Countdown to 2016: Ferrari Trento

Next up, we celebrate Sunday, and the arrival of my dear friend from another continent, by traveling to Italy in our glass.

While many people know about Proscecco, and perhaps the magic of Franciacorta, Lombardy’s sparkling wine, Ferrarri Trento has been making sparkling wines in the Italian Alps since 1902.

At ony $25, the Brut, which is 100% Chardonnay, is a steal, and will leave your guests wondering – “Is it Champagne, or is it Ferrari!”  Unlike Prosecco, which is typically fermented in bulk, Ferrari bottle ferments (just like Champagne), and is aged for at least 24 months.

Delicate and lively, with bright citrus and apple notes, enveloping the bouquet of white flowers.  Slight hints of freshly baked bread, this is a wonderful way to end the evening, or just get it started, Ferrari Trento is one of the best values in sparkling wine outside of France.

This is the base level for Ferrari, but if you want to explore more, try this European Winery of the Year’s delicious reserve wines.  Still affordable luxury, and oh so delicious.

Thank you to my friends at Gregory White PR for this scrumptious way to ring in the New Year!



Montefalco Sagrantino: Umbria’s Secret Sultry Sipper

Landlocked Umbria has long been thought of as Tuscany’s little sister, a hidden treasure housing such jewels as Orvieto’s cathedral, and ancient Etruscan ruins.  Having spent several days here on my (only) trip to Italy several  years ago, I feel in love with the unique culture that Umbria’s landscape provides, with a distinct culture of wine, food, and people.  One thing I did not experience however, until now, is the sultry allure of the local red wine:  Sagrantino.

 While this small province in central Italy is dwarfed in wine production by Tuscany, Umbria offers a unique wine culture.  While Tuscany prides itself on wines based on the Sangiovese grape, Umbria in general, and Montefalco and it’s environs in particular, focus on the indigenous Sagrantino grape.  Sangrantino is purely Umbrian, ancient, smoky, sultry, tannic, and entirely unique.  With only 250 acres planted, the hill towns of this area are the geographical center of the Umbrian Valley, and you can see the hill of Montefalco from nearly anywhere.  This is one of the few locations where wine was made inside the city walls, and there is still evidence of that to this day.

Here in the heart of Umbria, the Montefalco production area is tiny, approximately 250 acres of rolling hillsides, and only 25 or so producers.  While it’s origins are still unclear, it is clear that it has been cultivated in Umbria since at least the Middle Ages.  Here in Italy, where the laws are strict, the yield must not be over 8,000kg per hectare, and the vilification must be done within the specific towns in the production area.  Since this area is so small, that doesn’t lead to a large production.  These rules can be tricky to adhere to, but the results are pure magic, and wines that can be aged for as long, if not longer than Sangiovese due to the high tannin and strong fruit characters.

After enduring a quiet period in history, where winemaking was largely forgotten, Sagrantino di Montefalco finally claimed DOC status in 1979, and was promoted to DOCG in the early 90s, piquing the interest of Italians and the export market alike.  Now, I am excited to explore two wines of the region, after having my appetite whet by Nello Olivio Wines in El Dorado County earlier this year.

Sagrantino grapes

The DOCG Montefalco Sagrantino must be 100% Sagrantino, and the specific yield limits make it a challenge to grow and produce.  In the 2010 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, they have achieved this with balance and elegance.  Azienda Agraria Perticaia prides itself on maintaining the traditions of the past, and is careful to be a thoughtful steward of the land and the ancient grapes.

Today, Perticaia holds over 7 hectares of Sagrantino, which makes them one of the largest single growers in the area.  Because the Montefalco DOCG must be 100% Sagrantino, this is a labor of love.  Grapes are hand harvested, and fermented with native yeast, after a long maceration (3 weeks).  Aging continues for at least 30 months, as per the DOCG rules, and in the case of the Perticaia, small French oak barrels for 12 months, followed by 12 months in stainless steel, and 12 months in bottle for a total of 36 months prior to release.  The intensely floral aromas have strong tannins that are made more silky by the additional bottle aging, and can age for at least another 10 years.  Rich plum notes and smoky leather work well with hard cheese and rich meat dishes, and the spice box has been opened for this beautiful wine.

