Woman and man cannot live by Sangiovese alone (and more baby fever)

Tracie P likes to tease me using an age-old southern expression: my Jeremy P, she says, never meets a stranger. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m a “people person.”

When I met Federico “Fred” Marconi (above, with his truly delightful wife and fantastic cook Lucia) more than two years ago at Vinitaly, I knew that we were kindred spirits and that we were going to become fast friends. He’s an artist, he’s a rocker (a HUGE Ramones fan), and like me, he makes a living working in wine (as the export manager for one of my fav super old-school Brunello growers, Le Presi).

When Fred heard I was coming to Montalcino, he generously offered to let me stay in his parents’s apartment in Castelnuovo dell’Abate for a few days. And he and Lucia had me over for Sunday lunch this afternoon outside of Montichiello (one of the most well-kept Medieval hilltop towns in the Orcia River Valley). That’s the view of the Castello di Velona from Fred’s parents’s place.

Lucia dressed her mother’s homemade pici, the traditional long noodles of Montalcino (made with flour, salt, and water), with eggplant and nepitella, a sort of Central-Southern-Italian fusion dish, a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.

She outdid herself with her Indian-inspired chicken spiedini seasoned with mint. She also made a fantastic roast chicken with wild fennel and mushrooms — the perfect lunch for me considering the overwhelming number of heavy meals in store for me in the days to come.

We paired with this great Greco di Tufo by Benito Ferrara (Avellino), bright acidity, rocks, and (white) fruit. The perfect Sunday lunch before the onslaught of appointments that begins tomorrow (Alfonso and anyone else who works in the wine biz knows what I’m talking about).

Lucia and Fredman’s son Santiago is already catching rock ‘n’ roll fever — and the baby fever is catching too!

In other news…

Check out the grape porn that I posted today at one of my Austin client’s blogs.

Terroir in Brunello (Castelnuovo dell’Abate, the Ramones, and James Brown)

I have a lot of posts lined up from our trip to Italy: this is the next in chronological order… A lot of folks have written me about our visits to Rinaldi and G. Mascarello (organized thanks to our extraordinary guide Franco) and as soon as I “move” through Tuscany and Emilia, I’ll post those tasting notes as well… but first some Montalcino terroir… thanks, everyone, for reading!

brunello di montalcino

Above: On our last night in Italy, in Rome, where we ate at an excellent if cantankerous Roman trattoria, we treated ourselves to a 2000 Brunello di Montalcino by one of my favorite producers, Poggio di Sotto, which lies in the southeastern sub-zone of the appellation, where the wines have an earthier and more pronounced mineral character in my opinion.

Our second day in Italy, we spent the morning in the farmhouse where we were staying (more on that later), sipping stove-top coffee and munching on cookies. After a quick visit to Montalcino proper, we headed south to Castelnuovo dell’Abate to visit one of my favorite people in Montalcino, Federico Marconi. As Fabrizio Bindocci said to me later that evening, when Federico walks into a room, you just can’t help but smile and be in a good mood. It’s really true.

brunello di montalcino

Above: Federico is one of the coolest dudes I know in Montalcino. We have a dream of creating a rock band called the Ramontalcinos (for our shared love of the Ramones; I think that we might also need to recruit McDuff for the project).

Le Presi, where Federico works, is a tiny winery and estate, founded in Castlenuovo dell’Abate by Bruno Fabbri in 1970. Bruno learned about winemaking and developed a passion for Brunello because he worked as an electrician in the legendary Biondi-Santi winery in the “Croce” subzone of Montalcino (just south of Montalcino proper).

brunello di montalcino

Above: One of the things that makes the Castelnuovo subzone unique is the presence alternating layers of sandstone and volcanic subsoils, as illustrated by this cross-section. Le Presi lies on the edge of Castelnuovo (literally newcastle) and one of its walls coincides with the ancient wall of the hilltop town. The volcanic deposits come from the nearby Mt. Amiata, to the south, once an active volcano.

