One is from Italy. The other is distinctly Californian. One has a history that can be traced back thousands of years, the other less than 200. One DNA test says that they are one in the same. Another does not. Which is it? The answer varies as much as the wines themselves. But one thing is for certain, Primitivo and Zinfandel can both produce a wide array of wines and some can be quite wonderful. It can be difficult to separate the fact from the fiction with these distinct yet similar varietals, but there are a few things to know about each.
First things first…Are they the same grape?
It depends upon whom you ask. This much is clear. Both grapes descend from the rare Croatian varietals Crljenak Kastelanski, Dobricic and Plavic Mali. The Zinfandel is thought to be a clonal descendent of the Crljenak Kastelanski, the Primitivo more of a sibling of the three.
But are they the same?
When planted side by side they produce grapes of differing sizes, color and bunch density. But the wines that they produce are similar enough that the U.S. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) is considering a proposal to allow Italian Primitivo to be labeled as Zinfandel. This is causing quite a stir in California as Primitivos tend to fall in the value range of $10-15. Fine examples of both varietals are dense, very ripe and high in alcohol. To know the difference we must first know the grape.
We start with the Primitivo because it has the history and the mystique. Not as well-known as the Zinfandel, Primitivo can trace its lineage from the ancient Phoenicians who settled in the province of Apulia (Puglia), the heel of Italy’s boot. Many legends surround this grape. They range from the hard to prove (the wine served at the Last Supper is said to be Primitivo) to the hard to believe (it is called Primitivo because it is thought to be the first, or Primi, grape). The truth may lie somewhere in between, but we do know that it is called Primitivo for its propensity to ripen before all other varietals.
Primitivo thrives today in its original home of Apulia. This tiny region is renowned for massive production of ordinary wines. In fact the heel of Italy’s boot produces more wine than the entire continent of Australia. Vines are coaxed to their highest yields, most of which end up being either shipped north for blending with other wines or re-fermented for industrial alcohol. But change is afoot for this tiny region.
New world techniques, low yields and careful winery management have brought new examples of Apulian wines to the forefront of southern Italy. Instead of flabby and thin wines we have rich, concentrated and hearty versions that develop well under the hot Italian sun. Primitivos tend to be juicy, well-structured and heavy with pigment and concentration, and high in alcohol.
Lighter versions can be floral and fruity, but these are becoming increasingly rare. Aromas and flavors of ripe blackberries, violets and pepper are common. Primitivos can be wonderful value wines, and even reserve bottles are rarely more than $20. The best examples come from the coastal region of Manduria, though many forward-thinking producers are trying the outlying regions as well. Some of the most famous wine-making names of Italy are trying to capitalize on Primitivo’s long overdue success. In the future look for wines from Antinori, Zonin and Pasqua along with established producers of Primitivo such as Botromagno & Leone de Castris.
Even the most novice of wine enthusiasts has probably heard the name Zinfandel, be it the hearty red version or the ubiquitous sweet pink plonk that changed the American wine scene in the 1980s. So famous was this plonk in fact that the red version was almost lost to antiquity. But Zinfandel has quite the storied past in America, even if it is packed into a couple of hundred years.
First brought to the U.S. in 1820 as a clipping from the Imperial Austrian Plant Species Collection, Zinfandel quickly made its way across the country gaining notoriety for its vigor and high yield. During the gold rush of the late 19th century Zinfandel was a favorite among miners and immigrants longing for wine similar to that of their homeland. Prohibition did nothing to slow its growth, and by the 1950s it occupied some of the most famous areas of northern California. As other varietals grew in popularity, Zinfandel was relegated to producing mainly jug wine in the hot central regions of California. A large surplus in the 1980s led to the production of White Zinfandel, made by either shortening the contact of the wine with the skins during fermentation, or by blending it with light, fruity varietals such as Riesling. This was a rousing success, and the true version of Zinfandel was pushed to the brink of obscurity.
But during the 1990s a few wineries in California began to make wonderful reds from the Zinfandel grape. Wineries such as Ridge, Turley and Ravenswood proved that Zinfandel could be a heavy, hearty and world-class red wine. The wines they created were rich, heavy with black fruits and almost sweet from the high sugar content in the very ripe grapes. An explosion in popularity occurred and today there are hundreds of great Zinfandels coming from all of the major wine growing areas of California. Particularly good are versions that boast an “old vines” designation on the label. The “old” in this case often is 40+ years but can be as high as 100 years.
But Zinfandel is not without its faults. The high sugar content can lead to very high alcohol content, with levels of 15% abv. and higher are quite common. If left unchecked these wines can taste hot or have volatile acidity which makes the wine unstable and prone to a short life span. Despite its resistance to rot and disease Zinfandel can be hard to grow. Grapes on a single cluster can range from green and hard to raisin and overripe, thus requiring more than one pass through the vineyard during harvest time. Like many wines it is often the winery or the producer that matters as much as the vintage or location. Look for fine examples of Zinfandel from Robert Biale and Seghesio or head for the better regions of Dry Creek Valley and Lodi.
There are many similarities in both style and flavor between Zinfandel and Primitivo, but the differences remain. Grape growers in both Italy and California will fiercely defend their version as the best, but what will happen if both can be labeled as Zinfandel? Or better yet, when both are grown next to each other in the vineyard. Will these two kissing cousins ever become one varietal? Probably not, but as the lines between the Primitivo and the Zinfandel grow closer together, one thing is for certain: We will have lots of great wine to try in order to be able to tell the difference.
Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, founded in 1849 by Samuel Smith. From modest beginnings, the Yalumba Wine Company has grown to become one of Australia’s most successful wineries, owned by 5th generation Robert Hill-Smith. Yalumba regularly receives accolades for its outstanding wines, and for its leadership in viticultural innovation and sustainable farming. Yalumba was the first winery in the world to be recognized with the Climate Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (2007), earned the International Green Apple Gold Award from House of Commons (U.K. 2011), and was the first winery outside the United States to win the BRIT International Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing Competition (2013). The Yalumba portfolio commences with the fresh and flavorsome varietal wines of the Y Series, then moves up to the Samuel’s Garden line to capture the essence of the classic Rhone-influenced varietals of the Barossa and Eden Valleys, explores sub-regional complexity through innovative, modern wines in the Hand Picked line, and culminates with the coveted, collectible Yalumba Rare and Fine wines including Signature and Octavius.
Yalumba is a winery located near the town of Angaston, South Australia in the Barossa Valley wine region. It was founded by a British brewer, Samuel Smith, who immigrated to Australia with his family from Wareham, Dorset in August 1847 aboard the ship ‘China’. Upon arriving in Australia in December, Smith built a small house on the banks of the River Torrens. He lived there less than a year before moving north to Angaston where he purchased a 30-acre (120,000 m2) block of land on the settlement’s southeastern boundary. He named his property “Yalumba” after an indigenous Australian word for “all the land around”. In 1849 Samuel Smith, along with his son Sidney, planted Yalumba’s first vineyards, beginning the Yalumba dynasty. Today Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery.
Yalumba is part of Australian wine alliance Australia’s First Families of Wine a multimillion-dollar venture to help resurrect the fortunes of the $6 billion industry highlighting the quality and diversity of Australian wine. The 12 member alliance includes Brown Brothers, Campbells, Taylors, DeBortoli, McWilliam’s, Tahbilk, Tyrell’s, Yalumba, D’Arenberg, Howard Park, Jim Barry and Henschke. The main criteria are that the family-owned companies need to have a “landmark wine” in their portfolios as listed under Langton’s Classification and/or 75% agreement by group that a wine is considered “iconic”, must have the ability to do at least a 20-year vertical tasting, have a history going back a minimum of two generations, ownership of vineyards more than 50 years old and/or ownership of distinguished sites which exemplify the best of terroir, and be paid-up members of the Winemakers Federation of Australia.
