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Tag: Sicilia

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Just what the doctor ordered at Apotekergaarden

I was recently visiting Grimstad, a beautiful small town on the Norwegian southern coastline, where the houses are white, small private boats are moored and the seagulls are part of the scenery. I have a special relationship with the town, because I was born there, and my family has since spent many summers there.

Fresh crabs on offer in the town’s inner harbour

The town could have boasted of its seafaring culture. My late father left from there to work on a ship at the age of 14. And that night I borrowed the house of a friend, the daughter of my father’s captain at that time. But Grimstad is not of that sort, boasting is not part of its personality. It’s just lying there, a southern Norwegian idyll bathed in the summer sun.

These days the small town is home to the restaurant with the most amazing natural wine list on the whole long coastal strip. Founded in 2001 the restaurant has since enjoyed a reputation among the citizens, for its food, its atmosphere, but also as a concert arranger. However the upgrade to the natural wine haven that we know today started after a bankruptcy in 2010. Kjetil Jørgensen, one of the original founders, has a good relation to natural wine importer Non Dos, through his friend Jørgen Ljøstad, also from Grimstad. Sometimes a strong tie to one importer can feel somewhat awkward, or difficult. But here it’s more logic, and has probably helped along the way to success. Having said that, the restaurant also works with other importers. These days they also have their own micro-brewery, led by Mathias S. Skjong.

The food is based on local ingredients. The burgers are made from Hereford cattle grassing only a stone’s throw away, and there is of course delicious fish and shellfish right out of the sea. Pizza or vegetarian options too.

Apotekergaarden translates as the Pharmacist’s Shop, and refers to playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen, who was a pharmacist apprentice in Grimstad before he became famous, and this particular place also formerly housed one of the town’s pharmacies.

Ida Konradsen pulling up a Contadino, her own soft drinks at the table

Ida Konradsen is sommelier and restaurant manager, and strongly contributed to a great evening. She told us with great enthusiasm about her experiences from working at Sebastien Riffault‘s estate in the Loire. She is also involved in a new project creating soft drinks, generally popular in Norway (as everywhere I suppose) with children and non-wine addicts. All have the taste of the basic ingredients intact and come with a lot less sugar than usual for this type of drink. In between our first and second wine she offered us a tasting of three products that are sold locally, a lemon and ginger drink (based on Sicilian lemons), one from orange (and a touch of lemon) – and lastly an interesting take on a soft drink for the Christmas season (“julebrus” in Norwegian), based on biodynamically farmed grape juice of the variety zweigelt from Austrian wine producer Meinklang, well-known for readers of this blog – with some star anise, juniper and cinnamon, and without addition of sugar.

Meinklang is also responsible for some of their house labels, Skolegada 3 (the restaurant’s adress), otherwise known by other names in the market.

But while there are not more than 12-15 wines in their by-the-glass selection, Ida gladly opened three more to us, as she was going to host a special party the next day and could use the rest there. And these were fabulous wines from three natural wine legends.

Robinot’s Fêtembulles, with sourdough bread, olive and truffle oil, and olives

Fêtembulles 2017 (J.-P. Robinot), Loire, France
100% chenin blanc, biodynamically farmed, bottled without added sulphites and unfiltered.
Light yellow, small integrated bubbles. Smells of mature apples, citrus (orange), a bit waxy. Tastes of apples, is creamy with a crisp acidity, and a stony minerality in the finish.

Contadino 2016 (F. Cornelissen), Etna, Sicilia
This is a field blend dominated by some 90% nerello mascalese, biodynamically farmed. No sulphites added, unfiltered.
It’s light cherry red. Aroma of red berries (cranberry), hint of herbs (basil), some spice. The mouth is dominated by red fruit, but with and underlying carbon or smoke taste (from the Etna volcano maybe), and with a solid tannic grip.

Teroldego 2015 (E. Foradori), Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Italy
Another well-known producer for readers of this blog. This wine is from the teroldego grape grown in Trentino, near the Dolomites. It was fermented in cement and aged in cement and old oak.
Dark cherry red. Packed with red berries (cherry), plums, dark fruits (blackberry), with some balsamic notes (menthol). Cool, clean fruit in the mouth, very lively and fruity.

Typical paintings collected in one of the rooms

And on the veranda while the sun goes down we finish the evening with a craft beer from the acclaimed local brewery Nøgne Ø, that takes its name from Ibsen’s poem “Terje Vigen”. And to drink one of their beers in this moment seems more right than ever before.

