Category Italy

Drinking Gewurztraminer: 6 wines, 3 countries

Drinking Gewurztraminer with Matzo Ball Soup

Gewurztraminer Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

This week I couldn’t kick the Matzo Ball Soup craving so Jr and I spent an afternoon making it from scratch. By grating fresh ginger into the Matzo Balls, and using a touch of parsley on top of the chicken broth, the soup worked beautifully with Gewurztraminer.

Gewurztraminer produces naturally pungent, easily recognizable aromatics. The grape naturally generates higher sugar levels, leading to a predominance of off dry-to-sweet styles of the grape, or higher alcohol level dry wines. Acid levels also quickly drop in the variety. As a result, Gewurztraminers readily have a fuller mouthfeel, and oily or slippery texture. All combined, cooler climates do better for the fruit. With lower temperatures, a grape that can tend towards blouse-y flavors and feel maintains greater structural focus, and can more easily hold the juiciness to balance its fuller palate.

Following are notes from six dry examples — two each from Alsace, Alto Adige, and California.

* Elena Walch 2013 Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
Alto Adige in Northern Italy stands as both the origin, and one of the most celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer. Elena Walch offers a beautiful dry Gewurztraminer that lifts from the glass with nicely focused fresh rose aromatics then moves over the palate with ultra juicy crisp length. White nectarine, orange blossom, and light chamomile keep the palate nicely focused, crisp, and well integrated with a slippery mouthfeel. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. I kept returning to it through dinner, and after.

Elena Walch 2012 Kastelaz Vineyard Designate Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
On a steep hillside above the village from which Gewurztraminer gets its name, Tramin in Alto Adige, Elena Walch grows the fruit for her single vineyard designate wine. Kastelaz. The site has produced quality fruit for generations. The Kastelaz brings a lighter, rounder focus to the aromatics and palate, carrying white peach, honeysuckle, pear blossom, and chamomile tea alongside light spice elements. Aged on its lees, the Kastelaz gives a creamy, nicely balanced palate. Though this wine offers slightly more residual sugar, it carries nice juiciness, and natural acid levels that bring it in as a dry wine.

Hugel 2011 Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 14.15%
Alsace proves another of the more celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer, with the area regarding it as a signature grape. For Hugel, it is a flagship variety. This dry Gewurztraminer carries cooked pear and lifting almond leaf aromatics rolling into a perfumed white stone and orchard fruit palate accented by chamomile tea. There is nice focus here, pleasing texture, and a long finish.

Domaines Schlumberger 2008 “Les Princes Abbés” Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 13.35
Meant to celebrate the long history of the region, Domaines Schlumberger‘s “Les Princes Abbés” portfolio uses portions of Grand Cru fruit from classic varieties. The aromatics keep a focus on freshness and delicate precision carrying crisp red apple, anjou pear and birch bark from nose to mouth. With just a kiss of sweetness, the juiciness of Les Princes Abbés keeps the wine fresh on the palate.

* Thomas Fogarty Vineyards 2012 Gewurztraminer, Monterey County, 13.3%
Taking fruit from a cool, windy vineyard in Salinas Valley, Thomas Fogarty VIneyards delivers one of the nicest examples of a varietally expressive, dry style Gewurztraminer in California. Giving a touch of skin contact to broaden the palate, and develop textural complexity, the wine delivers very lightly toasted croissant with hints of orange blossom, dried rose petals, and lychee all on a crisp, juicy presentation. This wine brings nice freshness, focus, and length.

Gundlach Bundschu 2012 Estate Gewurztraminer, Sonoma County, 14.5%
Showing off the exuberant side of Gewurztraminer, Gundlach Bundschu‘s 2012 highlights the pungent lychee and oily-slippery mouthfeel typicity of the grape. The nose carries lychee and spice greenery rolling into a flamboyant, perfumed mouth of lychee, melon rind, and lily pollen. The 2012 shows the broad character of a warmer profile typical for the variety. I have to admit the expressiveness of this style is overwhelming for me.


Each of these wines were provided as samples.


post-edit: I finished this write-up in the middle of the night after a two week run of not-quite enough sleep. My apologies for the creatively varied mis-spellings of Gewurztraminer in the original posting.

