Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A visit to the Terra Costantino winery and vineyard (Viagrande, Mt. Etna)

The 2017 edition of Contrada dell'Etna had been an unqualified success. It was well supported by producers and attendees alike and the new location allowed the sweep and scope of Etna winemaking to be displayed to full effect. But it was now Tuesday; and we had wineries to visit. Brandon Tokash had lined up two estates on the southwest flank of the volcano for us to visit: Terra Costantino and Cantine Nicosia. We began the day at Terra Costantino.

We were welcomed upon arrival by Salvatore Spampinato, who was on the second day of his job as Hospitality Manager (I would not have known it was his second day except I asked how long he had been there as a prelude to complimenting him on his knowledge -- and skilled dissemination -- of the characteristics of the estate.). We were joined by Fabio Costantino, the owner, shorty after the start of the tour.

Terra Costantino is a 10-ha organic vineyard located in the Contrada Blandano area of the commune of Viagrande on the southwest flank of Mt. Etna. The estate is owned by the Costantino family and managed day-to-day by Fabio Costantino. Maps of the estate location are provided below.

High-level view of Terra Costantino location on Mt Etna

More detailed view of Terra Costantino location
Located as it is on the volcano's southeast flank, Terra Costantino experiences markedly different climatic conditions than north-slope-resident wineries. First, it is warmer in the southeast than in the north; 4 to 7 degrees warmer, as a matter of fact.

Second, with no protective layer of mountains, the region bears the full brunt of the wind and rain coming in off the Ionian Sea. In the fall and spring, dry winds form over North Africa, pick up moisture over the Mediterranean, and barrel into the Sicilian coast at upwards of 50 miles an hour. These winds are called Scirocco and an event can last from 1/2 day to several days. The wind makes it easier to farm organically as it helps to keep mold at bay.

Third, the southeast is unprotected from the autumn and winter rains but the combination of rapid runoff and early morning sun contribute to its attractiveness as a growing region (especially for whites).

The soils here are described as lavic with low clay content and this profile is thought to provide rich flavor and body for the estate's wines. There are heavy deposits of lavic stone sub-surface and the winery has carved out a number of "exhibition spaces" to show the sub-surface architecture and the manner in which the vines negotiate these almost impenetrable rock layers in search of the water and nutrients that lie below.




The vineyards are farmed organically and are planted to Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante, Minella, and Cataratta with 60% of the vines planted cordone speranato and the remaining Albarello. Rootstocks are Ruggieri and Paulson. Average vine age ranges between 15 and 35 years.






The farm is not a monoculture. Chestnut, olive, and cherry trees are planted all around the estate. Legumes are planted between the rows to aid in nitrogen fixing. An old-style palmento is also located on the estate.

Salvatore leading us into the Palmento



Grapes are harvested based on sugar and acid levels as determined by tasting and analysis. There is a first selection in the vineyard followed by selection at a sorting table in the harvest reception area. In the cellar, cru reds are fermented in concrete tanks of varying dimensions and then aged in barrels. The top whites are fermented in barrels.


Brandon and Fabio just prior to us going into the tasting room

The wines we tasted are shown below.


We started out with the 2016 deAetna Rosata, a 90/10 Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio blend. This wine was subjected to 3 - 6 hours of skin contact after which it was processed like a white wine. It had a Provencal color and showed strawberries on the nose. Great acidity on the palate along with spice, minerality, and citrus rind. A sense of effervescence. A beautiful, powerful wine.

The second wine tasted was the 2015 deAetna Bianco DOC. The year 2015 was not well regarded because of excessive rainfall. This particular wine was 80% Carricante with the remainder divided between Catarratto and Minella. Stems, tree bark, and dried herbs on the nose. Grape fruit and salinity on the palate.

The 2014 deAetna Rosso DOC was 90% Nerello Mascalese from 35-year-old vines yielding 50 - 60 quintals/ha. This wine was fermented in stainless steel where it underwent malolactic fermentation and was aged for between 6 and 10 months. It was aged for an additional year in-bottle. Elegant. Coconut-oil character along with stemminess and bark. Would have preferred a little more structure. Mineral finish. Almost austere.

The 2013 Contrada Blandano is 80% Carricante. Some coconut oiliness, beautiful white peach, rosemary and dried herbs. A Semillon fatness. Salinity on palate and surprisingly low acidity. Could be more focused. Lime and lime rind.