Coonawarra is one of the very few places in the wine world which is more famous for its soil than its wines. Terra rossa makes all the difference here; it is a key factor in the Coonwarra terroir. The region’s prime land, which has this reddish-brown topsoil over a thick layer of limestone, covers an area of 7.5 miles (12km) long and just 1.2 miles (2km) wide. The reddish color of the soil is caused by iron-oxide (rust) formations in the clay. These are particularly prized for their good drainage and nutrient-holding capacity.
The Barossa zone lies northeast of Adelaide Hills and is a compact geographical unit with a variable landscape of gently elevated terrain and flat valley floors. The overall climate is hard to categorize as conditions vary – not only due to the elevation but also because of the inland locations and the coastal influence. The valley floors are very hot during summer, with temperatures often exceeding 95F (35C). This, along with scant rainfall and limited natural water in the soil, makes irrigation essential. On the other hand, the higher areas are cool with distinctly high diurnal temperature variation, which helps to bring out the best from the aromatic varieties as well as assisting a high degree of phenolic ripeness in the grapes.
Eden Valley’s wine landscape is dotted with the rolling hills of the Barossa Ranges, which provide local vineyards with all-important altitude – the single most important factor in shaping the region’s wine styles. The best sites are located on moderate slopes well exposed to sunlight, at elevations of between 1200 and 1640ft (380 and 500m). This altitude makes growing conditions in the region much cooler than those in Barossa Valley, resulting in a longer season, which gives Eden Valley wines their accentuated flavor concentration. The region has a wide array of soil types – predominantly weathered rocks and gravels in a clay-based sub-soil.
Some wines have attitude, and others have altitude. Yes, you read that correctly, altitude, as in elevation.
There has been some discussion in my world on whether or not grapes grown at higher altitude, taste any different from those grown at more normal elevations. I would guess that most of you haven’t really paid much attention to where you wine grapes come from, much less, how high above sea level they were grown.
One challenge is that there is no set definition on what is considered “high altitude”. Is an elevation of 1,000 feet high, or just a hillside?, What if you move up to 2,000 feet? Most of the research into using high altitude vineyards, is being done by Nicolas Catena (owner of Catena Zapata) in Argentina. For 20 years, he has been locating microclimates at various elevations in the Mendoza region, usually above 3,000 feet.
According to research reports, “chemical analysis of grapes from four high-altitude vineyards supports the position that the same variety, in this case cabernet sauvignon, offers distinct aromas and flavors when cultivated at differing elevations and in varying soils.”
“The lower temperatures and higher solar radiation at these various altitudes make for more concentrated flavors in the wines,” Catena explains. “Cabernet Sauvignon samples in the test included fruit from the Uxmal Vineyard at 3,100 feet above the Mendoza Valley in the Agrelo district, which was ripe with blackberry and cassis aromas and flavors; the same variety and clone from the Domingo Vineyard, at 3,700 feet, showed more spice and black pepper intensity. There is also a thought that the UV rays are better able to penetrate the skins of the grape, and actually ripen the pips, so you end up with riper tannins. Additionally, the skins grow thicker in response to the UV light and lower temperatures, again allowing richer extraction during skin soaking and fermentation. This would lead to a higher intensity of phenolics (such as quercetine and resveratrol). This is typical of grapes grown in stressful conditions. The “stressful conditions” associated with high altitude are lower temperatures, higher UV radiation and light intensity, less oxygen and carbon dioxide, and shorter growing seasons.
Phenolics are the naturally occurring chemical compounds found in grapes, which give a wine its profile. These include the flavor and color compounds and tannins, as well as hundreds of other complex chemical components which are vital to a wine’s character.
Currently, the highest vineyards in the world are located in Argentina. They are located in the Salta region, and are located in the Altura Maxima vineyard at 9,849 feet. The wines are produced by Hess, under the name of Colomé. .Another vineyard has been planted further up the mountain at 10,206 feet, and should be ready for its first harvest this year.
Most wineries do not mention the altitude of their vineyards, so plenty of online research has to be done. I knew that Argentinian wines would be a must try so we are showcasing a Malbec. The highest vineyards in Europe had to be in the Alps, Dolomite, Northern Spain or Pyrenees mountain ranges, but I found the highest vineyards are actually located on Mt Etna, on Sicily in Italy (elevation of 10,992ft, with vineyards at around 6,600 ft.)
In the United States, I focused in on the Napa and Sonoma regions, looking at areas like Lake County AVA (vineyards at 2,000 to 2,400ft), Howell Mountain (1,600 to 2,200ft), Spring Mountain (2,000ft), Mount Veeder (400 to 2,600ft), Atlas Peak (1,400 to 2,400ft), Diamond Mountain (1,200 to 2,100ft) and Sonoma Mountain (600 to 2,400ft).
As more wineries explore higher altitude, it will be interesting to see if they tout their elevation. Right now, it takes a lot of research and a lot of shopping to find these wines.
Although I may be a wine enthusiast I am no way a vegetarian, I have had a lot of fun trying different types of wine with strictly vegetable dishes. Vegetable dishes may not have the richness or proteins of meat-based dishes but they aren’t as wine averse as we’ve been led to believe. It does take a little experimentation, however. Vegetables actually have an amazing depth and variety of flavor and they are rarely cooked alone.
That variety can make it difficult to find a wine that complements all those flavors.
Because of their natural sugars, many vegetables come across as sweet and some people prefer to balance that with a dry wine. Other people like to complement the sweetness with a fruity wine. The point behind pairing food and wine is to elevate them to something better than either is alone.
But since you rarely sit down with a plate of peppers and a glass of wine, the question often comes down to how the vegetable is prepared and what accompanies it. In short, there is no simple answer to what wine to pair with vegetables; no quick tip, like red with red meat, white with white meat.
The good news is that this means you get to try a lot of different wines. Actually that’s probably the best answer to the question. You may wind up puckering now and then, but here’s a tip I learned watching Master Sommelier and trained chef Andrea Immer: you can make just about any dish wine friendly if you season it with wine friendly ingredients. At the top of the list are shallots, garlic, thyme and olive oil.
Now what dish wouldn’t be improved by one of these? Some Good Wines to Start You Experimenting
- Red Wines: Go for lighter, softer reds that tend toward either spicy or fruity.
- Chianti, Merlot Pinot Noir, Shiraz and especially Zinfandel
- White Wine: Most whites will work with vegetables, especially the brighter, non-oaky wines. Save the oaky Chardonnay for richer dishes.
- Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Sparkling Wine
How to Begin Thinking about Pairing Prepared Vegetable Dishes
Since you probably won’t be pairing wine with raw vegetables, it’s more helpful to focus on the way the vegetables are prepared. In fact, some preparations, like roasting, can make vegetables even more wine friendly. Some tips:
- Roasting and grilling will caramelize the sugars in vegetables and give them a richness that’s almost meaty. Roasted vegetables can stand up to savory reds, like Merlot, Syrah or Zinfandel.
- Cream, butter and cheese add richness and body to vegetable dishes and they tend to pair well with oaky wines, like Chardonnay.
- Spicy dishes can go two ways. They can be balanced with a fruity wine, like Gewürztraminer, or enhanced with a bolder wine, like Merlot.
- Greens and herbal dishes tend to have a grassy freshness that can be easily overpowered, but pairs well with an equally herbaceous wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or a Gruner Veltliner.
- Pair dark, leafy greens like spinach or swiss chard with light reds such as Gamay; greens make full-bodied reds too astringent.
- Match mushrooms, lentils, miso and other earthy ingredients with an earthy red like Pinot Noir.
- Tannins intensify heat, so for dishes with hot chiles, pour soft, fruity reds like Zinfandel.
