Category Archives: DOCs and DOCGs

Campania’s Switzerland

Think of Campania, and Naples and the sun-blessed coasts of Amalfi and Sorrento as well as the looming volcano of Vesuvius come to mind. What few people probably realise is that Campania also boasts its own ‘Switzerland’.

Irpinia

Head inland northeast of Naples and you come to a hilly, cooler area of the region up in the Apennines. This is Irpinia, the land of the wolf, where you are more likely to encounter snowy winters and autumn rains in its continental climate than the blazing sun you associate with the south of Italy. We visited just on the cusp of the autumn rains and cold winter as we arrived in early December to explore the wines of the region.

A treasure trove of native varieties

Hidden away inland, Irpinia boasts a treasure trove of native varieties and three of Campania’s four DOCGs – Greco di Tufo DOCG, Fiano di Avellino DOCG and Taurasi DOCG – as well as a catch-all Irpinia DOC. You won’t find any Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon here; the region is all about indigenous varieties, 99.99% of grapes are native, so that doesn’t leave much room for others! As well as Greco, Fiano and Aglianico, you’ll also find white varieties Coda di Volpe and Falanghina as well as reds Piedirosso and Sciascinoso. Moreover, this region boasts around half the wineries in Campania. It has a cool climate with normally mild summers and a large diurnal range. Although not strictly speaking a volcanic region, there is important volcanic influence from Vesuvius and its many eruptions, which resulted in black ash being blown inland by the wind. This defines parts of the region – yielding wines with great structure and complexity. The area is also rich in sulphur, with abandoned sulphur mines dotting the landscape. Incidentally, the area north of Naples boasted more than 100 volcanoes!

Our three-day exploration hosted by the Consorzio di Tutela dei Vini d’Irpinia kicked off with a short presentation about Irpinia and its DOCGs followed by a hearty meal with members of the Consorzio, including its president, Stefano di Marzo, at the Trattoria “Valleverde” zi’ Pasqualina on the outskirts of Atripalda, our base for the coming days. We enjoyed local dishes such as savoury cake with ricotta, pumpkin and guanciale, beans with scarola and chickpeas, delicious fusilli avellinesi with the rich tomato sauce that the main course meat was cooked in and a selection of desserts. As the coming days would focus on the three DOCGs, we tasted some of the other wines found in Irpinia DOC, such as Coda di Volpe, Falanghina and Piedirosso as well as Irpinia Aglianico, generally a lighter, fresher version of the variety than the bigger, bolder Taurasi.

Cave winery in Tufo

The following morning, we set off to discover the Greco di Tufo DOCG. On the edge of the town of Tufo, we meet up with Simone from the Cantine di Marzo and head up to the steep vineyards above the town. Between showers of rain and rainbows in every direction, we learn about the various cru that the winery produces, and the ancient trellising system used in the vineyards further down the hill, which we can’t reach that day due to the sticky, heavy, wet clay underfoot. These old vines are trained high, so that other crops can be grown underneath. The clay soil is good for retaining water, while the ancient part of the vineyard is sand from the sea that covered the area five million years ago; there are also areas of limestone with fossils, tuff, volcanic pumice and black ash, which is why they choose to vinify some of their crus separately.

Once the rain sets in again, we head down to visit the Cantine di Marzo, the oldest winery in the region, carved into the tuff of the hillside below the village, where Ferrante di Somma, the current owner, regales us in his impeccable English with tales of history, sulphur mining and wines, while leading us through the quirky ‘cave’ winery. “Sorry about the puddles,” he says, “that’s the inconvenience of working in a cave.” We then head up the hill for a mammoth tasting of Greco di Tufo back to 2018, including a tank sample from 2021, before enjoying a delicious buffet lunch of various local dishes.

So what should you know about Greco?

Well, Greco is one the most ancient varieties in southern Italy, boasting high acidity and phenolic grip, earning it the name of a “red dressed up as a white”. It’s generally deeper in colour than most Italian whites, has a full, opulent, oily body and notes of yellow peach, candied fruit, ginger, tropical fruit and spice, as well as occasional sulphurous mineral notes.