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In Love with Sangiovese, Il Poggione 2008 Brunello di Montalcino

In Love with Sangiovese

Il Poggione 2008 Brunello di Montalcino

I imagine drinking good Sangiovese like the oral experience of excellent effleurage massage — a therapeutic practice that sweeps the fingers lightly over the body in long, lifting strokes that begin from the limbs and move towards the heart. The technique touches the skin without dragging against it, stimulating circulation while opening the muscles for more.

Sangiovese naturally carries beautiful acidity, lifted and vibrant without being aggressive. The tannins come in medium, and, when mature, offer long sweeping strokes that contact the palate without dragging. The texture of a deftly made Sangiovese gives the oral expression of pleasing, faintly erotic effleurage massage.

Il Poggione makes traditional Brunello di Montalcino, keeping its use of new oak to a minimum, and relying on only their older vines for the Brunello level wine. Younger plantings, with their brighter red and pink fruit expression are used for a lovely Rosso di Montalcino instead.

The 2008 Brunello di Montalcino from Il Poggione opens with lifted, juicy red fruit aromatics and palate giving savory and smoke accents. With air it changes significantly over the course of several hours. I strongly recommend opening the wine at the start of the meal so you can taste it immediately and enjoy it as it evolves, rather than decanting it for later. With air, the red fruit character turns to, what my friend Meredith describes as, an almost-creamy fig soaked in espresso, originating however from the fruit itself rather than oak influence. The wine carries long juicy, and savory elements dancing on dark-earth mineral lines all the way through from open to the long finish. This wine offers nice structure, and that long stroking tannin so seductive in Sangiovese.


To read more on Il Poggione:

Talking with Il Poggione winemaker, Fabrizio Bindocci, during harvest 2013 in Montalcino:

Listening to Il Poggione vineyard manager, Massimo Ricco during harvest 2013:


To read Janice Cable’s recent love letter to Sangiovese:


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Drinking Prosecco

Selecting Prosecco

The sparkling wine Prosecco rises from the dramatically lifting foothills of the Alps in Northeastern Italy, with its quality center stretching from Valdobbiadene to Conegliano. The method for making Prosecco, Metodo Italiano (also known as the Charmat process), brings a more delicate focus than the Champagne method allows, presenting more distinctive aromatic qualities, as well as preserving fruit and flower characteristics of the grapes used as a result.

Glera and Metodo Italiano

Metodo Italianoclick on image to enlarge

Regulated Prosecco allows use of only the glera grape (previously known as the prosecco grape but renamed to avoid confusion). Glera is preciously fruit focused in its flavor, carved through its edges with a green-salt bitter note that at its best gives its wine shape.

Metodo Italiano does not require the high acid levels demanded from the Champagne method, therefore generating a sparkling wine with less overt linear tension than its counterpart. In lower quality examples the lack of tension means an overly simple fruit-only wine I tend to find cloying. As with any region, however, such examples tend to appear from the bulk, industrial segments of the production process. It is important to remember that many producers play with only the best fruit, earlier picking times, and some technique variations to keep the wine focused and clean in its core.

Though Prosecco is generally finished today in pressurized tanks (in the stainless steel tank portion of Round Two shown above), the introduction of these tanks is quite recent. Prior to the 1970s, the approach to making Prosecco still included movement into a secondary vessel, but culminated finally with fermentation finishing in bottle under crown cap. It is uncommon for Prosecco makers to take this approach today, but a few still do.

Prosecco Favorites

Following are notes on a few special examples of unique Proseccos available within the States.

Ca’ dei Zago

Ca’ dei Zago DOC “Col Fondo”
My favorite of the Proseccos mentioned here utilizes the older method of finishing fermentation under crown cap. The Ca’ dei Zago offers a slightly cloudy body, as a result, but also brings with it an additional biscuit note thanks to the crown cap completion that is pleasing. This wine carries those crisp biscuit notes topped through with lemon zest and the distinct glera edge to carve its shape over the palate. The wine also brings nice focus and good mineral tension through clean fruit and floral aromatics. The Ca’ dei Zago is a nice example of a Prosecco that succeeds at complexity and a core of tension within a wine that is still distinctively Prosecco.


Zardetto “Tre Venti” 2012 DOCG
As a single vineyard Prosecco, Zardetto’s Tre Venti succeeds at showing the unique fruit character possible from this sparkling wine method. The Tre Vigne shows apple and ginger with a touch of narcissus on the nose, tightening through the palate into a wire-y, masculine body of apple with blossom, toasted notes and hints of marmalade through a long finish. I enjoyed the surprise of this Prosecco quite a bit, and would like it with food.

