Nimble and Agile – buzz words for this winemaker from Tonello Winery

In the male dominated world of wine, Diletta Tonnello is a breath of fresh air. Freshly graduated from the University of Padua in 2013, a few years of experience, she’s ready to go and put all her passion and skills into the family winery. Located in Montorso Vicentino directly east of Lake Garda and Verona, she has 12 hectares of volcanic, alluvial deposit, rich in pebbles to cultivate. She’s in her element and with her indulging father Antonio, she has free rein to experiment.

Diletta Tonello in her comfort zone

My eyes pop open when I put my nose into a glass of Lessini Durello. Made in the Champagne method, it takes 36 months mellowing on the yeast to soften the high acidity of the Durello grapes. Disgorged in February 2017, it is showing pretty well in February 2018 but can only get better with time. It’s creamy with lots of brioche and almonds and leaves that lingering waxy feel in the mouth which you get in Champagne.

Gosh, I remember the student days when I used to swig at bottles of cheap Soave that clung to your cheeks with its wrenching acidity. Garganego, the grape, is from a different planet in the hands of Diletta. Elegant notes of pear with enough acidity turns this varietal into wine of class for easy drinking.

The reds are a triumph. Tonello’s Merlot has been vinified in cement tanks and shows the fruit so well without any interference of wood or too much handling. Eucalyptus and mint come through and dreams of lamb as a food pairing, surface. The Cabernet Sauvignon too has only seen the inside of a cement tank and has a classic cigar box nose with a hint of something green, not the best way of describing reds but it works in this superb wine. Only 2015, with such great potential. The flagship Incognito is slightly older at 2010 and has been in French oak. It’s a combination of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and the flavours you got from tasting these individually, are brought together seamlessly.

Diletta – boldly making her mark

Diletta is young and stunning and has a bright future ahead of her. She can only get better, just like her wines.

Link: http://www.vinitonello.com/en/

La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life in Helsinki

Wine and food fairs are a menace. You never get to drink a full glass and you never seem to be able to fill your stomach on all the snacky portions available. You usually come away feeling dehydrated and slightly ill. Nowadays, I make it a habit of going to a fair not just to see what’s available but with a particular mission in mind, a quest for what is different and new.

At this year’s Italian celebration of their fabulous fare, held in the gorgeous setting of the Old Student House or Vanha Ylioppilastalo as it is known in Finnish, I’m on the look out for some grape varietals I’ve never tasted before. Not as easy as you might think…. Not because I’ve tasted so many wines in my lifetime but because the standard and generic is in your face all the time and it’s hard to sift through the stuff that you always come across.

Benanti’s Marketing and Export Manager Agatino Failla

This time I’m in luck when I stumble upon the Benanti wines from Sicily. Their Marketing and Export Manager Agatino Failla, has a wicked sense of humour and before you know it, you’re tasting some products that grab your attention. Benanti Etna Bianco 2014 is made from Carricante grapes. I try not to look too stupid. It’s full of mineral and flint, slightly spicy and plays games with your taste buds resulting in a long, extended finish. When I do a bit of research, I find out that Carricante is an ancient grape that thrives on the slopes of Mount Etna’s volcanic soil and is prized for its acidity. The vines inherited by the Benanti family are old, really old between 80 and 120 years I am told. The complexity in all their wines are testament to these struggling growths digging deep to find water and hence survival.

This brings me to the reds and again I’m trying not to show my ignorance. Benanti Etna Rosso is a product of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio both of which have been around forever, both of which are intriguing in their profile. It reminds me a bit of Pinot Noir with its fruity intensity without losing that trademark minerality of all Benanti wines. It could be my imagination but do I really taste the terroir here? Then the 100% Benanti Nerello Mascalese. We’re talking tannins and sour cherry, cranberry and some hints of a flower, violets perhaps? It’s medium-bodied and stuffed with all kinds of intricate flavours that keep you talking and sipping.

With diurnal temperatures sometimes ranging as wide as 20 degrees at certain times of year, these vineyards have to fight for their very existence. Growing ancient grapes on an active volcano is not for sissies. The Benanti family intend to hang in there and judging by awards, they’re reaching for the stars and getting there.

Alko stocks 2 of their wines: Benanti Etna Bianco 2014 and Benanti Nerello Mascalese 2013.

Barolo, Barbaresco, King and Queen?

Let’s get down to the earth. If you read what it says on the websites, it’s all in the soil but should one be considered better or lesser than the other, is another question.

Perjantaiparlementti or Friday Parliament is what the Minister of Wine, Veli-Antti Koivuranta calls the Friday wine tastings where he pulls out all the stops and goes for the top of the range stuff. Here’s a chance to taste wines that you might never buy yourself but that you’d love to try.

