VINO 2011

Faithful Readers — may your tribe increase! — a piece I wrote is the featured article on The Palate Press website this week. Here’s a link to the story, which grew out of my tasting experience and interviews with winemakers at VINO 2011 in New York back in January. The focus of the piece is the culture war (as I see it) between advocates of old-fashioned winemaking in Italy, that is, using large, old barrels for aging wine, and the innovators who tout the (proliferating) use of small French barriques. I hope that you enjoy the story and will leave a comment if you are inspired or provoked. Click here.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano has roots way back in history, being cited (as a billion wine-writers repeat) as the favorite wine of Michelangelo. Was it precisely the same Tuscan wine that was awarded, in 1966, the first DOC classification? That we’ll never know, since, as far as can be ascertained, Michelangelo never took notes on the wines he drank. The situation is interesting for a white wine that had almost disappeared by mid-century from this area of chalky hills and San Gimignano, its famous hill-town of jutting slender towers northwest of Siena. Farmers neglected the vernaccia grape in favor of trebbiano and malvasia. In a sense, the bestowal of the DOC revived the fortunes of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, though that’s not supposed to be the motivation of the official classification; it’s rather like the manner in which Academy Awards are given for an actor’s minor work because he didn’t get the Oscar when he should have years ago. One could list a dozen wines that should have been first to receive DOC classification, but that hardly matters now. Promotion to DOCG status came to Vernaccia di San Gimignano in 1993.

These observations are inspired by a group of wines that I encountered in New York on Jan. 25. The event was a tasting, at VINO 2011, of wines from 30 Tuscan properties that had been included in the 2010 Selezione dei Vini di Toscana Awards. I didn’t get to try many of these wines because I had been in a seminar on social media that ran at the same time that afternoon, but the tasting was supposed to go on until 6 p.m. so I still had more than an hour, except that after a few minutes hotel staff started flashing the lights. A wedding was going to occur later that night and the room had to be prepared, chairs set up and so on. Good planning there.

Anyway, the wines that absolutely knocked me out were whites from Montenidoli, the “mount of the little nests,” a small organically-run estate near San Gimignano founded by Sergio and Elisabetta Fagiuoli in 1965. Senora Fagiuoli herself, 46 years later, poured wines at VINO 2011. She offered one rose and five whites wines, though the estate also produces reds, two Chianti Colli Senesi and a Toscana I.G.T., all three of which I dearly long to try, because matters are handled in the old-fashioned way at Montenidoli. The wines are labeled “Sono Montinidoli,” meaning that they are made completely from estate grapes.

Some of the wines of Montinidoli are brought to our shores by various importers, including Artisan Wines Inc., in Edison, N.J.

The Canaiolo 2009, Toscana Rosato, is made from the canaiolo grape, traditionally a minor portion in Chianti wines (to soften sangiovese’s tannic edge) but largely relegated to oblivion these days, except for producers that cling heroically to the past. This is an extremely attractive and totally dry rose, sporting a pale copper-peach color, aromas and flavors of strawberries, peaches and dried red currants, and a finish of dried thyme and damp limestone. On a frigid day in New York, it brought to mind a pleasant early summer in Tuscany. Very Good+. About $18.

Montinidoli produces three levels of vernaccia wines. The first, in the current vintage, is the straightforward but surprisingly layered La Vernaccia Tradizionale 2007, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which receives more skin contact than the estate’s other vernaccias to extract all of the grape’s natural spiciness and elements of bee’s-wax and camellias and touches of leafy citrus. This Vernaccia Tradizionale 2007 is far better than the simple refreshing knock-it-back quaff typical of most examples of the genre. Very Good+. About $20.

Next is the Montinidoli “Fiore” 2007, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, made from free-run juice, fermented in stainless steel and allowed to rest “long” on the lees in tank. My first note on this wine was “Wow, so great!” I’ll come right out and say that not only have I never tasted a Vernaccia di San Gimignano filled with so much character but I never expected in this lifetime that I would. (We can talk about other lifetimes in, you know, another lifetime.) The purity and intensity, the sense of presence — by which I mean the wine’s authority in the nose and mouth and its sense of “thereness” — are amazing, yet the grape’s innate delicacy, its crisp, lively acidity keep the wine buoyant and animated. Roasted lemon, almond and almond blossom, bee’s-wax, a touch sage, a hint of freshly-mowed grass all combine for a feeling of sensual appeal and completeness. Drink now through 2013 to ’15. Excellent. About $23 and definitely Worth a Search.