Zardetto “Zeta” Dry 2012 DOCG
Delicate and pretty floral aromatics, alongside ripe apple with light toast and ginger accents breeze into a giving fruit focused palate with refreshing saline-mineral length. Where the Tre Vigne vibrates wire-y, the Zeta is all feminine flow. This is a wine to drink easy with friends, and a smile.

Nino Franco

Nino Franco Grave di Stecca 2010
Nino Franco brings a single vineyard, older vine focus to their Grave di Stecca also choosing to pick earlier to bring juicy focused length to this Prosecco. The Grave di Stecca 2010 gives a crisp spice nose carrying into a uniquely spiced palate of orchard fruit, on a palate that simultaneously offers rich depth and nice focus with lots of mineral length and a long juicy finish. This wine holds up very well alongside a range of foods.

Though the Grave di Stecca follows all of the DOCG requirements, because the family wishes to honor the unique flavoral characteristics of the vineyard, they choose not to submit it to the actual DOCG inspection. This wine, then, is essentially a declassified DOCG. Incidentally, I have also had positive experiences with the aging potential of this particular Prosecco.

Nino Franco Riva di San Floriano 2012 DOCG
Heralding from a beautiful steep sloped vineyard on the edge of Valdobbiadene, the Riva di San Floriano brings a star bright, perfume spice nose through to its ultra crisp apple and spice palate. This is an elegant example of a single vineyard Prosecco with lots of vibrancy and a long juicy finish. This wine does well as an aperitif and alongside white fish, or lighter risottos.

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The Quiet Persistence of Skerk Wines

Tasting with Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk and his 2009, 2010 Ograde White blend

Kevin Wardell of Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg, Cailfornia opened his doors early yesterday to a small industry tasting of Skerk wines. The event was guided by both Sandi Skerk himself, and importer Oliver McCrum of Oliver McCrum Wines, and hosted too by Kris Clausen of Vinifera Marketing.

The team selected side by side vintages of four wines central to the Skerk portfolio, as well as a preview of upcoming releases, and a not-for-sale passito.

Skerk originates at the Italy-Slovenia intersection of Karst (or Carso), so named for the geological formation of the same name that dominates the area. The region sits atop a bed of limestone, shaped and hollowed by movements of water, then layered over with shallow red-iron soils. Skerk’s own cellar rests along a limestone hollow with holes in the floor blowing fresh sea-influenced air from below.

Vineyards only a short distance from the Adriatic, and grown up hillsides North of Trieste, Skerk exemplifies the magical, quiet presence of the region. His wines and personality both showcase a steady persistence, carried on fine frame, with elegant aromatics, and savory delicate palate.

It is hard to describe the stimulation and life found in a glass of Skerk wine — they are simultaneously clean, and unexpected; at once pretty and yet carrying notes of meat; the palate persists through delicate frame full of sapidity and Italian salato. These are wines designed to showcase tradition and elegance both.

Skerk’s family carries a history of winemaking, though Sandi’s own professional training begins with mechanical engineering. Eventually choosing to return to the family business, Sandi began in 2000 experimenting with techniques practiced by his grandfather.

As Skerk explains, in his grandfather’s generation, winemaking typical to the region fermented all white grapes together on skins, and all reds together on skins. Macerated ferments normally lasted 10 days to two weeks, before being pressed and aged. Skerk’s father focused instead on straight-to-press practices, fermenting whites’ juice only.

In 2000, Sandi returned to experimenting with extended fermentation on skins lasting around 30 days. In his most recent vintages, Skerk has reduced maceration length to 2 weeks, bringing his approach closer to that originally used by his grandfather.

Grapes are picked based on taste, with beautiful juiciness and clean aromatics consistently showing through his wines. By utilizing only pristine fruit, Skerk is able to avoid sulfur additions until prior to bottling.

Skerk keeps his cellar techniques disciplined while also straightforward, choosing to keep a steady eye on helpmates like pristine picked fruit, CO2, and submerged cap. The wines are kept on lees until a month prior to bottling, to further support the wines’ own natural immune system. In this way, Skerk is able to keep free sulfur targets around only 20 ppm.

Tasting Skerk Wines

Skerk portfolio

Skerk Vitovska 2009 and 2010

Indigenous to the region, Vitovska grows with thick skins and big bunches. Skerk head trains his Vitovska in order to encourage smaller berry and bunch size, thus increasing the skin-to-juice ratio for his macerated ferments.

