Throwback to an oasis called Borgoluce

On depressive rainy days like today, the thing I like to do most is to go through all the mental pictures I have from our last summer holidays. Days filled with happiness and lots of sunshine on our faces resulting in instant smiles. I do like colder weather, but let’s be honest everybody prefers spring and summer over autumn and especially over winter (although I do like the extra time inside the house during these periods).

We spend our last summer, that is only 1 month ago but feels like at least a year ago, in the recently UNESCO protected “Prosecco” region aka the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene region. This region is 20km up North from the Treviso airport. Most people would only know Treviso from flying to Venice with Ryanair as that’s the town where they land. It is a pity that most of those many people landing in Treviso immediately get in a bus towards Venice and don’t take the time to visit the charming city of Treviso. It is true that before actually visiting this region (and even when was already there for the holidays) I had already had prejudices about the town not being very nice to visit… but BOY WAS I WRONG. We actually went back 3 times during our holidays as we just loved wondering around in this beautiful little town with lots of cozy corners and streets with little canals in-between them (with the mandatory ice-cream in our hands).

A place we got to call home for 2 weeks was a beautiful 2 floor 3 bedroom apartment in the equally beautiful 1200Ha domain of Borgoluce.  Borgluce is an Azienda Agricola that was founded 10 years ago by the Noble Collalto family. I specifically added the ‘azienda agricola’ as although myself and many other people mostly know Borgoluce for their very nice Prosseco , they make soooo much more besides the Prosecco. The question would rather be what don’t they make 😊 . I remember tasting their entry level Prosecco called Lampo and immediately liking it and 9 years later still having at least a few bottles of  both the Lampo and their Prosecco BRUT DOCG in my fridge.  A year ago when I was breaking my head on where to go on summer holidays this year, it was actually my brother mentioning that Borgoluce also had an Agriturismo. When consulting their website both myself and my wife were immediately sold and immediately booked a room. I did also appreciate it a lot from them to call me to check with us which room or apartment would be most fitting for me and my family to have the ultimate time upon our stay at the farm. A few weeks later they had even renovated all their B&B rooms and apartments, so that made us even more impatient to be there.  Not that I specifically look for a holiday place where they make wines, but if they do that only makes it better 😉

As I mentioned it was only 10 years ago that 2 of 5 sisters of the Collalto family decided they wanted to not only continue the wine making their family had been doing for many decades before, but also start farming in ecological and sustainable way.  In those years they have made enormous progression… it is true the fact they already had over 1200Ha of land at their disposal helped, but nevertheless the products don’t make themselves and especially not high quality. Besides the grapes from which they both make Prosecco and still wines they also have around 400 buffalos, pigs, cows and chickens they both use for their milk as for their meat. On top of that they also have olive trees, beehives, lots of wheat. Again all made and handled  with respect for nature. If you would see the space these animals have between the Conegliano Hills… they have a huge amount of space.  Over the years the Collalto sister in collaboration with experts in their domain they have studied the best ways to be as respectful to nature and sustainable. I can only give them my upmost admiration and respect as they have done an incredible job and the circle is round. If you would ever get the chance to visit I’m sure you’ll agree 100% with me.

If you would see the amount of both local as non-local people that pass by the little factory shop to buy their charcuterie, meats, wines, honey or dairy products like freshly made (every morning) yoghurt, ricotta or mozzarella (made from Buffalo milk) you immediately know the quality has to be there. Especially when you see older Italian ladies (la Mama or Nonna) in the shop as they are very very picky on products as they only want to use the best. When you tasted their fresh mozzarella, the ones you buy prepackaged in the supermarket won’t do the trick anymore 😊 😊

The fact they had 3 bedroom apartments and did help us to decide to go there, the fact they made wine was an extra bonus, but that they also had a local shop with own products, a Frasca and an Osteria where you could eat their products only made that more checkboxes were ticked. The only thing that didn’t convince me 100% was the natural pool (there you go, I said it). Even now that I’ve stayed there, it might be the only thing that I didn’t like the most… but I’m sure it is me, as both my kids and my wife loved it. The oasis of silence you have at Borgoluce (far away from all the noise (besides the ones products by my children))  is so relaxing and kinda addictive, because when you come back home you have to get used to all the hard noises and sounds again. Even now some nights when I lay in bed I close my eyes and imagine I’m back in the garden together with my wife (children already sleeping) at Borgoluce with a nice glass of Prosecco in our hands enjoying the sound of silence and grasshoppers overlooking the beautiful hills while the sun goes down…. That for me is what holiday is all about and the thing I love thinking of on rainy depressive days like today.

Before I leave you to it, I do want to say something about Prosecco 😊 as I find it a shame don’t see prosecco as a high quality product (the same actually goes for the Spanish nephew Cava). I think most of those people just didn’t try the right prosecco yet and only drunk some of the mass products that are out there and went for the cheapest bottle instead of for the bottle that might only cost 2EUR more and probably is more qualitative. A few posts ago I did mention that Franciacorta and Prosecco are not the same thing. Which is true, first of all because they are made from a different grape. In fact you should not even be comparing those 2 or even with other bubbled drinks as they are all different in some way although they all have bubbles… it is all about drinking the drinking the good ones 😊 which is something personal (obviously) and different for everybody, but for me Borgoluce’s Proseccos can definitely be seen as reference for a good Prosecco with the good quality/price balance.

