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February 2018

Tenuta di Castellaro L'ottava isola Etna Rosso

This is a weird one.  Not in how the wine drinks, it's delicious!  But in it's provenance is a story.  The wine comes from Etna.  It's made from Nerello Mascalese, the legendary predominant red grape of Etna.....However; the wine is actually made not on Etna but on the isle of Lipari.  Lipari is a tiny volcanic island off of the north east coast of Sicily in the Aeolian island chain.  Castellaro is in fact the only winery on Lipari and as far as I can gather from their odd website they are, in addition to being a winery, some kind of resort and a museum.  The story doesn't stop there though!  As wine maker Tenuta di Castellaro has brought on a god father of traditional Etna wine making: Salvo Foti.  Foti has been making natural wines around the slopes of Etna for as far as I know his whole life, trying to hold onto and refine traditional knowledge of how to farm the mountain.  All things aside when I see wines that he's responsible for I'm really interested.


So this is 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio in the Porcheria Contrada, which according to their website is also now called the Fuedo di Mezzo vineyard.  It is certainly in the town of passopisciaro which I ran through and hung out in on my run across Sicily.  The vines are very old, some over 120 years old and many are ungrafted.  this is the excellent 2015 vintage.  The vines are very densely planted and the soil is volcanic sand, dust, and pomice.


This is the Porcaria Contrada on Etna.  Look at that volcanic rock and sand!


The entrance to the vineyard.

Aroma: Very pretty ripe red cherry.  Some how there's a bit of a hot sandy salty ocean breeze to the aroma too.  It's a ripe dark juicy sunny smelling wine.

Taste: There's dark ripe focused fruit; some black cherry, some raspberry.  The tannins are dry and dark and...a bit tight in a lovely manly hair on the chest Sicilian kind of way.  Don't get me wrong though the wines acidity is also perfect and balances that forceful extroverted fruit. For all that this isn't a big wine.  It's not over the top.  This is balanced and deliciously drinkable!   There's a clarity and balance, a bit of precision and focus that's unusual in wines that are so rich and sunny and ripe.  I think that's the elevation and the cold night time temperatures impacting the wine.  Whatever it is it's special and something I run into in Etna wines to one extent or another; this ottava isola just has that sea breeze and definition of flavor more than many. 

This is killer, very high quality Etna wine.  Oddly it's also one of the least expensive Etna reds out there.  This is about $25-$26 retail and available at Browne Trading, Meridians in Fairfield, and Maine and Loire


Foradori Granato Teroldego

Elisabetta Foradori.  I don't know how to sum her up in a short little piece here.  Elisabetta took over her family's wine estate suddenly when her father died unexpectadly.  She grew up into it and has gone through a series of evolutions in her awareness and thinking about wine making.  She's had the guts and curiosity to experiment and improvise her own wine making techniques.  She's blazed her own trail as a woman working independently making styles of wine that didn't exist before in her local region.  She's gotten push back over the years and just kept on going following her own path and having fun doing it.  


This wine, the Granato, was insane.  The first evening I opened it, the wine was tight.  The Granato had a lot of really dark fruit, but it was a bit astringent tasting and the tannins were pretty strong.  It was a cool serious wine but didn't shock me.  The second day though was different.  The wine was still inky dark both in it's color and character, but the texture was incredibly sultry sexy smooth.  I don't think I've ever had such a powerful deep and at the same time so elegant and supple!


Aroma: Mocha, black cherry, currant.  Tart dark fruit but also earthy.  Also ripe fresh cranberry.  also....a tiny tiny bit of roasted shaved black truffle.  A bit of pencil shaving as well.

Taste: dense, dark, voluptious and sultry!  not too tannic but very inky and has a unique kind of texture.  Reminds me of all the olive oil I was drinking earlier.  buttery in texture.  black cherry and black berry.  Reminds me of fruit compote.  powerful and beautiful and relaxed.  Not too tannic or alcoholic.  this is really really impressive for the ripeness and depth, but beuatiful elegant follwo through.  


The Granato is super rare.  Bow St Beverage has some and I believe Sawyers Specialties in Southwest Harbor also may have some.  

Wine Making Tips and Tricks from Marco Sara

Marco Sara of Colli Orientali Friuli visited Portland ME for a couple days this winter and over the days hanging out with him I picked up some interesting tid bits about how he makes his wines and why.  


The soils are cold and hard in Colli Oreintali Friuli so the area makes a lot of white wine.  Marco makes about 70% white wine and 30% red wine.  He tries to work as naturally as possible so that his wine's really express the flavor and character of his place.  