- Protein-rich vegetarian dishes (with cheese, for instance) often stand up to tannic reds like Syrah.
Again, pairing wine is a matter of personal taste. But here’s a cheat sheet I’ve pulled together from various sources and one I’ve used and enjoyed myself, to experiment.
Wine and Vegetable Pairs
|Cilantro, dill, parsley, basil||x||x|
|Rosemary, bay, sage||x||x|
Siena is likely Italy’s loveliest medieval city, and a trip worth making even if you are in Tuscany for just a few days. Siena’s heart is its central piazza known as Il Campo, known worldwide for the famous Palio run here, a horse race run around the piazza two times every summer. Movie audiences worldwide can see Siena and the Palio in the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.
Siena is said to have been founded by Senius, son of Remus, one of the two legendary founders of Rome thus Siena’s emblem is the she-wolf who suckled Remus and Romulus – you’ll find many statues throughout the city. The city sits over three hills with its heart the huge piazza del Campo, where the Roman forum used to be. Rebuilt during the rule of the Council of Nine, a quasi-democratic group from 1287 to 1355, the nine sections of the fan-like brick pavement of the piazza represent the council and symbolizes the Madonna’s cloak which shelters Siena.
The Campo is dominated by the red Palazzo Pubblico and its tower, Torre del Mangia. Along with the Duomo of Siena, the Palazzo Pubblico was also built during the same period of rule by the Council of Nine. The civic palace, built between 1297 and 1310, still houses the city’s municipal offices much like Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Its internal courtyard has entrances to the Torre del Mangia and to the Civic Museum. If you feel energetic, a climb up the over 500 steps will reward you with a wonderful view of Siena and its surroundings. The Museum, on the other hand, offers some of the greatest of Sienese paintings. The Sala del Concistoro houses one of Domenico Beccafumi’s best works, ceiling frescoes of allegories on the virtues of Siena’s medieval government. But it is the Sala del Mappamondo and the Sale della Pace that hold the palaces’s highlights: Simone Martini’s huge Maestà and Equestrian Portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegories of Good and Bad Government, once considered the most important cycle of secular paintings of the Middle Ages.
Siena’s cuisine is pure and simple, yet distinguished by the excellence of its ingredients. Sienese meats, vegetables and herbs are of excellent quality, and most recipes call for the use of olive oil (which in this region is among the highest quality).
The oak woods around Siena are still home to the Cinta Senese swine, a native breed reputed for the excellent flavor of its meat), and the Val di Chiana area continues to raise the Chianina breed of cattle, a very important one in Italy. This breed probably originated during Umbrian and Etruscan times in central Italy. Chianina cattle are famous for their white skin and remarkable size; until forty years ago it was primarily used as draft animal, while it is now a selected breed for meat production.
Sienes cuisine has ancient origins, first Etruscan, who introduced the simplicity of herbs, and then Roman influence. Spices, a valuable commodity of the past, give distinct flavor to Siena’s typcial dolci such as Panforte and Cavallucci. Soups are an important part of Tuscan cuisine, along with roasted meat, wild game, and several types of handmade pasta.
Tuscany is the most enduringly famous of all Italian wine regions, thanks to the romantic glamor of its endless rolling hills, cypress-lined country roads and hilltop villages. But even without all of this, evaluated on the merits of its wines alone, Tuscany stands tall, its reputation founded on such iconic wines as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Situated in central Italy, Tuscany’s neighbors are Liguria and Emilia-Romagna to the north, Umbria and Marche to the east and Lazio to the south. Its western boundary is formed by the Tyrrhenian Sea. As is the case with almost all of Italy’s 20 regions, Tuscany has a long wine history; it can be traced back as far as the fifth century BC.
Today, Tuscany is one of the most famous and prolific wine regions anywhere in Europe. Its vineyards produce an array of internationally recognized wines in various styles. These go far beyond the well-known reds, and include dry whites such as Vernaccia di San Gimignano and sweet wines both white (Vin Santo) and red (Elba Aleatico Passito). The region’s top wines are officially recognized and protected by a raft of DOC and DOCG titles.
Climate is a vital factor in this region’s success as a wine region. Warm, temperate coastal areas are contrasted by inland areas (particularly those in the rolling hills for which the region is so famous), where increased diurnal temperature variation helps to maintain the grapes’ balance of sugars, acidity and aromatics. One variety that particularly thrives on these hillside vineyards is Tuscany’s signature red grape, Sangiovese.
Arguably the most important of all Italian wine grapes, Sangiovese is the mainstay variety in almost all of Tuscany’s top reds. Its long history and broad regional distribution means that it has acquired various names. In Montalcino it goes by the name Brunello, whence Brunello di Montalcino. In Montepulciano, it is known as Prugnolo Gentile. Under the name Morellino it is the grape used to make Morellino di Scansano. Sangiovese also features in Chianti, in which it is joined by small amounts of Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as increasing quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
With the rise of the Super Tuscans, the most famous of which come from Bolgheri, Cabernet Sauvignon has become a much more prominent variety in Tuscany. But despite the relatively recent appearance of such ‘international’ French varieties in Tuscan wines, native varieties still reign supreme.
The name is roughly translated “Sea-Fortress (castle [on the] sea) of the Gulf”, deriving from the medieval fortress in the harbor. The body of water it sits upon also takes its name from the fortress, Golfo di Castellammare.
From this name comes also the Castellamarese war, fought by Joe Masseria clan against Salvatore Maranzano clan for the leadership of the Italian Mafia in New York City. However, in the past 20 years Castellammare del Golfo has become an important tourist location as it is conveniently situated in between Palermo and Trapani.
The city itself was founded by the Arabs and its original name was “Al Madarig” (city of steps). In fact from its beautiful marina/port, abounding in restaurants and bars, which is named Cala Marina one goes up either winding steps or long staircases or streets that lead to Piazza Petrolo with its magnificent views or towards the Villa Comunale (main central gardens) where the city center lies with many shops, cafes and restaurants.
Sicily is Italy’s southernmost region, and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. For more than 2500 years Sicily (Sicilia in Italian) has been a significant center of Mediterranean viniculture, although the reputation and style of its wines has changed significantly over that time. Although once famous for sweet Muscats, and later fortified Marsala, the island’s best known wines are now its dry table wines produced under the regional IGT title, Terre Siciliane.
At its widest point Sicily measures 175 miles (280km) east to west, and about one third that distance north to south. Its roughly triangular shape led the island to be dubbed Trinacria (the triangle) during the Middle Ages, and is reflected in the triskelion (a motif with three protrusions) at the center of the regional flag.
Blessed with consistently bright sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, Sicily’s classic Mediterranean climate is ideally suited to the production of wine grapes. The warm, dry climate means that mildews and rots are kept to a minimum, particularly in well-ventilated areas which benefit from coastal breezes. This low disease pressure means that chemical sprays are hardly needed, so much Sicilian wine is produced from organic grapes. Alongside grapes and wine, Sicily’s key exports are the cereals, olives and citrus fruits on which its economy has been based for centuries.
Ironically, the island’s near-perfect vine-growing conditions played a key role in the downfall of Sicilian wine in the late 20th Century. Reliable sunshine and low disease pressure have always made it easy for Sicilian vine growers to push their vineyards into generating high yields, but when the Italian government offered subsidies for ‘upgrading’ to higher-yielding vine management techniques, the temptation was too much to refuse. Many thousands of acres of low-yielding bush vines were rapidly converted to high-yielding tendone (pergola) or guyot (cane-pruning) training methods. These higher yields naturally led to imbalanced, flavor-lacking wines – a drop in quality which was soon mirrored by a drop in consumer confidence. The market was soon awash with low-quality, low-priced Sicilian wine. Happily, the movement to reverse this reputation is well underway, and Sicily is now one of Italy’s most promising and interesting wine regions.
