The rules of nature. Interview with Josko Gravner, orange wines pioneer and forefather of the "natural" wine making in Friuli.

This is an abstract from my Master Sommelier Alma Ais thesis Josko Gravner's Ribolla gialla and the orange wines in the U.S. market.  I had the chance to visit Gravner's cellar, to taste his wines directly from the amphorae and barrels and to interview him before my departure to New York, the last 21st May 2012. There is still a lot of debating around the theme of "natural" in wine, as this recent letter written by the French wine maker Danny Baldin in response to some articles published in the famous Italian wine mag Gambero Rosso testifies. This letter may sound a little too poetic in some points , but I agree with Baldin when he says that with some natural wines you need to be patient, to let the wine breath and "live" in the bottle for days and even weeks, and to be opened to his imperfection, giving it time to evolve and show his multiple character. Natural wines are like all the others: there are good and bad ones, but when you encounter a really good wine, the meeting will be unforgettable. That's what happened to me with Gravner wines. Tasting his wines from the amphorae and barrels and from the bottle isn't of course the same. When I first had a glass of his Ribolla gialla 2004 from a bottle opened just few hours before I was  disappointed: the complexity that I had encountered in the cellar was gone, the wine was very closed. (this is a report of the tasting written by my NY friend Eric Guido in his blog V.I.P. Table). Some days later I tried a glass of Ribolla Gravner 2004 from another bottle which was opened some days before and this time I was amazed by its magic complexity which continued to evolve in the glass hour after hour. Baldin's letter made me think about my Gravner experience, so I decided to post here the interview I made last May and my tasting notes of the Ribolla gialla 2004. 
Josko has a great respect for Mother Nature, she dictates the rules,  since he believes that there is no good or bad vintage, but all vintages are great: "Nature does not create a vintage for us, we have to understand how to get it". His ambition to do the best has led him to test different wine making techniques, from big barrels to steel tanks, to barriques, to what he calls "the spring", the amphorae, which were used by the first farmers 5000 years ago, for the fermentation,  and again the big barrels for ageing. "His path", he says, "was build with mistakes": " To produce wine you don't have to go to school. You have to know your wines, make your choices, make your mistakes and each time I did wrong I have admitted it". 
 Josko Gravner

 Here are the other answers he gave me.

What does "natural wine making" mean? 
For me it is implied that wine must be natural, I don't need the label "organic" or "biodynamic". If you need a label it means you are just following the last fashion. Instinctively I have removed steel tanks and refrigerators from the cellar, thinking that this is a technology of the past fifty years and that for thousand years wine was made without them. Then, no clarification, no wine press. In nature it works like in a person. There is an angel and a devil. You need to be careful that the devil doesn't have the upper hand. If you kill the red spider, a vineyard enemy, you kill his rival too. The important thing is to create a balance without pesticides. It isn't immediate, it is a long path. We use very few copper, half of the suggested dose, wettable sulphur, and if it is possible powder sulphur, added with propolis, a natural antibacterial. When I was young I made the error to use antibotrytis, you learned this in school and industry imposed it. It is twenty years that I don't use chemical fertilizer, which is like drugs for humans. First it gives you strenght, then it kills you and you get addicted. We must understand that we have received the land from Mother Nature, so if it is suited for wine, we can plant vineyards, if not we have to plant other farming.

You will soon not make the wine Breg (cuvée of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot grigio, Riesling) anymore and the production will focus on Ribolla gialla for the whites and Pignolo for the reds. Ribolla gialla is vinified in different versions, what is according to you the best one? 
Ribolla gialla is the greatest grape of the Collio DOC. It is the soul of this territory, the grape variety that best interpret the power of this land. I believe in Ribolla, not because it is a fashion. If you use 10 kilos of grapes to make a sparkling wine is like making a "spritz" (a common aperitif from the NE Italy, made with Prosecco,  a bitter -Campari or Aperol-  and a splash of sparkling water). The wine making style is personal, I believe in my way of doing things. Macerating the white grapes on the skins (thus giving the color orange to the wine) is like amplifying a music: you must have a great music, if not you will only have a mess. That means that to make a great wine you have to start from great grapes.

Do you have any models or people who inspired you? And between the other producers of the "Oslavia group"  (how the school  of "natural wines" founded by Gravner is called with reference to the cru of Oslavia in the Collio DOC area) is there anyone you consider the closest to your philosophy? 
In the past I was inspired by the French, such as Romanee Conti, then I realized we are in a completely different area, we have a great land, and if I use barrique here I ruin the wine, it is a mistake I made. However this helped me to understand something I would have never realized. As far as the other producers concerns I am alone. Each farmer is individualist because he loves his land and must mind his own business. I have always misunderstood the market, but now I believe that in the future we will see on one side very cheap wines and more screw cups and on the other side high quality wines with great value. Lots of producers prefer to make quantity instead of quality, but if you are big you cannot make quality. I have decided to abandon some vineyards to concentrate my work in less land, make less: from 18 hectares I produce only 220 hl wine.

