Articles by: Charles Scicolone

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Università Del Caffè USA. Learning to Make Good Espresso and Cappuccino with illy

     Where can one learn the art of the barista and how to make the perfect espresso and cappuccino?  The answer is easy:  at the Universita del Caffè USA.

    The Università del Caffè was created in Naples in 1999 by illy caffè.  Its purpose is to promote and disseminate the culture of quality coffee using specific theoretical and practical activities. It offers a wide range of courses tailored to meet the needs and characteristics of various types of users: managers, bartenders, restaurant owners, hotel managers, coffee growers and consumers.  This program is so sucessfull   that there are now 19 international UDC sites.


    The illy Company was founded in 1933 by Francesco Illy in Trieste, Italy. Two years later, he created the “illetta”, an automatic espresso machine that substituted compressed air for steam and created the modern espresso machine that we use today.

    I first tasted illy caffè in Trieste in 1994 and was amazed by how good it was. Even though it was very hard to find in the US, my wife Michele wrote about it in her dessert cookbook “La Dolce Vita”.  On our next trip to Trieste, we arranged to visit the illy factory and were greeted by the late Dr.Enesto Illy, the son of the founder, who took us on a tour.  I have been hooked on Illy caffè ever since.  The Illy family still runs the company and in 2005, Andrea Illy, grandson of the founder, became the Chairman and CEO.

    I have been making caffè and cappuccino at home for many years. It is very good but not as good as I have had in Italy, especially in Trieste and Naples. I have a restaurant espresso machine and I use illy caffè.  But what am I doing wrong? I hoped I would find the answer at the UDC.

    The course I went to was held at the International Culinary Center in New York. It was a two day course given on Monday and Tuesday from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM. There were about 30 people taking the course and they came from all over the country. When I walked into the classroom there was coffee, coffee everywhere and all you could drink.

    There were two instructors from illy headquarters in Italy:  the very knowledgeable and entertaining Moreno Faina, a Specialty Coffee Association of Europe Qualified Instructor; and Giorgio Milos, illy’s Master Barista, also certified by the SCAE. He is the man that has mastered the art of coaxing the beans into a brilliant cup of pleasure.

    The third was someone that I have known for many years David Rosengarten, an authority on wine, food, and cooking, and a very entertaining speaker.  David was the first to speak and also acted as a sort of moderator. He spoke about the history of coffee and told us that it may have started in Ethiopia or Central Africa, that it was first brewed in Yemen, how it came to be called coffee and its introduction into Europe by the Turks.

    In order to understand what a good caffè should taste like, we tasted a number of different coffees and in some cases tried to identify the components. The first coffee we tasted was Turkish and I found it very rustic and heavy.

    Next a terroir tasting: Ethiopian, Brazilian and Sumatra coffees. I found only slight differences between the three. 

    Next we had to try and guess the different aromas and tastes in the coffee.

    We were given 3 cups of coffee. Two were the same and one was different. All you had to do was pick out the two that were the same from the one that was different. For example two cups were 100% Arabica beans and one a blend of Arabica and Robusta. First you had to say which were the same and then if they were the Arabica or the blend. This I was able to do.

    Next there was a discussion on decaf coffee. Signor Faina asked if anyone could tell the difference between regular and decaf. Many in the class said they could. He said that it was difficult to tell the difference between Illy regular and Illy decaf. We tasted both and less than half the class could tell the difference. Signor Faina said that on average only 20% could tell the difference.

    Lastly was the extraction time.  Is the coffee over-extracted (watery) or under-extracted (acidic). I was right on the money here because my caffè is usually one or the other, so it was easy.

    Then we learned about the beans.  There are two main types of coffee beans: Arabica and Canephone which produces the Robusta variety. Arabica is grown in the highlands and is considered to have more flavor, aroma, complexity and balance than the harsher Robusta. We were told by Signor Faina that his company produces and sells worldwide a single blend of premium quality espresso coffee made of nine varieties of pure Arabica. He went on to say that the unmistakable and invariable illy taste and aroma, enjoyed cup after cup anywhere, all over the world, are the results of a perfect balance of beans coming from South America, Central America, India, and Africa.

    There are machines that can sort the beans by weight, color, ripeness and size. illy even has a machine that can remove the defective beans. In some countries this is still done by hand. Each student received a cup with 50 beans, five were “bad”, and we had to pick out the five. I found three right away: the whitish bean, the black bean and the dark waxy bean. But it took me sometime to find the immature and the light waxy bean. One bad bean will ruin the coffee.

    Mr. Faina said that over roasted beans were not good. As he put it, “be afraid of the dark.”

     illy has only one factory and all the roasting is done here. Mr. Faina said that if the beans are lightly roasted, the coffee will have more acidity, be light bodied and less bitter. A medium roast gives more acidity, more body and aroma. This is the type of coffee that is preferred in Northern Italy. For Southern Italy, illy uses a darker roast; it has less acidity, a little more bitter and a certain roundness and smoothness. It is all a matter of taste.

    illy also sells ground espresso coffee in the pressured cans for freshness.  There are special grinds for the espresso machine, Moka coffee for the stovetop coffeemaker, and another for the drip coffee maker. They also make coffee pods which give you almost perfect espresso every time.  As would be expected, they make a very good line of espresso machines.

    Signor Milos talked about the grinder.  He said the grinder is more important than the espresso machine. It is 55% grinder and 45% espresso machine.  If the grind is too fine, the water will take too much time to pass through (under extracted). If the grind is too coarse, too much water will pass through (over extracted). A grinder that has a slower blade speed is better because it makes less heat. During the course of the day, the barista may change the setting on the grinder 5-10 times to get the perfect flow: 25-30 seconds.

    The Art of the Barista/Making the perfect “caffè Espresso"
    As the name indicates, an espresso is a cup of coffee prepared on the spot for immediate consumption. When brewed properly, it is an enormously complex drink with concentrated flavors and aromas that distinguish it from coffee prepared by any other method. Espresso is an extraordinary beverage and, like all extraordinary things, is very complicated in his structure. First of all, it is a solution, because it contains different elements (acids, proteins, sugars, fats and others substances). It is also an emulsion, due to the presence of oils, which hold aromas and give espresso his full body. Finally, espresso is a suspension, for the thick and persistence layer of foam (crema) that you can find on the coffee surface. To coffee connoisseurs, espresso is the quintessential form of coffee; the purest way to enjoy its aroma and flavor at their maximum intensity.

    It takes 50 coffee beans, nine atmospheres of pressure, seven grams of coffee, and 25-30 second of extraction to create an espresso of 25-30 ml volume.  Espresso should never be made one at a time. It is always better to make two cups. The cups should always be preheated. 14 -15 grams of coffee is then needed. Ideally, the coffee beans should be ground only as you need them. Two hours after grinding, 50% of the aromatic components are lost. The coffee must be pressed into the holder with a tamper at 40 lbs of pressure. The water temperature should be about 195 degrees and it should take about 5 seconds for the coffee to begin to flow. The cake of ground coffee is highly resistant and only the acidic elements will pass through.  During the next 20-25 seconds, the cake softens and the full range of elements flow through. After 30 seconds you get a bitter, watery cup.

    Never, never, never put lemon peel in your caffè (espresso

    Espresso has less caffeine than brewed coffee.

    Coffee, especially espresso may have some heath benefits.

    Always steam the milk before making the espresso. A cup of cappuccino should be about 150ml, containing one espresso coffee and equal parts of steamed milk and froth. Fill the third part of a metal steaming pitcher with cold milk. The consistency of the froth will vary depending on the fat content of the milk. Whole milk will produce a very creamy, thick, velvety froth while 2% milk produces a less dense and somewhat stiffer froth. Non-fat milk yields a large volume of stiff, meringue-like froth that dissipates quickly.  Whole or 2% milk is recommended for the best flavor.

    Turn on the steam for a second or two to release any excess condensation. 

     Submerge the tip of the steam wand below the milk's surface and begin steaming. As the foam rises and the milk's volume increases, slowly lower the pitcher so the tip remains submerged in the milk. Keep the wand steady and parallel to the side of the pitcher and do not move it around in circles or up and down.

    As the milk begins to heat, tip the pitcher slightly to create a whirlpool effect in the milk. This will help inject air for volume and build the froth. Steam until the milk has doubled in volume and the side of the steaming pitcher feels too hot to hold.  If you are using a thermometer, stop steaming when the milk temperature reaches 65°C.  You can tap the pitcher on a counter to eliminate any large bubbles that may have formed.

     You should always make two cups of espresso even when you are having cappuccino.