Sicily’s soils, and the mountains from which they came, are of particular interest when it comes to studying the island’s viticulture. Mount Etna, the towering stratovolcano, dominates the island’s eastern skyline, and is responsible for the mineral-rich, dark soils which characterize the Etna DOC vineyards. Vines are now being planted higher up on the volcanic slopes, to capitalize on the cooler air and richer soils there. Fifty miles (80km) south, the Iblei Mountains stake their place in eastern Sicilian wine. On their lower slopes and the coastal plains below them, the DOCs of Siracusa, Noto, Eloro and Vittoria sweep from east to west, forming a crescent which mirrors the arcing coastline. In western Sicily, the volcanic hills are less individually dramatic but just as influential to the soil types. The western fifth of the island is covered by the Marsala DOC, and also within this area fall the DOCs Alcamo, Contessa Entellina, Delia Nivolelli, Erice, Menfi, Monreale, Salaparuta, Santa Margherita di Belice and Sciacca. Also of note is the small Sambuca di Sicilia DOC, whose wines are not to be confused with Sambuca, the potent anise liqueur.
The key grape varieties used in Sicilian viticulture are a combination of ‘native’ varieties (those historically cultivated on the island) and newer, more fashionable imports. Nero d’Avola and Catarratto are the most important natives, occupying 16% and 32% of Sicily’s vineyard area respectively in 2008. The sheer volume of Catarratto juice created each year means much of it is shipped to cooler Italian wine regions, where it is used to increase the body and weight of otherwise thin, over-acidic wines. A large proportion of what remains on the island is used to make Marsala, for which it is joined by the white varieties Grillo and Inzolia. Although less famous than Marsala, another sweet wine of significance to the island is Moscato di Pantelleria, the Moscato grape in question being Muscat of Alexandria.
Other grape varieties of note are Grecanico, Alicante (Grenache), Perricone, Nocera, and Frappato, the latter being the key ingredient in Sicily’s only DOCG wine Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Sibling varieties Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are also small players in terms of volume, but are of vital importance around Mount Etna. Syrah has been brought here from its home in southern France, where hot summer sunshine and sandy, rocky soils are also key components of the terroir. The robust red Rhone Valley variety shows every sign of adapting well to the Sicilian heat, and certainly better than Chardonnay, which is less able to produce balanced wines here. Trebbiano, the ubiquitous, high-yielding white variety found all around Italy, is also present in the wines of Sicily, although it has no role of particular distinction among them.
The island’s topography has affected more than just how, and where, Sicilian wines are created; it has also had a significant impact on the way commerce and customs have developed on the island. In the late Middle Ages Palermo was one of the largest city populations in Europe, and had a correspondingly voracious wine appetite. Despite large quantities of wine being made in the east of Sicily, Palermo’s wine supplies came as much from Campania and Lazio as they did from the other end of the island, so mountainous is the landscape surrounding the port city. Given the frequent contact Palermo had with the central western coast of Italy, and the proximity of Messina to southern Italy (it is separated from southern Calabria by the Strait of Messina, just two miles wide), these two key Sicilian cities were more influenced by the mainland at this time than they were by one another. And while Palermo was importing Italian wines, Messina was actually exporting eastern Sicilian wines to Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. Modern transportation and communication technologies mean that Sicily’s dramatic, volcanic landscape has less of an impact on the region’s social and cultural structures today. They remain, however, a vital part of its viticulture and winemaking, and may prove to be its unique selling point in the modern wine world.
Του όλα τα ελληνικά μου
Greece – the mountainous, Mediterranean country in the sun-drenched south-east of Europe – is often considered the birthplace of civilization. Archaeological evidence suggests that wine has been made in some parts of Greece for more than 4,000 years, and wine references in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey confirm that viniculture was prevalent here by the 8th Century BC. Wine’s importance is also evident in Greek mythology; Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) appears in legends from every part of Greece, from the plains of Attica to the Aegean island of Chios.
From the 4th century onwards Greece’s tumultuous history meant that winemaking did not flourish as it did in neighboring Italy. As a result, Greece’s importance in the modern wine world is far less than one might assume, given its early success. In the late 20th Century, however, Greek winemaking showed signs of revitalization, supported by modern winemaking techniques and a generation of motivated, quality-focused producers.
An Assyrtico basket vine on Santorini
The modern face of Greek wine combines the traditional with the modern. Native Greek grape varieties such as Assyrtico, Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro are found alongside such famous international (French) varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The portfolio of 21st-Century Greek wine includes everything from fresh, citrus-scented whites and sparkling rosé to lusciously sweet reds.
Geographically speaking, Greece consists of its mainland and numerous islands. The Greek mainland covers the southern edge of the Balkan Peninsula, jutting into the Mediterranean Sea between southern Italy and Turkey. It is flanked to the east and west by the Aegean and Ionian seas respectively. This has a strong influence on the country’s various mesoclimates; the islands and extensive coastline bring a maritime influence to the otherwise Mediterranean climate, and there are even hints of continentality in mountainous far north, along the borders with Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. The Greek landscapes vary from rugged mountains and lush river valleys to flat coastal plains and tiny, barely inhabited islands.
Viticulture can be found in virtually every corner of Greece, although its scale differs significantly from region to region. The preferred styles also vary considerably. While the north-west (Greek Macedonia) favors rich, tannic wines made from Xynomavro, the Peloponnese Peninsula in the south complements its Agiorgitiko-based reds with fresh, highly acidic whites made from Moschofilero. The Aegean Islands are internationally famous for the dry Assyrtico-based wines of Santorini and the sweet Muscat-based wines made on Rhodes, Samos and Limnos.
No description of Greek wine would be complete without reference to Retsina. This distinctively Greek, resinated wine style is said to have developed when pine resin was used as an airtight sealant for wine storage vessels. Today, Retsina is made by choice rather than necessity, through the addition of pine resin during fermentation. Modern-day Retsina wines, most of which come from Attica, are typically based on Savatiano, although Roditis and Assyrtico are also used by some producers.
Retsina serves as a link to the past, a reminder of how important Greece was in the development of European wine culture (even the Romans prized Greek wine above their own, as evidenced in the prices realized for Greek imports). Below is a brief overview of Greek wine history from the Middle Ages until the modern day.
The Malvasia trade of the Middle Ages (involving a complex set of grape varieties named after the Peloponnese area of Monemvasia) was a golden age for the Greek wine industry, with its wine becoming a major export to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Monasteries were granted tax exemptions and frequently gave land to the industry, setting it up for a period of viticultural dominance that would last until the arrival of the Ottoman Turks.
From the 15th Century, much of Greece was ruled by the Ottomans, whose Muslim religion forbade the consumption of wine. This meant an era of downturn for Greek wine production; vineyards were ripped out, banned, forgotten or planted to more lucrative crops such as raisins. Some remained, but the Ottoman rulers imposed heavy taxes on Greek Orthodox wine production. This period is often cited as the reason that Greece’s wine industry is not as well developed as those of France or Italy, despite its long history.
The Greek War of Independence from 1821 to 1832 plunged the country into turmoil, and winegrowing did not resume until well into the later 19th Century. During this time, the phylloxera crisis in the vineyards of Western Europe turned attention to Greek wines, and the country saw a surge in viticultural activity. Unfortunately, the two World Wars and Greece’s own phylloxera blight proved devastating to the country’s wine industry in the mid-20th Century.
It was during the 1960s that the industry began to pick up and modern winemaking techniques and technologies were employed by Greek wine producers. In 1971, anappellation system was introduced to mimic the great wine regimes of France and Italy and to prepare Greece for entry into the European Union.
