Archive | May, 2011

Ciao, Apulia: Or a very nice evening with Puglian wines

18 May

Puglia (aka Apulia to the paisans) is basically the southeast heel of the Capezio boot that is italy, running for more than 200 miles along the Adriatic Sea, and mostly known for negroamaro and primitivo, and in the 1970s, crappy vermouth. It’s a region that quite frankly gets overlooked: southern Italy is poorer than the more glamorous north in general–and when you add all the super-powered wine regions up there, it’s hard to blame consumers who never drink past Umbria on the map.

You can find Puglian wines around here, but you have to look (start with Wine Bottega and Vinodivino for starters). The few I’ve had were quite enjoyable, but if you don’t think to look for them you don’t think to ask for them.

Masseria Celentano, Casaltrinita, Cantine Teanum, Botromagno

Some of the Apulian fabulosity.

Well, a passel of winemakers there are aiming to change that. Every single email I got over the past week seemed to have some event in town for the Puglia posse. These guys were booking it all over town, meeting the industry and the well-heeled likely consumer, culminating at a dual tasting at the WGBH studios for consumers and then for the Red White Boston Tasting Crew.

What struck me most was that many of the wines, both red and white, had a marked salt water taste. At first, you’d think this would be kind of nasty–I mean, salt water is what you drink when you really really really need to throw up after a night of epic alcohol consumption when you’re 16 and need to leave the slumber party and go home to your parents. (Or so I’ve heard. And don’t try this at home, kids. But I digress.)

But Puglia’s location, on the ocean, in a warm-weather region, means that the grapes have a pretty nice life and conditions to grow and ripen and all that stuff that could lead to decadence and wonderfully luxurious, unctuous fruit flavors. The salinity reins all that potential excess in so that wines end up being crisp and palate-teasing, with a good balance between fruit and acid.

Two of the standout grapes (Italy’s got something like 3,000 native varieties; you’re forgiven for not remembering these, LOL) were new to me:

Caseltrinita nero di troia

Caseltrinita's nero di troia

Nero di Troia: one of the unusual features about this red grape is that it ripens late in the fall. In Italy, it’s been grown for volume, to be a “filler” grape. The stuff we had tonight tasted a lot more developed for only being a couple of years old–the tannins weren’t causing me to scrape my teeth down with barbed wire like a lot of young Italian reds do. And, again, the salinity was present. To be honest, Italy has a lot of cock-of-the-walk badass reds, so nero di troia might be a hard sell to most people who love their nebbiolo, unless a winery could appeal to the budget-conscious types. These would be a pretty kickass bargain.

Greco: To be specific, greco bianco, imported from Greece nearly 3,000 years ago. No less an authority than Oz Clarke calls Botromagno one of the finer producers of it, even if he isn’t particularly effusive about it, calling its peachy briskness “often rather good in a neutral sort of way.” The 60/40 Greco/white malvasia blend was crisp like a Torrontes from Argentina–but it comes from Gravina, a small DOC–so small in fact, Botromagno is the only grower there.

One of the biggest, most pleasant surprises of the evening was Aglianico: Get it young, and it’s a brat of a wine: tannic and overbearing, especially if you don’t pair it with big overbearing protein-packed food. The two served last night were both pretty well-behaved. Cantine Teanum’s Otre Aglianico was a big hit for me: super brandied cherries and strawberries, rhubarb and pencil shavings (hey, that kid who ate paste in your second grade class was on to something) were held nicely in check by the saline quality of the wine. Botromagno’s Pier delle Vigne was a 60-40 Aglianico-Montepulciano blend; this one had more of a grainy “chaff” taste to it, like barley or hay, and a sulfurish “matchsticky” bite. Interesting in its own way.

Puglian white wine moscato sauvignon blanc

One of the WGBH Apulian stanadouts

Masseria Celentano’s La Preta deserves to be a cult wine someday—another example of excess and restraint. It had a luxurious nose of honeysuckle, floral and pollen, orange blossom, dry melon and mango—and counterbalanced with tobacco (which is often said about reds) and that saline taste. It’s a blend of 70% moscato and 30% sauvignon blanc. I would have preferred maybe 25-28% sauvignon blanc to make it a little less dry, but hell, I’ll take it if I can ever find it again.

Gravisano Malvasia Passita was another big win for Apulia—it was the kind of dessert wine that would make Jerez shake in their soleras in fear, or, as my pal Jason Phelps at Ancient Fire Wine thought, Canadian icewine makers. Sweet without being cloying or diabetes-inducing. Believe me, when we got to take home the leftovers, I yoinked that one forthwith.

