Thursday, October 20, 2016

Orlando hometown favorite Victoria and Albert's reaps award as second-best fine dining restaurant in US

TripAdvisor annually awards best restaurant designations in US and worldwide categories based on reviews by individuals who have eaten at the establishments. This year's awardees were recently announced and hometown favorite Victoria and Albert's was ranked second best restaurant in the US fine-dining category. This is a well-deserved recognition for Chef Scott Hunnel and his crew and a feather in the cap for the Orlando food and wine scene.

Victoria and Albert's is a modern-American-cuisine-themed restaurant at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.  The restaurant has impressive credentials: a recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award, a Four Star rating from Forbes Travel Guide, and Scott Hunnel as Chef de Cuisine.  Chef Hunnel, a champion of fresh, locally produced, seasonal ingredients, is a 5-time James Beard "Best Chef of the South" nominee and was named Santé magazine's Culinary Professional of the Year in 2008.

Victoria & Albert's continues to roll along as a bastion of high-end fine dining even in the face of declining support for this style among area restaurants and patrons. The Chef (Scott Hunnel) is one of the most respected in Orlando and a seat at his table is second in desirability only to season tickets at Lambeau Field. 

The V & A kitchen

Chef Scott Hunnel at one of our many trips to his Chef's Table

Back in the good old days, Florida residents could book the Chef's Table at Victoria and Albert's for dinner and, over the years, we have used this privilege to good advantage. Disney has recently modified the Chef's Table requirements, however, restricting reservations to individuals actually staying at the Grand Floridian Resort. This is a bummer for locals as the environment, staff, food, and service are all impeccable and we loved holding special tasting events at the locale.

The Queen Victoria Room -- an enclosed 8-seater off the main dining room which serves the same menu as at the Chef's Table -- is still available for booking by locals. It is adjoining, and to the left of, the main dining room but it is a world removed. It also stands in stark contrast to the the Chef's Table: tasteful period decoration, quiet, privacy, enclosed, deficit of pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, no sous-chef testosterone on display.

Traditional setup for Queen Victoria Room
Setup of the room for our event

Below is a recounting of one of our Chef's Table outings:

Amuse-Bouche: Soft-poached Quail Egg with Galilee Caviar; Chicken Liver Terrine; Cauliflower Panna Cotta; Porcini Miushroom Cappuccino

Maine Lobster with Herb Aioli and Miniature Greens

Alaskan Salmon with Bamboo Rice and Soy Beans

Herb-Crusted Ocala Rabbit and Sausage with Carrots

Poulet Rouge with Calamarata Pasta, Forest Mushrooms and Black truffles

Minnesota Elk Tenderloin with Braised Red Cabbage Tart

Australian Kobe-style Beef with Garlic Potato Puree

Fiscalini Cheddar, Gouda Reypenaer XO, Colston Bassett Stilton, Parmigiano Reggiano

Blood Orange Timbale with Array of Fruits on a Raspberry Veil

At the time I described the meal thusly: "This was an excellent night out.  Watching course after course prepared in front of our eyes and then delivered to our table with pomp and circumstance enough to make a Victorian historian proud, and then to caress our palates with a multiplicity of pleasing flavors, was a food-lover's dream.  The eye-pleasing symmetry of presentation was only outdone by the symmetry of the flavors on the palate."

Chef Hunnel with author's wife
And Chef Hunnel does not only restrict his activities to the ivory tower of the V & A environment. He gets out into the community to work with other chefs and to mentor the chefs of tomorrow. As a part of a number of Chefs working a James Beard Nominees Charity Dinner at Cress a few years ago, Chef Hunnel talked about these chefs being at the vanguard of a food and dining movement in Orlando which is aimed at providing residents and guests with an attractive culinary scene.

