Showing posts with label Liberty Wines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Liberty Wines. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Superb Red and White from Portugal

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado DAO (DOC) 2015, 13%, €29.99 Wine Online
Okay, first things first. Portuguese grapes aren't that well known individually so Encruzado is the grape here, “potentially the best white grape of the DAO” according to Grapes and Wine. Barrel fermentation and lees stirring help bring out the character and “it is suited by a little oak ageing” as we see here. Potential is being realised methinks by Sogrape Vinhos, the producers of our Very Highly Recommended bottle, imported by Liberty Wines.

It is not a blend and this 100% Encruzado has a light straw colour. Quite a melange in the bouquet: white fruit, floral, spicy, oak traces too. It is full bodied, fresh and fruity, oak notes too, well balanced with a lively acidity. A harmonious combination indeed with a long creamy and elegant finish with those lovely aromas hanging on to the end. 

Try with more elaborate fish and seafood dishes, smoked fish too, white meats, and some cheeses.

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro (DOC) 2015, 14%, €19.99 JJ O’Driscoll (Cork), Wine Online.
This excellent red, also by Sogrape Vinhos, is a blend as most Portuguese reds are. The dominant grape is Touriga Franca and also included are Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (better know to us as Tempranillo). Pair with beef, pasta, lamb and game.


Colour is a deep ruby and legs are slow to clear. Aromas are complex, red and black berries, floral and herbal elements too. It is smooth and rich on the palate with fresh fruit flavours, magnificent depth, rounded tannins, peppery too, subtle oak in the background. Quite a lot going on but well balanced. The finish is smooth, dry and long. Very Highly Recommended.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Italian Duo Delight. One Red. One White.

This week, we spotlight two Italian grapes. The Nero D'Avola is mostly associated with Sicily while some of the best Verdicchio comes from the Marche (pronounced Mark-ay). These, both from Liberty Wines, are excellent examples of the types....


Donnafugata Sherazade Nero d’Avola Sicilia (DOC) 2015, 13%, €22.99 J.J. O’Driscoll (Cork)Wine Online.
This lovely wine is produced in Marsala in Sicily where Nero d’Avola, a native vine, is the main red grape. No oak used in this one; stainless steel for two months and then close to three months in bottle before release.

Women feature in the name here. The Donnafugata, the vineyard name, means fleeing woman while Sherazade is the “spicy” heroine of the Arabian Nights, the art work a feature of the wines from this producer and in this case Stefano Vitale is the artist. Donnafugata are also associated with music and architecture (their winery on nearby Pantelleria*, for example).

The label is certainly eye-catching and the wine looks well in its brilliant ruby robe. A melange of berries, cherries and plum too in the fragrant bouquet. The soft palate reflects the fruits encountered in the aromas. Tannins are smooth. Fresh and fruity and gentle all the way to a warm and satisfying finish. A very pleasant drink indeed and Highly Recommended.

A versatile wine too. Ideal as an aperitif but, more surprisingly, also good with grilled fish. No surprise though that it pairs well with pasta and pizza.
  • On this small island, Donnafugata produce `Ben Ryé`, a famous sweet wine (also carried by Liberty).
Bucci Verdicchio de Castelli di Jesi (DOC) Classico Superiore 2015, 13.5%, €23.99 J.J. O’Driscoll (Cork), Wine Online.
Bucci are a standard-bearer of the Jesi, according to Vino Italiano. Ampelio Bucci, the winemaker, is also a professor in Milan and is a highly influential thinker on the subject, extensively quoted in the recently published “The Modern History of Italian Wine”.

Here only estate grown grapes have been used and they are certified organic (no herbicides, no pesticides). It has a lovely golden colour. Maybe not the most flamboyant of bouquets, blossoms and pine notes in the mix. 

No shortage of weight on the superb palate, flavours of ripe apples and citrus, acidity here too and all combine in the excellent finish where you might also find a trace of honey. This clean, delicately aromatic and brightly acidic wine is Highly Recommended.

Just one note. Don't over-chill this. Much more rewarding to drink it too warm than too cold. Wood, by the way, is used by Bucci but only a portion of the juice goes into the ancient Slovenian barrels for fermentation, the rest goes into stainless steel, the idea being to enrich rather than obscure the grapes natural qualities. 


