Pecorino, Colline Pescaresi, Azienda Agricola Tiberio, Pecorino IGT, Cugnoli, Abruzzo, Italia, 2021, abv. 14%

DSC_6823In 1999, when Cristiana Tiberio’s father Riccardo discovered this property and its rare Trebbiano Abruzzese vines in the middle-of-nowhere Abruzzo, emptied his bank accounts to buy it, and replanted most of it with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, more Trebbiano Abruzzese, Pecorino and Moscato di Castiglione grapes indigenous to the region, people said he was crazy – and worse, that no one would ever buy his wines.

Fast forward to 2022 – his daughter is the winemaker, and his son, the viticulturalist – and their wines earn accolades every vintage from adoring industry heavyweights around the globe.

Cristiana welcomed us into her home and spoke lovingly of her father and the absolute trust he hadDSC_6830 placed in her.

“My first vintage was 2004.  There are not many female winemakers. When I started making wine, people said, ‘Oh, they’re very elegant, female wines’. No one says that anymore. Now they say, ‘this wine is so great, so vibrant, so much energy!’ Putting people in boxes makes others comfortable….It’s not about being a girl or a boy, but you know, in Abruzzo, for many generations, the girl or lady in the wine family just had the role of public relations and accounting.”

DSC_6801“Outside Abruzzo, I haven’t had any trouble.  But here, no – she’s a girl, what can she do?!  Honestly, the secret of me has been our father. Since I was a child, I grew up thinking I could do whatever I wanted – it was up to me – being a girl had nothing to do with it. My father purchased this property and spent all his money.  I find this a big responsibility. It’s been tough, but I carry it.”

DSC_6824Riccardo has long since retired into his truffle hunting hobby (his retired dogs Quarmari and Diana are in the pictures, and all over their Instagram), but Cristiana and Antonio shepherd the 30 hectares of 20-80 year old vines with great passion, noting that “Every five minutes, there’s a new challenge.  Bugs, disease, pandemics, earthquakes…whatever can happen will happen.”

I have enjoyed these wines tremendously since they became available in western Canada – especially the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo IGT – a free run juice rosé with cold maceration on skins that is all crunchy, red fruit – pomegranate, strawberry, and new cherry – with high acidity and light tannins.  

But the Pecorino IGT has such small production  that I was excited to taste it.  It’s a higher level wine, but it has been declassified to IGT status so the hill it hails from can be named on the label (Colline Pescaresi).  This is important as these vines are 15 years old and the grape is truly indigenous, and has not been nursery corrected. DSC_6820

Translucent gold from the thick grape skins, the Pecorino IGT is distinctly mouth tingling with yellow apple and white peach, augmented by rosemary, thyme, cheese rind and a slate-like minerality. The finish is long and evolves with savory, umami-toned notes. 

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Note the rare double vine plantings.

These Pecorino grapes have thicker skins than the modern clones planted by other wineries on flatlands that have higher yields.  The skins help protect them from spring frosts, and in hotter vintages, they grow even thicker to protect the fruit.  The groundcover on these 3.5 hectares planted at 360m is completely spontaneous – nothing extra is planted or introduced into the environment.

DSC_6811While Tiberio is neither organic nor biodynamic, Cristiana agrees it would have been much easier for them initially if they’d had those certifications. Now she asserts, “I think the organic and biodynamic route has been important, but it has been overtaken by the marketing.  We don’t need a sticker or a stamp – we need to communicate the details of our land, our grapes, our process. It’s much tougher for a smaller winery like ours, because I need to invest time to communicate.  But at this point, we are good and now I do it for our industry.”

With her Pecorino wine now noted widely as a true benchmark Italian white, she couldn’t be more right.  They’re more than good.

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Verdicchio, Misco Riserva, Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG Classico, Tenuta di Tavignano, Ancona, Marche, Italia, 2017, 13.5% abv.

DSC_6423DSC_6436Tenuta di Tavignano is located in a valley above the Musone River which flows between the Apiennes and the Adriatic on Italy’s hamstring.

Cingoli, known as the ‘balcony of the Marche’ since medieval times is just up the road, and the ancient town of Jesi is down wind.

I’ve arrived here on a quest for one of Italy’s best known white wines – Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.  Misco, the name of this wine, is Latin for Musone, and Tenuta di Tavignano produces one of the top 100% Verdicchios available today, although wine has been made in this region of Italy since the 14th century. DSC_6433

Ondine de la Feld Aymerich (right) is the current custodian of Tavignano on behalf of her uncle Stefano Aymerich di Laconi and Beatrice Lucangeli.  She is one very busy person – orchestrating the work required to produce 150,000 bottles per year of everything from bubbles to whites to reds on 17 hectares.

This estate tasting started with a conversation about the available wines – some of which can be purchased by Canadians in Ontario and Quebec, and of course – in many other international markets. They’re top-ranked with regularity by industry heavyweights like Decanter, and Galloni,  But at Tavignano, the best deal is their ‘sfuso’ or from-the-barrel wines which are packaged simply for friends and neighbours at only 2€ a litre. DSC_6404

DSC_6417As Ondine remarks, ‘In Italy, wine is our bread.  We have the wine, bread and oil at church and this is part of our Italian heritage,  our life.  It’s our right and we want to make it available to everyone.’

I only wish the prohibitionists working within and across the restrictive Canadian wine laws felt the same.  For now, I’ll have to keep travelling to Jesi, Italy to take advantage of the deals.

DSC_6383And this is one of them. The Misco Riserva 2017 is made from handpicked passes over the last, most mature grapes of the harvest. Deep lemon, the nose and palate is all elegance – almond biscotti, white flowers, acacia and anise.  The year it spent on lees has built a real beauty with a deeply mineral backbone.  Two more years of aging in stainless steel gives the impression of it having spent time in wood, although it hasn’t.DSC_6425

I left with a bottle of this delicious wine (it’s not available as a sfuso), thanks to our helpful tasting guide DSC_6385Erica (pictured right).

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Sangiovese, Vigna Piuca, Azienda Agricola Castellinuzza e Piuca, Chianti Classico DOCG, Gran Selezione, Greve in Chianti, Toscana, Italia, 2017, 14% abv.

DSC_5320I liked colleagues Melanie and Giuseppe right away.  I had booked a premier tasting at the Casa Chianti Classico in Radda to learn more about the structure of Chianti Classico.  We connected quickly over a conversation about Canadian fish and chips, wine, and cars.

Melanie put the stake in the ground by emphasizing this was to be ‘conviviale’ – a conversation about wine where the wine should be dry, but not the conversation.  That suited me well.DSC_5327

Two Anantas started us off.  The 100% Sangiovese, Podere Le Cinciole, Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 was a pretty raspberry, red currant, and amarena cherry laden wine, with bitter almond, sweet tobacco, and black pepper shaker tucked into dry, sandpapery tannins.  The Sangiovese and 2% Canaiolo by Fattoria Pomona, Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 was a perfect garnet, subtly touched by pomegranate,  raspberry, dark plum, and garrigue.

DSC_5314The Riserva example was Azienda Agricola Casa Emma’s Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 from Vignalparco, east of Radda – a delicious garnet wine with basalmic prune, cocoa nib, and an elegantly rounded leather structure.

The final wine was a supreme treat by the Azienda AgricolaDSC_5325 Castellinuzza e Piuca, Gran Selezione (only made in certain years  approved by the Casa Chianti Classico DOCG).  This 100% Sangiovese hails from a unique one hectare vineyard located adjacent to a cooling forest near Greve at 600m above sea level.  Very few bottles of this single hectare wine were made – and this was the last one at the Casa Chianti Classico.

Translucent garnet with little bricking, the wine has a nose showing DSC_5846dusty roses and violets, white pepper, truffle, and smoked meat.  Its dry palate has high acidity alongside plum, truffle, dried herb, salumi, and a drizzle of bittersweet castagno (chestnut) honey. DSC_5315A lengthy finish is complemented by velvety tannins and development remarkable for such a young sample.  What might await a lucky drinker in 5, 8 or 10 years?

DSC_5307This special tasting was augmented by a delicious charcuterie featuring a Chianti Classico olive oil from corregiolo olives tasting of bitter green grass and ground black pepper.

The Casa is purpose-built for experiences such as this.  In addition to holding tastings, press briefings, and WSET classes, the whole second floor is dedicated to understanding the ‘sensory path’ and the unique character of the ‘Gallo Nero’ wines of Chianti Classico.  Truly conviviale, and highly recommended if you are in Chianti and want to delve deeply into the region’s wines.

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Sangiovese, Occhio di Pernice, Avignonesi Winery, Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC, Montepulciano, Toscana, Italia, 2005, 12.5% abv, 50 € (100 ml)

DSC_4872Before we travelled to Italy, I had planned a casual visit to the Avignonesi Winery, imagining I’d simply enjoy some Vino Nobile di Montepulciano on the patio enroute from Perugia to Greve.  I had enjoyed their wine before in Canada, and was curious to drop in and see the property. DSC_4904

But then we arrived at this magical place – Italy’s largest biodynamic winery, nestled into the beautiful Tuscan countryside – and I was captivated.  Manager Yelena and sommelier Almudena were gracious and welcoming – and before I knew it, I was immersed in a tasting.

DSC_4874Their Il Marzocco Chardonnay IGT, 2020 was a complete surprise.  I hadn’t flown all that way to drink Chardonnay – but then I did.  What an unexpected delight.  Pale lemon with verbena, pineapple, white flower, and a surprising backbone that could carry it through a meal, its delicate lees offered a creamy contrast to the excellent acidity.

Since I had written about their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2014, Almudena offered me the 2018 version.  Translucent ruby with roses, light prune and basalmic, this wine is a true Nobile classic.  DSC_4879

DSC_4876The single vineyard Oceano, was an ethereal beauty.  A 100% Sangiovese, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2017, the Oceano vineyard has blue clay soil which grows structured grapes.  Translucent ruby with delicate tannins, its nose and palate are intense with rose water, sour cherry, dried rose, potpourri, thyme, and rosemary.  It’s an emotional wine – with a very long and deep finish.

However, the Vin Santo was the one that has ruined me for all future versions.  This one spoiled me.  DSC_4883

This Vin Santo, or ‘holy wine’, is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that are dried post-harvest on bamboo mats in the hall beside the tasting room from September until January (see picture).  Once dried, they have very high sugar content and are then pressed.  While it takes about one kg of grapes to make a 750ml bottle of wine, about 7kg are needed for each small 375ml bottle of Vin Santo.  

DSC_4886Fifty litre barrels are used for aging the wine for 10 years with the ‘madre’ or starter wine, plus room for air to ensure oxidation.  The wine rests in bottle for at least a year after the decade in barrel.  

The Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo (Eye of the Pheasant) is a masterpiece. Deep, tawny brown with extremely viscous and heavy legs, it teases with a nose and palate of maple syrup, brown and burnt sugar, light molasses, and burnt caramel. Just-baked gingerbread and spice cake leap from the glass, along with clove and a shaving of chocolate truffle. Remarkably fresh, there’s no coating of the mouth because of the very high acidity.  The finish goes for miles.

DSC_4903I brought some of this potion home with me.  Thankfully it was available in 100ml bottles, so I didn’t need to risk any airline losing my wine and causing tears.  My Eye of the Pheasant is safely ensconced now in the cellar.  For how long, nobody knows.DSC_4891

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Sangiovese, Podere Scopetone, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Montalcino, Toscana, Italia, 2017, 14% abv.

We met with Loredana Tanganelli and her daughter Giada at Podere Scopetone on the outskirts of the old walled Tuscan town of Montalcino.DSC_4577

Loredana and husband Antonio Brandi have owned the petite estate of only about 2.5 hectares since 2009 when they merged their apiary business and land (La Melina) with that of Scopetone, which was originally planted in 1978 and owned by Federigo Abbarchi and Angela Corioni.

DSC_4575DSC_4579The soils on which their Sangiovese is planted and farmed organically are marne and iron-rich red silt, and sit at 450m on the north-western corner of Montalcino. 

Although Scopetone are carefully organic, and only resort to pesticides and other controls when absolutely necessary, you won’t find reference to that on any of their labeling.  They’re just too tiny to struggle through the bureaucratic hoops and paperwork.

These grapes are grown on some extremely famous property – it’s where Ferruccio Biondi, the man credited with inventing Brunello – planted his first Sangiovese in the 1870s.  This is known as the Scarnuacuoia cru, and it’s Brunello’s oldest vineyard. DSC_4565

Loredana, Antonio, and Giada are its most recent caretakers, and they take this responsibility seriously – crafting some of the finest and most traditionally elegant Brunellos you will find on the market.  There are no over-produced, flavour and tannin bombs here.

