The Third National Italian Rosé Competition

Otranto 1

An unusually well taken (for me) photo of an Otranto sunset

Concorso Enologico Nazionale dei Vini Rosati D’Italia Terza Edizione (2014)

As bit of a mouthful? In English, and only slightly abbreviated, this becomes The Third National Italian Rosé Competition, which seems more manageable. The prize-giving conference for this Puglian-inspired yearly event took place in the magnificent setting of Otranto Castle, in the far south of Puglia, the heel of Italy, on Saturday 31st May 2014, and was thirstily witnessed by a packed room of assorted Italian journalists and writers, and a smattering of other European ones, with me and Antonio Tomassini forming the English contingent.

The competition was organized by Regione Puglia and other more national institutions to promote rosés from Italy in general, and, despite a rather relaxed start, it was a well-managed, interesting, and even entertaining event. Highlights of the keynote European speakers included Federico Castellucci, Director General of the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV). The summary of his presentation comprised a page of ominously dry-looking statistics, but he managed through his enthusiasm for Italian wine to bring it to life and make it interesting, motivational even: we learned that France consumes 34% of the world’s rosé, which represents 25% of all wine drunk there, whereas in Italy the same two data are 5%. Italy’s great strength is in export, he showed, with an increase in the last 10 years from 26% to 40% of rosé exported. Castellucci encouraged Italians to practice what they preach and appreciate that rosé is an excellent wine, and drinking it is ‘cool’. Try it yourselves, he implied, rather than just exporting it.

Talking of France… Just how seriously the French take their different wine styles is shown by the existence of the ‘Centre de Recherche et d’Experimentation sur le Vin Rosé’. Many in the trade have seen the very attractive colour chart of rosés they have designed. Gilles Masson, representing them, highlighted from this that dry, lighter-coloured styles are in vogue at the moment (which is good news for this Provence based institution, as it endorses their regional style), but that this may change at any time in this fast-moving market.

Fabrizio Nardoni, Assessore alle Risorse Agroalimentari della Regione Puglia (Agricultural Counsellor for the Puglia Region), resplendent in an electric blue suit, enthused energetically about the quality of the product, and the potential for increased export of Puglian rosé; he really is a Puglian Ambassador. This point was reinforced in a more general Italian sense by Senatore Dario Stefano, in his conclusion. To put this into practice, though, a larger showing of foreign journalists and marketers would have been of benefit; also, a similar event in the UK would bring this underestimated region more to the UK’s attention.

The strong Italian and Puglian interest in this event was further demonstrated by the presence in the audience of the hugely popular (in Italy) singer Albano Carrisi, who is a Puglian wine producer himself, and Palma D’Onofrio, TV Chef and Apulian Icon, who was invited to the stage to present the prizes.
Puglia showed well in the results; a cynic might suggest that this had something to do with the fact that Regione Puglia was the main organizer. However, in fairness, the region does produce 40% of all of Italy’s rosés, which makes it less surprising that 5 of the 18 prizes went to Puglian wines. The full results can be seen on the Vini di Puglia website.

The Museum at Leone de Castris

The Museum at Leone de Castris

Lunch at Masseria Gianca Cisternino

Lunch at Masseria Gianca Cisternino

The following day was spent on a whirlwind tour of the Salento peninsula our way back to Bari, guided by Antonella Millarte, food and cookery expert, and an inexhaustible font of knowledge on Puglia. We made brief stops at three of the award winning producers. At Leone de Castris, as well as the charming ‘Five Roses’, named after the daughters of the original owner, we had a delightfully light and floral Aleatico rosé called Aleikos presented by Dr.ssa Alessandra Leone De Castris, at the ubiquitous Due Palme we retasted the fragrant Melarosa and serious Salice Salentino ‘Selvarossa’, and at Cantine Cardone we met the very energetic Marianna Cardone and Giuseppe Palumbo from Antinori’s estate Tormaresca, further to the north of Puglia, who consults at this estate. Their award winner ‘Provit’ is a Pinot Noir sparkling rosé, crisp and red-fruited. They also make Bordeaux blend wines, with 100% new oak, well managed and stylish but not particularly Puglian, in my opinion, and more characterful wines from indigenous varieties. The lunch nearby at Masseria Gianca Cisternino was fantastic!

The way to a journalist’s heart is through his stomach, to paraphrase an old wife’s tale. The buffet after the awards ceremony would normally have been the highlight of Saturday’s conference, and indeed it was excellent. The presentations that preceded it were so interesting and presented with such passion, though, that it was a close contest! Thank you sincerely to Sergio Maglio for organizing this educational competition, we are thoroughly convinced of the quality and passion of Italian rosé in general, and Puglian in particular. Thank you also to Accademia Apulia UK for providing the cultural bridge between Puglia and the UK.

Fabrizio Nardone talked of the potential of Puglian wine in export. The UK has a rather limited understanding of these wines, largely dominated by inexpensive Primitivo di Puglia; it’s time to bring the show to the UK to show them the real stuff!