Two consistent features that I noted in the wines of this estate was an oiliness, a feature that I found attractive, and a sapidity. I find the salinity in Carricante whites a pleasing characteristic but thought that it was excessive in the 2015. Not sure if and how much the excessive rain of the vintage played into that. As these vines age, and as the estate continues its work on ever-improving fruit quality, these wines will become even more distinctive over time.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Some casual-dining options in Milan for the #winelover in you

Like many US-originating visitors to Piemonte, I either fly into Torino and hightail it to the hills or fly into Milan with the same result. This time, though, Ron, Bev, Parlo, and I planned it differently. We flew into Milan at midday on Saturday and stayed until Sunday afternoon and, on the way out, we left Piemonte after a Friday morning meeting and stayed in Milan until Saturday (for them) and Sunday (for us). This itinerary gave us two solid blocks of time to explore some of the culinary and vinous offerings of the city.

We had no clear jumping-off point so Ron asked the concierge at the Park Hyatt for  a recommendation of a nearby establishment with a quality wine list where we could have a late lunch. He directed us to what turned out to be Giacomo Arengario located on the third floor of the Museo del Novocento. From the Hyatt we had a pleasant walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, across the plaza fronting the Duomo, to the museum on the other side of the square.

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II



We entered the museum on the ground floor but could not find the entrance to the elevator so we walked up a large spiral that circled the elevator shaft all the way to the restaurant on the third floor. We were directed to tables resident on a veranda that looked out over the Duomo and the crowds milling about on the plaza below. It was stunning. But we had work to do.

Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate) by Pellizza da Volpedo.
On display on the ground floor of Museo del Novocento


Our first order of business was perusal of the wine list. It did not disappoint. Ron saw a Jacques Selosse Initial and we agreed that that would be a great welcome drink. We paired that with some Langoustines to share and were delighted. In addition to the Initial, we ordered a 2011 Le Pergole Tortre. I had some grilled oysters as an appetizer and found it to be of high quality. This was a tasty late lunch and, by the way, a concert had begun in the plaza fronting the Duomo.

Grilled Oysters


We had gotten an initial taste of what Milan had to offer; and we wanted more. We asked the manager at Giacomo Arengario to recommend a nearby wine bar and, without missing a beat, he said Signorvino. After some additional questions, we decided to visit that establishment. It was about a 10-minute walk from where we were, towards the rear of the Duomo.

As we stepped through the door, I immediately thought of Lanivin in Paris. The establishment existed on multiple levels with retail wine sales and a coffee shop on the ground floor and additional retail sales and a limited-service restaurant on the top floor. Wine was everywhere. A small, glass-enclosed room just inside the entrance housed the gems.






We went up to the top floor and were told that they were fully booked. We could have a table now but would have to yield it at 8:00 pm in order for them to meet their reservations load. They did not remind us of this after we began ordering wine.

The staff at Signorvino is friendly and attentive and the large selection of wines ensures that you will find something to pair with your food. Given that we had just finished a late lunch, we bought some finger items to accompany the wines shown below.

Wines drunk at Signorvino

We had a great time at Signorvino but all good things must come to an end. Our normal practice when we travel together is to end the night with Champagne and chicken wings at the bar in Ron's hotel. The Park Hyatt did not have chicken wings so the guys settled for burgers and the 2007 Delamotte Le Mesnil while the ladies shared a pasta and a salad.

On Sunday we were scheduled to drive to Lake Como for lunch but had some difficulty with our rental car and opted for lunch in Milan instead. The Concierge recommended Ristorante Antica Osteria Stendahl which, he said, was only a 10-minute walk away, had great food, and a great wine list. He was misinformed on two of the foregoing: it took us 20 minutes to get there and the wine list was pedestrian.

The restaurant had seating both on the inside and outside. We opted for the former. As I perused the food menu, I heard grunts of displeasure coming from Ron's direction. He was not liking the wine offerings. The food, though, was another matter. The menu was organized as is traditional in most of Italy but then it had another section -- titled "The Way it used to be" -- that provided a selection of old-style dishes. And it was there that I did my damage. After a starter of creamed codfish, followed by Langoustines, I dug into an oven-baked rustic chicken with spicy sauce and oven-baked potatoes. This dish was as delicious as it was sizable.

Creamed Codfish


Oven-Baked Chicken and Potatoes

Wines drunk at Stendahl

We had a wonderful week tasting wines in Piemonte and, after our Friday mid-morning visit at Cantina Bartolo Mascarello, we headed out of Piemonte and back to Milan. We got back to the hotel around 3:00 pm, with the postponed lunch very much on our minds. The concierge pointed us to Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone. This restaurant is located on the ground floor of the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in the heart of Milan's high-end shopping district, about a 15-minute walk from Il Duomo.

The restaurant has a very appealing outdoor seating area but the wives opted for the inside. The wine list here is copious and deep, the staff is very accommodating, and the food was of excellent quality. This restaurant is worth your time.





Wines drunk at Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone
A late lunch begets a late dinner so we did not show for dinner at Rovello 18 until around 9:30 pm. We were running very late so we took a cab over (We walked back to the hotel at the conclusion of the dinner and it took us around 20 minutes.).

