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Thursday, 06 June 2024 09:34

Andy's Journal Entry #5

Andy's Journal Entry #5
The Tuscan Trail
We got to the hotel around midnight and were dressed, fed and back on the bus at 8:30 the following morning. The informal name for this trip among the staff at the importer is the “Death March,” because of the extreme amount of regions and wineries visited in such a short time. I was aware of this before I agreed to go, my wine rep friend told me he went on it 5 or 6 years ago. He said it was amazing and life changing, but very difficult. 
I feel like my group started to feel it this morning; conversation was just a little muted, everyone was a little slower. The excitement was still there, but it was relatively quiet on the bus to Tuscany. Even wine tasting in paradise can become exhausting after a while, especially on 4-6 hours of sleep per night. All of us seemed to be kept alive by the wonderful espresso, which fortunately was everywhere.
The drive to Chianti was lovely, the familiar rolling hills and cypress trees were so iconic, I felt like I was driving through a travel brochure or a movie set in the sepia tones of Hollywood’s artificial movie version of Tuscany. It was foreign but so familiar.
Our first stop was the famous Chianti producer, Badia I Coltibuono. Our bus, led by our driver, Dominico, somehow navigated the steep, narrow, strada a tornanti switchback roads as we ascended high into the mountains. The ancient monastery that houses the winery eventually came into view, it is over 1000 years old. Roberto Stucchi, the owner of the winery suddenly appeared in our bus after we stopped. Roberto studied viticulture at UC Davis and worked at Chapellet for a year before returning home to Coltibuono, his english was perfect and almost unaccented.
He took us on a long tour of the grounds, it was ancient and incredibly serene. I’m not sure if it was because it used to be a monastery, but my group grew uncharacteristically quiet, walked a little slower, seemed to contemplate life. It was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. If you are ever vacationing in Tuscany, I highly recommend staying at Badia I Coltibuono, they have rooms you can stay in there.
The wines at Coltibuono were excellent; most of the grapes came from higher altitude areas which gave the wines a little higher acidity and slightly more earth. They walked a nice line between tart cherry, cranberry and earth and leather. Overall, these wines were a little more of an elegant expression of Chianti than some of the other Chianti’s I have tasted, grown on the valley floor. 
After a lovely lunch in the most gorgeous outdoor setting, overlooking the valley below, we boarded the bus again and headed to the less known DOCG of Carmignano to visit the ancient winery of Capezzana. 15 minutes after we left Coltibuono, the entire bus was asleep. Carmignano is just to the north of Florence, the gorgeous estate of Capezzana resides high on a hill overlooking the valley below. Not quite as high altitude as Coltibuono, but enough to give us a lovely view. We were met by Beatrice, the owner, who showed us her vineyards and olive groves. She had a kind but intense demeanor, I really liked her! Carmignano is a DOCG that I had never heard of before, which, as an Italian wine nerd, was a surprise to me. I like to think that I know all of Italy’s wine regions, but this one was new to me. 
Apparently, the Medici’s lived in Florence, but in the summertime, it got to be too hot for their liking, so they made some lovely villas up in the mountains of Carmignano to stay cool. One of the Medici’s married someone from Bordeaux, apologies for the vagueness of that sentence, she told us this after drinking wine at lunch at Coltibuono and I was feeling tired. Because of the Bordeaux marriage, they began planting Uva Francese, or Cabernet Franc, which became a part of the blend at Carmignano. They typically use Cabernet Sauvignon nowadays, and the typical blend is usually 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet.
We were treated to a tasing of the wines inside the ancient Villa, dating back to 800 AD. I was surprised by the power of these wines, they were dense, dark, incredibly tannic and nearly unapproachable. One of the wines we tasted was a 10 year old version of their Carmignano blend, it was more ready to drink, but still extremely tannic and dense. I wrote down in my notes, needs another 5-10 years? While the power and quality of these wines was evident, they seemed to need so much time to age! The only exception being their little, entry level rosso, Barco Real, which was fun, bright and full of red cherry, strawberry and raspberry flavors. 
We had dinner next, on an outdoor veranda overlooking the valley below, another absolutely stunning view! During this multi course meal, which is apparently typical in Italy, lasted about 4 hours, we were served some old bottles of the wines we tried earlier from their cellar. We started off with a 2008 vintage of their Carmignano next to a 1998 Carmignano. The 2008 was approaching its drinking window, and opened up in my glass. The 1998 was drinking perfectly! Think Brunello, but heavier and more powerful! It took 25 years for this wine to reach its peak. 
With the next course, we had the Ghiai della Furba IGT, their version of a Supertuscan. Mostly Cab, with 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah. We had the 2020 version earlier, which was palette destroyingly tannic. The 2013 and 2005 vintages we were served at dinner were much more enjoyable; spicy, pruny, peppery and very powerful. They could have gone another 5 years or so, but they went very well with the Peposo we were served, a heavily peppered stewed beef dish.
Also of note, was the Vin Santo, a slightly oxidized dessert wine. I had never had the opportunity to try a dessert wine before this trip. As of this evening, I had tried 4. They were all excellent, and very different from each other. The Vin Santo at Coltibuono was, like Roberto’s other wines, lighter, fresher and more apricot forward. The Vin Santo from Capezzana is famous, it won the best dessert wine in the world 4 times and routinely has very high scores in the US magazines as well, typically scoring around 97 points. It did not disappoint. Salted caramel, apricot, and a hint of espresso. I then finished my night with the Grappa that they make on the property as well. It must be so nice to like this all the time!
We arrived at the hotel around midnight again. Tomorrow promises another early morning followed by more travel. Tomorrow we head to Emilia Romagna, Lambrusco country. The only winery on our docket for tomorrow is Cleto Chiarli, the thought of only visiting one winery instilling our group with relief. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little more relaxed.
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Thursday, 06 June 2024 08:09