Just by writing this article I can already feel the sun shining on my face

Benanti, wines from an island within an island

Everything happens for a reason I always say. A couple of weeks ago I had a 2016 bottle of Etna Bianco from Antonio Benanti during a meal.  At that time I honestly didn’t know the winery… but as I had enjoyed the bottle I was hoping I would be having it again one day. A few days later,  I saw an enouncement for future “wine & dine” events passing by at one of my all-time favorite restaurants Pazzo and as if faith wanted it I saw that one of the events was actually with Antonio Benanti . So I immediately called a few friends  (who I was able to convince to join with my enthusiasm 😊) and made the booking for this event.

I personally like “wine & dine” events a lot as it actually combines getting to know new wines (and its owners) and having a great meal .

I do want to point out that Etna wines and Sicilian wines are not necessarily the same thing, as first of all they have different soil, but also because they use different grapes. In Sicily the main focus for many years went to Nero d’Avola (only the last years), Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes , were in the Etna region they always believed in using Etna’s native grapes like Nerello Cappuccio, Nerello Mascalese, Carricante  and even Minnella Bianca. Etna wines also only represent a very small percentage of wines made in Sicily.  It is often said that Etna is an island within an island 😊

The Benanti family lays at the basis of the terroir awareness and terroirs identification of the Etna region as they were one of the few people insisting one sticking with the local grape varieties. When Giuseppe Benanti started making wine from his family’s winery and estate vineyards in the late 1980s (with help from Salvo Foti), there were less than 10 producers in Etna, today there are 134. The largest increase only happened in the last few years as more producers started understanding the value and richness of the Etna soils (even Angello Gaja started experimenting on the Etna).  Today the Benanti’s make what is considered as one of  Italy’s best white wines, the Etna Bianco Superiore Pietramarina.  The Benanti family was in fact already making wine before the 1980’s (already since around the year 1800), but that was mainly for own use. Giuseppe Benanti basically revived the family’s old passion, with an extensive and selective study of the Etnean soils highly devoted to viticulture.  This shows that hard work pays off. Giuseppe is now also assisted by his 2 sons Antonio and Salvino.

During the “Pazzomania”  wine & dine we got to try the full range of  Benanti’s wines including a 2013 Pietramarina, an intensely scented varietal Carricante that is impressively structured and pure (very delicate) . On first nose, you get precise aromas of white peach, zesty pear and blanched almond. After a while the wine takes on more volume in the glass and displays its beautiful mineral nuances.  They had paired the Pietramarina with marinated swordfish and grilled asparagus. We also got served the ‘Etna Rosata’ (100% Nerello Mascalese), that if I can be totally honest the wine that convinced my the least for everything we tasted that night. The taste of the Rosata was very subtle, but you do notice a very nice minerality.   As surprise Antonio had also brought a 2017 Etna Bianco ‘Contrada Cavaliere’. A surprise we enjoyed a lot 😊.

We continued the evening with a 2016 Contrada Monte Serra and a 2016 Nerello Cappuccio (paired with grilled broth fish and ravioli “a la Norma”) . Both very nice reds that just like the white wines Benanti produces, have lots of minerality. In case of the Monte Serra I enjoyed the hinds of cherries and rhubarb in the nose. Very smooth and fine tannin with juicy cherry fruit on the palate.  What is unique about the Nerello Cappuccio is that it is one of the very few bottlings made entirely with native grape Nerello Cappuccio. Here we also find back the red and blue fruit aromas. It is a fresh and easy to drink wine.

We finished with a 2013  Rovittello and the 2013 Serra della Contessa that  combine both Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio but that come from different locations and hights, the Rovittello having perhaps the finest structure and capacity to age. However, it was the 2013 signature Serra della Contessa that is the actual “show horse” of the night (an opinion also shared by many critics and obtained  +90 scores from Robert Parker).  Both wines were served with the grilled pork (Pata Negra) with caponata and Artichokes .

It was a great tasty evening with some great wines and hopefully I’ll get to Sicily (or better the Etna) one day 😊 if not then I’ll open one of their bottles and imagine i’m there

Easter between the apple blossoms

As we are travelling with kids, we always try to find a holiday destination where we hope our kids will find their happiness… if the kids are happy that basically means that the parents have a more relaxing holiday 😉 finding a spot like this is another thing. A region that checks most of the boxes is Alto Adige (aka Süd Tirol) as not only is it well-known for it child-friendliness, its fresh/healthy air, the fact that it is sunny for more then 300 days a year, but also for its good food and for having some of the best white wines of Italy. The only check-box that didn’t get checked is the closeness of the sea (my wife loves to have the sea close)… but then again the region has lots of lakes where swimming is allowed and there is also something called a swimming pool 😊 😊 so basically all boxes are checked.

Something I always found intriguing is the fact that in Alto Adige the most spoken language is German (but everybody does also speak Italian). For me the region is the perfect mix of Austria and Italy.

To find an actual accommodation we called in the help of “Red Rooster” (aka Gallo Rosso, Roter Hahn). Red Rooster is the ‘tourist office’ of  the Farmer’s Union of South Tyrol for farms offering Farm Holidays in South Tyrol.  What I found good about Red Rooster’s way of working or choice of accommodation, the fact there is something for everybody and for every budget. I mean I’m personally  not too much into animals, my preference went for wine/fruit growing farms and also I ( or better we) prefer having an apartment (this way we have the option to cook), we do like a bit of  extra comfort, etc… and luckily all of these things are search filters.

