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…

96 Giacosa Rabajà, 90 Struzziero Taurasi, 82 Antinori Chianti Classico, holy crap

From the department of “that’s what friends are for”…

Lots of good folks came out last night to share well wishes and good thoughts on my last visit to Los Angeles and Sotto for the year.

Schachter pulled out all the stops, reaching deep into his cellar for his last bottle of 1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà (white label) — honestly one of the best bottle of wine I’ve ever had. True to the legacy of the Rabajà cru, this mighty wine — from what many believe to be the greatest vintage of that decade — delivered aromas of mint and tar and earthy, savory flavors before revealing delicate, sublime fruit…

Keep smiling, keep shining, knowing you can always count on me, for sure.

Later in the evening, Anthony, Lars (who was in from Chicago), and Dan came in for a late-night dinner at the end of my shift.

Dan brought a number of incredible bottles, including the 1990 Taurasi Riserva by Struzziero (classic blended Aglianico with no vineyard designation). I’d only ever tasted Struzziero back to 1993 (which we have on the list at Sotto) and I was blown away by the elegance and the balance of this wine, still so fresh and with the vibrant acidity that traditional Aglianico can deliver. Another best-ever wine, with gorgeous ripe red fruit and an ethereal earthiness that prompted Lars and me to call this top wine in the flight.

And now there’s so much more I see, And so by the way I thank you.

Although no show-stopper like the Struzziero Taurasi, the 1982 Chianti Classico Riserva by Antinori was fantastic — a wine, we all agreed, from a time before America, California, and Parker, a wine from a time when Antinori still made wine. Classic Sangiovese, with impressive acidity for a wine this old and delicious plum and red stone fruit flavor. It was a fantastic pairing for the sous-vide Wagyū tongue that chef Steve sent over to our table. Loved this wine and the now forgotten era of Tuscan winemaking for which it spoke to me.

My goodness… From my baby shower to all the hugs that the staff gave me before we said good-bye, from the camaraderie, solidarity, and thrilling wines to the wishes that our friends shared with me on this last trip to Los Angeles… I know that I never would have emerged from the darkness of my life before to reach this magical, blessed moment… what a year it’s been… someday I’ll tell Baby P all about it…

Oh and then for the times when we’re apart, well then close your eyes and know, the words are coming from my heart.

Taurasi, a guest post from Naples (and a vertical of Taurasi tomorrow in LA)

I’ve been doing my homework, getting ready to present a mini-vertical of Taurasi by Struzziero tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday nights at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I curate the wine list). Yesterday, I reached out to my friend Marina Alaimo who works with top Southern Italian wine blogger and journalist Luciano Pignataro in Naples. Here’s what she sent me. Buona lettura!

Dear Jeremy,

In the attached photo, you’ll see old plantings of Aglianico Taurasino. This type of training method is called starzete: it’s a type of high trellis, with four long canes. It allowed the farmers to grow vegetables and other crops below the vines and to bind the canes to trees. As a result, the farmer could use the available land to its greatest potential by employing integrated farming. Furthermore, the starzete training system guaranteed an abundant crop of grapes. As you know, in the past, grape growers aimed for quantity. I’ve also sent you a photo of the Castello di Taurasi, symbol of the appellation.


Smells like horse shit and I’m glad I stepped in it: 01 Taurasi by Struzziero

“Smells like horse shit,” said Tracie P last night with no small amount of satisfaction when she and I opened a bottle of 2001 Taurasi Riserva Campoceraso (field of the cherry tree) with our friends, sommelier Mark Sayre and chef Todd Duplechan at Trio in Austin. I bought the bottle, a current release for Taurasi, back in February from my friend and fellow champion of the wine proletariat Roberto when I was out in Los Angeles.

Whenever I teach a class or lead a tasting, the attendees are often surprised when I tell them that “I want my red wine to smell like horse shit and fruit and taste like fruit and rocks.” Smell like shit? Yes, and be glad you stepped in it!

Of course, the canonical descriptor for aromas like these is barnyard and you’ll often find it used for certain categories of Pinot Noir, most famously for example, from Burgundy.