The staff at the restaurant is exemplary. Here is how I described our experience at one of our seatings in the Queen Victoria Room.
Our experience throughout the evening was wonderful. I have already described how pleasing the environment was and I would be remiss if I did not give a shoutout to the service staff. We had a husband and wife team rotating as the shot callers from course to course and they had a trying job. Not only did they have to announce the general course highlights, they also had to go to each seat with a dietary restriction and explain the contents of that plate. They did a really good job and contributed mightily to the success of the evening. The courses were brought in by uniformed waiters bearing covered plates on white chargers (not the horses). The covers were then removed in a choreographed fashion once all of the chargers had been placed on the table in front of the owning patron. No mistakes here.
The man, the cuisine, the team: the contributing factors to a deserved award.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Orvieto (Umbria, Italy): A quest for wine excellence

Orvieto, located in the southwestern portion of Umbria, has had a long and storied wine history beginning in the Etruscan age, through the Roman period, and into the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The Papal Curia was especially fond of the wine of the region and is credited with introducing non-indigenous varieties such as Trebbiano into the zone. The historic wine of the region has always been a sweet wine but the wine of today is better known for its dry character.

The Duomo at Orvieto

Favorable factors for winemaking in Orvieto
Donata Castagnoli (The wine-producing territory of Orvieto, Journal of Wine Research) has identified a number of factors which favor wine production in Orvieto:

  • The presence of hill slopes with good exposure (south-facing)
    • Flat areas limited to the Paglia and Tevere river valleys
  • A suitable altitude
  • The presence of volcanic clay soils (the soils of the region have been covered in a recent post)
  • Tuffaceous detrital Rupe as key enabler of the vinification process
    • The soft soil (up to 45-m deep on the hill) allows multi-level caves to be dug out allowing gravity-fed, cool-temperature vinification and cool, light-free aging
  • Proximity to the large, sophisticated markets of Rome and Florence.

Quest for ever-increasing quality
In the modern era, winemaking in Orvieto has been characterized by efforts focused on increasing the quality of the wine. The first such initiative was the Miniterial Decree of 23 October 1931 which restricted the production of "typical wine" to the territories of Orvieto, Basche, Ficulle, Monterubraglio, Porano, Castel Giorgio, and Atlerona. Since that initial effort, a series of Ministerial Decrees, DOC Production Regulations, and mods to those regulations have been instituted  (Table 1) in order to advance the quality goals.

                                                   Table 1. Orvieto Regulatory History
Ministerial Decree       
Production Regulations
23 Oct., 1931

Production of “typical wine” established in territories of Orvieto, Baschi, Ficulle, Monterubiaglio, Porano, Castel Giorgio, and Allerona

DOC; Orvieto and Orvieto Classico

DOC regulations revised to improve ampelographic composition

  • Yield reduction to 8 tons/ha for Orvieto superior
  • New vineyards no less than 3000 vines/ha

Establishment of Rosso Orvietano DOC
  • Includes the entirety of communes partly delimited by Orvieto DOC
  • Identifies main (70% of wine) and secondary varieties
  • Max of 10 tons/ha yield
Establishment of Lago di Corbara DOC
  • Entire commune of Baschi and part of Orvieto
  • Red wines

  • Grechetto as the primary variety (40 - 80% of finished wine)
  • Late harvest type included; yields cannot exceed  tons/ha
3 August, 2010

8 different wine types for Orvieto and Orvieto Classico
  • Simple name
  • secco (dry)
  • abboccato, amabile, dolce (all sweet)
  • superiore (superior)
  • vendemmia tardiva (late harvest)
  • muffa nobile (noble rot); max yield of 5 tons/ha
8 March 2011

Grants DOC Lago di Corbara right to include white and single-variety wines in production

Source: Derived from Castagnoli.

In parallel with the changes in regulatory law -- and sometimes driven by it -- changes have occurred in the Orvieto viticultural environment. In the 1960s, grape-growing was one part of a mixed farming environment. Specialized cultivation increased steadily during the 1960s, gradually replacing mixed farming. The DOC Production Regulations of 1971 changed things dramatically in that it stipulated a monoculture and prohibited the planting of dissimilar clones in close proximity to each other. This focus on grape-growing has resulted in an increase in wine production from 2.5 million bottles in the 1970s to 20 million bottles in 2010.

The Wines
Orvieto is essentially a white wine region with two included small red wine DOCs (Lago di Corbara and Rosso Orvietano). Th regulations stipulate that the Orvieto wine must be made form Procanico and Grechetto (minimum 60%) and 40% maximum of other suitable white grapes. The wine can be labeled Classico if the grapes were grown in one of the communes mentioned in the 1931 Ministerial Decree and can be labeled Superiore or Classico Superiore if: (i) the yield is kept to 8 tons/ha; (ii) alcohol is at least 12%; and (iii) the wine is aged a minimum of three months.