Andy's Journal Entry #4

Andy' Journal Entry #4
  Our trip to Marche was lovely, the landscape similar to the rolling green hills of Abruzzo. Garofoli is located directly on the main thoroughfare, the winery is over 100 years old and the road in front of it leads to an ancient holy site, reportedly the site of Mary’s birth and supposedly transported to Marche from Palestine by angels. While I doubt angels actually transported the gigantic building that overlooks the winery from the mountain above us, the stones were apparently actually from Palestine, our hosts claimed.

   The wine tasting at Garofoli was the best I have ever experienced in my life, and believe me when I say that in that I have been to a lot of wine tastings is a gigantic understatement! It is run by Daria and Gianluca Garofoli, a mother and son, and they were two of the funniest and warmest human beings I have ever met. We were joined by David, their intergalactic director of sales, and he and Gianluca were basically a comedy duo. The wines were amazing and extremely well priced from start to finish. They specialize in whites from Verdicchio di Castillo di Jesi, and reds made from Montepulciano (the grape, not the place. More on that later), from the areas of Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno. We have carried the “Piancarta” Rosso Conero nearly since we opened our doors at Metro Wines. It is one of my favorites to recommend and as always, it didn’t disappoint.

   After the tasting they took us to the nearby seaside village of Sirolo for lunch. It was a restaurant overlooking the ocean that they knew of. We walked over to the ocean where we could see Monti Conero, where the Rosso Conero is grown, a huge rock jutting dramatically out of the stunningly blue waters of the Adriatic. To say the view was incredible is, again, an understatement. 

   After staring at the incredible views, we had lunch at an authentic seafood restaurant, Trattoria Osteria Sara, where we proceeded to have what is doubtless the craziest meal I have ever had! Incredible seafood kept coming out of the kitchen and the wine kept flowing. 3 kinds of sparkling vermentino with fresh tuna carpaccio, fresh out of the water, seasoned only with black sea salt and local olive oil. Enormous anchovies followed, with Garofoli “Macrina” Verdiccio. Clams, mussels, chopped octopus and snails, served in little whelk shells followed that. Amaro, espresso, and then dessert. The conversation got louder and louder, David and Gianluca sat with us and joked with us. I felt like I knew them forever, like we were family. I felt like an Italian, not a tourist. It was the most amazing dining experience I have ever had. I feel like I’ll be chasing that feeling again for the rest of my life.

