VINO 2015


The experience at VINO 2015 — as at VINO 2011, the last time the event was held in New York — is overwhelming. Again, the three-day conference about Italian wine and the Italian wine industry and their relationship with America occurred (last week) at the venerable Waldorf Astoria hotel, and though my room this year was not as grand as my accommodations were four years ago — not, I hope, a reflection of any diminishing of my status — the hotel is a sumptuous place that certainly fulfills any expectations for service. (In fact, the Waldorf is so exclusive that to eat breakfast in Peacock Alley, just off the ornate lobby, you have to reserve a table and wear a dark business suit.) It’s pretty interesting and even gratifying to mingle with (or observe from a distance) some of the great figures in wine education and authorship, people who wrote some of the definitive and best-known books in the business, including Karen MacNeil, Ed McCarthy, Harriet Lembeck, Kevin Zraly, Terry Robarts, Elin McCoy and others. It’s also a treat to hobnob with a host of my blogging compatriots, exchanging notes and thoughts.

To a significant extent, the conference is about selling wine or figuring out how to sell wine, so most of the attendees come from the wholesale tier of the industry, and their presence tips the focus toward getting wine to the market and in the hands of consumers. For example, a seminar about the wines of Calabria given by an author and educator emphasized the land and region, the characteristics of the grapes and the details about the wines, while a seminar on the wines of the Campania region given by an expert in Italian wines at the retail level was mostly about how to sell the wines and explain them to customers.

The overwhelming part consists of the sheer numbers of estates, producers and cooperatives offering wine to taste — according to the Italian Trade Commission, 350 producers and more than 1,200 wines. In addition, Slow Wine, an adjunct of the Slow Food organization, mounted its own, smaller and very select tasting of wines from producers featured in their wine guide. There’s no way that one sane healthy person could taste even a fraction of that vinous flood, so as I mentioned in a previous post, I tried to be judicious and pick producers carefully or, to be honest, on a whim. It’s surprising how often that rather antimethodical method works out, especially among the producers that do not have representation in the United States. Of course when the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate to taste the wines of prestigious estates too.

Today, I launch a series devoted to the wines I encountered at VINO 2015, beginning with four producers, from the Slow Wine tasting, that do not have representation in this country. Listen up, importers!