My wife always finds it funny that I start planning our summer holiday that much in advance (about 8-10 months in advance). I actually didn’t start that early when we didn’t have kids, but ever since we have to go on holiday in the high season it seems that even that early is not early enough for some regions…  For a few years in a row I tried to find a free accommodation in Alto Adige, but without success. That is why this year I decided to try another holiday period. Luckily for us with success 😊

I’m pretty sure all of you think we chose a vineyard 😊 but noooooooo sir, we stayed at an apple farm that goes under the name of “Grieserhof” and is located in Nals (12km from Bolzano).  The Mathà family, who owns “Grieserhof” has been growing apples in Nals (or Nalles) for a few generations. It was in 2016 they decided to renovate their house (that dates back to the Middle Ages)  with respect for tradition, but also adding some modern architectural touches to the building. This resulted in creating 4 beautiful 2 floor apartments where they only made use of very qualitative materials to make sure they give the maximum comfort to their guests.  With the below as (for me well accomplished) result

From the moment you arrive at “Grieserhof” you immediately feel at home. First of all because of the warm welcome you get from Judith and her family, but also because of the good vibe that hangs in/around “Grieserhof”.  When my kids saw there is a whole floor full of toys (and books), an outside playground and a rabbit to pet… they couldn’t wait to ditch us 😊 😊 so we also got their blessing for the location/accommodation  😊

A very handy ‘tool’ in the Süd-Tirol region is the “winepass” you get (in most farms you find via Red Rooster). This pass allows you to take the train for free in the region, enter museums, visit vineyards, visit the many castles in the region or use cableways in the region mostly for free or at reduced price. You can actually see it as a tool to discover all the hidden treasures in the region. One day (a rainy day) we used it to visit the miniature train museum aka Mondo Treni that was fun for the kids as they cold push on buttons to start the trains, but also for adults it is very nice to see. As they rebuild (in scale models of course) the most important parts of the region. Very impressive!

Something I didn’t know is that the village next to ours, Terlano, is very known for white asparagus… as it happens both me and my wife a very big asparagus lovers. And as if  if faith wanted it, the season for eating them already started😊 . It was Judith (our host and who also happened to be a food/wine lover)  to advise us a very nice (child proof) restaurant called Oberspeiser. The advantage about eating in a restaurant in Italy it that it never takes too much time… not that me and my wife don’t enjoy a longer dinner, but kids are like a ticking timebomb 😊 😊 they’ll stay quiet for a while, but they might exploded any minute 😉 . We really enjoyed our meal at Oberspeiser. Perfectly cooked asparagus with a few slices of local cooked ham and accompanied with a Sauvignon by the Terlan winery that only gets bottled during the asparagus season and fits perfect with this white gold and also is sold under the name “Sauvignon Asparagus” 😊

Two places (next to the many wonderful farms where you can eat or top restaurants) I also recommend you to visit and/or even have a meal there is “Pür” or “Italy & Amore”. Both these restaurants have a similar approach they both sell products bought directly from the growers/farmers, with difference that “Pür” focusses on products from Süd-Tirol and “Italy & Amore” products from all over Italy. You can also eat at both locations as buy products. I enjoyed both of them and didn’t leave empty handed 😊

As I had already put a lot of time in the organization of the ‘Best Sommelier of the world” contest, I promised my wife I wouldn’t be visiting any vineyards during our stay in Süd-Tirol. I kept this promise 😊 but I just happened to pass 2 vineyards (Cantina Terlano and Margreid Nals) while doing some errands while my son was taking a nap, my daughter was playing and my wife was reading at the apartment… and I needed to stretch my legs. In my defense, it were very shore visits and they were insisting for me to try some of their wines 😉 😉 . Both very nice vineyards and worth visiting and I’m a big fan of both their wines. Hope you get the chance to visit them or at least taste their wines.

I can only advice you guys to travel to Alto Adige and make use of the “Red Rooster” website or just go to “Grieserhof”.

Cheers!

Best Sommelier of the World – A once in a lifetime experience

Last week (10th -15th of March) the 16th edition of the Best Sommelier of the World contest set up its tents in Antwerp. It seems like only yesterday when we received an email from our President William Wouters (president of the Belgian Sommelier Association and Vice-president of ASI Europe) asking us what we thought of the idea of organizing the 2019 ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest 🙂 .  At that time most of us thought William had lost his mind, but William’s enthusiasm convinced us all. What followed after that specific email, were 3 years of hard work (although I only was supposed to help a little bit 😉 ).

The contest can definitely be compared with the Olympics, as it is an event that is only organized every 3 years where only the best of the best from 63 countries compete against each other. It takes years for the competitors prepare themselves for this contest…. Just like the athletes for the Olympics.   And although they don’t get a ‘money’ price if they win it, it does change their life tremendously. From the moment they win, there are soooo many interesting offers that pass by  that for many years to come they don’t have to worry too much about having spare time 🙂  but even for those who don’t win, it opens doors in their own country and gives opportunities that maybe before were unreachable.  So it represents so much more than only a contest… it can (to my opinion) be seen as a life changer and that is why I was glad to be help a hand to make this event a success.

