Category Archives: Piedmont

Meeting the Vintners: Ezio Cerruti, Castiglione Tinella in Piemonte, Italy

A man in his element.

A man in his element.

While we’re currently in Piemonte, this winery and winemaker profile begins in August 2014 at the Mosel:

Nina and I were on our way back to Mainz from a week spent in Burgundy with my high school host family, which really is my second European family. It’s hard for us to drive so close by the Mosel and not stop, so we had made plans to see friends in Trier on the way and then head up to one of our favorite wineries along the Mittelmosel, Weingut Karl Erbes, to see our good friend Stefan, the owner and winemaker. The tasting was set for 10 am, which is the usual for us and Stefan, don’t ask…As we approached the tasting room, Stefan came outside and, after a hug, told me there were three winemakers from Piemonte in his tasting room, and none of them spoke any German or English, and since I speak some Italian, he decided I could translate. I must have been hung over or exhausted, because I immediately agreed, after having spoken French for a week, and with only a year of college Italian under my belt. Let me say it was not the easiest task I had picked: The three guys, one of whom turned out not to be a winemaker, but the other two were from Barolo and just south of Asti, peppered Stefan with technical questions and nothing in my life had prepared me for translating them: From free and not free (???) sulphur levels to soil composition and winemaking techniques I had never heard of. I was sweating after ten minutes. However, three hours, a cellar and vineyard tour as well as roughly 20 Rieslings later, and with the Italians pleading to stop the tasting (they still had to get back on their motorbikes), we’d formed a bond. One of the winemakers scribbled his name and telephone number on a scrap of paper, also the name of the other winemaker, and told me that “that guy has email”. Handing me the scrap, he told me to get in touch if we ever make it to Piemonte.

Fast forward to February 2015 and we find an Emirates flight from New York to Milan for less than USD 400 round trip and all of a sudden Piemonte is on the map. I start searching for the scrap of paper, to no avail, and a few weeks later, just before we’re about to get going, Nina finds it (one of the reasons I married her!). I googled the two names, Ezio Cerruti and Giuseppe Rinaldi, and lo and behold do find Ezio’s email address online and shoot off an email in Italian. He responds within a day, tells me he’s mostly not in Piemonte during our visit, but could make time for us our first day in the afternoon.

Once in Piemonte, we’d done our research, and from our apartment it should be about 30 minutes to Ezio’s winery. Unfortunately, since we’re in Italy, there was a closed road and we had to turn around and drive around the whole hill which cost us dearly and by the time we get to the winery we’re 25 minutes late. The German in me cringed. But all embarrassment disappeared when I saw Ezio storm out of his home, arms wide, with a big grin. He gave us hugs and it was clear we’re good old friends, and according to Italian time, we were on time anyway. I hate being so German at times… He had also asked his US importer, Summer of Indie Wineries, to join us, and man, was I glad she was there to translate (and as we got to know each other also for her insight and wonderfulness). Clearly, my Italian in Germany had not impressed Ezio, but I was more than happy for the help!

Quite the view

Quite the view

We began by sitting on his terrace, looking over vineyards, catching up over a cup of espresso, and discussed life and travel. Ezio is a character, totally and always himself, and whenever I meet people like this, I just want to stick around longer (and eventually married one of them). He is a man of many shades, and we discussed the fact that he has never flown in his life and has zero intention to, while at the same time he drives his motorcycle all over Europe, has moved from one room into another in his family home, never lived anywhere else, and yet has a sign hanging above his head that reads: “He who experiments might lose, he who doesn’t experiment has already lost.” Talk about contrasts…

Color-changing roses at Ezio Cerruti's winery

Color-changing roses at Ezio Cerruti’s winery

Eventually, we headed to the cellar, which is located under his family home. The old, steel-concrete harvesting facilities are still there, including the filters, but the rooms were renovated in a modern, understated style a couple of years ago. Behind the main room, which serves as the tasting room, lies his cellar: about 30 small barrels and five big barrels. And that’s it. I was stunned to see on what small scale he operates. Ezio wants to know exactly what is going on with every single barrel at any time, so he prides himself in small scale: 5,000 bottles of passito, the sweet wine, every year, and maybe a total of 20,000, 25,000 bottles a year. All Moscato. In 2014, he couldn’t make any passito due to weather, and made barely 4,000 bottles of his normal Moscato. And that’s about it. Can you imagine?

