Category Archives: Italy

Award-Winning Carmignano Riserva – Le Farnete 2013


In my last post I wrote that Enrico Pierazzuoli was in San Francisco to pour his wines at Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri World Tour held at Fort Mason’s Festival Pavillon. Enrico is a practical man who does not place too much importance on scores, awards and such, but when his estate in Carmignano, Le Farnete, received a “Tre Bicchieri” for their 2013 Carmignano Riserva, he was clearly honored. It feels good to be recognized for your efforts, especially when it’s by Italy’s most influential wine and food publication.

Tuscany’s Carmignano is a lesser-known appellation, but its history of wine growing traces back centuries. In 1716, the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici legally recognized and identified this area for wine growing. Enrico appreciated the timing of receiving his first-ever “Tre Bicchieri” while celebrating Carmignano’s 300th Anniversary! The 2013 Carmignano Riserva is a blend of 80% Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in small oak barrel for a year and then another year in bottle before being released to market, it is a full-bodied expression of Sangiovese. The inclusion of a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon is enough to give the wine significant back-bone and structure. Less than 200 cases are produced of the Riserva and only in the best years. It is a wine with a long life ahead of it.


The Pierazzuoli’s run a traditional osteria on their estate in Chianti Montalbano. They sent out a notice earlier this week that they no longer have any reservations open for Easter. Of course there is lamb on the menu, so I am guessing patrons will be enjoying the 2013 Carmignano Riserva as it should be a perfect match. Shame I can’t be there! Buona Pasqua! -Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Carmignano, Tuscany

Enrico’s Chianti – Life’s A Beach!

This year’s visit from the Enrico and Gianlorenzo Show coincided with the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri World Tour’s stop in San Francisco on February 15. Enrico was pouring his wine on the tour and Gianlorenzo Picollo, his friend, fellow winemaker, and traveling companion, came along too. Those two usually travel to the States together, which works out perfectly for us because we get the pleasure of meeting with two of our favorite Italian producers at the same time. I lovingly call their visit a “show” because they remind me of a duo á la Jay and Silent Bob, as Enrico is the talkative one and Gianlorenzo, shy and less sure of his English, taking on the role of the sidekick.

Enrico, Gianlorenzo and David

The “show” begins with Gianlorenzo pouring his fabulous Gavis. Pete wrote about the Rovereto earlier in the year. Since there are only two Gavis and the winemaking here is fairly straight forward, this portion of the show is quick. Next up is Enrico with his line-up from two estates; one from Chianti Montalbano and the other from Carmignano. This can take a while because Enrico is adamant on explaining all aspects of his wine production, not to mention that he is not one to hold back on sharing his opinion on, well, most things. I for one relish these presentations by Enrico. His enthusiasm and devotion to his work comes through with equal parts seriousness and humor. Enrico has a dry wit and delivers it with grand hand gestures and animated facial expressions.

2015 Chianti Montalbano

The first wine Enrico poured for us was the 2015 Chianti Montalbano and it was clear right off the bat that this is one of his finest efforts. Enrico, swinging his arms up and folding them behind his head, explained it this way, “in 2014 you really needed to make the wine, in 2015 it made itself…you could go to the beach”. 2015 was a favorable vintage across Italy and Montalbano was no exception. The Sangiovese fully ripened while retaining all the necessary structure, acid and tannin to make great wine. In general, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano tends to be fruit-driven and light-to-medium bodied, but the 2015 is noticeably fuller and dense. The vines are now over twenty years old and that also contributes to the quality of the grapes.

Tenute Pierazzuoli

TWH staff and Enrico spoke at length about the challenges of making and selling Chianti. So much of what is produced is what Enrico calls “industrially made”. These mass produced Chiantis are antithesis to the approach Enrico and his family take to making wine. For the Pierazzuoli’s, it is a real family affair. In addition to making wine, they produce their own olive oil as well as other food delicacies like vegetable conserves and fruit jams. They renovated their farmhouse into an agriturismo and most recently converted an ancient hayloft into a traditional Tuscan osteria. Last summer, my niece had the pleasure of staying a night at one of their apartments during a tour through Italy. She and her fiancé had dinner at the osteria. It was the highlight of their trip. I think I’m due a trip there myself! In the meantime, it’ll be bowls of pasta Puttanesca and glasses of 2015 Chianti Montalbano to tie me over until then.– Anya Balistreri