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Wine of the Week

Valdibella Àgape Nerello Mascalese

Valdibella is a small cooperative in Camporeale, in the Palermo province of Sicilia. Their cultivation is carried out in respect of nature, and they value native grape varieties.

This delicious DOC Sicilia wine from the nerello mascalese is made in stainless steel. It’s spontaneously fermented and has a low sulphite content (between 45-50 mg).

Àgape 2015 (Valdibella)

Cherry red. Fruit-driven, red berries, lightly spicy, herbs. Light tannin, fresh acidity, mineral finish.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, lamb, salads, hard cheeses

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Two Raw days

London’s Raw fair is over. This wine fair, founded by Isabelle Légeron (now also with meetings in Berlin and New York), is a two day celebration of individual, organic wines with a wide range of exhibitors. But what unifies them is their desire to express their place in their own unique way. Some have a no sulphur approach, while some are more pragmatic to this question.

This year the fair was back at the Strand, in central London, after two years further east. The venue is open and clean with good light, good for wine tasting. Wine bar and restaurant Noble Rot had their stand, and it was possible to savour food of many sorts.

Most of the artisans came from Europe. The bigger wine producing countries like Italy and France, and to a certain extent Spain, had their fair shares of exhibitors. But smaller wine countries were also represented, maybe most surprisingly Romania and the Czech Republic.

Among the more established producers, especially in this context, were Eric Texier (with expressive wines from Côtes du Rhône), the Catalan trio Mas Martinet-Venus la Universal (from Priorat/ Montsant, with increased focus on fruitiness than before), and mainly sparkling wine producers Mas de Serral- Pepe Raventòs and Recaredo-CellerCredo, Frank Cornelissen (who really has become a top Sicilian producer in every respect), not to mention Friulian neighbours Radikon and Gravner with their textbook skin-contact wines.

An opportunity for vignerons like Fabio Bartolomei to communicate directly with their audience

There were many contenders. Aside of the aforementioned ones here producers that I have appreciated for a long time were from France, Dom. Milan (Provence), Dom.de Clovallon (Languedoc); from Italy, Carussin-Bruna Ferro (Piemonte), Corte Sant’Alda (Veneto), 1701 (Franciacorta); Spain, Vinos Ambiz  (Gredos/ Madrid); Portugal, both two participants, Quinta da Palmirinha (Minho) and Casa de Mouraz (Dão); Austria, Meinklang (Burgenland).

But not least is this an occasion to be surprised.

Here follow some memorable moments.

Éric Teixier

Chat Fou 2016 (Éric Teixier)

A light entry here: A luscious, inspiring côtes du rhône. Light ruby; red berries, herbal, lightly spiced; juicy, fresh, just a hint of tannins, good acidity. A light, elegant vintage of this wine.

 

Carles and Montse

Carles Mora Ferrer and his close friend Montse have produced natural wines since 2008; no chemicals, no additives. I chose their cabernet; not pressed, fermented in inox, 20-25 days of maceration. Total sulphites is a mere 4 mg/L.

Cabernet Sauvignon Ánfora 2015 (Clot de les Soleres)

Dark cherry, violet hint; red fruits, blackcurrant, green pepper; structured, good acidity.

Mas Martinet has been a favourite for many years, and maybe the most influential among the Priorat “pioneers” from the 1980’s, thanks to both father Josep Lluís’ teachings, daughter Sara’s and son-in-law René’s consulting and general inspiration through their wines. Sara Pérez, current winemaker, was also in the avant-garde when turning to organics in the early 2000’s. Venus is their side project in Montsant. Here I chose their white Venus, a varietal xarel.lo, fermented 20% with skins and elevated in big barrels. No added sulphite.

Venus Blanc 2014 (Venus la Universal)

Yellow colour; very fresh, citrus, litchi some balsamic; glyceric, creamy and saline. So expressive!

Ivan and Ana Gómez

Bodegas Gratias of Castilla-La Mancha showed some good wines. I chose a field blend of some 20 varieties, many of them in danger of extinction, a crowdfunding project, “gratias to all those people
(‘gratias mecenas’) who believed” in the project, as they say. Fermentation was carried out in small deposits of 5 hectoliters, with whole clusters. The ageing was carried out no the lees, in oak, jars and steel. No clarification or cold stabilization.

¿Y tu de quién eres? 2016 (B. Gratias)

Dark cherry colour; red and dark fruits, a hint of spice; juicy and drinkable, but also with a touch of dryness (from the stems).