Third is this roster is the Carato 2006, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which ages 12 months in barriques, that is, small barrels of French oak. Instead of being limited to three sips, I would love to try Carato ’06 with a wild mushroom risotto or a piece of swordfish marinated in lemon juice and white wine and seared to just beyond rare at the center. The wine is boldly spicy, deeply luscious with fresh and dried citrus and stone fruit, and, yes, one feels the influence of the oak aging in the wine’s supple texture and sandalwood-like “blondness,” yet a powerful acidic structure asserts its crystalline authority and a whole topography of limestone and chalk provides unassailable foundation. How strange and gratifying to encounter a world-class wine made from a grape whose wines are usually dismissed as “merely drinkable.” I suspect that Carato 2006 has five or six years of aging ahead, so drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $35.

The tradition in the vineyards around San Gimignano — so I have read — is that the workers would harvest the white trebbiano and malvasia grapes first, press them and use the free-run juice to make vin brusco — brusque wine — and then when the sangiovese and canaiolo had been picked for Chianti, that juice would rest on the skins of the white grapes. Montinidoli’s Vinbrusco 2005 — yes, 2005 — is no winsome little quaffing wine; no, friends, this is a wine of tremendous body and character, made all in stainless steel and resting on the lees for an unspecified time. I would urge you to drink it with white meats like veal and rabbit or with grilled trout, but it is not imported to the U.S., so I’ll keep this short. Excellent, and if available it would cost an astonishing $20.

Finally, we come — at the risk of mindless repetition — to another amazing wine, the Montenidoli Il Templare 2006, Toscana I.G.T., a blend of trebbiano, malvasia and vernaccia grapes that sort of blew my mind. (San Gimignano was a way-station for the Knights Templar.) This ages in wood, and you feel that structure, that woody spiciness and slightly spare austerity, that dryness, yet the wine is, as all these are, superbly balanced, thoroughly poised and integrated, a model of two forces that wed here in sweet synergy as they should in all wines that deserve our attention: integrity and individuality. From the color, which is radiant medium gold, to its aromas of roasted lemon, lemon curd and lemon balm imbued with dusty acacia and a hint of briers and brambles and thyme, to its spiced and macerated citrus and pear flavors supported by the triumvirate of bright acidity, keen limestone-like minerality and subtle wood, this is a world-class wine. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About — gasp! — $23.

I hope that I’m not overselling these wines, but it’s probably pretty evident that I loved them, not only for their inherent qualities but for the blessed amalgam of geography, vineyard, hard work, tender care and individuality that they seem to embody. I hope that My Readers can track down a few bottles.

At a press conference on the future of Italian wine in America — last week at VINO 2011 in New York — importer Leonardo LoCascio startled everyone — well, me — by asserting that American consumers don’t give a flying fuck (that’s not exactly what he said) about the regional niceties of the elaborate Italian DOC and DOCG regulations that determine where grapes can be grown and how they may be blended (if at all) in specific wines and how those wines must be treated in terms of barrel and bottle aging.

“Most of the Italian wine laws are irrelevant to the American consumer,” said LoCascio, founder, chairman and CEO of Winebow Inc. “These regulations are totally meaningless as to whether people buy a wine or not. Everything needs to be simplified.” And he mentioned in passing some little-known DOC zone with the implication that it was completely beyond the pale in terms of marketing interest in the U.S.

It’s true that Italian wine and the Italian wine laws are complicated and often confusing. Over 2,000 grape varieties are officially grown in the country’s 20 broad wine regions — they conform to the boot-shaped nation’s administrative divisions — portioned into something like 311 DOC zones, 39 DOCG zones and 120 IGT zones that produce more than 1200 different wines. Many of these areas are tiny and obscure and produce minute quantities of wine from grapes no one has heard of outside the neighborhood. (The abbreviations stand for Denominazione di origine controllata; Denominazione de origine controllata garantita, a theoretically higher category with stricter controls and “guarantees,” and notice that I say “theoretically”; and Indicazione geografica tipica, for a wine that does not fit into the traditional grape heritage of a region or vineyard area.)