And Greco di Tufo?

There are about 635 hectares under vine with around 3.5 million bottles produced each year, with the most densely planted area on the steep slopes around Tufo, which gives the denomination its name and is one of its ‘grand cru’. To qualify as Greco di Tufo DOCG, the wine must be at least 85% Greco, with Coda di Volpe Bianco making up the rest, although most wines are 100%. The tuff and sulphur-rich volcanic and clay soils result in refreshing, perfumed wines with mineral complexity and aromas of pear, tropical fruit and toasted almond. While mineral and zesty when young, we also confirmed the truth that it is best around 3 years old in our tasting, as the 2018s were still showing extremely well and clearly had the structure and concentration to age for another few years too.

Bracing winds in Avellino

After lunch, we set off for the town of Lapio, considered to be one of Fiano di Avellino DOCG’s grand crus, and visit several of the town’s most important vineyards, lying at around 530 metres above sea level and discover for ourselves how the winds, rather strong on this day, help to keep them cool, ventilated and free of disease – after a while, we take shelter in our vehicle and move to a less exposed spot. This is the most planted area of the DOCG with herbs and olives as well as vines. The soils are predominantly clay and limestone, which lend the wines their distinctive minerality, as well volcanic ash blown from Vesuvius. Lapio itself is included in two DOCGs, Fiano di Avellino and Taurasi, which overlap, so Aglianico is planted here too. Most producers own vines in varying areas planted with different varieties under different conditions. Ian d’Agata considers this DOCG one of Italy’s finest white wine designations, along with Greco di Tufo, of course! However, its area is significantly bigger than that of its more phenolic counterpart, as the DOCG includes 26 communes. We then discover the different styles of the variety produced in the DOCG in the majestic surroundings of the Palazzo Filangieri in the town of Lapio, followed by a finger food reception with some of the local producers.

So what should you know about Fiano?

Fiano is a versatile variety that reflects its terroir and responds well to winemaking. It is more restrained than Greco and feels right at home on volcanic soils, yielding wines with delicate fruit aromas and lovely pure minerality. There are marked differences in its wines depending on where it is grown, so the Consorzio is considering zonification. Although it was nearly extinct by the latter half of the 20th century, only planted sporadically around Avellino, the variety is now experiencing a renaissance and Fiano wines can be found on menus all around the world.

And Fiano di Avellino DOCG?

There are about 420 hectares under vine with around 2 million bottles produced each year. The most planted area is in the northeast around the town of Lapio, considered its best cru. To qualify as Fiano di Avellino DOCG, the wine must be at least 85% Fiano, with Greco, Coda di Volpe Bianca and Trebbiano Toscano making up the rest, though most are 100%. It may also use the name Apianum on the label to show its connection to the historical Roman wine. The soils are mainly clay, limestone and volcanic, giving the wine its distinctive mineral traits. Besides the basic version, a Riserva requiring minimum 12 months ageing may also be produced since 2019. The wines are fine, elegant, refreshing and savoury with relatively high acidity. They boast notes of mint, musk, quince, kerosene and toast, as well as orange blossom and white flowers, which helps to differentiate Fiano from Greco and Falanghina. With age, the wines take on notes of honey, chestnut and hazelnut – also grown in the area.

Barolo of the south or Taurasi of the north?

Finally, we come to Taurasi, sometimes referred to as Barolo of the south, although of course the Taurasi producers say that Barolo should be called the Taurasi of the north! We did not specifically visit Taurasi vineyards due to our very short visit but spent a morning tasting through a decade of Taurasi wines in the company of Massimo Di Renzo, winemaker at Mastroberardino, and prominent Campanian journalist Luciano Pignataro. And this tasting certainly showed these southern behemoths’ ability to age! Indeed, one of the panel members said he had tasted as far back as 1934 a few years ago and the wines were in perfect condition!! We didn’t get to taste wines that old, but the wine we tried from from 2008, a perfect year with good temperatures and rain at the right time, was certainly showing well. Muscular and powerful with lovely freshness and well-integrated oak, displaying notes of dried and fresh crunchy fruit as well as great complexity from smoke, spice and balsamic tones. Finished very long, of course.