   We were hours late for our next appointment when we stumbled back to our bus. We loaded up and drove through the tunnels cut into the Apenine Mountains, through Umbria and into Tuscany. The craggy, Alp-like mountains gave way to the familiar rolling hills and cypress trees of Tuscany. I napped on the way after getting completely drunk at lunch.

   That evening we met with Poliziano, just outside the famous Medieval city of Montepulciano (the place, not the grape). They are famous for their Vino Nobile de Montepulciano made from the Prugnolo Gentile grape, a thick skinned clone of Sangiovese. Our still lightly toasted group did our best to listen as we took a tour of the marvelous winery. 

   This place was run by Federico Carletti and his son Francesco. While we toured their palatial estate, they explained their winemaking philosophy and how they were dealing with the dramatic effects of climate change. The two butted heads occasionally on how they thought the wine should be made, Federico preferring to keep things traditional; heavy, ageable, oaked wines while Francesco suggested going for a lighter, newer style, ready to drink with minimal aging and no oak. It was very interesting to hear them politely debating each other.

   After the tour, we tasted through the wines they make; rich, velvety reds made from Sangiovese and also some newer wines made from Merlot and Cabernet. They were all extremely good!

   Dinner followed, a huge display of antipasti, put together by Fabio, their chef. After I had eaten my fill, Fabio took away our plates as if the meal was over. But it wasn’t. A huge plate of homemade bolognese followed, not resembling what I make back home in the slightest, and then a fig torte and Vin Santo. The Vin Santo was almost overwhelmingly complex; flavors of espresso, apricot, salted caramel, and old furniture. It was one of the most gorgeous flavors I have ever had in my life and my first Vin Santo experience.

   We left Poliziano around midnight, all of us were exhausted from so much drinking and lack of sleep the night before. There was some talk about going out on the town which was immediately shut down almost unanimously. We needed sleep, we had another big day of tasting tomorrow. Tomorrow we head into Chianti.
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Wednesday, 05 June 2024 08:22

Andy's Journal Entry #3 Abruzzo...

    The drive from Puglia to Abruzzo was lovely. It was incredible to watch the landscape change as we headed North. The flat, yellow/brown landscape gave way to lush, green hills with the Adriatic Sea set dramatically out the right side of our bus.
       We journeyed to the seaside town of Pescara, where La Valentina is located. To say the vineyard was different from Li Veli’s is an understatement. La Valentina is set atop a hill with a grand view of Abruzzo’s mountains, hills and valleys. The landscape was gorgeous and green and seemed completely covered by grapevines, the mountains in the background were topped with snow. Abruzzo has some decent skiing, apparently.
       La Valentina does not produce your usual Trebbiano and Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. Sabatino, the owner, told us that he wants his wines to be of exceptional quality and unique! His wines were certainly far from the usual plonk I often expect from this area, they were lovely, powerful wines that reminded me of the wines from the Northern Rhone Valley. The Trebbianos he makes were crisp and mineral driven, with a white peach fragrance that reminded me of good Viognier. The Montepulcianos, were deeply pigmented and tannic. 
      He showed us a few very expensive Montepulcianos which aren’t imported into the US yet, that were extremely tannic and powerful, reminding me of good, Northern Rhone Syrah. One, a 2017 vintage, pulled the moisture out of my mouth and tugged at my teeth. It was as unforgiving as a young Cote Rotie, but I could tell it would be a showstopper in another 10 years or so. My suspicions were confirmed at dinner a few hours later when they opened up a 2009 vintage of the same wine, it showed layers of dried black cherry, tobacco and a slight smokiness reminiscent of bacon fat.
        Overall, the wines here were not inexpensive, but they showed me the potential that fine wines from Abruzzo can have.
      After a little sleep and a quick walk to the Adriatic, we set off to Marche to see one of my favorite wineries, Garofoli. I have excitedly sold these wines for more than a decade and I have been so excited to see this vineyard. I’m so excited to see what adventures await me there.

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Tuesday, 04 June 2024 09:19

The Cellar Club

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