Posts Filed Under on the road
It’s a wet, chilly, grey Winter morning in San Marco, a locality that sits just outside of Italy’s Montefalco and the ridiculously-well-named town of Bastardo. And I’ve had to wait in the damp cold for a short bit, because Filippo Antonelli is a bit late for our appointment at his family’s winery (hey, welcome to Umbria, right?). And that’s pretty much the only slightly-negative thing that you’ll read about Antonelli over the next few minutes… but let’s set the stage with a little bit more detail before we get into the effusive wine recommendation stuff…
Filippo opens up the Antonelli tasting room, which sits on a hill across from the old family house/cellar/former winery, and starts to bring the charmingly imposing place to life, switching on the lights, and asking me “would you like a coffee?”
I tell him no, grazie, I just had plenty of java at my hotel, so I’m good.
After a bit of a pause, he turns towards the espresso machine longingly, then back to me. “Do you mind if I have one, then, before we get started?” And that’s one of those moments where you just love Italy.
Anyway, Filipo then gives me the lowdown on the Antonelli biz. He co-owns (since 1986) the family company along with his cousins, with the Umbria property being from his father’s side (and formerly, for about six centuries, being the Summer residence of bishops – part of the fact that Umbria was a portion of the Vatican state until the Eighteenth Century). His great grandfather Francesco was a lawyer, who purchased the estate in 1881. At that time, it was typical Umbrian farming fare; a mix of vines, olive trees, pig farms, and wheat, with the wine being sold in bulk and crop-sharing being the norm. After the advent of the DOC in 1979, they began bottling their own wine, and now release about 300,000 bottles a year from 50 hectares of vines (and still farm olives, wheat, spelt, chick peas, and host agritourism (that is an actualy word, by the way) on roughly 170 hectares of land).
A new subterranean winery was built in 2001. And from it comes perhaps some of the most elegantly-crafted Sagrantino available on the planet…
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Is there anything more adorable than a Weimaraner happily chomping on Barbera grapes in a Monferrato vineyard? Besides maybe a Weimaraner puppy eating grapes in that vineyard?
That’s the question that we pose (sort of) in the latest Monferrato Moves installment over at MyNameIsBarbera.com. In that video (also embedded below), I have the pleasure of sitting down with Tenuta Olim Bauda‘s Gianni Bertolino, who, aside from owning dogs and making incredibly serious, long-lived, and tasty Barbera, also happens to be President of the Associazione dei Produttori del Nizza. So, he knows a couple (of hundred) things about the tippy-top of the Barbera DOCG quality pyramid.
In this vid, Bertolino and I taste through a couple of more recent Nizza DOCG releases, and I don’t spit, which should tell you something about how good his wines are. Enjoy!
When you’re within spitting distance of Kayserberg (quite literally the cutest town in France, an honor it was officially awarded in 2017), amid the picturesque shadows of a castle that dates back to the fourteenth Century (and in which harvests were celebrated), and regularly run into ruins from the early 700s AD, you might justifiably consider yourself in a sort of Western European daydream-like fantasy land. Just add fairies and elves!
Hence the “schloss” part…
While that is, indeed, the present situation of Alsace’s Schlossberg Grand Cru vineyard site and the sixty-some-odd producers who farm it (a spot I visited as part of a media jaunt earlier this year), that present situation belies a more, well, aggressive historical backdrop.
This granitic area of northeastern France has seen a revolving door of historical overlords, including the Romans, Germans, and the French. And yes, Schlossberg has the distinction of being awarded on of Alsace’s first Grand Cru classifications in 1975, but that was almost fifty years later than planned (they attempted it first in 1928, but things got sidetracked due to a World War). Actually, it’s almost 500 years late, considering that the area’s vines have been known as having serious vinous potential since the 1400s, and that the area exported twice as much wine in the Middle Ages as it does now.
Also consider that, from a farming perspective, you’re not getting much more than grapes here. The area sits on steep slopes rising up to almost 400 meters, and (thanks to the Vosges mountains) sees less than 500 millimeters of rainfall per year (which about three times less than Bordeaux). Alsace sits on the largest underground water reserve in the country, but irrigation isn’t permitted, so the vines have to work their roots down deep to get a drink.
The soil in Schlossberg has high pH levels, and so requires calcium to prevent toxicity, and its diversity is a testament to the violence of the ancient Devonian forces that formed it. Also, you need dry stone terraces (the work of Italian immigrants hired by regional monks in the Middle Ages) to keep everything in place, and they are, to put it mildly, a pain in the ass to maintain. Oh, and the climate is semi-continental, which means they get nearly the full extremes in seasonal variation, and the subsequent farming headache potential.
Finally, we should include the political and cultural vagaries that come with producing consumables in a place that has changed country of ownership more than a few times. Alsace’s major market, historically, has been Germany, since the French kind of considered Alsace as French-but-maybe-not-really.
How does all of this impact the Rieslings crafted from Schlossberg’s soils? More than one of the wine producers with whom I met described their Riesling as “thin, delicate, and like a marathon man.” You’ll understand what they mean in a minute or two…
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Let’s bid adieu to November, in our hazy, Post-Thanksgiving-Holiday trytophanic bliss, by catching up on the happenings over at My Name Is Barbera (for whom I’ve been doing both written and video work helping to promote Barbera – and other – wines from the Monferrato area).
First, there’s a lips-eye-view (yeah, I agree, that phrase was a bad idea) of Monferrato’s vinous equivalent of a Wild and Crazy Guy, Grignolino. I’ve written about this wily, overachieving red grape before, but here’s a chance to get up close and personal with it through a video tasting of Grignolino wine with Paolo Bava, whose passion for these wines will quickly be evident once you start watching.
Next, we get back to our normal programming, which means focusing on Barbera. In an interesting twist, in the next vid we move away from the relatively small production outfits that have been the focus of much of our previous journey through Monferrato’s Barbera producers, and talk with Lorenzo Giordano of Vinchio Vaglio (who just celebrated their 30th anniversary, with an event at which I was supposed to speak, but couldn’t attend because I got wicked sick… and yeah, I’m still a little raw about it, thankyouverymuch…). As you’ll see in the vid below, Giordano oversees a sizeable cooperative operation, and so has a unique, 20,000-foot view of Barbera throughout the region, and through all of its various quality levels.