2011 Colpetrone Rosso di Montefalco DOC – In contrast to the 100% Sagrantino in the Montefalco Sagrantino, the Rosso di Montefalco is required to have at least 60% of Sangiovese, as well at least 10% Sagrantino.  Colpetrone, one of the most important wine producers in the Montefalcto DOCG, also hopes to maintain history, and showcase the power and finesse of the Sagrantino grape.

The Colpetrone Rosso di Montefalco is a blend of Sangiovese (at least 60%), Sagrantion (at least 10%) and Merlot, which rounds out the edges with a softness.  This was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in stainless steel (60%) as well as French Oak tonneaux and barriques (40%), and blended before bottle aging for four months.  Brilliant notes of anise, cracked black pepper and chocolate shine through dark berries and hard spices.  The rich black fig flavors make this a natural pairing for hard cheeses as well as blue cheese, and the medium tannins work well with sausages, and red meat.  This is a more casual wine, but still holds the essence of the Sagrantino grape and tipicity.  The Rosso is a wine that can be enjoyed ina more causal environment, but is well poised for aging for another five years.

While difficult to find, these wines are a true taste of Umbria, and are great with hearty pasta dishes, meats, and convivial meetings in the piazza.  While I haven’t’ visited this particular area of Italy (yet), I hope to explore more of this unique grape and taste the flavors that it can offer.


Special thanks to the Consorzio Montefalco for providing these two examples of Umbria’s signature grape, a Rosso (blend) and Sagrantino (stand alone).

Celebrate with Franciacorta!

During the holidays, more often than not, we celebrate with something sparkling.  For some it might be the old classic Champagne; others, California Sparkling.  But have you tried Franciacorta?

Franciacorta, the DOCG region in Lombardy, Italy, is known for it’s excellent sparkling wines made in the traditionally method – meaning, the secondary fermentation occurs int bottle and not by, shall we say, the soda stream for wine or a bulk method.  Lombardy is perfect for sparkling wine, where the Alps meet the Lago d’Iseo, moderating temperatures and making the traditional grapes for sparkling wines grow so well.  Since Franciacorta was the first Italian sparkling wine to have the secondary fermentation int he bottle, and since the producing region is the first traditional method sparkling wine in Italy to reach DOCG status, they really are a treat.

Since becoming a DOCG (the highest level of regional wine designations in Italy) in 1995, Franciacorta has set strict rules governing the production of it’s sparkling wines.  Using the same Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Bianco) and Pinot Noir grapes that are traditionally used in France, Franciacorta requires lengthy aging and hand harvesting, to maintain in increase quality.

With five distinct styles, there is something for everyone!

Some of my favorite products that I have been enjoing this season are reviewed below.  So this holiday, go out and say Cin Cin to Franciacorta!

Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut – 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir).  Yeasty, buttered toast, crisp lemon curd.  Beautiful bright acidity with the richness of cream and ripe pears.  This would be fantastic with oysters or brunch, and at $30, an affortable alternative to Champagne.  With only 12.9% ABV, this is a sipper you can enjoy all day!

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut – 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir), 10% Pinot Bianco (Blanc) –  a field of flowers, with rich  yellow and green hues, Tuscan melon and lime jump out of the glass along with stone fruit and a slight green herbal note.  $23 for this beauty rivals some of the better Proseccos and would be lovely in a Spritz or other cocktail.

If you would like to check out some of the other styles of Franciacorta, they range from dry to sweet, and have a host of other style elements such as the typically 100% Chardonnay Saten.  A Millesimato is vintage sparkler that is aged at least 30 months.

So, the next time you are having a party, consider stocking up on some Franciacorta, and wow your party guests with Italy’s fastest growing sparkling wine category!


These bottles of deliciousness were provided as PR samples, but all sips and tips are mine!





Pitars – a modern winery in an ancient town


Pitars visitor Center

       Pitars Winery comes out of the low slung houses of the town of San Marino al Taliamento, nestled in the heart of the Friuli wine region of Italy.