Most people I mention the contest to immediately make the reflection that the competitors only need knowledge about wine, which is obviously a big part of it, but it is also about so much more than that… it is also about coffee, tea, beer, cigars, distillates, juices, hospitality , etc… This also explains why they have to prepare themselves for years, as it a looooot of info to put in their brain.

A question I’ve heard a lot the last few years, was how the sommeliers actually got selected to compete. Every country will ask the winners from the local championship (sometimes also finalists) from the last 10 years who is up for it (as it takes a lot of sacrifices). For the remaining group, we organize a ‘mini’ competition and the winner from this competition can compete.

When William started talking 3 years ago about the championship and experiences he had from all the previous editions from both continental as the world contest that he was part of since the early ‘90’s  , one thing was sure, we wanted to make it an extra special edition. Extra special, as this edition would be exactly 50 years after the 1st edition that was held in 1969 in Brussels. It would also be the first urban edition, as unlike in previous editions we wouldn’t be visiting vineyards. Another important things was to try to take the dust off the image ‘sommeliers’ often have (which is also the mission of the ASI).

Quickly we noticed that we couldn’t manage an event of this size alone. First of all as besides the contest, you have to organize masterclasses, a program for people travelling along with the official delegations, meals, logistic movements, etc… for over 300 people that travel to Belgium for a whole week. But also that it is just a business we don’t know that much about. That’s when our friend Mich Van Aerde and his event company Balthazar came in the picture. They have done an outstanding job in the last 3 years, as some circumstances didn’t always make it easy  for them to wrap their heads around the whole event (also because of constant changes, etc…) and get the work done.

Now that we had that, the next very important thing, was gathering the money to be able to actually organize the event 🙂 this is where our path crossed the path of Claire Berticat. She took in charge all the negotiations with all potential partners (of who many became actually became a partner).

From time to time It has been a bumpy ride, it took blood, sweat and tears… but we (or at least that’s how I experienced it) were a team headed for the same goal, making the 2019 Best Sommelier of the World a World class event where they would talk about for many years to come … and I modestly think we succeeded?!!  Funny enough the week of the contest felt a bit like a wedding party, you are present, but did you actually got to fully enjoy  it? 🙂 I’m exaggerating, I enjoyed it very much 😉 😉

I did get to see a bit of the contest itself here and there, but there were so many things going on behind the scenes, so basically I got to experience it less then I had hoped.

What I will always treasure is all the wonderful people I got to meet  and things I got to experience during the 3 year adventure and I hope to see many again in the future.  It was also wonderful hearing from so many people from around the globe that we did a great job and receiving many compliments… this makes all the hard work worth it!

I wish I could have freed up more time to help, but nevertheless I hope my little contribution to this event made a bit of difference. If you want to know how the week went, please check out the below footage from the whole week!! As it will give you a better view then when I would explain it 🙂

I want to thank all the great people I was fortunate enough to work with and from who I’ve learned a lot: William Wouters, Mich van Aerde, Claire Berticat, Sofie Van der Poel, Tania Asselberghs, Niels Goyvaerts, Domien Van Aerde, Bob van Giel, Amandine Vandeputte (PR/Communication)  and Katrin Bilmeyer for their devotion and outstanding work.  Also thank you to all the people behind the ASI, not to forget all the previous winners of the World title who were present at the finals (even Armand Melkonian who won in 1969)

But this event wouldn’t have been as good without the many many volunteers that travelled from far to help us a hand like Filipa Pato, William Wouters (there are 2 William’s in the Belgian Sommelier Association, this is the other one 🙂 ), Katia Wouters, Marijke Bilmeyer, Bart Sap, Gerard Devos, Kris Lismont, Els De Brucker, Douglas Wouters, Hanne Lesage, Lucas Delforge, Steven Wullaert Bram van der aa, David Hsaio, Jean-Marc BrasseurEllen Franzen, Karim Hayoun, Yiannis Stefanides, Giannis Papachristoforou , Ketil Sauer, Saskia Schurink, Guillaume Coret, Allard Sieburgh, Nelson Guerreiro, Pedro Noguiera, Sergio Pires, Tomas Carreira, Adrian Jipa, Ivan Nikolic, Nenad Nedimovic, Anika Manojlo, Milena Zakaric, Milica Papic, …

Not to forget Belgian helpers and students from hotel school PIVA who helped during the gala dinner. I do hope I didn’t forget anybody!

Last but not least I do want to thank all the AMAZING partners that believed in our project and have kept supporting us until the very end. Thank you Austrian Wines, Inter Rhône, Le Wine, TorresPerrin, Bellavista, Zonin, Gusbourne, Bairrada, Grahams, Vinventions, Port of Antwerp, city of Antwerp,  Flemish Government, Clarence Dillon, Malartic Lagravier, Duvel, Gerard Bertrand, Farnese, Carlos Ruben, M’as tu vu, Decanter, etc… and obviously mostly the people behind these brands 🙂

 

Without all of the above mentioned people (and I hope I didn’t forget anybody, but if I did I apologies as we are of course also thankful to them) there would have not been a 16th Edition of best Sommelier of the world.

It was fun and I met lots of people, but I’ll be honest that I’m also very glad it is over 😉 😉  it literally will be a once in a lifetime!!  Once again congratulations to the new Best Sommelier of the World Marc Almert!! Also To the 2 runners up Raimonds Tomsons & Nina Højgaard Jensen  and of course to our very own Antoine Lehebel who became 10th. Very proud of you all.