Try this for some Verdicchio fun. Get a bottle from Jesi and another from Matalica (another good area for the grape in the Marche). See which one you prefer!


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Perfect Serve. Ferrit & Lee on Distillery Walk.

The Perfect Serve.

Ferrit & Lee on Distillery Walk.
Feather-blade perfection

It is a bright and lively room. No gourmet gravitas here. But Ferrit and Lee know their food and produced evidence aplenty at Wednesday night’s A Taste of East Cork 2017, one of the events of the current FEAST Festival in the area.

The FEAST emphasis is very much on local. Ardsallagh, Jameson, Ballycotton, Leamlara, Jim Crowley, Hegarty’s Cheese, Rostellan Chocolate, are all name-checked on the menu (below). I’ve often maintained that the small things on the menu, in the meal, can shine a light. And so it was here.

Take the crumble, for instance, the foraged berries in particular. What a splendid burst of juice and flavour! It immediately reminded me of picking a few blackberries at the edge of a warm Rougrane cornfield. Local and brilliant. Not flown in from Guatemala or Mexico.

Staying in the hedgerow. How about that elderberry jus with Jim Crowley’s feather-blade? Absolutely outstanding. And the humble mackerel was the highlight of one of the early dishes. Maybe not so humble anymore. They told me here they are scarce this year confirming what Bayview chef Ciaran Scully mentioned a couple of weeks back.

But back to the meal itself in a full and buzzing restaurant, previously known and loved as Raymond’s and now taken over by former employees Pat Ferrit and Stephen Lee. They have a welcoming crew out-front also, mixing East Cork smiles and chat with a calm efficiency throughout a busy evening.

The whiskey, ginger and lime cured salmon, with local crab and pickled fennel, was the perfect Jameson serve. The Ardsallagh cheese, an East Cork food icon at this stage, was perfect too with the honey and lime while the beetroot relish added a wee bit of piquancy.
Ardsallagh cheese

And then came that marvellous mackerel with a delicious roast beetroot (another humble ingredient that has been “rediscovered” in recent years); great too to see the Leamlara micro greens making yet another appearance on local menus.

Oh, forgot to mention, there were two glasses of wine including in the meal, both from Liberty Wines and both made by New Zealander Graeme Paul in the Languedoc in the south of France. We started with his white, the Baron de Badassiere Sauvignon Blanc 2015. This was superb and Paul is in danger of putting some of his fellow Kiwis out of business with this quality. And that standard was maintained with the red, a fruity and spicy Baron de Badassiere Syrah 2016.

The feather-blade is by now quite popular in the Cork area and Ferrit and Lee’s version is in the very top rank, so tender and tasty. That shallot added a sweetness to the dish and the jus crowned it. That little croquet by the way, with Hegarty’s famous cheddar, also played a delicious supporting role.
Salmon and crab

And then not one but three desserts. The crumble, with those berries and the judicious use of ginger-nut, was more or less perfect and the Jameson panna cotta was pleasurably dispatched. I kept the chocolate dark and handsome, ’til last, leaving me looking forward to more good things to come from the Rostellan producer.

By the way, if you are free this Friday evening, a FEAST event is taken place in the courtyard of the chocolate shop in Rostellan. Lobster and prosecco, and chocolate of course, are on the menu.  Ferrit & Lee will be one of eleven local restaurants in the big tent as the festival reaches a climax in the streets of Midleton tomorrow (Saturday). All the details here


A Taste of East Cork 2017

Jameson, Ginger and Line Cured salmon, Ballycotton Crab cake and pickled fennel.

Honey and Lemon Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese Bon Bons, Beetroot relish and bacon.

Pan-fried Ballycotton mackerel, roast beetroot and Leamlara Micro Greens.

James marinated Jim Crowley’s feather-blade of Beef, caramelised shallot, carrots, Hegarty’s Smoked Cheddar croquette and elderberry jus.

A trio of desserts: Apple and foraged blackberry ginger-nut crumble; Rostellan dark chocolate mousse; Jameson Irish Coffee Panna Cotta.

