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Wines Worth Seeking, and The Food To Match

September 19, 2015 10 comments

When it comes to the wine produced in the world, Italy is an unquestionable leader – Italy produces more than twice as much wine as country in the second place – France, and 10 times more than US, which is #4 on the list (numbers from 2014). That essentially means two things:

  1. There are plenty of Italian wines available at any wine store, definitely the case in US.
  2. There are lots and lots of producers in Italy which are just starting to conquer the worldwide markets – and they often make wonderful wines.

What is the first region which comes to mind when you think about Italian wines? I bet it is Tuscany for the most, followed probably by Piedmont and then may be the Veneto. Well, we are not going to talk about any of those. Producer which I would like to bring to your attention comes from much lesser known area in central Italy, up on the Adriatic coast – the region called Marche.

Hills of Marche Source: San Giovanni web site

Hills of Marche (source: San Giovanni web site)

I can confidently state that 6–7 years ago, absolute majority of the wine drinkers in US never heard of the region Marche. Over the past few years, the situation changed, and Marche wines started showing up in the wine stores, often offering a nice surprise to the consumers who are not afraid to venture out of the all so familiar Chianti, Barolo and Pinot Grigio.

As you probably guessed by now, Marche wines is what we will be talking about today – let me introduce to you Azienda Agrobiologica San Giovanni winery, located on the Piceno hills, few miles from town of Offida. Offida gives name to the Offida DOCG, a wine production area focused on the grape called Pecorino.

San Giovanni winery was officially founded in 1990 (the family was making wine for much longer time). The vineyards extend across 75 acres around the green hills, at an average altitude of about 1000 feet (320 meters). From the very beginning, the winery was built on all organic principles, with utmost respect to the land and the environment. As you would probably expect, the winery practices dry farming and uses only natural yeast. In a quest to produce wines most attuned with nature, San Giovanni winery is even using a different type of natural cork, produced from the sugar cane. As I was reading online, sugar cane corks are touted specifically as the best enclosure for organic wines, and they even boast negative carbon footprint, as sugar cane captures carbon dioxide – not sure how that works, but here is a link in case you want to educate yourself.

Before we will talk about the wines, one more important note about San Giovanni wines. Not only all the wines are organic, they are also Vegan! There are no animal products used in production of the wines, and in 2014 the winery became certified vegan as “Qualità Vegetariana Vegan” by CSQA.

San Giovani uses typical local varieties to produce their wines – Passerina, Pecorino, Trebbiano, Montepulciano and Sangiovese. Overall, San Giovanni makes two different lines of wines – Gyo, meant for an early consumption, and a group of wines more of a “reserve” level (I’m using the word “reserve” here as a very loose term, for the lack of common group’s name). During the tasting, which was also accompanied by a delicious meal, we had a pleasure of trying 4 different San Giovanni wines.

Vini Sangiovanni selectionHere are my notes:

2014 Sangiovanni Gyo Pecorino Falerio DOP, Marche (13% ABV, SRP $13, 85% Pecorino, 15% Trebbiano)
N: White fruit, touch of grass
P: Hint of lemon peel, nice plumpness – almost Chardonnay-like, silky. Medium+ body, touch of bitterness.
V: 7+, nice

2014 Sangiovanni Kiara Pecorino Offida DOCG, Marche (13.5% ABV, SRP $20, 100% Pecorino) – this wine is named after owner’s daughter, Kiara. An interesting note – it is considered that Pecorino is at its best after 3 years in the bottle.
N: Bright stone fruit, leeches
P: sweet notes on the palate, apricots, medium to full body, nice acidity, good balance, long finish.
V: 8-, excellent

2014 Sangiovanni Gyo Ross Piceno DOP, Marche (13% ABV, SRP $13, 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese)
N: crushed fruit, fresh, blackberries
P: soft warm red fruit, nice layers, silky texture, polished and balanced
V: 8. Would be perceived as an expensive wine in the blind tasting. I would gladly drink this wine every day.

2014 Sangiovanni Leo Guelfus Piceno Superiore DOC, Marche (13.5% ABV, SRP $20, 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese, 18 month in oak, 18 month in the bottle)
N: Concentrated, plums, cherries, touch of herbs
P: Wow! Delicious, fruit, layers, spices, silky smooth, refined, long finish
V: 8+/9-, outstanding wine by itself, and one of the best values you can find at a price. This might be the wine with the best QPR I tasted throughout entire year.

As I mentioned already, the pleasures of the evening were not limited only to the wines. Our tasting took place at Cotto Wine Bar, a wonderful small outpost of authentic Italian cooking in Stamford, Connecticut.

Our hosts spent quite a bit of time going over the menu, looking for the dishes which would help to showcase the wines. As a first course, we had an excellent selection of various cured meats and cheeses – both Gyo and Kiara Pecorino wines perfectly accompanied these, providing nice backbone of acidity.

Next two pasta dishes arrived – Fettucine alla Bolognese (Fresh Homemade Pasta, Meat Ragu, Shaved Ricotta Salata) and Gnocchi alla Genovese (Basil Pesto, Oven Dried Tomato, Pine Nuts, Fresh Perline di Mozzarella), each one being very tasty. Sangiovanni Gyo Rosso Piceno was a perfect suitor here, weaving itself into the flavor profile of the dish.

Our last course consisted of two meat dishes  – Agnello Scottadito (Grilled Lamb Chops, sauteed Brussel Sprouts, Pine Nuts and Raisins) and Straccetti Arugula e Parmigiano (Thinly sliced USDA Prime beef served with arugula, Parmesan Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar from Modena), meat cooked to perfection and delicious on its own. The Sangiovanni Leo Guelfus Piceno Superiore, with its firm structure, dark fruit and gentle tannins, perfectly complemented the meats, happily elevating every bite.

There you have it, my friends. Of course, there are lots of wines out there. But the great part of enjoyment of wine comes from the joy of discovery. And this is exactly what I’m taking about here. Sangiovanni wines bring together lots of unique qualities – not only these are tasty wines, but they are also organic, they are good for vegans, and they deliver an outstanding QPR. These are definitely the wines worth seeking.

And if you are ever in Stamford, and craving good Italian food, Cotto Wine Bar might be just “it”. Cheers!

Cotto Winebar and Trattoria
51 Bank St
Stamford, CT 06901
Phone: (203) 914-1400
http://cottowinebar.com/
Cotto Wine Bar + Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beautiful Land, Beautiful Wines, and Pursuit of Passion – #WineStuidio Experience with ZGR Imports

June 20, 2014 10 comments

Once again, I’m starting the blog post with rhetorical and repetitious opening: have you ever had… (I can imagine some of you rolling your eyes and may be even clicking away… but let me finish, nevertheless) the wines from the region called Le Marche in Italy? With high degree of confidence, I would guess that many of you would say “no” – while better known in Italy and in Europe, wines of the Region Marche are not all that familiar to the wine consumers in US – but it is what we will be talking about here.

Region Marche is located in the Central Italy, up on the Adriatic Sea. As many other areas in Italy, Marche boasts beautiful hills, serene beaches and old city citadels, the towers and the walls which you can see when you drive along any of the highways and the roads. And of course, you can find wine and olive oil pretty much everywhere.

When I visited Marche for the first time about 9 years ago, the area was known best for its white wine called Verdicchio. Verdicchio is actually a white grape, which is known to produce slightly perfumed, brightly acidic, medium bodied wines. Two of the best production areas for Verdicchio are Verdicchio de Castelli di Jesi DOC and Verdicchio di Matelica DOC. When it comes to the reds of Le Marche, I was not all that impressed at that time. Rosso Piceno, one of the most popular red wines in Marche, a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, which I tasted during my visit, was rather simplistic. Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, one of the indigenous red grapes of Le Marche, was also rather unimpressive, with the wines coming through as too acidic and too light. All in all, my first encounter with the wines of Le Marche left me with great impression of Marche’s whites, and so-so opinion of the reds. Another conclusion we can make that I simply was not very lucky with my selection of red wines.

It was then. Now, a bit more than a month ago, I participated in the virtual educational event on twitter called #WineStudio. In the past, I wrote a number of times about #WineChat events, where people get together for the virtual wine tasting on Wednesday night. The difference between #winechat and #WineStudio is that #WineChat events are usually a single-time events (one hour on Wednesday night starting at 6 PM Pacific/9 Eastern), but #WineStudio events usually span the period of three weeks, with one hour long sessions every Tuesday nights at 6 PM Pacific/ 9PM Eastern. And another (most important) difference between two events is #WineStudio’s focus on education, on presentation of the wine region and the host itself, where the host can be wine importer or a distributor.

While I definitely had a delay with this post (this time it was not really a procrastination – life was simply getting in the way), as it often happens, the delay was helpful. Last week Matt Kramer published a wonderful article in the Wine Spectator, called “The Most Powerful Force in Fine Wine Today“, where he was explaining the role and importance of the wine importers in educating wine consumers and creating the appreciation, demand and overall market for the fine wine. One of the major traits all of the successful wine importers have in common is passion. It is the passion for the wine region, passion for the winemakers, passion for the wines what makes them successful. And passion for the Le Marche – the land, the people, the wines – was clearly showing in conversation with Jonathan Zeiger, the principal at ZGR Imports, our host for the Le Marche #winestudio event.

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Jonathan’s company solely focuses on the wines of Le Marche, and I can tell you, that focus and the passion were clearly showing in the wines. Jonathan explained that while Verdicchio is well known and well established, the rising star in the region is the white grape called Pecorino (yes, it is the grape and not the cheese). The wine which we tasted, clearly supported that claim. 2012 Centanni Pecorino Offida DOCG, Italy (14.5% ABV) – the wine started as acidic and grassy, and when warmed up a bit, became creamy and round. It became a a supple white, with lots of big flavors, very concentrated, but still refreshing, and quite unique and different. Drinkability: 8-

And the reds… Both red wines were designated as Rocco Piceno, and both were the blends of Sangiovese and Montepulciano – but this is where the similarities end. To say that I was blown away by the first taste of Centanni Rosso di Forca would be an understatement. 2012 Centanni Rosso Di Forca Rosso Piceno DOP, Italy (13.5% ABV) – one of the best Pop-and-Pour wines I ever had. From the moment the glass “cork” was pulled out, it was a luscious, luxurious, round and delicious wine, one sip after another. Loads of fruit, silky smooth tannins, perfectly present texture, velvety mouthcoat (are you salivating by now?), perfect balance. Drinkability: 9-.

During the last session of the event we tasted 2010 Rio Maggio Rosso Piceno DOC (13.5% ABV) – excellent wine, but very different from the previous one – dark restrained fruit, a touch of cherry pit, perfect acidity. The wine was very restrained, but equally elegant at the same time – it was very vinous, if that makes sense to you as a descriptor, and thought provoking. Drinkability: 8-

There you have it, my friends. You should really follow the passion – the passion of the people who make the wine, and the passion of the people who go out of their way to bring those wines to you – and that quest for passion will never fail you. Discover the passion – and you will drink well. Cheers!

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