Monday, June 18, 2018

Meeting Three Generations at Azienda Agricola Dino Illuminati

This winery was founded as Fattoria Nicò or Nico's Farm in 1890 by Nicola Illuminati. It would grow substantially by the 1970s under the direction of his grandson, Dino, with the purchase of more vineyard land. Today, the family at Azienda Agricola Dino Illuminati oversees more than 300 acres between the Adriatic Sea and the Gran Sasso mountain.

Dino's son Stefano and his grandson Nicola met our group out in the vineyard where we immediately saw the signs of a sustainably maintained vineyard with every other row alternating between grassy cover crops and vineyard dirt. Baby grapes were taking shape out on the vines under an ominous late afternoon cloud cover that quickly cooled the warm spring temperatures down. We snapped a quick group photo and headed to the winery.

When we arrived to the covered patio, no one was more surprised than me to find the Texas flag on display. There will be more on that in an upcoming issue of Galveston Monthly magazine so stay tuned, the gist is that Dino Illuminati is an official honorary Texan. Dino emerged from the offices where he is still onsite to oversee things and give us a quick meet and greet before our tasting. I took the opportunity to quickly photograph the three generations of Illuminati men who were influencing the wines that we were about to taste.

The Tasting:

Illuminati Brut 2017 - This wine was a delightful surprise with which to start, a sparkling white wine made in the traditional Champenoise method out of 60% Trebbiano and 40% Verdicchio from grapes sourced from their own Controguerra vineyards. Light and fresh with a creamy texture from its 30-36 months on the lees with elegant notes of citrus and apple through the lingering finish. A perfect start to any meal and an excellent choice for simple seafood dishes.

Illuminati Controguerra Pecorino 2017 - Sourced from a vineyard
situated over 800 feet above sea level, this crisp, clean white has citrus, fresh herbs, and a touch of almond with a persistent mineral laced finish.Illuminati Daniele 2015 - This is a fuller bodied white wine blend of Trebbiano, Passerina and Chardonnay, it has rich fruity flavors of apple and pear with a smooth, easy finish, an excellent complement to heavier seafood dishes.

Illuminati Campirosa Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2017 - Another dark cherry-colored dry rosé from Montepulciano grapes, this refreshing dark pink wine had mixed ripe berry aromas and flavors with a light floral note, perfect with charcuterie and mild cheeses or poultry dishes.

Illuminati Riparoso Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2016 - This approachable red wine is aged in 25 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels for 7-8 before being bottled and cellar aged for another 3-4 months. Red cherry aromas and flavors with a bit of licorice and a light leathery note make this soft, full bodied red the perfect everyday wine for simple meals like pizza or hamburgers.

Illuminati Ilico Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2015 - Stefano said this wine was made in the more classic rustic style, it had sweet berry aromas and flavors with some vanilla and a raison note, try it with braised red meat.

llluminati Zanna Montepulciano d'Abrruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG Riserva 2013 - One of the first vineyards ever planted on the farm is the source of this fruit, it receives regular cooling breezes from the sea that help the grapes maintain their acidity and keeps the vines disease free. This wine was a favorite of George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Blackberries and a floral note combine with a full body, velvety tannins and an elegant slightly spicy mineral-tinged lingering finish, enjoy with a grilled ribeye or blue cheese burger.

Illuminati Lumen Controguerra Rosso Riserva 2011 - Produced only in the best vintages from a blend of 70% Montepulciano and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine had mixed ripe red fruit aromas and black berry flavors with a full body, bigger structure and persistent finish, pair with red meats or game.

Illuminati Pieluni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane Riserva 2011 - The harvest for the grapes for this wine is later giving the wine intense aromas and flavors of ripe mixed berries with vanilla and tobacco, rich, round and lingering, serve this with roasted lamb or mature cheese.

Illuminati Pieluni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane Riserva 2000 - Brambly, mysterious
and powerful, dark berries and a smoky note continue through the slightly savory finish. The two wines did not appear to have an eleven year age difference.

We also had the opportunity to enjoy the llluminati Zanna Montepulciano d'Abrruzzo Riserva 1987 which was also surprisingly young and a delight to drink. All of the above wines are highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Wine Lunch at Ristorante Pαlαzzo Ducαle dellα Montαgnolα with Camillo Montori

The second stop on the  Abruzzo wine tour was for a tasting of the wines of Azienda Agricola Camillo Montori over lunch at Ristorante Pαlαzzo Ducαle dellα Montαgnolα. Our host was owner Camillo Montori who toured us around his 15th century castle which has, over time, been a wine estate, a convent and is now a restaurant and event center. 

Among the estate's artifacts are the original well, a16th century winemaking room and a stone olive oil press. Camillo Montori has great passion for the Abruzzo region, he loves its architecture, its art and its history, he feels all of these things have contributed to its wine and food culture. 

After the tour, we went into the restaurant for the wine tasting served with some classic Abruzzo pairings. Our lunch started with prosciutto and cheese served with the Fonte Cupa Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2017, an easy drinking white wine with red apple notes made from the region's most important indigenous white grape. 

The Fonte Cupa Colli Aprutini Pecorino 2017 was also served with the first course, it was crisp and fruity with a citrus and mineral-laced finish. Pecorino is both the name of the grape as well as the name of the local cheese. Legend has it that the grape was a favored delicacy of the local sheep population, hence the name. While both were refreshing, I took a second pour of the more lively Pecorino.

Our second course was Le Virtù, a minestrone-like soup, which is the May Day specialty in Abruzzo. This traditional soup has 49 different ingredients and takes seven pots to make it. The Fonte Cupa Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2017 was the first wine poured to go with the soup. This Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo is  a darkly hued rosé made from 100% Montepulciano grapes, it was fresh and vibrant with red cherry aromas and flavors and a hint of earthy undergrowth in the lingering finish. 