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On Value – 2010 Barolo From Aurelio Settimo


What constitutes good value? Well, M-W.com defines the word as, “A fair return or equivalent for goods, services, or money for something exchanged.” Keeping in mind that the word “fair” is subjective; we all want our money’s worth when purchasing anything. Here at TWH, we always seek good value when tasting and deciding which wines to import and stock on our shelves. At every price point, there is value to be had here.

SettimoLineup

 

If one is searching for the best values among our bins, it is obvious to begin with wines that we import ourselves. It just makes sense – as there are no middlemen taking their cuts as the wine moves from producer to our shelves. We pride ourselves on being able to provide good value at every price point, from the $10 bottle well into the hundreds. In the world of fine wine, there exists a law of diminishing returns. After all, is a $100 bottle of wine really twice as good as a $50 bottle? There are many reasons for a particular wine’s price to exceed that of similar wines from similar locales. Some brands have excellent marketing arms and are able to command more due to a heightened reputation – deservedly or not. Taking all this into consideration, I have quietly enjoyed a very special wine recently. It’s from a fancy appellation – one that includes wines which sell for hundreds of dollars. I’m talking about Barolo. Specifically, the 2010 Barolo from Aurelio Settimo.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about an Italian white wine which we directly import. Within the write-up I mentioned a tasting room experience in which Tiziana Settimo suggested we try a line of wines made by a friend of hers. The fact that we all really fell for those wines further solidified Tiziana’s reputation in our eyes.
AurelioTonneaux
Around a year ago, we introduced Aurelio Settimo in the form of a Sunday email, calling them “Time Machine Wines.” Please click here to access it. Tiziana Settimo, after taking the reins from her late father in 2007, has continued the winemaking tradition in the family, maintaining the estate’s style. Her wines sing beautifully of quality fruit expression and sense of place. When the line of Barolo arrived last year, I was surprised to find that her 2010 Barolo was not only outstanding, but with a little decanting, it could be enjoyed now! I put my money where my mouth was and brought a bottle to Restaurant Picco in Larkspur to enjoy with dinner. I am friendly with several members of their staff, and shared tastes of the Barolo with many of them. The response was unanimous. They all loved it! It is a true Old World wine. The aromas are marked by the quintessential tar and a hint of rose petal, there is some wild cherry in there too, as well as dusty sandstone and herbaceous notes. The palate is medium bodied and elegant, dare I say silky. It’s altogether balanced, and the finish is prolonged by the buoyant acidity. It’s a fancy wine without being flashy. In other words, it’s a classy Old World wine.

2010 was an excellent vintage in Barolo, and among the famous labels, marketing departments or not, prices can be pretty steep. Due to the benefits from direct importation, the 2010 Aurelio Settimo Barolo is not $100 per bottle; not even $50. It comes in at $41.99, and even better, as part of any mixed case, the price gets down to $35.69. For Barolo.

It has been a banner week here at TWH. We co-hosted an intimate dinner at the aforementioned Restaurant Picco in Larkspur this past Tuesday with the Cru Classé wines from Bordeaux’s Bernard Magrez, represented by his daughter, Cécile Daquin. It was a great success, and we hope to have more opportunities to host more dinners in the future. Speaking of Bordeaux, we’re less than a month away from the annual En Primeurs tastings. There are still some loose ends to tie up for me schedule-wise, though I am confident they will be in order sometime this coming week. We’re hearing good things about 2016, but I will reserve judgement until I taste them for myself. That’s what we do here at TWH, and there’s a whole lot of value in that!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about Barolo, direct importation, Bordeaux, or the current state of the English Premiership: peter@wine SF.com

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Filed under Barolo, Nebbiolo, Peter Zavialoff, Piemonte

Tasting Room Revelations – 2015 Ca’Lojera


As I was taking out the week’s recycling this morning, I couldn’t help notice that the four wine bottles going into the bin were all Italian! This doesn’t happen very often. Though we do import and sell wines from Italy, we have soooo much else to choose from, that the odds of each week’s collection of half-poured, taken home samples to all be from the same country are big. Though considering that this week pretty much was Italian week around here, it does make sense.


