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It’s the weather – Late freeze hits Europe’s wine regions

SCHWEIZ FROSTKERZEN

 Anti-frost candles burn April 28 in a vineyard in Flaesch, in the Swiss canton of Grisons. The candles provide some protection to young grape shoots from unseasonably usual low temperatures. (Photo: KEYSTONE/Gian Ehrenzeller) Article by Dave Buchanan

Spring brings constant change to Colorado wine country.

We’ve already seen temperatures ranging from the 30s to the 80s, high winds, and daily weather ranging from scorching sun to rainy stretches reminiscent of winegrowing in the Northwest.

One thing we’ve dodged so far is temperatures below freezing affecting grape buds.

Orchardists haven’t been so lucky and several times this spring they’ve been rousted out of bed by the frost alarm going off.

Up to now winemakers count themselves lucky, and if things continue this way we may see a repeat of last year’s bountiful harvest, which was the largest so far seen and came at a time many winemakers’ reserves were running bony following several lean years.

One of the global impacts of climate change seen in fruit- and grape-growing regions from western Colorado to the Rhine and Burgundy is earlier bud breaks, which puts most stone fruits at a severe disadvantage because their young flowers are susceptible to late frosts.

Grapes break bud later than tree fruit, which normally puts grape buds still tightly wrapped and mostly unaffected during late frosts.

This year, however, the shoe dropped in some of the world’s most-famous wine regions, including Burgundy and elsewhere in Europe where a late frost on April 26-27 brought temperature below freezing.

A report issued by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) said the “extremely rare” frost affected vineyards across Burgundy.

Among the vineyards most affected were the higher vineyards in Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois, the north of the Côte de Beaune (Savigny, Chorey and down to Meursault, Pommard and Volnay) and the Côte de Nuits.

Early reports came too early to provide detailed analysis of the damage but this week its was reported nearly half (46percent) of the vineyards – covering 13,453 hectares (33,234 acres) – suffered damage to at least 30-percent of the young buds with 23 percent of the vineyards reporting losses of more than 70 percent.

The remaining 54% – 15,797 hectares– received less than 30% damage.

There also have been reports of equally severe frosts in the Loire and Languedoc regions of France and in the Abruzzo in Italy.

It’s not like Abruzzo, which borders the Adriatic Sea about midway along the east side of the Italian “boot” and perhaps more remembered for the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, hasn’t suffered setbacks before.

But like many of the smaller wine regions in Italy, the last 40-50 years have seen a renaissance in Abruzzo, where winemaking dates back to the sixth century B.C.

Large cooperative wineries concentrated in the Chieti province produce vast amounts of wine, which then is sold in bulk to other Italian wine regions such as Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto for blending.

The region is famed for its Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, which in the late 20th and early 21st centuries became one of Italy’s most-exported wines.

 

 

 

Vino 2016: Italian winemakers looking to increase share in U.S. market

April 23, 2016 Leave a comment
Vino 2016 crowd shot

Vino 2016 in New York City offered a two-day immersion into the world of Italian wine. Article and photos by Dave Buchanan

NEW YORK – Romano Baruzzi took a breath and looked out at the sea of faces in front of him.
“Buona sera a tutti, welcome everyone,” said Baruzzi, deputy trade commissioner for the Italian Trade Commission in New York City. “Welcome to the biggest event promoting Italian wines in the U.S.”
It’s opening night for Italian Wine Week/Vino 2016 and the featured panel discussion is titled “On the Bright Side: What’s Ahead for 2016.”
This first-night talk offers the attending producers, importers and the occasional journalist insights into what lies ahead for the next two days of concentrated immersion into Italian wine.
More than 160 Italian wine makers and their representatives are here, some of them plying their wares to almost that many importers and buyers while other winemakers, nearly one-third of those present, simply are seeking someone trustworthy in whom to entrust their wines. Read more…

Heading to VinItaly? Seven, make that eight, tips to keep in mind

Verona Ponte della Vittoria

Ponte di Castelvecchio Vecchio spanning the Adige River in  Verona, Italy. On the night of 25 April 1945, together with all the bridges of Verona, it was blown up by retreating Germans. Photo and story by Dave Buchanan

As sure as the swallows return each spring to the old mission at San Juan Capistrano, Italian winemakers each spring pack up their road show and head to Verona for the annual return of VinItaly, which bills itself as the world’s leading wine trade fair.