What is the correct way to taste your wines? Which glass do you suggest?
I have created a special glass for my wines, the name is "coppa Gravner". I took the idea visiting a cellar in the Caucasus and tasting the wines in a clay cup. The project started in 2007. The concept is very simple: before drinking you have to hold a glass, with this glass you have the sensation to touch the wine. The glass is made in Breganze (near Vicenza) in the laboratory of a glass master, Massimo Lunardon. Anyway, the ideal glass must be wide, in particular the bottom. I don't control the tasting temperature, if it is summer I drink it at 20 C, if it is too hot, I cool it down a litlle, but not in the fridge. I prefer it warm than cold.
Gravner "coppa"

What is the ideal food pairing for your wines? Many Sommeliers love them for their versatilily, being a good match also for meat and fish. 
This is a great news, thank you. According to me a great wine doesn't need a pairing. The problem is when you need to pair a wine and it ruins your dish. A wine can make food taste better, but if a wine is not good, it  works with no dish.  My wine goes from the first course to the dessert.

What do you think about "orange wines" in the U.S.? Have you ever been in the States?
The term "orange wines" was coined by Americans, because many of these wines are indeed orange colored. My wine has more the color of the "shining sun", I would define it more "amber". I first visited California in 1987. There I understood how the market works, how a wine is made according to consumers' expectations with the addition of synthetic aromas, a terrible mistake. The impression I had in 1987 is that in America you eat really bad, but if you want you can find the excellence. This is the diversity of USA. There is the overweight person who eat at McDonald's and there are people who drive for 100 km to buy a kg of tomatoes and these will be my future costumers.

According to you, is the American consumer really able to understand what he is drinking when he tastes your Ribolla gialla? 
The first time someone drinks my wine he can't understand. He needs to taste it more often. He needs an education, an explanation. I should be there to talk to him, but I must work here, so it is impossible. I believe that wine isn't just oenology, but the way of thinking of the producers who make it, and with my wines I try to communicate my philosophy. I believe that my wines must age for 7 years because for me the number 7 is magical: at 7 a child complete his first adolescence, at 14 the second one, at 21 he is an adult and every seven years all the cells are renewed. Rudolf Steiner didn't allow any child to go to school at 6, because in this way the child would have lost 1 year of childhood. My hope is that my wines will last 7x7 years, almost 50.

Here my tasting notes of the Ribolla gialla Gravner 2004

Color: Amber with orange reflections. Bright summer color of the "shining sun". Inviting, warm. Thick slow tears on the glass sides.
Nose: Complex with notes of candied orange zest and tropical fruits, dry apricot, summer fruit salad with mango, banana, peach, apricot or peaches in wine. Floral notes of rose water and wisteria. Toasted hints of almond brittle and hazelnut, malt biscuits. Memories of whiskey, orange and zabaglione liqueurs. Spices such as saffron, candied ginger, vanilla. Mineral notes of iodine and sweet hints of toffee, chestnut honey, buttery pastry shop. The scent is rich, "fleshy", intriguing, mysterious and elegant.
Taste: Dry, warm, smooth, fresh, mineral and slightly tannic. Full body, intense, creamy, with a lingering finish of dry apricot, almond brittle and a little bitterness due to tannins. "Macho" white wine with a country style.
A glass of Josko Gravner Ribolla gialla 

Here below some other pictures from my visit:

Oslavia vineyards 

The enchanted amphorae cellar

Here "sleeps" the Ribolla gialla

Josko Gravner

Gravner's cellar

Gravner's cellar

Gravner's cellar


My Master Sommelier Thesis: " Josko Gravner's Ribolla gialla and the orange wines in the U.S. market"