The Minister of Wine. Veli-Antti Koivuranta

North-West Italy is where these wines originate. The region is divided into four areas viz. Piemonte (Barolo and Barbaresco; Astia, Alba; Gavi), Valle d’Aosta, Lombardia and Liguria. Now that we know this, we understand that Barolo and Barbaresco are areas, not grape varietals and that the fruit is called Nebbiolo. But the devil is in the detail and here it is: soils in Barbaresco are more nutrient and hence produce less tannins than what you might find in Barolo. Both produce wines that smell of flowers and perfume and both have a long finish. But on the palate is where you’ll find the difference, less of a chalky mouth-feel on the Barbaresco. Then there is also the question of cellar time. Barolo stays in barrel longer because of its tannic qualities but it also changes the flavour profile.

Three favourites

We always kick off with a sparkling of some kind and this one is a Frizzante from Lombardy. It’s a good way to get the palate going and freshen it up. Seven wines to follow and every single one is an explosion of flavour.

Barbaresco Gallina 2012 from Ugo Lequio which smells like cherry, a hint of liquorice and rose petal. It’s nuanced with great balance between soft tannins and sweet berries. (Alko €28,39).

The Gemma Giblin Barolo 2008 reminds me of creosote, leather and smoke and yet has heady notes of roses and spice. (Alko €58,40).

Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2012 ranges in scores from 98 by James Suckling to 89 from Wine Enthusiast. With spice, ash, raspberry on the nose and then more violets and sour cherry on the palate, the finish is tannic. It’s robust and big and it’ll take a well-matured steak or truffles to stand up to its powerful flavour. Be warned, this is not for sipping. (Alko €92).

Friday Parliament – a wine tasting with top-tier stuff

To join us for well-priced, top quality tastings at Nomad Cellars, see Viiniministeri.fi and for info in English, call Veli-Antti Koivuranta at +358 40 4143705.

Casale del Giglio – Wine Innovation in a Valley

They took a long, hard look at the terroir in the Agro Pontino Valley, 50 km south of Rome in Lazio, and made their decision. The maritime climate had a say too. Hence, the choice of grapes.

With sandy, mineral and alluvia dark volcanic soils similar to those of Bordeaux, they use French and Spanish varietals to create their magic. But one grape that’s neither of these and completely new for me is Bellone, meaning ‘handsome’, a full, beautiful bunch that the Romans discovered (although this is contested by some) and that has frequently been used by farmers for their own consumption.

Bellone 2014

Nose: A tropical fruit nose somewhat reminiscent of Viognier but more guava, grapefruit, perfume

Palate: In spite of what is normally said of this grape lacking zing, a slight tingling on the tongue, guava, apricot, peach, mango, hint of grapefruit

Finish: Slightly bitter, tingling and medium length

My verdict: It’s easy drinking and tempts you to sit on the beach and sip away.

Shiraz_NF

Shiraz 2014

They decided to go with the original name from ancient Persia with the eponymous city.

Nose: leather, smoke, violets, spice, anise

Palate: Beautiful acidity, just enough to transform it from a jammy wine to an elegant mouthful of spice and dark berries

Finish: Medium length but lingering tastes of cardamom and blueberry

My verdict: This is a wine to watch. Still a bit green (2014) and 6 months in oak, the acidity and flavours that are holding back right now, will develop into a world-class wine in 3 to 5 years. I vote for 5. Lamb, grilled tuna, roast chicken.

 

Paolo Tiefenthaler - winemaker at Casale del Giglio
Paolo Tiefenthaler – winemaker at Casale del Giglio (Credit: Tehcnosoc)

Tempranijo 2013

This Spanish varietal (spelt in the Italian way) is usually a strong tannin wine. To minimise this, it was picked late allowing the grapes to slightly shrivel on the vine. In keeping with its characteristics, it was aged in big barrels of cherry oak.

Nose: Wow! Strong, serious molasses, raspberry, blackcurrant

Palate: Rounded – they did a good job of calming down those tannins, luscious, full and slightly sweet with lots of fruit

Finish: Long and fruity

My verdict: Big wine with plenty of layers to experiment with when it comes to food like stews, especially game, roast duck and strong charcuterie like Parma ham.

Oenologist Paolo Tiefenthaler is adventurous and innovative and loves experimenting with varietals that are not that common in Italy. They produce 18 wines with care and quality in mind.

Links:

Casale del Giglio

Available at:

Winesearcher

In Finland:

Viinitkotiin

In Estonia:

Veinidkoju Shop – Lootsi 14-2, 10151 Tallinn (opposite Terminal D, Tallink terminal)

The Other Side of Italy – Puglia

We all know where Rome is, beautiful Florence and of course Milan with all its fashion houses and banks. Puglia is the heel of the boot, on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, with unspoiled wonders that lie in wait.