When one of us mentioned that a cellar is full of blood, sweat, and tears, Ezio insisted not in his cellar. There it’s only sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I like that guy, I really do.

Ezio Cerruti's small cellar

Ezio Cerruti’s small cellar

We began our tasting with his 2014 dry Moscato named Fol. The wine has been moved from the barrels and is currently in a different container, settling, and getting ready for bottling sometime this month. And yes, you read that right: dry Moscato. Winemakers in the region are firm in the belief that Moscato needs sugar to cloak the bitterness they claim is inherent in the grape. When Ezio decided to make a dry Moscato, they called him crazy and he named the wine accordingly (“fol” is “crazy” in the local dialect). The wine was stunning, and I’d never had any Moscato like it before for sure: The nose full of nectarines and lots of floral aromas, mostly lavender. On the palate, the acidity was strong and fresh, I got lots of grapefruit aromas, and it was a bit yeasty in the end, a bread-kind of yeastiness. The best thing was indeed a very slight bitter note, but more the bitter of the white skin in grapefruits, not at all disturbing but enhancing this fascinating wine. The “wows”
were flying freely. I cursed him for not having bottled it yet, I would have made room for a bunch of bottles in our limited luggage space.

Fol and Sol, Cerruti's Moscato

Fol and Sol, Cerruti’s Moscato

From there, we went on to his passito-style Moscato wines named Sol, his signature wines. We tried several vintages, and began with the 2009 (which was bottled in 2013). 120 grams of residual sugar (RS) sound intimidating, but it really wasn’t too much: The wine had fresh acidity, some musty aromas, but mostly pear and honey. It was incredibly fresh for this sweetness level, and the best thing was a hint of salt that gave it a certain edge. I liked it a lot! The 2010, which we tried after, has only 100 grams of RS, and has more acidity. Ezio thought it needed a couple more warm months in the bottle to reach its full potential. I thought it was already singing: much fresher than the 2009 (which I already considered fresh), intense, intense aromas of honey, licorice, orange, and sage, again this saltiness, but also with a great and refreshing bitterness in the finish. Just a hint, again adding to the wine. This was amazing, really amazing. After the 2010, he had us try a 2007, mainly to show us how he and his winemaking style changed after both his parents died in 2007 and 2008. 2007 was a very warm year, so always a bit difficult for sweet wines, because the lack of acidity can be a problem. In this case, the wine definitely showed lower acidity, but it also felt a lot creamier. It was sweeter and more in line with other passitos I have had, which are sweet, but can lack personality. It was a good wine for sure, but doesn’t come close to the 2009 and 2010.

A wine philosopher: Ezio Cerruti

A wine philosopher: Ezio Cerruti

As a last treat, Ezio opened a 2010 Moscato Passito Botrytis, a wine he has made since 2005 with only botrytized grapes. He used 3 grams of sulphur per 100 liters (an insanely low amount), which are all gone by the time fermentation are over. Nothing is done to prop up its color or aromas. It spent 4 years in the barrel and 7 months in the bottle. And man, what a treat: An abundance of apricots, freshly cut, that were layered on whipped cream, along with some herbs….but also so much more. It was one of those wines that makes you want to stop use descriptors and just dive into and never let go. The nose enchanted and held us, and the wine itself just startled us. I have had many botrytized wines before in Germany, but nothing like it. It was a different kind of botrytis, less honey, more primary fruit. Hard to describe. Just incredible.

After a good 2 1/2 hours, and not before Ezio had arranged another tasting for us in Barolo, we parted ways, a few of his half bottles in tow. We’d come to Piemonte not for its Moscato, but Ezio proved us wrong. And what a great time we had. We cannot wait to come back.

Ciao e grazie, Ezio!! A presto!

Ciao e grazie, Ezio!! A presto!

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Tasting with Friends: Strange Fruit

Last Friday, we had the third of our group of friends’ wine tastings. The previous tastings were themed around old world and new world Malbecs and European reds (which we conducted blindly). Not only did this time’s hosts decide to cook us a spectacular meal, they also picked a really cool theme for the night: “Strange Fruit”. They had initially thought about restricting the allowed wines to unknown grape varieties or regions, but later settled for strange fruit, which proved to be an awesome theme.

