Tag Archives: 2007

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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A night spanning three continents…

Last night, we had my good blogger friend John, The Wine Raconteur, and his wife over for dinner at our place. The dinner had been a long time in the making, and I am glad we finally got to it. It has become a Christmas tradition in Nina’s parents’ house for me to cook a boeuf bourguignon (beef burgundy) “between the years”, as we call the period after Christmas and before work starts again in early January. I had to tweak my established recipe (over at FX Cuisine’s stunning food blog) a bit, and figured John and his wife would not mind being the guinea pigs to give the new recipe a try.

I have always loved this dish, and pride myself in having mastered quite some skill in its preparation. It is time consuming, with the marinating and dealing with the meat, but it is also so rewarding! This photo is from FX Cuisine, and mine looks pretty much like this (and yes, I do serve it with mashed potatoes as well!):

Boeuf Bourguignon

As a French classic, a Burgundy Pinot Noir is normally a must to accompany this dish, but John had something else in mind. He had recently acquired a bunch of single vineyard reserve Pinot Noirs from California-based Tudor Wines and wanted to share this wine, which was very generous. He knows of my reservations as regards California Pinot Noirs (too fruit-driven, not enough earthy aromas), so he grinned and informed me that this had enough “dirt” in it. And oh boy, it did. We were drinking the 2007 Tudor Tondre Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands. It was such a pleasant surprise: The initial taste was this wonderful earthiness that a light Pinot Noir carries when done right, and it stretched through the mid-palate, only to be taken over a by surprising fruitiness of sweet cherry and berries. This fruit explosion was in no way a problem, it was so well integrated and part of the earthy tones. Just a great wine, wonderful with the meal as well.

After we were done with the Tudor bottle and our dinner, and conversation was flowing naturally back and forth, I was making eye contact with Nina. We had a bottle of Riesling in the fridge, but it didn’t feel right to crack that bottle just now. As John’s wife was describing how much she enjoys Cabernet Francs and has a penchant for big wines (just like Nina), Nina suggested we should open our last bottle of 2007 Tukulu Pinotage. John reported that he had only ever tasted his first Pinotage at a recent tasting and seemed not very keen on reliving that experience (who can blame him, a lot of the stuff sold here is not up to par), but we insisted. Nina and I have had a weak spot for good Pinotage ever since our time in Botswana, were amazing wines from this grape were available. Tukulu quickly became my favorite producer back then, and has remained so since. Tukulu was one of the first wineries in South Africa to be run by black entrepreneurs and deems itself a black empowerment project (granted, I do like the winery for that reason alone!). This particular bottle had been sitting for a while, and Cellartracker kept nagging me that its drinking window was closing…man, was Cellartracker wrong. The wine poured in a gorgeous purplish red, and swirled heavily through the glass. The nose was fresh and enticing, with typical rubber and dirt aromas mixed with red fruit. On the palate, the wine was wonderfully fresh. Great acidity, lots and lots of earthiness, mixed in that unique style that only good Pinotage can achieve with red fruit. Stunning, and by far not nearing the end of its drinking window.

A night spanning three continents: North America, Africa, and Europe

A night spanning three continents: North America, Africa, and Europe

Instead of dessert, as is common in our household, we opened a 2003 Vereinigte Hospitien Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Spätlese. You all know my love for aged Rieslings by now, and this one did not disappoint. Petrol aromas in the nose, some mineral aromas and citrus. On the palate, the wine was a stunning mix of toffee and vanilla and underlying acidity and yellow fruit aromas. It still tasted very fresh, and was not on its way to (what I loosely describe as) the more sherry-like qualities of even older Rieslings. By this I am referring to a narrower scope of aromas, and a “thinner” mouthfeel (thanks to Frank for making me explain this a bit more!). I love this stage in a Riesling’s development: still supple and a good mouthful, but turning more towards the caramel side. In general, I find the 2003 Mosel Rieslings are great to drink at the moment, so if you have a bottle in your cellar, give it a try!

All in all we spanned three continents last night. Add in that we talked about our Asian trip as well, and we can make that four. I love how wine can do that, so easily. But as always, the best wines are worth nothing if not had in delightful company.

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2007 L’Avenir Pinotage

Another anniversary companion

As I mentioned before, Nina and I met in Botswana, while she was interning for the National Museum and I was doing part of my legal training for the local human rights advocacy group DITSHWANELO. While there, we had the great fortune of trying a number of awesome South African wines (Botswana does not have a wine industry). The wines were super affordable and I liked a lot of them.

One particular grape we both grew fond of is Pinotage. It is native to South Africa and was first created in 1925 when Abraham Perold, a professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University, crossed Pinot noir and Heritage vines (Heritage is better known as Cinsault). The first wines were made in 1941, and the legendary Kanonkop winery planted its first vines in the same year. The grape seems to be perfect for the South African climate and growing conditions, but has not really been adopted elsewhere.

Cork and cap top for this pinotage

When I first tried Pinotage in the early 2000s with South African friends in Germany, my friends were very upset. The wines were incredibly hot from alcohol, and they tasted rubbery. This was in line with what I had read prior to tasting the wines. One of our friends, an older Boer lady, was so upset, that she suggested shooting people that make bad Pinotage like this (she also advocated shooting wine columnists who say Pinotage tastes like burnt rubber). The problem back then was, and petty much still is: It is very difficult to get good Pinotage outside of South Africa. There are exports, for sure, but they tend to be not very good. And the ones that taste good, cost a fortune once they reach Europe or the US.

So being in Southern Africa allowed us to develop a taste for Pinotage, and to find wineries that we enjoy and want to drink more of. Nina’s favorite in Botswana came from Laroche’s L’Avenir winery, the L’Avenir Pinotage Reserve. I fancied Tukulu winery’s Pinotage more, but also enjoyed the L’Avenirs.

We acquired this bottle as ransom from a friend of ours who visited us in Germany on his way from Seattle to South Africa for the football World Cup 2010. He was staying with us on his way there and back. When we chatted with him while he was in South Africa, he asked what he could bring for us, and Nina did not hesitate to ask him for wine (always being the wine schemer that she is). And he did bring us back two bottles each of 2007 L’Avenir Pinotage and 2007 Tukulu Pinotage. We had a bottle each in Germany, and two came with us in our move from Germany to Ann Arbor.

It was still our anniversary, so to connect us back to Botswana, I had picked the 2007 L’Avenir Pinotage for consumption after dinner. The wine was decanted for 1 hour prior to tasting. It has 14% ABV.

In the glass, the wine was of dark red color with slight hints of browning. The nose showed berries, plums, leather and tobacco notes, as well as petrol. I detected some eucalyptus, but Nina didn’t find it, so I am not sure. The first thing that struck me when we tasted it, was that this pinotage was surprisingly light-bodied (more medium, but definitely lighter than expected). It had a bunch of acidity and strong tannins, with leather and noticeable bitter notes towards the end. It was low on fruit aromas. Over time, the wine mellowed out and the bitter notes disappeared. The heat of the alcohol was not disturbing its long, lingering, complex finish.

While writing this, I am realizing that this sensoric description does not do the wine justice. Seen as a whole, it was actually nicely smooth, and the tannins were never overpowering. I feel like it was a good member of Team Pinotage, especially because it shied away from the overbearing fruit that some show, and the burnt rubber taste that others espouse. The nose was gorgeous, and the wine definitely pleasing. It was as powerful as I remembered these wines. According to Cellar Tracker, this wine is nearing the end of its drinking window. What I can attest to is that it is still very drinkable!

These two made our anniversary a blast.

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