These days, with scores of new natural wine importers scouring Europe for the latest and greatest finds, it’s not every day we run across an example of stunning, zero sulfur, natural wines we’ve never heard of before. But that’s exactly what happened to us last Fall when we all first tasted the wines of Franz Strohmeier.
Franz has been making wine in Styria since 2003, works with indigenous local grapes we never heard of (blauer wildbacher anyone?), experiments in his vines to get as close to nature as possible, and makes a host of wines with zero addition of sulfur. Needless to say, on paper we were very eager to try these wines, and then when we tasted them in our office, our entire team practically broke down in tears at how good these wines were.
We are beyond excited to share the first five wines we brought in with the New York City market. The sparkling wines wow with freshness and drinkability. In fact with just one day on the street with these wines, I’ve never heard so many wine buyers say they forgot to spit before. The TLZ zero sulfur wines are full of finesse and vitality, and the subtle amount of skin contact used in these wines drives us wild with visions of fine dining pairings that would knock our socks off.
A few days ago I opened my e-mail and there was a message from Giovanni Raiti, one of the winemakers at Vino Quantico in Sicily. He sent a photo of the volcano, Mt. Etna, in a beautiful eruption and said “I think it wanted to celebrate the arrival of our wine in NY! To think, we were just walking up there a couple of months ago!”
It is definitely pretty wild to think in August we were hiking at the top of this volcano and just a few days ago it was spitting lava on those same trails. Between the eruption and the arrival of the Quantico wines in New York, I thought it was time to pick up where I left off on my Sicily adventures and fill you in on these exciting new wines to the Jenny & Francois family.
Situated in Linguaglossa on the North side of the famous active volcano, Mt. Etna, I found myself in another special and truly fascinating place – Vino Quantico. I can’t say I had ever been in a vineyard that has actual volcanic rock from an eruption a few years ago that came so close to Linguaglossa it left ash on their car windshields and black rocks scattered throughout the vineyard.
The Quantico wines are made by Giovanni Raiti (below, right) who works mostly with the white vineyard and Pietro Di Giovanni (below, left) who works mostly with the red.
I kicked my boots over the yellow powdery ground which I later learned is sulfur coming from the crater. It was so strong and stinky it took our breath away and we had to walk with napkins shielding our faces like a filter (don’t worry, they aren’t putting any in the wine!)
It felt like we were walking on the moon at the top of Etna and I was surprised to see thousands of lady bugs all over – hiding in tiny crevices of burnt rock, flying into me while I was hiking into the wind. It was strange and enchanting at the same time.
Halfway down we took a lunch break and Giovanni to my surprise took off his backpack, unpacked prosciutto sandwiches, wine glasses (not plastic!) and two bottles of his white wine, made from Carricante, Catarratto and Grillo. The wine is fermented on the skins for 24 hours; it’s a medium to full bodied white with great complexity, citrus and spicy herb notes finishing with perfect acidity. I remember the most extraordinary feeling of drinking this gorgeous wine and sitting on the side of the volcano that made the very soil that produced it. The soil of Etna is extremely fertile and produces wines with great acidity and long aging potential.
After the hike we drove to the vineyards; there are 3 – one for the white grapes, one for the red grapes, and a separate older vineyard that belonged to Giovanni’s father where they still harvest 20% of their grapes. The vineyards have been organic since 2007 and they are growing 5 varieties, Narello Mascalese which is the primary red grape, Narello Capuccio which is blended mostly for color with it’s a dark black/blue skin and the three white grapes mentioned above, Carricante, Catarratto and Grillo.
The white vineyard looks up at an ancient Greek/Roman town, Castiglione di Sicilia which takes its name from Castel Leone, or remote fortress. The ruins still stand and you can see the castle in the distance from the vineyard.
Besides making delicious wine, Giovanni and Pietro were two of the nicest people I’ve ever met and were truly gracious hosts. We finished the evening at a restaurant in Randazzo that specialized in mushroom dishes and finished the rest of the wine they brought alongside some of the most incredible mushrooms I’ve ever tasted. Their red wine was the perfect companion, a blend of 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Cappuccio and aging 12 months in a mix of new and old barriques, the wine is spicy and aromatic with a beautiful balance of acidity, bright red fruit and soft tannins. You would never guess it comes from such a warm climate. Pietro even brought a bottle of Passito, a sweet wine made from dried grapes from the first vintage he ever made and we clinked glasses. An old wine shared among new friends and the perfect ending to a day filled with history, terroir, new found knowledge and just enough indulgence…
Stay tuned for tales from my other two vineyard visits.. coming soon!
Emmanuel Lassaigne, our amazing champagne winemaker, is coming to New York, and his plane lands this evening, on Halloween. He’s only here until Sunday, so if you want to break bread with him, you’ll need to buy a ticket to the amazing dinner Rouge Tomate is putting on Saturday. Apart from that, if you follow our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feeds, we might just clue you in to where we’re hanging out until all hours, maybe at The 10 Bells or perhaps Pearl & Ash.