60cm Snow in Abruzzo

Francesco Valentini holds forth

An unusually large snowfall on Monday and Tuesday of last week has destroyed vines in the vineyards of Abruzzo. Reports of the amount of damage vary, but in one case may be as high as 50%, the problem exacerbated by the tall pergola vine training typical of the region.

 

The snow itself did not come by surprise; local weather stations had forecast it to begin on Monday. It was it’s quantity, coupled with strong winds of up to 160km/hour, however, that caused major damage to the vines. Angelo Ruzzi, Sales Export Manager at Azienda Zaccagnini, explained: “The quantity of snow which fell on unpruned tall pergola trained vines was the problem. They supported it, and eventually broke. We have only lost up to 10% of our vines. Some were less lucky”

 

The 1983 vintage of Francesco Valentini’s celebrated Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (yes, the much maligned Trebbiano) may be the best Italian white I have ever tasted, but his vineyard was hit the worst, with up to 50% of the vines damaged by the snow. He viewed this from a different perspective: “The issue is not the amount of damage to my vines or any others, it is climate change. We have had up to 60cm of snow falling in November, coupled with winds of up to 140km/hour; this isn’t normal. In Italy we talk about Berlusconi, but no-one writes about these serious issues. We will recover from the damage, but the climate will continue to change, unchecked.”

 

Tonino Verna, President of both Cantina Tollo, the region’s largest cooperative, and of the Consorzio Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, put some perspective on it: “Out of 35,000Ha planted to members of the Consorzio, about 2000Ha have been affected. At Cantina Tollo, out of the 3,500Ha of our members, only about 50Ha have been affected. Yes, there has been damage to vines, especially in the hills, but not catastrophic, as some are suggesting.”

 

This year has been harsh on the European vineyard, with devastating thunderstorms in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Alsace; this is the latest instalment. Perhaps Francesco Valentini is right, and we can look forward to more of the same next year.

Tuscany Strikes Back – New Chianti Classico classification

The Chianti Classico revolution: what’s new in the land of the Black Rooster
Press Conference at the ‘Tuscany Strikes Back’ tasting at Somerset House, 23rd April 2013

Albert Eistein, a man who knows a thing or two about the difference between complication and simplicity, once said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” This was brought to my mind on April 23rd, when the great and the good of the wine writing world (and I) gathered in a packed room in Somerset House for a press conference to introduce the ‘Chianti Classico Revolution” at the combattantly named ‘Tuscany Strikes Back’ tasting. Perhaps the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico could take Einstein’s message to heart, too.

Here’s the deal: the old Chianti Classico appellation featured two levels: Chianti Classico, and Chianti Classic Riserva. With the new classification, a head has been added to this quality pyramid: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, so that the hierarchy now looks a lot more like the Rioja format of Rioja, Rioja Reserva, and Rioja Gran Reserva. So far, so simple, and, in my view, a logical step. Here are the descriptions of the three levels:

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione
• Grapes must be grown by the winery itself
• Minimum aging requirements: 30 months, including 3 months of bottle aging
• Stricter chemical and sensory parameters

Chianti Classico Riserva
• Minimum aging requirements: 24 months, inlcuding 3 months of bottle aging
• New chemical and organoleptic parameters

Chianti Classico
• New chemical and organoleptic parameters

Views vary on the usefulness of the new category. On the plus side, it is the first true category in the appellation purposely made for estate-grown wines (plus it provides an attractive point to the pyramid), however, on the minus, there are general concerns about the necessity of a new quality tier. Silvia Fiorentini, who presented the new system for the Consorzio, said “people are confused between Chianti and Chianti Classico,” which, for me, begs the question: “then why make it even more confusing?” I wonder what Einstein would say?

Among some rather grumpy question, was a very pertinent one from Steven Spurrier. Producers will submit their wines for classification 30 months after the vintage (although this date seemed to be slightly fuzzy in the discussion) to a committee. Steven asked: “Who would the committee comprise of?” unfortunately the answer was that it would be that old chestnut ‘industry experts’. “But who exactly would these be?” he continued. The answer that it would be experts from both the region and outside it didn’t seem to dispel the fear that the same conflict of interest issues which have plagued both the Saint Emilion and Cru Bourgeois classifications would pop up here too. Italians, however, from my experience, seem to have a rather different way of dealing with such problems to the French. Rather than arguing (rather expensively, in court) about such things, a little bit of shoulder shrugging takes place, influence is exerted, and another appellation is entered into the books. The French, though, still have the apposite expression: “Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose” (the more it changes, the more it stays the same.)

A tasting of Chianti Classico, conducted by a very nervous looking Andrea Rinaldi followed the presentation. “Would all the wines in the tasting be considered ‘Gran Selezione’ by the committee, in his opinion?” I asked. “Oh yes, of course” was both his, and Silvia Fiorentini’s answer, as expected. I wonder if they will be on the committee?