Saturday, November 4, 2023

Daniele Ricci: From Milan Toll Collector to Timorasso disruptor

Colli Tortonesi Timorasso will be "the next big thing" to emerge from Piemonte and it owes its current position and future potential to the pioneering work of Walter Massa. Massa was not only interested in Timorasso for his own account: "He began to proselytize as regards the variety to anyone who would listen." Daniele Ricci worked as his understudy and acolyte and learned everything that he could before going off and leveraging that knowledge into his own enterprise. I explore Ricci and his wines in this post.

The Backstory
The Ricci Timorasso story goes back to 1929 when the grandparents of Daniele Ricci (Carlo and Clementina) bought Cascina San Leto, land ensconced within an amphitheater of vineyards close to the center of Costa Vescovato. The new owners planted vineyards (6 to 7 ha) and wheat and embarked on cattle-rearing.

During Carlo's stewardship, Timorasso production in Colli Tortonesi declined as farmers shifted to Cortese (more productive) or left farming completely. Carlo, however, bucked both these trends, remaining faithful to the vine and passing it down to successive generations. This was a part of the patrimony when Daniele took control of the estate as a 3rd-generation farmer after a stint as a toll collector on the Italian highway system.

The original Costa Vescovato estate currently sits at 15 ha, 11 of which are planted to vines and 6.5 ha of which are dedicated to named vineyards. In addition to the vines, the estate is planted to small quantities of ancient grains, an orchard, and a vegetable garden. The farmhouse is also resident on this property.

Daniele and his son Mattia secured 8 ha of land in Carezzano in 2022 and immediately planted 1 ha to Timorasso. 

The chart below shows the Ricci holdings in the two Colli Tortonesi communes. Named vineyards are described in colored rectangles.


Formation and Evolution of the Ricci Wine-View
Ricci worked as Mazda’s understudy before going off and planting the 1.5 ha Vigna di Carlo at Cascina San Leto. Walter went on to mentor a large number of the small farmers in the region and they, in turn, formed an association organized around his production principles. They met regularly to compare notes and taste each others wines.

Massa’s  principles, at that time, were as follows:
  • Hand harvesting
  • Maceration on the skins 
  • Soft pressing
  • Fermentation with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks
  • Spontaneous malolactic fermentation after temperatures reduced to 10 - 18 degrees C
  • Wine aged for 1 year in stainless steel tanks (with batonnage)
  • Light filtration prior to bottling
  • Minimum 6 months bottle aging.
Given his early association with Walter, it is more likely than not that Ricci adhered to these principles early in his winemaking career.

The Colli Tortonesi formula was a key element in Timorasso’s success. The success, in turn, led to (i) new market entrants and (ii) some of the disciples changing the formula and profile of the Timorasso wine in order to place their own stamp on the market. Daniele Ricci was one of these change agents.

Daniele has great respect for the vine and life and sought to “produce varietal wines that are representative of tradition and terroir while working as naturally as possible in both the vineyard and the cellar.” This is manifested in the vineyard by organic farming. He practiced organic farming beginning in 1999 and became certified (Suole e salute) in 2017. But it is in the cellar that Ricci has shown the widest divergence (the disrupting bit) from the traditional recipe with practices such as:
  • Long maceration on skins
  • Exclusive use of indigenous yeasts
  • Refining in underground amphorae
  • No filtration
  • No fining
  • Minuscule sulfur.
Daniele Ricci crafts Timorasso wines from calcareous clay marl vineyards planted in 1986, 1989, 1992, and 1996. His traditional production method is fermentation in stainless steel followed by elevage in stainless steel or untreated oak or acacia barrels. In the case of his Io Camino Da Solo wine, however, the grapes are macerated for 100 days in amphora before transfer to untoasted oak barrels for 12 months aging.

Ricci’s application of these techniques are explicated in his wine portfolio as captured in the chart below.


In addition to the wines shown above, Ricci also makes two sparkling wines dedicated to his Grandmother Clementina. The first is a classic method sparkling wine from 100% Timorasso grapes. It is zero dosage and aged 36 months on the lees. The base wine is a blend of wine macerated for 90 days on skins and wine fermented and aged in acacia barrels in effect a blend of Giallo di Costa and San Leto). The second sparkling wine is a Rosé which has all the characteristics of the wine above except that 5% Barbera is added to the blend and the wine is aged for 24 months on the lees.

I tasted a 2019 vintage of the Derthona recently.