Postcard image of the Waldorf Astoria from vanartgallery.bc.ca.
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Tenuta Terraviva lies close to the coastal town of Tortoreto in the region of Abruzzo. The organic estate produces small quantities of white and red wine from local grapes such as trebbiano, pecorino and montepulciano, employing thoughtful application of wood and steel to craft delicious, lively and charming wines with a slightly serious edge and surprising complexity. Alcohol content stays consistently in the 13 to 13.5 percent range. I tried the sleek, spicy, lightly honeyed and blossomy Terraviva Trebbiano 2013, the winery’s entry-level white, made in stainless steel; another trebbiano, Mario’s 40 2012, which undergoes 12 months in large oak barrels and six months in steel tanks, lending notes of spiced pear, candied grapefruit and almond flower (about 415 cases); the intriguing ‘Ekwo 2013, Abruzzo Pecorino, made in stainless steel and offering distinct hints of heather, yellow plums, mango and lime peel (about 335 cases); and for red, the Lui 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, aged half in used barriques and half in steel tanks, for a feral and woodsy effect of wild cherries and raspberries, dried mountain herbs and leather, with real dusty tannic grip (about 1,650 cases; alcohol content 14 percent). Tenuta Terraviva is looking for an American importer, and we would all be happy if one were found. At the current conversion rate of euros to dollars, the Trebbiano 2013 is priced at about $10.25, while Mario’s 40 2012 is about $13.50. Even after the costs of importation and the three-tier system, these would be attractive and reasonably priced wines.
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Villa Venti is located about 30 kilometers directly west of the sea-coast resort city of Rimini, in the extreme southeastern corner of Emilia-Romagna. Boasting bed and breakfast lodging and a farm for demonstrating organic and biodynamic methods, the estate is operated by the Castellucci, Giardini and Riva families. I tried two of their wines, the exotic Serenaro 2013, Forli Bianco IGT, made from the very local famoso di Cesena grape, and the appealing and enticing Primo Segno 2012, Romagna Sangiovese Superiore, as well as the version from 2011. This red wine, which sees no oak, is deceptively light, with floral and spicy fragrances that seem to nourish the soul, very pretty red cherry and raspberry fruit, bracing acidity and a surprising amount of supple loamy tannins; that’s the 2012; the ’11 offers even more burnish, depth and purchase. It made me long for a dish of pappardelle with rabbit or a selection of salumi and cheeses. In Italy, this stylish wine costs about 10 euros.
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The founding of Torre San Martino began with the discovery, in 2000, of sangiovese vines dating back to 1922. The estate occupies 70 hectares — about 173 acres — in the central Appennines of the area called Tosco-Romagnola; we’re still in Emilia-Romagna but in the far west. The stunning young woman who poured the wines of Torre San Martino supplied me with a sleekly designed brochure, all black, white and gray, but it offered no technical information about the products, and the estate’s website is “Under Construction,” so I can deliver no technical data about how these wines were made, though someone is doing something right. The intriguing white entry, the Vigna della Signora 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and albana grapes, the latter an indigenous vine that does not get much love, despite its DOCG status. In combination, though, with unspecified amounts of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it produces a wine that seems pure gold, from its brilliant straw-gold hue to its notes of yellow fruit and flowers, spiced pears and caramelized grapefruit and orange zest, and a texture poised between pert acidity and moderate lushness. The Vigna 1922 Riserva 2011, Sangiovese di Romagna, is made exclusively from those 93-year-old vines; it’s a wine of great elegance and breeding, intensity and depth, displaying a sense of history and geography, and if you could not sell the hell out of it in restaurants in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. then you would need to get a job cleaning milk shake machines. The Gemme 2013, Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, is a younger wine in every way, fresh and amenable but with plenty of stuffing. These are sophisticated wines that embody high-design components and an interesting narrative; how could they not find an American importer?
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I was terrifically impressed by the wines of Ronco del Gelso, an estate located in the Isonzo DOC of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in northeastern Italy. Mainly white wines are produced here, with a few reds, and these white wines are notably fresh, clean, crisp and spicy, as in the instance of the Toc Bas 2013, made from friulano grapes. More layered is the Sot lis Rives 2013, a barrel-aged pinot grigio that employs crystalline limestone qualities and vivacious acidity to cushion tasty peach, lime and grapefruit flavors, with hints of hazelnuts and almond blossom. The Siet Vignis Chardonnay 2013 aged a year in 2,500-liter oak barrels, lending the wine lovely subtlety and suppleness, while retaining well-defined mineral elements and delicious citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Best of these, however, is Ronco del Gelso’s Schulz Riesling 2013, a captivating and winsome wine made all in stainless steel, resting on the lees with no malolactic fermentation; the result is a beautifully balanced amalgam of peach, pear, lychee, jasmine and limestone that’s slightly sweet on the entry but very dry on the finish and exhibiting all the verve and energy you want in a great riesling.
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The way I tasted wine yesterday and will for the next two days is not the best way to taste wine. What’s the best way? At dinner at home with LL and a bottle of wine that tastes great with the food we cooked. The next best way is to stand in the kitchen with a few bottles and spend time with them, going back over them for an hour or two and trying them from the different perspectives that a little air lends, and perhaps knocking a stopper in the bottle and trying them the next day. Also a good way to taste wine is at the property where it was produced or in the vineyard whence it sprang forth, bearing the influence of the soil in which the vines are rooted and the weather that passed over the vineyard, feeling it all there.

Not the best way to taste wine or at least not the best way to taste wine seriously and take competent notes is at a mass trade event. At VINO 2015 — and believe me, I’m happy to be here in New York City — the organizers have gathered some 350 producers from Italy, as well as a major side event hosted by Slow Wine. In all, there are about 1,200 wines to taste. Rows of tables are set up with narrow aisles between them, so the hundreds of retailers, wholesalers and writers in attendance are jostling each other for space at the most desirable spaces at the same time as they are tasting wine, spitting into the buckets provided there, chatting up their friends or the winemakers or their representatives. The situation is, in short, a circus, and one tends to wander around, glassy-eyed, wondering who to approach and what wines to taste.

I tend to ignore the popular tables where people are crowded around three or four deep and go for the tables where no one is tasting, where the winemakers or producers look a little lonely and uncomfortable. That’s the way to make discoveries, as I did several times yesterday afternoon. I divided my time between Italian producers that do not have representation in the United States and some that do, and I’ll say right now that the wines I tasted from the wineries that have no importer certainly deserve to have their products known in this country. I would rather have tried any of these wines in Italy, walking through the vineyards, tasting with a simple meal at the winery. However, these are the circumstances in which I find myself, and I’m grateful to be at VINO 2015 and discover, at least for myself, such wineries and estates as Torre di San Martino, Ronco del Gelso, Pasetti, Al-Cantara and Crissante.

Today, I will attend guided tastings of wines from Campania and Calabria and throw myself again into the chaos of the big tastings. More wine is waiting to be discovered.