We were also poured the Camilo Montori Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2016 with the soup, it was a deep, full bodied red with mixed red berry aromas and flavors and a slightly astringent finish. Both were delicious wines though I did prefer the Cerasuolo with the soup.

For our final savory course to pair with two more of the red wines, we were served bacon wrapped pork medallions with potatoes. Our wine pairings with this were the Fonte Cupa Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2013 and the Fonte Cupa Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane Riserva 2011. Both of these reds were rich and concentrated with velvety tannins and a persistent finish. The Riserva was more multifaceted in its aroma and flavor profile, both were delicious with the pork.

We wrapped up our meal with a little something sweet to go with our coffee. The Abruzzo wine tour needed to get back on the road. Camillo Montori was a wonderful host who makes delicious easy drinking, food friendly wines, all of the above are recommended. 

If you are looking for a restaurant or event space in Abruzzo, be sure to check out Ristorante Pαlαzzo Ducαle dellα Montαgnolα.

Monday, June 11, 2018

An Introduction to Abruzzo at Fattoria Nicodemi

My first stop on the Abruzzo wine tour was at organic wine producer Fattoria Nicodemi which is located in the town of Notaresco in the Colline Teramane DOCG. This DOCG was originally part of the larger Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC but became its own distinct growing area with new stricter regulations in 2003. The name translates to the hills around Teramo and is considered to have a more favorable climate that leads to superior tannin development. The production area is small with less than 300 acres under vine, rules involve smaller yields and a longer required aging period. Fattoria Nicodemi has almost 75 of these hillside acres and produces about 200,000 bottles a year.

Elena Nicodemi met our group and took us out onto a terrace that oversees the vineyards to share her thoughts on the terroir of Colline Teramane. The vineyard sits at 1000 feet above sea level and has a medium textured mix of limestone and clay soil which, she said, is typical for the area. The vineyard area appeared lush and green, almost surreal like a painting of what a perfect vineyard should look like. The vineyards are farmed organically with no chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers and new vines are sourced from their heirloom vines through mass selection when new plantings are needed.

Her father, Bruno Nicodemi, started the winery in 1970 after receiving the estate from her grandmother which at the time was just a typical country farm. He wanted to produce quality wine for bottling versus selling his grapes for bulk wine production, this was an unusual idea at that time, the region was not known for quality producers though there were already some with the same vision. He converted the land to vineyards and produced his first vintage under his own label in 1977.

Though neither she nor her brother planned on becoming winemakers, Elena was an architect and her brother an economist, they both changed their plans and joined the winery in 2000 to fulfill their father's dream. They replanted some vineyard plots to gain more southeastern exposure, designed new labels and expanded the range of wines being produced. They were careful to maintain their oldest pergola trained vines which they use for their Riserva bottling. Fattoria Nicodemi only produces wine from their own land, they do not buy additional grapes from growers. Their goal is to produce wine that is an expression of their land, their vines and their culture. The production is only from native varieties, 70% Montepulciano and 30% Trebbiano.

They are trying some experimental winemaking with alternative neutral vats made from sand, cement and brick fragments that allow for micro-oxygenation over a two year time period. They are different than the tera cotta urns more often seen in that they are not baked. Elena described the material as more like what the ancient Romans used to build the aqueducts. The wine was not at a point to be tasted yet but they are excited to see the end results.

After our tour, we went into the beautifully designed tasting room with its expansive vineyard views to try the wines of Fattoria Nicodemi.

Le Murate Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2017 - Fresh, crisp and tangy with lemon citrus and a light herbal component, an easy drinking wine for light seafood salads, vegetarian fare or seafood crudo.

Notàri Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Superiore 2017 - This wine was aged on its lees for 3 months longer than the previous wine and had a three months longer bottle aging period. Elena said this white was more typical of the style that most Abruzzese drink. Similar to the first wine with citrus and herbal notes, this wine also had a bit more of a floral character, a softer texture and a more distinct and lingering mineral finish. An ideal wine for heavier seafood dishes, saffron chicken or grilled polenta.

Le Murate Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2017 - Fruity aromas and flavors of pomegranate, raspberry and orange peel balance perfectly with fresh acidity, a round feel and a lingering mineral finish, a perfect choice to pair with either charcuterie or salad.

Le Murate Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane 2016 - From a cooler year, this wine showed intense dark fruit aromas and flavors of black cherry and blackberry with floral hints of rose and spicy cinnamon adding interest. Rich and flavorful yet still elegant with fresh acidity, velvety tannins, and a persistent finish. Serve this with barbecue, roasted meats or savory meat based sauces.

Notàri Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane 2015 - From a warmer and drier vintage, this wine displayed pronounced blueberry aromas and flavors with hints of lavender, cloves and a balsamic note, fresh and tangy with smooth ripe tannins and a deep blackberry mineral-laced finish, a classic choice for for the lamb dishes of the area or a great wine to try with spicier cuisine.

Neromoro Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane Riserva 2013 -  Sourced from a single plot of 45+ year old pergola trained vines, this wine showed mixed black cherry and berry aromas and flavors with a light floral note, red pepper and a balsamic essence in the long finish. Intense and rich yet still fresh, smooth, and well balanced, this wine is perfect for classic pasta dishes or roasted or barbecued meat.

All of the above wines are highly recommended, they reflect the passion and the elegance of the family and give a true taste of this special area of Abruzzo.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Economy Liquor - An Island Tradition

As originally seen in the March issue of Galveston Monthly magazine

This month we featured the independently owned wine and spirits store owners on Galveston Island and their top choices for Spring Break.