Now I’m not about to contradict the authority of one of this country’s leading importers of Italian wines from all regions, the man who practically singlehandedly persuaded Americans to drink the wines of Apulia, and LoCascio may be correct when it comes to Mr. or Ms. Average American Wine Consumer (AvAmWinC) who just wants to pick up a bottle of pleasant, quaffable pinot grigio to knock back with a bowl of potato chips before dinner. These people, I vouchsafe, probably don’t care a hoot whether their pinot grigio hales from Collio Goriziano or Valle Isarco or Blanc de Morgex et de la Selle (yes, that’s in Italy).

There is, on the other hand, a group of people for whom the notion of regional authenticity rates high on the scale of their aesthetic and moral principles. These are the people who care whence their coffee and and tea and chocolate originate, down to the name of the plantation; who eat on a strictly seasonal basis from local food sources; who buy organic and healthy ingredients whenever possible; who want the wine they drink to be made naturally and traditionally, the consumers who care deeply (perhaps maddeningly so) about the notions of integrity and authenticity that regionality signifies. These concepts form the whole basis of the international Slow Food movement, which started in Italy, and the related locavore phenomenon, and if those social and cultural directions appeal to a minority of Americans, let’s remember, in vinous terms, that only 20 percent of Americans who drink wine drink 90 percent of the wine that gets drunk. These people are serious, and they spend money.

As for me, the more regional the better! I was pleased as punch to try wines at VINO 2011 from Italian DOC zones that I had not encountered before, especially in Lombardy. And to move the discussion out of Italy, a few days ago I made my Wine of the Week a juicy tasty garnacha from Spain’s Vino de la Tierra del Bajo Aragón, another region that was new to me. Somebody is sending me a wine from — New Jersey! The Outer Coastal AVA! I can’t wait!

Of course just because a wine is made by a venerable family on an ancient farm in some dim, out-of-the-way valley using only the most traditional methods and gluing the labels on the (recycled) bottles by hand doesn’t guarantee a great or even good wine. Intentions count, but not much. My point, though, is that we must value individuality, integrity and authenticity, even some eccentricity, if we are to participate truly in a global wine world that does not become homogenized or “pinot-grigioized” into universal innocuousness.

The Grand Tasting event held on the third day of VINO 2011 offered such a magnitude of producers, labels and brands that I decided to limit myself to the wines of Lombardy, an area in which I do not have much experience. Compared to regions like Tuscany, Trentino Alto-Adige, Friuli-Venezia-Giuila, the Veneto and increasingly Apulia, Lombardy lacks name recognition and marketing value for the American consumer, and of course every winery in Italy, not to mention every other wine-producing country and region in the world, wants to sell wine in the United States of America.

Lombardy nestles right in the center of northern Italy, between Piedmont to the west, Emilia-Romagna to the south and Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto go the east; directly north is Switzerland. Lombardy is home to several of northern Italy’s celebrated resort lakes — Garda in the east, Como in the west, Iseo in the middle — and to the country’s major industrial and fashion center, Milano. The other important cities are Brescia, Pavia, Cremona and the incredibly quaint Bergamo, dense with Medieval atmosphere, where LL and I spent one night in the Summer of 1996 with a cat we rescued from Umbria. Lombardy has 15 DOC producing regions, 3 DOCG regions and 13 IGTs. These are categories created and governed by the grape-growing and wine-making regulatory arm of the Italian government. The abbreviations stand for Denominazione di origine controllata; Denominazione de origine controllata garantita, a theoretically higher category with stricter controls and “guarantees,” and notice that I say “theoretically”; and Indicazione geografica tipica, for a wine that does not fit into the traditional grape heritage of a region or vineyard area.