The Pittaro family has been making wine in Friuli since 1880, with Roman origins going back to 1510.  The passion of this family for the Fruiliano wine culture is clear, and Pitars expresses this passion beautifully.

Pitars is both near the alps and the Adriatic sea, as well as the largest river in the region, giving a rich combination of stony and alluvial soil.  The closer you get to the sea, the more limestone is present in the soil, making it the perfect location to grow the white wines of Friuli.

As many wine lovers know, the poorer the soil, often the better the wine.  Being in such a rocky and stone filled area, it’s a difficult task to grow crops, but a wonderful place to grow grapes. Here in San Marino, there was a wine revolution in the 1960s, and now they are known world wide as a source for clonal development and vines.

Pitars has 140 hectares of vineyards, and is primarily estate bottled, but they do buy some fruit as well.  While they bottle 1/2 – 1/3 of their total production, much of the fruit is sold to large producers.  

A unique point about the winery and operation is that they are one of the greenest wineries in Friuli.  With solar power providing 90% of the electricity to the tasting room, this covers the energy bill for 9 months of the year.  Additionally, they are pursuing biodynamic and organic methods, using birds and insects, as well as other sustainable practices.







After touring the property, we sat down to taste through the wines.  First off, we had a side by side of sparkling wines.  The Ribolla Gialla Spumante Blanc was bursting with green apple and bright citrus, and was a refreshing departure.  Comparatively, the classic Prosecco was light and crisp, with a touch of sweetness on the finish.  While I enjoyed them both,  I actually kept a glass of the sparkling Ribolla as a palate cleanser on hand as we sipped away the afternoon.

IMG_0379-2Next up, the Tureis IGT, is a blend of the classic Friulano, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Pitars names it’s flagship wines after stars, and Tureis is the Arabic name for a binary star system.  The symbol of the star system and a white blend is beautiful to me.  This wine was vinified separately, with the Chardonnay being barrel aged for 16 months.   The deep golden color had caramel and honeysuckle notes, with tropical fruit and a richness.  It was quite and interesting blend, and would be IMG_0396great with a richer fish dish.

IMG_0397Named after another star, the Naos is a brilliant ruby red blend, made of  Refosco, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.  (Did I say Cabernet Franc?  YUM!)  The process for this wine is unique in that the grapes are actually dried slightly before vilification, creating an intensity of flavor that you don’t normally expect.  This dark brooding wine had lots of espresso flavors followed by black pepper, dark plum, leather, and blackberry.  

As luck would have it, our gracious host also opened several other wines for us to try.  Most notably, the Cabernet Franc, which aside from being a personal favorite of mine was simply delicious.

IMG_0334Be sure to make time for a visit to Pitars if you are in the Friuli area, as you will not be disappointed!




Lis Neris – at the crossroads of culture

00000776After our long first night, getting to our various accomodations (mine was the lovely Terra & Vini), we were off on our first day of adventures to Lis Neris Winery.  Located in San Lorenzo, Lis Neris is in a unique terroir where the bora winds come rushing in from Slovenia through the gap in the mountains.  In fact, if you reach out, you can almost touch the current boarder.  Again, at the crossroads of culture and long disputed lands, the histoyr in these vineyards is long and varies.

Gorizia, the town just to the east of San Lorenzo, is the firs Italian town on the Isonzo river, which slowly winds out of Slovenia is Gorizia.  This is, quite probably, one of Europe’s most disputed boarder towns, with the river having a large impact on these disputes as a highwa and source of livlihood.

Here, since 1879, Lis Neris has supported four generations of family members to create the classic wine estates that exist today.  In 1981, production was turned on it’s head, when a new, and innovative approach was taken to winemaking.

In general, Friuli is most well known for white wine (more on that later), and Lis Neris wanted to showcase the terroir that made this happen.  The winemaker, Alvaro, highlighted the relationship between the land and human, where the knowledge and respect for the environment allows him and his team to express that terroir most effectively.  in a modern, gravity flow winery, lets the team intervene less and encourage the natural process of winemaking more.00000802

Lis Neris

Winemaker Alvaro

And now for the wines!