Regions of historical significance were among the first to be granted appellation status, with conditions imposed on the varieties to be used and often on the altitudes required for cultivation. The Onomasia Proelefseos Anoteras Piotitos (OPAP) and Onomasia Proelefseos Eleghomeni (OPE) are the two principal designations for quality wine in Greece, covering dry and sweet wines respectively. At the lower level, the PGI-level Topikos Inos (local/country wine) and Epitrapezios Inos (table wine) cover a larger amount of Greek terrain and a wide array of wine styles and grape varieties.
The early 21st Century has been a tumultuous time for Greece, with political instability and an enormous debt crisis threatening the entire economy of Europe. However, heavy-set red wines made from Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro showcase the potential of Greece’s indigenous grapes, while the regions of Naousa, Nemea, Mantinia, Samos and Santorini continue to provide a benchmark for the rest of the country to aspire to. The future remains uncertain for this wine-growing nation that has traditionally relied on grape-growing co-operatives.
Cru is “a vineyard or group of vineyards, especially one of recognized quality”. It is a French wine term which is traditionally translated as “growth”, as it was originally the past participle of the verb “croitre” (to grow). As a wine term it is closely connected to terroir in the sense of an “extent of terrain having a certain physical homogeneity . . .considered from the point of view of the nature of the soil as communicating a particular character to its produce, notably to wine”. It may thus be defined as: “Terroir as a place of production” or an “Ensemble of terrains considered from the point of view of what grows there, from a particular cultivation.” More specifically, cru is often used to indicate a specifically named and legally defined vineyard or ensemble of vineyards and the vines “which grow on [such] a reputed terroir; by extension of good quality.” The term is also used to refer to the wine produced from such vines. The term cru is often used within classifications of French wine. By implication, a wine that displays (or is allowed to display) the name of its cru on its wine label is supposed to exhibit the typical characteristics of this cru. The terms Premier Cru, Grand Cru, etc., are generally translated into English as First Growth, Great Growth, etc.; they designate levels of presumed quality that are variously defined in different wine regions.
Grand cru (French for great growth) is a regional wine classification that designates a vineyard known for its favorable reputation in producing wine. Although often used to describe grapes, wine or cognac, the term is not technically a classification of wine quality per se, but is intended to indicate the potential of the vineyard or terroir. It is the highest level of classification of AOC wines from Burgundy or Alsace. The same term is applied to Châteaux in Saint-Émilion, although in that region it has a different meaning and does not represent the top tier of classification. In Burgundy the level immediately below grand cru is known as premier cru, sometimes written as 1er cru.
The Bandol wine region of France, located near the coast east of Marseille and Cassis, is one of Provence’s most internationally recognized wine regions. Based around the fishing village of Bandol, west of Toulon, the Bandol AOC covers the production of 8 communes with silicon & limestone soils. Those soils and the warm, coastal climate are ideally suited for the late ripening Mourvèdre grape which is the major varietal of the region. For both the red and rosé wines, Mourvèdre must account for at least 50% of the blend, though most producers will use significantly more, with Grenache & Cinsaut usually filling out the rest of the wine’s composition.
Bandol has had limited exposure in the United States, until now.
From the Massif de la Sante-Baume down to the shore of the Mediterranean, the vine is an integral part of the landscape and its presence is felt everywhere. Bandol terroir faces due south and benefits from exceptional conditions of light and heat, with nearly 3,000 hours of sun exposure a year. The vineyard lies in a natural amphitheatre. The vines are planted on terraces called “restanqes” on approx 1,500 hectares (over 3,700 acres). Several generations of vine growers had to shape the hillsides to make them suitable for vine cultivation and these terraced slopes are the result of their perseverance.
A Balcony Overlooking the Sea
In order to prevent ground erosion and to clear it of stones, the vine growers erected innumerable low dry-stone walls piece by piece, creating the famous Bandol “restanques”. The vine growers became builders in order to turn the steep slopes of the hillsides into patches of cultivable land, following the contour lines of the terrain. These grounds are particularly favorable for vine growing, and the very nature of the restanques allow for natural regulation of water resources. Today, the wine growers carry on the development of the lands abandoned at the beginning of the century. By resisting the pressure of real-estate developers, they make their contribution to the upkeep of the countryside, help protect the environment, and preserve the beauty of the landscape..
A Multifaceted Geology
The soils in the appellation area are mainly limestone and very pebbly, with sandy marls and sandstones in places. They are as diverse as could be expected in such an uneven landscape. The action of natural erosion on the bedrocks of the upper cretaceous age (calcareous sandstones and sandy marls) resulted in sandstone soils enriched in silico-calcareous elements. Those are the most typical soils of the Bandol appellation. In some places the soils are of Jurassic or even Triassic age and consist of red or white limestone, clay and marl or sand. The main characteristic of the Bandol appellation is the stone-like aridity and low fertility of well-drained, highly calcareous soils.
To preserve this character, the writers of the Bandol decree made a point of including in the appellation area only the plots of land situated on hillsides. The natural dryness of the soils is balanced by the humidity of the air from the sea and by rainfall (600mm/yr on average); the rainfall amount is low, yet perfect to compensate for the water deficit during summer. The appellation area encompasses eight communes suspended between mountain and sea to the south of the Massif de la Sainte-Baume: Bandol, La Cadière d’Azur, Saint-Cyr-sur-mer, Le Castellet, Le Beausset, Ollioules and Sanary.
BANDOL and MOURVEDRE
United for better
Just say “Mourvèdre” to a fine wine drinker and he or she will answer “Bandol”. Mourvèdre is a late-ripening, difficult and demanding grape variety. In Bandol, the character of the geology and microclimate constitute an ecological niche in which the Mourvèdre grape’s strong personality can blossom. Being enthusiastic fans of Mourvèdre, the Bandol wine growers have made Bandol its best-suited terroir. Today, their expertise in growing this uncommon grape variety is acknowledged all over the world.
Refusing to Do It the Easy Way
Mourvèdre is an upright bush vine that bears its stems with majesty. In time it forms a short stumpy trunk that will stand up to the mistral wind of France with vigor if carefully tended by the vine grower. Bandol vine growers give preference to “gobelet” pruning in order to reduce the amount of foliage and help the low-producing vine to bear triangular bunches with small, tight, dark grapes.
In other wine regions, Mourvèdre is used very sparingly because of the strength of its character. Nowhere else is Mourvèdre added in such proportions to the varietal mix. Bandol is the only appellation wine in which Mourvèdre is the dominant grape variety: it represents at least 50% of the blend in red wines. Inspired by the challenge of working with Mourvèdre, Bandol wine growers often go beyond this limit, adding up to 80% or even 95% of it to the mix. Where the authorized yield is 40 hectolitres per hectare, the wine growers do their best to control the productivity of Mourvèdre and keep it within lower yields (25 to 30 hl), so as to express its essence.
Part of the Secret
Mourvèdre is a late-season grape variety that keeps the wine grower waiting until it reaches its full potential. Every essence of the Bandol terroir (soil, subsoil, optimal sun exposure, sea influence and prevailing winds) collaborates to obtain beautiful, slow and full maturity. Rich in tannins, Mourvèdre contributes to the extraordinary aging ability of Bandol red wines and gives them an original and complex typicity, or their distinctive feature. Mourvèdre also gives rosé wines power and remarkable aging ability. This superb grape variety has found its home in Bandol.
RED, WHITE and ROSE
Three Colors, Three Great Styles
The Bandol terroir and savoir-faire are expressed in three colors: red, rosé and white, three very different styles of wine. Each wine bears the signature of the wine grower who produced it and reflects his own choice of winemaking techniques. Thanks to the geographical diversity and the geological conditions of the vineyards in Bandol—and their exposure to the sun, each wine possesses a rich palette of hues and characteristics.