The aromatics of all Skerk wines are greatly increased from his reliance on skin contact. With scents of fruit-based (not oak) nutmeg and cardamom integrated into the apricot blossom and orange spice of the nose, the 2009 cascades into savory flavors of prosciutto, pepper and melon on the palate. This wine exemplifies the Italian idea of salato and sapidity–intensive mouth stimulation with savory, mineral salinity.

The 2010 drinks like picnic on the sea shore, with orange and apricot blossom laced through with clove aromatics, followed by prosciutto on a touch of melon and breadstick, hints of red berries and salty seagrass on the finish.

Skerk Malvazija 2010 and 2011

Made with the Malvasia Istriana grape, the 2010 Malvazija shows pretty aromatics of pink and yellow flowers, followed by a tightly focused palate that opens significantly with air to reveal crisp apple, quince, touches of red currant and black cap. The wine is both savory and floral, with beautiful integration, and long palate stimulation.

Malvazija 2011 gives apple blossom, pink tea rose, crisp apple, and quince, giving savory palate notes of rock salt, cracked pepper, and mineral crunch. The wine offers textural richness and a long finish. The 2011 Malvazija will be available for release in February 2014.

Skerk Ograde 2009 and 2010

Made in a cofermented blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Vitovska, and Malvasia Istria, the Ograde offers the sophisticated, fine boned, complexity possible with a harmony of grapes. I enjoy Skerk wines very much generally, but this was my first taste of the Ograde. I especially enjoyed it.

Skerk 2009, 2010 Ogradeclick on illustration to enlarge

Giving pretty floral aromatics, followed by textural savory palate, the 2010 shows herbal aspects, to the 2009′s lightly jalapeno notes. Where the 2009 offers pink and fresh floral apects, the 2010 crisp white notes. These are beautiful wines.

Skerk Terrano 2009 and 2010

Made with the Teran grape, Skerk’s Terrano carries bright red fruit acidity coupled with savory plum, and touches of pickled cherry. The 2009 opens with pink floral and plum blossom, moving into prosciutto, black pepper, and long savory, salato finish. The 2010 offers plum and cherry blossom, alongside the savory palate, with pickled cherry, and refreshing cucumber moving with beautiful length. This is an ideal wine for crusted, medium rare, red meat.

(Not for Sale) 2010 Passito Terrano

We closed the tasting with Skerk’s hand-bottled Terrano passito. The wine offered a beautiful example of juicy-to-sweet balance, concentrated red currant, cranberry, and blackcap, moving into an impressive savory finish. A hand written home bottle is a special joy of mine. What a treat to enjoy this one all the way from Carso.

Thank you to Sandi Skerk, Oliver McCrum, and Kris Clausen.

Thank you to Sam Bilbro, Megan Glaab, and Kevin Wardell.

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Behind the Scenes at Nonino Distillery, over at Serious Eats

Visiting Nonino, Tasting Grappa and Amaro

As some of you know, I was on a recent press trip to Italy. Part of the activity was spending a day with the Nonino family exploring their distillery and vineyards, as well as tasting through their impressive collection of grappa and amaro.

I just wrote up the visit with a behind the scenes slide show over at Serious Eats.

Nonino at Serious Eats

Check it out here:



Photos from a day in Venice: (aka. Praise God, may I have more time there)

Photos from a Quick Trip to Venice

On my recent press trip to Italy we were able to fit in a quick over night stop in Venice. I’d flown through the airport but never had time to stay in the city itself. Honestly? I slept as well there as I did the last time I returned to my Great Grandparents (now defunct) home in remote Alaska — my childhood summer home. That is, really really well.

The thing about Venice is there aren’t any roadways. It’s just stone alleys interconnected with bridges. The city is a series of islands without modern day roads. The rumble of cars, and low din of engines we’re so accustomed to in most places doesn’t exist in Venice. For that alone it felt wonderful. But wandering the little alleys wasn’t too shabby either.

Our morning in Venice was our one time to ourselves on the trip. I spent my two hours purposefully navigating the islands without a map so I could test my inner compass on a city without square intersections. I had no destination in mind. I just wanted to see the place. So I set off with the idea I’d turn left to start and circle out for an hour, then return a different route, hopefully ending up to the right of where I started. I had one brief moment of panic five minutes before I was supposed to be back at the hotel to meet the group for the airport return. But, as my adrenaline rose I looked to my left, and there, it turned out, was the Prada store just around the corner from where we stayed. I made it!