Here are summaries of three wineries some of whose products I tasted at this multi-faceted event, two from Garda and one from Franciacorda. I’ll look at other estates in a post coming soon to this blog.
“I hate wood,” said Lucia Zuliani, and I thought that was a damned fine way to start our conversation. She and her brother run this estate, which was founded by their ancestors in 1589 and is now part of the Garda Classico DOC. I tasted just two of Azienda Agricola Zuliani’s wines, but this is a producer that I hope finds an importer in the U.S., if only to introduce American consumers to the red groppello and marzemino grapes. The fairly obscure groppello is something of a specialty in eastern Lombardy, though it is also found in Trentino. Neither the Zuliani Groppello Riserva 2007 nor the Donna Lucia Rosso Superiore 2007 see wood aging at all. “I want the wines to be fresh,” said Zuliani, “and I want the personality of the producer in the bottle, not the inside of a barrel.”

The Groppello Riserva 2007, which ferments and ages in cement tanks lined with glass, is indeed fresh and vivid, very spicy and a bit exotic, with dark, seductive aromas and flavors of black currants, mulberries and blueberries wrapped, in the mouth, in plush, dusty, graphite-laced tannins and bright, lively acidity. The structure and character are here to allow drinking through 2015 to ’17. I have no idea what a retail price in the U.S. would be, but this would offer great value if it were under $25. Donna Lucia Rosso Superiore 2007 is a blend of 60 percent groppello with the remainder made up of barbera, sangiovese and marzemino grapes. Again, there’s more than a touch of exoticism, along with a tremendous sense of depth and dimension in this wine packed with finely-milled tannins that lend weight and substance but also an irresistible sort of talc-like softness. Donna Lucia is a more serious wine than the Groppello Riserva, but it gains seriousness not by having French barriques thrown at it or by utilizing cabernet sauvignon grapes but through the nature of the grapes themselves and in a winemaking process that trusts the vineyard and grapes to do their job.
West of Lake Garda is the industrial city of Brescia, and just west of Brescia lie the rolling hills of Franciacorta, Italy’s premier region for sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, the process that produces the all-important bubbles. The elevation of Franciacorta to such status happened with lightning speed, at least as time is reckoned in the slow seasonal progress of making wine; vineyards and winemaking in the region go back to the days of the Roman Empire. Until the early 1960s, sparkling wine was unheard of in the region; it took the vision and determination of a young winemaker named Franco Ziliani, who produced Franciacorta’s first sparkling wine in 1961, to ignite the phenomenon. Franciacorta received DOC ranking in 1967, its regulations specifying that the sparkling wines had to be made by the metodo classico, the first such requirement in Italy. In 1995, DOCG status was conferred on Franciacorta’s sparkling wines; still wines are now produced under the Terre del Franciacorta DOC.

Az. Ag. Fratelli Berlucchi is owned by five siblings, Francesco, Gabriella, Marcello, Roberta and Pia, whose grandparents established the vineyards. While the family makes a couple of pleasant still red and white blends under the Terre di Franciacorta DOC — chardonnay and pinot blanc for the white; cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, barbera, nebbiolo and merlot for the red — the heart of the production is a series of metodo classico sparkling wines of which I tasted three.

The Fratelli Berlucchi “25” Brut (non-vintage) is the earliest of the family’s sparkling wines to be released, the “25” referring to the number of months that elapse between harvest and selling the wine. Made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes, harvested a bit early to maintain acidity, this is a charming and immediately appealing sparkling wine with a lovely bead, though there’s nothing frivolous about it; there’s plenty of size and substance, a beguiling balance between crispness and creaminess and roasted citrus flavors, spice and toasty qualities. (About 6,600 cases) The Berlucchi Brut Rosé 2006 is comprised of a 70 percent blend of chardonnay and pinot blanc with 30 percent pinot noir made as a rosé wine. From its shimmering pale copper color, to its tempest of tiny glinting bubbles and its crisp, dry, minerally nature, this sparkling wine epitomizes elegance and refinement. (About 2,500 cases).