Italian week. Yes, Gambero Rosso’s annual tre bicchieri tasting took place this past Wednesday at Fort Mason. Our friends, Enrico Pierazzuoli and Gianlorenzo Picollo were in town for it, as Enrico’s 2013 Carmignano Riserva was included in the tasting. Before they arrived, on Monday evening, we all found ourselves in a tasting room with a lineup of red wines from a Sicilian producer for whom we had high expectations. This is one of the ways we decide whether or not to import/carry a producer’s lineup. You can’t learn to swim from a book; and the same can be said about a wine’s tasting experience. Well, expectations being the harbinger of disappointment and all, it was a shame that the wines weren’t up to our standards. After taking in the aromas, Chris decided to not even taste the last wine. That’s how it goes sometimes. But as we often say, “We taste a lot of bad wine (okay, that may be a bit harsh in this case), so you don’t have to.” Many of the half-poured sample bottles didn’t even make it to any of our homes that evening.

Then Tuesday came, and with it, two of our pals from Italy. We tasted through their wines and they were all showing very well. There were no leftover samples on Wednesday morning! We tasted a few more of their wines on Wednesday, and ditto, nothing was left behind. Not even Enrico and Gianlorenzo. They were off to the east coast on Wednesday evening. Thursday came and went without incident, and then on Friday, the expectation/disappointment paradigm went the other way!

Winemaker Tiziana Settimo of Aurelio Settimo fame suggested we taste a lineup of wines made by some friends of her’s. The wines were shipped from Italy via air freight, and when Anya pulled them from the box, she exclaimed, “Ooh. The whites are from 2016 – these folks mean business. I’m really looking forward to tasting these!” First, David and Anya went through the lineup, then Chris and I had our turns. The consensus? We like them. A lot. As a matter of fact, we love them. Not only did all the samples disappear from the tasting room, there was noticeable tension among us while taking turns choosing which wines to take home. You will hear about them someday, when they get here; but for tonight, a similar yarn about an Italian producer whom we hold in high esteem: Ca’Lojera from Lugana.

Franco and Ambra Tiraboschi’s Ca’Lojera was David’s discovery. And as Anya wrote about years ago, he is not the kind of man who jumps up and down and screams, “Read all about it!” That’s more of what we do. David happily signed Ca’Lojera to our roster, and the rest is delicious history. Samples were shipped across the country for our staff to taste, and back at our old location, after we closed one day, we tasted the wines. Our reactions were very much like our reactions this past Friday, we loved them and could barely wait for them to arrive! With 5 successful vintages under our belts, we are pleased to announce the arrival of the Ca’Lojera Lugana from 2015!

A reminder: Ca’Lojera’s Lugana is made from 100% Trebbiano di Lugana, or Turbiana, as the locals call it. The vineyards are on the southern shore of Lake Garda, and the winery is located in the commune of Sirmione. (Um, if you search images of Sirmione, you may want to travel there soon). The 2015 vintage was a good one in the region, with healthy ripeness levels and well-balancing acidity. The 2015 Ca’Lojera Lugana has you at “hello.” Its fresh, clean aromas of rich yellow fruit, blossoms, and mineral greet you like a fresh breeze off a lake surrounded by orchards. The palate is harmonious and lively, the complexities abound, all threaded together by the buoyant acidity. The intertwined components all fade slowly on the crisp, yet somehow fleshy, finish. All in all, I have a lot of ideas as to what to pair this wine with. It seems to be as versatile as can be!