Here's Marco talking about Verduzzo and why he doesn't give it any skin contact.  Verduzzo as a variety has thicker skins that always give it a touch of tannin and a perceived slight bitter character.  As a result traditionally Verduzzo was generally dried out and used to make sweet wine.  That was in fact how Marco made wine until 2009 when he decided to transition to dry table wines.  I love this, the little hint of tannin gives the wine an aromatic spicy kind of touch to the finish that adds a different dimension to the wine, balancing out the ripe fruit and broad texture of the wine. 


Marco uses stainless steel tanks, large wood barrels, and cement tanks in his wine making.  At RSVP Chris asked him about why he uses all of them and what he particularly uses them for?  His answer was very clear:

Marco uses stainless steel for some of the initial fermentations and some aging because it's easy to clean, easy to move around, and keeps the wine from getting any exposure to oxygen.  That keeps the wines very fresh.  But stainless steel is sort of harsh.  Marco said that he doesn't love stainless because wine doesn't settle well in it.  All the heavy solids suspended in wine have a tendency to stay and not settle to the bottom in comparison to a cement tank or wood.  He and Matt made reference to static electricity from the tank that they thought might effect that.  Most every wine maker I've talked to about has said that they think stainless tell does tend to make wines reductive (which means aromatically and flavorally kind of shut down).  Marco went on to add that stainless is also a thermal conductor which will expose the wine to more temperature fluctuations.  

Cement is a better thermal insulator and protects the wine from temperature fluctuations.  Cement keeps wine held in it from any exposure to oxygen but unlike stainless steel wine settles well and will clarify in cement.  That's when all the sediment in the aging wine settles naturally to the bottom of the tank, leaving the wine clearer and more stable.  Marco uses cement a lot since wine will naturally clarify in it.  Many big wineries just add enzymes to wine maturing in stainless steel tanks to force it to clarify.  

Wood barrels also help aging wine to naturally clarify but wood is slightly porous and will expose the wine to oxygen.  That will soften it's flavors but it will also make the fruit flavors less fresh.  So Marco just uses wood for more strongly concentrated wines that he thinks need the softening.  


Cabernet Franc is one of the wines Marco ages in large wood barrels.  That allows the wine to clarify and go through malolactic fermentation naturally.  

On the other hand, Marco doesn't want his dry Verduzzo and Friulano wines to go through malolactic fermentation in order to keep them fresher and brighter.  Most big wineries add sulfur to prevent their wines from going through malolactic fermentation, but Marco doesn't want to add sulfur.   Instead he puts the wine through a very light filtration in order to stabilize the wine better with out having to resort to sulfur.  Some people see filtration as a negative invasive wine making technique, but in this case for Marco it's a less invasive way to achieve the end he needs.  That light filtration ensures that the whites won't re-ferment in bottle and avoids the need for more sulfur.  


A typical hillside in Marco's vineyards.

This is a view looking up into the Julian Alps I shot while I was out running above the winery the next morning.



Moretti Omero Terre di Giano

Vintage: 2016


Moretti Omero is a small family farm in the wine area of Montefalco, in Central Umbria.  Omero (pictured next to me) grew up here with his parents.  He started out raising pigs but the neighbors complained about the smell too much and started to make trouble for him with the Authorities.  The DOC of Montefalco had just been founded and Omero decided to switch from pigs and try his hand at making wine.  He bought some existing vineyards as well as some old olive orchards and threw himself into it.  


He's certainly been successful.  A few years back he won best single varietal olive oil in Italy from the national olive oil trade board.  I ran across Umbria to visit him and was pretty wiped at the end of 34 miles.  He speaks no English and his daughter (who does) had to go host a pasta making class.  So Omero went and had dinner and I got to stretch the bounds of my poor Italian talking about life as a business owner, life as a farmer, having kids, hot rodding cars, etc.  


The Terre di Giano is my favorite wine that he makes.  He may hate me saying that since he makes so many excellent more prestigious wines, but this table wine is so delicious and honest that I can't help loving what a satisfying, solid, easy going rustic wine this is.  Omero blends Ciliegiolo, Sangiovese, Merlot, and probably in some vintages Sagrantino into this.  2016 was a really good vintage; not one of those super hot years that the Wine Spectator likes and not a lean rainy year: just a perfect balanced classic weather year.   So the resulting wine is very well balanced, pleasing, and what Umbria classically is. 


Aroma: big ripe cherry and wild raspberry.  There's some woodsey aromas too.  Actually it kind of smells like a BBQ: wood smoke and roasting meat.  There's also a hint of baking chocolate hiding in there too!

Taste: Juicy and rustic, the Terre di Giano is a balance of mouth filling cherries up front and spicy rustic tannin at the finish.  It's not too heavy though (at 13% alcohol) and the acidity is right there keeping the wine from being at all flabby in any way.  So are the tannins too in fairness but you don't notice them much, they're just there in proportion supporting the rest of the flavors. 