As we came into the restaurant we saw a sideboard loaded down with top-end Italian wines and knew right away that we were going to have a good time that evening. I cannot say enough about the efforts of the Corina Cotoara, one-half of the management team, who went to every length to ensure that we had the best time ever. She was very patient in explaining the offerings and options on the menu and proved her customer focus when we purchased the first bottle of wine. The wine had a granny's attic character that both Ron and I thought would blow off (the wives felt differently, and let us know that) but, unbidden, Corina opened another bottle and brought it to the table. The new bottle was much fresher and drinking well right out of the gate. She said that the owner had trained her to not let the wine get in the way of the customer having a memorable time at the restaurant. She could do no wrong by us after that.

The menu was deep here and the dishes that we selected were memorable. Ron and I had been on a Tagliatelle kick, splitting a plate in every restaurant that we went to. This one was excellent. Of the Milan restaurants that we visited, this one had the best balance between food and wine. And the balance was at a very high level.


Ham and Culatello

Tagliatelle with Veal Ragu

Chef, one-half of the management team


Rabbit with Bacon

Corina Cotoara, other half of the management team

Wines drunk at Rovello 18

So fellow traveler, tarry a while and sample some of the Milanese offerings. Your overall trip will be enriched for the effort.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Cannubi Hill and its associated Barolo subzones

During my mid-May trip to Piemonte, I visited a number of estates that produce wines made from grapes sourced from one or more of the five Cannubi subzones. These subzones are five of 170 MGAs in Barolo DOCG and five of 37 MGAs in the commune of Barolo (An MGA (Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive) is a "more specific officially delimited area of production located within the Barolo DOCG appellation.").

The name Cannubi had historically been associated with the vineyard on the central part of the hill while the vineyard to the northeast was named Boschis/Monghisolfo and those to the southeast were named San Lorenzo, Valletti, and Muscatel, in that order. In 1995, the Commune of Barolo allowed the non-historic Cannubi vineyards to affix the name Cannubi to their vineyard names such that they were then referred to as Cannubi Boschis, Cannubi San Lorenzo, Cannubi Valleti, and Cannubi Muscatel. Subsequent legal rulings allowed these vineyards to be referenced in this latter manner or to be simply called Cannubi. In that manner, a producer using grapes from the historic San Lorenzo vineyard can either label the wines produced therefrom as Cannubi San Lorenzo or Cannubi.

When the Padano Sea retreated from what is today's Langhe, it left behind layers of clay, calcareous marl, blue marl, tufa, sand, and sulfur-bearing chalk. The Barolo zone is divided into two soil subzones based on the age of the deposits. To the west, the soils around the towns of Barolo and La Morra are composed of a calcareous (limestone-rich) marl with high levels of sand -- referred to as Tortonian (11 - 7 million years ago) -- that yields aromatic, elegant, medium-bodied wines which evolve in the bottle earlier than their counterparts.  The wines from the Barolo commune are thought to be more complex, and broader in texture, than the more perfumed and graceful La Morra wines. The Langhian (until the 1960s, Helvetian) soil around the communes of Serralunga d'Alba, Monforte d'Alba, and Castiglione Falletto was deposited between 16 and 13 million years ago. The soils of this zone are mostly calcareous clay marls with little sand content and produces a wine that is more structured and requires longer aging.

Cannubi is a long, gradually sloping hill which extends northeast from the village of Barolo and is contained in its entirety within the namesake commune. According to the Marchesi di Barolo website, Cannubi hill is protected from storms and extreme weather by higher neighboring hills. Both Damilano and Marchesi di Barolo point to the uniqueness of the hill in that it sits at the convergence of the aforementioned Helvetian and Tortonian soil zones resulting in "grey-blue marls rich in magnesium and manganese carbonate that, on the surface, thanks to the air and the weathering, turn into grey-white marls" (Marchesi di Barolo).

The red oval indicates location of the Cannubi hill 
The vital statistics of the Cannubi subzones, as well as the producers plying their trade therein, are contained within Masnaghetti's Barolo MGA. I have consolidated that data and present them in the charts below.

Note that all of the above sub-zones have the legal right
to be called Cannubi (Sources: Map is an extract from the official Barolo map;
data from Masnaghetti's MGA

Note that all of the above sub-zones have the legal right 
to be called Cannubi.
Antonio Galloni has divided the Barolo crus into four classes -- Exceptional, Outstanding, Noteworthy, and Delimited -- broadly correlating to the Burgundy classification scheme of Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village, and Region. The characterization of these classes, and his placement of the Cannubi crus within that schema, is indicated in the table below. According to Galloni, "Cannubi is the most famous and well-known vineyard in Barolo, but it has rarely produced wines that in my view stand with the very best in Piedmont."