Some background

Phylloxera arrived very late in the south of Italy, so in the 1920s there was big production here in Irpinia, with the powerful Aglianico wines produced here (and in Vulture in Basilicata) being shipped north to beef up more ‘insipid’ northern Italian wines, and even those of Bordeaux. Much of this wine was dispatched from the Taurasi station, which is how the DOC, and later DOCG got its name. It received the DOC in 1970, along with Fiano di Avellino and was then promoted to DOCG in 1993, becoming the first in south and central Italy to receive this honour.

Mountain viticulture in the south

Although we are in the far south, Taurasi is a cool climate wine, as temperatures inland in Irpinia are 2-3°C lower than on the coast, with thermal currents creating a large diurnal range. For example, in 2021, we were told, even on the hottest days of 40-41°C, the temperature dropped to 20-22°C at night! This is mountain viticulture with vines planted from 300 m to 650 m above sea level.

Paradoxically, this is one region in Italy that is benefitting from climate change, with the grapes ripening more easily and earlier and resulting in better tannin maturity – important in a variety like Aglianico with its prominent tannins! One of the things that makes Aglianico difficult to cultivate is the fact that it is late ripening, so it was a big risk for the farmers here to leave the grapes on the vine for an extra month. It is, surprisingly, one of the last regions in Italy to harvest, often as late as the end of November! Although this is, of course, changing.

What should you know about Aglianico?

Aglianico produces deeply coloured, complex wines with intense sour cherry, spice, black pepper and vanilla and floral hints. It also boasts leather, resin, eucalyptus and smoky red and black fruit. Most important to note are its high tannins and high acidity, which is why it is frequently compared with Nebbiolo, and these give it long ageing potential. It takes well to oak ageing, with some producers using French oak barrique and some large Slavonian casks, although in the past, the local chestnut was typical. Aglianico performs well on volcanic soils.

And Taurasi DOCG?

There are around 475 hectares under vine with around 850,000 bottles produced each year.. There are 17 towns in the DOCG. The area is large and diverse with differing soils – limestone, sandstone, clay and volcanic deposits – and altitudes, with the best sites at higher altitudes. Hence interest in creating zones within Taurasi. Increasing numbers of producers are becoming organic, around 20% to date, but conditions make this challenging. To qualify as Taurasi DOCG, the wine must be at least 85% Aglianico, with Piedirosso usually making up the rest, although Barbera and Sangiovese are also permitted. Taurasi must age for 36 months (12 in wood), while Taurasi Riserva requires 48 months (18 in wood). Taurasi wines are always firm savoury wines with great depth of flavour and structure, ensuring they can age wonderfully. They may also boast a floral note along with the smoky red and black fruit and flinty minerality. When young, they are tough, tannic and acidic, but with time, they develop lovely notes of spice, leather and smoke as well as their dominant sour cherry.

And on to Vesuvius and Salerno

And our odyssey did not finish here. We also briefly travelled to sunnier climes in Naples to taste some wines from Vesuvio and to Salerno to discover the wines to the south of Naples. But that will be two more tales!

Volcanic viticulture and Baroque palaces

Exploring eastern Sicily

Sicily, the ball waiting to be kicked by Italy’s boot, is currently one of the creative hotspots for Italian wine. Long maligned for producing oceans of deeply coloured, overly alcoholic wine that was shipped north by the tankerload to boost the paler wines of the north and France, it then dabbled with international varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah and finally fell victim to the EU’s vine-pull scheme to halt overproduction and excessive agricultural subsidies. However, Sicily’s winemakers have reawakened and producers around the island are now creating increasingly high-quality wines mostly from indigenous varieties.

Ancient traditions

The Mediterranean’s largest island and historically a crossroads for many cultures and trading routes, Sicily benefitted from the winemaking techniques the Ancient Greeks brought with them, although wine had already been made on the island for centuries. Its warm climate, breezes from the surrounding azure seas and diverse landscape of hills, mountains and, of course, the infamous volcano Etna all create the perfect conditions for viticulture to thrive. Its arid climate also means than organic viticulture is increasingly practised.