Orvieto continues the production of its historic sweet wines under a variety of labels. The most interesting of these are the late harvest and "noble rot" sweet wines. Orvieto was the first region in Italy to be recognized for noble rot sweet wines, a situation arising from a "fortuitous combination of autumn morning mists alternated with correct sunshine hours and levels and a good daytime ventilation" (Castagnoli).

Both of the red wine DOCs are blends and provide vehicles for showcasing international and better-known Italian varieties.

The production values of the various Orvieto wines are provided in the tables below.

Table 2. Vineyard Surface Area by Wine
DOC Vineyard Surface (ha) Percent
Orvieto VT
Orvieto Classico
Rosso Orvietano
Lago di Corbara
Source: Derived partially from Castagnoli

Table 3. 2009 Wine Production by Type
Wine Certified Wine (L)
Orvieto Classico
Orvieto Classico Abboccato
Orvieto Classico Anabile
Orvieto Classico Superiore
Rosso Orvietano
Lago di Corbara
Orvieto Anabile
Orvieto Abboccato
Orvieto Classico Superiore Dolce
Source: Castagnoli

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, October 10, 2016

Umbria (Italy) and Orvieto landscapes and soils

Umbria, one of the smallest of the Italian regions, lies almost dead center on the peninsula and is the only region to border neither a body of water or a country. I recently visited the region and, as part of my reportage, will explore some of its landscape and soils characteristics in this post.

One hundred million years ago, much of Italy was an ocean floor. According to Menichetti and Coccione, the Umbria - Marche sedimentary basin formed in the late Triassic in a passive continental margin of the southern Tethys Ocean. In that basin, a 3000-m-thick stratigraphic succession "records the thermal and mechanical subsidence history from the Jurassic carbonate platforms to the pelagic realm of the Paleogene, while its upper part consists of Neogene terrigenous clastics that accumulated in a migratory foredeep system reflecting the encroachment of the Apennic deformation and sedimentation patterns into the Adriatic foreland" (Menichetti and Coccione).

In describing the Apennines, a distinctive feature of the Italian Peninsula, and, as such, Umbria, Vezzani, et al., paint a picture of "lithotechnic assemblages that evolved through interaction between the African and European plates in the central Mediterranean with: (i) Mesozoic development of the Tethyan domain; (ii) Cretaceous-Eocene oceanic subduction; (iii) Oligocenic-Miocene and Pliocene convergence, continental collision and shortening; and (iv) late-Miocene - present extensional collapse of the contractional edifice." The Vezzani - Menichetti and Coccione arguments are tightly aligned.

According to Moti, geologic processes through the ages have resulted in the following soils distribution:
  • Alluvial sediments and debris along major river valleys
  • Gravels, sands, and clays deposited during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene
  • Marly deposits during the Oligocene - Miocene
  • Stratigraphic Umbria-Marche deposits from the Jurassic-Miocene
  • In the southwest, volcanic deposits from the eruptions of the Vulsino volcano.
This distribution is illustrated graphically in the figure below.
Schematic geologic map of Umbria.
Blue = Limestone; Gold = Sandstone rocks;
 Yellow = Inter-mountain basins; and
Purple = Volcanic complexes (Source:
Andrea Moti,

Orvieto Landscape
Orvieto, one of the three major Umbrian wine regions, is centered around the town of Orvieto in southwest Umbria which, itself, sits on the northern edge of a broad volcanic plateau (alfina) which originated in the Quaternary period. Orvieto is shown in the map below.

The geological configuration of the Orvieto area is a direct result of neotectonic and volcanic events which took place in the Quaternary. The marine clays revealed by the departing sea experienced an extensional tectonic stage during the lower Pleistocene, resulting in a NW-SE fault. Magma flows and pyroclastics from the Vulsino volcano terminated against the raised block of this fault and backfilled to form the Alfena Plateau. Alfina Plateau formation dates from the middle Pleistocene.