See other posts from FEAST 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

On Your Bike in Italy. A Champion Wine

Vigne Marina Coppi “Sant’Andrea” Colli Tortonesi Barbera (DOC) 2015, 13.5%, €25.99 Liberty Wines 

The winery was founded in 2003 and named for Marina Coppi, the child of renowned cycling champion Fausto Coppi who twice completed the Giro and Tour de France double, 1st in 1949 and then in 1952.

The estate, which concentrates on native varieties, is in the region of Piemonte where the Colli Tortonesi is a lesser known appellation. Ten per cent Croatina has been included with the Barbera. No oak has been used and you'll note there is very little tannin.

Ruby is the colour. There are intense aromas, mainly of cherry. Much the same fruit and intensity on the palate, also excellent acidity. As smooth and rounded as you’ll get with a trace of background spice. A beautiful lingering finish too and Very Highly Recommended. Liberty also carry the Coppi I Grop, another to watch out for.



Allegrini Valpolicella (DOC) 2016, 13%, €22.49 Liberty Wines 


The Modern History of Italian Wine pays the Allegrini family, best known for their rich and powerful Amarone, quite a compliment when citing them as one of the most influential winemakers: With the Allegrini family, Valpolicella takes the form of art, of a lifestyle where the beauty and light of Italy shine through wine.

Very high praise indeed. It might be a huge leap to see the art in this particular bottle but I’m inclined to the view that there is a delicate beauty and light to enjoy. And there is also a guarantee of quality as the family were, in 2005, one of the founders of the Comitao Grandi Cru d'Italia which unites the best of Italian producers.


This Valpolicella is a light ruby colour, and bright. On the aromatic nose, cherry is to the fore. It is light, fruity, with a hint of spice. This engaging youngster is a playful companion, ideal for that favourite sunny seat in the garden. But will grow and mature a bit over the next year or two. A blend of Corvina (65%), Rondinella (30%) and Molinara (5%), with a finish of some heft, it is Highly Recommended.

Read more of the Allegrini story on the Liberty Wines blog here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Duo of Superb Italian Whites from Liberty

A Duo of Superb Italian Whites from Liberty


Cà dei Frati I Frati Lugana (DOC) 2016, 13%, €23.99 Liberty Wines




This winemaker comes highly recommended. “Cà dei Frati of Sirmione in Lombardy is widely regarded as the top Lugana producer,” says Vino Italiano.

Managed since 1939 by the Dal Cero family, The Modern History of Italian Wine notes that the I Frati is simpler than their well-known Brolettino “but no less reliable. It offers guaranteed value year after year and is perfect for approaching this type of wine.” The Brolettino, by the way, is also available from Liberty.

But what exactly is this type of wine in its thick-lipped bottle? I wondered too, especially when I saw that the grape is Turbiana, one hundred per cent. After a fair bit of digging, I find that Turbiana is the local name for Verdicchio. 

Sirmione is just to the south of Lake Garda. Cool nights, thanks to the moderating influence of the lake, ensures the grapes retain nice aromas and acidity. The wine is unoaked and has spent six months on its lees.

Light straw is the colour. There are fairly intense aromas, a mix of white fruit and blossom. Fresh flavours, of peach and mainly citrus, follow; there is a lively acidity and it is rich and crisp plus an excellent finish. It does indeed live up to the build-up and is Very Highly Recommended.



Franz Haas Pinot Grigio 2016 Alto Adige DOC), 13.5%, €22.99 Liberty Wines

Franz Haas is a consultant and scholar and also a founding member of the Comitato Grandi Cru d’Italia, whose objective is “to protect and augment the prestige of wine producers that have been making wines with the highest ratings for at least twenty years”. He is also, according to Vino Italiano, “one of the biggest and most respected brand names in the Alto Adige… Good wines across the board.”

Pinot Grigio is considered a simple wine but if harvested and vinified with care, shows enjoyable notes of acidity and intense perfume. Our bottle is quite impressive; “four months on its yeast to build body, depth and structure” has certainly helped.