Giada led us expertly through an exquisite tasting of the Rosso di Toscana IGT (lifted aromas of violets, roses and plums with crunchy sage and cherry), the delicately soft 2020 Rosso di Montalcino DOCG (basalmic with sour cherry), and the 2015-2017 vintages of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.

The 2015 and 2016 are stunning wines – both ruby red with various nuances of cherry, plum, orange, mint, pomegranate, rose and herb.DSC_4581

But the 2017 version from the old Scarnuacuoia vines is the pièce de résistance. Translucent ruby with aromas of sour cherry and dusty rose, this wine shows off a frame of strawberry, cranberry, pomegranate and wild mint.  Dried marjoram, rosemary, and sage echo on the palate which has an extended, mineral finish. Light leather and cured meat linger. There are no sharp corners or holes in this beauty. 

These are gorgeously crafted wines, by some of the most modest, and loveliest people around.  DSC_4585

Available in Canada at Ontario’s LCBO, and throughout the US as per various importers, they’re also in the UK, at Berry Brothers & Rudd. 

The Podere Scopetone wines are underappreciated unicorns, and fly far below the radar. Catch them if you can.  

 

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Ciliegiolo, Silio, Tenuta Montauto, Maremma di Toscana DOC, Manciano, Grosseto, Toscana, Italia, 2021, 13.5% abv.

We arrived at the cellar door tasting room of Tenuta Montauto in the Maremma di Toscana DOC north of Rome after 26 hours of travelling and little sleep.DSC_4438

Bleary eyed and compressed, I perked up considerably when we decided to see if a spur-of-the-moment tasting was possible at Tenuta Montauto enroute to our agriturismo at Saturnia.DSC_4432

Arianna graciously invited us in and provided an attentive and generous tasting.  The property was busy that day as harvest had started for some of the white grapes.  It was an epic tasting of seven DSC_4424wines, and a beautiful Vermouth.

The Vermouth is made from a Vermentino base, and infused for 30 days with gentian, chamomile, cardamom, coriander, mint, lemon balm, and eucalyptus.  The result after a month of infusion is a deep and delicious array of aromas and flavours.  I fell in love. DSC_4429

One of the most enjoyable of the many wines produced at this petite family owned 80,000 bottle/year winery (about 6,500 cases only) was the Silio.

Silio is the name of one of the family’s grandfathers, and is made from the Ciliegiolo grape (meaning ‘cherry’ in Italian, because the grape resembles a cherry).  The heritage of Ciliegiolo is controversial – it’s either a parent to, or the offspring of, Sangiovese.  Whatever the case, it certainly produces some lovely, quaffable wine.

DSC_4433Translucent ruby red and medium-bodied, the Silio offers a fabulous nose and flavours of bright, sour cherry, violets and roses.  Only lightly tannic, it lends itself to grilled chicken and mussles, or could be pressed into service to complement a skirt steak and roasted vegetables.DSC_4414

There was no shortage of extremely drinkable and enjoyable wines at Montauto – including the Bianco di Pitigliano, a blend of mostly Trebbiano with Grechetto and Chardonnay (70/25/5), and a deliciously saline Vermentino with white flowers, pear and white peach blossom.

Tenuta Montauto makes an excellent stop outside of Rome for those staying in, or passing through, the Maremma.

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Il Bistrot della Pasticciona, Lido, Roma

In March 2021, when the pandemic was so widespread that the entire world seemed to be shutIMG_9715 down, and people were despairing of the future, I read an article about Italy and how people were struggling there. 

bruno simone camillaThat’s when I learned of Camilla Moccia and her family’s restaurant located in Ostia, on the lido to the west of Rome. This picture, taken by Camilla’s mother, Simona and shared in the Forbes article became emblematic of the face of Italy’s Covid-19 battle.

Struck by this, I messaged Camilla immediately and promised to visit her bistrot as soon as travel opened up and we were able to complete a trip to Italy.

