Scenes from a (Southern) Italian restaurant… @SottoLA

Pour it, swirl it, smell it, taste it, touch it, kiss it! IT’S FINALLY HERE! The 2008 Cirò Classico by ‘A Vita, made from 100% Gaglioppo grapes, by my friend, the inimitable Francesco Maria De Franco (whom you may remember from the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Project).

You can taste it with me tonight and tomorrow night at Sotto in Los Angeles.

BTW, the abbreviation on the label “F 36 P 27” refers to folio (page) 36, parcel 27 — the vineyard’s listing in the Italian government’s official registry of growing sites.

The year isn’t over yet but I’m going on record: Francesco’s wine is “my top wine for 2011.”

We still don’t have his top-tier wine but I believe that both this and his Rosso Classico Superiore (which I retasted this month in Brescia at the VinNatur table at the European Wine Bloggers Conference) are destined to gain entrance to the pantheon of the greatest wines of Italy.

I love it that much! (And wanted to share this second photo so that you can see the bright color of the noble, tannic wine.)

Sotto was hopping last night and I was psyched to debut a bunch of new wines, including the ‘A Vita and three new wines from Alois (Campania)… more on those later…

There is so much good shit on the menu at Sotto but I just can’t resist Chef Zach’s pizza margherita.

If you happen to be in LA tonight or tomorrow night, come down and I’ll pour you some wine and spin you some wine tales!

Gaglioppo, one of the most exciting categories in Italy today

Above, from left: Gaglioppo producers Francesco De Franco, Giuseppe Ippolito, yours truly, Giuseppe and Marinella Parrilla with their son Gianluca (Radici Wines Festival, Apulia, June 2011).

Reflecting on my recent experience in Apulia at the Radici Wines Festival, celebrating the indigenous grapes of Southern Italy, the grape that I can’t stop thinking about is Gaglioppo — the light-skinned, tannic red grape grown and raised as a noble wine in the appellation of Cirò, Calabria.

Above: What a thrill to get to taste with Nicodemo Librandi, one of the Gaglioppo greats and a softly spoken, gentle, knowing man.

Over the course of a week in Apulia, I got to taste a wide array of Gaglioppo bottlings, including richer and more tannic expressions (read longer maceration times) and lighter, yet equally powerful wines.

And although Aglianico del Vulture and Campania Aglianico were the true stars of the event, the wine that kept me going back for more was Galgioppo. From Librandi (the classic) to ‘A Vita by Francesco De Franco (the wine that captivated me the most), I discovered something entirely unique in the world of Italian wine today: a loosely banded however coherent group of heterogeneous winemakers who share a vision of wines that speak of and to the places where they are made and the people who make and drink them.

Above: Look at the beautiful light color in Librandi’s flagship Duca Sanfelice Gaglioppo! Man, that wine was awesome! I’ve been pouring both their Cirò rosato and bianco at Sotto in Los Angeles and I showed their classic Cirò in Atlanta at a conference where I spoke earlier this year. Fantastic wines, great value.

I would never compare apples to oranges or Nebbiolo to Gaglioppo but Gaglioppo does share a fundamental attribute with its more famous counterpart in the north: when vinified in a traditional manner, it can create that ineffable balance of lightness and power in the wine, the “unbearable lightness” I like to call it, the paradox of wine that puzzles and thrills my palate and makes me return my nose to the glass and my tongue to the wine over and over again…

Above: The 1997 Ripe del Falco by Ippolito 1845 was one of the most stunning wines I tasted all week. Still in its youth, this wine blew me away with its power balanced by subtle nuance. The nose alone was enough to inebriate my sensibility with sensuous fruit and salty earth. I loved this wine.

Of course, the festival entries represented the best of the best and those winemakers whose devotion to the authenticity of their appellation is first and foremost in their approach to winemaking and marketing of their products. But you could definitely sense a solidarity among the winemakers, who all seemed to share the same joy and smile when I sat down to taste with them… as if to say, we know how your eyes and your palate are about to light up as we share that joy with you…

For folks like me, who can no longer afford the prices of Nebbiolo bottlings that remained in our reach even 10 years ago, Galioppo represents an excellent ground-floor opportunity for modest collectors who want to cellar affordable wines.

It’s one of the categories Tracie P and I will be cellaring for Baby P’s birth-year wine. :)

Wondering how to pronounce Gaglioppo? Click here.

Cirò: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


This morning finds me in Southern California on my way to Sotto in Los Angeles, where I’ll be working the floor tonight — pouring and talking about the wines — and introducing my good friend Giampaolo Venica tomorrow night, when we’ll be hosting a dinner in his honor and featuring his wines.

The wine list at Sotto is devoted almost exclusively to Southern Italian wines and so it seemed a propos to feature the appellation of Cirò (Calabria) for this week’s episode of the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project.

That’s Cirò winemaker Francesco De Franco, above, who appeared here previously for the pronunciation of Gaglioppo (and who made one of the most original contributions so far).