The rise, and rise, of PG is relatively recent. In 2000, it didn't figure in the top 20 most planted grapes in Italy (ISMEA, Rome, 2000, via Vino Italiano). By 2010, it had risen to number nine ((ISTAT, 6th General Census of Agriculture (2010)), its 17,281 hectares representing an increase of over 60%.

This Franz Haas has a pale straw yellow colour. There are pretty intense floral aromas, herbal notes too. The intensity continues on the palate, pleasant and elegant. This Pinot Grigio is a gem, far from simple; it has excellent acidity and Very Highly Recommended.


Pair with pasta, vegetable dishes, grilled white meat without sauces and great with a summer salad from the garden. You might tell your twenty-something daughters that it doesn't mix well with 7Up!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Top Olive Oils at Bradley’s


Top Olive Oils at Bradley’s
Three very young oils

Bradley’s of North Main Street, Cork, are well known for their selection of fine wines. And, where there’s wine, there’s olive oil. Indeed, quite a few of the oils available here are made by top wine-makers including a few from Tuscany and Spain’s Torres.

Speaking of Tuscany, a wine and olive oil producer there once told me that the best way to make olive oil is to immediately cold press the just picked grapes. In his place, it was done in the cool of the night as the Olive Press was too hot during the day, which it was. I tried it and you could hardly stand there for a minute.

He was scathing about the big companies who dragged in olives from all over the Med and were still able to claim that the oil was on a par with his. The longer the olives are hanging around (or in transport) the more the acid is a factor. Some big producers filter out the acid but also much of the goodness.




Tuscany is more or less on the northern edge of the kind of climate in which the olive tree grows and so is very susceptible to changes in the weather, especially the frost which has been known to more or less wipe out the olive rows. 

The one in 1985 was a disaster. The trees had be severely pruned to ground level and it took all of ten years to get a good crop again. So the arrival of the new season’s oils in Tuscany is a big event. It is like a fete and the restaurants mark it by putting on special menus. It is very important for Tuscan cuisine and they always cook with good oil. 

Fontodi Extra Virgin Olive Oil: a richly coloured oil from Tuscany, very delicately balanced. Fine aromas of artichoke leaf and an elegant peppery flavour come together in a fragrant lingering finish. The organically raised olives are picked by hand and carefully pressed the same day in order
to keep the fragrance. Read more here.  


The River Cafe I Canonici 2016 EVOO: also from Tuscany, this is an almost luminous green in its youth (as many of them are!); this bright oil is fragrant and very spicy with lovely fresh grass and green olive characters. Clean and bright it has tremendous depth of flavour right through to the long peppery finish.


Capazzana 2016: Organic and another Tuscan. Quite a bright green in colour, soft and fruity with a light spice and great delicacy, perfect for drizzling over freshly baked bread and using in dressing for salads.




Alpha Zeta 2015 EVOO: Golden-green in colour with a light delicate perfume of fresh grass and ripe olives. Light and delicate on the palate with a fresh grassy taste, medium body and a smooth ripe finish. Excellent for drizzling over more delicate dishes. This comes from the hills outside Verona where cool breezes come down from the Dolomites.

Torres Silencio: Sourced from the estate of Los Desterrados in Lleida, Catalonia, from centuries-old Arbequina olive trees. The olives are harvested and cold-pressed on the same day, and only the oil from the first pressing is used. The resulting extra virgin olive oil is rounded and well balanced with aromas of artichoke, unripened almonds and fresh-cut grass. And Miguel A. Torres Senior requests it at every meal when travelling (where available). 

West Cork Olives: Bradley’s also carry oils marketed by West Cork Olives and imported from Spain and Greece. I haven’t had a chance to sample these yet.


Suggestions On Olive Oil In Cooking

1 - How about delicious Pumpkin and Farro Soup with a topping of Parmesan and a good oil?

2 - A lovely plateful of local scallops with lemon, chilli, coriander and oil. Needless to say, plenty of bread (with oil on it) with these two dishes. 

3 - Slow Cooked (15 hours) shin of beef with red wine (Italian or Spanish!), thyme, garlic and black pepper, served with braised winter greens and an olive oil potato mash.  