My initial thoughts for what wines to bring were centered around grape varieties that were strange or not very common, but I then also thought about wines that tasted different than expected. I had a couple of ideas and we ended up bringing a bottle of German Riesling (what’s unexpected about this, you may ask, but bear with me!), a bottle of the Ruchè we had tried with Nina’s birthday burgers and a Cannonau di Sardegna, both Italian reds.

Meierer Logo

Meierer Logo

2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!?

2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!?

We started with the 2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!? (12% ABV, limited to 300 bottles made). When Nina and I first tried this wine at the winery in the summer of 2012, it was definitely one of the weirdest Rieslings we ever had, hence the name… Matthias, the winemaker, had decided to produce this wine in the way one would usually make a Pinot Noir: He let the must sit on the skins and stems for a couple of days. This really changed the nose and palate of this wine making it intense and I would never have guessed it was a Riesling if I had not known. I was eager to share this wine with the group, so we made it our apéritif. The wine showed itself in a slightly darker yellow, pretty much pee color. The nose showed acidity, some sour apple, I got hints of vanilla and coconut, but there seemed to be a decisive lack of fruit in the nose. The palate was herbal and what I would call branch-y, with healthy acidity and some apple aromas. Most in the group remarked on that it reminded them of a Chardonnay. The finish was long, with some bitterness. I like the experiment itself, I am not sure I would want to drink this wine all the time…but how could one, with only 300 bottles made? (I wrote in depth about the winery here). And it definitely fit the tasting’s motto.

2011 Agape

2011 Barafakas Winery Agape

The first course of the meal was an arugula salad with cranberries, walnuts and blue cheese. We paired it with a 2011 Barafakas Winery Agape, a Greek white wine blend from the Peloponnese peninsula. The wine is made with 50% Roditis grapes and 50% Savatiano grapes and had 12.5% ABV. The label promised strong acidity as well as citrus, banana and peach aromas. It poured in a light yellow color and had a very subdued nose. I really was not able to discern anything in the nose. The flavor profile on the palate showed a dry, slightly buttery wine with virtually no acidity or fruit aromas, some bitterness and a decent amount of heft to it. Nina said it seemed syrupy to her in texture (not sugar), I am not sure I got that. All in all, a bit boring. But then again, a lot of Southern European dry whites give me that impression. That said, it paired exceptionally well with the salad. The acidity in the dressing, the blue cheese and the nuttiness of the arugula made for good companions.

2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato

2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato

For the pasta course, a classical dish of orechiette pasta and tomato-based ragù sauce, we first opened the 2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferato that we had brought. My notes resembled the notes I made when we initially tried it in March, which is why I just repost them here: “It poured in a lighter red with some hints of brick. The nose was floral and perfumy with cherry and jammy notes. Rather enticing. The flavor profile of this light to medium bodied wine was very intense, with again cherry and some earthy aromas. There was noticeable residual sugar, maybe a tad too sweet. It had a peppery and slightly bitter finish that was rather short.” All in all, it seemed fruitier this time around, which I did not mind at all. Still a solid wine.

NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d'Alba

NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d’Alba

We then opened a NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC, an Italian red wine made from 100% Lacrima grapes, an ancient and rare grape variety. The wine had 12.5% ABV (notice a theme here?) and poured in a very dark ruby red. The nose was great, incredibly floral: violets and lavender and other floral aromas. It smelled a bit like an old grandma, but in a good way, if that makes any sense…On the palate, the wine was medium-bodied and soooo silky. That was the first thing I noticed: I really loved the texture of the wine. There was some cherry, and some smokiness to it, but the dominating factor was its black currant and blackberry aromas. Incredible. If you ever had black currant juice (I have, they sell it in Germany and it is AWESOME with sparkling water), you know what I am talking about. Just a wonderful currant, cassis bomb. There were hardly any tannins in this wine, and the finish was quite short. This was seriously yummy. And it paired well with the homemade dark chocolate ice cream. The fruitiness was great and the lack of tannins also helped when pairing it with the ice cream.