It's a mouth full of rich wild satisfying fruit with earth and rustic spice to back it all up.  Umbria is the bread basket of Italy and known for hearty foods like pasta in red sauce or meat sauce, steak, hearty sausage, braised lamb, and hearty risottos with truffles.  This wine will blow your mind with any of those.

This is right about $15 retail and available at The Blue Hill Wine Shop, Spruce Creek Provisions, Bow St Beverage in Portland, Maine Meat in Kittery, and Vic and Whit's in Saco.



Rotllan Torra Priorat Reserva 2000

This is a blast from the past.  I used to sell this wine back in about 2002-2004.  I loved it; in fact it was pretty much the first Spanish wine I fell in love with.  It's a blend of Carignan, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon from Torroja del Priorat.  I don't remember how long it stays in old oak barrels but I think it was several years.  I found this bottle at Tess market in Brunswick.  Apparently Anne had bought a case from me back in about 2004 and just put it in the basement.  a week or so ago she decided to take them out and put them back on the shelf.  


I remember when this was released liking it but feeling that this vintage was harsh and had a kind of intense unbalanced character.  Now with 18 years on it....

Aroma: This does not smell like a young wine!  But it's absolutely not tired either.  There's a really delicious aroma of cooked tomatoes, cranberries, roses, I get lots of rose petals, some rosemary, and also dried cherries.  It's a lovely floral perfume of an aroma with all kinds of food and dried herb aromas.  It makes me think of sun and dry rocky land.  I've never been to Priorat but this makes me want to go, but maybe not in high summer.  I think some of these aromas are things you just can't get in a wine with out age.

Taste: In the mouth the Rotllan Torra is dry, juicy and tannic all at once.  Spicy and warming with great acidity, the texture is smooth and mature.  My favorite part is that there's this really tasty saltiness in the mid palate that wakes your palate up and gets your mouth salivating.  

Well, you can't get this anywhere.  But drinking this bottle was a good reminder that there really is no replacement for aging.  Or as I think is more fun to say "there's no replacement for the basement."

Marco Sara Verduzzo

Marco Sara is a very driven and organized seeming younger natural wine maker up in the Colli Orientalli Friuli hills.  These are the foothills of the Julien Alps up on the border with Slovenia.  The slopes seem to be pretty steep and all broken up, but the soil isn't particularly rocky looking, at least around here.  


Verduzzo is a local indigenous grape that I hardly ever run into, but I loved this when I was there at the winery.  

Aroma: Marco's Verduzzo has a lovely aroma that immediately hits you with wild flowers at the end of summer.  There's also a kind of aromatic herbal smell, like thyme or rosemary hiding behind the wild flowers, banana and white peach that Verduzzo has.

Taste:  Marco's Verduzzo is really lush and tropical, but not flat; there's underlying acidity and a salty herbal kind of heat in the mid-palate.  This is one of those deceptive wines that isn't sweet, but it tastes so fruity and ripe that it can trick you.  There's also a sweet kind of Almond pastry flavor here that adds yet another dimension.  And then...right near the back of the wine, there's a little zing that tastes in a lovely way like some kind of cross between lavender and licorice!

Marco Sara's Verduzzo is about $20 retail. As of writing this article Marco Sara's wines only just came into the state so they're not available in any retail stores yet, however you can order them from any wine store and Marco himself is coming for a wine dinner at Solo Italiano in 2 weeks!



Lamoresca Mascalisi


Vintage: 2016

This is unique!  Lamoresca is Philippo Rizzo.  Philippo grew up in this rural part of south east Sicily a bit north of Ragusa, but then somehow became a wine importer into Belgium.  I don't know; I haven't heard that story yet.  At some point he decided to take over his family's little farm and become a wine maker.  He makes some drop dead gorgeous Frapatto and Nero d'Avola down there on his little vineyard, but mount Etna is just an hour or so away and it's so interesting!  It's such a tempting unique wine growing climate...... Philippo actually used to sell wine to Frank Cornelissen when Frank was a distributor in Belgium.  So They're friends and Philippo ended up buying some cuttings from Frank so that he could experiment with Nerello down at his vineyard.  But the vines are too young and so Philippo started leasing land on Etna with the result being this wine. 


Philippo buys some Nerello grapes, brings them down to his winery, and then blends in Frapatto, because why not?  It actually works quite well.

Aroma: Fresh tart cherries, raspberries, and even some strawberry.  It's not a classic Nerello nose.  This is much prettier and lighter and floral.  Maybe it's the powerful aromatics of the frapatto coming through, although I think the wine is jsut about 20% Frappato.  This is a really lovely aroma with all that fruit and flowers and then a hint of salt sea air!