Here are some photos from the brief visit. It’s beautiful there.

Entering the canals of Venice

To get from the Venice airport to the city of Venice demands a 45-minute boat ride across a small sea. Venice is a series of islands interconnected by bridges, with travel through the city occurring on the islands on foot, or between by boat. Here we’re entering the city via one of the small canals.

Traveling past homes in Venice into the center of the city

Entering the city includes travel along the backs of people’s homes, including view of their daily wash.

Heading out for cocktails and dinner

Visiting the Gritti Palace for drinks

After arrival, we set out to investigate local cocktail culture with our first stop at the Gritti Palace.

Inside the Gritti Palace

Inside the Gritti Palace Bar Longhi.

View from the Gritti Palace

The view from the back of Gritti Palace, where we sat–Santa Maria della Salute Church

Trying Grappa cocktails

Trying grappa cocktails with Nonino’s anniversary Picolit single varietal, the Passion Friuli, developed by Mirko Falconi

Meeting Mixologist Mirko Falconi

Gritti Palace mixologist, Mirko Falconi

Dinner at Taverna Fenice

Visiting Taverna La Fenice, around the corner from the opera house, for cocktails and dinner

Bartender Gennaro Florio

Fenice mixologist, Gennaro Florio

Ribolla Grappa

I follow around Ribolla Gialla, so I was excited to spot this bottle of Nonino’s Ribolla single varietal grappa.

Gennaro making us his signature cocktail

After dinner, Gennaro made us one of his signature cocktails, an espresso-grappa-kahlua concoction finished off with vaporized black tea and ginger. It was surprising for its lightness and delicate layering of flavors.


The morning

I took only a few pictures in the morning as I wanted to focus on wandering instead. Venice is one of those places where every corner is full of charm so I could have had a photo at every stop. My goal was to take streets with few people.

The view from my room

The shutters on my hotel windows helped with the good sleep. Once I realized how to open them here was the view from my room.

The view from my room

The view looking straight down

One of the canals

Setting out, turning left. This guy really was singing. I mean, GEEZ.

The view of Santa Maria della Salute Cathedral

Santa Maria della Salute church from the other direction

Wandering in Venice

one of Venice’s tiny alleyways

Wandering in Venice

Wandering in Venice

When you don’t avoid the crowds, this is what it looks like. The square in front of St Mark’s Cathedral.

Back at the hotel

Arriving back at the hotel just in time.

Jeremy and I in Venice

One of the big bonuses of this trip was getting to travel part of it with dear friend, Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi. We met up in Friuli (where we first met), then traveled to Venice, and on to Montalcino. It was great to see him.


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Harvest in Montalcino: A Life in Wine: Talking with Massimo Ricco, Il Poggione Agronomist

Harvest at Il Poggione

In visiting harvest of the Sangiovese for Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino at Il Poggione, we were able to speak with both Fabrizio Bindocci, the General Manager and Winemaker of Il Poggione, as well as the President of the Brunello Consortium. We were also able to speak with his son Alessandro Bindocci, winemaker at Il Poggione–he and his father work together.

Along with Francesca Bindocci (Alessandro’s sister, Fabrizio’s daughter) the Bindocci’s are part of a multi-generational family that has worked at Il Poggione since Fabrizio’s grandfather began in the farm and vineyards.

Fabrizio and Alessandro explained they are able to maintain hand’s on work of the large property (none of the vineyard work is mechanized) by keeping 75 full time employees, and working closely with two vineyard team leaders that survey the overall health of the property and work with the other agricultural employees.

We asked if we could also speak with one of the team leaders, Massimo Ricco. The following was translated from Italian by Alessandro.

It was quite a pleasure talking with Massimo, to hear more about his life and work, but also partially because he seemed surprised by our interest in him. He and Fabrizio laughed with each other off and on throughout the interview. Massimo was willing to give us time but also seemed eager to get back to work.

Harvest in Montalcino: Meeting Massimo Ricco

Massimo Ricco

Massimo Ricco, Agronomist and Manager, Il Poggione

“I have been in the vines at Il Poggione for 2 years and 4 months. I was working for other properties, consulting for other properties in different regions before coming here. In Tuscany, and also in Umbria.

“I am a manager of the other vineyard workers. I am an agronomist. I check the vineyards, the health and state of the vineyard. When it is not harvest, I organize different work for the cultivation of the vines and olive trees. I like this sort of work but in the winter there is not enough work to do. I like healthy vineyards and making good looking fruit. It is the best satisfaction.