I'm proud to announce that I' ve recently got my Master Sommelier diploma, after attending the Master Sommelier Alma Ais at the International Culinary Academy Alma (Colorno- PR) directed by the famous Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi. It has been almost a year full of commitment, studying, great experiences, great people, wonderful tastings. As part of the learning activities I had the chance to make an Internship of about two months at Domaine Select Wine Estates, a wine and spirit importer in the U.S. based in New York City. I can never thank enough Mr Paolo Domeneghetti, Founder and Ceo of DSWE, for the opportunity he gave me to dive in the U.S. wine market thus continuing my research about orange wines, the topic of my Master Sommelier thesis. Thank to this thesis I made another great experience I will never forget: the meeting with Josko Gravner and the visit to his winery tasting his incredible wines directly from the amphoras and barrels. Indeed my thesis is a journey which starts in the Collio, where, beside the traditional wine growing, a new wine philosophy has developed in the 90's, the so called "school of natural wines" or "Oslavia school". The founder is indeed Gravner, who in the aim of reaching the total perfection in his wine making, has decided to devote himself to the Ribolla gialla (the queen grape variety of the Oslavia cru) which he produces with a very unique technique, using clay amphoras. His teachings, based on a great respect for nature, the long maceration with the skins and the long aging in barrels have created the movement of "orange wines", whites so defined by the Americans for their amber and orangish color. Today, this type of wines are produced all over the world, from France to California, from New York State to Australia, from Georgia to of course Italy. But what is their market? Thanks to the Internship I made at Domaine Select Wine Estates (which imports Gravner and other orange wines in the U.S.), I could study the promotion policy of these wines in the American market and the opinion of consumers and wine experts about them. My journey ends  in New York, where I also interviewed Paolo Domeneghetti, several sommeliers and wine directors of prestigious restaurants.
Click on the link below to read my thesis, which is written in Italian. And after...my hard-won diploma!!

Master Sommelier Alma Ais Thesis: 


The "wine continent" of Sicily. Interview with Mr Baldo Palermo, Marketing Director at Donnafugata

Sicily is a "wine continent". (in Italian a "continente vitivinicolo"). That's what Baldo Palermo, Marketing Director at Donnafugata, one of the most representative Sicilian wineries,  first told me when I interviewed him at the recent Vinitaly fair in Verona (Italy). I've always been fascinated by Donnafugata labels, their beautiful sunny colors, the drawings, the image of "the woman in flight" with windblown hair. The effigy refers to the history of Queen Maria Carolina, wife of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, who in the early 1800s – fleeing Naples on the arrival of Napoleons troops – sought refuge in the part of Sicily where the winery’s vineyards now stand. Donnafugata is a great example of entrepreneurial  initiative, started by the  Rallo family in 1983 in the family’s historic cellars in Marsala and at its Contessa Entellina vineyards in the heart of western Sicily.  In 1989 Donnafugata arrived on Pantelleria, a volcanic island lying between Sicily and Africa,  where the family  planted  the grape Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) to produce natural sweet wines, one of which is their masterpiece multi-award winning Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryè. Today Giacomo Rallo and wife Gabriella, daughter José and son Antonio manage about 328 hectares of vineyards in production, of which 260 are in Contessa Entellina and 68 on Pantelleria. It's not just the labels that have conquered me, I am a big fan of Donnafugata wines as well, especially those coming from the traditional Sicilian indigenous grapes, like Ansonica, Catarratto, Grecanico, Nero d’Avola and my beloved Zibibbo. 
Excellent quality, the ability to best interpret the territory potential, care for details, and a big communication talent are the key ingredients of Donnafugata success. I visited the cellar in Marsala last year (see some pictures at the end of the post), where  the  products obtained at Contessa Entellina and Pantelleria converge for refinement and bottling. I could experience the wonderful hospitality of the Rallo family and his staff (above all Mr Baldo Palermo) and I will never forget the typical Sicilian lunch I had with patron Giacomo Rallo and his nephew at the I Bucanieri restaurant, on Marsala seashore front. I was very happy to visit Donnafugata's stand at the last Vinitaly, where I came to say hello to Mr Rallo and Mr Palermo, who was so kind to answer my questions that I copy here below. A glass of Ben Ryè was my final reward after the long crazy Saturday at Vinitaly...
Mr Baldo Palermo, Marketing Director at Donnafugata 
What is Sicily's competitive edge among Italy's main wine regions?
Sicily is a wine continent, from the mountains, like Etna, to the volcanic islands like Eolie or Pantelleria, from the inland hills to the coast, a rich kaleidoscope of different territories, grape varieties and wine expressions. Sicily's weather conditions are very favorable, so that both the indigenous grapes and  the international varieties find here the best habitat to give wines of excellent quality with a very good value for money. 
There is much talk of wine communication in these days and there's a feeling that Italian people don't have enough culture of quality wines, considering also the drop in domestic consumption. Sicilian wineries  are demonstrating to invest a lot in communication, especially in new media, since, according to a survey conducted by the Italian online wine mag "Winenews" in 2009, lots of them have the best websites, in terms of information and interactivity. Donnafugata was indeed in the top five of the list, with other three Sicilian wineries...
In this Vinitaly, actually, we are presenting our new website. We have put ourselves in consumers' shoes, who not necessary are experts or have studied to become sommelier or are familiar with our wines. We want to bring the world of wine closer to consumers in a way that is not stiff and too much technical, in order to help wine lovers to understand this wide world, that sometimes can be confusing. We think that the best way to spread the culture of wine is to send messages in a fun and attractive way.
I've recently read  an article written by the Italian journalist Angelo Peretti, who said that wine, becoming a "status symbol", such an "élite" thing,  has gradually turned from the table, which was its first home, with the consequence that average consumers nowadays "are afraid to enter a wine shop because they don't know what wine to pick, also considering some unaffordable prices". Are you doing something in your website to restore the important role of wine in the kitchen? 
Exactly, in our new website there's a section dedicated to food and wine pairing, where consumers can download some of the most traditional Sicilian and Mediterranean recipes, and from here we suggest the best wines to pair, or they can start from the wines and discover which are the recipes that  best express the wine  taste. In this way we want to promote the wine consumption at home as well as at the restaurant.
What are Donnafugata hottest labels?
Just to mention three, we can start from Lighea, an aromatic white of Mediterranean taste, a dry version of  the indigenous grape Zibibbo, a fresh red wine coming from young vineyards of Nero d'Avola, vinified only in steel, called Sherazade, and finally, a "passito" (dried sweet wine)  from the island of Pantelleria, a glass of Ben Ryè, a classic wine of Italian oenology, that puts all in agreement, experts, wine connoisseurs and simple consumers, who cannot be indifferent to the the aromatic richness of a  glass of "raisins from Pantelleria". 
Last question, if I travel to Sicily (hopefully soon..), what traditional Sicilian dish do you suggest me to try, and which wine to pair with? 
Marsala, where our historic cellar is located,  is home of couscous, a dish full of flavors and history (it is native of North Africa), that in our area is typically prepared with fish soup by our Sicilian women, who still have the patience to cook it for long hours like in the old times. I suggest to match it with a white wine of medium structure, like our Vigna di Gabri, obtained mainly from the indigenous grape Ansonica, plus other varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon.  