The flagship product for Fratelli Berlucchi is the Brut Casa delle Colonne, now from the 2001 vintage. It’s a blend of 80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir from the estate vineyards Mandola and Tre Camini. This is a world-class metodo classico sparkling wine, utterly suave, confident and mature, surprisingly delicate and transparently structured for its age and displaying a reticent amount of roasted almond, jasmine and cinnamon toast qualities laved over deep reserves of limestone-like minerality. (About 983 cases)

Fratelli Berlucchi is looking for an importer in the U.S.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ One tastes a lot of wine, you understand, and some is terrible, some merely bland, some really good or even excellent — and then there’s the wine that sneaks up and blows all conceptions to hell and back. Such were the wines of Ca’ Lojera di Tiraboschi, an estate situated to the south of Lake Garda in the Lugana DOC for white wines. The only grape allowed for this DOC, created in 1967, is trebbiano, of which Oz Clark, in his Encyclopedia of Grapes (Harcourt, 2001) says, ” … boredom is the state most often induced” by the grape. There are, however, different sub-varieties of trebbiano, and one capable of more expressiveness and character is trebbiano di Soave, also known as trebbiano di Lugano. The fact that so many Soave wines are innocuous and insipid is not so much the fault of the grape as it is a result of huge yields and allowing the vineyards to spread into inappropriate geography. In Lugano, matters are regulated more thoroughly or perhaps more thoughtfully or at least by some producers, among whom are Franco and Ambra Tiraboschi, the name of whose winery means “Ancient House of the Wolves.” It’s a small estate, only 14 hectares, about 36 acres; all their wines are made from estate vineyards.

Innocently, I sniffed and sipped and squinched around in my mouth and spit out about a tablespoonful of Ca’ Lojera Lugano 2009. Lord have mercy, what a powerhouse of stones and bones that practically grabbed me by the collar and demanded to be taken to the nearest oyster. Yes, the wine is very dry and very crisp, steadied by towering acidity and fathomless limestone- and shale-like minerality, though with some swirling in the glass I teased out hints of roasted lemon, baked pear, sage and dusty acacia. This is made in stainless steel. Next came a taste of the Lugano Superiore 2006 — yes, four years old — and my first note was “whoa, ferociously dry!” Again, though, with some coaxing, the wine gently unfurled and unfolded touches of lemon and lime peel, a kind of leafy/brambly quality and hints of grapefruit peel, lemon balm and limestone. The Lugano Superiore ages more than a year in small oak barrels, yet somehow avoids feeling woody or overdone; in fact, it’s a model of crystalline clarity and natural intensity. Finally, there was the Lugano del Lupo 2006, a late-harvest wine made from grapes affected by botrytis yet fermented to dryness (and only 14 percent alcohol). We’re back to all stainless steel with this wine, which evinces tremendous vibrancy and presence while managing to balance innate delicacy and elegance with its sense of power. In my brief encounter with this beauty, it peeled back layer upon layer of ripe and dried citrus flavors, almond and almond blossom, waxy white flowers and bee’s-wax, and a slightly grassy dusty herbal character. The Ca’ Lojera Lugano 2009 will drink nicely through 2013 or ’14; the Lugano Superiore ’06 could also go to 2013 or ’15; while the Lugano del Lupo 2006 seems ageless, though realistically it should retain its vitality through 2015 or ’16, well-stored.

Small quantities of the wines of Ca’ Lojera di Tiraboschi are imported to a few states in the U.S.

I wanted to describe in more detail the wines presented at the seminar in Friulian white wines Monday at VINO 2011 because they possessed such prominent varietal character and intensity. Five are imported to these shores; of the other three information was unavailable. I’ll follow the order of tasting. I have appended a map of Friuli Venezia Giulia (borrowed from to give you some idea of where its wine regions are.

Livon-Tenuta Roncalto Ribolla Gialla 2009. The vineyard is in the region of Collio, whose steep hillsides are right up against Slovenia. The wine is made from 100 percent ribolla gialla grapes; a comfortable 12.7 percent alcohol. Pale straw color; beguiling aromas of roasted lemon, bee’s-wax, acacia, limestone and gun-flint; in the mouth, lemon and toasted almond, lovely soft, round texture snuggled into bright, vivid acidity and a powerful limestone element; a bracing spicy mineral-laced finish with a hint of almond skin bitterness. While the information sheet we were given at the seminar states that the wine is made in stainless steel, the producer’s website says 60 percent stainless steel, 40 percent barriques. Excellent. The price seems to be about $20.
Imported by Angelini Wine Ltd., Centerbrook, Conn.