    Mr. Milos also used two pitchers. After he eliminated the bubbles, the milk had a silky look. He poured some of the foam into the second pitcher. He poured the milk from the first pitcher with one motion into the center and by moving his hand was able to make different designs. He poured the rest of the milk from the first pitcher into the second tapped in on the counter and repeated the posses. 

    He prepared the espresso and poured the steamed milk over it. When done, run steam through the steam wand right away to flush out milk and prevent future clogging.

    Each student made espresso and cappuccino under the direct guidance of Mr. Milos. He held each student’s hand as we steamed the milk and then added it to the espresso pouring the milk directly into the center of the cup in one motion and moving the wrist to make a design.  Even mine looked good. The examples Mr.Milos showed us were works of art.

    Mr. Milos and Mr. Faina gave the class some hints on ordering caffè in Italy.  Always say caffè when you are ordering espresso. Never order a lungo or a doppio. In most cases they will just let the machine run longer and you will get an over-extracted bitter, watery coffee. If you order a ristretto, short coffee, it should still take the same 30 seconds for the caffè to be done. If it is cold order caffè corretto (corrected coffee).  The barista will add a little grappa.

    You should always make two cups of espresso even when you are having cappuccino.

    Never order cappuccino after lunch or dinner.

    It takes three years of study to become a coffee sommelier or as the Italian say- barista. I just received my Certificate of Completion from the Università Del Caffe USA. Both my caffè and cappuccino have improved greatly. illy gives different courses at the UDC and I am looking forward to taking all of them.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano Come Together for the First Time

    I was so surprised, I had to read the invitation twice. I was invited to Madison Square Garden by both the Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano Consortia. Were these two leading Italian cheese going to fight it out?  No, the Consortia for both announced the first –ever partnership to advance understanding and usage of their two authentic Italian cheeses. Buonitalia, the Roman-based government agency responsible for promoting and safeguarding Italian agriculture, announced a new integrated marketing partnership with Madison Square Garden centered on the Knicks. Great cheese and seeing the NY Knicks in action--I had to go!  The invitation also said that Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, united by their EU Protection Designation of Origin (PDO) status, share a common cause: to promote quality cheeses against imitation and “Italian sounding” products.

    When I arrived at the Garden, I found that the cheeses were in two separate rooms. In the  Parmigiano room, the food was prepared by Chef Cesare Casella of Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto. There were two rounds of Parmigiano, one supplied by Cesare and the other by the Consorita. Cesare imports this cheese and you can buy it in his shop next to the restaurant. It was 36 months old and had a very creamy crystalline texture. It was very good.

    The second wheel was a summer cheese made when the cows were eating fresh grass. It was not as creamy and had an herbal quality and a great crystalline texture. I was told by Nancy Radke, the Parmigiano Reggiano representative, that the Italians prefer the summer cheese. The rest of the year, the cows eat hay, etc. and Italians feel that the cheese is not as good. I believe that the Italians keep the summer cheese for themselves and send us the cheese from the rest of the year. In tasting both a number of times, I gave the edge to the summer cheese, though I would happily eat the other cheese as well. Cesare prepared dishes using the Parmigiano including a Tuscan bean salad, Parmigiano puffs accompanied by a selection of salumi.

    Lou Di Palo of Di Palo’s Fine Foods in Little Italy, an expert on Italian cheeses, said a few words about all of the cheeses that were served.

    Parmigiano Reggiano is a hard aged cow’s milk cheese and can only be produced within the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Modena in their entirety, in the province of Bologna to the west of the Reno River and in the province of Mantua to the east of the Po River. It is produced from a mix of whole and skimmed cows’ milk through a handmade process free of additives and preservatives. After 12 months it is inspected and stamped with the Consortium’s certification mark. It is aged for a minimum of 12 months more.

    Parmigiano Reggiano is a cheese that can go with many different types of wine from marsala to lambrusco and almost everything in between. In fact in a restaurant outside of Parma I had the perfect dessert: a fresh pear, walnuts, Pamigiano Reggiano and a glass of lambrusco.

    In the Grana room, Chef Fortunato Nicotra of Felidia Restaurant prepared

    Grano Padano frico with an apple celery salad, Grana Padano “Pope” raviolini in Grano Padano broth, and braised flat iron cut beef with Grana Padano fonduta.

    There was a wheel of Grana Padano in the room waiting to be eaten.  Slightly less crystalline than the Parmigiano, it was full of flavor and makes an excellent cheese for eating and cooking. 

    Grana Padano is the best selling PDO cheese in the world. It is produced in five different Italian Regions: Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna (Piacenza province),

    the Veneto, and Trentino – Alto Adige (Trento province).  The cheese was first produced by Cistercian Monks in northern Italy’s Po River Valley nearly 1000 years ago. It is made from local raw, partially skimmed milk and the whole process takes about one year and follows the traditional methods followed by the Cistercian Monks. The cheese is then fire branded with a four leaf clover stamp confirming the origin with the province’s code and the producer’s registration and the name “Grana Padano” on the crust of the wheel. Grana Padano has a characteristic grainy consistency (“grana” means grainy in Italian) that increases as the cheese ages. “Padano” refers to the Po River Valley. It takes about 135 gallons of milk to produce one wheel each weighing about 70-75 pounds.  Grana Padano can be eaten by itself and enjoyed with a glass of Prosecco.

    I was here with Louis Coluccio of Coluccio & Sons in Brooklyn.  Although our invitations had said that we could watch the Knicks game from the luxury suites, we were disappointed, because they ran out of tickets.  We consoled ourselves with the cheese and a glass of prosecco. I heard later that night that the Knicks had won!

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Sicily: The Wine and Tourist Island

    As I entered the large shower at La Foresteria the hotel/resort owned by the Planeta winery   I saw not one but three shower heads. One large one, which cascaded the water from above and two hand held ones in a slim cylinder shape, not to mention the very large tub and plenty of bubble bath-- there was enough water pressure and the water was always hot. I was in heaven. This is a very comfortable first rate resort and I wish we could have stayed longer. Sicily has become a tourist’s paradise.


    Sicilian has also become a wine lovers paradise. I tasted wines made from Fiano, Carricante, Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese gapes that reflected the terroir of Sicily and could have held their own against any wines in the world. Sicily is no longer the California of Italy making only oaky, jammy, international style wines!


    I visited Sicily in March for the “Sicilia En Primeur”, a preview of the current releases and much more. The event is held annually in different parts of Sicily. This year it was in the Province of Agrigento at the Rocco Forte Verdura Golf & Spa Resort of Sciacca.  Once again, I could not believe my eyes. I had never seen a resort of this size in Sicily!  It could have been a resort in Las Vegas or Arizona.


    The event was organized by Assovini Sicilia, an association of Sicilian grape grows and producers. The president of the organization is Diego Planeta of the Planeta winery.


    The first night we stayed at La Foresteria, the new Planeta resort. That night we had a dinner based on the novel Gattopardo (the Leopard) by Lampedusa. The dinner was prepared by the resident chef, Angelo Pumilia.  The food was great and the highlight was a Timballo in Crosta del Gattopardo, which was delicious. Representatives from the wineries that we would visit the next day were there and they matched one of their wines with each course.


    The journalists were divided into eight groups to visit different wineries on different parts of the Island. I was in the Terre Sicane group of wineries and since Planeta was one of the wineries, I spent the first night at La Foresteria.


    The next day our first visit was to Cantina Barbera. This is a family run winery and we were given a tour and tasting by the very interesting and knowledgeable Marilena Barbera.  Ms Barbera was very proud of the fact that their wines had the very specific D.O.C. of Menfi. This she said “was our identity; we wanted to strengthen the special relationship between our vines and their place of origin”.

    My grandfather on my mother’s side was born in Menfi, so I was especially interested in the wines. We sat in the tasting room overlooking the vineyards and the beautiful Sicilian landscape. She mentioned that some of the producers wanted to change from I.G.T. Sicily to D.O.C. Sicily designation.  She wanted to stay with the I.G.T Sicily and not go to the D.O.C.  Ms. Barbera felt that this gave her more freedom in the wine making. They export wine to Japan, China, Europe, and the United States.


     Among the wines we tasted were the 2009 Inzolia D.O.C. Menfi “Dietro Le Case” 100% Insolia. This white grape is common in the Menfi area. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. The vines for this wine are 40 years old and come from an original clone planted in 1920. There was new grafting in the vineyard ten years ago.

    The bouquet was rich and complex with hints of peach and melon and good acidity. In the finish and after taste there was citrus and a touch of herbs.  There was a mineral quality and it was bigger, fuller and rounder then most wines from this grape I have tasted.


    2009 Nero D’Avola Sicilia I.G.T. This wine, made from 100% Nero D’Avola is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. It is a very aromatic wine with red and black fruit aromas and flavors. On the palate, it is soft and fruity with a soft and fruity finish and aftertaste.