Red: The Reference
Bandol is definitively red. The red wines of Bandol are primarily made from Mourvèdre, the “King Grape” of the appellation. Mourvèdre is the chief grape varietal in the blend (with a range of 50% – 95% used by different winemakers). It is harmoniously combined with Grenache and Cinsault, the former bringing generosity to the wine, the latter giving it finesse. Powerful, with natural distinction and great character, Bandol red wines, however diverse they may be, all have the specific character of Mourvèdre in common. Bandol red is the spearhead of the appellation.
It expresses its true nature in aromas of Havana, leather, and undergrowth that blossom against a mineral background, and shows even more complex notes with the subtlety of each vintage. In its youth, it reveals aromas of licorice, black fruits and violet notes. As it ages, it uncovers flavors of red fruits, jam, Morello cherry, spices, humus, undergrowth, leather, and truffle. After a minimum 18 months’ aging in wood, the tannic character of Mourvèdre will endow it with a complex, ample and elegant structure. Although it is the perfect type of wine for cellaring, one can also enjoy it in all the strength and generosity of its youth: that is the paradoxical nature of Bandol red wine. It delivers some part of its enormous potential at every stage of its evolution. To those who can bide their time, a 10, 20, or 25-year-old Bandol will be delightfully enjoyable.
Rosé: Gastronomy and Conviviality
Bandol rosés are enchanting. Their roundness and generosity make them different from other rosé wines. Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault combine to give, by direct-pressing, a well-built, refined, pale-colored wine with delicate salmon hues. With all the subtle shades that enhance their color, Bandol rosés whole-heartedly express the specific characteristics of their terroir. They are to be enjoyed in their youth when their great freshness is most captivating; however, the presence of Mourvèdre brings out their typicity and encourages laying them down, as is the rule for red wines. Long-lived rosés acquire exceptional temperament and flavors. They are served at the most renowned tables; their complexity allows a great variety in food pairings.
To unveil the secret of Bandol, one must also taste its white wines. The wine growers take delight in surprising wine lovers with this style of wine, produced in very low quantities. Clairette, Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc are the base of the varietal mix. Often made from grapes growing on hillsides facing north, which are invigorated by the sea breeze that heightens their freshness, Bandol whites have a clean attack followed by a complex harmony of aromas such as white flowers, citrus, exotic fruits or fruits from the orchard.
THE VIGNERON’S SAVOIR-FAIRE
The result of commitment
The wine growers dedicate themselves heart and soul to their land and craft. They perpetuate the spirit of their elders: they love to see work well done, patiently, stone by stone, the way the restanques were built on the hillsides. Most often, the land belongs to families rooted in wine making traditions. The Bandol appellation is indeed their common heritage.
A Constant Rigor
Together with the scrupulous observance of the appellation regulations, the wine growers maintain permanent vigilance to achieve quality. Young vines intended for the production of red wines are not allowed in the AOC production until the eighth leaf has appeared on their trunk. The yields are controlled at each stage of cultivation. The plantation density must be at least 5,000 vines per hectare. Spur pruning, i.e. leaving two-bud spurs on the trunk, is required. As early as June, the “green harvest” lightens the burden on the vines: the excess bunches are ruthlessly cut off to leave only five to six bunches per vine. The wine growers have a motto that expresses this voluntary limitation of the yield: “One vine, one bottle”. Chaptalization, or adding sugar to unfermented grapes to increase the wine’s alcohol content, is banned as well as “any enrichment or concentration operation, even within the limits of the legal prescriptions in force”. Machine harvesting is forbidden: the grapes are picked by hand to obtain a clean and carefully selected harvest.
However severe the appellation requirements may be, they will not be sufficient if the vigneron, or the wine grower, does not take the greatest care of his production. Technology has entered the cellars, allowing better control of the work and new progress in quality. Maturation is essential in Bandol, especially for red wines. The oak barrel, traditionally used in the appellation, requires great rigor, but is perfectly suited to the tannic structure of Mourvèdre. Concerning maturation, the vigneron’s know-how consists in bringing the wine to a state of balance through a process of slow, natural stabilization. At each stage of the process, wines are carefully selected and tasted. They are accepted only if they meet the requirements of their status. A blind tasting test is carried out in June of the first year to allow the wine growers to examine the evolution of the vintage. It is a“mock exam” from which each wine grower learns critical lessons of their trade.
By running their estates with the utmost attention, the Bandol wine producers have taken the Bandol appellation to the top of the French AOC classification and gained their peers’ respect. The B for Bandol that can be seen branded on old barrels ranks with the other great B’s of French wines.
Of all of the domaines we represent, no other serves more as our cornerstone, stands more in the defense of terroir, and is more intricately interwoven with our own history, than that of the iconic Peyraud family of Domaine Tempier. The pages that Kermit has written about them alone rival those of his dear friend, Richard Olney, who wrote the definitive history of the domaine and was the first to introduce Kermit to the family in 1976. Their story might be considered mythic if it were not true.
When Lucie “Lulu” Tempier married Lucien Peyraud in 1936, her father gave them Domaine Tempier, an active farm that had been in the family since 1834, near Le Plan du Castellet, just outside the Mediterranean seaport village of Bandol. Tasting a pre-phylloxera bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol (a wedding gift from his father-in-law) inspired Lucien to research the terroir of Bandol extensively. Up until that point, old vineyards planted with Mourvèdre had been systematically replanted to higher-yielding varietals. However, more research not only showed its historical roots to the area, but the grape proved to be more resistant to oxidation, producing wines with great aging potential. By 1941, with the assistance of neighboring vignerons, Lucien worked with the I.N.A.O. (Institut National des Appellations d’Origines) to establish Bandol as its own A.O.C. Needless to say, large-scale replanting of Mourvèdre ensued, and Bandol now requires a fifty percent minimum in all reds. Lucien will forever be celebrated as the Godfather of Bandol, but also as the man who revived Mourvèdre to its former glory. Raising deep and structured wines of such refinement and longevity has made Domaine Tempier truly a grand cru de Provence.
Lulu and Lucien raised seven children, and nourishing family, friends, and wine lovers at table is a regularly celebrated tradition at the domaine. Much of that is attributed to Lulu, the beautiful, Marseillaise materfamilias who has carried on the great Tempier family ritual of serving guests fresh, cool rosé, hearty, soulful reds, and copious amounts of delicious homemade Provençal cuisine. Her traditional hearth cooking has attracted attention throughout France, even bringing Alice Waters over from California to learn in Lulu’s kitchen. When Lucien retired, sons François and Jean-Marie shared management of the domaine with François in the vineyards and Jean-Marie in the cellars. The two made a formidable team. Though Lucien passed away in 1996, and his sons have now since retired, the torch has been passed to the young, energetic, and talented Daniel Ravier, who has just the right savoir faire to carry on the great tradition and style of the domaine.
Beyond our affection and the enduring bonds of our friendship, objectively the celebrity of Domaine Tempier also lies deep in the soils of Bandol. Variations of clay and limestone soils between the vineyards produce wines that are undeniably world class. Whether it is the cult following they have established through their refreshing, age-worthy rosé (once praised by Robert Parker as the greatest rosé in the world), their Bandol Blanc, or the distinctive cuvées of Bandol rouge, the wines of Domaine Tempier stand as the proud benchmark when talking about Provençal wines. Through their passion, pioneering, and advocacy for Bandol, the Peyrauds have become legendary. We are fortunate to have their wines serve as the flagship of our portfolio, and even more grateful to have the Peyrauds and their extended family as cherished friends. If any wine can be said to have soul, it’s Tempier.