The Comelli Sauvignon 2009 is from Colli Orientali del Friuli, that is the “Eastern Hills of Friuli.” This region abuts Collio on the northwest and extends along the Slovenian border and inland. The wine is 100 percent sauvignon blanc; the alcohol level is 13 percent; all stainless steel. Pale gold color; penetrating minerality (gravel and limestone), sage and tarragon, damp stones, lemon with a touch of lime peel; taut, crisp and vibrant, dusty citrus, a bit of orange rind, slightly leafy, very dry, leaning toward austere with a chalky finish. An engaging and elevating sauvignon blanc. Very Good+. Price unknown.
Imported by Peter/Warren Selections, New York

Here’s a pinot grigio of a quality you likely have not before encountered. The Lis Neris “Gris” Pinot Grigio 2008 is from the Friuli Isonzo DOC, which, as you see on the map above in green, lies just under Collio and curves around in a rough C-shape. The “Gris” in the wine’s name is not a reference to pinot gris, as the grape is called in Alsace, but means “cricket” and is the name of the vineyard whence the grapes derive. The color is a radiant medium-gold. The bouquet is spicy, appealing and seductive, with notes of roasted lemon, verbena, dusty acacia, lime peel and dried thyme. The wine ages 11 months in used 500-liter French tonneaux — that is, larger than barriques — so the influence is soft and subtle, lending the wine almost a haze of oak and mild woody spice and a winsome suppleness of texture. While there are citrus overtones, in the mouth this pinot grigio emphasizes taut, vibrant acidity and prominent minerality is the damp gravel and shale range. No, this is no Mom-and-Pop pinot grigio; it’s the real deal. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Drink through 2013 or ’14 and see how it develops. Excellent. Prices seem to be about $25 to $30.
Imported by MHW/LIS NERIS, Manhasset, N.Y.
Let’s just say that I have a real crush on the Forchir “Campo dei Gelsi” Pinot Bianco 2009, from the Friuli Grave DOC region, which, as you can see on the map that I have thoughtfully provided for your viewing pleasure, is by far the largest region in Friuli Venezia Giulia. This single-vineyard pinot bianco ferments in stainless steel and then ages in what the winery calls “mid-size barrels” of seven hectoliters, that is, about 185 gallons; compare that with the standard French barrique of about 59 gallons. The color is medium straw-gold; beguiling aromas of camellia and honeysuckle, spicy peach and pear, a hint of greengage and a touch of something green and leafy and herbal round off a wonderful nose. In the mouth, this is all stones and bones, a combination of suppleness and nervy energy, tender slightly woody spice and crystalline acidity, buoyed by reserves of limestone and shale. Alcohol is a refreshing 12.8 percent. Excellent. No importer and price unavailable.
The grape now called friulano used to be tocai friulano until the bureaucrats at the EU decided that consumers would confuse generally dry, crisp wines made from tocai friulano with the sumptuous Hungarian dessert wine called Tokay; I know that I was certainly flummoxed by the uncanny resemblance! So government brings about change, though I notice that on the websites of many producers in FVG the name tocai friulano lingers, perhaps from pure nostalgia or else from neglecting their sites. Anyway, the Valentino Butussi Friulano 2009, from Colli Orientali del Friuli, is made all in stainless steel and carries alcohol content in the sweet spot of 13.5 percent. The color is medium straw-gold; the bouquet is clean, fresh and appealing, with hints of peach, pear and tangerine wrapped about limestone. The wine is quite dry and crisp, leaning toward austerity because of the dominance of limestone and chalk elements. Nicely attractive without being compelling. Very Good+. No importer and price unavailable.

