Friday, November 20, 2009

Report from ... Annual Italian Tasting – November 2, 2009

I stare into the abyss that is Roy Thompson Hall, sure the place is beautiful and an architectural wonder (or so the literature says), but I’m also looking at close to 100 Italian producers (someone says its actually ONLY 99) all pouring a minimum of 5 wines; for the mathematically challenged that’s easily 500+ wines they want me to try – hospitalization here I come. Thankfully there is a 10AM seminar to sit through, allowing me to wrap my head around the 212 page bible (listing all the wines and producers beyond the seminar walls) that lies in front of me. But I’ll get to that in a minute or two, first let’s listen in to Mr. Attilio Scienza as he talks to us about the Italian island of Sicily – and to David Lawrason, as he leads us through the wine tasting.

The day began with the numbers about Italian wine as presented by Paolo Ponti, director of the Italian Trade Commission – he provides the same good news every year: Italian wine is on the rise around the world and especially in Canada. I half expect him to pull a little Italian flag out of his pocket and wave it frantically in one hand while saying, “yeah Italy”, but then again if you ever met Mr. Ponti you would find that funny because he is such a serious looking man and he talks in a very serious tone, befitting of his look. Then it was off to Sicily with Attilio. I hear it mentioned that Mr. Scienza is “brilliant” and “really knows his stuff” when it come to the wines of Italy, to him it’s more than just wine, “it’s a science” – not surprising then to learn that the first five letters of his name are the same 5-letters in the word science … co-incidence? I think not. He refers to Sicily as its own “continent” the way it sits in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, with its good diurnal temperature (nice expanse between day time highs and night time lows), sometimes as much as 10-12 degrees. Harvest in Sicily is the longest of any region in Italy, lasting from the beginning of August to late October or early November – as long as 100 days from beginning to end. 85% of the grapes grown are indigenous, while the other 15% are international varietals like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. 75% of the grapes are white varietals (thus leaving 25% to be of the red persuasion). There are 650 wineries in Sicily.

Sicily is broken down into 3 macro areas : Western (the most important), South Eastern and North Eastern (aka: Etna) and two smaller micro areas, which are actually small islands. The soils of Sicily are African based, especially in the south, and different from all other European soils: “Sicily has it’s own genetic specificity which is unique,” Professor Science tells us; he also says that “Sicilian varietals never work out of this region because of their intimate link with the soils.” Other soils found around Sicily are volcanic soils and “calcarinite” soils (loaded with shells), each giving the grapes a certain flavour (even when made with the same grape), the word ‘Terroir’ should come to mind. Interesting to note: Sicily was the last stop for phyloxera on its march through Europe, thought to be because of the sharp shell make up of the soils – the shells cut the louse thus making it hard for them to take purchase and live in Sicily soils.

Best wines of the Seminar …
We tasted 10 wines, one of my favourite was the Planeta, 2008 Cometa, made from the Fiano grape (white) – a wine first made in 2000. This wine was pretty big in the alcohol department (14.4%) but the booze was barely apparent because of its good balance in the mouth. A nose that was floral, sweet and tropical with hints of tangerine. Great flavours followed with buttery, vanilla and tropical nuances along with hints of mineral – all ending with a great long finish and mouth-watering acidity. My other favourite was from the Etna region, where Europe’s biggest active volcano resides, these grapes are hand-harvested at the beginning of November and grow at an altitude of 750m above sea level. Patria 2006 Etna DOC Rosso, made from the red grapes Nerello Mascalese (80%) and Nerello Cappuccio (20%). Plummy and spiced raspberry on the nose; the palate delivers a spicy, peppery wine with nice red berry fruit, good acidity and is mocha-coffee like on the finish with gentle tannins … nice complexity to this wine. Both of these wines received 4½ stars (out of 5) from me.

The Main Event … (10 wines that were worth tasting)
Vini Farnese 2007 Edizione Cinque Autoctoni ($36.95) – five grape blend: Montepulciano, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera di Brindisi – juicy blackberry and plum, easy on the palate with good tannins and a dry finish. (****)

Feudi Di San Marzano (Farnese’s estate in Puglia): offering three great, and very different, Primitivos …
2008 Primitivo Puglis IGT ($14.95) – rich raspberry pie nose, big raspberry palate, rich and fruity with a touch of plum on the back palate. (****)

2007 Primitivo Di Manduria DOC Sud ($23.00) – this is a vine selection wine; raspberry, blackberry, a touch of plum, lots of juicy fruit flavours, plenty of plum and raspberry in the mouth. (****)

2006 Primitivo Di Manduria DOC Sessantanni ($35.00) – from 60 year old vines; fruit and mineral notes, plummy-mineral flavours, very Zin-like here with dusty raspberry finish. (****½)

FontanaFredda 2005 Barolo Serralunga D’Alba DOCG – single village, estate vineyard selection; clove and spice, pepper and black fruit with big tannins. (****½)

FontanaFredda 2008 Dolcetto Diano D’Alba La Lepre DOC – single village, single vineyard; nice fruit and spice with good acidity, short oaking period helps to retains those fresh fruit flavours. (****)

Leona de Castris 2008 Primitivo Di Manduria DOC Villa Santera – rich, red and jammy, this is almost more Cali-Zin-like than most California Zins are these days; if it had not been for the elevated acidity I would have sworn it was from California. (****)

Monte del Fra 2007 IGT Corvina Del Veronese – all stainless steel; very fresh and fruity with lots of red berry fruit and good acidity. (****)

Cantina Todini 2008 Umbria IGT Relais Rosso – 60% Sangiovese, 40% Petit Verdot; rich and fruity with chocolate aromas and flavours, there’s also reddish fruit with spice and pepper … delicious. (****½)

And Finally, A Reason to Shop for Wine in January …
Casa Vinicola Zonin 2007 Valpolicella DOC Superiore Ripasso ($15.95 – general list January 2010) – nice fruit, cherries and chocolate, this one is ready to drink up and look at that great price point. (****)

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