    2007 “Azimut”  Menfi D.O.C.2006  100% Merlot. This wine was a pleasant surprise!.  Ms. Barbera said that “Merlot grapes have adapted perfectly to the Sicilian territory and climate”.  Maceration on the skins lasts for two weeks and the wine is fermented in stainless steel. Now here comes the best part: The wine is aged for 12 months, 50% in stainless steel and 50% in big 26 hl casks of Slovenian oak. “We love it because it is not international style,” said Ms. Barbera. The wine was balanced with intense red and black fruit aromas and flavors. It was the best Sicilian merlot I have ever tasted and one of the best outside of France.


    I also tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon La Volta Menfi D.O.C. which is aged in French tonneaux and in one 30hl cask of Slovenian oak and a wine made of 40% Nero d’Avola, 40% Petit Verdot, and 20% Merlot called Coda Della Foce Menfi  2006 D.O.C. Both were very good. Ms. Barbera was very proud of her Menfi D.O.C. wines and I enjoyed all of them.


    Next was something completely different: Feudo Arancio Stemmari which is owned by Nosio S.p.A.- Gruppo Mezzacorona from Nothern Italy. This was a new state-of-the-art winery using all of the natural resources of the Agrigento area of Sicily to produce their wines. We were taken to a hilltop high above the winery where we could view the vineyards and view the reservoirs, water a rare commodity in this part of Sicily! They are trying to be as true to the Sicilian terrain as possible. They were very proud of the fact that they were only the second winery in Italy to receive the EMAS 2 (EcoManagement and Audit System) certificate, a voluntary certificate of environmental quality. They use reservoirs, rain water and precision irrigation systems to put less stress on local water supplies.  We were very high up and the wind was going through all of us! The use of “sexual confusion” and “positive insects” drastically reduces the use of chemicals. Two solar panel installations produce most of the energy to run the winery and they maintain native plants in the vineyards to prevent erosion.  They place different kinds of plants in the rows between the vines depending upon the type of grape. 



    Among the wines we tasted was a 2009 Grillo Sicilia I.G.T 100% Grillo. This white varietal is typical of the Marsala area where it was used as the principal grape to for Marsala fortified wine. The Grillo grape should not be harvested too early. This wine was a blend of grapes from different estates.


     2008 Nero d’Avola  2008 Sicilia I.G.T.  100% Nero d’.Avola (Black grape from Avola). This  red varietal, first cultivated in the area of Siracusa within the village of Avola, is now grown all over Sicily. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel. It was very aromatic with a fruity character and aromas and flavors of cherry and blackberry.


    Hedonis 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Syrah 2006 I.G.T. Sicily   The winemaker felt that Syrah, like the native Sicilian grapes, can take the warm dry Sicilian climate.  Many producers in Sicily make wines with this combination.  I think Nero d’Avola can stand alone and does not need Syrah. This wine is aged for 16 months in new French barriques. The oak was there but is not overdone.


    The barriques are kept for seven years and a wine may find itself in many different barrels depending on the vintage and what style the winemaker wanted to make.


    Hekate 2007 Sicily I.G.T  is named for the Greek goddess who bestowed kindness and wealth. This dessert wine is made mostly from Moscato and other white aromatic grapes. It is a passito wine. After ripening, the grapes hang for a month and a half  then they undergo a natural withering process of about 4-6 weeks. At the end of September/ beginning of October, the grapes are completely dried out and raisin- like. They are soft pressed and the must extracted is rich in sugar and very aromatic. It is fermented in stainless steel tanks for 7-8 months. The wine had aromas and flavors of peach, pineapple, honey and other dried fruits. What surprised me was the good acidity. It was a very enjoyable wine.


    Then we went to Donnafugata.   I have been here a few times before but only to the winery in Marsala. This is what they refer to as the “family’s ancient winery” built in 1851.  The wines come together here from the cellars of the winery at Contessa Entellina and the one on the island of Pantelleria, for aging and bottling. This time I went to Contessa Entellina and it was very interesting.


    The tasting and lunch was in the hands of Jose Rallo whose family owns the winey. The very personable Ms. Rallo is a jazz singer and along with her husband, percussionist Vincenzo Favara, has made a number of CD’s, the proceeds of which are donated to charity. A few years ago, I saw Ms. Rallo and her husband perform at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village. Ms Rallo sang in Italian and Portuguese. We had an excellent lunch, served in the garden.  It was the only sunny day of my stay. Sicilian specialties such as caponata and pasta con le sarde were served in little plastic cups!


    Among the wines we tasted were:


    Anthilia Sicily IGT 2009 Catarrato and Ansonica (Insolia) and other grapes according to the vintage. The wine was fruity with hints of peaches and floral sensations.


    Lighea Sicilia I.G.T.2009 Zibibbo Moscato d’Alessandria and Catarrato. (This was a very interesting wine that is very difficult to describe but I liked it!)


    Sedara Sicily I.G.T.2008. Mostly Nero d’Avola with other local varieties. It is aged for nine months in cement tanks. It is an aromatic wine with good fruit aromas and flavors of blackberry and cherry with a spicy note.


    Mille e una Notte Contessa Entellina D.O.C. We tasted the ‘06, ‘03 and 1999. The geapes are vinified in stainless steel with skin contact for about 12 days.  The wine is aged in mostly French barriques for 14-16 months and another 12 months in bottle before release.


    They make two wines from the Zibibbo grape that are naturally sweet and were the highlight of the tasting: Kabir Moscato di Pantelleria D.O.C. and the Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria D.O.C.


    The grapes for the Kabir are harvested at the end of September when they are very mature.  They are fermented and aged in stainless steel. This wine was very elegant and balanced with aromas and flavors of orange peel and honey. It is moderately sweet, not too alcoholic with a very pleasant finish and after taste.


    The Ben Rye. The harvest takes place in 11 different areas depending on the ripening. After August 15 the grapes are picked and left to dry naturally by the sun and wind between 20 - -30 days. In September other vineyards are harvested. During maceration the dried grapes are de–stemmed by hand and added to the fresh must. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks for 4 and 6 months in bottle before release.   There are aromas of apricots and peaches, with hints of dried figs and honey on the palate.  It has a very long finish and wonderful aftertaste. We tasted the 2008, 2003 and the 2000.

    For the 2008, the 20th harvest of the wine,  they have a new label for the “Son of the Wind”.



    Then it was off to Cantina Settesoli , the largest cooperative in Sicily with 1841 members. It was founded in Menfi in 1958 and has grown to its present size under the chairmanship of Diego Planeta . They control 120,000 hectares of vineyards.  To give you some perspective, all of Australia has only 30.000 more hectares. Settesoli is very important for the economic well being of the area. I had been to Settesoli a number of times before and think they produce good wines for the money. We tasted a wine made from 85% Grecanico and 15% chenin blanc that was very nice.


    The last stop was Planeta   and I could not have been more pleased with their wines.  They now have five wineries in different parts of Sicily. The whole Planeta family is involved in the winery but it is Alessio, Santi and Francesca who are the face and soul of the winery. Francesca was our host both at La Foresteria and for the tastings the following day. We tasted two new wines which I believe are very successful:



    The 2008 Plumbago 100% Nero d’Avola this is an aromatic, easy drinking wine with aromas and flavors of red fruit and hints of pomegranate with a wonderful finish and aftertaste.


    2009 Carricante I.G.T. Sicily 100% Carricante. The grapes are soft pressed intact, not destemmed, the must is racked and inoculated with yeast and fermented at 15 degrees C for 20 days. The wine remains on the lees until February with continuous agitation

    The wine had aromas and flavors of green apple, hints of minerals and mint and a very pleasing finish and aftertaste. This is a white wine that will age.  It is one of the two best Carricantes made in Sicily.


    The white wine that I could not believe was the Cometa 2009 .I.G.T. Sicily 100% Fiano. The current vintage of this wine is one of the best white wines made in Italy. They did away with the barriques and the wine is fermented for 20 days in stainless steel tanks and aged in stainless steel. It is aromatic with citrus overtones and hints of tangerine and mint with a touch of chamomile. The acidity is very good and there are mineral notes. One could taste the grape and the terroir in this wine. I drank the wine whenever I could find it.


    Cerasuolo di Vittoria D.O.C.G. 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato. Eight days maceration on the skins in stainless steel tanks.  It is an aromatic, juicy wine with red fruit and hints of strawberry and cherry.  