The wines of La Tunella, an estate in Colli Orientali del Friuli, are imported to the U.S. by Quintessential, in Napa, Ca., but the Valmasia 2009, a stainless steel wine from from 100 percent malvasia Istriana grapes, does not appear to be among them; at least it’s not mentioned on the company’s website. Let’s hope that it will be added to the roster. This is a superbly attractive wine, pale straw in color and with a seductive bouquet of lavender and acacia, dried orange rind and cloves, roasted lemons and pears and a hint of lime-laced grapefruit. That last term indicates something of the dynamic liveliness and crisp tartness of the wine, which possesses, nonetheless, a texture of almost talc-like softness and fleshy mobility balanced by a tremendous limestone quality; the finish brings in spice and dried flowers. Lovely purity and intensity. Excellent. Price unknown.

Thoughtful indeed is the Petrussa Pensiero 2007, a Vino da Tavola from Colli Orientali del Friuli made completely from verduzzo friulano grapes. With 40 percent of the grapes affected by botrytis, the “noble rot,” this wine is a tawny/golden amber color with a light tea hue around the rim. It ages 18 months in French barriques. The bouquet is extraordinary, a heady amalgam of roasted peaches, orange zest, light maple syrup, orange blossom and oolong tea. Yeah, “yikes” is right. Not surprisingly, the wine is dense and viscous, honeyed, sumptuous, yet its dried fruit/toffee/almond brittle character is animated by tremendous acidity and profound limestone-like minerality. This could go 10 years easily. 700 bottles were produced. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. No importer; price unavailable.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ In Colli Orientali del Friuli, Picolit is a DOCG for sweet wines. Aquila del Torre’s Picolit 2007, which spends 12 months in barriques, is made from picolit grapes dried three or four months in wooden boxes. The color is medium amber with brassy tints. The staggering bouquet features roasted peaches, crème brûlée, pomanders, hot stones and honey. Like honey or liquid money, the wine flows slowly across the tongue, a dense, viscous concoction lavish with baked apple, pineapple upsidedown cake (with that touch of opulent sweetness married to something slightly astringent) and toffee-almond butter. Yet its cleanness and freshness, its zip and vigor form an almost dynamic poise with its sumptuous nature. Alcohol is 13 percent. There’s a decade or 12 years of life here. Excellent. Price not available.
Imported by David Vincent Selections, Union, N.J.

It’s deep-freeze cold out in the streets of New York, but it feels pretty warm in the Waldorf Astoria, the venerable hotel where the Italian Trade Commission is holding its third annual wine trade show for importers, wholesalers, retailers, restaurant wine managers and the press; I’m in the latter group. I and my fellow bloggers were invited by the ITC to post to our sites and do social media posting during the three-day event, airfare and hotel paid for; that’s called full disclosure.

The primary factor to remember about VINO 2011 is that while it’s hugely informative and educational — the range of wines to taste is mind-boggling; the seminars are revelatory — the primary goal is the business of introducing wine producers to potential importers and wholesalers or, in the case of producers that already have representation, of re-introducing and sustaining interest. To help the 80 Italian wineries or producers at VINO 2011 that don’t have representation in the United States now, the ITC, “the government agency entrusted with promoting trade, business opportunities and industrial co-operation between Italian and foreign companies,” has set up a temporary importing and, for states in the Northeast, distributing entity that will speed contacts, simplify paperwork and ease some of the complicated bureaucratic details. What a smart move! Can you imagine the government of the United States actively working to promote American wines in Europe or South America or Asia?

Anyway, we learned about this temporary importing scheme at breakfast this morning, right after I lost my black Ray-Ban prescription sun-glasses (still not found!) and before there was a fairly massive walk-around tasting of wines from the 80 producers at VINO 2011 hoping to find an importer. There was no way to try everything or even a reasonable fraction at this tasting, because I had a press conference to attend at 11, so I just hit a few tables. I quickly learned that some Italian winemakers are still enthralled with French barriques to the detriment of their wines, which they call “modern” and “cosmopolitan,” while others reveal a healthy respect for wood and the manner in which it can shape and subtly influence a wine. I tasted a primitivo from the producer Cignomoro in Apulia that hit 15.1 percent alcohol — can anyone say “California zinfandel”? — and a Vernacchia de San Gimignano 2009 that was close to superb from Azienda Agricola Campochiarenti. This estate also makes a traditional and lovely Chianti Colli Senesi 2009 (from the Siena area) that blends 80 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent canaiolo and 10 percent ciliegiolo, colorina and other indigenous grapes; this ages a few months in 20-hectoliter Italian oak barrels, 20 hectoliters equaling a tad more than 528 gallons. If I were a wine importer, I would book the wines of Campochiarenti; I’m just sayin’.