If you prefer fish why not try this Fenn’s Quay dish that I came across a few years back: Grilled plaice, with braised leeks, olive oil crushed potatoes and onion puree. The first three dishes were served at an olive oil tasting in Ballymaloe.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Irish Focus at Australian Day Tasting. Classics and New Wave Impress

Irish Focus at Australian Day Tasting
Classics and New Wave Impress
I was determined to concentrate on the Focus Table, this year featuring a selection of 31 wines by Irish wine personalities who have a keen interest in Australia, including Liam Campbell, Martin Moran, Harriet Tindal, Colm McCan (Ballymaloe) and Gavin Ryan (Black Pig, Kinsale). The figure was supposed to be 24 wines but it did get extended!


Laura Jewell MW, Wine Australia Head of Market EMEA, said:  We hope this new section adds an extra dimension to this year’s event. Having looked at the nominations, these wines really do highlight the diversity of Australian wine and reinforce the country’s reputation as a premium wine producer.” 

The promise, and it was kept, was that “great classic wines from the likes of Cullen, Clonakilla and Bindi will be on show, plus new-wave artisans like Jauma, Ochota Barrels and Gentle Folk”.  

So the signs were good as I arrived at the Royal Hibernian Academy and sought out the Focus Table. And I made a sparkling start with the House of Arras ‘EJ Carr Late Disgorged’ Tasmania Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2003. Fresh and vibrant, an amazing sparkling wine.

Then followed a string of young Rieslings, including the Josef Chromy ‘SGR’ Tasmania Riesling 2016 with an ABV of just 7.5% and a delicious Skillogalee Clare Valley 2015 by Dave Palmer, “mineral, dry and crisp” as noted by Gavin Ryan from Kinsale’s Black Pig who selected it.

The Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Valley Semillon 2011  was superb, “intense and complex, but elegant and refreshing” noted Martin Moran. It was all good around here and the standard was maintained by the Bird in Hand Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner, the grapes picked in the cold of the night to retain flavour and freshness.

Maximum drinkability and enjoyment is the aim of the producers of the Gentle Folk Forest Range Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2015, the first of the reds and the first of Ballymaloe's Colm McCan’s selections for the table. I reckon the producers got it right as did Colm.

There were quite a few Syrah and Shiraz at this point, all very good including the Payton and Jones ‘Major Kong - Planet of the Grapes’, Yarra Valley 2015. My favourite though was the blend: De Bortoli ‘La Boheme Act Four’ Yarra Valley Syrah Gamay, imported by Febvre and a Liam Campbell pick. 

The Colm McCann selection, Jauma ‘Audrey’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015, is produced biologically and intrigued with its “cider-y” notes.

Some excellent Grenache on the table too including Ochota Barrels ‘The Fugazi Vineyard’ McLaren Vale 2015, the Willunga 100 McLaren Vale 2015, and the Cirillo ‘1850 Ancestor Wine’ Barossa Valley 2011. The Cirillo was chosen by Ian Brosnan of Ely and he admitted that, until recently, he had never tasted Grenache of this quality.

And quality too, at a very good price, in Kevin O’Brien’s Kangarilla Road Terzetto, a McLaren Vale blend of Sangiovese, Primitivo and Nebbiolo. It is a favourite of mine, was chosen by Liam Campbell and is available at O’Brien Wines.

Perhaps the best blend of the lot came towards the end: the Cullen ‘Diana Madeline’ Margaret River Cabernet Blend 2014, imported by Liberty Wines and nominated by Gavin Ryan who has fond memories of enjoying it at a full moon harvest party in Margaret River.

Time then for a chat at the Liberty Wines stand with Garry Gunnigan and new recruit Marcus Gates and a tasting of their sweet wines before heading into the general wine area.

Here we soon met up with Jonny Callan of Cabroso Wines who import the Kelly’s Patch range to Ireland and we hope to link up in Cork soon and find out more about the company.

Having concentrated on the Focus Table we missed out on many stalls, including McGuigan where they were tasting the impressive Founder’s Series that I enjoyed in Kinsale a few months ago.

Hard to go wrong with the Deakin Estate and Katnook Wines that are imported by Findlater (and available in Cork in Bradley's and other outlets). 

