Luigi Tecce: “what I don’t put in my wine”

Luigi Tecce’s wines first came to my attention two years ago when I was visiting and tasting in southern Italy. They blew my mind… They’re some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted… period… end of report…

And I’m very proud that we have the 2009 Satyricon (Campi Taurasini) and 2007 Poliphemo (Taurasi) on our new fall list at Sotto in Los Angeles.

These are native-yeast-fermented, large-cask aged STUNNING expressions of Aglianico from Campania. I’ll never forget the look on Tracie P’s face when she tasted the wine with me last night at dinner.

“This,” she said, “THIS is what Aglianico tastes like.”

She would know: she lived between Ischia and Naples for nearly five years.

I loathe the saying that Aglianico is the Nebbiolo of the south. If anything, Nebbiolo is the Aglianico of the north!

But I will say that there is a virtual kinship between Luigi Tecce and Bartolo Mascarello. Here’s a translation of the back label:

cultured [pharmaceutical] yeast NO
enzymes NO
malolactic bacteria NO
added tannins NO
de-acidification NO
clarification NO
filtration NO
gum Arabic NO

No need to call this wine “Natural.” It’s just wine… great wine… friggin’ brilliant wine…

Aglianico from California? I loved it (and Darrell Corti is always right)

In 2008, when I attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium to hear my friend (and a man who has greatly inspired and informed my career) Darrell Corti deliver the keynote address at the meeting of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, he suggested that Aglianico could be an alternative to California’s ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon, noting that the Italian grape variety was better suited to California’s climate. (Here are my notes from his talk; I’ve written a lot about Darrell Corti here but this is my favorite post devoted to him.)

Darrell’s talk came to mind yesterday when sales rep and true wine connoisseur Tom Hunter of Revel Wines opened a bottle of Aglianico by the Giornata winery in Paso Robles.

In my view, the legacy of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in California is the result of an epochal misunderstanding — a ripple of an “anxiety of influence,” to borrow a phrase from Bloom. A generation ago, when rich white men planted these grapes in Napa, they did so inspired by the wines that rich white men on the other side of the Atlantic drank and not with a mind to propagate varieties suited for the Napa Valley climate, topography, and subsoils.

Cabernet Sauvignon shows well in the cool climate of Bordeaux. Chardonnay is its most expressive in the cool climate of the Côte de Beaune.

Anyone who’s every visited Burgundy or Bordeaux will find little in common with the terroir of the Napa Valley floor, where these French grapes have been grown and vinified so famously for the last forty years.

In more recent memory, Central Coast growers have been inspired by the renaissance of Italian wines. I’ve tasted Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, and even Teroldego grown there. And while the wines are sometimes good (and the intentions of the winemakers genuine), their efforts — in my view — are as misguided as those rich white men who came a generation before them.

I can’t conceal that I was skeptical when Tom pulled the Paso Robles Aglianico from his bag but my colleague Rory (with whom I co-curate the wine program at Sotto) and I were blown away by how good the wine was. And unlike the myriad bottlings of Barbera and Nebbiolo that seem to lose their varietal character in the California soil and sunshine, Giornata’s Aglianico tasted like Aglianico, delivering those dark fruit and earthy notes that I love in wines from Vulture, Taurasi, Taburno, and Cilento.

I loved the wine and I’m thrilled that we’re going to be pouring it by the glass at Sotto.

Posting from the plane on my way back to the Groover’s Paradise. Can’t wait to wrap these arms around those girls of mine! :)

Soppressa, a few clarifications in the wake of the scandal at Vinitaly

In the wake of the recent controversy stirred by my note on “Tuscan” soppressa, many of my friends and colleagues have benevolently chided me for the lacunate information posted here on the blog.

For the record, soppressa or soprèssa (as it is often spelled in Veneto) is a classic cured pig’s meat salame produced in the provinces of Verona, Vicenza, and Treviso (as well as in other areas of what was once called the Most Serena Republic of Venice).

Technically, for soppressa di be called soppressa, it must be produced using pigs raised in the production area (as in the official appellation regulations for Sopressa Vicentina, for example).

When I wrote “Tuscan soppressa” the other day, I was referring to the fact that my good friend Riccardo (below) — whom I know from summers touring with my cover band in the Veneto back in the early 1990s — produces his soppressa (trevigiana in its classification) using pigs raised in Tuscany. The secret to its supreme quality, he says, is the fact that he uses the entire beast, including the chops, the loin, and tender loin. In traditional production, the best cuts are reserved for other uses.

As a consummate venetophile, I certainly cannot blame my friends for the fun they’ve had at my expense. But now that I have published this errata corrige, I hope they will cease in their unwarranted derision.