I love the wines of Le Presi, which I first tasted at Vinitaly in 2009: they’re old-school Brunello, sourced from two small growing sites, just south of the town, vinified in a traditional style and aged in large cask. Like Federico, Bruno Fabbri (below) and his son Gianni (who now runs the winery and makes the wine) will tell you that the high concentration of volcanic subsoil (as you can see in the image above) gives their wines their distinctive minerality (and earthiness in my opinion). They call their top growing site “Muro Forte” (literally, strong wall, named after the wall in their cellar that coincides with the ancient town wall).

brunello di montalcino

Above: Tracie P and I really enjoyed talking to Bruno, who seemed happy to share tales of his earlier years, working at Biondi Santi, and making wine in Castelnuovo.

When I mentioned to Bruno that we were staying at the Il Poggione estate in Sant’Angelo in Colle (one of the southwest growing zones), he pointed out that Castelnuovo doesn’t have the same “maritime” influence (i.e., ventilation arriving via sea breeze) that Sant’Angelo has. Some would argue that the one or the other is better (can you guess which subzone Bruno favors?) but one this is for certain: the wines from Castelnuovo (at least those made in a traditional style) have different flavors from those produced in other subzones.

In the words of James Brown:

    Some like’em fat, some like’em tall
    Some like’em short, skinny legs and all
    I like’em all, huh, I like’em proud
    And when they walk
    You know they draw a crowd
    See, you got to have a mother for me

Let me just put it this way, the wines of Le Presi have a mother for me.

Next on deck, the terroir of the southwestern subzone and the fantastic farmhouse where we stayed.

Thanks for reading!

Ramontalcinos say no to Merlot

Above: They say “no” to Merlot. Federico Marconi (left) handles marketing and Gianni Fabbri is the winemaker at the Fabbri family’s winery, Le Presi, one of my favorite Brunello producers. I tasted with them and snapped these photos at the Italian wine trade fair, Vinitaly, earlier this month.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Merlot per se. I’ve tasted great Merlot from all over the world — Bordeaux, Trentino, Friuli, Tuscany, California. I can’t say that I’m a fan of most it but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.

The problem, as Alice pointed out in her post today, is that Merlot is a grape Zelig: “Why does everyone has to grow merlot? Because it’s a grape Zelig? Merlot, like mint, takes to most places.”

Merlot has been grown in Tuscany for centuries, but it was during the 1980s and 90s that it became increasingly popular there, as the Super Tuscan craze began to emerge and Italy began to sell more wine in the Merlotophile American market. Behind his back (and with an acute dose of disdain), many Italian winemakers call Tuscany’s leading wine wizard “Mr. Merlot” — a distinction bestowed upon him because of the ubiquitous Merlot in his award-winning Chiantis and his alleged use of Merlot in Brunello di Montalcino, where appellation regulations require the wine be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes.

Yesterday, when I wrote “just say no to Merlot,” I was addressing and appealing to producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, who are considering an increase in the amount of international grape varieties allowed in their appellation.

My friend, artist, poet, musician, and marketing director for old school Brunello producer Le Presi, Federico “Ramontalcino” Marconi, had this to say:

    The Fred Man too says No to Merlot! Let’s defend a precious little thing called “heritage”… Why are they so short-sighted and unable to recall the nasty backlash of last year’s “Brunello-gate”? I don’t get it: what does these people have against a Good Ol’ Sangiovese!? And let me tell ya: I am a Sangiovese “fan to the bone”. Gabba Gabba Hey!

Above: Federico created this “Old School” t-shirt to reflect Le Presi’s traditional approach to winemaking. Even though the winemaker and his team are young, the wines are as old school as it gets — natural fermentation and aging in botti, large old, neutral oak barrels. Wolfgang was the first to post on this great marketing idea.

When I met Federico and we became friends, we decided we would start a band called the Ramontalcinos (we owe the name to Josh Loving of Vino Vino fame, an accomplished classical guitar player, who will also be part of the act).

I wish more Italian winemakers could be like Federico and Gianni: they marry a punk rock sensibility with a respect and passion for their heritage. They are wise to see that they can better market their wines not by changing their nature but rather by infusing their image and perception of their brand with youthful energy and verve.

Gabba gabba hey.

Ringo says no to Merlot, too. Check out this clip of Ringo singing the “No No Song” with the Smothers Brothers. The best part is the gag at the end (with Ben Einstein)!