2011 Pinot Grigio – 2011 was an exceptionally hot year in Friuli.  This yielding fresh pear, spice, lemon lime, limestone, tons of minerality, and a fresh and brigth wine.  Here, the soil is mostly gravel, bordered by chalk, which releases a lot of minerality in to the white wines.  This wine had a heavy citrus note, with a bright floral backsplash.

2010 Pinot Grigio “Gris” –  Here, Gris also means cricket.  Since there are a lot of them around, it’s completely appropriate!  This wine had a frequent battonage, and was on the lees for 11 months.  As a result, it is a richer, more rounded, wine.  In contrast to 2011, 2010 was a wet, rainy summer.  It was a velvety riound wine, with a lot of structure and power, with necterines and pink grapefruit.  This is not the classic flavor profile for Lis Neris and it was an intereesting departure.

2007 Gris – 2007 yielded the earliest harvest Friuli has had in memorable history; the 20th of August is early by most books, and with heat in the high 90s to 100 degrees, the wine changed drastically.  Tropical fruit, and guavas are rich and thick, but with bright acid and meyer lemon to taper it out.  It;s still a bit of a bruiser, with oak crawling out of the glass, and is an awkward teenaage.

The final wine, Confini (Confines) is a late harvest, which in Friuli means about 15-20 days after normal harvest.  In this case it was mid-September, and represents a blend that is a bit of a rebel in these parts.  Pinot Grigio, Gewurtraminer, and Riesling, are all blended to gether to create a tropical masterpiece that was fascinating.

Lis Neris is a great first stop for any visit tot he region and a great overview of the region!


Visits to all Friuli area wineries were provided by Vino e Sapori, our lovely tour guides!


Terra & Vini

logo Terra e ViniOur first night in Friuli was magical as we acended the steep stairs to our accomocation, Terra & Vini.  The group was split up, half staying at small cottages run by La Subida, the other half with us at Terra & Vini.  I’m not sure who got the better deal!

The inn and restaurant are located in the small village of Brazzano, a small outlying district of Cormòns, in a modern but historic osteria.  The large, spacious rooms had an open sitting area with a table, as well as a bedroom, and the view was overlooking the vineyards, giving us a great idea of the terroir.

As luck would have it, we were able to enjoy both breakfast and lunch at Terra & Vini, to truly get an idea of what she has to offer.  The 19th century tradition of the osteria makes this a speical place for any visit.

If you go, Terra & Vini is located just outside of Cormons, Italy, i the Friuli region in the cuff of the boat.  This is the cross roads of cultures, just a long arm from Istria (now Croatia), Slovenia, and Austria.  Room are spacicious and private, either above the osteria, or in a newer wing behind the restaurant.  Rooms average 95 Euros, and include a classic Italian breakfast of breads, meat, cheese, juices and coffee – and if you’re lucky, the yogurt of a local creamy that I will be telling you more about later.

Happy Sleeping!




Welcome to Friuli!

After our adventures in Istria, the Wine Premacy made our way back to Zagreb to participate and attend theInternational Wine Tourism Conference.  This 2 days of whirlwind activity included several excellent seminars and great networking events.  My partner in crime, Liza, and I spoke in depth on how to attract people to your undiscovered gem of a region, while our Wine Premacy leader, Marcy, encouraged us to make an impact on regional tourism with Customized Wine, Food & Travel Guides.  But more on the conference later!

After these epic two days of sessions, dinners, and discussions, the press contingent dashed across the Slovenian / Italian / European Union border, to visit the wine region in the cuff of Italy’s boot, known as Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.   But first, we had to GET across the boarder.  As borders go, Croatia lies in a complicated region that, until July 1st, was not part of the European Union.  So, as luck would have it, when we tried to exit the country, we were subject to some rather Soviet-like inspections at the exit point.  But then…there was no man’s land!  This mile long stretch between Croatia and Slovenia marks the (former) end of non-EU lands and the EU, where you have to go through Slovenian border control, which is the entry point to the EU.  Let’s just say, we were biting our nails as we watched bus after bus carry their bags in to the tiny inspection station for further scrutiny.