This year’s event (April 10-13) marks VinItaly’s 50th anniversary and understandably the buzz has been in the air for months, since no one can outdo the Italians when it comes to celebrating big events, especially one that attracts an international audience (last year more than 150,000 attendees from 30 countries) of wine buyers, importers, critics and wine lovers.

It can be a bit overwhelming – this year’s fair is expected to feature more than 4,100 exhibitors covering an impressive 100,000 square meters (that’s about 1.07 million square feet) of exhibition space. That’s big.

Read more…

Mondavi and Tachis – A world apart yet not so different

It wasn’t until the obituaries were noted and carefully read that some fascinating parallels were revealed in the careers of winemakers Peter Mondavi and Giacomo Tachis.

Mondavi wineopeners

Peter Mondavi, 1914-2016 (AP photo)

Two men separated by nearly two continents and 6,000 miles yet whose impacts on wine and winemaking will last far longer than many of the current winemakers.

Plus, the fact both were of Italian lineage cements a long-held belief that the world of wine owes much to its Italian heritage.

Mondavi died Feb. 19 at 101 and in early partnership with brother Robert, a remarkable winemaker in his own right who died in 2008, made their family-owned Charles Krug winery one of the early leaders in Napa Valley wine history.

According to several articles, Peter Mondavi adopted ideas he had learned while doing graduate at the University of California, Berkeley, to turn California from a general source for unremarkable wines into one of the world’s premier wine regions.

He’s said to have been the first Napa Valley winemaker to use cold fermentation and sterile filtration to produce crisp, fruity whites.

Also, his winery was the first in Napa Valley to use new French oak casks for aging and to adopt the uncommon (for then) practice of vintage-dating its varietal wines.

Such was his passion for winemaking, and even more his passion for protecting his family business, that he still going into the office at the age of 100.

The Charles Krug Winery, during this Golden Age of California cabernet, became famed for its well-structured and elegant Vintage Selection cabernets.

Giacomo Tachis wine openers

Giacomo Tachis, 1933-2016

Tachis, meanwhile, who died Feb. 5 at the age of 82 at his home in San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tuscany, equally was known for his pioneering use of temperature-controlled fermentation and aging in oak barrels.

It once was said that there are two eras in the history of winemaking in Tuscany: before Giacomo Tachis and after Tachis.

One of Tachis’ most notable accomplishments was his role in using French grape varietals (notably cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc) in developing what became known as “Super Tuscan” wines. There had been a few earlier experiments with using non-Italian grape varieties but it wasn’t until 1961, with the state of Chianti in sorry shape, when Tachis helped develop the Bordeaux-influenced, sangiovese-based Sassicaia (with Marchesi Incisi della Rocchetta), Tignanello (with Marchese Piero Antinori, whose family had been experimenting with cabernet blends since the 1920s) and Solaia, among them the first of the so-called Super Tuscan wines.

These wines with their French-grape components didn’t fit the restrictive Italian regulations and rather than be lumped with common and less-distinctive vino da tavola, the term Super Tuscan was developed.

“They opened the door to a new market — as well as the road to a better-quality wine — at a time when, especially in Tuscany, Chianti was a weak, cheap wine,” Giacomo Tachis told Decanter Magazine in 2003.

The wines lifted the reputation of all Italian wines, and while now some of the polish has worn off this so-called “international style,” it paved the way to success and worldwide markets for many Italian winemakers.

After Tachis was named Decanter magazine’s Man of the Year in 2011, wine expert Jancis Robinson wrote “Giacomo Tachis changed the style of Italian wine, dragging it – kicking and screaming – into the 20th century.

“And by changing the style of the wines, he changed the way in which they are perceived,” wrote Robinson. “Without him, Italian wine would not be as successful as it is today.”

Tachis, in his post-Antinori career, developed highly acclaimed and sought-after red wines in Sicily, Sardinia, and the Marches region of central Italy.

