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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Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains + Clairette, Cuvée Ancestrale, Tradition, Scea Domaine Guigouret, Vigneron Récoltant, Clairette de Die AOC, Rhône Valley, France, NV, 7% abv., US$16

image4image2This wine has a history going back 2,000 years in France’s Rhône Valley, but the first bottle I found and enjoyed was in Curaçao, off the coast of Venezuela.  What a find it was at the Carrefour supermarket – it was incredibly fun to drink, and absolutely delicious.  

Produced in France’s image3Rhône Valley, it’s made out of a maximum of 75% Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and 25% Clairette.  Naturally sparkling, it undergoes the first fermentation in a vat and the second in bottle.  

Pale lemon with a persistent, soft and dainty mousse, the aromas showed jasmine and white flower with peach and pear.  The palate is delightfully doux, but with excellent acidity, so it’s not sticky or heavy.  image0Flavours include more white flowers and nectarine, Clingstone peach, and fruit cocktail. 

Super delicate and light at only 7% abv., this is a wine you can literally drink all day long – as I did, poolside.  The price was equally remarkable.  Everyone should know about this kind of wine – why hasn’t it had a marketing renaissance?  If you ever come across a bottle in the sparkling section, buy it!

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Tempranillo, Flor de Pingus, Ribera del Duero DO, Spain, 15% abv. 2014, US$100

I cannot afford the top line of Pingus wines, but the Flor de Pingus, Peter Sisseck’s almost equally famous second label wines from Ribera del Duero, are within reach.

Pingus is slang for Peter – the Danish owner and winemaker of this Spanish benchmarkDSC_3074 estate. Now that the world is reopening, I can’t wait to take a trip there some time in the next few years.

This wine is a deep, inky purple with some garnet tinge (we opened it at 8 years).  It’s beautifully aromatic with explosive field berry, blackberry, incense, and a rocky minerality.  The dry palate has superb acidity with flavours of cassis, tar, asphalt, meat, some serious dark chocolate, and leather strap.

Complex and plush with gentle tannins, and a long finish, there is so much going on in the glass.  Everything about it is integrated and balanced.  We likely opened this far too soon.  If you happen to be holding, keep doing so.  It has fabulous ageing potential.

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Nebbiolo, Luigi Oddero, Barbaresco DOCG, La Morra, Piedmonte, Italy, 2008, 14% abv., C$100

DSC_3072From one of the truly bona fide, historic and traditional Barolo houses comes a 2008 Barbaresco.

The Oddero family has been in La Morra since before the 1700s, and the seventh generation of family members is still in charge of their 35 hectares of Nebbiolo planted for Barolo and Barbaresco wines, some on seriously famous cru level land.

We opened this at 14 years old, and it took some time to open and evolve. We chose not to decant it, but rather enjoy it over a couple of hours, and watch its evolution in the glass.

On the eyes, it’s a translucent garnet with a nose of dried plum, roses, and dried herbs.  The palate is resplendent with purple plum, cherry, soy sauce, dusty violets and roses.  Tarragon and Chinese five spice are layered with light leather at the base of this elegant wine.

While on one hand it’s tender and delicate, the 2008 Barbaresco also has a structure that stands up well to food, and it loved our prime rib.  If you have a bottle of this, you’re one lucky camper.  Enjoy – it’s smack dab in the drinking window.

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