If you, like me, don't have the patience of the true Sicilian ladies, you can try preparing an easier and fast version of fish couscous, that I recently posted on Just a Good Little Thing. Now you know which wine to match! In the meantime enjoy the pictures of my last trip to Marsala and Donnafugata winery here below.
Donnafugata winery, Marsala (Sicily)
Donnafugata winery, Marsala (Sicily)
Donnafugata winery, Marsala (Sicily)
Donnafugata winery, Marsala (Sicily)
Donnafugata winery, Marsala (Sicily)
Donnafugata winery, Marsala (Sicily)
Marsala, Sicily
Marsala, Sicily
Marsala, Sicily
Marsala "saline" (salt deposits), Sicily
Marsala "saline" (salt deposits), Sicily
Favignana island, Sicily
Favignana island, Sicily
Favignana island, Sicily


The "Highlander" wines by Mastroberardino, South of Italy

I had the pleasure to taste some wonderful wines made by one of the most appreciated wineries from the South of Italy, Mastroberardino, located in Irpinia, the historical area in the province of Avellino, near Naples. The tasting was organized here in Friuli Venezia Giulia by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS Fvg). It was away back in 1878 when Angelo Mastroberardino registered the company in the Register of Enterprises and started to export his wines worldwide. The family may indeed be considered "pioneer" of the Italian wine export, having intercepted a cultural request by Italian emigrants, who were asking homeland products, especially wine to be matched with food. The Mastroberardinos have always been faithful to the territory and its traditional grape varieties, showing their resistance to the "fashion" of more international wines. Indeed, the Irpinia territory is home of three of the four DOCG of the South of Italy (the forth DOCG is in Sicily, Cerasuolo di Vittoria), that is Grego di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Taurasi, all made with native and very ancient grape varieties (coming from Greece), Greco, Fiano and Aglianico. The wines presented at the tasting were the white Fiano di Avellino Docg, vintages 2010, 2006 and 2002 and the red Radici Taurasi Docg 2006, and Docg Riserva 2003, 1999, 1998 and 1997. I call these wines "Highlanders" for their big aging potential. I was not so lucky, however, to taste the true Mastroberardino "Highlanders": the winery organized in 2010 a vertical tasting with Roberto Galloni (the Italian collaborator of Robert Parker) in New York, starting with a 2006 Taurasi heading back to the vintage 1928, which, gaining 95 points, was described by Galloni "a nearly immortal wine of monumental standing". The winery has created the line "Vintage" for the white wines, old vintages to be sold with new releases, in order to give the consumer the opportunity to appreciate the complexity and expressive potential of these wines even after many years from the harvest. Here are my tasting notes.
Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino Radici Docg 2010
The color is straw yellow with young green reflections. The nose is fresh with notes of citrus fruits, like lime and citron, and sweeter fruits like banana, melon and tropical fruits. There are also notes of aromatic herbs, like fresh rosemary and oregano and salty feelings. The taste is fresh, smooth, wide, with a long mineral finish.

Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino Vintage Docg 2006
The color is now gold bright yellow. The nose is evolved in notes of dry fruits, dry banana, mango and pineapple, ripe golden apple, dry herbs and more marked salty sensations. The sip is long, smooth, creamy, with a better balance and a very pleasant minerality.

Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino Vintage Doc 2002
Gold bright yellow color. The aromas on the nose are now of jam, dry fruits and herbs, sweet scents of pastry shop, honey, date, candied fruits and raisins, together with spices like ginger and saffron. The taste is smoother, full-bodied, with a long and mineral finish.
Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi Docg  2006 ( 100% Aglianico)
Light ruby red color. The nose is fresh, with balsamic notes of dark licorice and mint, dark fruits, especially plum, tobacco and a hint of dark spices.  The taste is warm (alcoholic), fresh, pretty smooth, with a prevalence of harsh parts, young tannin in particular.  
Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi Riserva Docg 2003 ( 100% Aglianico)
The color is red with a ruby heart and a garnet rim. Complex and intense on the nose, with notes of jam, macerated fruits, dry plum, sweet spices like cinnamon and star anise, hints of tobacco and licorice root. Again a warm sip, with a smoother tannin. More balanced that 2006, very elegant, with a long mineral finish. 

Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi Riserva Docg 1999 ( 100% Aglianico)
The heart and rim are now garnet-red. The nose is evolved in more intense spices, jam, fury, leather, "stable", green sensations and humus. Warm, dry, smooth taste with a pleasant powerful tannin. Long life ahead.

Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi Riserva Docg 1998 ( 100% Aglianico)
More intense garnet-red in color. A very complex nose, with toasted notes of coffee, cocoa, nuts, hints of cherries in alcohol and dark chocolate (Ferrero "Mon chéri"), spices, licorice toffee, dry aromatic herbs and musk. Wide sip with vivid smooth tannins, warm, mineral. A very long finish.

Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi Riserva Docg 1997 ( 100% Aglianico)
A very deep garnet-red heart. The nose gains more complexity and intensity, with wilder notes of animal, blood, red soil, humus and underwood. Again spices and toasted hints of coffee, walnut, cocoa and dark sensations of licorice and Indian ink. Still elegant with notes of dry flowers, especially violet. The taste is dry, warm., full-bodied with powerful evolved tannins. A pleasant long mineral finish. Long life ahead.


Let the sun shine over Rodaro's "Picolit Solar"