In the wake of his Gaglioppo performance, a lot of readers — many of them women — wrote me to tell me how endearing Franco is.

But I regret to inform you that my camera simply doesn’t do justice to this man’s charisma. Like his wine — ‘A Vita (Life) is the name — Franco is one of the most vibrant and electric personages of the Italian wine world today. I was thrilled to finally meet him in person at the Radici Wines festival the week before last in Apulia and I can’t recommend his wine highly enough.

The wines are scheduled to make their North American debut this fall.

But in the meantime, his moving image, as seen through my lens, will have to suffice…

Thanks again, to everyone, for all the support for this ongoing project. And thanks for speaking and drinking Italian grapes!

Gaglioppo: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


The inimitable Francesco De Franco (above) first appeared on my blog when I wrote about his use of social media to battle the evil forces of the globalization and industrialization of his appellation, Cirò in Calabria. Even though I’ve never met Francesco, I know we’re going to become friends: anyone who writes “I am trying to avoid that a wine unique and inimitable becoming a wine without soul” is a friend of mine!

I finally got to taste his wine in February in Italy when my good friend Riccardo (one of Francesco’s distributors in Italy) gave me a bottle. (We shared it over dinner in Quarto d’Altino with Tracie P’s high school friend from her Singapore days.)

Man, I was BLOWN away by how good this wine was… It entirely changed my view and impression of what Gaglioppo can be. While most producers are spoofing their Gaglioppo to be richer in body and color (à la californienne), Francesco lets the real, honest fruit shine through in this gorgeous wine… The best news is that Francesco’s wines should be hitting North American shores in the fall. I CANNOT WAIT to put this on the list at Sotto!

I wrote to Francesco, asking him to send me audio/video of his pronunciation of Gaglioppo (another tough one for Anglophones because of the palatal lateral approximant gli, as in Aglianico).

I’m not sure that Francesco is destined to be remembered as Italy’s 21-century Chopin, but I LOVE what he did for the video… and I can’t recommend his wine highly enough to you…

Postcard from Cirò: “I am trying to avoid that a wine unique and inimitable becoming a wine without soul.”

Francesco de Franco (above), owner, grower, and winemaker at ‘A Vita in Cirò, left the following comment on my post Soylent Merlot: the Montalcino Syndrome infects Calabria. Please have a look at the thread and add your voice to the chorus if so inclined.

I am a small wine producer from Cirò. I together with other producers (Tenuta del Conte, Acting, Crapisto, Arcuri etc.) am trying to avoid that a wine unique and inimitable becoming a wine without soul.

We are not conservatives or traditionalists, we want the wine of Ciro speaks of the terroir. I am totally with Cevola is a matter of pride and style. I am convinced that the Gaglioppo grape may make an elegant and surprising wine.

I believe it.

—Francesco de Franco

Soylent Merlot: the Montalcino Syndrome infects Calabria

It’s the year 2010… People are still the same. They’ll do anything to get what they need. And they need MERLOT.

I couldn’t help but think of the classic horror movie Soylent Green (1973) when a desperate plea appeared in my feed this morning.

Yesterday, the authors of the blog In Difesa dell’Identità del Vino Cirò (In Defense of the Identity of Cirò) posted an open letter to the Italian Association of Enologists* asking them to examine the absurdity of what’s happening on the ground in their appellation in Cirò and Cirò Marina, Calabria (the letter was reposted today by one of Italy’s top wine blogs Esalazioni Etiliche and Mr. Franco Ziliani and I posted about it at VinoWire today as well).

Essentially, this is what has happened… Back in the summer of 2009, before EU reforms came into effect, a relatively small group of commercial producers in Cirò got together and rewrote appellation regulations to allow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the first time in Cirò. Calling themselves the “Consortium of Cirò producers,” they submitted their changes to the Italian government, even though their group did not include the flagship producer Librandi, nor the majority of Cirò producers. As a result, today, the EU is considering said change in the appellation even though it was proposed by a minority of greedy, commercial producers.

Mr. Franco Ziliani said it best when he first posted on what was happening there back in June 2009, calling it the “Montalcino Syndrome.” The parallels are crystal clear: a small group of large, industrial wine producers are lobbying (successfully) to eclipse their smaller competitors who not only play by the rules but actually care about the people, place, and grapes that go into their wines. (Remember what Baldo said in the Brunello debate in October 2008? Italian appellation regulations are intended to protect the territory, not the consumer.)

It’s unlikely that the blog and accompanying petition will stop the changes from being approved by Brussels. As a result of the amendment, commercial producers will pump up their Gaglioppo with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (easier and cheaper to grow) and the wines… well, we already know what the wines will taste like… Soylent Green, anyone?

Here in Texas, btw, we eat Soylent Greens accompanied by Charro beans and hot sauce.

*I’m not linking to the Association website because it requires that you download the latest version of Flash to view it.