2008 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna DOC

2008 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna DOC

We then proceeded to open my back up bottle, the 2008 Sella & Mosca S.P.A. Cannonau di Sardegna  DOC Riserva. I had brought the wine in case we’d run short because given our hosts gracious and laborious meals, we guests were providing the wine, and two of our friends couldn’t make it, so we would potentially have been short of wine. I had initially bought this bottle because I liked the label and the word Cannonau…which I had hoped was another strange fruit, but it turns out that it is the Sardinian name for Mourvèdre. The wine poured in a brickish red. The nose showed wet tobacco, a serious level of ripeness and some age, sweet plums, and, honoring the tasting’s motto: horse sweat. Significant horse sweat. Well, that was weird. On the palate, it felt flat with serious acidity (others were less kind and said sour), had a short finish and was not very enjoyable. I guess the fruitiness of the Lacrima, the wine we had before, did not help this contender, but it still seemed like it had serious issues which was too bad…

Johnny Drum Bourbon

Johnny Drum Bourbon

We finished the night with a glass of small batch Bourbon that our host, a total Bourbon aficionado, pulled from the kitchen closet. It was delicious and a great finish for another awesome tasting night. We’ll try to work another one into the time before we head out for our big trip this year, and I already cannot wait.

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Martini Bianco my way…

Martini Bianco (Photo from Martini's website)

Martini Bianco (Photo from Martini’s website)

In line with my summery post earlier this week (we popped our first rosé wine this year, see here), I figured I share another of my favorite summer drinks, a Martini Bianco. I am not referring to the mixed drink “Martini” but rather to the brand Martini, an Italian producer of Vermouth. It is short for Martini & Rossi and has an iconic label that many people recognize (featured on the bottle pictured above). I guess the posts say a lot about how glad I am that this long Midwestern winter is finally coming to a close…

Vermouth is a fortified wine that is flavored with various ingredients like roots, barks, spices and seeds. It was first commercialized in Northern Italy, Turin to be exact, in the 18th century, but its roots go way back. It was first used as a medical drink and later became a key ingredient in cocktails, hence the name of the ubiquitous martini. Apparently (I am reading this up in various sources), Vermouth is made from rather neutral tasting grapes that are fermented to wine, to which further alcohol is added along with each producer’s secret set of ingredients. It comes in usually two styles, dry or sweet. Most people know it as dry, the sweet versions have sugar added to them after they have been fortified. Vermouth has a rather bitter taste to it, which makes it a great ingredient in cocktails. France and Italy are the main producers.

Martini & Rossi, the company of which I buy my Vermouth, started its operations in the mid-19th century in Turin. Its logo was first introduced in 1929 (I really, really love the logo) and merged with the rum conglomerate Bacardi in 1993. Some of you might have noticed that Martini is offering several different bottles of its Vermouth in stores. One usually finds the Extra dry Martini in a green bottle, the Martini Rosso, a red version vermouth, a Martini Rosato, a pinkish, sweet version that tastes like Christmas and the one I am talking about right now, Martini Bianco, their sweet white vermouth.

I fell in love with this drink a long time ago. I don’t enjoy sparkling wine very much, a classic starter in Germany, so this was a really great alternative. To me, it is the perfect apéritif on a hot day because it provides freshness, some sweetness (which by now pretty much everyone knows I love) and has an appetizing bitterness to it that makes your mouth water. I started from the welcome combination of sweet and bitter but it definitely needed an acidic kick to help. So I added a slice of lemon peel and the juice of between a third and half a lemon. I am not shy with the lemon juice because I want the acidity to really kick in. I serve it on the rocks, because the melting ice nicely dilutes what would usually be too sweet a drink. Keep the bottle in the freezer to ensure it pours ice cold and you have an awesome starter for a great evening. The bottles retail for between $6 and $9, I tend to buy them when I see them on sale…Nina has fallen in love with this drink as well, and I am sometimes surprised how fast we can go through a bottle…But even if you don’t guzzle it like us, it keeps forever in the fridge, too.

Martini my way: Al limone.

Martini my way: al limone.

And here the recipe again in bullet points, it’s as easy as it gets:

1 lemon
1 strip of lemon peel
Martini Bianco
ice cubes

Fill a glass with two to three ice cubes. Squeeze a third of a lemon over the ice. Throw in lemon peel. Pour the Martini Bianco over. Let sit for 5 minutes. Enjoy.

Do you have a favorite apéritif? Care to share?

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