More Puglians from the evening

As is typical of Puritan over-regulated Massachusetts, the kicker is that these wines aren’t available here yet, so bookmark this page and check back, or print it out and take it to your local wine outfitter and tell them to tell their distributors to get on the stick. Or find a sympathetic friend in another state to front for you.

So what about you? Any good experiences–travel, gustatory or otherwise–from Puglia?

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A red you bring home to Mom

5 May

My mom hates is scared of red wine. In fact, a lot of people I know are. I hear the reasons all the time: It gives me a headache/rash/other weird physical thingie. I don’t like a challenge. I only like Chardonnay, because I’m unadventurous. Or I’m so scared about how to pair things with food, I just don’t want to think about it.

So here’s an anecdote about the power of social media: I was in my neighborhood “wine store” (quotes because I find it lacking in a lot of ways) because I was too lazy to get in the car and drive to a decent wine store to pick up my assignment for my tasting group when I came across Apothic Red, which I first became familiar with because they started following me on Twitter. So, as a polite Tweet-type, I followed them back. And here they were, smack in my hood. So of course, I had to try it. Yay, power of social media!

Apothic Red 2009 is a blend of California Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel–all fairly friendly wines. The name comes from some ‘mysterious” alleged dark ages “apotheca” where wine was stored by monks, alchemists and warlocks or whatever. That sounded like the marketing wizards in full force, but I digress.

The irony is that there’s nothing mysterious about this wine.

When you know enough about wine to a) spout your gob off without much b) a pain in the ass to undereducated wine store clerks c) sought out by your friends for recommendations, you kind of want your fermented grape juice to be a challenge. A little bit of a puzzle or challenge. Something you can tussle with. Something that’s going to stay on your mind. Kind of like dating. For me, Apothic Red was a pleasant enough encounter, but I wasn’t going to call it again.

Wine is supposed to develop and evolve from when it hits your lips to when it goes down your throat. This one didn’t. Sure, it was chockablock of cherry, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla. Things I like. And what do those things make really well? Candy. This was definitely a candy wine: easy to consume in mass quantities. It’s off-dry (which means there’s sweetness without wielding soda-level sucrosity <–no, I don't think that's a real word) and there are next to no tannins. It's a one-note wine. This is not a wine that tells of the struggle of some idealistic, dedicated vintner who works the land out of love and a little madness. You can imagine this wine has been focused-grouped and manipulated to appeal to as few objections about red as possible.

And that’s okay. And if that's your kink, that's cool. Here's one for your shopping list. You could serve this at a party and pretty much with a lot of things for dinner and mix up some decent sangria with the leftovers. It won't offend anyone.

Ironically enough, I think my mom might like it, precisely because it's not challenging. So maybe I will be bringing it home to her.


$12 from a place I’m not gonna name because while the store is nothing special, the people are nice–one of them going so far as to offer to bootleg me a copy of his MC5 documentary. Also available, according to Apothic’s website, at Blanchard’s Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, The Urban Grape, Bauer Wines, Huntington Liquors, Reservoir Wines, Marty’s Newton, Ball Square, Gordon’s, Liquor Land, Martignetti’s and a gazillion other places.

Words fail. Just thoughts.

2 May

On a certain day in 2001, a close friend called me to turn on the news. Tonight the Gin Savant had to call me to do the same. Thinking tonight of my college classmates and neighbors who were on doomed planes. How the nation rallied around a controversial president and how I hope we can do the same 10 years later. About a certain soldier I never knew but wish I had. About the guy who did know that soldier and would send him prayers to look after my brother-in-law on his second and third tours of duty. About that very same brother-in-law who was almost killed during the Baghdad invasion and has been dealing with issues ever since. For journalists like Daniel Pearl and the badassly brave Buffy Neuffer who died in pursuit of bringing the world the truth. For the soldiers and peaceful civilians who gave their lives for reasons and in ways that were not always clear-cut, fair, or just. About the curtailing forced upon us of our liberties.

I wanted to drink something from 2001 tonight. This Twelve Staves McLaren Vale Shiraz was the first thing I found. Calm, quiet, smooth, and comforting, with just a little unresolved, inconclusive, melancholy edge of bitterness and heat.

Pic coming soon. It was a late night watching the news and being on deadline for a client.

Back in the day circa 2003, I got this at Cambridge Discount Liquors for $24, down from $32. I haven’t seen much of Twelve Staves for sale in these parts since.