Well, Italian week has come and gone. We laughed, we cried. We tasted some wines with great promise, and we tasted some wines to which we will politely say, “No thank you.” We said, “Ciao,” more this week than we will over the next few months combined, and the thought of pairing Osso Bucco with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo will haunt me all day tomorrow. No matter what happens next week, I can be assured of one fact: there will be not one, but at least two bottles of Italian wine in next week’s trip to the bottle bank. For I am taking two bottles of 2015 Ca’Lojera Lugana home tonight to enjoy over next week!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about Lugana, Sirmione, Bordeaux, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under fish-fry wine, Lake Garda, Lugana, Peter Zavialoff, Turbiana

The Champ Of White Wine Value – Gavi di Gavi From Ernesto Picollo


When it comes down to quality imported wine for a fair price, you can’t do much better than to purchase them from the importer themselves. We have been importing the line of wines from Ernesto Picollo since the 2007 vintage, and as far as sub-$20 white wine deals go, it’s rather unfathomable to do much better than Picollo’s Gavi di Gavi Rovereto. It’s been a huge hit with customers and staff for nearly a decade!


Rovereto

The estate is located on the tiny slope of Rovereto which is within Gavi DOCG in southern Piedmont. Its proximity to the Ligurian Sea keeps things cool at night bestowing the Cortese grapes with their lively acidity levels. The vineyard faces due south and that goes a long way in getting the fruit ripe and in seamless balance.

The first written documentation about the Cortese grape came all the way back in 1659, praising its resistance to disease and for producing high quality fruit. Its ideal terroir would be in a dry, cool climate with clay soils and southern exposure – which would describe Rovereto to a T. Gianlorenzo Picollo uses all stainless steel tank for fermentation giving the wine a bright, pure expression, and the refinement, expression, and complexity of his Gavi di Gavi Rovereto will make one scratch their head and wonder, “How could this wine be this good and SO inexpensive?” It’s definitely a great wine to accompany most dishes that you would normally pair with white wine, like seafood or poultry, but it really shines with shellfish.

Gianlorenzo (second from right) & the Picollo family

In many circumstances, when I see a producer with different levels and different takes on the same grape variety, I would recommend saving a few bucks and popping the entry-level bottle, leaving the similar, yet more expensive wine be. Not in this case. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gianlorenzo’s entry-level Gavi, but for less than $5 more, you can get your hands on a much classier, complex, and precise take on what the best terroirs can do for a humble grape such as Cortese. It is well worth the investment! Knowing that there is an abundance of white wine out there which is less complex, less interesting, less tasty, yet far more expensive, we head back to the bin with Picollo’s Gavi di Gavi Rovereto time and time again. It’s THAT good, and because you’re buying it directly from the importer, it’s THAT inexpensive!Peter Zavialoff

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Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers!

Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers

Two weeks ago, I wrote about TWH’s new acquisition from Italy, Cantine Russo. I am back to share more wines from this Sicilian producer, but this time it’s not just wine, it’s sparkling wine! There are two: one Blanc de Blancs and one Rosé. It being the season of festive glass clinking, the timing couldn’t have been better to introduce these two exceptional sparklers. I must admit, when I learned that David found a producer in Sicily he wanted to import, I was elated. But when I learned that of the three wines, two were sparklers, I was less enthusiastic. How come you ask? Well, we already import a fabulous Prosecco,Cremant d’Alsace and two sparklers from the Loire, a Vouvray Brut and Touraine Rosé. Did we need two more? Upon my first taste of them, the answer was yes! Wholeheartedly, yes!


There is so much to like and appreciate about Cantine Russo’s sparklers which they call Mon Pit. The name, Mon Pit, refers to the small craters formed on Mount Etna. Both the Blanc de Blancs and Rosé are vintage dated, produced in the traditional Champagne method and stay on the lees for 24-36 months. All this for only $25.98 per bottle! I know what I’ll be drinking both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve…


The Mon Pit Blanc de Blancs is made from Carricante and Cataratto. Carricante is known for its marked acidity, so it makes sense that it could be fermented into a well-balanced, vibrant sparkling wine. The wine is golden-hued with a satisfying yeasty baked bread flavor. Persistent bubbles deliver flavors of honey, citrus and yellow fruits. The sweet fruit finishes with a yeasty, almond note. This is an elegant and serious effort at making fine bubbles outside of Champagne.


The Mon Pit Rosé is made from yet another indigenous Sicilian grape, Nerello Mascalese. I describe Nerello Mascalese to customers as having the same type of perfume and elegance as Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. This Rosé is not tutti frutti, but is like the Blanc de Blancs – dry, full-flavored and balanced. The color is more peachy than pink and has flavors of dried cranberry, red plums with a pleasurable spicy note on the finish. It’s got depth and a yeastiness that distinguishes it from sparklers made in the Charmat method. I am sat here salivating, thinking of how magical this Rosé would be with some crispy fried chicken!


Considering it’s a week before Christmas, I feel remarkably relaxed. Last year was quite a different story. I learned a valuable lesson from that incredibly stressful period that I am mindful of this year and that is that it is ok to let things go and not do so much. Christmas will come whether or not I’ve found the perfect gift for so-and-so, cooked the perfect meal or mailed out cards. As a wise man once wrote: “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” I’ll be spending Christmas with my family and for that I’m blessed. Here’s wishing you all to be surrounded by loved ones with a glass of bubbly in hand as 2016 closes out!– Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Carricante, Cataratto, Nerello Mascalese

Making Wine On A Volcano – Cantine Russo

2015 Rampante Etna Bianco from Cantine Russo

The stable of Italian producers that TWH directly imports has increased by one: Cantine Russo. Cantine Russo sits on the northeast slope of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The winery is family-run and can trace its winemaking roots back to 1860. It wasn’t until 1955 that Ciccio Russo began bottling wine to sell commercially. Ciccio’s son, Vincenzo is the current owner. Vincenzo runs the winery with his son, Francesco, who is the winemaker and his daughter, Gina, who handles the day-to-day operations.


In an article celebrating the women of Etna, Gina recalls running around her grandfather’s cellar with her brother. She describes her first harvest at about age 5 and claims to not have missed a single one in 40 years! This tight-knit bond the Russo family has to the land is common among natives of Etna. Having visited the area, I can understand the lure to stay in this harsh, yet painfully beautiful landscape. Over the last decade or so, more and more attention has been given to Sicilian wines particularly those from Mount Etna. It really is incredible to think about all the challenges and risks involved in growing grapes on an active volcano. It takes steadfast dedication.


Cantine Russo concentrates on indigenous varietals, like Carricante and Cataratto, which make up the blend for the 2015 Rampante Etna Bianco. Carricante makes up 80% of the blend and is thought to have grown in Sicily for at least a thousand years. Today it is fairly rare, only the 31st most planted grape variety on the island. It is noted for its acidity and citrusy flavors. Carricante is often blended with Cataratto, which is far more common, taking up nearly 60% of the island’s total vineyard area. Cataratto is low in acidity and therefore makes a nice blending partner with Carricante. The 2015 Rampante, though unoaked, is quite complex and above all is mineral-driven. The wine is golden-hued, the aromas are subtle and delicate…notes of flint and white pepper emerge slowly. If you like steely, nervy white wines, than the 2015 Rampante is right up your alley. I enjoyed a bottle over the course of three days. The wine stayed fresh and vibrant. I noticed different aspects with each glass. Though subtle, its definitely not a one-note kind of wine. I’d love to stow away a few bottles to see how it ages. My prediction is that is would do quite well in the near term.


I travelled to Sicily with my husband (who at the time was my boyfriend), his parents, sister and a cousin. It was a memorable trip with its ups and downs, and I long to go back. With each glass of the Rampante I imagined some of the dishes that stood out for me during that trip like the raw marinated shrimp or deep-fried baby whitebait. I can’t wait to try the 2015 Rampante with cracked Dungeness crab – now that should be quite a match!


I’ve been taking deep breaths lately. December is holding up to its promise of being a whirlwind month. My daughter, the thespian, is in six performances of Annie Jr. this weekend. Last night I signed up to volunteer in the dreaded “Room 5”. I’m not sure why no one signs up for this duty, which is to supervise the younger cast members. In this case, I was the “orphan wrangler.” Sure, the kids were super cute, boisterous and extremely talkative, but what touched me was the professionalism shown by these young actors. One orphan arrived late. By this time most of the costumes were spoken for. I helped her find something that would fit over her tiny body, pinning it were needed. She never complained that it wasn’t fair that somebody took her costume. No, nothing like that. Instead she reassured me that she was an orphan so didn’t need to wear anything special. Now that’s pretty special! – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Sicily