RatingExplanationCannubi Cru
ExceptionalVineyards that consistently produce distinctive wines of a very high quality, irrespective of the quality or style of the year

Outstanding… often produce wines of true personality and class but do so less consistently than Exceptional vineyardsCannubi Boschis or Cannubi
Cannubi San Lorenzo or Cannubi
Cannubi Valletta or Cannubi
NoteworthyA vineyard that over the years has proven to be the source of distinctive winesCannubi
Cannubi Muscatel or Cannubi
DelimitedGeographically delimited; little, no, or undistinguished track record


I will be reprising my visit to Chiara Boschis' E. Pira e Figli in my first post on the Piedmont winery visit.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A summary of the various dry white wine styles

In this series I examined the winemaker's challenge in navigating between the twin evils of reduction and oxidation in the construction of white wines; both faults but both having desirable characteristics as you move further away from the edges. The below chart illustrates the dry white wine styles that have been covered in this series. Below the chart are short descriptors of each of the styles along with links to the posts in which they are detailed.


According to Lukacs' research (Inventing Wine), modern wine did not arise until the advent of the relevant scientific and technological advances of the Enlightenment. Prior to that period, wine drinkers consumed oxidized, sour wines that were "fortified" with all manner of additives designed to either slow its decay or make it more "palatable." Lukacs points out that winemaking in the first half of the 20th century was a reprise of thousands of years past -- "a process of letting nature run its course."

But, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, grape growers and winemakers began to employ new tools to attain specific "stylistic and qualitative ends." On the technical side, the introduction of temperature control and regular chemical analysis allowed greater control over the fermentation and this gave greater impetus to the concept that humans "could and should assume control" of the winemaking process.

Based on Clark Smith's interpretation of the history of that period, the "tools of 20th century winemaking" were stainless steel, inert gas, refrigeration, and sterile filtration (a product of nuclear energy) and this "modern winemaking revolution exploded out of Germany" in the form of Rieslings that were fresh, sterile-filtered, and completely without oxidative characters. According to Smith: "the idea of a light, sweet, fresh, fruity wine like Blue Nun was as world changing as color television." 

These tools and techniques allowed the introduction and use of a reductive style of winemaking. The essence of reductive winemaking is the production of wine without the presence of oxygen. Grapes are harvested from cool regions and the juice is fermented cold in closed stainless steel tanks. Juice is protected, as is the wine, through maturation and bottling. This method is particularly beneficial for grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Chenin Blanc, and Gewurtztraminer that are rich in varietal aromas that can be placed at risk in the face of oxidizing effects.

In the case of hyperoxidation, the deliberate introduction of oxygen into the juice causes enzymatic oxidation of the phenols. The process entails adding large amounts of oxygen to the juice, allowing it to settle, and then racking it from the brown precipitate just prior to fermentation. This oxidation will cause browning of the juice but the phenols will have been polymerized and will precipitate out.

Skin-contact white wines are recognized by a combination of their residence on the early part of the orange color spectrum, their earthy flavors, and enhanced mouthfeel. These characteristics are the result of macerating the skin of crushed and de-stemmed white grapes in their own juice (i) prior to pressing and (ii) under controlled time and temperature conditions.

White juice fermented on their skins are differentiated from skin-contact wines both on the basis of time -- skin contact wines are macerated for between 2 and 24 hours while the fermented-on-skin wine is macerated for weeks to months -- and phase within the production process -- skin contact is a pre-fermentation process while its compatriot extends beyond that to fermentation and, in many cases, maturation. These skin-fermented wines, more commonly known as "orange" wines, can be further broken down into two broad classes: traditional and contemporary.

With all of the advantages associated with stainless steel fermentation, oak had to have some overriding benefits for winemakers to continue using it as a fermentation vehicle. And it did. According to Ibern-Gomez, et al*., "Fermentation in oak barrels leads to wines with much more complex sensory properties, largely attributed to the phenols extracted from oak wood." Further, wine is aged in wooden barrels to: (i) enhance its flavor, aroma, and complexity through transfer of substances from the wood to the wine; and (ii) allow gradual oxidation of the wine.

The premature oxidation issue in white Burgundies has been identified by both Jancis Robinson and and Jon Bonne as the engine driving the change in Burgundy from 'buttery,' 'rich,' and 'toasty' Chardonnays to wines that are now characterized by (Jancis):
  • High levels of acidity
  • No trace of the toastiness of obvious oak
  • Leanness on the palate
  • The tell-tale flinty smell of recently struck matches.
I have named this style of winemaking oxo-reductive.

The final style-specific installment in my discourse on white wine styles was the non-ouillé (evaporative loss during aging not topped up) Savagnin wines of the Jura. These oxidatively styled wines are unique to both the region and the cultivar.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme