positive and inquisitive feedback. So minister Luca Zaia and the Prosecco wars will have to wait until tomorrow.

First of all, some Googling this morning (prepping for my Tuscany seminar tonight at The Austin Wine Merchant) led me to this site, Agraria.org, which does seem to have a nearly complete list of DOCGs (although the new Matelica DOCG is not listed, it does include some of the most recently added DOCGs like the Moscato di Scanzo and Prosecco Asolo and Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene).

Secondly, in case you haven’t been following the European Commission’s efforts to “streamline” and “simplify” European Union markets, here’s a link to some background info.

The bottom line: in 2006 the European Commission “proposed to the Council and the European Parliament to adopt one single Common Market Organisation for all agricultural products. This project, ‘the Single CMO’ is another important step in the process of simplification, which is priority of the Commission.”

As part of this process, beginning with the current vintage, EU member states’s wines will be required to be labeled with the one of the following classifications: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In Italian, the acronyms are as follows: DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) and IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta).

The following links will take you to some back ground info: here and here.

Here’s a link to E-Bacchus, a searchable database of all the currently registered PDOs and PGIs. There are currently 412 records in the PDO database (Italian DOCs and DOCGs) and 120 records in the PGI database (Italian IGTs).

And here’s a English Wiki entry on Protected Geographical Status.

In case you missed it, Franco wrote (and I translated) this editorial on the mad rush that preceded August 1, 2009 deadline for the creation of new DOCs and DOCGs.

On Saturday night, we ordered 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco (a DOC) at Il Sogno in San Antonio (no website). It’s one of our favorite wines and Il Sogno offers it at a fantastic on-premise price, a great value. We’re planning to serve this wine at our wedding! :-)

In my view, the CMO reforms are a good thing (for a number of reasons) and were “agreed by Italy” (as you say in diplomatic-speak): existing DOCs and DOCGs will be allowed on labeling (despite some alarmist reactions unfortunately based on sloppy blogging and reporting).

There are a number of reforms that have been implemented in Italy and Franco and I have reported on some of them at VinoWire. These include grubbing up, distillation, and use of grape must reforms, all aimed at streamlining the system and rewarding producers in member states for eliminating waste and observing environmentally friendly farming and vinification practices.

The new labeling, in my view, will help to simplify the appellation system, thus aiding those of us who buy and sell Italian wines.

From what I have read, there are other reforms as well (some of them unfortunately allowing undesirable commercial practices, like the use of oak chips).

But the most significant reform, in regard to Italy, in my view, is that at some point — and it’s not clear when — Italian winemakers will be able to use varietal labeling when producing international varieties. In other words, a wine like Planeta Merlot putatively could be labeled “Sicilian Merlot” or a Merlot from Tuscany hypothetically could be labeled “Montalcino Merlot.” Varietal labeling will not be allowed for indigenous varieties like Sangiovese or Aglianico.

Essentially, from what I understand, it will allow Italian producers to label their wines the way Californians and Australians do and consequently it will allow them to compete more aggressively in international markets.

While I’m not sure I want to drink Sicilian or Montalcino Merlot (and again, I need to stress, it’s not entirely clear how the labeling reforms will be implemented), it will free Italian producers from the yoke of currently strict labeling regulations. If someone wanted to produce a Montalcino Merlot and label it as such, that would be her or his business — literally.

Like the story of the Rabbi and the Ham Sandwich, I don’t need to drink Merlot from Montalcino. But if someone else wants to, that’s fine with me.

The red, white, and sparkling carpet at Vini Veri 2009

Posting hastily this morning as I head out for another day at the fair and then tasting later today at Dal Forno in Valpolicella… Here are some quick highlights from the “red, white, and sparkling carpet” at the 2009 gathering of Vini Veri, the “real wine” movement, “wines made how nature intended them,” as the group’s motto goes.

If ever there were a winemaker who looked like a movie star, it’s got to be Giampiero Bea of Paolo Bea. I finally got to taste his 2006 Arboreus, an Etruscan-trained 100% Trebbiano vinified with extended skin contact. In a later post, I’ll write more about the wine and what Giampiero had to tell me about the 2005 vs. 2006 vintages of his Santa Chiara. The 2004 Sagrantino was the best I’ve ever tasted.

Last year, I tasted Maria Teresa Mascarello’s 2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo out of barrel (literally, when the cellar master brought it up for her to taste for the first time). I was excited to taste it again a year later in bottle. She’s carrying on her father’s tradition of artist labels with polemical messages. Her “Langa Valley” label (left) is pretty hilarious.

I really dig Adelchi Follador’s natural Prosecco, which he ages on its lees and bottles in magnum. His winery, Coste Piane, also makes a still Prosecco. The wine is great, probably the best Prosecco you can find in America (imported by Dressner).

Franco turned me on to the Barbaresco Montestefano by Teobaldo Rivella. I tasted the 2004 and 2005 and was entirely blown away by how good this wine showed. It reminded me of Giacosa in style and caliber and its power and elegance made me think of an Arabian filly in a bottle.

Marco Arturi is a truly gifted writer who marries wine and literature. He posts often at Porthos. He is a steadfast defender and promoter of natural wine. We had never met before but we write to each and check in from time to time on Facebook: when we met in person it felt like we knew each other well. The whole Facebook thing is pretty cool.

Getting to taste with Franco Ziliani is one of the highlights of any trip to Italy for me. I admire him greatly for his writing, his integrity as a wine writer, and his palate, and I am proud to consider him my friend and colleague. When Franco point me in the direction of a wine, I know I’m not going to be disappointed.

Vini Veri without its co-founder Teobaldo Cappellano reminded me of the Lou Reed song “What’s Good”:

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Baldo was a wonderful man and even though the fair was great this year (and expanded to include the Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir tastings), it just didn’t feel the same without him.

The image of Baldo with his son Augusto (above) hovered over the room where he would have presented his wines.

I’ll write more on my experience at Vini Veri when I get home. Off to Valpolicella and then Alto Adige… Stay tuned…

*****

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like forever becoming
But life’s forever dealing in hurt
Now life’s like death without living
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind’s eye strangling on your tongue
What good is knowing such devotion
I’ve been around, I know what makes things run

What good is seeing eye chocolate
What good’s a computerized nose
And what good was cancer in April
Why no good, no good at all

What good’s a war without killing
What good is rain that falls up
What good’s a disease that won’t hurt you
Why no good, I guess, no good at all

What good are these thoughts that I’m thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
No not much, not much at all

What’s good is life without living
What good’s this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
It’s not fair, not fair at all

What’s good?
Not much at all

What’s good?
Life’s good
But not fair at all

— Lou Reed