As Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge’s wine buyer, the long-awaited arrival of spring means traveling to Verona for Italy’s most significant wine expo, VinItaly. The enormity and intensity of the show are both invigorating and challenging as it offers an expansive view of Italy’s wine scene, not only with thousands of indigenous grape varietals, but also with a genuine diversity of both terroirs and winemaking styles. Feeling overwhelmed is unavoidable.
I was most interested in visiting stands shared by a few like-minded producers rather than those with hired oenologists and assistants in massive, often decadent, booths. Most of the growers we support are so weary of this façade they opt to exhibit at smaller, more independent and natural-wine focused shows, namely VinNatur and Vini Veri. They choose less conspicuous positions for their stands, knowing their customers will seek them out even if it requires more effort. As a result, attending VinItaly not only means attending the headline event but also visiting the “off-shows.”
My experience at expos like VinItaly, VinNatur, Vini Veri and Millésime Bio has helped me develop my role as wine buyer. Over the years, I have come to know several of our producers very well and by working closely with these producers and their importers, I can often bring in certain wines exclusively for Formaggio Kitchen. This has allowed me the freedom and confidence to establish and nurture a wine program emphasizing wines that balance quality and price, resulting in a focused selection from dedicated smaller growers.
Below are some highlights of my trip. The wines should make their way onto our shelves in the coming months.
It is not by chance that Piedmont is one of Italy’s most captivating regions for Formaggio Kitchen’s buyers. Our cheese buyers are sourcing some stunning robiolas from this region and, as a result, have raised the stakes for the wine selection to deliver a similar level of quality. This dialogue between cheese and wine couldn’t be more imperative than it is in Piedmont. With this in mind, we are looking forward to the arrival of wines from two Piedmont producers: Cascina Corte of Dogliani, with whom I visited last fall during harvest, and Azienda Agricola Iuli of Monferrato to whom I was introduced at Millésime Bio in Montpellier, France.
Sandro Barosi, is an organic farmer who produces Barbera, Nebbiolo and specializes in Dolcetto which is the varietal that is most acclimated to the sub-region of Dogliani. Like many of the other growers that we support, Sandro is committed to low yields so that his wines are more expressive of their terroir. Everything is done by hand in his vineyard and cellars. Paired with his impressive technical know-how, this translates to articulate, authentic wines of a high quality. His Dolcetto Pirochetta is my favorite. It comes from Cascina Corte’s oldest vines that are planted on clay-calcareous soils, imparting concentration and depth. He chooses to elevate the wine for at least eighteen months in stainless steel and then for a few months in bottle before release, patiently letting the wine develop.
Frequently, it is the producers we already know who introduce us to other new and exciting winemakers or food producers. Such was the case with Azienda Agricola Iuli – I have Giovanna Tiezzi of Pacina to thank for that introduction. Fabrizio Iuli focuses mainly on Barbera with a mix of old and young vines on his estate. The old-vine Barbera is most compelling as it shows tremendous acidity and concentration with succulent, cherry fruit and faint herbal notes. His young-vine Barbera shows great drinkability and freshness, making it a preferable warm weather red.
I would be remiss not to mention Erbaluna’s blockbuster line-up of Dolcetto, Barbera, Langhe Nebbiolo and Le Rocche Barolo that should be back on our shelves come autumn. Andrea Oberto, organic Barolista in La Morra, graciously led us (Richard Kzirian of Violette Imports, Lauren Friel of Oleana restaurant and myself) through a tasting of his powerful wines, noting particular elegance and appreciation for his ’10 Langhe Rosso which is a no-sulfites-added blend of Barbera and Dolcetto that seemed too evolved and delicious to be a cask sample. He took the time to tell me about Nebbiolo as a varietal, revealing that the resulting wines are often counter-intuitive. Nebbiolo’s meager extraction – especially in cooler vintages – suggests that it is a wine of delicacy and early consumption. However, its aggressive streak of tannins and its range of complex flavors that come with age, tell a different story. If you don’t want to wait for fall to try Andrea’s wines, we currently have a few bottles of his ’09 Rosso on our shelves.
Simone of Lo Spaventapasseri was not only excited to have me re-taste his ’10 Barbera d’Asti that I currently stock but also sample his ’11 Pino Nero Rosato. My initial hesitation, that Pinot Noir is hardly indigenous to Piedmont, was quickly overcome by the wine’s deliciousness. Its raspberry-scented fruit came across as clean and refreshing even though its alcohol content was rather high at 14% (given his area’s propensity for hot summers). The wine will be featured in our rosé section this summer until my twenty-five pre-ordered cases run out. It should be here in late May-June. I am thrilled to deepen Formaggio Kitchen’s relationship with Simone’s organic farm (that began with importing their tiny production mostardas and condiments back in 2005) by carrying their wines. We also anticipate a visit from Simone in November or December of this year and promise a tasting for our customers – with me translating!
Also at Trimilli – the stand at VinItaly that is home to a consortium of organic Piedmont and Tuscan growers – was Gabriele Buondonno. The good news is that he still has some ’09 Chianti Classico left, as he mentions in this brief clip, and promised to reserve some for Violette Imports. I hope to put together a rather sizable order with him that will include some of his ’10 Rosato that, not surprisingly, drinks beautifully. Though retailers routinely stress to consumers that rosé should be consumed within the summer following its harvest, even rosé can continue to evolve in very desirable ways, showing more depth and nuance if given more bottle age. Bandol and many Cerasuolo (rosé from Abruzzo) are regarded in this fashion and I would argue that Buondonno’s Rosato will also age well.
Giovanna Tiezzi and Stefano Borsa of Pacina anticipate a good harvest this year as a result of the approximately 1.5 meters of snow that they received over the winter. As we tasted their ’08 Chianti, they explained that it was a more classic vintage in its acidity and balance with respect to the ’07 vintage that we currently have, which shows boundless strength and tremendous age-worthy qualities. I urge travelers to Tuscany this spring and summer to pay them a visit as they have a beautiful agriturismo and an intoxicating setting, not to mention the history and tradition of the estate that offers a unique window onto the past.
From Friuli, i Clivi’s 2011 wines are stunning, which isn’t surprising given the sunny harvest back in September. Although their Brazan vineyard, located in DOC Collio, experienced the misfortune of a violent hailstorm in the summer that wiped out half of the Tocai, the Friulano and Malvasia show power and finesse, similar to the ’09 vintage. Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge will also see the return of i Clivi’s red wine by the end of May, including a small supply of their first vintage of red – Galea ’97 (always all Merlot from old, low-yielding organic vines). In addition, I happily report their best vintage yet of Spumante (100% Ribolla Gialla) should make its way into our stores in time for graduation season!
As for this coming vintage, only time will tell. Ferdinando expressed concern over the lack of snow during the winter and perpetual dryness in the Colli Orientali and Collio thus far. The vineyards did look rather arid at sunset as we ascended their long, steep driveway, happy to have an evening of calm after four exhilarating days in Verona.
Gemma Iannoni is the wine buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.