And the end of the day yesterday, having completed our respective rounds at the Italian wine trade fair Vinitaly, we reconvened for a snack of Riccardo’s excellent insaccato — intestine encased — salame with our friend Sara Carbone’s Aglianico del Vulture – a brilliant however blasphemous pairing. (Btw, one of the unique elements of soppressa is that large cow’s intestines are used for the casing as opposed to porcine.)


Aglianico del Vulture: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


Even though I had had the opportunity to taste and enjoy the wines many times before, I finally got to meet Sara Carbone of the Carbone winery (Melfi) at the Radici Wines festival last week in Apulia. (Btw, there are some great posts about the festival on the Facebook and Catavino just posted about our epic night of Prosciutto di Montone — “ram ham,” as he called it on the Twitter — and Aglianico.)

If ever there were an Italian appellation in need of Anglophone pronunciation help, it would be Aglianico del Vulture (see, click, and hear above). Between the palatal lateral approximant (gli) of the ampelonym and the dactylic toponym, this appellation name is laden with linguistic challenges for English-speakers. In other words, it’s a tongue-twister.

Sara is a delightful lady and I am a big fan of her wines (and I will begin posting on my favorite wines from the festival, including hers, next week). But I regret to report that she is terribly cross with me.

After I showed her my post where I dispel the myth that the grape name Aglianico comes from ellenico or Hellenic, she Tweeted plaintively about how she is now going to have to reprint all her labels!

Joking aside, Sara’s Aglianico is fantastic and it was one of the many excellent expressions of the grape variety that wowed me and fellow judges at the festival.

Thanks for speaking (and drinking) Italian grape names and appellations!

Aglianico: Grape Name Pronunciation Project


Since I launched the Italian Grape Name Pronunciation Project one month ago today, the most requested ampelonym has been Aglianico.

The grape name poses a challenge for non-Italophones because of the phoneme gli (in Aglianico).

In Italian, the sound that corresponds to gli is what is called a palatal lateral approximant (click the link for the Wiki page) and is represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet by the following symbol:


For the video, I have rendered the grape name as follows:


Italian speakers will note that Bruno — the nicest dude, one of my favorite growers of Aglianico, and a native of Campania where Aglianico is used to make some of the region’s and Italy’s most noble wines — pronounces gli with a softer inflection than his counterparts in the North of Italy, where a five- as opposed to seven-vowel system makes the i in gli more closed (more nasal).

Thanks for reading and speaking (and drinking) Italian grapes!

A great winebar in Asti and 3 wines that blew me away

Special thanks to Tom H, who hipped me to this place.

Above: Classic-method Petit Rouge “Caronte” by Morgex et de La Salle (Val d’Aosta)? Hell ya! Caronte is Dante’s Charon, as the label reveals with these lines: Charon the demon, with eyes of glowing coals/beckons to them, herds them all aboard/striking anyone who slackens with his oar (Inferno 3, 109-11). This wine had elegant structure and citrus fruit balanced by a savory minerality. One of those, I-could-drink-everyday-and-never-get-tired-of-it wines.

Posting hastily as I head out for meetings in Alba and Grinzane this morning and then to Milan to reconnect with friends, old and new, and hopefully to visit a bookshop or too before dinner.

Above: “Natural wine” is a touchy subject in Italy and the term “natural” really refers here, as Thor pointed out the other night, to a philosophy, loose but honest, rather than a rigorously enforced code. Owner Claudio called this a “natural” Barbera. 2006 Piemonte Barbera (although actually a Barbera d’Asti) by Hohler. It was earthy and savory, meaty but not over rich. I completely dug it.

After everyone left yesterday, I spent the day alone, catching up on correspondence, doing a little translating for a client, and resting. Tom H had mentioned TastéVin Vineria, a fantastic wine bar near Asti’s city walls, and so I headed out for a little walk and then took a seat at the tiny counter and chatted with owner Claudio, munching on charcuterie and cheese and tasting wines he recommended.

Above: I was completely floored by this wine. 2004 Aglianico d’Irpinia Drogone by Cantina Giardino. No sulfite added. Rich and savory, gorgeous tannin (slightly mellowed after having been opened the night before), rocks and red fruit, and impressive acidity. Definitely a great candidate for aging. My one word tasting note? Wow.

Okay. That’s all I have time for today. Gotta run. If you ever make it to Asti, please check out TastéVin Vineria. That’s a photo of owners Claudio and his fidanzata below (I’m so sorry, Claudio! I lost the card you gave me last night with your last names!).

TastéVin Vineria
Via Carlo Vassallo, 2
14100 Asti, Italy
0141 320017

In other news…

Only my love holds the other key to me…