After Piemonte, now time for some Nebbiolo delle Alpi at Mamete Prevostini

A few weeks ago it was time for my yearly trip to my beloved Valtellina (to see my Nonna), with this year a little detour via Trieste (to visit my dear zia Livia) and a pitstop in Franciacorta (near Brescia).  As I got accompanied by my dad and stepbrother, this year’s trip was a more gastronomical version 🙂 . Nevertheless with whom I’m travelling, a yearly returning event is me visiting a new vineyard in Valtellina. With new I don’t necessarily mean one that doesn’t exist very long… but rather just one I haven’t been at before. This year I finally managed to visit the winery of Mamete Prevostini. I say finally, because unlike all the other wineries in Valtellina that are located between Tirano and Sondrio (roughly spoken), their winery is quit outside of the Sondrio area near the very charming little village of Chiavenna and not too far from the Como lake.  The area still falls under Sondrio jurisdiction and it technically speaking just at the other side of the mountain (in a matter of speaking), but is just quit the drive to get there.

The fact it was so ‘far’ from the others intrigued me for a long time… Maybe it was also the trigger for wanting to visit them… that, and the fact they make extrodinary wines. During previous trips it wasn’t easy to fit a visit in my trip, so this year I build my trip around the visit and make everything fit around it 🙂 .

An interesting finding (but then again that is the reason why one visits a winery :-)) was to find out that it all actually started with their restaurant and next to that they were making  a small wine production for own use to  eventually become major winemaker in Valtellina.  This story immediately made me think about the one I heard a few months ago at Gaja (funny enough also producers of Nebbiolo wines) where they also started with an ‘osteria’ that eventually grew into a major winery (and even around the same period in time). The only difference being that Gaja’s guests were mostly people wanting to cross the river, at Mamete is was to cross a mountain 🙂 .

If you are ever in the neighborhood I do recommend  you stopping at Mamete Prevostini!! For their wines obviously, but also for their restaurant Crotasc (located next to the winery).  The meal we had there was without doubt and exaggerating AMAZING. Dishes made with top quality ingredients (prepared how they should be),  very friendly and competent staff and a very nice wine selection (Next to their own wines they also have a very nice selection of both top wines from their colleague winemakers in Valtellina, but also from the rest of Italy).  Combine all of the above mentioned with a cozy authentic location (old and new interior design styles combined) and you have a winner (or at least for me)!! Maybe I should plan my next trip to Valtellina around a stop at this restaurant 😉 . The dishes on the pictures below might seem regular, but I can say for a fact I could have licked my plates clean. All accompanied by a very nice 2015 Sommarovina (Valtellina Superiore) with on the nose herb/balsamic aromas combined with a firm palate of dried black cherry and I might even say mocha.

Techically speaking the history of Mamete Prevostini started around the 1960’s, but it wasn’t until the moment Mamete took over the torch in the late 1980’s from his father that the way of winemaking started to change. It must be said that this was the case in many wineries in Valtellina, as before they opted quantity over quality… luckily thanks to people like Mamete (and some of his colleagues) they started understanding ‘Quality’ was the way to go 🙂 .

Mamete’s arrival brought many innovations both in the cultivation of vineyards and in winemaking. With a very recent highlight or better latest innovation, in 2013,  their CasaClima Wine Cellar. CasaClima basically stands for sustainability and eco-friendly . At Mamete Prevositi they see it as their responsibility towards the future and it’s new generations to treat nature with respect and try to pollute as little as possible.

The CasaClima is not open for public, so you can only visit their historical cellar… but is also very charming to visit, especially if you have the lovely Daniela showing you around 🙂

Mamete’s vineyards are spread over 2 area’s (or that’s how you could see it). The first and smaller area is close to their historic winery in Mese or better in Piuro. At this vineyard they cultivate the Gewurztraminer and Riesling grapes for their Passito. All the other grapes are cultivated in vineyards spread between Sondrio/ Montagna In Valtellina and Tirano. This is also why they decided to build their new wine cellar closer to where all the grapes are, to avoid stressing the grapes but also to pollute less by avoiding use of all trucks driving for the vineyard to the historical winery.  Which all fits in their vision of trying to be very ecological.  95% of grapes they grow are obviously Nebbiolo (or Chiavennasca as they call it in Valtellina), the remaining 5 procent are Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Rieseling, Traminer, Pinot Bianco and Incrocio Manzoni for the few white wines they make.

Something I cannot say enough (and I repeat myself) is that next time you drink, buy or want to drink or buy a wine from Valtellina and are wondering why they have a ‘higher’ price… you must actually ‘Google’ the words ‘Valtellina vineyards’ and take a look at the pictures that are presented. Unlike in many other wine producing areas, for winegrowers in Valtellina it’s not possible to use machines to do the grape picking for them… ALL IS DONE MANUALLY  ( for the whole 6000ha of land in Valtellina where grapes are grown). And all of this is even before all of the work in the cellar has to get done. Respect!!  In case Googling is not your thing, feast your eyes on below pictures.

The wines Mamete Prevostini produces all have a very distinct and unique character . I would say a mix of elegance, finesse, power, for a great interpretation of Nebbiolo in Valtellina.  Lucky us for beeing able to try them all 🙂 🙂 under the  expert guidance of Daniela. FYI Daniela has only recently joined the Mamete team, after finishing her studies (not in wine). Although she has only been working here a short period of time (and even in wine in general), I must say she sounds like a real pro who has been in wine for many years (but I guess that’s what happens when you do something with passion).

Starting with the young wines, to the classics, through the cru’s and reserves to finish with an apotheosis aka their Sfurzat wines!! What a tasting 🙂  Even when you taste their young wines you feel the potential they have… so you can imagine how it was to taste the big guns. If I would have to pick a favort I would go for the ‘Valtellina Superiore Riserva’ that in my opinion had everything I like in a red wine: well balanced palate alongside fine-grained tannins and bright acidity!! Real beauty.

I would be a big liar if I would say the Sforzat wines (Corte di Cama and Albareda) didn’t do me anything as they are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. I was astonished  by the freshness they still have in them. I mean it are wines that have been ‘aging’ for almost 3 years.  Very delicate aromas and concentrated palate. But if you really want to know if I’m right or not… only 1 thing to do… or maybe 2:  to either traval to Valtellina or find out where they sell these beautiful wines close to where you are living and by it 🙂 🙂

I could keep talking, but one has to stop somewhere…

Cheers!!

 

A morning with Gaia Gaja

The second winery I visited during my summer holiday in Piemonte was as legendary as the first, but just in a different period in history. I was fortunate enough to visit the Gaja winery in Barbaresco and even had Gaia Gaja herself as host for the morning. I was also very happy to be able to visit this winery as normally they don’t open their doors to easily for visits… but if they do open them it is the family itself who shows you around the winery.

For my readers who wouldn’t know Gaja, Gaja is a vineyard that bottle it first wines for sales in the late 1930’s,  the winery itself got found in 1859. But at that time their main focus was on the tavern they had and they wines they produced were served at their own tavern. Their tavern used to be very popular with people who had to cross the Tànaro river . While they were waiting for the boat they all stopped at the Gaja family’s tavern. At this time, with all the money the Gaja family made, they bought pieces of land around their tavern and slowly their focus started to switch to wine making. Someone who understood at quite an early stage they should invest in quality and not quantity (as most wineries at that time would focus on quantity) was Giovanni Gaja ‘s mother. She was also the person to suggest to set high prices to manifest the prestige of the product.

It wasn’t until the arrival of Angelo Gaja (son of Giovanni Gaja) that the winery would write history and lots of vineyards in Italy that would follow him. Angelo Gaja, who besides this Enological degrees (that he obtained at the Institute in Alba and at the University of Montpellier in France), also holds a degree in economics . At his arrival at the family vineyard it wouldn’t take long before the first disputes between Angelo and his father would rise up… basically because Giovanni wanted to stick to traditions and wanted to keep making wines how they used to, Angelo saw it different and wanted to experiment (with respect for tradition) and try new things.  Lucky for us Angelo didn’t care too much about his father’s opinion and continued experimenting 🙂 . A few of the revolutions under Angelo Gaja were the ‘green harvest’ (removal of immature grape bunches, while they are still green induces the vine to put all its energy into developing the remaining grapes), single vineyard production,  introducing malolactic fermentation, use of French barriques, bringing in thermo-controllable fermentation equipment and French grape varieties (carbernet-sauvignon, chardonnay; sauvignon blanc), and eventually grand cru prices.  Angelo was at that time a modernist in a traditional region. In the beginning he got lots of critiques for his ways of working, but soon those critiques would have to take back their words and many other wineries  (even many famous wineries across Italy) would start following Angelo’s way of working, because of the exceptional results. The awards Angelo got with his winery from Wine Spectator and Decanter (to name a few) only made his status become greater!! Their 1985 Barbaresco’s were and are still seen as one of the finest wines of Italy. Next to the Piemonte vineyards they also have vineyards in Tuscany and since recently in Sicily.

Although Angelo is still alive and kicking, today it are his 2 daughters (Gaia and Rossana) and son (Giovanni – he joined last year) that are leading the company. Technically he is retired (he never officalised it 🙂 ), but you’ll still find him almost every day at one of their wineries from early in the morning until late in the evening (I can imagine it is very difficult to leave your baby eventhough you know it is in good hands).  So it is now up to them to continue writing history… after my morning with Gaia I’m sure they have a clear view on the future and know where they are headed 🙂 .

Before I continue I must also say that I find it remarkable that Gaja is probably one of the only wineries I know that doesn’t have a website and that even though they don’t advertise in any way their wine is always almost sold out 🙂 . incredible!

During my visit of the winery I also found out (and I honestly didn’t know it before) a big difference between ‘regions’  Langhe and Roero. From the window at Gaja I saw the two regions get split  the ‘Tànaro’ river. Gaja is at the Langhe side.  At the Langhe side wineries will only cultivate grapes and hazelnuts (that they sell mostly to their neighbor Ferrero). At the other side of the river  (Roero) they cultivate everything, because the soils allows to grow more. I found that fascinating (or maybe I’m just impressed quickly 😉 🙂 )

I must also admit that Gaja has a very beautiful/stylish winery!!

I could lie, but I know you won’t believe me anyway. Eventhough it seemed a bit early to already start tasting wine, one never says no to a tasting of top level wines 🙂 especially in company of a very interesting person like Gaia Gaja.

The lineup for my tasting:  2015 Barbaresco; 2014 Sperss; 1999 Sorì San Lorenzo and a 2010 Alteni di Brassica.

The first wine, the Barbaresco, is the wine it all started with a few generations ago and therefore also very important of the Gaja family. The stress in making this wine for the Gaja family lays in the fact that grapes come from 14 different partials of land that differ in types of soil, etc..  I found the wine extremely complex and refined at the same time… I was told that in 2015 (but I honestly can’t remember it myself after a mild winter temperatures rose in July and August. The vines responded well and that results in an incredible wine full of intense aromas and lovely energetic fruit with hinds crunchy red cherry. On the palate, there is power with a great depth, concentration and density of fruit, with many layers of red cherry, blueberry, red plum and piquant, chalky natural grape tannins (those last ones were only found with a little help 🙂 )

I remember me at some point asking Gaia (not sure if it was with this wine) if their wines are intended to be drunk immediately or if they are best to wrest for a while (because they are known for their ageing potential). She told me that the wines are ready to drunk and do not necessarily need to age. As the moment they decide to bottle their wines and sell them means the wines (according to them) are ready to be drunk..; and when you immediately drink it you taste the wine how the winemakers made the wine and want him to be for you. She did tell me that it does sound like and other marketing trick, but it isn’t. But if one wants to age their wines, no problem… they can age a long long time.

Up to the Barolo aka Sperss (it was noon somewhere in the world). Gaia told me that 2014 was a very wet year and they had a late harvest. She said that at the end of august the grapes weren’t ripe yet. And yet this is one of Gaia’s favorite wines. The reason it is, is because it has great tannins, beautiful color and very rich wine.. all thanks to the Indian summer  after the wet summer. It is a full bodied wine with amazing structure and softness. I mean with that you would think this wine would be much more ‘aggressive’, but it wasn’t. Again the beautiful fruity elements and minerals.

My personal favorite of the wines I tasted was the Langhe Nebbiolo or better their famous Sorì San Lorenzo. At the nose I noticed a woody scent (like when you put out a fireplace) . Like most Gaja wines, the  San Lorenzo is a dark ruby. Deep, powerful, and structured that Finishes with very fine, sweet tannins and outstanding persistence. A wine that only gets better when getting more air. Although it is already a quit older wine, it still has lots of youth in it.

Last but not least the 2010 Sauvignon-Blanc. On the nose (and even the palate) you get an immediate exotic vibe… lots of exotic fruits. A very rich wine. For my personal taste maybe a bit too exotic, but I’m sure if paired well the wine will come out fabulous.

It was very nice to have the opportunity and privilege to visit this vineyard and on top of that meet the lovely Gaia.  Up to the next wine trip 🙂

Barolo of Barolo in Barolo made by the Marchesi di Barolo … it won’t get more Barolo than this

When I left home this morning I felt the summer was over (no doubt about that). So being able to write about my summer holiday (that seems soooo long ago) does bring a bit of sunshine back inside the home and an instant feeling of happiness.  This summer it was the first summer we had to take during the school holidays . “Nothing special’ you might think, but it seems that if you don’t start booking your holiday a year in advance, finding free rooms is a true quest. So I decided to look for regions that are less touristy, but that still match with everything I have on my checklist. A region like this is Piemonte. The region is as beautiful as Tuscany, is a gastronomical Walhalla (with it truffles, wines, etc…), has many beautiful cities and villages to visit and you can get around in this region without the lots of traffic you that you would find in Tuscany or the South of France.  It is not my first visit to the region, but every time I come here I fall in love with it again… especially when you drive through Alba and you can smell when they are roasting the hazelnuts (mixed with chocolate smells) at the Ferrero factory (yes, where the Nutella is made (amongst other things)).

The accommodation we stayed at is definitely a tip I want to share with you. We stayed at  QB apartments in Montelupo Albese (just outside of Alba). Apartments/studios with an incredible view over the hills of Langhe and its beautiful vineyards and all the comfort one needs designed by host  himself who also happens to be an architect. On top of that you get the peace and quiet (maybe when my children were there a bit less 🙂 ).  We chose an apartment as we liked to have the possibility to be able to cook ourselves as with small children it isn’t always ideal  going to restaurants. Not that we didn’t go out for eating, but having the choice was very practical.

Going on holiday with small children does change a thing or two in things you can do (which is logical and I don’t mind adapting myself)… but when you are in one of THE most famous wine regions in the world, NOT visiting a vineyard is not an option. Luckily I have a wonderful wife who understands all of this (and I do all the holiday planning 😉 ) and I was able to visit 2 vineyards during our holidays in Piemonte. As I could only visit 2 I wanted to make sure the once I would visit were very good ones. And so they were as I was fortunate enough to visit Marchesi di Barolo and the one and only Gaja. Both very well-known wineries, but both with a different view (and price range).

At Marchesi di Barolo it was the lovely Lucrenzia who showed me around this historical winery. The cellars of Marchesi di Barolo are located in the heart of the village of Barolo, with views over the beautiful castle of Marquis Falletti. The world-famous wine Barolo is not only a ‘symbol’ of this region, but of the entire wine country of Italy. The Nebbiolo grapes for the Barolo Tradizione come exclusively from the best vineyards of Barolo, Monforte, Castiglion Falletto and La Morra. These vineyards are all located on the hills south of the city of Alba.

Me personally I know Marchesi di Barolo from the time my dad had his restaurant, as back then he used to sell (one of my favorite MdB wines) the Cannubi by Marchesi di Barolo.

I don’t know if you guys are history lovers? I am one for sure!! I really enjoyed listening to Lucrenzia (who was telling it to me with that much passion I started thinking it was her winery) who took me on a magical path through history.  I was surprised that they still had so many old wines, including a bottle of 1895!! I was also surprised to hear that (Just like I had heard at Bouchard a few years ago) at Marchesi di Barolo, every 20years they check all the old wines and see if they are still drinkable. If they are they get a new cork and can wrest some more. I was also told that sometimes for very special occasions they still open some of those old bottles for the public. I was however disappointed to find out my visit wasn’t one of those special occasions 🙂 🙂 (just kidding).

Something very charming to see was the special flip book they made to explain the history of Marchesi.

One of the most intriguing old bottles I have seen during my visit , were the ones hidden in a book cover from during WWII (1943).  I don’t know if you can see it well on the picture below, but the bottles were actually flat. The fact they were flat was also a big reason why the bottles are still there today and survived the war… otherwise the Nazi’s would have drunk them 🙂

Although the history lesson I received was very interesting, the moment we all wait for is the tasting of the wines (but we’ll never admit that 😉 . It  is always a privilege to be able to taste wines where they are produced. Especially in such a bright room (with signatures on all the walls of everybody who visited )as at Machesi (and in good company)

First wine on the list was the Gavi di Gavi. Gavi an Italian dry white wine produced from the Cortese (a variety known for its high acidity and its ability to maintain good freshness even if produced in a very warm environment) grape that is cultivated in the restricted area of the Province of Alessandria. Gavi is a wine crafted from grapes sourced from rocky marl soils and has more weight and presence than perhaps typical for the area, but not at the cost of the delicately framed floral and mineral notes that characterize this style. Bright and tangy fruit with lemon/lime notes and I might say a snap of grapefruit. I would call this wine an ‘all man’s friend’, as I cannot imagine anybody not liking this wine 🙂

As a little in-between I was served a ‘cocktail’ made with Moscati d’ Asti, lime, mint and ice cubes. I can honestly say it was a very refreshing cocktail  with a ‘mojito’ vibe to it. It has also already found its way to my home in Belgium 🙂

Now some serious business, the red’s. Although the region has some very nice white’s, the reds are the reason we come 😉 The first red to taste was a 2016 Barbera d’Alba ‘Peiragal’. From a commercially point of view Barbera today is one of the most import grape varieties in the area, however, the variety is not as old as some other varieties from Piemonte … Barbera has for a longtime been seen as a “less important” wine in comparison with the Barolo. BUT it now found its rightful place at the top. In terms of taste, you type Barbera the easiest in comparison with Nebbiolo. Barbera always has a rather deep color, very high acidity and moderate tannin, while Nebbiolo is just the opposite on these three levels.  The “typical” style of Barbera has, however, been changed considerably in recent years by some producers by using certain wine making techniques. Often it is said the Barbera is female and Barolo Male 🙂 Not sure why that is actually, maybe because of its tempting fruitiness acidity?  (it is also said it is the Merlot of Italy). As for the Peiragal (I sometimes get carried away) for me it is a warm, robust and full, ruby red wine with aromas of berries, hazelnut and hints of vanilla (not too much of the last).

Up to the 2013 Barbaresco  ‘Serragrilli’ that was one of my favorites of the tasting (if I can be picky, because the other ones were also fabulous). Probably because of the fact the Barbaresco is made 100% out of Nebbiolo grapes it is often compared with its nearby brother ‘Barolo’. But they both have different soils, different history and different rules of making the wine (in many ways also due to the difference in soil they grow on).   So basically they share the same grape and that’s it 😉 but in case you are very curious, this link might help to clarify a thing or two 🙂  BTW, the best way to actually know the difference is just tasting both next to each other (like I did at Marchesi). A solid, to the point wine, that opens with aromas ‘new leather’ (I know, but it really did), black cherry and a hint of oak-driven spice. On the palate I noticed dried black cherry, anise and a slightly bitter note. But what made it a winner for me was silky tannins, characterized by a long and fresh finish. A warm and full-bodied feeling in the mouth . Beauty!!

Now time for the Barolo di Barolo 🙂 😉 Not an official term, but hey, I’m drinking Barolo of Barolo in Barolo made by the Marchesi di Barolo … it won’t get more Barolo than this!

I tasted 3 of Marchesi’s 2013 Barolo’s:  Barolo (Classic), Sarmassa and my beloved Cannubi.  3 wines made with the same grape, in ways similar but yet so different. Putting these 3 next to each other is the best example of when wines are cultivated in the same ways and produced in the same ways that the fact they come from a different soil makes them completely different!! Incredible.

It already starts at the nose with the Cannubi being tight and focused with aromas of wild berry, red rose. Whereas the Sarmassa gives more black-skinned fruit, coffee/toasty, dark spice and  even balsamic notes and the “Barolo Tradizione” that is somehow ‘softer’ with the red-fruits but still the hints of coffee. All 3 with an incredible finish, but maybe all 3 might need some extra time …but nevertheless very drinkable now and a pleasure for the taste buds and the palate.

Thank you very much Lucrenzia for this fantastic visit!!