Wine grapes are cultivated across much of the island and it boasts an astounding 23 DOCs (PDOs) and 1 DOCG (a more prestigious PDO with stricter regulations) as well as the catch-all Sicilia DOC (created in 2001 by a group of producers to help promote Sicily’s indigenous varieties) and a PGI – Terre Siciliane IGT.

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Historically, Sicily was famed for its Marsala, a fortified wine made in a similar way to Sherry which was, just like Sherry and Port, primarily destined for the glasses of the British. The British Navy had expanded its fleet in the region and was seeking something to replace Port for those stationed in there. A wine merchant from Liverpool dosed the local wine with alcohol and, voilà, Marsala was born and became an instant success. The wine, like most fortified wines, is no longer in favour, but if you find yourself in the west of the island, the town of Marsala, flanked by glistening salt pans and windmills, is definitely worth a visit, as are the Cantine Florio, which provides an excellent insight into the making of Marsala wine.

Head east

However, it’s the east of the island where much of the new winemaking action is taking place nowadays. As most people fly into Catania, the city shimmering in the shadow of ever-threatening Mount Etna, this makes life very convenient. Wizzair also fly there three times a week from Budapest. What’s more there’s plenty to enrich your Sicilian experience than just wine. You can scale Mother Etna, go hiking, stroll around magnificent Baroque cities, discover ancient Greek remains and gaze over the sparkling Ionian Sea from chic Taormina.

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Alpine viticulture in the mezzogiorno

The trendiest wine region in Italy at the moment has to be Etna. The region was in the doldrums like the rest of Sicily until its fortunes were revived around the turn of the century by outsiders like Andrea Franchetti, founder of Passopisciaro, and Belgian Frank Cornelisson, who were were drawn to the mountain’s terroir. However, Giuseppe Benanti is credited as being one of the first to revive winemaking on Etna. The Benanti ’Pietramarina’ is one of Etna, and Italy’s iconic, ageworthy whites. Produced from 80-year-old, albarello (bush-trained) Carricante, the main white variety on Etna, it’s dense and mineral-driven with plenty of zesty, citrus acidity. Carricante is mainly grown on Etna’s eastern slopes around the town of Milo, where it is entitled to be labelled as Etna Bianco Superiore. If you visit the Benantis, you can also view a palmento, the traditional Sicilian winery.

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Although Carricante, often with a dash of Catarratto or even obscure local variety Minella, makes fabulous zesty whites, Etna is all about red wine. The main protagonist here is Nerello Mascalese along with its understudy Nerello Cappuccio. Nerello Mascalese is often compared to Barolo and red Burgundy for its ability to reflect the terroir on which it is grown. It combines the elegance of Pinot Noir with the tannins and structure of Nebbiolo, producing taut ethereal wine when grown at higher altitude (up to 1100m above sea level) and more concentration and texture lower down, but always with subtle aromas of sour cherry, tobacco, herbs and mineral notes. Etna Rosso is often made from Mascalese alone, but it can be blended with up to 20% of the more burly Cappuccio, which adds colour and softens the former’s acidity. Some single-varietal Cappuccio is also bottled and demonstrates a lovely spicy, floral character.

The ultimate terroir wines

Terroir plays a key role on Etna with the volcano being divided into contrade (or cru) based on lava flows from different eruptions over millenia, thus soil composition may vary widely within just few metres, with elevation further emphasising these differences. The contrade were officially deliminated in 2011. Before then, you were not allowed to state the contrada on the label, so Franchetti cunningly got around that by labelling his contrada wines with the first letter of their name, so R for Rampante for instance. Tasting some of these wines gives you a real feel for the differences between the individual contrade.

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Narrow roads wind through the scrub, vineyards and pistachio groves covering Etna’s slopes, but you can also take the Circumetnea railway which begins in Catania. Although you can’t reach everywhere with it, it runs right past Tenuta di Fessina’s lovingly restored lava-stone winery, which also boasts an atmospheric guesthouse. They served up some pretty good food and wine pairings too. If you don’t want to stay on Etna itself, nearby Taormina with its ancient Greek theatre affording magnicent views of the smoking volcano, perched above the sea, makes a convenient base. Taormina Gourmet, a two-day wine and food festival is held here annually in October.