Over time, the River Paglia and its tributaries cut the volcanic tuff of the Alfina Plateau into mesas (Bardano and Orvieto, for example) or buttes (Rocca Ripensa, for example). The distribution of soils in the Orvieto area is shown in the figure below. Note that the main difference between this distribution and the broader Umbrian distribution is the addition of a volcanic layer to the series.

1, talus (Oligocene); 2, recent and present alluvial sediments,
also terraced (Oligocene - Upper Pleistocene); 3, volcanic rocks
of the Alfina plateau (Middle Pleistocene); 4, gravels, sands and
clays (marine clastic sediments, Lower Pleistocene - Pliocene);
5, marls and sandstones (pre-Pliocenic bedrock); 6, River Paglia
and its main tributaries. Source: Moti.
The middle Pliocene clays form the base of the stratigraphic sequence in the Orvieto area and serves as reservoir for water flowing through from the uppermost layers. This is the old seabed present before the emergence of the Apennine range and these clays tend to be bluish in color -- tending towards grey -- and have high calcium carbonate content (marly clays). In some areas the CaCO₃ content can exceed 40% (argillaceous marls). These clays are also characterized by a good percentage of micaceous silt.

In mesas, there is a thin layer of volcanic origin from a fluvial-lacustrine environment that is called the Albornoz series. This soil type is probably incorporated into the topmost layers in non-mesa, non-butte structures.

The topmost stratigraphic layer in mesas, and a significant component of the recent alluvial sediments, is the effluvia of the Vulsino eruptions which occurred over a 300,000-year period. This lithoidal tuff with black scoriae includes "yellow-orange tuff of lithoidal texture with numerous inclusions of pumice and extremely friable rock of a grey color that incorrectly takes the name of pozzolano." Both the pozzolano and tuff have natural porosity.

Andrea Moti, An Example of Possible Application of Detailed Geological Maps. The 11 DOC/DOCG Destined to Wine Production in Umbria,
Corrado Cencetti, et al., The Rock of Orvieto (Umbria, Central Italy),
Mario Menichetti and Rodolfo Coccione, Umbria - Marche Apennine geological field trip,
Livio Vezzani, et al., Geology and Tectonic Evolution of the Central-Southern Apennines, Italy

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Being natural in Montefalco (Umbria): The Wines of Paolo Bea

Paolo Bea remains active in the direction of his namesake business with his son Giuseppe farming the vineyard and the other son -- Giampiero -- assisiting with vinification as well as being responsible for all commmercial aspects of the business. Giampiero is an architect by training and, in addition to his daily activities, is also responsible for the design of the esthetically pleasing structures that rim the courtyard that you enter from the road on your visit to the estate in Montefalco.

Fermentation building and offices, Paolo Bea

Sideways view of portion of fermentation building
The estate farms 13 ha in Montefalco which, given Paolo's aversion to monocultures, supports five vineyards, two olive groves, and plots for a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Of the 13 ha farmed, three are rented. The Montefalco property is planted to Sagrantino (60%) with the remainder supporting Sangiovese and Montepulciano vines. The estate's guiding principles are as follows:
  • Make note of the weather of the seasons to understand the territory and the cycles of nature and avoid every artificial acceleration
  • Limit to a minimum the treatment in the vineyard
  • Trust to nature the transformation of the grapes into wine
  • Avoid whenever possible that the actions of man dominate the will and effects of nature
  • Respect nature, contributing with our work to maintain the equilibrium between flora and faun of the original land
  • Safeguard the taste of the land, avoiding the use of chemicals in the vineyard and cantina
  • Produce sound products for our health.
View of the farm from the fermentation building

Another section of the farm
Harvesting is done by hand in multiple passes. The first pass yields the grapes for the "important" wines while subsequent passes capture the remaining grapes. The grapes are brought directly from the vineyard to the winery where they are destemmed and crushed. The juices, skins, and seeds are then pumped into tanks in the floor below the receiving level (The estate refers to this as gravity flow but the use of the pump is disqualifying as regards that particular nomenclature.). Vineyard blocks are managed separately throughout the vinification process.