There was one notable difference between these two innovative winemakers, separated as they were by miles if not temperament and passion. While they almost simultaneously pioneered similar techniques (cold fermentation, oak aging) to improve what went into the bottle, they differed in what they put on the bottle.

Mondavi introduced the use of varietal labeling on wine while Tachis adopted less-descriptive labeling, thus perhaps starting the trend to fanciful labels on wines.

Two men, two imprints, and the world of wine made better.

A recent note from Giovanni Mantovani, General Director for Veronafiere, the site of the annual VinItaly wine exposition, said this year’s VinItaly, the 50th anniversary, will be dedicated to the legacy of Giacomo Tachis.

“Giacomo Tachis represented the renaissance of Italian wines and will remain forever in the history of Italian winemaking and in the hearts of those who knew him,” said Montovani in the announcement.

 

 

 

 

 

What do you mean, ‘It’s time to go?’ Look at all the wines…

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment
Glasses @Vino 2016

Wine enthusiasts faced a daunting lineup of choices at the Vino 2016 and the Tre Bicchieri International Tour events recently held in New York City.

The plane had barely lifted out of La Guardia, headed west over the snow-covered country of upstate New York, and I already was thinking about the wines I missed during my brief stay in New York City.

Three days of Italian Wine Week/Vino 2016 in New York City’s Midtown Hilton with a brief interlude at the Tre Bicchieri 2016 International Tour tasting simply wasn’t time enough to do justice to all the wines and winemakers at the two events.

One of the expected drawbacks to having 160-plus winemakers and about 1,000 different labels in one room, as was the case with the two Vino 2016 Grand Tastings, is you simply can’t meet every winemaker even with an afternoon to do so.

IMG_0629.JPG

Prosecco maker Graziano Merotto, shown here pouring at his winery in Col San Martino, this year was awarded his fifth consecutive Tre Bicchieri.

Undoubtedly many gems went untasted or there simply wasn’t time to return to re-taste some of the more-interesting wines. I’m certainly not complaining, given the breadth and depth of the wines I did taste, and there are many worse places to be than surrounded by talented and ambitious winemakers.

It was an abundance of riches including a fascinating seminar about olive oil from Marco Oreggia (a fine article here from Susannah Gold).

The wine-cup-runneth-over was something I mentioned at the Vino 2016 tasting to Marco Funiati, owner and general manager of Agricola Messapica in Salento.

“Yes, there are many (winemakers) here trying to attract the American market,” said Funiata. “We don’t have much time to make an impression, and the American market is so big.”

He was pouring his 2014 Salento Chardonnay, an 80/20 blend of Chardonnay and Verdeca. Crisp, fresh and bright, available in the U.K. but still seeking a U.S. importer.

I stopped a few tables away to try Alex Polencic’s Pinot Grigio and although it hadn’t been in bottle long, was impressed by the rich mouthfeel and velvety apple/pear fruit, far different (and way better) than the sea of plonky Pinot Grigios now flooding the U.S. market.

“2014 was one of the most difficult years in the last 15,” Polencic said. “But 2015 was much better” with late-summer rain softening the earlier heat.

Over at the Tre Bicchieri International Tour tasting at the Metropolitan Pavilion, I slipped through the crowd to find Elvira Bortolomiol pouring her family’s 2014 Brut Prior Prosecco Superiore, the 2014 Brut Lus Naturae and the 2015 Extra Dry Bandarossa. Prosecco sales continue to climb and it’s no wonder after tasting the outstanding wines from Bortolomiol and those Maria Luisa dalla Costa was pouring for Graziano Merotto, both from the rugged hills of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.

This, by the way, was Merotto’s fifth-consecutive Tre Bicchieri, honoring his Cuvèe del Fondatore.

Also of note were the 2014 Lugana Molin and 2014 Lugana Prestige from Cá Maiol on the southern end of Lake Garda. The wines, not surprisingly, were delicious, reflective of the area’s complex history and geography.

And all too quickly the weekend was over.

 

 

A few words from the (Italian) wise

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment
Italy-Wine-Map-wine-folly.jpg

courtesy winefolly.com

NEW YORK CITY – On the first full day of Vino 2016, wine writer and author  Elin McCoy unexpectedly summed up what countless other speakers would spend hours talking about over the next two days.

Looking out at a well-lit seminar room on the second floor of the midtown Hilton Hotel, at tables laden with wine glasses and lined with eager listeners, McCoy informed her audience that “It couldn’t be a better time for wines from southern Italy.”

It was a theme to be repeated, although never again quite as succinctly, throughout the all-too-short run of this year’s Italian Wine Week presented by the Italian Trade Commission. Subtitled “The Grandest Italian Wine Event Ever Held Outside of Italy” and focusing this year on wines from Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicily, the event (this year was its fifth edition) brought together about 200 Italian wineries (not all from the south and about a quarter of which were looking for a U.S. importer) and countless importers and distributors and other wine-trade people.

Among the many memorable remarks from the week’s speakers and guests:

“This week there is a peaceful invasion of Italian producers and wine experts.” – Maurizio Forte, Trade Commissioner and Executive Director for the Italian Trade Commission.

“The U.S. market is the most-important market for Italian wine; we export almost $1.5 billion per year.”– Maurizio Forte

Wines from southern Italy are largely unknown to the U.S. market because “most American tourists still do not visit Southern Italy.” – former wine director Charles Scicolone.

“They are a ‘hand-sell, meaning that it often takes talking about these wines and explaining them to the customer in order to get them to try a bottle or two.” – Charles Scicolone

“People want to know who you are, not just your wines.” – Chad Turnbull, president of New York-based importer Savorian, Inc., told the producers. “One of the most fundamental things you can do is to introduce yourself to your market.”

“Puglia and Calabria are at the edge of the western world.” – blogger/importer/Italophile Jeremy Parzen. “They just needed a small nudge to enter the modern world of winemaking.”

“Verdeca. I’m on a mission to find it.” – sommelier Jeff Porter, of the little-known white grape grown in central and southern Italy, including Puglia and Campania.

“When you taste (the wines of southern Italy), it’s hard to imagine what the wines were like 20 years ago.” – Elin McCoy. “These were wines you didn’t want to know about.”

“Sicily is sexy; it was sexy even before the wines were so good.” Roberta Morrell, president and CEO of Morrell Wine Bar and Café, New York City.”The good reds came before the good whites…now the whites are fresh, fruity and minerally.”

“I’m consumer driven. If you can’t say it, you can’t buy it.” – author/wine educator Kevin Zraly.

“In Italy, people mostly eat at home.” – restaurateur/ author Lidia Bastianich. “First, because good eating means eating their mother’s cooking, nobody makes it better, and secondly, because of the economic crisis that is currently afflicting the country.”

“Buying a wine made in Italy means buying a piece of wine history from a country that has made wine for a thousand years.” – journalist Luciano Pignataro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kroger proposal could change the way we see wine

February 2, 2016 Leave a comment
Jen at Fisher's

Wine buyers seeking a specific brand or label may find it harder to locate if shelf space becomes a pay-for-presentation reality.

As this space noted earlier, voters in Colorado will face the question whether to allow grocery stores to sell wine, spirits and full-strength beer.

Since that posting, a new consideration has arose.

Kroger Co., the country’s largest supermarket chain and owner of the eponymous Kroger grocery stores as well as King Soopers, City Market and others, has “proposed a plan that would let a private distributor oversee how much prominence brands get in stores,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Plus, the WSJ goes on, the alcohol companies will be asked to pay for the distributor to find shelf space. (The original article is behind the WSJ paywall but you can read a summary here in an article from Money magazine).

In other words, pay for exposure.

Already this sounds like bad news for locavores supporting small-batch producers.

Not every small winery, brewer or distiller will notice the change. Many of them are too small to use state or national distributors and many of them sell most of their product through the front door.

But for those who depend on a distributor, or simply rely on the willingness of a retailer to find room on a shelf, the Kroger proposal is bad news.

Finding a place to sell small-batch wine, beer and spirits already is tough; just ask the winemakers, distillers and brewers who make weekly rounds of stores, making sure they haven’t lost shelf space to large distributors also trying to find space for their products.

Competing for premium shelf space just got harder, as writer W. Blake Grey assets here, against national distributors who can pay for better positioning.