Bruno 1We met Camilla, Simona and Bruno (father) last week in Ostia where we enjoyed a fabulous, handmadecacioypepe dinner al fresco on our final night of a three week vacation.  Bubbles preceded a beautiful,IMG_9680Dessertpasta 2 fresh salad with burrata, tomatoes and crostini, and we feasted on her famous pasta – a lemon-ricotta ravioli, and classic cacio e pepe – followed by a piece of chocolate dolce heaven. As busy as she was that evening with all tables full, Camilla even took time to give us a pasta lesson. 

FC09128C-637E-4B47-A7BB-38ABAB2E1EDDIt was an enormous pleasure of ours to meet Camilla and her family, to experience their passion and cuisine firsthand, and to fulfil my promise to support them by visiting Il Bistrot della Pasticciona.digestif

It was gratifying to see that by the end of our dinner, the restaurant was packed, and enthusiastic Italians were out on the streets and adjoining beach enjoying life and all it has to offer.

 

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Chardonnay, Filius, Vasse Felix, Margaret River, Australia, 2019, 12.5% abv., 1,050 Thai Baht/C$40

What’s the saying? When in Rome… Well, I was in Thailand recently, and decided to do my tasting poolside at The Banyan Tree, Phuket where Khun Tiffy helped us put together a pretty table.

The Filius, from Margaret River’s premier, benchmark winery, did not disappoint in the slightest. Pale lemon on the eyes, it was full of lime, lemongrass, lemon creme, green grass, and sea spray.

Enjoy it with salads and seafood, or as I suggested in the video, pomelo salad (yum som-oh), or tom kha gai. Prawn chips are also amazing.

Laew jer-gahn!

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Mondeuse, Philippe et Francois Tiollier, Domaine de l’Idylle, Vin de Savoie AC, France, 2009, 12% abv., US$40

IMG_7815This bottle got a little lost in my wine cellar, and then you know, there was a pandemic, so we opened it at age 13 years. The cork broke and that made me worried we were going to be dealing with something less than lovely. But I was very wrong – it was absolutely stunning.

Mondeuse is a grape native to Savoie, and this wine was produced by an independent vigneron, the fifth generation since 1840, located east of Lyon and south of Geneva on the eastern French border with Switzerland.

Translucent garnet, it has a fabulously perfumed nose with black pepper, violets, boysenberry and leather belt. The dry palate goes deep with more purple flowers, black pepper, plum, blueberry and leather.  Mondeuse is related to Syrah and it shows in this sample.

We enjoyed it alongside pork chops with mushroom sauce, tossed salad with strawberries and basalmic vinaigrette, and corn on the cob.  If you’re holding, and you’d be lucky as that would be unlikely at this point in time, enjoy it now.

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Cocktails at Flor de Oriente

I recently took a post-pandemic trip to Aruba and Curacao, two islands located in the very farIMG_7480 southwest of the Caribbean, well out of the path of any hurricanes, and just 17 km off the coast of Venezuela.

056C85F3-BD0A-4050-A319-52700568D36AUsually when I venture to warm climates, wine is not an option, and because beer is not my ‘go to’ drink, I focus on the cocktail menus at the restaurants we visit.

This past trip, we were extremely fortunate to stumble upon a lovely restaurant, Flor de Oriente.  And stumble over it we did – dazed and compressed from 24 hours of travelling, we took a nap and a shower, and returned that evening to enjoy Dutch treats like stamppot, frikandel, and bitterballs – and some incredible drinks made for me by mixologist, Peter.

I left it wisely to ‘bartender’s choice’ each evening – after all, Peter really knows what he’s doing.  He hasIMG_7505 published a recipe book of drinks called ‘How Can I Make You Happy’.  And I was – very.

IMG_7478I drank the Lemon Drop before I remembered to take a picture, but the dirty Gin Martini with a whole dish of olives was a hit,IMG_7504IMG_7434 followed the next night by a Reverse Cosmo (aka Char-Tini).  The Dark & Stormy was delicious, and again, I drank the Old Fashioned made with Diplomatico Rum instead of Bourbon before I realized I’d forgotten to document its deliciousness.

IMG_7502IMG_7501But the pièce de résistance was the Pornstar Martini, complete with its accompanying Prosecco shot.

If luck should find you in Orangestad, Aruba looking for a fabulous meal and even more fabulous cocktails, you need to visit owner Marion and her crew.  With its full five stars on Trip Advisor, it’s a true find on this beautiful Caribbean island.  DSC_3372

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