The press conference was titled “The Future of Italian Wines: As Seen from the Point of View of Leading American Wine Professionals.” The line-up of panelists was impressive: Moderator was Elin McCoy of Bloomberg News; panelists were Jon Frederickson, who specializes in wine marketing for Gomberg, Frederickson & Associates; Leonardo LoCascio, the legendary Italian importer for Winebow; Cristina Mariani-May of Castello Bandi and Banfi Vintners; Tyler Colman of the Dr. Vino blog; and Sergio Esposito, founder of Italian Wine Merchants, a store in New York that specializes in luxury labels.

I won’t summarize the remarks of each speaker, but overall the mood was optimistic. Some of the figures bruited about were that in the 21st Century imports of Italian wines to the U.S. increased by 25 percent over the previous decade, that in 2009 Italy for the first time surpassed France in exports to the U.S., and that Italy’s market share of wine in the U.S. is 33 percent. This is all very impressive and a testimony to vast improvements in Italian wine production and marketing in the past 30 or 40 years.

Another important statistic is the fact that the per capita consumption of winein the U.S.A. has increased to 9.6 liters — woo-hoo! — which means that every man, woman and child in our fair nation drinks slightly more than — are you ready? — one bottle of wine a month. Get back! That’s per capita, however. The reality is that only about 30 percent of American consumers actually drink wine at all and that a core group of 21 percent of wine drinkers consumes 90 percent of the wine. That’s not good, and all wine producing nations that export to the United States, not just Italy, as well as producers in America have to figure out how to market their products and get them into the hands, the minds, the hearts of the millions of American citizens that don’t drink wine, especially the essential and potentially profitable segment of 21 to 35-year-olds, the Millennials and “Eco-Boomers” (this was Frederickson’s term, which I had not heard before).

After a quick lunch and a return to my room to do some writing, I went to a seminar called “A ‘Grape Escape’ in Friuli Venezia Giulia: A Tasting of Friulano and Other Great Regional White Wines,” that is to say in Italy’s extreme northeastern region. The seminar, during which we tasted eight absolutely lovely white wines, each made from a different grape, was moderated by author, journalist and former English professor Tom Maresca, who, in addition to his other accomplishments, possesses the best mustache in the American wine-writing racket. White wines in FVG are not blended, so each wine we tried was 100 percent varietal. The grapes, some of them fairly obscure to American consumers and one almost too familiar, were ribolla gialla, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, pinot bianco, friulano (formerly tocai until it ran afoul of the EU), malvasia Istriana and verduzzo friulano. I’ll have more to say about these wines in an separate post, because they deserve to be treated in more detail. Suffice to say that everyone I talked to thought that this seminar was a terrific success, and I agreed.

Tomorrow: seminars on the wines of Montefalco, in eastern Umbria, and on social media in wine marketing; a large tasting of Tuscan wines; and the event’s grand dinner. That should keep me busy.

Readers, I’m safely ensconced at the Waldorf Astoria, whence I will be posting through Wednesday as I attend VINO 2011, a huge show of Italian wines with many different seminars, workshops and tastings. The Italian Trade Commission asked me and a dozen other bloggers about vinous subjects to use our blogs and social media skills to broadcast our impressions of the event and what we do and see and taste and learn. This should be fun, and right now I’m looking forward to meeting some of these mysterious bloggers whose names and words I know but upon whose faces I have never gazed. And I’m looking forward to tasting gallons of great wines, one sip at a time, of course, and always most judiciously. BTW, it’s cold as Pluto’s big toe here in New York and I’ve heard rumors that a Big Storm is on its way. If you have to be stuck someplace, the Waldorf Astoria ain’t a bad place to be. The official website of VINO 2011 is here.