Wines are fermented using natural yeasts and cap management is effected via punchdown. Red wines are fermented and macerated for approximately 50 days while whites are fermented on the skins for a total of 30 days. All fermentation and maceration occurs in stainless steel tanks.

Red wines are passed through a vertical press with the free-run and pressed juices blended immediately. The red wines are aged in stainless steel tanks for one year after which they are transferred for an additional two-years of aging in 30-, 25- and 20-hl oaken barrels. These wines are then bottled and aged for an additional two to four years.

The white and Passito wines are kept in stainless steel for 18 months and in bottle for 1 year.

The grapes for the Passito wine are selected from "less-tight" bunches and are the first grapes selected form the harvest. If there is rain, no Passito wine will be made because of the risk of mold. The skin of the Sagrantino grape is very thick and will succumb to slicing under normal conditions. When it can be cut like a Ricotta cheese, the Passito grape is ready to be crushed.

Tour of the Passito room
After our tour of the fermentation room we were headed to the tasting room when we ran into Paolo Bea himself.

Author, Parlo, and Paolo Bea
As we stepped into the tasting room, we saw an impressive array of bottles, each one containing a Paolo Bea signature wine. In the center of the room, places were set for the tasters along with extensive documentation covering the wines we were about to taste.

Giampiero leading us through the tasting
The first wine tasted was the 2011 Arboreus. The Trebbiano Spoletino vines are more than 100 years old and each plant can produce between 40 and 60 kilo of grapes. The vines are in excess of 3 m tall and grow around trees, eventually killing them. The wine spent 22 days on the skins during fermentation. The wine had an orange color and and orange peel on the nose along with a savory, nutty, asparagus character. Spicy and bright on the palate. A lovely wine.

The second wine was the 2009 Sanvalentino Umbria Rosso IGT and is made from second-passage grapes from all vineyards. In 2009 it was a blend of Sangiovese (60%), Sagrantino (30%), and Montepulciano (10%). This wine spent 32 months in oak. On the nose, sweet herbs, baking spices, and a savoriness. On the palate, sweet red fruit and power with biting acidity. Full-bodied. Mouth-coating tannins. Lengthy finish

The 2008 Pipparello Montefalco DOC Rosso Riserva is a blend of Sangiovese (60%), Montepulciano (25%), and Sagrantino (15%). This wine spent 10 months in stainless steel tanks and 33 months in 25 hl slavonian oak barrels. High-toned, focused, concentrated dark fruit with spice. Huge wine on the palate. Concentrated. Savory with tar and mint notes.

The 2008 Rosso de Vèo Umbria Rosso IGT exhibited red fruits, tar, and a little bit of stewed fruit on the nose. On the palate it showed as relatively simple and lacking in concentration. Giampiero was not satisfied with this wine and opened a second bottle. This second bottle was far more expressive on the nose and showed a lot more concentration. Anise, licorice, tar, and black fruits. Balanced.

We next tasted the 2008 Pagliaro. This is the estate's flagship wine, a 100% Sagrantino that was macerated for 38 days after which it spent 10 months in stainless steel and 33 months in large oak barrels. The vines from which the grapes for this wine are sourced are between 35 and 45 years old. Spice, anise, licorice, tar, and jammy sweet fruit on the nose. Dense and fleshy on the palate with expressive tannins.

The final wine tasted was a new entrant onto the market, the 2007 Cerrete Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. The vines for this wine are planted in a 3-ha vineyard at the highest point of the Sagrantino area. Total production is 4000 bottles. This wine was produced in 2007 for the first time and was not produced in 2008. Grapes from the vineyard that were not used in this wine in 2007 were used in the Rosso de Vèo wine. Sweet, concentrated, dark fruit along with licorice and tar.  Delivers fully on the palate. This is a beautiful wine. I was so impressed that I bought a six-pack on site.

I buy Pagliaro and Pipparello for my cellar every year. With my fuller understanding of the estate, and a better appreciation of the range of wines, I expect that my list of labels procured annually will expand going forward.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Montefalco wine region of Umbria, Italy

Paolo Bea and his wines are legendary. The estate has been growing grapes in the same location since the 15th century and the current proprietor (Rosenthal):
  • Is one of Italy's most passionate natural winemakers
  • Is a founding member of vini veri, a group dedicated to non-interventionist winemaking
  • Has an unshakeable commitment to terroir and "old-fashioned" techniques
  • Is passionate about preserving the unique personality of the region
So it was with great anticipation that we headed out from our Terre Margaritelli visit in Torgiano to Montefalco to its southeast. The drive was pleasant, especially as we passed through the villages leading up to Montefalco and Montefalco proper. The video below serves as an example.