The Baroque triangle

Lovers of Nero d’Avola and Baroque architecture should head further south to Noto, Modica and Ragusa, stopping off at Syracuse’s ancient port of Ortigia on the way. This is Nero d’Avola country and the variety’s name is said to come from the nearby seaside town of Avola. The area around Pachino, also home to the extra sweet Pachino DOP tomato, is considered its grand cru. Like elsewhere in Sicily, bulk wine was the name of the game here and you can still see derelict wineries with rusty pipes where dark, high-alcohol wine would have been pumped onto containers at the port. However, those days are long gone and producers like Zisola, Feudo Maccai and Gulfi are turning out some elegant, yet powerful Nero d’Avola under the Noto DOC. Grown on the area’s white calcareous soils, they boast delicious berry fruit and soft tannins. Gulfi are going one step further and producing vineyard-selected Nero d’Avola. Matteo Cantania shows me how the location (altitude and proximity to the sea) of each individual vineyard affects the wines’ character.

This is one of the hottest areas of the island, lying even further south than the tip of Tunisia, so it’s worth seeking cooler air in stunning Baroque hilltop city Noto, resplendently rebuilt within 50 years following 1693’s devastating earthquake, which killed around 50,000 people and flattened 50 towns. The beautiful balconied palazzi with carved rosettes and nymphs built from soft tufa take on a beautiful honey colour in the bright sunshine. Visiting the historic Caffè Sicilia is a must and you could balance this with trying inventive Sicilian cuisine at Ristorante Crocifisso.

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Elegant Nero d’Avola blends

Driving west, past other Baroque pearls, Ragusa and Modica, which incidentally hides a delightful chocolaterie, Bonajuto, still making thickly grained chocolate using ancient methods, you come to another Nero d’Avola stronghold and the island’s only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Here the Nero d’Avola is blended with another local variety, Frappato, which produces a delicately coloured, fresh juicy, fragrant wine with aromas of strawberry, violet and wild herbs. The Nero d’Avola gives the blend structure while the Frappato provides freshness and elegance. One of Italy’s rising stars, charismatic Arianna Occhipinti is based here and produces elegant wines fom the sandy red topsoil underlaid with white calcareous soils found in Vittoria. She was the first to bottle Frappato as a single varietal. Her spacious cellars and wonderful atmospheric tasting room were perfect for escaping the downpour outside and enjoying her organically farmed, terroir-driven wines. Arianna is the niece of Giusto Occhipinti of the COS Winery, source of the region’s winemaking renaissance and another advocate of low-intervention winemaking. He vinifies and ages his most famous wine, ‘Pithos’, Greek for a large storage container, in terra cotta amphorae.

So, if your perception of Sicilian wine is limited to overripe, sweet Nero d’Avola and unbalanced, alcoholic Chardonnay, it’s time to take a trip to its East and discover its elegant balanced wines and energetic winemakers reinventing historic regions and rediscovering and refining wines made from Sicilian varieties. It won’t do any harm either to erase the memory of the Mafia and its legacy, by exploring Sicily’s Baroque cities, ancient sites and natural beauty.

*First published in Hungarian in the August 2019 edition of Vince magazine.

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni

Cocci Grifoni sign

Pecorino’s saviour

As soon as we arrive, Marilena leads us off to view the so-called two-hectare mother vineyard, Vigneto Madre, where the first Pecorino vines were planted. We’re in the Offida DOCG in the south of Le Marche to visit the historic producer Tenuta Cocci Grifoni. We gaze out over the rows of Montepulciano lining the steep slope of the historic vineyard of Vigna Messieri to the small hillock of the Vigneto Madre and the Apennine mountains beyond, Gran Sasso, Monte Sibille and Maiella, which is in neighbouring Abruzzo, the other hotspot for Pecorino. The hills are steep, which makes viticulture in the Piceno area difficult. In fact, there is only about 3% of flat land in Le Marche.