    Then it was back to Verdura Spa for a day of tasting. In room #1 there was a tasting of wines on the market with the producers. Room #2 had a tasting of wines in the market with sommelier service and in Room #3 there was a vinem primeur ( wine preview). I prefer to taste with  the producers, so I stayed in room #1. Overall, I was very impressed with the wines. Here is a list of some of the wines that stood out by producer:


    Benanti, Bianco di Caselle, 100% Carricante Etna Bianco Doc 2008

    Castellucci Miano, La Massa 100% Inzolia 2008 I.G.T. Sicily

    Cusumano, Benuara  2008 I.G.T.Sicilia & 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Syrah

    Etna Rocca d’Api  Le Moire  Enta Rosso D.O.C. 2007 80% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello  Cappuccio.

    Palari Faro – Faro D.O.C. 2007 and Rosso del Soprano 2007 I.G.T. Sicilia  Nerello Mascalese  and Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera and others.

    Tasca d’Almerita, Nozze D’Oro Inzolia and Sauvignon Tasca 2008 Bianco Contea di Sclafani D.O.C.

    Valle dell’Acate  Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2007 D.O.C.G. Classico 70% Nero d’Avola and 30 % Frappato; Il Frappato 2009  100% Frappato, Vittoria Frappato D.O.C.


    The event ended in the town of Sciacca with a “debate” on “Sicily and the Global Market”.  Some interesting comments were made by both the participating producers and the wine press. It was moderated by the President of Assovini, Diego Planeta. One of the questions raised was should there be a D.O.C. Sicily. There were pros and cons on both side and the issue remained in dispute.


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    La Barbera- The Favorite of the Piedmontese

    La Barbera, as it is called by the Piedmontese, is the second most-planted red grape in Italy.  The high acidity of the grape makes it an excellent wine to go with food, which makes it a favorite of the Piedmontese.  It is said that in Piedmont, people taste Barolo and Barbaresco, but they drink Barbera.  If you are invited to someone’s home in Piedmont, chances are you will be offered a glass of Barbera.  Because of its longevity, Barbera producers put away some bottles of their wine when a child was born to drink when they became of age.

    There is a Barbera for every taste! The wine may be aged in stainless steel, barriques, botti and different combinations of these in varying degrees. The barbera grape is grown in other parts of Italy, but the Piedmontese think of it as their grape. They feel it grows best here and I agree.

    When I received the invitation to the seventh annual “Barbera Meeting 2010” being held in Asti, I was only too happy to accept.  What made this wine event unusual was that it was open to bloggers.  Jeremy Parzen of  created  The updates of his blog were automatically shifted to the Barbera Meeting blog in order to have immediate information on the event. Jeremy and the bloggers he had working with him were called by the Italian press the Seven Barbera Boys (even though one was a woman).  You can go to Jeremy’s blog or to to see all the blogs about The Barbera Meeting 2010.

    We began bright an early on Monday morning with a tasting of 68 wines. The major part of the event which lasted four days was blind tastings of Barbera d’Asti and its particular Nizza subzone, Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba.  On the first day we tasted Barbera d’Asti 2008, which is now D.O.C.G., 2007, and 2006, both normale and superiore.  This gave me my first hint that wines being shown might be a “little too oaky”.

    Next there were visits to the wineries. The first visit was to Pescaja and we tasted the wines with the owner Dott. Giuseppe Guido.  Dott. Guido wants everything at the winery to be organic. This includes the vegetables that he grows and the animals he raises. He has a unique method of wine making which includes iced CO2 maceration. You can go to his website  for an explanation of his method.  I still do not understand it.   

    We tasted Barbera D’Asti D.O.C.G “Soliter” 2008 and Barbera d’Asti D.O.C. Superiore Nizza “Solneri” 2007.  The Solneri was way too oaky for me and the other journalists, including my friend and colleague, Tom Maresca. We all liked the Soliter better. Dott. Guido defended the Solneri saying that he did not find it oaky at all. We would face this problem again when we went to Nizza Monferrato.

    Then off to Tenuta La Pergola were we tasted a number of Barberas from Asti and Monferrato.  I enjoyed all of these wine and there was a good integration of the wine and the wood. They also make a number of good grappas.

    Next was Marchesi Alfieri.   I had visited this winery last year and wanted to go back again. The enologist Mario Olivero led us in a tasting of Barbera d’Asti from the years

     2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2000, 1999 and 1998.  Mr. Olivero came to the winery in 1999 and therefore did not make the 1998. The 1998 was aged in botti while the current wines are aged in different size oak barrels. I would have never guessed that the 1998 was 12 years old because it tasted like a much younger wine. The 1999 was also showing very well. Once again, this is an example of a wine maker integrating the wood and the wine. If I had any doubts that Barbera cannot age, this tasting put it to rest.

    The day was not over yet.  We concluded our first day with a stand up tasting and dinner with the Asti and Alba producers of Barbera at Villa Basinetto. 

    Next day there was a blind tasting of 50 Barbera D’Asti 2008, 2007 and 2006 (normale and superiore).

    Then we went to a lecture on “Spurred Cordon Pruning Method for Barbera Vines”.

    As with the oakiness in the wines, I felt it was man intervening in the natural process of the grape.  Both Tom Maresca and I asked questions, but were told it was in the best interests of Barbera.  They wanted to reduce the acidity in the barbera grape so it could make what they felt was a more important wine. This idea of an important wine would be the theme of the day.

    We had lunch and a vertical tasting of Barbera Quorum produced by the Hastae

    group. Hastae is the Latin name for the town of Asti.  Five producers came together to make this Barbera d’Asti:  Braida, Chiarlo, Coppo, Prunotto and Vietti, along with the distiller and grappa maker Berta. They wanted to produce an important wine a “Superbarbera” and a Supergrappa -- and they did.
    After lunch it was off to Nizza for a tasting of Nizza Monferrato, a subzone of Barbera d’Asti, where we tasted 25 wines. Here is where things became interesting.

    One of the European journalists, Bernard Arnould from Belgium, stated that he found that the wines he had just tasted were too oaky. He questioned the use of barriques and the oak toasty flavors that he found in most of the wines. He was verbally attacked by two of the producers. One said that the journalist did not know anything about wine and the other that there are vast differences in the tastes people have in different countries.

    The attack was uncalled for as Mr. Arnould was very precise in his statement. T

    second producer was really saying that he uses barriques because that’s the style of wine he thinks people want.

    I answered that they seemed to be making wine for the international market.  Just because Americans drink cappuccino after lunch and dinner does that mean they do not know about wine. These producers had invited journalists from all over the world.  The journalists were telling the producers the same thing--the wines are too oaky.   Bloggers are the wave of the future (they have become more important than the print media) and these young people are telling you the same thing--no oaky toasty flavors in your wine.  Make the best wine that you can and a wine that you would drink, not a wine just for the market.

    The producer Michele Chiarlo said that he agreed with me and that he never made wine for the market. I have been drinking his wines for over almost 30 year and I still enjoy them.

    In the Nizza subzone the Barbera has to be aged in wood for at least 6 months. I am not saying do away with the wood. They can age their wines in botti or they can use barriques -- but they should do a better job of integrating the wine with the oak.

    At dinner that night we sat with an enologist that told us he made one wine which he drank and another for the market that he would not drink!  To top off the evening, it began to snow, and by the time we left it was a winter wonderland outside.

    Next morning more wine to taste. This was an easy one -- only 24 wines. They were Barbera del Monferrato 2008, 2007, and 2006 (normale and superiore).

    We visited the Cantina iulli winery in Monferrato. I had been here last year and liked the wines, so I wanted to return. The owner and wine maker is Fabrizio iuli.  He has an American partner.  Fabrizio ages some of his barbera in barriques for 26 months or more but they do not smell or taste of the oak.  Some is new oak and some is used. He says that the longer you keep the wine in the barriques the less the oaky flavors will be picked up. The time he keeps his wine in wood depends on the vintage.  His 2004 barbera in magnum will not be released until 2013! I liked his barberas when I tasted then last May and they may have been showing even better this time.

    Thursday, the last day, was also easy with 29 wines, Barbera d’Alba 2008, 2007 and 2006 (normale and superiore).   After lunch there was a stand-up tasting with the Barbera d’Alba producers. This is where the Barbera Meeting came to an end--but not for Tom and me. One of the producers invites us to her winery to taste wine.  I looked at Tom and said, “perche no?”

    In the large tasting room I looked out the window at the sun shining on the snow covered hills.  It was the first time I saw the sun in a week!  We tasted the wines with Emanuela Negro of Negro Angelo & Figli.  We were both very pleased with the Barbera D’Alba wines that we tasted here. Tom loves grappa and when Emanuela offered us some Tom said “perche no?”    The grappa was excellent!

    That night I had pizza in what I was told “the best Neapolitan pizza place in Asti”.

    I did not think it was very good. The Neapolitan style pizza in New York is much better.