“I was born in Latina, near Rome, and grew up in Perugia. My wife also lives and works here. She works in the vineyard.”

Fabrizio nods and smiles saying, “Yes, they were a double purchase.”

Massimo nods and laughs. I ask him what work his parents do. “My father is a worker in chemical industries. My mother is a housewife.”

I ask how Massimo came to Il Poggione. Fabrizio laughs, “I found Massimo on my crystal ball. I was looking for a professional level collaborator. So I made many phone calls and Massimo came up. He was consulting for other wineries in Tuscany and Umbria at the same time.”

Massimo nods. I ask him how he likes working for one vineyard now instead of many in two regions. “I like working with one vineyard instead of many very much. There are less kilometers on the car.” He laughs. “The difference working one vineyard is positive. The advantage of a single property is to be there and follow the whole production life of the vine.

“The foundation of the work I got from the agricultural university in Perugia. For 3 years after, I worked for a company that built wineries. Then, I began consulting on vineyards and olive trees.

“The growing of the olive trees is quite simple compared to the vineyard. The trees demand less time. The most important thing for the olive trees is the pruning.”

harvesting Sangiovese

In Tuscany many properties inter-plant alternating rows of olive trees and grape vines. The temperatures are warm enough to ripen olives in the region so most properties have both plants. Il Poggione has one vineyard block with alternating rows, and other areas of the property where the plants grow on their own. Alessandro explained that in a bad frost one winter the trees in the inter-planted vineyard were the only to survive. Il Poggione produces, and bottles its own olive oil.


Thank you to Massimo Ricco. Thank you to Fabrizio, and Alessandro Bindocci.

Thank you to Megan Murphy. Thank you to Cathy Huyghe.

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Harvest in Montalcino: Visiting Il Poggione

Harvest in Montalcino

It is harvest in Montalcino. The Sangiovese for Brunello has been getting harvested throughout the region this last week. Last Friday a few of us visited harvest at Il Poggione.

Fabrizio Bindocci is the winemaker and General Manager, and has been working for the winery his father and grandfather also worked since 1976. He began as a vineyard worker, then eventually moved to the cellar. The previous winemaker, Piero Talenti, then chose Fabrizio as an assistant. They worked together for decades until Talenti’s death, at which time Fabrizio became head winemaker. Fabrizio is now also President of the Brunello Consortium.

We were able to meet with Fabrizio amidst the vines. Here’s some of what he had to say. All was translated from Italian by Fabrizio’s son, Alessandro, who now serves as winemaker with his father.

Fabrizio Bindocci

Fabrizio Bindocci standing in the Sangiovese

“My first harvest was 1976. There have been only two difficult vintages because of weather. 1992 and 2002 were difficult because of rain.” They were expecting rain at the end of the weekend so we asked how they would change harvest because of weather.

“It wouldn’t be smart to harvest the grape too early so we wait [if it is going to rain] until it is dry again. After, any grapes with mold must go on the ground. Our structure allows us to solve most issues quickly. With weather, there is nothing to do about it. Instead of chemical treatments [for mildew], we leave the canopy open for air to flow around the clusters.

“We pick based on three things. The flavor of the fruit. The texture of the skin. If it is too thick, we need to wait for it to soften. The seeds. When they are dark brown they are ready to harvest.

“Experience helps for knowing quality. I have worked these vineyards, one winery. It helps. You close your eyes and remember how it was in a vintage. This way you can do your work with greater tranquility, and less stress.”

Fabrizio and Alessandro Bindocci

Fabrizio and his son Alessandro

I ask Alessandro about the basics of harvest in Montalcino, including the time of day harvest occurs. There are no lights or irrigation tubes in vineyards here as are common in California. They are harvesting in the afternoon. He explains, “We harvest here only during the day from 8 am to 1 pm, then from 2 to 5 pm. This is true throughout the region. Everyone’s vineyards are so close to their winery it is within 5 minutes that the grapes are in the winery.”

Hand harvesting Sangiovese

hand harvesting Sangiovese at Il Poggione

Il Poggione employees 75 year round employees that take care of the vineyards and agricultural grounds. The property is a self-sustaining farm with olive trees, cattle, grain for the cattle, and a wild animal preserve. Rather than hire seasonal workers during harvest, Il Poggione keeps employees throughout the year that then also work harvest. All vine work, including harvest, is done by hand.


Sangiovese about to be harvested

I ask Alessandro to discuss their view on traditional versus modern styles of Brunello, as well as the role for contact with other regions. “It is important to know what other regions are doing as a way of innovating one’s own technique. Today there is a lot of sharing of ideas and techniques.

“Traditional style is best for Sangiovese, so you can taste the wine, not the oak. I am not against modernity or barriques per se. It can be good for other grapes. But we believe the traditional approach is better for Sangiovese. But still, you want to listen to what people are doing, and taste different styles.

“The younger generation is not afraid to experiment. I have even tasted Brunello from Sonoma made by a restaurant owner there.

“The most important thing for us is focusing on our vineyards, on working them by hand, on not over doing work with products in the vineyard. We have a large property but we work it like a small farmer, all manual. Tractors are used only to carry the tools, or fruit to the winery.

“We have 75 employees all year round. They are highly skilled technicians. They know the vines. There are two vineyard team leaders. We [Fabrizio and Alessandro] go every morning with team leaders to the vineyards.”


To read more about harvest in Montalcino and keep up to date with the wine region there check-out the English-language site managed by Fabrizio and his sister Francesca.

Thank you to Fabrizio and Alessandro Bindocci, and to Francesca Bindocci.

Thank you to Megan Murphy.

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Touring the Prosecco DOCG, Valdobbiadene, with Nino Franco

Visiting Nino Franco

As some of you know, I just returned from a press trip in Italy. I am still researching and tasting from the various regions. In the meantime, here are photos from the first two days of our visit. We began in Valdobbiadene, in the Treviso province of the Northeast.

Silvia at the top of Rive di San Floriano Vineyard

Silvia Franco at the top of the steep slope vineyard, Rive di San Floriano

The region surrounding Valdobbiadene falls within the highest quality area of Prosecco, which reaches to the town of Conegliano. The steep sloped hillsides rise prior to the Alps out of former-marine soils combining the cooling effects of the mountains, with chalky, crisp, mineral-driven soils.

looking into the town of Valdobbiadene

the town of Valdobbiadene

The region between Valdobbiadene and Conegliano is being considered for a World Heritage site designation. Known history of the region reaches back to the 11th century, and includes scientific work done by one of the first wine schools in the world, and commemoration in Renaissance paintings by artists Conegliano, and Bellini. One of the unique aspects of the area that qualifies it for consideration rests in its long standing relationship with viticulture. The region’s geography, both culturally and physically, so thoroughly intertwines with the vines that the shape of the area, and the persistence of the hillsides cannot be discussed without recognizing the role of Prosecco.

Tasting the Nino Franco Rustico

The Franco family have lived in the region for generations, with four generations now having operated their Nino Franco winery.

Annalisa and Silvia

Annalisa and Silvia Franco hosted us for lunch as a way of introducing us to their wines, and welcoming us to Italy. Then we toured the vineyards of the area.

Tasting the Primo Franco Prosecco

Giovanni Franco founded the winery in 1919 naming it after his son, Antonio (nicknamed Nino). At the time it was not possible to sustain a sparkling only operation, so the family sourced red grapes from neighboring areas to make still wines as well. Having been part of the family business since the 1970s, Primo Franco (Nino’s son) became the head of the company after his father’s death in the early 1980s. He chose to shift the focus away from still wines and begin the project of a sparkling only winery. In 1983 he completed his first example as head of Nino Franco, naming it the Primo Franco.

The Single Vineyard Prosecco, Grave di Stecco

Today, the family also makes single vineyard Proseccos showing the unique expressions of the hillsides through the area. The Grave di Stecca is one such example from the family’s own vineyard located in Valdobbiadene.

Over the hillsides of Valdobbiadene

The area of Cartizze, in the heart of the Valdobbiadene-Conegliano stretch is considered the premier of the region. The concentration of vines, and the intricate vineyard rows are stunning and begin to make sense of quality differences between the best of Prosecco, and the bulk versions of the valley floor. The mountains in the distance here also host vineyards just below the forest tops.

Over the hillsides of Valdobbiadene

Standing in a vineyard in Cartizze

Glera, the Prosecco grape

The glera grape has recently earned its name, having previously just been called prosecco. To distinguish the region from the fruit, the name Prosecco is now protected and isolated to the region in Italy. At its best, glera offers focused fruit flavors with a crisp edge to it.

