VINO SPUMANTE DI QUALITA ‘ASPRINIO’, I BORBONI
Grape: 100% Asprinio d’Aversa
Region: Aversa and Giugliano (CAMPANIA)
Pairings: fresh mozzarella, fish dishes, or as an aperitive
Notes: sandy soils, mainly of volcanic origin, hand harvested, 6 months in steel, 6 months in autoclave, 4 months in bottle
Drink by: Now – 2021
Description: I’m not going to lie – we chose this on a blind recommendation of another famous wine producer, Giovanni Ascione of Nanni Copè, and fortunately he is batting 1000 for his local selections. There are no words I can write to explain the beautiful shock and surprise we experienced at I Borboni. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, all I can say is ‘Toto, we’re not in Napa anymore’. This video is a MUST watch to see some of the most impressive and unique vineyards that must be worked by a few brave souls to deliver you this wine. I Borboni takes depths and heights to a new level – a 40-meter deep cellar/grotto below their home carved out of the local tuff and vines sprawling 15 meters into the sky.
We got lucky on this one, stumbling across a needle in a haystack, in a countryside that is littered and stained by mafia and corruption (click to read more about my ‘Adventures for the Wine Club‘ in Campania, in a series I will begin to write for our blog featuring my impressions of the area, culture, local restaurants and some off the beaten path spots to visit). Here, generations have worked to preserve this magical place and grape of Asprinio, capable of producing a level of juice that even the French deemed worthy of using for their sparkling wines at one time, all of which is at risk of being lost if not for families like the Numeroso’s.
Let go of any preconceived notions you have here for a sparkling wine from Prosecco to Champagne. Here you have a wine with the same acidity of a lemon, but don’t expect this to be a sparkling lemonade. On the nose, you will catch citrus notes of lemon that are softened by floral and herbal aromas. On the palate you find a strong, refreshing presence of acidity, all well balanced by a creamy sapidity. And this wine is completely dry on the finish.
Asprinio’s origins could date to as far back as the Etruscans or Greeks. Regardless, this lesser-known, local grape runs the risk of extinction to the more common Falanghina, Fiano and Greco di Tufo. Even if this grape doesn’t come with the mass survey thumbs up, I can say that you are in for a new and palate-shocking experience with sparkling wines with this one. If you aren’t experiencing this wine in Campania, head straight to Eataly, or your local Italian market, and find some fresh-made mozzarella for the perfect territorial accompaniment to this brut spumante and drink in reverence while you contemplate the joy the derives from one of the most difficult harvests from vines 45 feet in the sky.
NERO DI TROIA 2014, CARPENTIERE
Grape: 100% Nero di Troia
Region: Castel del Monte (Puglia)
Pairings: unique on its own with its strong floral component, but could work with beef or lamb dishes
Drink by: now through 2021 (let this one open up for at least 30 minutes)
Notes: 12 months in large barrels, strict organic farming
Description: Simply said, we make wines based on terroir, not based on market demands, even though the market rewards artificial wines. Tradition, heritage and terroir is what this wine is based on. A family vineyard that he continues to care for, as this land has been around for thousands of years and will be for possibly thousands more, and preserving and maintaining that heritage while he is there is the most important thing. This wine could possibly be the feminine wines on the nose, as it reminded me of roaming through the rose gardens in Rome, smelling all the 1100 varieties of roses planted there. The terroir of this region also gives the wine a unique minerality, and you’ll likely pick up the bitter honey aromas as you come back to it. Just like a rose, this wine needs time to open up. Give it some time before you judge it, but I think you will find this to be one of the most unique wines in terms of its aromas and palate. Not just a ‘girly’ wine…this wine has a nice grip and depth to it as well.
VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO 2013, CONTUCCI
Grape: 80% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile), 10% Canaiolo Nero, 10% Colorino
Region: Montepulciano (Tuscany)
Pairings: savory dishes like stews, roasted and grilled lamb, steak, grilled mushrooms, good quality salami and hams, medium aged cheeses
Drink by: now until 2025
Notes: 24 months in 20hl barrels and 6-8 months in bottle, 30,000 bottles
Description: Tradition, history and heritage – 3 pillars that define the foundation of Montepulciano and Contucci. When Andrea Contucci walks you around their home (palace), vineyards and cellar, you sense his understated pride, nobleness and integrity without any sense of pretentiousness. Here you find a quality wine region dating back before 1000 AD, 1010 years of single-family ownership, 65 years of cellar work by the most passionate Italian man Adamo (80 years old now), a room of frescoes dating to 1701, a cellar constructed into the original walls of Montepulciano from the 13th century, traditional winemaking techniques with large barrels (not trendy French barrique), no technology or cellar gimmicks to make for a modern style of wine, a higher percentage of Prugnolo Gentile to give more traditional flavors of the region (never mixed with international grapes). What more do you want from a wine? Skip the highly marketed and often overpriced Super Tuscans and just pair this wine with some flavorful, authentic cured meats or a savory dish of beef, lamb or venison and you’ll be feeling as ‘noble’ as the Nobile.