    This is the fifth wine event I have gone to that was organized by Well Com and they always do a great job. I would like to thank Marinella, Marta, and Federica for being so helpful, and Annalisa and Marinella Minetti for setting up a great event.

    We left Asti at 4:00 in the morning for Torino and then to Rome and on to NY. There was, as usual, a general strike but it did not begin until 10 AM and it did not include international flights.   I left Torino at 7:15 for Rome and it only took me 18 hours to get home.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    A Day with Chiara

    It was a bright sunny morning when Chiara Lungarotti arrived at my hotel.  We were going to visit the new Lungarotti winery in Montefalco and revisit the winery in Torgiano.  I had been there several times in the past and had stayed at their hotel and restaurant Le Tre Vaselle.  I can still remember the 1973 and 1975 Rubesco Riserva that I drank there back in1981.

     Chiara is the CEO of Cantine Georgio Lungarotti and directs the company with her sister Teresa Severini Lungarotti   It was founded in the early 1960’s by their father, the legendary Georigo Lungarotti.  When Georgio Lungarotti died they became the first women to run a major winery in Italy.

    I was in Montefalco for La Classificazione del Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG conference and since I was free on Saturday, I wrote to Cantina Lungarotti asking if I could visit. I was told the winery was closed on Saturday, but Chiara said she would only be too happy to meet with me. However she had been traveling a lot and would have to take her 2 and a half year old son along. His name is Giovanni but Chiara called him by his nickname, Mimmo, and he had missed his mother.


    As we drove from the hotel to the winery we spoke about the new winery in Montefalco. Chiara said that her father, Georgio Lungarotti, was interested in and had a passion for all things Umbrian. He was very active in getting the DOC for Sagrantino.

    I mentioned that producers from Toscana, Trentino, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and other parts of Italy were coming to the area to make Sagrantino. She replied that these people were not from Umbria and did not understand it like her family did.   Montefalco was only a half hour from Torgiano and her family wanted to start another winery there and no place else. They looked for a long time to find the perfect spot to grow the grapes.

     You cannot plant grapes just anyway and expect to get good results, she said. They contacted a local man from Montefalco who had been supplying them with olive oil for over 20 years to see if he knew any places for sale. After some time he told Chiara that the land next to his was for sale and he believed it was one of the best locations in the area for growing grapes. Chiara agreed and they acquired the land.

    Chiara then gave me a lesson on setting up a winery.  She started with the topography of the land, going back to prehistoric times. We talked about, the soil, climate, and rainfall, the best clones, the number of vines per hectare and what was the best method to train the vines, and everything else that would affect the grapes. In the vineyard, she said, they use the most advanced viticultural techniques. Wine density and row spacing are optimized so as to guarantee the highest possible grape quality.  We also discussed the Sagrantino grape and how difficult it is to work with in order to get the correct balance between tannin and fruit.  

    On the way from Montefalco to Torgiano I told Chiara that some of the other producers I visited who produced Sagrantino were certified organic by the EU. Chaira believed this was a bit much. She said that they had a long tradition of environmental awareness. In fact Lungarotti was chosen to be part of the Biomass Project because of their attention to the environment and to preserving the land.  This Project is a collaboration between the Lungarotti winery in Torgiano and Perugia University’s biomass research center. The Project is trying to recover energy from vineyard pruning by-products, and then use this energy in the winery, therefore transforming a disposal problem into an asset.  As we drove around the estate Chiara very proudly pointed out the number of trees they had planted over the years.

    We went on a tour of the winery and spoke about how important it is to have a low temperature in the cellar. Chiara then explained the process for making their brut spumante and that they use the classical method the same as they do in champagne. Then we went to the part of the cellar that was the most interesting to me -where they keep the older reserve wines. There were bottles of Rubesco Riserva going back to the 1960’s. They did not have any bottles left of the first vintage of their “Super Umbria” St. Georgio. They did not expect the first vintage 1977 to sell out but it did. I should of asked Chiara if any of the older vintages were for sale.

    I tasted a number of wines from the most recent vintages and was very impressed by the quality.  I started with the Pinot Grigio “Umbria IGT 2008 I00 % pinot grigio.   It is made from the free run juice and vinified in stainless steel. This is a young fresh fruity wine with good acidity and a little more body then most Pinot Grigios.

    Lungarotti Brut from 50% chardonnay and 50% pinot noir. Fermentation takes place in the bottle according to what the Italians call the classical method and it is all done by hand. The second fermentation is for 36 months.

    Torre Di Giano “Il Pino” Torgiano DOC-2008- made from 70% trebbiano and 30% grechetto. The wine spends time on the lees and 70% is aged in stainless steel and 30% in oak barrels but they are not all new. This is a very well balanced wine with good fruit and Chiara is a big believer in both the trebbiano gape and the grechetto grape.

    Chardonnay Umbria IGT 2006- 90% chardonnay and 10% grechetto. Chiara said that the grechetto added a little extra to the chardonnay. The wine is fermented in oak barrels but was fresh and fruity with good acidity. One of the better Italian chardonnays I have tasted in a long time. Maybe it was the grechetto?

    Rubesco Rosso di Torgiano DOC made from 70% sangiovese and 30% canaiolo. It is fermented in stainless steel and aged 10-12 months in oak casks. It is a wine that goes well with food because of the good acidity and red fruit flavors. I believe that it is one of the best buys in Italian red wine.

    Rubesco Riserva  Vigna Minticchio Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG 2005 made from 70% sangiovese and 30% canaiolo. The same grapes and the same percentage as when it was first made in the1960’s. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel with maceration on the skins from 15-20 days and is aged in barriques for 12 months. It had hints of cherries and blackberries and a touch of balsamic.  It was aged for ten years before it was released but now it is released after five. The first vintage that I had was the 1973. I visited the winery in 1981 and stayed in their charming hotel Le Tre Vaselle and had lunch in their excellent restaurant where I also drank the 1975. This wine can last for 30 years. The 2005 got the highest ratings from the five top Italian wine publications. I was lucky enough to drink the 1973 and 1977 few years ago and both were great. This wine would be on my top ten Italian red wines of all time.

    San Giorgio Umbria Rosso IGT 50% cabernet sauvignon, 40% sangiovese and 10% canaiolo. Fermentation in stainless steel with maceration on the skins for 15-20 days and is aged in barriques for 12 months.It is released after 4-5 years. Chiara calls this her “Super Umbria “wine. It was well balanced with hints of blueberry and plum. The finish was long with a very pleasant aftertaste.

    Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG  2005 100% sagrantino. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel with maceration on the skins for 28 days and aged in barriques for 12 months.They have gotten the correct balance between tannin and fruit. There was enough black fruit with a hint of blackberry jam to carry the wine. The winery in Montefalco is new and I have only tasted this wine and the 2003 but if these are any indication they made the right move to Montefalco. These will be long lasting wines.

    Sitting in the dining room at Le Tre Vasalle having lunch with Chiara and Mimmo I wondered how Chiara manages to do all that she does and take care of a very active 2 plus year old boy.  In addition to her responsibilities at the winery, Chiara is national chairman of the Wine Tourism Movement, advisor to Federvini, vice president of Women of Wine and is involved in many other cultural and wine activities. I asked how did she manage to do so much and all she did was smile, but you can hear the pride in her voice when she speaks of Umbria and the passion when she speaks of wine.

    If you go to Umbria, a visit to Torgiano is well worth the trip. There is the winery, the wine museum, the olive and olive oil museum and Le Tre Vaselle, the hotel in which to stay. The restaurant is excellent and of course there is the wine. Today they have all the amenities one would expect from an award winning hotel, including a spa called Bella Uve. It is the first spa in Italy for wine therapy.

    The winery and hotel complex includes a wine museum in Torgiano, a private collection of objects that span 5000 years of wine history.  On my first visit, the museum was very small and in order to enter it you had to ring the door bell of the woman that lived upstairs and she would come down and let you in. Now the museum has grown to some twenty rooms and includes an olive and olive oil museum.

    Over the course of 30 years, every visit to Le Tre Vaselle has been memorable for meand my day spent with Chiara and Mimmo was no exception.


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    La Classificazione del Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG

    The headline of the press release read, “Sagrantino inspired by Bordeaux to show off its qualities”..  Since it was the 30th anniversary of Montefalco Sagrantino receiving its DOC designation, this was a good time to make this announcement. The wine also has been awarded the DOCG so the consortium was looking for a way to bring more attention to the wine and the area.  What better way to do this than to imitate the French!


    The Consorzio Tutela Montefalco, with the approval of The Ministry of Forests, Food and Agriculture, established a commission (the makeup has not been decided) to divide the wines into several quality classes, inspired by the model adopted by the Saint-Emilion area in Bordeaux in the mid-nineteen fifties. It will be known as: La Classification del Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG.