Before describing our visit to Paolo Bea, a word about the region within which its wines are produced. The map below shows the location of the DOC region (granted in 1979 and covering parts of the municipalities of Bevagna, Giano dell'Umbria, Gualdo Cattaneo, Castel Ritaldi, and all of the municipality of Montefalco) and the DOCG region (granted in 1992 and with similar distribution as the DOC region). The DOC and DOCG regions are shown in the heart of the map, within the broader Colli Martani region.


The area has a continental climate with average annual rainfall of 700 mm. The gently sloping hills that are a feature of the growing area support vineyards at elevations ranging between 220 m and 472 m a.s.l. Aspects are varied, resulting in a range of micro-climates.

The DOC wines are a Blanco (Grechetto -- min 50%; Trebbiano Toscano -- 20 - 35%; and Trebbiano Spoletino -- 0 - 30%) and a Rosso (Sagrantino -- 10 - 15%; Sangiovese -- 60 - 70%; and other red grapes -- 15 - 30%).The DOCG wines are made from 100% Sagrantino grapes  and can be either dry or Passito. The grapes for these wines have a limited production and are characterized by small bunches, thick skins, and high polyphenol content.

The characteristics of the grape allows for partial drying (as in the case of the passito wine) and long aging. In the case of the passito wine, the grapes are carefully selected and left out to dry for approximately two months after which they are pressed and the must fermented with the skins.

As regards the DOCG wines, yields for the dry wine are 52 hl/ha and 28 hl/ha for the passito. Both wines must be aged for a minimum of 33 months, with a further requirement of minimum 4 months bottle aging. The dry wine must be resident in oak for a minimum of 12 months. The DOC wine requires 12 months aging.

I will describe the Paolo Bea visit and tasting in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Visit to Terre Margaritelli, Torgiano, Umbria

Friday was a "You Day" on our Art in Voyage tour of Umbria and surrounds. A number of our colleagues had opted to go horseback riding followed by a wine tasting and lunch at Terre Margaritelli in Torgiano. I wanted to go visit Paolo Bea and arranged with Jennifer McIlvaine ( to crash the wine tasting and lunch after which we would go on to Paolo Bea. This post reports on our visit to Terre Margaritelli.

The Margaritelli Group is a leading wood-products manufacturer with a focus on indoor and outdoor materials as well as materials for railway superstructures. In the post-WWII period the company was best known for the manufacture of wooden railroad ties. When concrete ties began to increase its market share -- to the detriment of wooden ties -- Fernando Margaritelli turned the business over to his son asking only for a tractor and a plot of land so that he could grow grapes and make wine for the family.This is the origin story of the precursor to the 60-ha estate that is today's Terre Margaritelli.

According to Federico Bibi (Estate Manager), Fernando died in the 1980s and, while the property was maintained in good order, winemaking ceased. In 2000, Guiseppe Margaritelli decided to revive Fernando's passion so he enlarged the existing property and began planting vines. In 2004 the decision was made to push beyond selling the entire grape production and to begin producing a small amount of wine. Federico hd been advising the estate along the way and in 2008 they asked him to come on board to manage the project on a full-time basis.

Federico Bibi in the Terre Margaritelli Vineyard
The estate is located in Miralduolo in the commune of Torgiano, a region accorded DOC status for its wines in 1968 and DOCG status for its Rosso Riserva in 1990. The Torgiano appellations are shown as the orange-colored blotch in the heart of the map below.

The growing area is 60 ha in size with the largest of its two plots measuring 52 ha. The plots rest on clay soils at elevations ranging between 200 and 250 m. The vines range between 9 and 16 years old and are planted at 4000-5000 vines/ha. The primary white varieties are Trebbiano and Grechetto and the reds Sangiovese and Canaiolo but varieties such as Viognier, Fiano, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon can also be found on the estate. In all, a total of 15 different varieties are planted in the vineyard.