Taste: The Mascalisi tastes a little bit more like Nerello on the palate.  It has all that lovely pure bright red fruit right up front as you sip it but then you get some heat.  It's not an alcohol heat though so much as it reminds me of the heat of good fresh olive oil.  Geez, this is nice and quite intersting.  There's something kind of blood orange citrusy about the acidity and vibrancy of it.  the flavors are so pure and sunlight,The mascalisi remiinds me of good medium bodied Burgundy or really excellent cru Beaujolais.  I get a crunshy sort of rocky minerality from the Mascalisi and a really long finish.  The tnanin is there but right in harmony with the rest of the wine's structure.  The texture is really supple and lovely and sort of counterintuitively the flavors are all so pure and clearly defined.  Lamoresca's Mascalisi is really pretty stunning as I get into it!  This will get so much more supple and sexy as it has some bottle aged. 

It was jsut released and only 6 cases came into Maine.  You can order now through your favorite wine retailer.


La Stoppa Trebbiolo Rosso

Vintage: 2015

"Triple A"....I don't actually know what that means, but it's there on the label so I included it.


La Stoppa is an old winery in Emilia Romagna originally founded by a wealthy lawyer in the late 1800's.  Elena Pantaleoni's father purchased the vineyards back in the early 70's.  Elena eventually took the estate over and in 1996 she and head wine maker Giulio Armani decided to replant the entire 32 hectare estate with traditional grape varieties: Barbera and Bonarda.  At some point in the past the vineyards had been replanted with international varieties but Elena and Giulio felt those grapes just didn't handle Emilia's climate as well as the native grapes did.  That decision to turn their backs on modern commercial winemaking set them on a path to focus more and more on local traditional wine making.  


Look at how dark that is!

The farming is organic, the fermentation is with native yeast, they use the longest possible amount of skin contact, and sulfur isn't used during fermentation only a little sometimes at bottling.  Elena and Giulio are real old school natural wine makers.  They've done a lot of work to re-discover the tricks of working naturally.  They've also taught a lot of younger wine makers passing that info on to wine makers like Arianna Occhipinti. 

Aroma:  This is a dark, woodsey, rich, heady smelling wine.  Honestly, there's something primal about this.  The aroma isn't polished or clear persay, but it's so robust and deliciously real- it's what I imagine the ancient wines of Odysseus tasting like; legendary, archetypal, and almost like something that isn't of this time and place.  I can smell plums, raspberry, blackberry, black blackcherries.....But there's something exotic about how this smells.

Taste: big and juicy!  The fruit is lush and fills my mouth.  That exotic quality is there with peppery spice that's so prickly the wine almost seems a touch fizzy in it's wildness.  The blackberry flavors is so lush and thick.  The tannins are strong have a rustic character but the fruit is so big and lush that the tannins are second fiddle and not so noticeable. 

La Stoppa's Trebbiolo is pretty insanely special and it's priced in the low $20's retail.  I think it's insane that I even still have this on hand.  If you need some help getting through the winter, this is it.  Or if you just love amazing real wines that light up your palate you should go hunt down a bottle of this.   I've done a bad job of telling people I have this wine.  Currently it's available at the Blue Hill Wine Shop, Bow St Beverage in Portland, and Maine and Loire.



4 Kilos Motor America

Vintage 2016


I don't really know too much about this.  4 Kilos was started by a pair of friends on Mallorca who had been working in other wineries and wanted to do their own thing.  They pooled their money and with a very modest investment they purchased a little old goat cheese creamery.  They renovated it and actually use the old milk refrigerating tanks for fermenting wine.  This is a very small operation trying to work with traditional lesser known local grapes, fermenting naturally, and avoiding any additives including sulfur.


I fell in love with the 2014 vintage.  At the time it was one of the most intoxicatingly wild feral lovely natural wines I had tasted.  But I could only get a few cases.  Then the 2015 was sort of a departure when I tasted it.  I think that vintage was hotter and the wine was bigger but with less edge, cut, and frenetic wildness that I wanted.  The 2016 is a return to form.

Grape: 100% Callet

Aroma: Wow!  Super fresh powerful raspberry!  The Motor America has an intense fresh berry aroma that's both fresh, juicy, vivid, and wild all at once.  There's this juicy ripe fruit but also a slightly furry tangy kind of smell of the brambley stems of those raspberries.  It's lovely!  It smells like spring.

Taste: medium bodied.  fresh juicy crisp fruit and then some pepper on the mid palate.  The texture is so smooth.  The alcohol is just 11% and that helps make the wine come across really smooth, supple, and thirst quenching.  There's tannin but it's right in line and aperfect off set to the juicy vivid fruit and smooth velvety mouth feel.   MMMmm, it reminds me of lovely supple young red burgundy: just this perfect weight and finess.  But the wine also has a wild prickly brambley woodsey quality in the mid palate.  It makes the wine seem almost sparkling....but it's not, it's just so alive that the flavors grab your palate like that.

4 Kilos' Motor America Callet blend is pretty amazing and rare.  I'd worth grabing some now before it sells out.