    A conference on the Experimental Classification of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG was organized for November 19 and 20 in Montefalco primarily to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed classification..  I was part of a group of journalists both international and Italian who were invited to the conference.   


    A panel discussion moderated by Daniele Cernilli, Gambero Rosso magazine’s editor included the distinguished Professor Vincent Zampi (Economics Professor of the Florence University). He explained the proposal and elaborated on it.

    The other speakers were: Denis Dubourdieu (Oenology Professor at Bordeaux University), Attilio Scienza (Oenology Professor at Milan Univeristy), and French journalist Thierry Desseauve. Riccardo Ricci Curbastro (FederDOC president) and Stefano Raimondi (CE wine and food drink manger) also spoke. It was an interesting discussion and there were very good points made for and against the proposal. We will have to wait until next year to see what happens.


    One of the questions that crossed my mind was why Montefalco Sagrantino was chosen as the first wine for this type of classification. The Consortium’s answer was that Sagrantino di Montefalco can be considered a unique laboratory for creating and perfecting a classification system. Of course the Consortium feels that the pros outweigh the cons..They went on to say that the wine is neither well known, nor has it achieved the prestige that it deserves and that the classification may help to achieve these ends.  When I asked some of the producers how they felt about the proposed classification, there were mixed reviews. 


     To understand why the Consortium considers the wine unique and to understand it a little better, here is some information that I learned from my visits to Montefalco.



    There are many different explanations on how the Sagrantino grape came to Umbria.  Pliny the Elder (d.79 A.D) in his Naturalis Historia writes that a grape called Itrola was cultivated there in Roman times. Some sources state that it might have been brought to Umbria by followers of St. Francis returning from Asia Minor in the 14th and 15th centuries.  Others think that it is native to Spain and may have been brought to
    by the Saracens.


    Recent studies show that the Sagrantino variety does not have any similarity to any other grape variety cultivated in
    Central Italy, nor is it related to Sangiovese as some believed. The grape is only found around five hill towns, Montefalco being the best known. It is therefore a very local grape variety.


    The name can be traced to the Latin “Sacer”, meaning sacred and related to the sacraments, since the grape was cultivated by monks to produce a raisin wine used for religious rites.  Sagrantino is first mentioned in a document dated 1549 when a Jewish trader named Guglielmo and his wife Stella placed an order for this grape


    Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G. must be produced from 100% Sagrantino grapes.  In the beginning it was only made into a passito (dried grape) wine. It is an ideal grape for this process because it can dry for as long as four months and can conserve its sugar components intact.  By law, this version has to be aged for 30 months and have at least 14% alcohol. The dry version (secco) must also be aged for 30 months (as of this year 36 months) but 12 of the months must be in wooden barrels. The alcohol content must be at least 13%. It was not until the early 1970’s that a dry version was produced.


    The Sagrantino grape is very high in polyphenols (substances extracted from the skins of grapes that provide the coloring and texture for the wine) and also tannin which helps red wine to age.  We were told by Signore Mattivi from the Instituto Agrario Di San Michele all’Adige that of the 25 most popular grapes tested, Sagrantino was the highest in polyphenols and tannin. I also learned that the structure of tannin is different in the pits and the skins. Even though the Sagrantino grape is so high in tannins because of the nature of the grape, it is possible to have a balanced wine.   Phenolics (polyphenols)  have powerful antioxidant properties, but I will not go into this discussion!


    Sagrantino is a wine with unique characteristics and a number of producers make

    excellent wines. They deserve to be better known and I wish them luck with their classification!



    After the conference there was a tasting of Montefalco Rosso DOC, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and Passito.  47 producers are members of the Consortium (a few producers are not members) and about half of them were present at the tasting.



    I was impressed with the Sagrantino 2003 from Cantina Colle Ciocco. The wine was aged in 25hl French oak barrels. It was complex and very intense with aromas of blackberry and black cherry and a great finish and aftertaste. I also like their passito which is aged in 5hl barrels for five months. It was very well balanced and could be drunk with certain foods such as lamb.


    The Sagrantino 2005 from Cesarini Satori Signae had hints of blackberry, pepper with a touch of balsamic. Their passito Semel had hints of dried fruit and balsamic overtones with a great finish and aftertaste. It was a true dessert wine.


    The Passito 2006 of Colle Del Saraceno- Az. Agraria di Francesco Botti was a big rich wine with flavors and aromas of blackberry, cinnamon and dried fruit-- it was almost like liquor.


    I had visited the Perticaia Az. Agraria di Guido Guardigli last year and was very impressed with his wine. I felt the same way after tasting his wines this year; both the Sagrantino and the Passito were impressive.


    Colpetrone I also visited last year.  They make a more international style Sagrantino.


    Tenuta Alzatura is owned by the Cecchi family from Tuscany. The Sagrantino 2005 is aged in barriques for 16 months. There were undertones of blackberry plum and coffee; the wine had a nice finish and aftertaste.


    It was very interesting to me that most of the wines showed very well and that you can get a balanced wine from grapes that contain so much tannin. The passito is the most tannic dessert wine that I have ever tasted but it works.



     When I saw the tasting sheet at Antonelli San Marco (Montefalco) I could not believe my eyes -- Montelalco di Sagrantino 2001, 1998, 1995 and 1985 and the passito vintage 1985. The owner Filippo Antonelli said that he wanted to show us older vintages and that all of the wines were made by the former winemaker who had just retired.



    Sagrantino di Montefalco – 100% Sagrantino is aged in 500 liter barrels for six months and 25 hl barrels for 12 months. The 1998 was aged in botti (large oak barrels) and the 1995 & 1985 were aged in cement containers. The barriques and the stainless steel came later. The wines all showed the same blackberry and plum aromas with a hint of mushroom. This was the first time I was able to taste Sagrantino this old.  It is one of the most tannic of wines but there was more than enough fruit to carry it. This tasting proved that Sagrantino is a wine that can age.


    The 1985 Passito was made from the grapes that receive the most sun. They are placed in crates and dried naturally on cane trellises for 75-90 days. The wine is unfiltered and aged 15 months in 25 hl barrels. It is a big tannic dessert wine with blackberry and raspberry jam aromas and flavors.  They also make a single vineyard Sagrantino di Montefalco called “Palone”  It was a very impressive tasting.


    The next winery was Azienda Agricola Adanti (Bevagna) Here we had a tasting of Sagrantino 2005, 2004, 2001, 2000, 1999 1998, 1995, 1994 and 1993.  The wine is aged in large oak barrels and they also have a few 500 liter oak barrels. These wines were big and dark with flavors and aromas of blackberry, coffee, tar, smoke and a hint of almonds in the aftertaste. It is a family run operation and the son makes the same style of wine as his father did. These are very long lasting wines.


    Fattoria Colsanto  I first met Valneo Livon in Friuli really liked his white wine. He opened a winery in Bevagna to make Sagrantino. It is a very modern winery and it is only in the past few years that he is using his own grapes to make the wine. His Sagrantino is a touch more modern in style than some of the others but will age very well.  Malolatic fermentation takes place partially in barriques 70% and in steel 30% and then the wine is aged 15 months in oak barrels.  There are hints of red fruit and spices and undertones of tobacco.



    We had a great lunch here that included Coppa.The highlight was the lamb prepared by Valneo’s wife that was the perfect combination with the Sagrantino.  It is traditional in the Montefalco area to eat lamb with passito at Easter time. This tradition started many years ago before Sagrantino became a dry wine and many still follow it today.


    The fourth winery of the day was Azienda Agricola Doinigi (Bevagna) and it was very cold in the cellar as we tasted the wine .We tasted Sagrantino from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and from barrel 2008. These were very big wines that will last a long time and are aged in a combination of large and smaller oak barrels (used). The skins are in contact with the juice for 20 days. The 2006 tasted very different from the others. When I asked why they explained that some changes had been made in the vineyard and in the cellar.  They changed over to botti--large oak barrels and the wood was new!  I was very impressed with the 2001 Sagrantino and believe it will last a very long time. The passito 2005 was a true dessert wine aged in botti.



    The last winery of the day was Di Filippo (Cannara). The vineyards of the winery are organically certified by the rules of the European Community – vini Umbri da agricoltura biologica. When I asked the owner Roberto Di Filippo about this he said that it was only for the vineyards and that the European Community did not have any rules once the grapes were in the winery. This is a family run winery and it was like tasting wine in someone’s home. The Sagrantino was a little on the modern side and not as big as some of the others but the oak really did not interfere with the taste.  The wine is aged for two years in oak casks and has red berry flavors and aromas. Like all the wines I have written about, it will age very well.