 

 

Making the connection between Italy and the U.S.

January 12, 2016 1 comment

As we head into Italian Wine Week Feb. 3-9, with special events held in New York City, it’s fitting to remember the roles of five men key to the wine connection between Italy and the U.S.

With the Jan. 5 passing of winemaker Harry F. Mariani of Banfi Wines, another chapter in that American wine history could be written.

Mariani, 78, and his brother John, who survives, made their fortunes introducing

MARIANI Brothers

Harry and John Banfi, 1986. Banfi Wines

Americans to Italian wines. They were working for Banfi, founded in 1919 by their father and his three brothers, when in 1967 the brothers began importing Riunite, a chilled, sparkling sweet red wine that by 1973 was the nation’s largest-selling imported brand.

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember Riunite Lambrusco’s promotional slogan, “Riunite on ice, that’s nice,” which was updated in 2002 to the trendier “Just chill.”

Imports of Riunite peaked at 11.2 million cases in 1984 and accounted for 27 percent of all foreign wines sold in the United States, according to Banfi Wines.

That success as importers allowed the brothers to branch out, purchase their own vineyards in Italy and on Long Island and by the mid-1990s Banfi was the nation’s leading wine importer, according to the New York Times.

Today, Italian varieties are the leading imported wine in the U.S. and Americans now are drinking more Italian wines than Italian themselves, said the Italian Wine and Food Institute.

Which brings us to three other major players in the Italo-American wine connection.

E Gallo

Ernest Gallo

In 1933, brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded E. & J. Gallo Winery, eventually producing 16 brands of wine and cornering more than 25 percent of the American market.

At one time the company owned nearly half the vineyard acreage in California with annual revenues estimated at $1 billion.

Ernest was in charge of marketing and his desire, according to his biography, was to see the company become the “Campbell Soup Company of the wine industry.”

The Gallos marketed their cheap White Port and Thunderbird wines in inner city markets along with a catchy jingle that in part went, “What’s the word? /Thunderbird/ How’s it sold?/ Good and cold/…”

The company gradually shed its low-rent image to become the largest winemaker in the country and today is the largest privately held wine company in the world.

Ernest Gallo died at the age of 97 on March 6, 2007, less than a month after his brother Joseph. Julio Gallo died in 1993.

The third of our Italian triumvirate is Robert Mondavi, who, dismissed in 1952 from

Robert Mondavi

Robert Mondavi

Charles Krug, the Mondavi family winery, went on to build his own eponymous winery and his great fortunes.

As Mondavi noted in his 1998 memoir, “Harvests of Joy,” he found his mission doing “whatever it took to make great wines and to put the Napa Valley on the map right alongside the great winemaking centers of Europe.”

In 1968, he took Sauvignon Blanc, at the time an unpopular variety, and rebranded it as “Fumé Blanc,” figuring it was something Americans could pronounce.  The wine was so successful that Fumé Blanc became an accepted synonym for Sauvignon Blanc.

By the time Mondavi sold his winery in 2004, it was sixth-largest winery in the U.S. with annual sales of 9.7 million cases, according to Wine Business Monthly.

Mondavi remained as chairman emeritus until his death on May 16, 2008 at the age of 94.

In 1993, Mariani told the New York Times that wine was always a part of his life, “it was never taboo.”

And at every meal, Harry Mariani would toast: “A tavola non s’invecchia,” which can be translated to “At the table with family and friends, one does not grow old.”

 

 

 

Rainy start to an early VinItaly

March 24, 2015 Leave a comment

 

 Verona  – VinItaly came early this years, and while rain isn’t unexpected during this spring four-day gathering, the transition from late winter to early spring weather seems a bit cooler than normal.

That’s certainly not a complaint, since it’s always a thrill to arrive in this bustling north-Italy city, to see the coliseum and Castel Vecchio and stumble on fine restaurants hidden down narrow cobbly streets.

However, a comment on the weather is a suitable way to start as one of the laments heard from winemakers in northern Italy is that last year was one of the wettest vintages in memory, with rain until late August.

The sun returned in late summer but didn’t leave some winemakers with enough time to have their grapes reach the desired level of ripeness. 