Thyge of Bodega Frontío

Here were several surprises at one stand: A new, young producer in the remote Arribes, Castilian area bordering Portugal. Furthermore the man behind the bodega is Danish, Thyge Benned Jensen. I’m learning every year, says Thyge, which is good. But much is already very good: Taste his two-weeks skin-contact Naranjito, another surprise for this region. The variety is doña blanca (even he the label indicates something else).

Naranjito 2017 (B. Frontío)

Yellow with orange tones; mature apples, some peel; quite glyceric, with a purple acidity.

 

Andrea and Petr Nejedlich of Dobrá

 

Cuvée Kambrium 2014 (Dobrá Vinice)

A wine from the Podyji national park in Moravia, Czech Republic, a blend of veltlín, ryzlink and sauvignon, as the back label reads. Light colour; gooseberry, white pepper; both round and light, but with good acidity too.

See also an article about Moravian wines tasted in England here.

Mladen Rožanić, jazz fan with creative Istrian wines

Roxanich of Croatian peninsula Istria makes powerful natural wines.

This is a field blend including syrah, cabernet franc, lambrusco, barbera, borgonja, malvasia nera. Bottling went without filtration, after 9 years of aging in big wooden vats and barrels. I like the reds. But the white ones, most often orange in colour, really has an unequalled quality. You can read more about them and another featured wine here.

Ines U Crvenom (in Red) 2008 (Roxanich)

Red, developed colour (towards orange); a volatile feeling, mature red berries, dried fruits and roasted almonds; weighty, packed with fruit, plays with oxidation.

Fernando Paiva and his importer Ricardo Rodrigues of Portuguese Story

Fernando’s wines are marked by the Atlantic influence. His whites are covered several places on this site. This time he showed that the light (light-weight, not light in colour) vinhão can be fascinating when aged too. So that must be the choice.

Quinta da Palmirinha Vinhão 2012 (F. Paiva)

Dark with violet and some red; incredibly fresh, cherry and tint; round, mineral, with integrated acidity. It has an uplifting lightness, a feeling of weightlessness.

Marinella Camerani

Corte Sant’Alda is a well-known Valpolicella producer, mostly in the more classic end of the spectrum. But the wines are thoroughly made, they are good, and they have nothing of the negative characteristics that the area has become known for in many wine circles today. Their classic wines are good. And Marinella presented an intriguing varietal molinara rosé aged in Tuscan amphorae, a vino de tavola with a total of 2 mg sulphur.

Agathe 2016 (Corte Sant’Alda)

Salmon pink; flowers, strawberry and a touch of white pepper; no the palate quite smooth, but also with a surprisingly high acidity.

Lorenzo (left) and Andrea Pendin: Thumbs up for another inspiring meeting

L’Armonia of Vicenza (Veneto), Italy was one of the really great finds at this year’s Raw. Among many good wines I chose this wonderful garganega, from older plants (60-80 years). This is both an early harvest and a late harvest (with some botrytis), then blended. The different harvest times are due to Andrea’s friendship with and inspiration from Sébastien Riffault of Loire. (Read more here.)

Perla 2016 (Tenuta l’Armonia)

Complex aroma of mature apples, nuts, flowers, apricot, towards honey; medium full on the palate, and a salty, mineral aftertaste. Integrated, natural acidity.

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Wine of the Week

Just be COS

I thought I had focused this fabulous winery in a “wine of the week” post. But in spite of having enjoyed their wines so much, when I chequed, that wasn’t the case. They have been mentioned though, at several ocations, like when I visited Spanish tinaja (big clay vessel) maker Juan Padilla. This wine is a masterpiece, and made in clay from Padilla.

COS was formed in 1980 by three students of architecture whose last names were basis for the name, the O standing for Giusto Occhipinti, who is related to Arianna. Take a look here for one example.

We find them in Vittoria at the southeastern tip of Sicilia, where they cultivate 35 hectares biodynamically. This wine is made from nero d’avola 60% and frappato 40% in soils containing clay, sand and limestone.

It was spontaneously fermented, underwent an 8 month period of skin maceration in clay pots, then further ageing in clay. It’s not fined nor filtered.

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Pithos Rosso 2015 (COS)

Bright ruby colour. Complex aroma, notes of morello, violets, red plums over earthy wild forest and mushroom. In the mouth lush, juicy and very vibrant, slightly chalky, gentle tannins, but red fruits are dominating. You can almost feel the energy of the winemakers in this wine.