    This was the first time in Montefalco that I was able to taste so many wines from so many producers and from so many different vintages going back to 1985.  I was very impressed with the wines. The Sagrantino di Montefalco will last a very long time because it is the most tannic of wines. It also has a enough fruit to go along with the tannin. The passito was very interesting; some of them being true dessert wines while others could go with food. I can only hope that these wines get the recognition they deserve.


    I also visited the Lungarotti winey in Montefalco and spent the morning and afternoon in the delightful company of Chiara Lungarotti but this is an article in itself. 


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Tasting Wines from Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci

     My first assignment as the Wine and Food Editor of was an invitation to a tasting of Italian wines from Bolgheri, a frazione (administrative division) of Castagneto Carducci in the province of Livorno on the west coast of Tuscany not far from the sea. The producers of these wines were there to present their wines which always make it more interesting for me. There was also a preview of a photo exhibition of the Bolgheri-Castagneto Carducci Vintage Green by Massimo Vitali and Albrecht Tuebke.

    The area first caught the attention of wine lovers in 1972 when Decanter Magazine organized a tasting based on Bordeaux blends from around the world. The wine of Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC came in first and the rest is history.
    I tried the 2006 vintage of this wine at the tasting and the blend of grapes is still the same: 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% cabernet franc. The wine is aged in French oak barriques (one third new) for 24 months. Piero Incisa della Rocchetta was pouring the wine and his uncle, Marchese Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta, the owner of the winery, was also at the tasting.

     Many famous producers from other parts of Tuscany have bought land and established wineries here. Since most of them felt that the grapes that are used to make Bordeaux would do very well, almost all of the wine is made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot and in some cases a little petit verdot. Very little sangiovese is grown in the zone. However Michele Satta of I Castagni does make a 100% sangiovese IGT “Cavaliere” that is aged in barriques for 12 months
     In the 1980’s the press in the English speaking word began to write about wines from Tuscany made from Bordeaux grapes and aged in barriques (225 litter French oak barrels) as Super Tuscans. Soon the Bolgheri area was producing many Super Tuscans.
     Marchese Piero Antinori established Tenuta Guado Al Tasso. His Bolgheri Superiore DOC Guado Al Tasso is made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% merlot and 10% syrah and aged 14 months in new French oak barriques
    Piero’s brother Ludovico founded Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. It is now owned by Frescobaldi. Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia DOC is made from 60% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot %, 14 cabernet franc and 4% petit verdot and aged in French oak barriques for 18 months.
    Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Guado Al Tasso were the ”big three” at the tasting and command the highest prices. They all sell for about $100 a bottle. Of the three, the Sassicaia was showing the best and seemed to have less of the international flavors and aromas.
    Among the wines that I liked were the Bolgheri Superiore DOC “T A M” from Batz Ella. It is made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet and aged in French oak barriques for 24 months. They did a great job of integrating the wine and the wood. It is a very well balanced wine.
    Giovanni Folonari was pouring Bolgheri DOC Campo Al Mare made from 60% merlot 20% cabernet sauvignon 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% petite verdot($36)The wine is aged in one year old French oak barriques. I spoke with Giovanni about that state of the wine business both here and in Italy and we both hoped it would get better. His wine was very well balanced, and elegant with good fruit flavors and aromas. .It was the most natural wine at the tasting.
    Guicciardini Strozzi Bolgheri Superiore DOC “Vigna RE” is made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot and aged for 18 months in 225 liter oak barrels. I think prince Strozzi himself was pouring the wine.
    Philarmonica is a large company that has holdings in Italy and other countries.
    The export manager Pepe Schib Graciana was pouring the Bolgheri DOC Superiore “Millepasse” made from cabernet sauvignon petit verdot and merlot and aged for 24 months in French oak barrels that were 50% new and 50% one year old. Mr. Graciana said that they were trying to make the wines less international in style but at the same time making them ready to drink sooner.
    The Il Paleo from Le Macchiole is IGT Tuscana and is made from 100% cabernet franc. Having a wine made from 100% cabernet franc from thus area is very unusual.  It is aged 14/16 months in new barriques- 90% in 225 liter barrels and 10% in 112 liter barrels.( $90)
    Poggio al Tesoro winery is a partnership between Allegrini, a producer in the Veneto and Leonardo La Cascio, president and CEO of Winebow imports. Their IGT Tuscana wine is Sondraia made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. It is aged in 225 liter oak barrels- 50% new and 50% one year old for 18 months.
    The wines poured by the producers were  the new releases. These wines seemed for the most part less oaky and less international in style then they did in the past. There was less use of new French oak barriques and a better integration of the wood and the wine. The price of the wines at the tasting ranged from $36 to over $100

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Wines by Joseph, Food by Lidia

    The Wine Media Guild holds its monthly tastings at Felidia Restaurant, but I had a feeling our November meeting was going to be special. Joseph Bastianich was going to speak about his wines and his mother Lidia, the owner of Felidia, was preparing a meal to match the wines. As Co-Chair of the Wine Media Guild, it was my pleasure to introduce them.  I could have spoken for some time listing their many restaurants, wineries, and the awards they have received, but with all the good food and wine waiting for us, I made it as short as I could.

     We started with a stand up tasting of the wines from Azienda Agricola Bastianich founded by Lydia and Joseph in 1997 in the Colli Orientali del Friuli and the wines of La Mozza in the Maremma in Tuscany established by Joseph, Lidia and Mario Batali in 2001.

    The wines I liked best in the stand up tasting were:

    the Bastianich Friulano 2007 DOC ($16. 95)  (It can no longer be called Tocai as of the 2007 vintage); the La Mozzal Perrazi  Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2007, made from 85% morellino (sangiovese), 5% syrah, 5% alicante, 3% ciliegiolo, and 2% colorino ($18.95);  and the La Mozza Aragone IGT 2006($ 39.95).  Joseph called this blend of Mediterranean grapes his “Super Med”.   It is made with 40% sangiovese (Tuscany), 25% syrah (Southern France), 25% Alicante (Spain), and 10% carignan.

    Joseph arranged for a sit down tasting of the rest of the wines so that he could speak about them as we tasted and we could drink them with food. The wines were: Bastianich Vespa Bianco 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006($ 39. 95) and 2007. The Biastanichi Tocai Plus 2003 & 2005($80.95) from Magnums and the Bastianich Vespa Rosso 2002, 2004 & 2005 ($ 39.95)

    When Joseph began to speak I was struck by the great passion that he has for his wines. At one point he even said that he gets more gets more fulfillment and pleasure from his wines then he does from his restaurants. He gave a very interesting and informative talk.

    The Vespa (Wasp in Italian) Bianco DOC is made from a blend of 45% chardonnay, 45% sauvignon blanc, and 10% picolit (late harvest). He pointed out, however, that the percentages changed according to the vintage and that it was a field blend.

    I was most impressed by these wines and was interested in what Joe had to say.

     2001 was a warm year and Joe felt that the wine had good minerality, with aromas of clove, honey, and pear which were a constant in all these wines. I found hints of olives and anise and it had good finish and aftertaste. He also pointed out that the wine was eight years old and may have had a little hint of oxidation in the finish. I did not find this to be the case.

    2002 --  There was a lot of rain this year and he felt that as a result there were more ripe fruit flavors and aromas in the wine.

    2004-- This was my favorite wine of the tasting. Joe said that the weather conditions were very good and it showed in the wine. It is a very elegant wine, well balanced with good fruit and acidity. It had a long finish and a great aftertaste. He said that the wines would last between 7-10 years after the vintage. I felt that this vintage would last longer. I did not just taste this wine but drank it with the Insalata di Polipo (Octopus salad with warm potato and onion). it was a perfect combination.

    2006-- He said that this vintage was more typical of their style and it had more Chardonnay. It was aged in large new barrels and because the barrels were new it had an oaky taste. Joe found it to have coconut aromas and flavors because of the new wood.

    2007 -- Joe felt that this wine was more aromatic and had a lot of sauvignon blanc characteristics. I also enjoyed the wine; with the Ravioli Ripieni con Cacio e Pere (Pear and fresh pecorino-filled ravioli with aged pecorino, finished with crushed pepper).

    After tasting these wines I understand why they are the flagship wines of the Bastianich estate and they are great food wines

    He also said that they were no longer going to use stainless steel or barriques for these wines. All the wines would be fermented and aged in large oak barrels. I could not agree more!

    Tocai Plus DOC is 100% Friulano (Tocai) 90% is late harvest and 10%

    appassimento (dried grapes). The grapes come from a single vineyard of 60 year old vines. Joe said that harvesting takes place as much as a month late and that they hoped for botrytis (noble rot).   It is aged in large oak barrels.

