When you search on the internet for Riserva Naturale Monte Genuardo, the results are entries written in Italian, nothing pops up in English. Talk about “off the beaten path”. Nestled near this protected land is where you will find the vineyards belonging to Di Giovanna. Located approximately 42 miles southwest of Palermo, on the side of the triangle that faces the Mediterranean, Di Giovanna occupies an unique location and history for Sicilian wine production. It is a special winery that pushes for quality while offering the wines at market for a very fair price. Di Giovanna wines over deliver for price.
Klaus and Gunther Di Giovanna
I first met Gunther Di Giovanna three years ago. Yes, Gunther. Not your typical Sicilian name! His Sicilian father Aurelio married German-born Barbara, hence the name. Gunther’s brother, Klaus, partners with him to manage production from the vineyards to the wine cellar. I liked the wines then and brought in the Nerello Mascalese to stock at The Wine House. Very soon after, their American importer ceased operating in California, so I was no longer able to buy it for the store. Back in the California market, Gunther paid me a visit to present their new wines. I could readily detect an even finer quality to the wines than before.
Di Giovanna Vineyards
Though wine production at Di Giovanna can be traced back to 1860, it was 1985 when Aurelio and Barbara decided to make a serious go at making fine wine on their family’s estate. There was much work done in the vineyards to identify soils and microclimates. Aurelio hired friend and famed Bordeaux oenologist Denis Dubourdieu to consult at the estate. The Di Giovannas were intent on making the best possible wine, bucking common Sicilian wine practices of the time that favored higher yields and bulk production. Gunther and Klaus inherited their parents’ strong commitment and appreciation for their land and winery. During my conversation with Gunther, I learned that he spent many years working in corporate business on mainland Italy and Germany before returning to Sicily to work at Di Giovanna. He tells me that now he is never tired. His work at the winery energizes and inspires him, bringing joy every day.
Another view of Di Giovanna
I have included photos that I borrowed from Di Giovanna’s Facebook page. As you can see, the winery is remote, far from civilization. You don’t see other wineries – there aren’t any but Di Giovanna – nor towns or many homes. The elevation of the five main vineyards range from 1100 to 2800 hundred feet! Their immediate surroundings are pristine. The winery has traditionally farmed organically, but became certified organic in 1997. It is indeed a special place.
My collection of Pysanky
I celebrated Eastern Orthodox Easter May 1. My family and friends (it was a small crowd with only 31 in attendance) gathered at the River on the deck to feast on Russian delicacies and some non-traditional, but revered, dishes. It was a glorious day as the weather was warm, the freshness of spring was in the air and the company convivial. Everyone was exactly where they wanted to be and it felt good. I live for those moments; it makes everything else worth it. I suspect Gunther and Klaus have similar moments at their family’s estate tucked high above Sambuca di Sicilia. Life is bedda!
Mas de Bressades
2012 Cabernet – Syrah Les Vignes de Mon Père
There was a big announcement over at The Wine Advocate that Robert Parker Jr. was passing the baton over to Neal Martin, who will now be the sole reviewer of Bordeaux for the publication. For those of us who follow such things, this is a big deal. Yes, Parker has been reviewing far fewer wines, nevertheless, his impact on the wine industry lingers – especially in Bordeaux and California. What I have observed over the past five years or so is that because Parker is not featuring the portfolios of favored importers as frequently as he once did, the frenzy for some of the exceptional, under-the-radar values that he would highlight has faded. That is a shame. Case in point, the Cabernet-Syrah from Mas de Bressades has not been reviewed in The Wine Advocate for many, many vintages. However, if you were to look up past reviews for this wine you would see mostly scores of 90 & 91 points. Pretty impressive for a wine under $25. Back when I started at TWH, the Mas de Bressades Cabernet-Syrah was practically doled out case by case. Everyone had read how terrific the wine was and it had generated a loyal following among those searching for elevated French “country” wine.
TWH recently purchased the remaining stock of the Mas de Bressades 2012 Cabernet-Syrah at a crazy good price and we’re passing along the savings! It has been awhile since I last tasted a bottle, but I fondly remember the Mas de Bressades Cabernet-Syrah as being the jewel in the crown of Robert Kacher Selections’ offerings from the Costières de Nîmes. Bobby Kacher was a trailblazer in this region, recognizing its great potential for quality wine and began importing the best ones to the US nearly thirty years ago. The Costières de Nîmes was formerly lumped with eastern Languedoc wines, but the soil and climate more closely resembles southern Rhône. Therefore, Costières de Nîmes is now officially part of the Rhône Valley.