The estate's overarching philosophy is one of sustainability and this permeates every aspect of its grape-growing and winemaking activities. The vineyards are certified organic, rendering the estate the largest organic producer in Umbria.

No pesticides are used in the vineyard even though conditions are rainy and the vines are susceptible to downy mildew. In some cases the vines are sprayed with organic preparations. Natural fertilizers are employed to meet any nutrient deficiencies. First, the inter-row spaces are planted alternately to beans/grains and grass. Beans are a well-known nitrogen fixer while grains are rich in organic nutrients. The inter-row residents have shallow root systems so they compete with the vines for near-surface resources, forcing the vines to dig deeper in the hunt for water and nutrients. This stress results in higher-quality fruit.

Grape harvesting at the estate can be done by hand or machine with the final choice determined by the quality of the grapes and weather conditions. If rain is in the offing, for example, and the grapes need to be harvested on that day, they will most likely be machine-picked.

Each variety is assigned to its own block in the vineyard, with each block harvested and vinified separately. There is no selection in the case of machine- harvesting -- as far as I can see -- as the harvested grapes are dumped directly into the destemmer before being pumped into the Press. Fermentation is facilitated by selected yeasts.

Wood is very important to Margaritelli as a group so they wanted to ensure that they were using products that would accrue the benefits of oak-aging without compromising the qualities of the fruit. Towards that end they partneerd with the Wine Institute to determine the impact of different oak forests on wine. They bought oak from 20 different forests while the Institute bought wines from a single producer. Those wines were aged in the different barrels and it was determined that there were major differences between the wines after one year of aging.

Coming out of this experiment, Terre Margaritelli determined that French white oak from the Bertrange forest best met its requirements. Their barrel-maker of choice is Toutant.

After completing our tour of the vineyard and cellar, we went back into the offices for a light lunch and a tasting of selected Terre Margaritelli wines. The lunch was prepared by Jennifer and was stunning. Not a piece of meat in sight for the main courses but freshness and complexity ruled the day.

The first wine tasted was a 2015 Costellato, a Bianco di Torgiano DOC which is a blend of Trebbiano (50%), Fiano (20%), Chardonnay (15%), and Viognier (15%). According to Federico, the Trebbiano contributed freshness, drinkability, acidity, and citrus to the blend while the Fiano contributed perfume and acidity. The Chardonnay was harvested early so that it could contribute complexity and freshness. The Viognier contributed herbal notes. The wine was aged two months in stainless steel and two months in bottle.

Citrus, freshness, melon, salinity, freshness, and a clayey minerality. An Assyrtiko without the sharpness. I liked this wine.

The 2015 Greco di Renabianca is a 100% Grechetto which is labeled Umbria Bianco IGT. This wine is named after a 12th century soldier, recalling the myriad battles between towns that took place in the flat lands below the estate. Aged 2- 3 months in barrique and 1 year in bottle. This wine brought to mind sweet hazelnuts, eucalyptus and white fruits. Lime, spice and a rusticity on the palate. Powerful.

The 2013 Mirantico is a Rosso di Torgiano DOC and is a blend of Sangiovese (50%), Canaiolo (20%), and Malbec (30%). This wine is aged 6 months in barriques and 1 year in bottle. Light in color but powerful. Florality, spice, red fruits with an elegant palate entrance. Light on its feet with nice, long, berry finish.

The final wine was the 2012 Freccia Degli Scacchi, the Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG. This was 100% Sangiovese aged 24 months in barrique and 24 months in bottle. Cherries, blackpepper, roses. Powerful on the palate with spice and tannin evident. This wine did not engage my palate to the extent that I expected it to.

This was time well spent. Federico and his team have excellent product but they also have a story to tell; and do an excellent job of telling it.

Now on to Paolo Bea.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The "personalization" -- and demise -- of the concept of terroir in 17th-Century France

The concept of terroir transited the 16th-17th century divide on the back of Olivier de Serres 1601 book Le Theatre d'Agriculture and its received wisdoms of the primacy of nature and man working within its confines (holistic farming).