    2003 & 2005 these were both big wines, reflecting the way in which they were made.

    They had similar characteristics and Joe said that he always found aromas and flavors of orange peel. I did find candied flavors and aromas with hints of pear and melon. Both had very pleasant finishes and aftertastes. I would drink them with “soft” cheese.

    Vespa Rosso DOC 50% Merlot, 30% Refosco, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5%

    Cabernet Franc 2002, 2004 & 2005. Joe said that these wines were very fruit forward, yet they retain many of the spicy earthly notes that characterize Friulian reds.  I enjoyed these wines with Il Manzo (Roasted all-natural angus beef flat iron with mushrooms, with sliced hanger steak tagliata, and swiss chard and potatoes).

    Joe concluded that he likes to use native grapes for his wines but does use some “international” varieties. He pointed out that though Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc were not “native” they were brought to Friuli over two hundred years ago by Napoleon so they have a long tradition here.

    Michele and I will be teaching at a class on Italian Food and Wine at De Gustibus at
    Macy's on Thursday Dec 3 2009   21-239-1652  

  • Style: Articles

    Ferragamo: Wine and Fashion

    The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the name Ferragamo is top quality luxury goods made in Italy. That was what I believed until I received an invitation to a very special wine tasting showcasing the Ferragamo family’s wine estates Il Borro and Castiglion del Bosco on a private outdoor terrace at the elegant Feragamo fashion showroom on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Fashion and wine, how could I refuse? I put on my best Italian suit and off I went.


     I was introduced to Salvatore Farragamo, grandson of the world famous Italian designer of the same name. Salvatore is in charge of both of the family’s Tuscan estates. I noticed that the Ferragamo name does not appear on the wine labels.  Salvatore explained that despite this, the consumer can be certain that they are getting the best in Italian wine--like any other product associated with the Ferragamo name.
    The Castiglion del Bosco estate is one of the leading producers of Brunello di Montalcino and is located in the northwestern part of Montalcino. In 2004 the internationally acclaimed winemaker Nicolo D’Afflitto together with the locally trained enologist Celicia Leoneschi took charge of the production and they are now making a more “modern” style of Brunello. 

    The first wine I tasted was the Dainero 2004 IGT Toscana--90% merlot and 10% sangiovese. All of the grapes for the wines from Castiglion del Bosco are hand-picked. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged in French oak barriques for six months. It was a pleasant wine with good fruit and a slight hint of wood.
    It is a wine for easy drinking and costs about $16. 
     Next was the Rosso di Montalcino 2005 DOC made from the 100% sangiovese, the same grape that is used for Brunello. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and the wine is aged in French oak barriques for six months. The Rosso is aged in wood for less time than the Brunello. The vineyards are located 300 meters above sea level and are on the southern side of the property. The wine was typical of sangiovese with aromas of red berries, and a pleasant finish and aftertaste. $25
    Brunello di Montalcino 2003 DOCG is made from 100% sangiovese grapes grown in vineyards located on the southern side of the property 300 meters above sea level. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks for 20 days and aged for 24 months in French oak barriques and 24 months in bottle before it is released. The 2003 vintage in Tuscany was very hot and this is a complex wine with intense red berry flavors and aromas with a long finish and lingering aftertaste. $60
    Brunello di Montalcino 2003 Campo del Drago is fermented in stainless steel for 20 days. It is aged in French barriques for 24 months and 36 months in bottle before being released.It is made from 100% sangiovese grapes which are carefully selected from the south-facing vineyards located in the Capana area 350 meters above sea level.  The soil here is a combination of sandstone, clay and galestro a typical Tuscan stone. Salvatore felt that the soil, especially the presence of the galestro, and the microclimate gave this wine a unique aroma, complexity and structure. This was a big complex wine with blackberry aromas and flavors which continued in the finish and aftertaste   $75
    Salvatore explained that Il Borro is a tiny Tuscan village that had been restored by his family. It is located in the Valdarno area at the feet of the Pratomagno Mountains. He went on to say that at Il Borro, there is not only the production of fine wine but a place where guests can find luxury accommodations in villas and country houses.


    At Il Borro they produce a range of wines that could be labeled Super Tuscan, made from international grapes or a combination of native and international grapes. All of the wines are aged in French oak barriques, and are all IGT.  I liked the Il Borro Plan di Nova  2006 made from 75% syrah and 25% sangiovese ($32), Il Borro Polissena 2006100% sangiovese ($36), and the Il Borro Toscana 2005 made from 50% merlot, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 10% syrah and 5% petit verdot ($50). This last is a mixture of a lot of grapes but it seems to work.

    Michele and I will be teaching a class on Italian wine & food at De Gustibus at Macy's on Thursday December 3, 2009. For information 212-239-1652

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    New DOC/DOCG Designations for Prosecco


    “Prosecco is now DOCG”, read the headline, but what does that really mean for Italy’s largest selling sparkling wine?  Now prosecco has the same “G” for guaranteed as Brunello has, and we know only too well what is going on in Montalcino! While I was still thinking of all the questions I had about Prosecco and the new regulations, Mionetto invited me to lunch at Union Square Café. I jumped at the chance to taste their Prosecco and have my questions answered.


    Our host was Enore Ceola, the marketing director for Mionetto.  This company is one of the leading producers of Prosecco and has been in business for more than 120 years. It is still a privately held and family-run business. I had met Mr. Ceola before and not only is he very knowledgeable about Prosecco, but he also gives straight answers to even the most difficult questions.


     As we sipped the Prosecco, Mr. Ceola told us that the Romans brought this grape to the Veneto and called it Pucino.  He explained that the Conegliano/Valdobbiadene zone, the historical area around these two towns, would now become DOCG. The zones that were IGT would now become DOC, and the rest IGT.  Only the producers in the DOC and DOCG zones will be allowed to call their wine Prosecco, while those in the IGT zone will have to call it Glera. The term Prosecco will be used to identify the region that the wine comes from and the grape will be Glera. 


    Bringing more production zones under the DOC/DOCG regulations should make the quality of Prosecco improve, Mr. Ceola said. Many producers in the IGT zones have not followed traditional methods leading to an inferior product that confused the consumer. The new laws will protect the producers who have worked honestly and respectfully following the traditions of the terroir, and the winemaking heritage that comes from this wine area.



    Mr. Ceola also said that with the new law, a producer cannot make a “Rose Prosecco” (which I always saw as a contradiction in terms) nor have the words Prosecco Blend on the label.

    Prosecco is now produced all over the world, even in Brazil. Mr.Ceola hopes that the new laws would preserve Prosecco’s identify and integrity and that the new regulations will help people to understand that true Prosecco only comes from the Veneto.


    Mr. Ceola believes that there is a difference in the Prosecco produced in Valobbiadene and Conegliano. Valdobbiadene produces lighter, more elegant wines with a mineral character. It gets more sun as it faces southwest and the soil is chalk and limestone so the wines must go deeper to get water. This area makes the best spumante

    In Conegliano the soil is clay and much heavier which gives the wine more body and makes them more rustic. It is closer to the Dolomites in the north and makes better firzzante wines.


    Mr Ceola said that the price of Prosecco will go up because of the lower yields allowed by the new laws. But this price increase would be only temporary because the producers will plant more vines and eventually the prices would come down again. It is interesting to note that 2009 has seen a dramatic fall of the price of grapes in Italy. Prices have decreased between 10% & 50%. The only variety that has not dropped in price is the Prosecco grape from the new DOCG, Conegliand/Valdobbiadene!


    .His main concern was a very interesting one. He feels that if the yields in the new regulations are too low, the producers may make a wine that is too concentrated, with higher alcohol content. This wine may be even more elegant but would not taste like traditional Prosecco as we know it.


    I was very impressed with all of the Mionetto wines that I tasted but the one that I was most interested in was the Mionetto Prosecco--Certified Organic made from 100% Prosecco grapes. It has been Certified Organic by Bioagricert SRL: its packaging: bottle, label, cork, foil, necker and shipper are all recyclable. The bottle is even made of recyclable glass. The color of the wine was a darker yellow than other Prosecco and was very elegant with undretones of citrus fruits and apples, a hint of toast and good acidity, but it still tasted like traditional Prosecco. He said that only the very best grapes were used for this wine and it did not undergo the last filtration process. This would account for its deeper color and richer aromas and flavors. The price is about $16 a bottle and like all Prosecco it should be consumed within three months of purchase.


    For more on Prosecco see my article:  Two Italian Classics – Prosecco and Panettone -July 20, 2008

    Michele and I will be teaching at De Gustibus Cooking School at Macy,s on

    Thursday Dec 3, 2009   [email protected]

    212-239-1652  Hope to see you there!