CESANESE DI OLEVANO ROMANO ‘SILENE’ 2014, DAMIANO CIOLLI
Grape: 100% Cesanese d’Affile
Region: Lazio (Olevano Romano)
Pairings: Medium aged cheeses, pastas
Drink by: now until 2022 (ideal in 2019)
Description: Coming from a mix of volcanic soil and white clay, this is one of Lazio’s most interesting wines coming from possibly the best producer there. It combines the strength of tannins which Damiano wanted in his wines with the elegance that his girlfriend desired having studied in Burgundy. Silene is the name of a wild flower that grows in his vineyard which give it a beautiful and rustic setting. This wine is a reflection of his terroir in every sense…slightly rustic, slightly flowery, natural, balanced with a rough elegance.
NEBBIOLO DOC 2015, ANTONIOLO
Grape: 100% Nebbiolo
Region: Gattinara (PIEMONTE)
Pairings: steak or red meats, stews, aged cheeses like Parmigiano
Drink by: Now – 20230
Notes: natural fermentation, practicing organic, no added yeasts, 30 months in large barrels, most vines over 30 years old, very low sulfur
Description: The first time I visited Lorella Antoniolo I was with Margrit Mondavi (Robert’s wife) And I still remember it as one of the greatest wine days of my life. Let me tell you that Margrit has been one of the greatest women I’ve ever met.
What was I doing there? A travel agent contacted me because a group of Americans wanted a guide / professional sommelier to visit some wineries in the north of Piedmont. I suddenly understood that they were experts/wine lovers. When we talk about Piedmont wines, we refer to Barolo and south Piedmont, not to the north. But my surprise was even bigger when I discovered that the client was Margrit Mondavi, with a group of friends from Chile.
It was also soon evident that I was completely useless as a guide. Margrit knew about Gatttinara, Ghemme, Lessona more than I did. She spoke some 4-5 languages and she was a Burgundy and Nebbiolo lover (when I asked what she considered the best vintage of Opus One she answered: I usually don’t drink that stuff).
And at 89 years old, this amazing lady was running in the vineyards able to recognize the grape variety, the style, the clones. She was originally from Switzerland (not so far from Gattinara, then) and she said that Nebbiolo was her wine for everyday drinking.
She told me also that in the 18th century, nobody knew about Barolo and rather Gattinara was one of the most famous wines of Europe. The French used to come here to buy wines, where you find 10 thousand acres of vineyards (while Barolo now is less than 6 thousand), and wines that were able to age up to 40-50 years.
How many Barolo older than 30 years I’ve opened that were completely gone and how many Gattinara from the late 50’s I drunk that were still in perfect condition… One was a Ghemme 1955, that we had with Margrit that day. She went back to memories – in the late 60’s when Napa Valley was just a small niche market of high-quality wines, not trendy and commercial yet, like Gattinara today, probably.
I remember tasting a Juvenia Coste della Sesia, a floral and delicate Nebbiolo, refreshing and perfumed, paired with a lightly dressed beef tartare. After that a Gattinara, more powerful, with the strength and the tannic density of a wine that could age for 20-30 years (and probably more). We had it with a beef stew.
And after that, a long discussion about how Gattinara sometimes is more elegant than Barolo, how the slate soil gives a metallic minerality with softer tannins, balanced by a refreshing saltiness and acidity. Wines that are not corrupted by marketing – over fruity with a strong oaky flavor.
I suggest to have it with your grandmother, in her old, moldy house, smelling those familiar aromas, while listening to her stories.
PS… Before we left, I told to Margrit that meeting her was an epiphany, how profound were her thoughts and stories, especially in a world of wine-marketing that is destroying the concept of wine itself. And she answered (probably a bit offended but with a motherly smile): You’re right my son, marketing is killing the wine, but not as much as snobbish sommeliers.
BARBERA D’ALBA SUPERIORE 2015, PALLADINO
Grape: 100% Barbera
Region: Serralunga d’Alba (PIEMONTE)
Pairings: adapts to nearly any dish
Notes: 12 months in large barrels (botti), 1500 bottles produced
Drink by: Now through 2020
Description: Just a few decades ago in the region of Alba (containing the famous and prestigious territory where you can make a Barolo), it was the Barbera which was considered the prestigious grape, not the more common association of Nebbiolo. You might find it hard to believe that it was the Barbera that people came to buy and if you bought a few cases, they would literally give you a case of Nebbiolo for free. All of this changed as the zone of Barolo has become synonymous with Nebbiolo, with nearly every square centimeter dedicated to it, whereas now it’s often said that the best Barbera is from Asti, not Alba. But who knows…you’ll have to try it know it. Few producers have maintained the tradition and their plantings of Barbera, like Roberto Conterno and his Cascina Francia Barbera, amongst a few others, and of course Palladino.
Here you have a wine that can adapt to just about anything from medium to hard cheeses, a variety of meats, pasta dishes and more. If you know the grape, in this one you may find to have more minerality at its core. There is of course a sapid, fruity and black cherry element to it making it quite easy to drink this powerful and fresh at the same time wine that carries subtle hints of earthiness, leather and cinnamon. A versatile wine to drink with good friends and good conversation, around a dinner table when you aren’t sure what is being prepared.