Olivier de Serres 
During this period the concept of terroir accrued mostly positive or neutral connotations. Terroir did not leave the 17th century with the same standing with which it had arrived. Let us first trace the evolution of the definition of terroir during the subject century and then ennumerate the forces which led to its decline. As was the case for my post on terroir in the 16th century, this effort draws heavily on Thomas Parker's Tasting Terroir: The History of an Idea.

Before we examine the 17th-century defnitions of terroir, I would like to place the concept into its modern framework so that the reader has a reference point for comparison purposes. Fraser sees the concept being primarily used today among "culinary enthusiasts" to map a food or wine to its specific place of origin. The taste of terroir (goût de terroir) is "the spectrum of appreciable flavors or fragrances created by the unique physiographic constitutionof the plot of land where a given product was grown and produced."

Now let us look at 17th-century definitions (Parker):
  • Nicot's Thrésor de la langue francaise (1606) -- identifies terroir as any specific municipal plot, soil, or land appropriate for one agricultural crop or another.
  • Furtière's Dictionnaire universal (1690) -- land considered according to its nature and qualities, and with respect to agriculture. Continuing on with the definition, however, Furtière switches from terroir as a determinant of planting decisions to terroir as a flavor component and introduces a decidedly negative note into the frame: "One says that a wine has a taste of terroir when it has some disagreeable quality that comes to it from the nature of the terroir where the vine is planted."
  • Charles Pajot's French-Latin dictionary (1694) translated goût de terroir as virus terrenum, meaning "poison or stench of the earth."
  • Furtière's 1701 edition stipulates that terroir "is also used figuratively for a bad habit acquired in one's place of birth. The people from,the provinces cannot rid themselves of a particular vice from the terroir strongly opposed to politeness ... One says that a man smells of the terroir in order to say that he has the deficits one ordinarily attributes to people of his land."
As can be seen in the definitions above, terroir had made its way from being specifically about land -- and being non-contentious -- to being highly personalized and having a decidedly negative bent. How did terroir transform from innocuous to Hillbilly?

According to Parker, the transformation has its roots in the formation of the Academie Francaise in 1635. The goal of this body was identification of, and adherence to, a pure cosmopolitan tongue and, given the nature of Parisian society, that language was associated with the Parisian set; to the detriment of the provinces. So, the people who were most associated with terroir could only contribute polluting elements to the new language.

The search for purity dictated that language impurities be excised. And this was not only restricted to language. According to Parker, "the desire for a pure cosmopolitan tongue ... spread from, speech to taste, affecting trends in cuisine as segments of the population attempted to lose whatever regional patina they themselves might have by pointedly seeking pure and natural foods" (Some of these taste pursuits are pointed out in my post on the lead-up to the Burgundy-Champagne battle which originated in this timeframe.). Terroir was used in this period to indicate adulteration and disorder and its notion as the "scourge of the country bumpkin" was repeatedly reaffirmed during the second half of the century (Parker).

Terroir also suffered as a result of changing agricultural mores in the later 17th century. In de Serres Theatre d'Agriculture, agriculture and terroir were primary. And the agricultural zones, and their inhabitants, were well regarded. A sea change was afoot, however, with the English Garden, a "structure" that could be deployed in "pure" Paris, gaining primacy. And with the rise of the garden, the sense of working within the bounds of nature "withered on the vine."  A garden was not dependent on terroir. The appropriate environment could be created  -- despite nature -- to support the garden's requirements. Design and esthetic became the order of the day with Versailles becoming the quintessential example where one of the world's most beautiful gardens was created in a previously undesirable terroir.

According to Parker,
Rather than allowing for diversity in soil, La Quintinie (Louis XIV's chief gardener) sought out terroir that was perfectly neutral, resembling what he qualified to be good water. Thus, forty years after the first attempts to purify the French language of terroir in Vaugelas, and in the years following Dominique Bouchour's asessment that the best language should be as pure and neutral as water, the same esthetic appeared in the French garden. In each of these iterations, the bodily influence of the earth was seen as a corruption that blemished the immaculacy, essence, and expression of nature's best fruits and vegetables.
At the end of the 17th century then, terroir was a "crass and unruly manifestation of nature in humans and in plants, one that nature was meant to refine, if not altogether expunge."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme