Take me where I can see the Mountains. #valdossola #prünent

View of valleyA view of Val d’Ossola in Piemonte.

Wines are emotional for me- some more than others.   Cantine Garrone makes some of the most potent wines I know- effectively pulling at my heartstrings anytime I taste them. This obscure winery is the result of winemaker and visionary Mario Garrone’s unflagging love for his land.

vineyard management

Mario Garrone and Diego Meraviglia in the vineyard.

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Italian White Wines Can Age. #truth

Bisci 2003


I posted this picture on my Instagram and Twitter feeds last week and got a number of surprising responses. “Was it still good?” and “Does Verdicchio last that long?” and “Where did you find that? It’s so old!”

Yes!  Italian white wines can age!

I don’t know where or why the rumor that white wines (especially from Italy) should only be consumed when fresh and young was started, but it needs to be squashed- now.  Most of my epiphany-moments with Italian wines have been with older whites.  Benanti’s Pietramarina from Etna, Emidio Pepe’s Trebbiano,  Fiorano’s whites… the list is long, my friends.

For example, this Verdicchio di Matelica from classic producer, Bisci, is gorgeous with 10 years of bottle age.  The steeliness of youth found in some Verdicchio di Matelica wines is fleshed out by  the long, slow, micro-oxidation of the wine through its cork.  A wine that might have been overtly bright and cheerful in its youth become more brooding- complex, aromatic, and oilier on the palate.

For the record the pairing of this Verdicchio with savory, slow-grilled peaches and yogurt with basil and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar was just about the most perfect food-and-wine pairing I can remember.  (Bravo, Geoff and Amber!) Now that’s my kind of dessert.

Valentini Trebbiano


Not every Italian white wine can age.  However you will find greatness  more often than not, especially with the combination of the right grape varietal, vinified by an experienced producer.  Verdicchio, Trebbiano, Soave, Fiano are all great places to start if you’re looking to taste some older whites wines from Italy.  These varietals all seem to have the backbone and the acidity to evolve with time.  Check out this great podcast by Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth at the Guild of Sommeliers.  You’ll start to understand what it takes to produces truly great white wines (that can age).

Open your mind.  Don’t be an ageist- talk to your favorite retailer and ask them when they have in the back of the shop.  My guess is, you’ll be happily surprised by what you find.


*By the way, that Bisci is available at the Wine House in Los Angeles (they ship everywhere) for only $27.99.  I would happily pay twice that for this level of deliciousness.

Ciso: Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata

Ciso 2010Half of the frustration for American wine consumers when faced with new Italian wine varieties is usually pronunciation.  This is most certainly the case with one of my new favorite geeky finds, this beautiful bottle, Ciso, made from Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata grapes.  Say that ten times fast.  Say it at all!

Ciso “chee-soh”  Lambrusco “lam-broo-skoh” a Foglia “ah foh-lyah” Frastagliata “frah-stahl-yah-tah”  There.  That wasn’t so bad, was it?Avio in Trentino

This wine comes from a very interesting group of producers in the Trentino region who call themselves “i Dolomitici” (loosely translated to “people of the Dolomites”).  There are 11 producers in this group, all with their own vineyards and wineries.  The Ciso wine is the only project they farm and vinify together, but it say the most about who they are and the work they do.

The Dolimitici favor a more natural approach to winemaking, focusing on authenticity and a sense of place in the wines and respectful, conscious, healthy methods of farming.  Ciso is a wine born of this vision.  It’s name comes from the name of the farmer who granted them these vines, Narisco, who went by the nickname “Ciso”.  His wise, age-old farming practices ensured a healthy vineyard, co-planted with biodiversity and soil-health in mind.  The vineyard is ungrafted, and over 100 years old- a testament to his mastery of farming the land.Avio, Castello Sabbionara

The Ciso vineyard is in the southern-most part of Trentino inside the town of Avio.  It contains 727 vines of Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata, which is a very old local grape that they use to produce an expressive, deep purple, dry still red wine.  This variety is probably related to Lambrusco, perhaps most closely to the Lancellota clone, but it is a completely separate, unique variety.Foglia Frastagliata

“A Foglia Frastagliata” means “with a leaf that is jagged or indented“.  As you can see from the picture, this is a marker for the variety.  Difficult to pronounce perhaps, but aptly named.

Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata

I love stumbling on wines like these- Italy is full of them.  Long-lost heirloom varieties and beautiful stories about the local personalities who farmed the land and kept tradition from fading away with technology.  Don’t be afraid of the things you can’t pronounce.  Just find an Italian friend to help you stumble through, or use an online pronunciation guide.

Better yet, don’t pronounce them at all- just taste them and let the wines speak for themselves.



The New California Winemaker… #PenvilleProjects

Penville ProjectsI clearly have a passion for Italy and Italian wine, but as an American, I am pretty darn proud of our country too.  In all my years in the wine industry, one major theme with most European wine estates is History.  Established Chateaux. Royalty even.  It’s common to meet a winemaker whose family dates back hundreds of years, whose property and winery are family heirlooms and whose vineyards were inherited by multiple generations.  If you’re not born into this particular situation, it’s a lot more difficult to establish yourself in Europe as a winemaker- to be allowed to purchase the vineyards, to find the space or facility to make your wine.Grenache

This is one more reason to love the USA and it’s sense of Free Market Economy. You don’t need your own vines to make terroir-driven wine in California any more.  You don’t even need your own winery.  You can rent space in an “Urban Winery” in Lompoc.  You can buy grapes from stellar growers like Stolpman Vineyards.  And you can be proud of how you work, and which grapes you select, like Liquid Farm does on their website, happily listing “Vineyard Partners” as a seal of pedigree for their wines.  Long Live California and the USA.  Home of the Free and the Bravely-Making-Wine.  If you dream of making wine, this is the place to be.

I love finding new projects started by young winemakers in California who, as Jon Bonne put it in his book The New California, “… are rewriting the rules of contemporary winemaking [in] their quest to express the uniqueness of California terroir.”  People like my dear friends Patton Penhallegon and Michael Villas at Penville Projects.

These two  crazy kids met while working at Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach (about a 2 hour drive from Santa Barbara wine country).  They decided it was time make their dream a reality and they began researching grape growers, vinification methods, and concrete eggs.Egg Baby

Yes, Concrete Eggs.  Concrete can handle cold and heat.  It stabilizes temperature naturally.  It’s porous, so it allows for the transfer of oxygen like wood, but without the transfer of unwanted flavor or aroma.  It’s also highly re-useable and sustainable.

Patton and Michael chose the egg-shaped vessel because it harkens back to the ancient amphorae used to ferment wine thousands of years ago. With no corners, the wine is free to circulate naturally during fermentation.  You can actually watch the wine move during this process of constant self-stirring. The egg shape also forces more of the cap to remain submerged during fermentation, reducing exposure to oxygen and the need for “punch down”.Egg-cellent

I can’t wait to taste the first 2014 vintage of Penville Projects.  I understand this will be a Grenache Rose- bright and happy and a celebration of all things wine lovers adore, just in time for the Spring rose season of 2015.  Patton and Michael

If you want to support Patton and Michael (and why wouldn’t you, really?!), click on THIS LINK and vote for them to win a grant from Wells Fargo to help them buy more concrete eggs, or a little more fruit for future vintages.

Support the future of California Winemaking!

Finding Mount Etna in Denver, Colorado @theKitchen

FessinaTenuta Fessina’s “LaEneo” at The Kitchen in Denver, Colorado.

I remember the first time I tasted these wines.  My good friend Giampaolo Gravina sent me over to the Sicilian Pavillion at Vinitaly to find Federico Curtaz at the Tenuta Fessina booth.  I arrived with high hopes- Giampaolo has impeccable taste and a talent for sniffing out the best wines in the ocean of Italian wine.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The Fessina wines are the pure expressions of Mount Etna.  Silty and dusty with that grippy hint of volcanic ash- embossed into the wines by years of clinging to life on the edge of the world.  Rocky soil below, molten lava threatening to spill over and decimate from above, and the salty blue sea spread out like a looking glass all around.  I especially love Fessina’s “LaEneo“- 100% Nerello Cappuccio, and one of the only mono-bottlings of the varietal I have ever tasted (aside from Benanti’s bottlings, which are also superb).

Notes VinitalyImage from tasting with Federico Curtaz, Vinitaly 2012.

Nerello Cappuccio is the secondary grape in the Etna Rosso DOC blend.  It has a deeper flavor profile than Nerello Mascalese- less red cherries and more black fruits, warm spices, roasty depth.  A few years after this first fateful tasting I was thrilled to be reacquainted with the wine in the least suspecting of all places- Denver Colorado!ETNAA view of Etna.

I was checking out the wine list at The Kitchen and there it was- staring me in the face like a long-lost friend you find in the most surprising place.  The wine was a gorgeous as I remembered, stunning in its simplicity and terroir.  Once you’ve stood in the vineyards along the hillsides and terraces of Mount Etna you will never forget the feel of the place.  The way it smells like wildflowers and asphalt and wet earth.  The way the unforgiving sun shines tirelessly and seems to warm you from the inside.  The vast expanse of vineyard that embraces every curve, right up to the edge of the road.  That’s what you’ll find in the glass.

When you meet Federico and talk to him about wine-making you’ll understand why these wines have such true expressions of place.  This quote from his website is a perfect example of the philosophy required to make such honest, truth-telling wines.Fessina MeetingMe and Federico Curtaz in 2012.  Happy Nerello-drinking people!


“I am a Humanist of wine. I have a firm belief that wine is a sign and expression of civilization, encompassing humanity’s memory and reflecting its complexity. Because behind the product, there is the soul of the place and the man who created the wine.”

What a beautiful surprise to find a little piece of Etna (and Federico!) in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Piemonte is a Technicolor Dream.

Joanie Karapetian, Italian Wine Geek:

Somms in the Feild“There is nothing more beautiful than a vineyard.” Cesare Pavese wrote this verse nearly 60 years ago, part of a beautiful ode to the Piemontese hillsides where his heart felt so at home. Although I am not a native to the area, I can understand the feeling. Nothing in Italy pulls as sweetly to me as the gentle roll of the vineyards that blanket Piemonte. Recently UNESCO named these vineyard landscapes to be part of the World Heritage Sites. Bravo, Piemonte. Bravo!

Originally posted on Italian Wine Geek:

LaMorraI rolled off the plane yesterday morning at Malpensa airport at about 6:30 in the morning.  It was pitch black, the ground was oily with the night’s condensation, and the airport was fully of sleepy-looking, surly airport employees, understandably cranky at being awake and required to function so early.

I grabbed my bag and headed straight for the first cup of coffee, before renting a car and heading out into the darkness of early morning.  I realized I have never made a trip like this on my own before.  There is a kind of zen-like silence in my head that I think comes from not having to actually converse with anyone for an extended period of time.  An unconformable, but not entirely unwelcome feeling.

As I traveled down the beautiful, open roads of the autostrada in my VW Golf convertible (still one of the larger vehicles on the road, and…

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How to Keep a Sailor Warm

Dan Bjugstad and Claudio Morelli

Dan Bjugstad of Pizzeria Locale in Boulder CO, with Claudio Morelli

I had the profound pleasure of escorting a Marchegiano gentleman, Claudio Morelli, around Colorado a few weeks ago.  We were there to teach people about his wines, all indigenous varieties from the Le Marche.  His vineyards are perched on the hills and terraces of Metauro, in some of the northern-most vineyards of the region near the seaport town of Fano.Claudio Loves Pizza

Claudio loves Pizzeria Locale.

I learned a lot about this obscure part of Le Marche during our time together.  I was surprised to understand how close some of Claudio’s vineyards in the Metauro DOC are to the Apennines.

marche_map Fano

The Morelli family has a single-vineyard wine made of the local Bianchello grape Claudio calls “Borgo del Torre” that literally comes from the hillsides that make up the foothills of this looming mountain range.   I have only been to Le Marche once, and it was further south near the Conero National Park, so my understanding of the geography here is very limited. (Note to self: must visit Le Marche again.  Soon!)


One of the many stunning vistas from Le Marche’s rugged beaches.

In addition to learning about the winery and Claudio’s wines, I also picked up a few local traditions.  This part of Italy is on the Adriatic Coast, and logically fishing is a big part of the indigenous culture.  There is a local hot cocktail of sorts that has been developed over many years as a way to keep the fishermen warm (and awake) while at sea.  Claudio explained to us that he remembers his Grandmother making this for the fishermen at the local Trattoria the family once owned.  It is called “La Moretta”.

Caffe La Moretta by: LaTavolaMarche.com

Image of the preparation for La Moretta by La Tavola Marche.

The La Moretta is a type of hot toddy which uses hot coffee (strong, Italian-style short coffee), combined with Anisette, Rum, Cognac and a little sugar- all poured over a piece of lemon rind.  Claudio’s face lit up when he described how his grandmother would make this little beverage.  He smiled softy and described how the lemon rind, which soaks in this warm aromatic brew, is the perfection of finishes to a great meal as it helps to “pulisce la bocca”- clean your mouth.

La Moretta di Fano al mare

A perfect Moretta in Fano.

The La Moretta is served layered like this now, but Claudio’s grandmother would have heated the whole thing together in a small double-boiler before pouring over the lemon rind.  It’s easy to see the connection between wine and terroir- grapevines and the bottle.  Yet sometimes we overlook the other comforts of home- flavors and aromas and other sensory traditions better not-forgotten.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between this little tipple and the way my grandfather used to enjoy his coffee- a splash of Sambuca and the requisite lemon rind.  I am pretty sure Papa John would have loved Claudio (and La Moretta).

Claudio and the Ladies

Claudio Morelli and the ladies of Marczyk’s Fine Foods.