Mas de Bressades’ winemaker, Cyril Mares, is a sixth generation winemaker. His father, Roger, purchased the estate in the early ’60s. Cyril has added the moniker Les Vignes de Mon Pèreto the Cabernet-Syrah in honor of his father and, I think, to emphasis the old-vine pedigree of the grapes. The old-vine character of this wine is palpable; deep berry compote fruit gives way to cedar notes with a rich cassis finish. The wine is supple and coats the mouth with warm, sultry flavors. The blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah. I like to tell customers that it has the structure of Cabernet but with the elegant fruit notes of Syrah. Far from being rustic, this is French country wine at its best. You get fancy texture and flavors from the oak aging, the ripeness of the region but without the pearl clutching price of so many other notable French regions. This wine, though full-bodied, is suitable for showy main course masterpieces as well as more humble fare. You can even enjoy a glass on its own, if that is what the occasion calls for.
In my last post, I mentioned plans for a seaside escape. I am happy to report that the getaway was fabulous! Lots of happy memories made in four fun-filled days. We went to stay at a beachfront hotel in Santa Cruz with a group of friends with lots of children in tow. On the first evening of our arrival, while the children continued to play in the pool, the adults gathered around the gas fire pit to keep warm and chat. I shared the Mas de Bressades 2012 Cabernet-Syrah which we drank from hotel room water glasses. I am grateful to the tolerant hotel staff who kindly overlooked our bad behavior for breaking the “pool rules”. The warming flavors of the wine echoed the warming flames, enhancing the beauty of our surroundings. My friends, expecting a wine this tasty to be expensive, were shocked when I told them TWH sells it for $14.95! Such a deal! Share some bottles with your friends – I am confident they’ll also be impressed. – Anya Balistreri
de Tarczal’s Marzemino d’Isera
West of the Adige River and south of Trento is where the grapes for de Tarczal’s Marzemino d’Isera grow. Here the soils are a nutrient-rich basalt, a volcanic rock. Marzemino, a grape whose history can be traced back to the 15th century as having been grown in Trentino, was once greatly favored among the aristocracy. In more modern times, the grape has been overshadowed by other regional varietals like Teroldego and Lagrein. Only a few non-cooperative, family-run estates, like de Tarczal, still bother to vinify it. A dark-skinned, late-ripening grape, the challenge historically has been to get it fully ripened and to prevent vine disease.
As you would probably guess by now, de Tarczal can trace its family history of making wine far back in time. An admiral in the Austro-Hungarian army, Gèza Dell’Adami de Tarczal married the Countess Alberti, whose family was well-established in Trentino, and the rest is wine-making history. Today their direct descendent Ruggero de Tarczal makes the wine and runs the winery which also houses a small restaurant serving regional specialities.
Apart from the wines TWH imports directly from Italy, the Italian wines we carry are purchased primarily from a select handful of like-minded local importers who prefer to champion small, family-run estates. One such importer makes biannual offers for wines that are either too limited or specialized to offer throughout the year. That is how the 2013 Marzemino d’Isera from de Tarczal came to our attention. Of the many wines poured that day, the Marzemino was one that I made sure had plenty left in the glass for the gang to try. I was captivated by the freshness and elegant fruit quality of this Marzemino. I had a strong hunch this wine would meet with approval, though I was still on the fence about ordering the wine for the store. After all, how often does someone come in asking for a Marzemino? Not often, I can assure you. Unusual or uncommon varietals aren’t ones we would normally shy away from, but still, you need to make smart buying decisions.
At any rate, the work day ended and I invited the crew to sample the day’s winners. The 2013 Marzemino was a hit as I suspected. The Loire-ish quality of the wine, with its strawberry fruit flavors and appealing herbal notes, met well with everyone’s palates. Though my notes included many emphatically underlined words, it was a comment by Pete that best summed up our collective thoughts on the wine. He said the 2013 Marzemino d’Isera “smells like someone buried a jellybean”! I love that image of a delicious confection buried underneath dirt and earth. This red really does exhibit a lovely, playful back and forth between its fruit and soil notes.
My daughter’s middle school has its Spring Break this week. We will be taking a much needed respite, high-tailing it out of town for some seaside rest and relaxation. I am looking forward to a change of scenery, some unscripted free-time and making new memories with friends. I will be bringing a few bottles along for the ride to enjoy poolside (that is if the rain doesn’t drive us indoors). Either way, I am so excited to be going anywhere, nothing is going to dampen my spirit! – Anya Balistreri
Bodkin Chardonnay – The Fearless
Just like with people, you often know whether you like a wine or not in the first 10 seconds. The aromas and flavors of Bodkin’s 2014 Chardonnay drew me in immediately and before the wine rep could screw back on the cap and put the bottle away in his wine tote, I placed an order. I don’t usually pull the trigger this quick. I like to mull over my decisions. Does this wine have an audience? Is it distinctive? Is there value for our customers? These questions were easily answered “yes” with one sip.
I had heard the buzz on Bodkin wines. New on the scene, Bodkin specializes in Sauvignon Blanc and has received much praise for producing the first ever sparkling wine made from this varietal in California! I have to admit, I initially thought this concept a bit gimmicky. The wine business is challenging enough…why complicate things further by making something for which there is no existing market? But then I met winemaker/proprietor Chris Christenson at a trade tasting and it all began to make sense to me. I mean this as a compliment, Chris is a geek, a nerd, who has particular interests and passions and follows them. Chris did not strike me as someone who follows the crowd. The whole concept of Bodkin wines is a clear reflection of Chris’s interests – from Medieval history and literature to making wine his way.
The 2014 Chardonnay is dubbed The Fearless in honor of the 15th century French ruler, John the Fearless, who was Duke of Burgundy. This goes to show, Chris doesn’t take the easy marketing path by naming his wines after family members or pets. The Fearless is also so named, I think, because this Chardonnay is made slightly atypical compared to most California Chardonnay. First of all, it comes in at 13.4% abv which is low especially for Dry Creek Valley fruit. The wine spent time in French oak, but only a small portion of it new, did not go through malolactic fermentation and sat on its lees with no stirring. Finally, it was bottled unfiltered. All acceptable winemaking choices but not the norm in this part of the world. The resulting wine I find exciting and delicious. The aromatics hint at sweet tangy Meyer lemon and on the palate the zippy citrusy fruit is buoyed by the roundness imparted from the time in barrel sur-lie. The acidity is spiky and refreshing. The fruit couples with the acidity like the flavors of a Gravenstein apple that is green, has a few stripes of red on its skin but absolutely no hint of yellow! Snappy, succulent and irresistible!
I paired Bodkin’s 2014 Chardonnay with salmon croquettes. It was a great match since the salmon demanded a wine with body but the lightness of the dish needed acidity. I did a little dance around the kitchen after sampling the first croquette and washing it down with a sip of The Fearless.
After weeks of anticipation and preparations, Pete has flown to Bordeaux to taste the 2015 vintage out of barrel and to, hopefully, find new bottled treasures to import and stock up at the store. As our Bordeaux Scout, Pete has a full agenda and we wish him well on his quest to find those great Bordeaux values you expect to find at TWH. He’s even posted a picture on The Wine House’s Facebook page. Check it out and if you “like” it, perhaps he’ll be encouraged to post some more! – Anya Balistreri
Passetoutgrain is a regional appellation in Burgundy. It covers a large area, nearly 2000 acres, and the wine must be at least 30% Pinot Noir and have a minimum of 15% Gamay. So, how come so few know about or drink Passetoutgrain? For the most part, Passetoutgrain has lost favor, particularly in villages that command high dollars. In these places most producers have replanted Gamay with Pinot Noir. This makes economic sense, but as a result some of the cultural history of Burgundy is lost. Passetoutgrain occupies a useful category as it provides an affordable option for locals to drink and it can be poured at domaines while their age-worthy wines are being cellared. You won’t find anyone mistaking Passetoutgrain for Grand Cru, but if you are looking to rub shoulders with Burgundy without mortgaging your home, Passetoutgrain is a viable way to go.
All this background is to emphasize my delight when I discovered bottles of Domaine Françoise Lamarche’s 2013 Bourgogne Passetoutgrain in our wood box stacks. I didn’t even know Lamarche made a Passetoutgrain, let alone that TWH was carrying it! Chock it up to working here part-time. At any rate, I couldn’t wait to taste it! It’s a delicious blend of 50/50 Pinot Noir and Gamay that spends some time in neutral barrel. The production is tiny and comes, according to The Queen of Burgundy, Jeanne Marie de Champs, from a vineyard “on the low part of Vosne Romanée”. It’s pretty polished for this type of wine with loads of cranberry, tart cherry and flavorful spice notes. Put in the context of Pinot Noir from anywhere, I’d say Lamarche’s Passetoutgrain will appeal to those who prefer old-world Pinot Noir. It is light and delicate but with enough fruit to keep one’s interest.
Burghound’s Allen Meadows wrote this about Lamarche’s 2013 Passetoutgrain:
“The exuberant nose of very fresh red berry fruit aromas displays notes of spice and pepper. There is a surprisingly silky mouth feel for a PTG and while there is a touch of rusticity on the finish the overall impression is unusually refined.”
The history of Domaine François Lamarche reads like a novel. The family has been making wine for several generations and can trace their roots in the village of Vosne-Romanée back to 1740. Their vineyard holdings are impressive and include the Grand Cru, La Grande Rue, which is sandwiched between La Tâche on one side and La Romanée and Romanée-Conti on the other. Today, Nicole Lamarche is making the wines, having taken over from her father in 2006. With Nicole at the helm, vineyard practices have changed to biodynamic cultivation, new barrel regiments have been employed using less new oak and the winery has been updated to modern standards. Drinking a glass of Lamarche’s Passetoutgrain gives me that chic hi-lo vibe, like wearing a designer gown under a leather motorcycle jacket. It’s not a Cru, but it is incredibly enjoyable nonetheless – I am drinking Burgundy and spent less than $25 – what a deal!
Basketball, basketball, basketball. From NCAA to the Warriors to the last game of my daughter’s CYO league, March has been mostly about Basketball…and Burgundy! My daughter has never played on an organized sports team before this season. It was entirely her choice to play basketball and though not a “sporty” girl, she loved the whole experience! Her team made it to the first round of play-offs. It was a tough battle. She played in the 2nd quarter, caught a rebound, turned to shoot and was fouled. Her first trip to the free throw line and she made it in! Her first score of the season! Her team lost the game, there were tears for a hard fought game, but my daughter….well she ran off the court with the biggest smile imaginable, shouting “Did you see it? Did you see it?” I sure did and it was great! – Anya Balistreri
Three winemakers from TWH’s Italian portfolio paid us a visit last week. The trio consisted of Giavi’s Marco Cuscito, Ernesto Picollo’s Gianlorenzo Picollo, and Tenuta Pierazzuoli’s Enrico Pierazzuoli. A visit from a producer is a mix of business and pleasure. David drove “the boys” all over the Bay Area, meeting with restaurants and fine wine shops. The trio had also “worked the market” in LA, getting their wines placed on some pretty impressive wine lists. To say the wines were well received is an understatement. Our back stock of their wines have dwindled. David spent several days after they left trying to figure out the quickest way to get more wine imported from Italy!
I had met Enrico in Italy a few months after I started working at TWH. I had planned the trip in advance of accepting a position at TWH and it happened to coicide with this new relationship between TWH and Pierazzuoli. That was nearly twenty years ago! My boyfriend, now husband, and I drove north from Radda to Montelupo and somehow managed to find our way to Pierazzuoli’s estate tucked in the rolling hills of Montalbano. Enrico proudly showed off his new vineyard plantings, the cellar, and a farmhouse that he said he hoped to renovate to make into an agriturismo. Seeing Enrico in San Francisco reminded me of how hard he has worked to make his dreams come true making wine on his family’s estates. I’m guilty of this too, to think “wouldn’t it be great to have your own winery in Tuscany” without considering all it takes to make that a reality especially if you are not being funded by deep pockets. Enrico is a talker and he talks a lot about the trials and tribulations of running a family business in Italy. When it is quiet at the winery, Enrico is out promoting his wine abroad. He comes to the US every year as he knows it doesn’t just end at making great wine…you need to make sure it gets into the right hands.
Enrico’s 2013 Chianti Montalbano is a great example of a simple wine that delivers charm and purity of fruit. In comparison to most Chianti’s out in the market below $15, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano offers more delicious fruit and clean flavors. I have been tasting quite of few value-priced Chianti’s lately and I am appalled at the shoddy quality and metalic flavors. Some are downright awful and undrinkable. On the other hand, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano has fresh-picked, bright cherry fruit flavors. It may lack girth but that is not its purpose. It is meant to be that perfect back drop to your favorite bowl of pasta. For me personally, I adore the Chianti Montalbano with a Bolognese sauce. The tangy, red cherry fruit marries well with the tomato sauce and the acidity level is just right not to overwhelm the dish.
Marco, David, Gianlorenzo and Enrico
Over dinner at the newly opened Fiorella in SF’s Richmond District with Enrico, Gianlorenzo, Marco, David, Tom and I in attendance, stories were shared with much laughter emanating from our table. Those Italian boys are good people and that matters! I left home that evening with a feeling of satisfaction knowing that when I recommend a bottle of 2013 Chianti Montalbano there is a real person who made every effort to make the best wine they could. Tenuta Pierazzuoli is not a label but a family business. I like to think I’m part of that family. So cook up a whole lotta pasta and gravy and invite your family over to share stories, laugh, eat and make sure to serve the 2013 Chianti Montalbano to make it all that much better!– Anya Balistreri