Next time I'm up in North Main Street, I'll be looking at some of the Penfolds that Laura introduced me to at the Findlater’s stand. Both the Bin 2 South Australian Shiraz Mataro (that is what the Australians call Mourvedre) 2012 and the Bin 28 South Australian Shiraz 2011 impressed.

With Marcus (Liberty Wines)
Been writing this and wondering how the Australians get to name their wines. Heard a good story from Michael at the Lanchester Wines stand as we sampled the excellent ‘Don’t Tell Gary’, a McPherson Shiraz 2015 from the Strathbogie Ranges. 

This wine is a labour of love - one the accountants didn't know about.  In 2014, winemaker Jo Nash discovered an exceptional parcel of Shiraz from the Grampians which she gently crushed, then tucked away in some ridiculously expensive French oak barrels to age for 12 months.  

All the while, she was urging her fellow employees: “Don’t tell Gary”. No one did tell Gary, her boss. Now the wine speaks for itself - minimal intervention, purity of fruit, Shiraz at its best and Jo has been given free rein to investigate other possibilities in the vineyard!
John (left) and Michael at Lanchester Wines
See also earlier article on great selection of fortified sweet wines at the tasting here.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Tawny. Muscat. Topaque. Top Sweet Wines from Australia.

Tawny. Muscat. Topaque.
Top Sweet Wines from Australia.

Australia’s wine industry began with sweet fortified wines and the stickies were in great form at the Australia Day Tasting last Monday in Dublin’s Royal Hibernians Academy.

I was determined to concentrate on the Focus Table, this year featuring a selection of 31 wines by Irish wine personalities who have a keen interest in Australia, including Liam Campbell, Martin Moran, Harriet Tindal, Colm McCan (Ballymaloe) and Gavin Ryan (Black Pig, Kinsale). The figure was supposed to be 24 wines but it did get extended.
Chris Pfeiffer

It included three sweet wines so I had to be patient, working my way through the white and the red before getting my hands on them. The d’Arenberg ‘Nostalgia Rare’, a McLaren Vale Tawny, more tawny port style than ruby, according to Liam Campbell’s note, was delicious. McCan’s choice, the Skillogalee ‘Liqueur’ Clare Valley Muscat NV, from Dave and Diane Palmer, poured slowly from the stubby bottle, a sweet stream, sweet but with balance.



And it was the Pfeiffer Wines Rutherglen Muscat NV, a Martin Moran pick, with its heady complexity and orange notes that was my favourite of the trio.

And there were more from the Rutherglen area at the Liberty Wine table, sipped as we chatted with Gerry Gunnigan and new recruit Marcus Gates. First up was the Chambers Rosewood Muscat à Petits Grains Rouge NV (€18.99) and the direct comparison was with the ‘Old Vine’ Rutherglen Muscat à Petits (34.99).

The first is unctuous and rich, yet balanced. The ‘Old Vine’ , with orange, raisin and floral aromas, and a concentration of riches on the amazing palate, and again that balance. Both delicious but, if feeling flush, go for the Old Vine which has had the benefit of going through their specific Solera System.


Back then to visit Chris and Robyn Pfeiffer at their stand and, first to try their Topaque Rutherglen Muscadelle NV (previously called Tokay). “This is 100% Moscatel. It is well ripened. There is plenty of accumulated sugar but we don't lose the fruit.” And this luscious flavour-full wine is another stickie gem.

On a previous visit to Cork, Chris revealed that the table wines “pay” for the fortified wines which are regarded as “an accountant’s nightmare, because they tie up so much capital”. Fortunately, thanks to people like Chris, the accountants don't always have their way. “Fortified wines are undervalued...they deliver great punch for your pound!”

Colm picked a good one.
And, on that occasion, at The Hayfield Manor, I had the pleasure of sampling the even rarer Pfeiffer Grand Muscat. It is twenty years old and has spent most of that time in barrel. “It is a very special occasion wine (like old Cognac). It is very complex and you don't need much.”