Paolo Rodaro is a winemaker of a long family tradition, whose winery is located in Spessa di Cividale in the Colli Orientali del Friuli Doc wine area. His estate consists of approximately 108 hectares of land,  40 h of vineyards with an average annual production of 200.000 bottles of high quality wines. The grape varieties he cultivates are the most typical of the territory, Friulano (ex Tocai), Malvasia, Ribolla gialla, Sauvignon, Pinot grigio among the white wines, Schioppettino, Pignolo, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Refosco dal p.r., Merlot among the  reds, and Verduzzo friulano and Picolit among sweet wines. The Picolit I will talk about is not the "pearl" of the oenology from Friuli (NE of Italy), the dessert wine obtained throw the drying of grapes, but is a photovoltaic park Rodaro has recently inaugurated in his winery. However, I couldn't visit Rodaro's winery without having a glass of his great Picolit, so I've added my tasting notes at the end of the post.
The "Picolit Solar" is a photovoltaic system of 928.41 kW that covers a surface of 2.5 h of land and it's the biggest one realized by a farm in Friuli Venezia Giulia region. In a time of so much debating about energy and about the problem of security related to nuclear power stations, I thought it was interesting to interview Mr Rodaro about the reasons of his new project. That's what he answered me.
Paolo Rodaro in front of the "Picolit Solar"
Can you tell us how you got the idea for this project? 
P.R. The project was born for the need of diversifying the company interests. At the end of 2009 I came to know about the fall in panel prices and the possibility of incentives in the photovoltaic market. I discovered also that,  in agriculture, energy from renewable sources generates agricultural income. Moreover, the economical crisis  caused a drop in wine consumption of about 40% with a consequent intensification of the competition.  That's why I decided to build a photovoltaic power system on the ground. For that type of system, however, I had to ask permission to 27  institutions,  involved especially in environment and to public administrations. Not all the communes agree in giving such permission, luckily the commune of Premariacco, where the system is located, gave me the go ahead, so I have to thanks the openness of these administrators and all the others that didn't thwarted us.
Can you give us some technical data about the system?
The energy power is of  928.41 kW, which should produce about 1 million and 200 thousand kWh per year, that is to say it should cover an energy demand of 15 companies like ours. We have indeed an energy demand of 70/ 80.000 kWh per year. The system costs us 2.550 euro per kW turnkey.
According to your experience, what is the situation in Italy about the photovoltaic market? Can it be a valid alternative to traditional  sources, especially for companies, which have a bigger investment capacity?  
P.R. Investing in the photovoltaic sources without incentives is too expensive, even  considering the income from the sale of energy. I don't think that this can be a unique solution, but is part of those energy solutions that are still in their infancy. When we inaugurated the system, I told the Major of Premariacco that this is an open park. I hope that some schools will come to visit it and maybe one student will become curious and be the next researcher in this field. We have to open the mind and stimulate to think "alternatively". However, I don't think that we can live without oil or nuclear power, but it is possible and desirable to became a little independent from these sources. If we decide to pursue the nuclear way we have to be conscious of the problems we will have to face. I am here from six generations  and a potential loss of radiation could mean I have to leave my land, my vineyards, everything, forever. We have to work a lot more on security, but, according to me, we will have to face the nuclear problem sooner or later.
I tasted Rodaro's Picolit 2008.  The appelation is DOCG,  the highest quality level for Italian wine. The grape variety is 100% Picolit,   a native and very tradition grape from this area, which name means "little stalk" in the dialect  language from Friuli, having indeed the stalk very small.  The peculiarity of this grape is that for a defect of pollination the grape gives only few acinus, so that when they come to maturation they are very sweet. The grapes are  dried in small crates, then fermented and refined in small oak casks. The color is a wonderful "jewel" gold. It reminds me of a   hot and sunny summer morning...The nose is delicate, elegant and intense with notes of raisin, melon, apricot, butter, honey and marron glacé. The sip is sweet, rich, creamy, with a perfect balance between freshness and smoothness. A very long finish. 


Lady Barbera and King Barolo: discovering some of the best crus in Piedmont by Oberto.

This was another tasting organized by the Italian Sommelier Association in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Fabio Oberto, son of Andrea, who established the winery with his name 28 years ago in La Morra (CN), was invited by the sommeliers in  Friuli to present some of his best wines, the Barbera d'Alba Giada in a mini vertical tasting of vintages 2006, 2005 and 2004, and his three flagships, the crus Barolo Vigneto Rocche 2006, the Barolo Vigneto Albarella 2006 and the Barolo Vigneto Brunate 2006.
From the left: sales agent  Oberto wines in Friuli, Maurizio Dal Pont,
Sommelier representative Ais Fvg Gianni Ottogalli and producer Fabio Oberto
While Barbera has always been traditionally  named in the feminine Italian "la Barbera" (even though its high acidity, dark color and robust personality makes it a more masculine wine),  Barolo is considered the "king" of wines, for its big powerful tannic character and for his noble origins. The history of the modern Barolo dates back to the mid 19th century, when Camillo Benso, count of Cavour, the major of Grinzane Cavour, invited the French oenologist Louis Oudart to the Barolo region in Piedmont to improve the technique of vinification of the wine Barolo, that until then was vinified in a sweet version from the grape variety Nebbiolo. Oudart made the first dry version of Barolo, which soon became the favorite red wine among the nobility of Turin and the ruling house of Savoy, thus gaining the appellation of the "wine of kings, the king of wines".  The Barolo was also recently chosen as the symbol wine of the Unification of Italy, which was celebrated on March the 17th. Today, some of the highest quality expressions of this wine lie in single vineyards located in  the five communes of the Barolo zone, that, although not officially, are considered as Barolo "crus". These are the Cannubi and Sarmazza vineyards in the commune of Barolo, the Brunate vineyard, shared with the commune of La Morra, the Cerequi and Rocche vineyards in La Morra, the Monteprivato and Villero vineyards in Castiglione Falletto, the Lazzarito and Vigna Rionda in the commune of Serralunga d'Alba and the Bussia, Ginestra and Santo Stefano di Perno vineyards in Monforte d'Alba. Although all these vineyards lie in the same territory, among the Langhe hills (CN), there are many different terroirs,  that is mesoclimate, soil types, altitudes and expositions. These elements affect the Nebbiolo grape in such different ways,  thus creating several distinct Barolo wines, with an exceptional organoleptic richness and diversity.
Oberto, who runs today a winery of 16 hectares in the commune of La Morra, is one of the lucky producers to own some vineyards, even 70 years old, in the Barolo crus.  He told us, indeed, that this commune counts 2.500 residents, 750 hectares of vineyards and 100 wineries and that the commercial value of a Barolo cru starts from 500.000 euro to a maximum of 700-800.000 euro per hectare. What nature generously gives, however, must be managed in the cellar with a wise technical knowledge.  That's what Oberto does, lying in a midway in the quarell between modernist and traditionalist Barolo producers, making long period of maceration and using both the barrique and large oak casks  for wine aging.  The "power" of the "king Barolo", according to Oberto,  is best expressed at least after 5 years of aging (the minimum required from the appellation DOCG), having a long life ahead of 20-30 years. 
Here below my tasting notes. 