I might stay in a ‘trulli’, one of those typical Puglia white huts with their hat-like roofs or in a grand Masseria but I find a cheaper place to live. The village is small – San Vito dei Normanni doesn’t have much to offer except an opportunity to look, to absorb and to make sense of it all. The old men, three abreast, are seated on park benches and talk as if they have not seen each other in a long while. You know that it was only yesterday but this is the land of the art of conversation, and they can do this for hours. The sexy young ladies wearing only the bare minimum, make their presence known and you see the eyes of the young and old men who look, comment, and wonder if they have a chance.

They start young with their fashionable haircuts and flirtatious smiles.
They start young with their fashionable haircuts and flirtatious smiles.

The trattoria is recommended and everyone knows where it is. Nonna Mena is the name of this gem in the rear village. The antipasto consists of delicious arugula salad with tomatoes that have ripened in the sun, local cheese, meatballs, oven baked peppers and eggplant, deep fried zucchini and cucumbers to flush the palate and get ready for the next course. Orichietta is a small pasta that’s a local specialty and here, it is served with a fresh tomato sauce. The flavors are complimented by the red wine of this area, Primitivo. Dinner is late, from 8 pm onwards and this is about as much as I can handle before hitting the sack.

I’m close to the Adriatic Sea and it draws me like the Piscean I am to Torre Guaceto, located in a nature reserve where you park the car a short distance away from the beach. The little train provides transport but I need to work off last night’s calories so I choose to walk. This is nature at its best with very little to offer except the sea, sand and rocks that can cut quite badly if you are not careful, but the water seems clean and I enjoy every moment in its saltiness. If you are hungry or thirsty, you can buy fresh fruit from the local farmer and bite into a juicy peach or watermelon which costs just 0.39 cents for the whole thing. No restaurants here.

2013-07-09 09.54.40
Unspoilt Torre Guaceto

Another day, another beach and this time the more, but not quite, commercial Specchiolla. There are rocks and sand beaches, and the Italians lie brown and darkly tanned in the sun from morning to afternoon when it is time for lunch and siesta. And speaking of lunch, I spot Il Porticciolo, maybe a bit more expensive than the usual “greasy spoons” that one might normally encounter in places like this, but something tells me that this is going to be good. The antipasto consists of curried prawns, mussels in one of the best light sauces I have ever tasted, oven baked vegetables, calamari salad. The unoaked Chardonnay served as the house wine is beautifully fresh, with enough acidity and body to balance. And who will I meet there but Luigi, the owner of Nonna Mena where I ate the first night. Obviously being a restaurant owner he knows all the best places around, and here he sits with his friends, young and old, at a table where the wine flows, one empty bottle immediately replaced with a full one. He introduces himself again offering me a glass of wine. Of course he tries it on but I’m a tad too old in the tooth for such games and he can only look forward to serving me again at his restaurant as a customer. I tell you, a woman has to have hair on her teeth to travel alone in Italy.

'Starters' at Il Porticciolo
‘Starters’ at Il Porticciolo

Puglia is full of unexpected delights. Take Ostuni for example, the bride in her white garments clinging to the side of the mountain looking out over orchards of olive trees at her feet, with walking streets and church squares that thrill and surprise you.

Delights at Mela Bacata Lounge Bar and Restaurant, Ostuni
Delights at Mela Bacata Lounge Bar and Restaurant, Ostuni

Lecce is a 2000 – year old city with large, high and cream coloured buildings of limestone common in this area. The Ionian Sea on the other side has Gallipoli, the ‘Beautiful city’ and if you’re wondering what I was, it’s not the same place where the bitter war was fought between Turkey and Australia and New Zealand. This ancient port city does justice to its name with the old city high on a hill looking down on the beaches and harbour from above. The colour of the water shifts from turquoise to blue to green, and all I want to do is dive.

The art of papier-mâché in Lecce
The art of papier-mâché in Lecce
Gallipoli - 'Beautiful City'
Gallipoli – ‘Beautiful City’

Brindisi, another historical town where the Appian Way culminates in huge marble columns with fine Corinthian decorations looking out to sea and one of the most beautiful entrances to a harbour protected by the city enveloping it with her arms.

I wonder, when I return (Luigi wants to know!), will the smiles still be so wide, the service still executed with care, the wildness still as untamed or if the pearl’s lustre will disappear into yet another tourist trap location? What I know now is that it is quiet, that most of the people on the beaches are Italian and that the prices are reasonable.

Links:

Lonely Planet

San Vito dei Normanni

The Guardian on Torre Guaceto

Specchiola

Ostuni

Lecce

Gallipoli

Brindisi