That left me wishing for a tasting of their Rare Muscat, four years older than the Grand. “Like to get a  sip or two of that sometime”, I said to myself that night. And it finally happened in the RHA when Robyn produced a bottle and we drank the amazing wine, clinking our glasses in honour of the departed Joe Karwig, the wine-person’s wine-person who left us too soon (in late 2015). A fitting end to my stickie excursion at the Australia Day Tasting.
Rich and rare
Robyn Pfeiffer and Johnny McDonald

Sunday, January 29, 2017

From Sharecroppers to Entrepreneurs. The Modern History of Italian Wine

From Sharecroppers to Entrepreneurs
The Modern History of Italian Wine

At a lunch last April in West Cork, Italian winemaker Elena Pantaleoni (La Stoppa) told me that farmers were , not so long ago, looked down on in Italy, that her farmer brother had to leave Italy for France to gain some respect in his chosen profession. I was just a few pages into The Modern History of Italian Wine (edited by Walter Filiputti) when I was reminded of that conversation in the Good Things in Skibbereen.

“The modern history of Italian wine, which began to take shape in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, is the finest page ever written by our agriculture.
It gave birth to the most important agrarian revolution, in a few years turning poor farmers into entrepreneurs whose bottles are now found worldwide. ‘Contadino’ (peasant/farmer) was a derogatory term, sometimes used offensively. Until the 1970s, it was very difficult for a farm/peasant boy in the Friuli countryside, for example, to marry outside of his social class.”

In those few transformative years, a new awareness of public health emerged and production processes, previously heedlessly helped by chemicals, was enhanced by the arrival of “cold technology, laying the groundwork for mechanical oenology or knowledge”

And then the US market took off for Italy, helped hugely by the Italians in the states, in their restaurants in general and by Robert Mondavi in particular. The fascinating book takes us through the decades that followed and “is a history of labour and creativity that is all Italian, something to be proud of”.
Other famous names emerged in Italy. And famous wines too, such as the “Super Tuscan” Tignanello, Sassicaia (100 points from Parker for 1985 vintage and another Super Tuscan), Castello Banfi’s Brunello (which established itself as “a symbol of Italian quality in the wider world”.

The US market was becoming increasingly important and “indeed began to drive the industry”. In the 1990s, Angelo Gaia, another leading figure in the renaissance, noted the change in America: “they were understanding our fine clean wines”.

There were many breakthroughs including the Masi’s innovative Ripasso method and Campofiorin, a Super Venetian and “the inspiration for a while series of wines". 

And then came the setback of the methanol scandal in 1986 when over twenty people died. But Italy acted quickly to tighten quality controls. And the renaissance continued, moving the industry ever further from chemistry towards sustainability.

And that progress is being marked on the landscape (on it and under it) by some amazing wineries, quite a few of them illustrated in the 400 page book. Most of us know the very spectacular wineries of Spain but they are matched in Italy. 

Just take a look at some of my favourites, the L’Ammiraglia in Tuscany, the Cantina Khamma and the Feudo di Mezzo (both in Sicily), the Petra in Tuscany, La Brunella in Piedmont, and Cantina Jermann di Ruttars in Friuli.

There are separate chapters on the 60s, 70, and each decade right up to the present. Here the winemakers who were prominent in each decade are mentioned. Just two hundred or so in all, so many will be disappointed but the editor says the book is dedicated “to all Italian vintners” and also to those not mentioned (who are asked to “please be understanding”).

Factors leading to the breakthrough in the 60s were the controversial introduction of the DOCs in 1962 and the abolition of sharecropping in 1964. Many sharecroppers left the countryside and the old vines (and many native varieties) were at risk. But many former sharecroppers became modern farmers and many entrepreneurs joined them in the vineyards.

Fontanafredda, many of whose wines are available here (Karwig Wines, for example), go back a bit further than the 60s and the estate was, in 1858, part of the heritage of King Vittorio Emanuele 11.  They were making excellent Barolo at least as far back as 1924. In recent times, “the property passed to another visionary, Oscar Farinetti, who revitalized its sale and the commercial image of this brand which today, with its 90 hectares and concessions, produces about 7.5 million bottles”.

In the early 70s, “we saw the beginning of the long process that would lead knowledgeable oenology to drive the chemistry away from the temple”. As Piero Antinori said: “Modern technology simply allows us to express our full potential”. Leonildo Pieropan figures prominently in this decade. In 1971, he produced the Soave Calvarino and in 1978, Soave La Rocca, aged in wood, “another revolution for his territory”.  Liberty Wines import the wines of Pieropan to Ireland.


The “mastery of oenological science” put the Italians in position to tackle global markets and, despite the methanol setback, they did so in style during the 80s. But Angela Piotti Velenosi first had to conquer her local area of the Marches and Piceno where only cooperative wineries and bulk wine reigned. 

Angela and her husband founded their winery in 1984 starting with just five hectares. Three decades later, the vineyards stretch to 105 hectares and produce 2.5 millions bottles, “of which a large share is exported to five continents”. Quite a lot it makes its way here to Ireland and Karwigs have quite a selection.

In the 1990s, Italian winemakers, who had mastered the technology, began to look at their vineyards “as the source of better quality. Viticulture took its place again at the centre of the wine system.” Italy was flying in world markets, Brunello di Montalcino “a symbol of this extraordinary success”.

The islands of Sicily and Sardinia are major players in the Italian wine industry yet one of the smallest producers is among those chosen to represent the 1990s. “One label, one wine and a success for twenty years”, the Galardi estate is on the slopes of..an extinct volcano. The four owners started to recover the old vineyards in 1991 and now produce, organically since 1997, some 33,000 bottles of IGT Roccamonfina Terra di Lavoro, a blend of Aglianico and a small percentage of Piedirosso, “the essence of the south”.

Sustainability was the model to follow as the new millennium dawned. Wine tourism too began to build and, speaking of building, famous architects designed inspiring wineries. And who do I see listed as one of the “representatives" of this decade? None other then Colutta (Friuli Venezia Giulia) whose owner Giorgio Colutta visited Cork last year.
Giorgio (right) in Cork last year.

Giorgio explained that he is not organic (that's easier to do in the warmer south!) but this former pharmacist has introduced environmentally sustainable cultivation techniques and is self sufficient with regard to energy consumption. His is a small company but has reached out around the world, especially to the Far East. Fortunately he is on the books of Wines Direct where you may purchase his amazing Pinot Grigio and the even more amazing Schioppettino. 

The Schioppettino grape variety is from the local area and has a history there dating back to at least the 13th century. Giorgio told me the name means “little bang”, the sound the grape makes when you pop a ripe one into your mouth!

The chapter on the current decade features Up and Coming winemakers and ideas. The future may be in the past if the exploits of father and son team, Pasquale and Umberto Ceratti, are anything to go by. In Calabria, they make “precious wine with ancient methods”.  Following these antique methods, they make a few thousand bottles of Greco di Bianco from a vine that came with the Greeks in the 8th century BC.
Elena Pantaleoni (front, 1st left), at lunch in Skibbereen

So back to Elena and her vineyard La Stoppa. Her family bought the old place in 1973, and revived the vineyards and the winery. Nowadays, using organic methods, La Stoppa specialises in the production of wines derived from the local varieties: Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, as well as from Barbera and Bonarda, in addition to the wines derived from the historically introduced varieties of French origin: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Semillon. Beautiful wines from a beautiful place and available here from Le Caveau. Just thought I'd get that in, even if the editors couldn't!

Divided into three parts (“The Renaissance of Italian Wine,” “Italian Wine. Innovation” and “The Geography of Italian Wine”), the book narrates a never-before-told, all-Italian story of hard work and creativity. It leads readers on a journey through the sun-drenched regions of Italy, a country that has dramatically revamped its wine-growing and vinification procedures since the 1970s. All in all, it is a marvellous book, full of detail and passion, and well illustrated too.

  • Just one criticism: While there are indices for winemakers and another for names, there is no overall index. If I want find Valtellina (which is mentioned at least three times), for example, I just have to go through the whole book. Why Valtellina? Well, we had an Italian night in the Farmgate in 2015 and the wines came from there as does Farmgate front-of-house Mirco! The Italians and their wines are everywhere - thankfully. 
  • The Modern History of Italian Wine is edited by Walter Filiputti and is published by Skira. It is available from Eason's (€58.80) and online from the publishers (€46.75).