Luckily for us, our bus driver was from Naples and wouldn’t allow such indignities to happen to his (mostly) American bus full of troublemakers.  After about an hour of sitting, and waiting, and hoping, and drinking…we were finally released in to Slovenia.  Let the adventure begin!



The best food is the simplist food – Konoba Puli Pineta

On our way out of Rovinj, we meandered along the country roads of Istria, in to the village of Zminj.  Here, we were going to take part in a traditional lunch at a konoba, or tavern called Puli Pineta.  When we pulled up, I wasn’t quite sure if we were at someone’s house, or a public dining establishment, but as it turns out, it was a bit of each.

Much like the small restaurants throughout western Europe, there was no menu, we just ate what we were served.  It was a chilly, drizzly day, and I was happy to duck inside and sit down next to the fire at Konoba Puli Pineta.  The owner and master chef, Josip Pino Kihar, is well known in Croatia and comes from a rich cultural history of cooking.  His name, the name of his village, and everything leads to the word “cook”.  As you can see from Liza’s pictures, he can cook!

First up, as we dried off in front of the hearth, was a Rakija tasting.  Yes, more rakija!  This nectar of the gods is Croatia’s version of Grappa, the distilled spirit usually made from grapes.  Here in Istria, it is also called Grappa, so you might see those terms interchanged.  Pineta‘s offerings were fig, cherry, and regular, and it was just the thing to wake up the Wine Premacy!

The first course was a simple dish of local cheese, grilled (well, fried).  This local cow cheese is fried up in local olive oil and was pure YUM!  And what meal in this part of Europe would be complete with out the prosciutto?  Platters of delicious cured meats were presented, again with the local olive oil, as well as the simple, delicious red and wine wines of the Konoba.
As we sat stuffing ourselves, two types of hand rolled pasta, one with an Italian style tomato sauce, and one with pure heaven, were served family style.  I was bursting at the seams, but I couldn’t let that delicious pasta go to waste!  As we ate the pasta, a beautiful piece of steak was busily sizzling in a grill on the fire, smelling divine.  As the buttery, amazingly simply meat was served, teh final course was prepared.  The Istrian tradition of Supa, soup of red wine, olive oil, bread and other amazing things, was set to simmer on the fire as well.
The Supa is to be drunk from the earthen crock, sharing around the table, and so we did – drinking warm wine souop, sipping rakija, and remarking on the stunningly fresh, and delicious food.
If you are ever in Istria, make it a point to stop by this amazing, tiny, wonderful, stunning dining experience!


Mambo Italiano

It’s time to get super!  Super Tuscan that is.  Traditionally, wines from Tuscany are Chianti, made from the Sangiovese grape.  These days however, more and more “Super Tuscans” are turning up, making use of the newer plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals.  Adding a big, round red to a Sangiovese will give the resulting blend, making a plusher, bigger, more New World style, which is really a crowd pleaser for the average wine drinking.

In this case, the Super Tuscan that I tasted was the La Sala Campo All Albero, which was 85% Cab and 15% Sangio, provided by Wine Passionate, a great new website dedicated to value oriented Italian wines.

This wine was dry and earthy, with flavors of tobacco and dried plum.  It was chewy and meaty and was great with food.

I was also able to taste the 2010 Pandiani Aglianico from Sicily, a great wine for a crazy price ($12).  Aglianico is not a grape I come across frequently, and I was really pleased by this valiue wine.

Though to be brought over by the Greeks, Aglianico is a black skinned grape that produces a dark, intense wine.  Fermented in stainless steel tanks instead of barrels, this gives the wine a freshness and bright quality with a lot of great acid.  It’s an easy wine to like, and goes great with any pasta dish.

I loved sipping on this and it really opened up over the evening.  Lots of dark red berries, chocolate, Chinese Five Spice, and pepper in here, with a strong anise undercurrent.

I love discovering new wines, and now I can add this to my Century Club list, and go out and see other Aglianicos!  The moral of this story, is, be adventurous.  DOn’t be afraid to try something you have never heard of, especially at these prices.  You might be delightfully surprised!

Thank you Wine Passionate for providing these wines for me to taste!