Price: Medium

Food: Poultry and game, lamb and swine, fresh and hard cheeses, delicious alone (you or the wine)

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Wine of the Week

Perricone, Sicilia

The Perricone grape variety originated from western Sicilia. In the past it was mostly noted for full bodied, bitter and alcoholic wines. But with today’s farming methods, often organic growing, low yields and early picking (or earlier, as it ripens very late) it has more appeal for modern palates, and still with high antioxidant qualities.

The small cooperative Valdibella in Camporeale (Palermo province) was among those who took part in the rescue operation, as the variety was in danger of extinction. Valdibella takes their pride in preserving the biodiversity, and they make natural wines in the sense that the interventions in vineyards and cellar, as well as chemical additives, are held on an absolute minimum, for some wines absolutely nothing.

Acamante is made only from perricone, hand-harvested, only with indigenous yeasts, and with no fining nor filtering. It comes with a low alcohol at 12%.

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Acamante Perricone 2013 (Valdibella)

Dark colour. A floral, perfumed scent, red berries, with some earth and spicyness. Balanced tannins, and refreshing acidity on the palate, a slight hint of bitterness. Delightful drinking.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meat, pasta, antipasti with salami and other…

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Wine of the Week

White from black earth

With the designation Santo Spirito this wine must be said to be quite appropriate in the so-called Holy Week we are in. Now I don’t always see the importance of chosing themes and content according to the season (there is always a reason for chosing a specific wine anyway). So we hereby leave the religious aspect.

The 25-60 year old grapes are grown in volcanic soil in the eastern corner of Sicilia, north of Catania. They are mostly carricante (about 65%), but a “field blend” of several others like inzolia, catarratto and grecanico constitutes the rest. The wine is made quite naturally, with malolactic fermentation too, that contributes to its roundness.

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Etna Bianco Santo Spirito 2014 (Tenuta delle Terre Nere)

Golden colour. The aroma is clearly tropical, with mango, apricot, cooked apple maybe, a bit lactic, and with a sensation of prolonged skin-contact. In the mouth it is unctuous, waxy, not very long and with moderate acidity. But nice drinking after all.

Price: Medium

Food: A full, round, and “tropical” wine, it was no big hit with yesterday’s varied cheese board. Next time I will try some Asian food, with some sweetness, maybe soy sauce. More safe suggestions would be fish and fowl, and why not a Sicilian style pasta dish with vegetables.

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Wine of the Week

White SP68

Here is another delight from «natural woman» Arianna Occhipinti. She makes two wines named after the local road SP68. Read about the red one here. Near the town of Vitoria and Mount Etna Occhipinti dispose of about 18 hectars of vineyards.

 

The white SP68 is made from albanello and moscato di allessandria, from a vineyard 280 meters above sea level. The plants are just over 10 years old, and they are not subject to any chemical treatment. The fermentation is done with natural yeasts, the maceration 10 days with the skins, and the wine is then aged 6 months in inox and bottled unfiltered.

 

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SP68 2013 (A. Occhipinti)

Light golden orange colour (appearance almost like a fino sherry). Big aromas of white flowers, almonds and orange peel. In the mouth it is quite full with a touch of dryness, some tannin from the ten days with the skins, moderate acidity and dry finish. Just a little more skin-contact, and I would have called it an orange wine.

Price: Low

Food: Some cheeses and salads. Think of it as a moscatel wine when pairing with food.

 

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Wine of the Week

On the right road

On the north eastern side of Vittoria Arianna Occhipinti’s family has 10 hectars of vinyards and 15 of olive groves, all of it grown organically. The road SP68 is, in Arianna’s words, a connection between the paths that the growers and producers use every day to come to their vineyards and towns. Here the wines travel too, in amphorae and bottles. The people here regard the SP68 as the oldest wine road in Sicilia still in existence.

The vineyards are 280 meters above sea level on red sand and some chalk, and the vines used for this wine are approximately 10 years old. The leaves are kept on the vine to maintain freshness. Only natural yeast is used, the ageing is carried out in cement for 6 months before the wine is bottled, unfiltered. Frappato and nero d’avola are used as monovarietals in other wines, but this one is a blend of 70% frappato, and the rest is nero d’avola.

(You can read about the white version here.)

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And yes, we opened another bottle of this delicious wine in this year’s holy week.

SP68 Nero d’Avola e Frappato 2013 (A. Occhipinti)

It was quite light red with a blue tinge. Nice red berry fruits (raspberry, strawberry), flowers and some spicy notes. Moderate weight, fine tannins, with slight carbonic sensation, and a refreshing acidity dancing on the tongue.

Price: Low

Food: Pizza, pasta, light meat, risotto, antipasti

Serve a little chilled

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