The 01 Struzziero — probably my favorite producer of Taurasi — was meaty and salty, with bright acidity, and showed rich black fruit and savory flavors in the mouth. And as the barnyard and a little bit of Bret Michaels wore off, delicate notes of red berry fruit began to emerge on the nose.

When chef Todd tasted the wine, he ingeniously created a pizza inspired by the flavors of the wines: speck, eggplant, shallots, blue cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, and dried fig… I loved the pairing and I thought about how wonderful it is to break the chains that bind so many of the world’s noble wines, like this Taurasi. Too often, in my experience, people insist on pairing a wine like this with braised meats. Yes, traditionally, that’s what you would pair this with. But the whimsical — capricciosa — pizza culled unexpected bright notes from this rich and intense wine.

In other Texas news…

I’m super stoked to see that Mark and Todd are tweeting these days. I’m following and you should, too. These guys perform magic nightly at the restaurant and they’re now sharing some of their enogastronomic insights with the world (Tracie P and I are hoping that Todd will write about some of the baby food he and his wife Jessica, an awesome pastry chef, are cooking up for their newborn).

In other other Texas news…

Did you see that Alfonso and I are leading a panel on wine blogging at this year’s TexSom conference? You think “horse shit” is outrageous? Wait ’til you hear what Alfonso and I are going to talk about! NC-17, for sure. Now, if we could only get young Texan wine professionals to stop saying “som”!

1982 Taurasi: monosyllabic tasting note “wow” (and notes on the origin of the name)

From the department of “it’s not always easy to be an Italian wine professional, is it?”…

Above: I’ve tasted 1982 Taurasi by Mastroberardino before, but this bottle was special.

Alfonso will tell you: Dallas is a tough BYOB town. It’s not like Austin, where an abundance of trailer-park dining destinations and barbecue joints make it an ideal city for the BYOB-lover.

But on any given night you’ll find nearly half of the Dallas wine scene at Urbano Cafe, a relatively anonymous eatery in an otherwise gritty part of this otherwise ostentatious city, sandwiched between Jimmy’s Food Store (a great Italian wine and food destination, btw) and Spiceman F[arm to] M[arket] 1410, an amazing source for farm-to-table produce and heirloom and otherwise unusual cultivars.

I found myself there not too long ago with the cats from Grailey’s, a private wine club for high-rolling Dallasites. (Don’t look at their blog because you might end up with an acute case of Pinot envy.)

The price of admission to Grailey’s is a little steep for me but whenever I’m in town, the generously natured lads there invite me over for a taste of something old and Italian. You see, this private wine club was founded on the site of ol’ Mr. Grailey Lee Jaynes’s abandoned cellar. And while they might be selling Bordeaux-this or California-cult-that on any given day, there are lots of “onesies” and “twosies” of old Italian bottlings lying around from the old man’s collection. In most cases, those wines have been sitting there since Grailey purchased them.

Such was the case of the amazingly vibrant bottle of 1982 Taurasi by Mastroberardino. I’d tasted this wine on a few occasions in NYC but this bottling was by far the best expression of the appellation and vintage I’ve ever had. The fruit was bright and the acidity brilliant. When vinified in a tradtional style (as this wine was), Aglianico achieves a nobility rivaled by few other grapes varieties (Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, I’d hazard to say). A bygone wine preserved in an anomaly in the space-time continuum.

Above: Michael Byington is one of the Dallas wine scene regulars who was there that night. Nearly every table in the restaurant was passing glasses to the next in a glorious and collegial exchange of vinosity.

I attribute the excellent condition of the wine to the fact that it had not been removed from old man Grailey’s cellar until the day we drank it.

The 1983 Hermitage La Chapelle by Jaboulet? Monosyllabic tasting note: “slurp.”

Thanks again, AJ, Dave, and Simon! You guys ROCK!

Btw, the toponym Taurasi is believed to be derived from the pre-Roman (probably Etruscan) taur[o] meaning mountain. One of the earliest documents mentioning the ancient village of Taurasi dates back to the 14th-century and there is also a mention inscribed in the sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus (died 280 B.C.E.). The village sits above the valley of the Calore river at 398 meters a.s.l., hence the name.

Sounds like a great place to raise wine, no? (The hydronym Calore is a bit more problematic so I’ll have to go into that on another occasion.)

Thanks for reading!