In the meantime, we thought this was a perfect time to watch this video we shot over the summer, of Emmanuel demonstrating his manual disgorgement technique:
There are a lot of issues at stake in Olivier Cousin’s resurgent court case. To read about the whole mess, you could check out our old posts here, and for the latest updates, read Jim Budd’s post here. The heart of the issue is not a mere case of overly tyrannical wine labeling laws, or even the bureaucratic AOC disaster. The real problem, and the one Olivier cares most about, is the government sponsored funding of industrial polluters and the fall of the small farmer and winemaker in France.
Many of these truly industrial wines from France are a product we don’t encounter in the United States. When you go to a supermarket in Paris, you will see wines from every prestigious appellation, including Pomerol, Sauternes, and Saint-Emilion, all at a price of 10 euros per bottle or even less. Due to the ranks of American importers combing through the mass of French wines searching for quality, most of these mass produced wines don’t make it to the United States. Here in the US these appellations command top dollar and are thought of as rare gems, pillars of the AOC system. But the reality is that the AOC system has been diluted and corrupted by these sham wines, until it has become almost meaningless.
The same is true of the wines of Anjou, Olivier’s homeland. The bulk of wines from this area now come from overproducing vines doused in herbicides and pesticides, and the reputation of the wines has tumbled into obscurity. In a letter he wrote in 2011, when this whole fiasco started, Olivier recalled how before 1980 his small town, Martigné-Briand, comprised 120 winemakers, 800 harvesters, 5 bistros, and 800 hectares of vines. Today there are 40 agro-business wineries, 2 vine growers, 40 harvesters, 2 bistros, and 850 hectares of vines.” The Layon river, once one of the cleanest and most beautiful in France, is so polluted you can’t even swim in it anymore.
If the AOC system is supposed to ensure quality and standards of wines, why does it promote these low quality, industrially produced wines? It seems the answer must lie, as it does so often these days, with the power of big business and industry, and corruption in the systems that partner eagerly with those businesses. In 2005, the final straw for Olivier was when the AOC allowed chaptilization and acidification in Anjou wines, something that had never been permitted before. For him the AOC had crossed the line and was now fully in support of the very same companies that destroyed his local river and forced out the small family run wineries.
Olivier left the appellation at that point, but in protest, he decided to leave “Anjou” on the labels. He hoped to point out how ridiculous and unfair the system was, and at the same time felt he should be able to tell his customers where his wine came from. Always one with a sense of humor, he later adorned his boxes with “Anjou Olivier Cousin”, with AOC in big red letters. The AOC rightly saw these moves as a threat to their dominion, and that’s why they’re attempting to teach a lesson and make an example of Olivier.
For those of who believe in French wines of quality and aren’t interested in the needs of big business to market and sell their products, this issue is enormously important. This is a David and Goliath fight Olivier has taken on. He risks his entire livelihood and even prison time for his protest, and for these actions, we commend him. If you feel the same, why not buy a tee-shirt to help support his defense fund?
I can tell Sicily will be a unique and incredible place before the plane even lands. My face is pressed up against the plane window and I see mountains and beautiful serene turquoise water. The kid behind me is kicking my seat and I’m so excited I could kick him back (I don’t). I’ve heard it before, and it’s true – it feels like a separate country compared to mainland Italy, and the wine follows suit- a whole new terroir to discover. Though I took this trip as more of a vacation, the vineyards were the highlight – that’s what happens when you are lucky enough to work with amazing and talented winemakers who invite you into their homes and seat you at their table. To share the local food and wine of a place with the people who make it is a truly special experience and I wanted to share a bit of it with you in the coming weeks.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m one of four sales reps for Jenny & François Selections and have been with the company for two years. My interest in wine began long ago during many years of working in restaurants. I became particularly interested in natural wine after working on Long Island’s North Fork at Shinn Estate Vineyards, where they grow grapes organically and have a more holistic approach to winemaking. After exploring the tastes of natural wines my palate wouldn’t have it any other way. My love for wine has really been fueled by my passion for travel which has been a part of my life since I was first allowed to get on an airplane by myself at age 12 to visit a friend who moved to Florida. Over the years my love of culture, food, wine, and history has brought me to a myriad of amazing places, from the mountains and jungle in Peru and Ecuador, to wine regions in Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. I once spent a week with a family in Morocco who cooked the best food I was ever allowed to eat with my hands. Wine for me is a symbol of life, enjoyment and reward for hard work in the way it can join cultures, history and people into a bottle and around a table.
This summer I was able to spend time at three of our vineyards in Sicily– Bosco Falconeria located 40 miles west of Palermo, Azienda Agricola Serragghia in Pantelleria, and Vino Quantico in Linguaglossa, near Mt. Etna. Each one was special and unique, with abundant history, different terroir and lovely families behind the scenes.