On the morning of Day 1 I first made a  quick run through the Franciacorta region, which is one of my favorite places to start this fair,  and several people remarked how their 2014 wines were a little “sharper” than normal, even in their young state.

That gave a bit more acidity to the wines, a characteristic I found pleasing and certainly makes the wines more food-friendly. Apparently a lot of people agree; by mid-morning this always popular area had people three and four deep at some of the booths.

Another oft-heard remark was the early start to VinItaly (last year’s fair was two weeks later) gave winemakers a short time between finishing and bottling their wines for presentation here in Verona.

“It’s a little young” or “It’s not ready ” was heard at many booths although there was no lack of enthusiasm for the wines from either winemakers or fairgoers.

My first day normally is a whirlwind as I get my bearings and seek out old friends and try their latest vintages. As customary, I spent most of the day on sparkling wines, from the metodo classico of Franciacorta to the tre bicchiere Prosecci of Graziano Merotto in Valdobbiadene.

Other stops included the newest Bandarossa from Bortolomiol and the bright-cherry Raboso Spumante from Corvezzo.

 I also stopped to see Ambra Tiraboschi from Ca’Lojera in Lugana, of whom I’ll write more after my visit there Saturday.

And that’s enough from Day One.

Testing the waters in northern Italy

-Falzarego-Passa

Falzarego Pass in the province of Belluno in north Italy connects Andráz and Cortina d’Ampezzo and is characteristic of the high mountain birthplace of Italy’s crystalline spring water.

It’s the water.
Readers of a certain age will recall a famous beer commercial with those words extolling a then-popular malted beverage.
The theory being, of course, that having a superior water source somehow made for a superior beer.
I’m not sure how that works, since I never tasted the water at its source (although I had some limited experience with the final product).
However, I can attest that drinking water without chemical additives for purification, without high levels of distorting minerals or the teeth-numbing metallicity that comes from running through rusty pipes, can be a mind-opening experience.
Most Americans (by which I mean in the U.S.) drink plain tap water, of which in most cases there is nothing wrong. You can even get charged for tap water in some “gougé” restaurants, but that’s your fault.
 Other countries, however, more often drink bottled water, either by choice or necessity. I asked a friend, a lovely chef from Parma, why Italians predominately drink bottled water even when the tap water is safe (except on trains).

The ever-flowing spring at Alois Lageder's Cassón Hirschprunn in Margé, Italy.

The ever-flowing spring at Alois Lageder’s Cassón Hirschprunn in Margé, Italy.

She looked at me as if not understanding the question.
“It’s because we have so many great springs,” she said at last. “Why drink treated   water?” 
Why, indeed?
Every place you go people are opening bottled water; particularly in northern Italy, close by the Alps and the Dolomites, where natural springs bubble nearly everywhere and are tapped wherever there is room to install a bottling plant.
It’s said even Roma has good water, since it’s taps are filled by water piped from the north.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the recent Summa 2014, a gathering of winemakers held last month at the 17th-century palazzo of Alois Lageder in Magré, Italy.
As in way north Italy, where the Alto Adige (or All’ Adige, if you are local enough) snuggles against the Dolomites and pure spring water is abundant as fresh air and eye-popping scenery.
One of the first things you see upon entering Lageder’s stone-walled courtyard is the eye-catching spring filling a trough the size of a small Fiat.
The Lageder family history is intertwined with the natural water; the family summer home, Villa Lageder in the South Tyrolean mountain village of Sarentino/Sarnthein, also has a historical spring.
The wines shared at Summa reflect that freshness and purity found in the water and Lageder’s own philosophy of  “respect for nature, appreciation of the surrounding environment, and responsibility to future generations.,” as his website notes.
As I wandered the two-day event, talking to wine-makers and tasting their wines,  I asked them how much their wine philosophy was inspired by their personal terroir.
Many of them echoed the words of renowned Prosecco maker Primo Franco, who effused about how your mouth and palate are pampered and developed by drinking clean water.
“No question a person’s palate is better when it isn’t maltreated,” he said.
That coddling of the palate is evident throughout Summa, where Lageder’s constant spring proved an ideal way to start anew each session in the tasting rooms.