Best white from Puglia? Fatalone’s Gioia del Colle Greco Spinomarino

The first and only time I met young winemaker Pasquale Petrera at the Radici Wines festival in Puglia, June 2011, I was immediately impressed by his belief in Natural winemaking (chemical-free farming and native yeast) and by what a simpatico and easygoing guy he was. I knew the wines and I was thrilled to taste with him: as the leading historical estate (some say it was an atavic of his who first bottled 100% Primitivo) in the only hilly appellation of the otherwise flat Apulian peninsula, there are many who would argue that his Fatalone Primitivo is one of the best if not the best from the region.

In the meantime, we’ve featured the wines on my list at Sotto in Los Angeles and they are a favorite of both the staff and the patrons (especially the riserva).

On the occasion of this post dedicated to his Greco (below), I couldn’t resist translating the following passage from his website:

    We consider the vine to be on the same level as a human being. And we give the vine all the best things that we could desire ourselves. Attention and care by the constant, loving presence of the human hand and respect for true artisanal tradition; a cool and comfortable, sound-proofed space with climate control; tranquility and harmony through the playback of classical music enhanced with the sounds of nature, intended to encourage micro-oxygenation and the micro-flora activity present in our natural wine – a living being, sensitive to musical therapy. This is the key to our success.

It never ceases to amaze me how Natural winemakers rely on humankind technology to cull the precious liquid from our fruity counterparts. I hope that — at least — he’s playing vinyl as opposed to digital records for his wines… But, hey, it’s definitely working for him… and for me…

Tracie P and I recently opened a bottle of his Greco Spinomarino, named after the Spinomarino “village road” where (I’m assuming) it’s grown.

The wine was bright and fresh, although gently oxidative in style, a balance of intense salty minerality and white and stone fruit flavor with a kiss of citrus. We loved it… probably the best white wine I’ve ever tasted from Puglia… The last glass, consumed the next night, was even better, richer in body and augmented by a gentle nutty note. And it weighs in for less than $20. Our kinda wine…

In other news…

Primitivo (two ways): Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


Since I’ve spent the last week in Apulia, it only seemed appropriate to feature an Apulian grape this week for the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project. And since we’ve already done Negroamaro, it seemed a propos to feature another one of the most widely planted grapes here, Primitivo. And so, the other day when we went swimming the other day in the Adriatic (at Torre dell’Orso, not far from Lecce), I asked Paolo to pronounce Primitivo for my camera.

Of course, Primitivo is one of the easiest for English-speakers to pronounce. And so I thought it would be fun to spice things up with a dialectal pronunciation.

I’m waiting until after the Radici Wines festival ends to start posting on the wines I’ve tasted, but I’ll give a little preview by revealing that I LOVED the Primitivo by Pasquale Petrera (Fatalone, Gioia del Colle). As it so happens, he uses the dialectal name of the grape on one of the labels of his excellent wines (and I’ll post on my tasting down the road): u Pr’matìv (Il Primitivo, in Italian, the Primitivo [grape]). And so I asked him to take a break from one of the preview tastings and pose for my camera.

Buona visione! And thanks for speaking and drinking Italian grapes!

Dulcis in fundo: Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale and almond paste pastries

But the dish that really blew me away at last night’s dinner at Le Fabriche was this housemade almond paste pastry, a classic of Apulian gastronomy. The combination of nuanced texture and gentle sweetness was sublime.

The pastry paired stunningly well with Le Fabriche’s Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale, which surprised me with its balanced alcohol and gorgeous fruit (and it thrilled the crowd of top-flight wine writers).

The first tastings of the festival begin this morning and then we head out for a winery visit at Pichierri this afternoon (SUPER psyched for that, one of my favorite Apulian producers)… Stay tuned!

Meatballs and Primitivo with my father Zane

The best advice anyone ever gave about blogging was “remember that all blogs are vanity blogs and always write what you feel.” Well, here goes…

“Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over. And that’s the hardest part. Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”

—Henry Hill, Good Fellas, 1990

Last Wednesday’s dinner with my father Zane at Giovanni’s in Munster, Indiana brought to mind the above passage uttered by Henry Hill in Scorsese’s Good Fellas (he had the Veal Piccata, I had the Spaghetti with Meatballs).

Those of you who have followed along here at Do Bianchi haven’t heard much about my father, Zane. In fact, you haven’t heard anything at all. He left the fold of our family when I was a teenager and, truth be told, none of us — my mother and my brothers — have ever entirely recovered from that fissure. The circumstances of that schism began to unfold when I was 11 years old (1978) and in many ways, my Italophilia was borne out of the fact that my closest Italian friends (most of whom were musicians that I met when I was around 19) helped me to see the “transgressions of the father” in a light (Pasolinian?) disparate from that which shines down from Mt. Soledad onto the sun-filled spelunks of the La Jolla Cove where I grew up.