I have too much information and too many beautiful photos to pack into one newsletter. So this is me saying stay tuned until next week so I can take you on a little trip and share more stories with you.
Ca’ dei Zago’s Col Fondo Prosecco has become one of the quickest shining stars of our relatively new Italian Portfolio. The demand for this wine surprised even us: when we first tasted it we instantly loved it, but wondered how far a product so different from most prosecco could spread. It turns out the demand for real prosecco was huge. It’s even become the most talked about wine in Texas! We quickly sold out of the wine, so we had to wait to post this video. The wine is back in stock now, so we thought it was time to revisit it.
When we were in Valdobbiadene last January, we shot this little video with Christian Zago, up on top of the terraced vineyard hill looking out onto the tiny town of San Giovani. Christian explains what it means to him to work without additives, and why he wanted to carry on the traditions of his grandfather. Enjoy!
The 2012 Dirty and Rowdy Semillon is back in NYC! The Dirty and Rowdy wines are taking New York, and the wine world in general, by storm, and we are honored to work with them. The 2011 Semillon was 50% skin contact and 50% concrete egg fermented, but this year the 2012 is 80% skin contact and 20% egg fermented.
So what is all this skin contact and egg business about?
Most white wines in the world today are made without the skins in contact with the juice. The juice of all grapes is clear, so red wines get their color entirely from the skins. In ancient times white wines were made, often in amphora buried in the ground, with the skins macerating along with the juice. It turns out the skins actually help preserve freshness in the wine, by preventing oxidation. Sulfites also prevent oxidation, so, for a winemaker looking to minimize the addition of sulfites, skin-contact is a natural fermentation method that helps to make a well-preserved natural wine. Some white wines made with skin contact become orange or amber in color, hence the term, “Orange Wine,” which has become somewhat popular. The juice of these wines spends a long time, from several months up to several years, in contact with the skins. The Dirty and Rowdy white wine is only in contact with the skins during alcoholic fermentation, about 15 days in 2012. The wine is not orange, but the skins add complexity to the aromas and flavors of the wine, and without a doubt produces a very fresh white wine.
Egg fermenters are one of the newest trends to hit the natural wine world. The concept harkens back to the Anfora used in ancient times. One of the amazing aspects of these two vessels is that the shape actually creates motion of the juice. As fermentation happens, bubbles form and due to the shape of the egg, the juice is constantly pushed in circles inside the egg. Hardy Wallace, winemaker at Dirty and Rowdy, told us there was something about wines made in this way that seem to taste more energetic, more “alive.”
The vineyards that provide the grapes to make the Semillon yielded almost 3 times as much production as last year, so there’s a lot more of this wine for 2012. We tasted the white wine last week and were all wowed by its finesse and purity. This year, since the yields were much higher, and they only had one egg (for financial reasons!), they had to make more of the wine with skin contact. They have since purchased a second concrete egg.
The bottles are green this time around, instead of brown, and so this year the tee-shirts are green as well. Hardy Wallace brought all of us at J&F a shirt, and we love wearing them! They are made from super comfy fabric (organic of course). We strongly you suggest you head over to the D&R store to grab one for yourself before they sell out again!
You don’t have to look around much to find some hype about the wine list Patrick Cappiello has put together at Pearl & Ash. The list is full of gems the mainstream world drools over, plenty of fancy Bordeaux and Burgundy at very reasonable markups. Patrick has also received some attention for his laid back style, often sitting down at the table to discuss wine options. He’s also shed the fancy suit and tie from his Veritas days in favor of heavy metal and punk tee-shirts. What some of the hype may have missed however, is that Patrick has also filled the list with a stunning array of beautiful natural wines. Patrick developed a passion for natural wines that he feels he is finally able to showcase in this brand new hip spot. We simply had to sit down with him to find out what he likes about these wines:
Pet Nat, short for Petillant Natural (Natural Sparkling Wine) is one of our favorite kinds of natural wine. A Pet Nat is distinguished from Champagne in that nothing at all is added to it. The fermentation starts in a tank and then the juice is transferred to bottle where it finishes fermenting. The bubble is usually softer and finer than in Champagne, more natural if you will. The wine doesn’t need sulfites added to it because instead the gas inside the bottle acts as a natural preservative (sulfites are used as preservatives in most wines).
As the yeast finishes converting the natural sugar to alcohol, it dies and falls to the bottom of the bottle, just as it does with Champagne, and the winemaker turns over the bottle gradually, letting the yeast settle in the neck. It is then disgorged to get the dead yeast out, often by hand, topped up with a little more wine from another bottle, and recapped. This process is really cool to watch, so we shot this short video of Dante, the winemaker for Colombaia in Tuscany, Italy doing some hand disgorgements. A very small quantity of this rosé just arrived into New York city, and you can drop by Osteria Morini to try some, they’re pouring it by the glass!