Barbera d'Alba Giada 2006 Oberto
Bright lively red color. The nose reveals notes of fresh dark fruits, like blackberry, blueberry, blackcurrant and plum. There are also balsamic hints, like dark licorice and mint,  green herbaceous fragrances, scents of mineral and wet soil (humus). Very fresh taste (high in acidity), the fruits perceived on the nose continue in the mouth, nice long finish of bitter licorice. Quite smooth with a predominance of  harsh parts. Very young.

Barbera d'Alba Giada 2005 Oberto
The color is still bright red and lively, a little more evolved. On the nose the fruits are riper,  there is some cherry too. It is still fresh, but more complex.  There are notes of licorice root, tobacco, moss and mushrooms and a balsamic mint hint. After resting in the glass it develops notes of coffee and animal. The taste is fresh and high in alcohol, smoother than the 2005. More ready, again a very nice harmony nose-mouth. 

Barbera d'Alba Giada 2004 Oberto
Again a bright and lively red color. The nose is more evolved and complex. Notes of dark riper fruits, plum jam, rhubarb, spices, balsamic. After resting in the glass it develops notes of coffee, toffee and animal. Fresh taste, warm in alcohol, smooth, mineral. The sip is richer and wider with a very long finish. 

Barolo Vigneto Albarella 2006 Oberto  
The color is light red with a transparency typical of the grape variety. The nose is fresh, very complex.  Spicy notes of nutmeg, star anise and  pepper, hints of aromatic herbs like rosemary and parsley, scent of cherry under alcohol, tobacco and Indian ink. Fresh powerful sip, very tannic, with a long mineral finish. Very young.

Barolo Vigneto Brunate 2006 Oberto
The color is light red with a transparency typical of the grape variety. The nose reveals a rich complexity. Notes of cherry under alcohol, Indian Ink, rhubarb jam, candied bitter orange peel, licorice root, raw meat, coffee, walnut liqueur, spices like vanilla and star anise, bitter chocolate and tobacco. The sip is smoother, even though still fresh and tannic. Warm in alcohol and more balanced with a nice harmony nose- mouth.

Barolo Vigneto Rocche 2006 Oberto
The color is light red with a transparency typical of the grape variety. The nose is more intense and complex. Sweeter notes, like cinnamon, vanilla, cherry, mulled wine. Again pepper (white) and star anise, rhubarb, Indian Ink, chocolate. Some leather and mushrooms, a little truffle. The taste is much wider and smoother with more rounded tannins. More mineral. Great extract and a very long finish. 


The "philosophy" of Stefano Chioccioli, Italian great wine maker

As a sommelier I often follow the events organized by the Italian Sommelier Association in my region, Friuli Venezia Giulia (AIS Fvg). Stefano Chioccioli, one of the most acclaimed Italian oenologist was recently guest of the association in order to  present some of the wines that bare his signature. Chioccioli is in the world of wine from over 25 years. After graduating in Agricolture Science in 1984, he obtained the title of  agronomist and oenologist and took his first steps at the famous winery Ruffino in the Chianti area (Tuscany) with managerial duties from 1985 to 1992.  He has then established his own company, Stefano Chioccioli Srl, and now works as viticulture-wine consultant for several wineries in Italy, in France, Switzerland and Hungary.  Thanks to his "touch" the wines he follows obtain each year important reviews from the wine experts all over the world. This event was than an occasion to discover what is Chioccioli's wine secret.
From the left: wine producer Andrea Felluga, Stefano Chioccioli, Sommeliers
representatives AIS Fvg Gianni Ottogalli and Alessandro Pareschi
His "vision" begins in the vineyards. The main target of Chioccioli's work is to find the balance between the originality of a territory, expressed through its soil and climatic characteristics, and  technical knowledge.  The secret is working to obtain the perfect grape ripening. Especially for the reds, said Chioccioli,  the ripeness of  grapes allows to reach a good amount of anthocyanins and  the polymerization of the polyphenols. In this way, grapeseeds get brown and taste of coffee and cocoa. This is also possible reducing the yield per plant and per hectare, thus concentrating the aromas in the grapes. In the cellar a long maceration on the skins follows, and the maturation continues in barriques, which, according to Chioccioli, are necessary for  the oxigenation, thus ripening the polyphenols and  giving color, smoothness and long life to red wines.  His technique is aimed to obtain harmonious wines, extracting the sweet and fruity components of the grapes,  and not those dry and bitter.  
Both in the vineyards and in the cellar there is the maximum attention to details, and a careful selection of the grapes is made during the harvest and immediately after. Chioccioli has defined his way of working  "Goldsmith's oenology".  According to him,  however, the real challenge lies in the vineyards, where the "jewels" grow and where he works to achieve the essence of a grape variety and the best quality expression of a territory.  For this reason he decided to guide us in a tasting of nine wines mostly obtained from single grape varieties. These are the wines we tasted and the tasting notes I took. 

Sauska Tokaj 2009 (white dry wine- blend of Furmint and Sauvignon)
The color is straw yellow with green reflections, very bright. The nose is very intense, fresh, it reminds of  tropical and citrus fruits, dry aromatic herbs, like sage and rosemary, and it's also mineral. The taste is fresh, dry, smooth with a long mineral finish.

Masseria Li Veli - Montecoco Salento 2009 (red wine - Primitivo)
The color is deep red with a purplish rim. The nose is very rich with hints of macerated fruits, especially blackberry, cherry and plum, together with balsamic notes of licorice and mint. It also reminds of damp soil (humus) and, after resting in the glass, it develops hints of dark chocolate and Indian ink. The taste is wide and full bodied, smooth, dry and strong. It is a wine "to bite".

Firriato - Cava Nera Rosso Etna 2008 (red -  Nerello Mascalese 80%, Nerello Cappuccio 20%)
The color is bright, light red with purplish reflections. The nose is complex and fine, with notes of cooked tomatoes with oregano (Ottogalli), ripe red fruits (cranberry and redcurrant), elder, red onion, rhubarb, bitter licorice, aromatic herbs and dry brush. The taste is fresh with a lively tannin, pretty smooth and mineral.

Barba - Montepulciano Vigna Franca Abruzzo 2007 (red)
Dark vivid red color with a deep purple rim. The texture is thick as ink and syrup. The nose is intense and impenetrable with hints of cherries in alcohol and dark chocolate ( Ferrero "Mon chéri"), licorice and fur. The taste is full, fresh, persistent with a young vivid tannin. Harsh notes ahead, not yet balanced.

Livio Felluga - Rosso Sossò 2007 (red - blend of Refosco dal p.r., Merlot, Pignolo)
Dark full red color, purple rim. Complex, refined and  rich nose, with hints of cocoa, cherry, dark tobacco, balsamic notes of mint and licorice ( "Morositas" candy), fresh and mineral. The taste is strong, dry, very fresh and smooth, with velvety and compact tannins. Has a long life ahead.

Chateaux La Baronne - Piece de Roche Languedoc 2006 (red - Carignan)
Dark full red color with purple reflections. Very complex  nose, hints of spices (pepper), beetroot, macerated dark fruits, blackberry jam, tobacco, licorice, mineral (stone), graphite. Very fresh taste, dry, warm in alcohol, the sip is lean with sharp tannins, still  a very young wine.

Borgo La Caccia - Carmenoire Alto Mincio Rosso 2006 (red)
Dark impenetrable red color, with a purplish rim. Complex and intense on the nose, notes typical of the grape variety like "goudron" (tar),  geranium, bitter licorice, horseradish, aromatic herbs,  burned wood, humus,  raw meat,  liver, carob, and spices (clove).  The taste is dry, fresh, warm in alcohol, persistent. Vivid tannins, young.

Fanti San Filippo - Brunello di Montalcino 2006 (red - Sangiovese)
Ruby bright red color. More evolved nose, hints of plum and cherry in alcohol, cherry jam, light tobacco, coffee, cocoa, nutmeg, walnut, humus, moss. The taste is rich, full bodied, warm (alcohol), dry, with a smoother tannin. Still a very young wine. Has a long life ahead.

Scacciadiavoli - Sagrantino di Montefalco 2006 (red)
Full ruby red color with purplish reflections. The nose is complex and evolved with hints of plum jam and fruits  in alcohol, spices (nutmeg), mineral and balsamic notes, tobacco, Indian ink, coffee, cocoa, humus and  mushrooms. The sip is powerful, very tannic, astringent, full bodied and pretty smooth ( very young). Dry and warm (alcohol) with a very long finish.