 

The clay soils, which Montepulciano loves, are covered with long grass blowing in the winds. Biodiversity, Marilena explains, is important for them.  They want to be able to pass on a respectful relationship with nature to generations to come. The area is well ventilated as cold winds blow over from the Balkans and there is little protection here, they always have sea breezes from the south and the east, so their wines are healthy and rich in salt – the sea is only five kilometres away. The perfect location, only an hour’s drive to the mountains and 15 minutes to the sea.

Marilena in the vineyard

The Montepulciano vineyard was planted in vertical rows by her father 30 years ago, so-called counter polling, girapoggio. So, if it rains, the hillside will easily erode; the grass and borders they’ve retained help to prevent this. The stream we walk past on the way back to the winery and the glass-walled tasting room with magnificent views of the patchwork of vineyards and other crops flows along to their San Basso estate. The property comprises 95 hectares, 50 of which is devoted to vines, 7% to olive groves and 12% to cereals. They also allow a lot of land to lie fallow to conserve the natural habitat and allow the repopulation of flora. So, from the tasting room’s terrace, we can view the Badlands, as Marilena calls them, with patches of pine trees and broom amongst the vines, olive groves and grain fields.  Moreover, they are studying how birds reproduce in different areas in conjunction with wineries in Monferrato and the Prosecco area. We’ll also realise how important the environment is to them later when we see their labels.

Pecorino – a cheese or a grape variety?

Marilena is one of the daughters of Guido Cocci Grifoni, Le Marche’s saviour of the Pecorino variety, thus named by the shepherds because the sheep eat the grapes – Pecorino is a mountain dweller. The variety is now becoming trendy and can be found on many hip somms’ wine lists as well as increasingly on even some supermarket shelves. However, a couple of decades ago, it was almost unheard of. Her father, who unfortunately passed away eight years ago, was curious as to why Pecorino was a permitted variety for the Offida DOC, but was not actually planted, so he went in search of it. Finally, in Ascoli Piceno, he met the owner of a small, pre-phylloxera vineyard, Pescaro di Tronto. Copious research later, he discovered that the best exposure for Pecorino was north and in 1987 he planted the ‘Pecorino Vigna Madre’, and they’ve been producing Pecorino from here since 1990. He was considered crazy at the time for planting this obscure variety.

A bit of history

Her great-grandfather, returning from the States in the 1930s, built the house across the courtyard and began establishing vineyards. Her father was born there. This was still the era of the mezzadria, sharecropping, system in Italy, so when her grandfather passed away in the 1950s, his sons had to leave school in order to support the family. They gradually expanded with time, buying the San Bassano estate in the 1950s, followed by the Tara estate and then the Le Ginestre estate in 2015, where they now have an organic project with six hectares of white grapes. They produced 350,000 bottles of wine the previous year but have the capacity to make around 400,000 bottles per annum. Thirty percent of production is exported.

The Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC was established in 1968, but they were too late to register their wine for it that year, so 1969 was their first bottling of Rosso Piceno wine. 1975 saw the establishment of the Falerio di Collio Ascolani DOC, which permitted Trebbiano, Malvasia and Pecorino, unknown at that time.

Cru wines

First of all, Marilena has us taste three cru wines. The labels for the cru wines all use native animals. Animals that have a positive influence on grapes, so like kinds of steward, were chosen. A toad is depicted on the Colle Vecchio 2016, an Offida DOCG Pecorino whose grapes originate from a historic vineyard close to the Vigneto Madre. The toad was selected as both Pecorino and toads like cold environments. There is also a small lake nearby where toads love to hop around. They are positive for the vineyards as they eat insects that could damage the grapes. It’s a lovely wine, fresh and zesty, yet also chewy and creamy with lively acidity and plenty of nuts and stone fruit. Pecorino is another Italian white with great capacity to age, with Marilena telling us that wines from the best vintages can easily age for twelve years or so. Her sister Paola, by the way, is the winemaker and selected the yeasts for the Pecorino. They are natural yeasts, which are now being studied together with the University of Ancona.

Marilena very reluctantly allows us to try a Passerina. I say reluctantly as she only wanted us to try cru wines, so some discussion ensued before we were permitted to try this less noble local variety. A high yielder which is believed to be related to Trebbiano Toscano and can achieve yields of up to 120-130hl/ha. The Passerina San Basso 2017, a mere IGT, comes from an old autochthonous vineyard area and was a zingy, fresh, lemony wine with plenty of yellow fruit. The estate wines like these are represented by the wild flowers surrounding the vineyards to try to express their strong connections with the land. The Passerina label bears broom flowers, which speckle part of the hillsides near the estate.

Passerina

We’re back to Pecorino with the next wine, made from a small crop from the Vigneto Madre as a homage to her father after he passed away. Winning the ultimate Italian accolade, the Tre Bicchieri, the Guido Cocci Grifoni 2013 (Offida DOCG Pecorino), the first vintage of this wine, comes in a rather environmentally unfriendly heavy bottle. It’s an elegant but chewy, balanced wine with plenty of zesty acidity and flavours of honey, butter, nut, grapefruit and yellow flowers.

Guido homage wine

The final white is another Pecorino, this time with a bit of age, Collio Vecchio Pecorino 2010, aged in stainless steel and refined in bottle. They’ve only used stainless steel and glass since 2010 and made no changes when the DOCG was established in 2011. Now eight years old, Pecorino can clearly age well – a golden, buttery, rich and textured wine with flavours of honey and grapefruit and a long salty finish. Its 13.5% of alcohol, however, seemed much higher.

Collio Vecchio

We then tasted a red estate wine, Rosso Piceno Superiore San Basso 2014, represented by the borage flower. A bright, fresh, easy-drinking wine with crunchy cherry and plum fruit and a slightly saline finish made from 55% Montepulciano and 45% Sangiovese.

Marilena with bottle

The final red was a Vigna Messieri 2013 Rosso Piceno DPC Superiore, a blend of 70% Montepulciano and 30% Sangiovese, from the historic vineyard we had visited earlier. Matured in stainless steel for 30 months followed by 18 months in 40-45 Slavonian oak, it was a balanced wine with great acidity, smoky black fruit, fresh white pepper and notes of liquorice but rather grippy tannins. I love the way that the Sangiovese freshens up the Montepulciano in the reds of Piceno.

Cocci Grifoni fizz

Although we were now running somewhat late thanks to Marilena’s fascinating stories and insight into Pecorino and the organisers were looking stressed and tapping their watches, Marilena insisted we taste their homemade pizza and sip some Passerina fizz on the magnificent terrace.

CG tasting room

*Part of a trip organised by the Circle of Wine Writers and the Marche Chamber of Commerce (Marchet)

 

 

 

 

Visiting the tower of the wind while in the grip of Lucifer

Torrevento

Wines of another Puglia

I have unashamedly stolen my sub-title from large Puglian winery Torrevento, which dubs itself ‘vini di un alt(r)a Puglia’ – ‘wines of another Puglia’; by removing the ‘r’, you then get ‘wines of an ancient Puglia’. I paid a visit to the winery in the Castel del Monte DOC on the invitation of its Technical Director, Leonardo Palumbo, fellow judge at the 2017 VinAgora International Wine Competition held in Budapest in July. Upon discovering we would be spending this year’s family holiday in Puglia, Leonardo promptly invited me to visit the winery.

The name Puglia conjures up oceans of easy-drinking Primitivo and perhaps two of its more well-known DOCs – Primitivo di Manduria and Salice Salentino (a blend of Negroamaro (the region’s most planted black variety) and Malvasia Nera) – will be familar to many. However, as Torrevento’s sub-title suggests, there is more to Puglia than meets the eye of the majority of wine drinkers. There are plenty of native and local grapes to be discovered in Puglia, and in the apparently endless sea of red wine, white and rosato is also produced in small pockets from grapes that few will have heard of, or indeed tasted.