Domaine Gros Nore
Alain Pascal could be a character pulled right out of a Marcel Pagnol novel—a kind of Provençal Hercules. Like his father, Honoré, for whom the domaine is named, Alain is a strong, husky man with hands the size of bear claws. That he is a former boxer and an avid hunter should be no surprise, yet his physique matches both his spirit and his wine—this gentle giant and his cuvées are all heart. Of the many stories recorded in Kermit’s Inspiring Thirst, those of Alain are among the most entertaining. For years he sold his prized fruit from Bandol to Domaine Ott and Château de Pibarnon. Though he and his father would bottle their own wine for family consumption, they never labeled it under their own domaine name. Kermit has called those early family wines, “Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul.” In 1997 after his father’s death, Alain officially started Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, a real shift that has brought him more than just casual notice. Alain is already a leading contender in Bandol, the appellation regarded as the grand cru of Provence.
He farms sixteen hectares of vineyards with the help of his brother, Guy, on the rolling hillsides around La Cadière d’Azur. The vineyards are composed of both clay and limestone, imparting a pronounced structure of earthy, splintered rock. This microclimate near the Mediterranean brings warm weather and full sun, tempered by the persistent Mistral. Alain leaves his grapes to mature fully on the vine, lending great intensity to the fruit. Where appellation law demands that each blend includes at least 50 percent Mourvèdre, Alain uses 80 percent—a choice that gives more power and concentration to the final assemblage. Do not be fooled by the strength and boldness of the Gros ‘Noré Bandol, though; underneath a big exterior is a wine of character, depth, complexity, soul, and finesse.
Les Vignobles Gueissard
Les Vignobles Gueissard was born of a passion for the art of winemaking and a determination to produce only the best wines from Côtes de Provence and Bandol. Working together, experts of vine and soil team up with the best winemakers in the Gueissard cellar to nurture the delicate palette and fragrances of Provence in all of our wines. Bottling, the final stage in the winemaking process, is truly an exciting experience for us. It sees all of our expertise brought together, from the skills of our field experts to the talent of our production team. The resulting product is an exceptional vintage wine from Provence. Now we want to share our art and passion with the world.
Providing more than simple pleasure, Gueissard wines evoke true emotion. This is because they are based on a philosophy rooted in traditional know-how combined with modern techniques. We select the best winegrowing regions and then strive for excellence in processing the wine. From the start, we decided to preserve the vines by limiting production, thereby ensuring the quality of our wine for years to come. Grapes are selectively picked by hand during the harvest. These values are at the center of the Gueissard vineyards, giving us the confidence to know we are achieving something truly special: some of Provence’s greatest wines.
Creating wines from both the Bandol and Côtes de Provence, Domaine Gueissard is an extraordinary find for us. Having previously served as winemaker at famous Domaine Tempier in Bandol, Clément Minne is creating some spectacular wines at Gueissard. He limits production (35-40 hectolitres per hectare), harvests manually and observes organic production methods.
LES VINS DE BANDOL SONT LA!
About two hours from bustling Milan and touristy Venice is Verona — a welcome sip of pure, easygoing Italy. Made famous by Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Verona is Italy’s fourth-most-visited city and second in the Veneto region only to Venice in population and artistic importance. If you don’t need world-class sights, this town is a joy.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet made Verona a household word. Locals marvel that each year, about 1,600 Japanese tour groups break their Venice-to-Milan ride for an hour-long stop in Verona just to stand in a courtyard. The House of Juliet, where the real-life Cappello family once lived, is a crass and throbbing mob scene. The tiny, admittedly romantic courtyard is a spectacle in itself, with visitors from all over the world posing on the almost believable balcony and taking snapshots of each other rubbing Juliet’s bronze breast, hoping to get lucky in love.
The city is so famous for love that it gets countless letters addressed simply to “Juliet, Verona, Italy.” There are even volunteers to respond to these mostly lovesick people (see www.julietclub.com). And they’re getting even busier, thanks to the movie Letters to Juliet, about a girl (Amanda Seyfried) who finds a letter while visiting the House of Juliet and travels through Italy to help reunite the author with her lost love.
Despite the romantic fiction, the town is packed with genuine history. Because ancient Romans considered Verona an ideal resting spot before crossing the Alps, the city has a wealth of Roman ruins. The well-preserved amphitheater — the third largest in the Roman world — dates from the first century a.d. and still retains most of its original stone. Over the centuries, crowds of up to 25,000 spectators have cheered Roman gladiator battles, medieval executions, and modern plays — including Verona’s popular summer opera festival, which takes advantage of the arena’s famous acoustics.
Corso Porta Borsari was the main drag of Roman Verona. A stroll here makes for a fun, ancient scavenger hunt. Remnants of the towns illustrious past — chips of Roman columns, medieval reliefs, fine old facades, and fossils in marble — are scattered among modern-day fancy shop windows.
You’ll end up at Piazza Erbe, Verona’s market square, where vendors come to slice and sell whatever’s in season. People have gathered here since Roman times, when this was a forum. The whale’s rib, hanging from an archway for 500 years, was a souvenir brought home from the Orient by spice traders. Today Piazza Erbe is for the locals, who start their evening with an aperitivo here. It’s a trendy scene, as young Veronans fill the bars to enjoy their refreshing spritz drinks, olives, and chips.
After spritzing, it’s time for feasting. And Verona has its share of excellent eateries. One of my happiest memories from a past trip is eating with my friends at Enoteca Can Grande, where we let the chef, Giuliano, bring us whatever he wanted. The carne cruda (raw beef), was, as Giuliano put it, “like seeing the smile of a beautiful woman after 10 years. You never forget her.” The mortadella (Italian-style baloney — not a high-end meat) was served with black truffle. It was exquisite. Imagine calling spam exquisite…just add truffle. Then came the best polenta I’d ever tasted, with anchovies. As it turns out, anchovies and polenta are a “good marriage.” For dessert: a plate of voluptuous slices of cheese. “Even if we do not talk,” said one of my friends, “with these cheeses we have a good conversation.” As I held the warm and happy tire of my full tummy, I thought about how Italians live life with abandon — and how they enjoy their food.
Besides eating, for me the highlight of Verona is the evening passeggiata (stroll). It’s a multigenerational affair. Like peacocks, the young and nubile spread their wings across the wide sidewalk promenade, made broad by the town’s Venetian overloads in the 17th century so the town’s beautiful people could see and be seen in all their finery.
A collage of the city of Verona, Clockwise from top of left to right: View of Piazza Bra from Verona Arena, House of Juliet, Verona Arena, Ponte Pietra at sunset, Statue of Madonna Verona’s fountain in Piazza Erbe, View of Piazza Erbe from Lamberti Tower
Veneto is a substantial and increasingly important wine region in the north-eastern corner of Italy. Administratively it forms part of the Triveneto zone, along with its smaller neighbors Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In terms of geography, culture and wine styles, it represents a transition between the alpine, Germano-Slavic end of Italy and the warmer, drier, more Roman lands to the south.
Veneto is slightly smaller than Italy’s other main wine-producing regions –Piedmont, Tuscany, Lombardy, Puglia and Sicily – yet it generates more wine than any of them. Although the southern regions Sicily and Puglia were for a long time Italy’s main wine producers, this balance began to shift north towards Veneto in the latter half of the 20th century. In the 1990s, southern Italian wine languished in an increasingly competitive and demanding world, while Veneto upped its game, gaining recognition with such wines as Valpolicella, Amarone, Soave and Prosecco.
With fruity red Valpolicella complementing its intense Amarone and sweet Recioto counterparts, Veneto is armed with a formidable portfolio of red wines to complement its refreshing whites such as Soave and sparkling Prosecco. Although much of the new vineyard area which supported Veneto’s increased wine output was of questionable viticultural quality, today more than 25% of the region’s wine is made and sold under DOC/DOCG titles.
The Veneto region can be roughly split into three geographical areas, distinguished by their topography and geology. In the north-west the foothills of the Alps descend along the eastern edge of Lake Garda, their path mirrored by the Adige river as it descends from the heights of Alto Adige. Here in the cooler, alpine-influenced climate, fresh, crisp whites are made under the Bianco di Custoza and Garda titles, while refreshing, unassuming Bardolino from the shores of Lake Garda makes the case for Veneto’s lightest reds. Just east of the lake and north of Verona is Valpolicella and its sub-region Valpantena: the fabled ‘Valley of Many Cellars’ produces half a million hectoliters of fruity red wine every vintage. In terms of production volume, Valpolicella is the only DOC to rival Tuscany’s famous Chianti. Immediately east of Valpolicella is Soave, home to the eponymous dry white wine which now ranks among Italy’s most famous products, and beyond that Gambellara serves as an eastern extension of Soave, both geographically and stylistically. Garganega and Trebbiano are the key white-wine grape varieties here, while Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella are behind the vast majority of reds.
In central Veneto, around Vicenza and Padua, are the Colli Berici, Colli Euganei and Breganze. Although the plains below these hills produce vast quantities of wine, only the better-quality wines from more elevated areas have gained DOC status. International varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero here) and even Carmenere have proved successful here, as has northern Italy’s flagship white Pinot Grigio and Veneto’s own Tocai Friulano.
In the north-eastern corner of the region, on either side of the Piave river (which has its own Piave DOC covering the land between Conegliano and the coast), sparkling Prosecco reigns supreme. Still wines are also made here (Lison, Lison-Pramaggiore, Montello e Colli Asolani and Colli di Conegliano), but the common factor which unites almost all viticultural zones in north-eastern Veneto is the Glera grape (typically known as Prosecco), and the foaming spumante and semi-sparkling frizzante wines it creates.
Sorrento is a coastal town in southeastern Italy, facing the Bay of Naples on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Perched atop cliffs that separate the town from its busy marinas, it’s known for sweeping views and Piazza Tasso, a cafe-lined square. The historic center is a warren of narrow alleys that includes the Chiesa di San Francesco, a 14th-century church with a tranquil cloister.
Sorrento may have become a jumping-off point for visitors to Pompeii, Capri, and Amalfi, but you can find countless reasons to love it for itself. The Sorrentine people are fair-minded and hardworking, bubbling with life and warmth. The tuff cliff on which the town rests is like a great golden pedestal spread over the bay, absorbing the sunlight in deepening shades through the mild days, and orange and lemon trees waft a luscious perfume in spring.
In the evening, people fill cafés to nibble, sip, and talk nonstop; then, arms linked, they stroll and browse through the maze of shop-lined lanes. It has been this way for centuries, ever since Sorrento became a prescribed stop for Grand Tour travelers, who savored its mild winters while sopping up its culture and history. According to a letter from his traveling companion in 1876, the philosopher Nietzsche, not generally known for effervescence, “laughed with joy” at the thought of going to Sorrento, and French novelist Stendhal called it “the most beautiful place on earth.” Many visitors still share his opinion.
Winding along a cliff above a small beach and two harbors, the town is split in two by a narrow ravine formed by a former mountain stream. To the east, dozens of hotels line busy Via Correale along the cliff—many have “grand” included in their names, and some indeed still are. To the west, however, is the historic sector, which still enchants. It’s a relatively flat area, with winding, stone-paved lanes bordered by balconied buildings, some joined by medieval stone arches. The central piazza is named after the poet Torquato Tasso, born here in 1544. This part of town is a delightful place to walk through, especially in the mild evenings, when people are out and about, and everything is open. Craftspeople are often at work in their stalls and shops and are happy to let you watch; in fact, that’s the point. Music spots and bars cluster in the side streets near Piazza Tasso.
Campania is the “shin” of Italy’s boot, anchored by its capital, Naples. Its name comes from Campania felix, a Latin phrase roughly meaning “happy land”. The region has strong historical links to wine and vine, dating back to the 12th Century BC, and is one of Italy’s very oldest wine regions. The considerable influence of ancient empires, including the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, means some of this area’s varieties have historical legends attached. The area is also famous for producing Falerno (Falernum), one of the most ancient wines in Italy.
Campania, like many Italian regions, is home an impressive array of grape varieties, some of which are found almost nowhere else on earth. Its most important variety is arguably Aglianico, the grape behind the region’s two most famous and respected red wines: Taurasi and Aglianico del Taburno. Aglianico was introduced to the area by the Greeks and later cultivated by the Romans.
Vesuvius, and the Bay of Naples
Also vital to Campania’s vineyards are the white-wine varieties Fiano and Greco, which are championed by the region’s most respected white wines, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo. Fiano has been used here for more than 2000 years. Its original name was Vitis apiana (Latin for “vine of the bees”) but this has become shortened almost beyond recognition over the intervening centuries. Greco’s name is a little more obvious, and indicates its Greek origins. Another light-skinned grape of interest here is Falanghina, which forms the backbone of Falerno del Massico and Galluccio wines. The honeyed sweetness of Falanghina wines gained the variety praise from the ancient writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder, who is credited by some as being the creator of the phrase in vino veritas (there is truth in wine).
Alongside the more-important varieties mentioned above are a host of little-known gems. These include Biancolella and Forastera, which together form the backbone of the white wines of Ischia. Suppezza, Sabato and Sciascinoso (locally called Olivella because of its olive-shaped grapes, and used in blends to bring a hint of color and acidity to wine) also play their part, particularly in wines from the Sorrento Peninsula. Along the Amalfi coast, the aromatic and orange blossom-infused Ravello and Furore wines are distinctive for the inclusion of interesting local Fenile, Ripolo, Pepella and Ginestra grapes. In the Aversa plains, the Asprinio variety, producing a dry white or zesty sparkling wine, gives the DOC Asprinio di Aversa its name. Finally the Coda di Volpe vine, named for its resemblance to a fox’s tail due to the way the grapes grow in long bunches, also plays a role alongside Verdeca, Greco di Bianca and Falanghina in the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio whites.
Campania’s success owes much to the varied climates and terroirs that host around 100,000 acres (46,800ha) of vines. Viticulture is in its element thanks to an abundance of sunshine, dry hot summers, mild winters, a long growing season and volcanic soil (the latter ensured phylloxera was kept at bay). The coastal Mediterranean breezes blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea and across the Apennine Mountains to temper the heat, encouraging a bright acidity in the fruit. These factors also contribute to the varied qualities of Campania wines. For instance, an inland Falanghina grown on slopes where there is more rainfall offers more fragrant notes than those found on the coast, where the climate is continental and tends to be more mellow.
Despite being ensconced in tradition, today’s wine styles are fruit forward and youthful: the whites are known for their aromatic characters, often redolent of the local flora, while the reds (mainly from Aglianico) have big personalities which require a little aging. Dynamic and innovative methods have helped improve the quality of Campania’s wines, specifically through better vineyard management, harvesting methods and cellar techniques. A particularly notable name in the world of Campania wine is Antonio Mastroberardino, whose pioneering use of both tradition and innovation make him the most respected, experienced and knowledgeable winemaker of the area.
Established in the 1750s by winemaker Pietro di Mastro Berardino, Mastroberardino is Campania’s most renowned winery. Pietro was awarded the professional title of Mastro as testament to his skill in quality winemaking, a tradition that continued uninterrupted for 10 generations and lives on to this day.
Located in the town of Altripalda, the Mastroberardino family’s holdings are spread across several parts of Irpinia, in areas that have historically proved to be the region’s center of great-wine production.
Today, Mastroberardino is universally acknowledged to have been the most important guardian of the viticultural and oenological heritage of the Roman age. Under the patronage of the “Presidenza della Repubblica,” the winery has been appointed to reintroduce vine growing in the ancient city of Pompeii. The family-based firm has long championed the indigenous varieties of Campania: Aglianico, Falanghina, Fianco, Piedirosso, Greco and Coda di Volpe.
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