Today, he lives in Highland, Indiana (not far from Munster), a “bedroom” community (as he likes to call it) of Chicago. After leaving our family, he lived in Phoenix, Arizona for many years, and then Israel, where he made the aliyah and continued to work in the defense industry (his second career). About twelve years ago, when he was convinced that he wouldn’t be arrested by the FBI for espionage (as he tells the story), he decided to return to the U.S. for his retirement.

In Italian new wave cinema of the 1960s and early 70s, directors like Antonioni created landscapes that reflected their characters’s stato d’anima (state of soul). The cold temperatures and intonations of grey that greeted me there (above) felt like they came from within me rather than from the environment around me.

Ultimately, Highland, Munster, Hammond, and Gary, Indiana are towns that could have been depicted in Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town (have you seen the recent documentary?). The main employers here are the steel mills and Giovanni’s is arguably the best place around.

Zane doesn’t care much for red wine but he did share a bottle of Primitivo by Cantele with me. It was one of the two bottles that spoke to me, together with Araldica’s Gavi by the glass (Giovanni’s has an impressive website, with its wine list available online).

A friend once wrote: as “the son of a psychiatrist, Dr. J. is capable of finessing virtually any situation with seamless ease.”

I don’t know if that’s true but like every other human being on this planet, I have one father. It wasn’t and never is an easy trip. It had been too long since I’d gone to visit him… but I’m glad that I did.

As I look back and reflect on my visit and use my blog — my web log, my journal, my diary — as a therapeutical tool, there’s one thing that has come into sharp focus in my psyche: sometimes a meatball is just a meatball.

Stars fell on Toscana…

Above: The 1990 Tignanello was youthful and powerful and had a woody note on the nose that some folks like but a turn-off for me. The 1979 Sassicaia was unbelievably good and had that goudron, tarry note that you find in left-bank Bordeaux yet still tasted uniquely Tuscan — at least to me. Photos by Tracie B.

In what seems to me such an uncanny confluence of events, Tracie B and I had the wonderful opportunity to taste two truly iconic wines of Tuscany, from two (arguably) outstanding vintages, on Saturday night — 1990 Tignanello and 1979 Sassicaia. I say “uncanny” partly because there was a white elephant in the room: despite the festive nature of our get-together a casa di Alfonso, no one could ignore the news that broke in Chianti last week. Alfonso had graciously offered to open not just a few gems from his cellar, inspired in part by BrooklynGuy’s recent post on one of the wines he happened to have in his collection. But when he “stood the bottles upright” last week in anticipation, none of us imagined that Tuscan wine would once again find itself in crisis.

Above: Ace made one of his signature dishes, grilled eggplant layered with hard-boiled eggs and tomato sauce, topped with grated pecorino romano and the fired au gratin.

Eric’s exquisite post from last week added another layer of uncanniness to our fête. Tempus vincit omnia: the owner and curator of the Tignanello estate, the Antinori family and enologist Renzo Cotarella, recently told Eric that they plan to replant the legendary Fiorano estate near Rome, where its now defunct master, Prince Buoncompagni Ludovisi, purportedly once swore (as legend has it) that he had ripped out his vines so that his son-in-law, Piero Antinori, would never have the chance to bring modernity to the farm. Tempus vincit omnia.

Above: The 1994 Primitivo di Manduria by Savese was still a baby! It was such a wonderful treat to get to taste this wine with some age on it — a fantastic example of how traditionally made wine, even when made from a grape lacking tannic structure like Primitivo, can achieve ineffable nuance with age.

But like the grated pecorino romano that Ace used to finish his eggplant pie, a final layer of uncanniness was provided by the superb 1994 Primitivo di Manduria from Savese, which we paired with dried figs from Calabria. He stood the Primitivo upright after reading Franco’s wonderful post on his visit with Vittorio Pichierri at the Savese winery. Our “blend” of wines from Tuscany and Apulia seemed to unwittingly match the rumors that arrive these days via the internet from Etruria (I hope they’re untrue but I fear they are not).

Thanks again, Ace, for a truly unforgettable serata da leoni. It felt like stars fell on Toscana that night…

Sing these lyrics, substituting “Toscana” for “Alabama”…

We lived our little drama,
We kissed in a field of white,
And stars fell on Alabama,
Last night.

I can’t forget the glamour,
Your eyes held a tender light,
And stars fell on Alabama,
Last night

I never planned in my imagination,
A situation — so heavenly,
A fairy land where no one else could enter,
And in the center — just you and me.

My heart beat like a hammer,
My arms wound around you tight,
And stars fell on Alabama,
Last night.