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte

Torrevento is located in the Castel del Monte DOC, in the wildest and most rugged part of Puglia, in the middle of the Alta Murgia National Park, at the foot of the thirteenth-century castle of the same name, which commands fantastic views of the local countryside. The castle has served as a prison, a plague shelter and a source of building materials for those pilfering the castle and its contents over the years. It sits at the centre of the DOC, which also had three wines styles raised to DOCG status in 2011, all based on local varieties, now constituting three of Puglia’s four DOCGs.

The two reds – Caste del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva DOCG and Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG – both take Nero di Troia (officially named Uva di Troia) as their backbone, minimum 90% for the former and 65% for the latter, with the rest made up of Aglianico and Montepulciano. Nero di Troia is the third of Puglia’s key varieties, producing well-structured, ageworthy reds with aromas of red fruits, undergrowth, roses, tobacco, black pepper and herbs. The third DOCG is, unusually, a DOCG solely devoted to rosato, the only one in Italy, so Leonardo tells me – Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG. Bombino Nero, grown mostly in Puglia is a variety containing plenty of anthocyanins, so perfect for making rosato as the colour bleeds very quickly before any bitter tannins, giving a soft, well-coloured rosato with flavours of red berries. Although many people will not have heard of the Caste del Monte region, it is actually one of Puglia’s largest production zones.

Torrevento

The Torrevento winery is actually an eighteenth century Benedictine monastery, situated in the ’Torre del Vento’, or Tower of the Wind district, giving rise to its name. It has been the heart of the company since the estate was acquired by the Liantonio brothers in 1948, with wines being aged in large cellars carved into the rock of the monastery. However, its roots go back much earlier, when founder Francesco Liantonio set sail for New York to seek his fortune. Having amassed enough money working in an ice factory, he returned to his beloved Puglia to realise his dream of producing and trading in wine and olive oil, one of the other staples of Puglia. Indeed, wherever you go in Puglia, ancient olive grows dot the region’s characteristic rusty-looking terra rossa soils.

The family cultivates mainly indigenous varieties in this wild, stony landscape of the limestone Murgia plateau. Alongside the DOC(G)’s flagship varieties of Uva di Troia and Bombino Nero, Torrevento cultivate Bombino Bianco, Pampanuto, Aglianico, Fiano, and the ubiquitous Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are only used in blends. Naturally, as a large Puglian winery, they also have other lines with local grapes sourced from elsewhere in Puglia and bearing different DOC or IGT names, including the rare sweet Moscato di Trani DOC.

Torrevento botti

We arrived at Torrevento on a scorching hot day, in the middle of the heatwave that the Italians had nicknamed ‘Lucifer’, with temperatures soaring well above 40°C. Leonardo, despite seeming to be holding the fort practically single-handedly whilst many of his colleagues were on holiday, gave us a comprehensive tour of the winery, saw us off on our way to visit Frederic II’s Castel del Monte, reserved us a table at an innovative Puglian restaurant in the shadow of the castle, Montegusto, and generously packed up a dozen wines representative of Castel de Monte to pick up on our way back, for us to taste at our leisure. A couple of hours in the car with Lucifer’s sun beating down would have quickly turned them into mulled wine otherwise. Into the boot with two cases of ‘another Puglia’, including varieties such as Pampanuto, Uva di Troia, Bombino Nero and Bombino Bianco (no relation), which thus far I had only learnt about during my Vinitaly Academy Italia Wine Ambassador course with chief Italian grape guru Ian d’Agata. Leonardo then dispatched us off to visit picturesque port town Trani, centre of the Moscato di Trani DOC. Beware, if you wish to park your car in Trani, there are no parking meters – you need to purchase a kind of ‘scratch card’ from a tobacconist beforehand!

Locorotondo 2

Sipping a light Torrevento white and rosato whilst gazing at our holiday home’s picture-postcard view of hilltop town Locorotondo was the perfect way to while away our last few nights in Puglia and ensured that the remaining wines, mostly reds unsuited to the baking heat, caused our cases to weigh in at just 500g under our luggage allowance. All are now safely waiting for cooler, more appropriate temperatures before tasting.

Locorotondo vines

*This article first appeared on WineSofa, the first and only comprehensive website in English focussing on Central and Eastern European wine.