Harvesting a terraced vineyard

standing in a terraced steep slope vineyard during harvest. Standing a terrace below, I am at least four feet below the harvester. Looking straight ahead I can only see her boots. (Thank you to Cathy for the photo suggestion.)

Cathy and Primo tank sampling first fermentation

Prosecco goes through two tank fermentations, with DOCG quality inspections at each stage. The first tank fermentation occurs immediately after harvest and produces the more austere still wine that will be the basis of the sparkling. Cathy and Primo as we tank sample the 2013 harvest of Rive di San Floriano.

Primo and Silvia tank sampling second fermentation

The still wines are brought with their lees to the secondary tanks where they will undergo secondary fermentation and be left on their lees the better portion of a year for aging. Lees contact and aging are a choice made at Nino Franco, and are not necessarily practiced by other wineries. Silvia and Primo help us tank sample the sparkling 2012 Grave di Stecca.

Aging Prosecco on lees

The single vineyard Grave di Stecca is aged in bottle before release.

Prosecco tasting

Tasting through the Nino Franco lineup, all sparkling. from left: Rustico (their “premium entry level”), the Valdobbiadene blend, the single vineyard 2012 Rive di San Floriano, the single vineyard 2010 Grave di Stecca, the Merlot-Cab Franc sparkling rosé (project they make with a red wine producing friend) 2011 Faive, the 2012 Primo Franco

Primo with his first bottle of Primo Franco

Primo standing with his first bottle of 1983 Primo Franco

The Franco family, Silvia, Primo, Annalisa

Silvia, Primo, and Annalisa Franco standing in Cartizze


To read more about Nino Franco, check out Alfonso Cevola’s post from a visit he made here:


Thank you to Primo, Annalisa, and Silvia Franco.

Thank you to Megan Murphy, and Kanchan Kinkade.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Touring Near Montalcino: the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, the town of Montalcino

Touring In and Near Montalcino

As some of you know, I have just returned from a week in Italy. I’m still in the process of doing research and tastings, and reviewing my notes for articles, and posts. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos from an afternoon touring around and near the town of Montalcino.

Visiting the Abbey of Sant’Antimo

Looking towards the hamlet of Castelnuovo dell'Abate

About 10 km/6.2 mi from the town of Montalcino, stands the hamlet of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The medieval town hosts only 236 residents at 385 m/1263 ft above sea level. In the heart of the Brunello di Montalcino appellation, Castelnuovo depends primarily on agriculture and some tourism, thanks to its proximity too to the Abbey.

The Chapel of Sant'Antimo

Established as an abbey in the 900s, the current building of Sant’Antimo was built in the 1100s and still hosts an active Benedictine order of monks that continue the practice of Gregorian prayers (in song or chant) multiple times per day.

Inside the chapel

Inside the chapel, a cross, constructed in the late 12th century stands behind the altar. The church stands as one of the few examples from its time period still intact. Its architecture is therefore unique, hosting primarily Romanesque style with allusions to the pilgrimage churches of France.

Looking through a lightbeam at holy pictures

holy pictures behind the altar

The Abbey

looking towards the abbey itself, where the monks reside

The view

The vineyards in the distance outside Sant’Antimo also showcase the unique countrysides of Tuscany. Brunello di Montalcino is produced in a region where olive trees readily grow. Vineyards are sometimes interplanted with alternating rows of Sangiovese and olive trees.

The view

the view from the chapel

Lunch in Montalcino

lunch in Montalcino

At 567 m/1853 ft in elevation, the town of Montalcino hosts a little more than 5200 residents. The heart of the town spins around small alleys and roadways that wrap the hillside with small shops, enotecas, and sidewalk cafes.

the bell tower of Montalcino

looking up at the bell tower that announces the hour in the center of town

the founder of Siena

As part of the province of Siena and historically taken as one of the city of Siena’s outposts, the town of Montalcino celebrates similar iconography in the image of the she-wolf carrying for its human young. The image originates in Rome as the story of Romulus and Remus. The founder of Siena, Senius, is the son of Remus and so the region adopts Rome’s she-wolf iconography as part of its own founding strength.

the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

In the center of town sits the Consorzio of Brunello di Montalcino.


looking up winding streets of Montalcino


looking up a small residential alley of Montalcino (the town does get snow)


the view from near the top of Montalcino


Thank you to Alessandro Bindocci, and Megan Murphy.

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