Beautiful brown-orange color attesting to the 3-day skin contact. Derthona nose. Sage and herbs ascendant. Elegant. Wax, spice, peach, lychee, and sago porridge also detected on the nose. Bright acidity with orange-tangerine, drying metal and pepper spice on the palate. Medium weight. Balanced.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, October 27, 2023

Muscat of Lemnos, Greece's sole Muscat of Alexandria wine

Lemnos, the 8th largest of the Greek islands, has a long history of viticulture and winemaking, evidenced by mentions in the writings of Hesiod and Aristotle. 

Lemnos indicated by red circle

That fame, though, was based on the red grape variety Limnio (also known as  Kalambaki) which was dethroned with the introduction of Muscat of Alexandria (known locally as Moschato Alexandrias) from Egypt in the early part of the 20th century. Today 506 ha of vines are cultivated on the island, 90% to 95% of which is Muscat of Alexandria. 


The island of Lemnos lies low in the water and, as a result, the surface is susceptible to high winds; especially in the winter. The climate is Mediterranean with warm summers and cold, rainy winters. The winds cool the vineyards during the growing season, tempering the effects of the warm sunshine and extending its length. This microclimate allows the grapes to retain acidity as they develop complex aromas.

The growing zone encompasses the entire island but most of the vineyards are located in the central and southern parts of the island, proximate to Atsiki, Moudros, and Nea Koutati. A series of shallow valleys on the southern side of the island facilitate vine-avoidance of the brunt of the strong northerly winds.

The soils are "volcanic, infertile, light, and mainly limestone."

Main grape-growing areas
(Map sourced from greeceguide.co.uk)

Sparkling, dry, and sweet wines are made from the Muscat variety. The sparkling wines can be semi-sweet or semi-dry. The PDO wines from the island are illustrated in the graphic below.


The wines are fortified by adding wine-derived alcohol during -- or just after -- must fermentation. The sweet wines from PDO Limnos must be aged at least 24 months in oak prior to release on the market.

The Muscat wines are characterized by rich aromas and balanced acidity  with notes of peach, mint, spearmint, apricot, and flowers. According to Elloinos, these wines are "lighter in style, less extracted and less dense compared to other sweet Muscats" across Greece. 

The term Grand Cru can be added to the wine label if the grapes are sourced from low-yield estate vineyards.

The sweet wines can be used at dessert or can be paired with a variety of cheeses and fruit-based dishes.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, October 23, 2023

Il Poggio di Gavi: Another Gavi-DOCG-based producer of Colli Tortonesi Timorasso wine

Wines from the Timorasso variety have historically been the preserve of "traditional" Colli Tortonesi producers but, as the potential of the variety has become more apparent, "non-local" producers have jumped into the fray.


One such entrant is Il Poggio di Gavi, a winery located in the heart of Gavi DOCG. I report on this estate, and its Timorasso wine, herein.

The Rovereto-Hills property encompassing Il Poggio di Gavi was initially purchased by the father of Franca Odone in 1919 as a family hunting lodge. The lodge was eventually passed on to Franca who cleared the land to plant vineyards. She began making wine from those grapes in 1976. In 2003 she passed the control of the estate on to her daughter Francesca.

The estate makes a number of sparkling, white, and red wines from grapes grown on the 3-ha Gavi estate but it is the Colli Tortonesi offering that is of interest for this post.

The estate owns a 2-ha plot in Colli Tortonesi's Val Borbera, a zone characterized by:
  • Elevations ranging between 400 and 600 m
  • The highest-altitude vineyards in Colli Tortonesi
  • Significant diurnal temperature variation.
  • Marly clay and silty marl soils (Lower Oligocene origins).
The Il Poggio plot, dedicated to Timorasso, resides on calcareous clay soils at elevations ranging between 500 and 750 m. The 20-year-old vines have south and southeast exposures.

The first wine from this vineyard was produced from grapes harvested in 2018. The grapes are hand-harvetsed in small crates for transport to the cellar where they are vinified in stainless steel tanks using indigenous yeasts. The wines are aged in steel tanks. The first vintage yielded 83 cases.

I recently tasted the 2019 edition of this wine.


Like most of the Timorasso wines from Gavi producers that I have tasted, this wine was approachable up front. It had a Timorasso-specific, aromatic nose with notes of honeyed wax, sage, pepper spice, sweet white fruit, green and dried herbs, and a marine character. A complex, layered nose.

Weighty on the palate with lime skin, lime-infused salinity, chalky minerality, and coal. Chalky minerality becomes prevalent with the passage of time. A lengthy finish. 

Retains the complexity on the nose but more linear on the palate over time. Unlike the best Timorasso wines, the palate does not transit well to the following day.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Is Bornova Misketi (Muscat of Bornova), the Muscat cultivar from Izmir, Turkey, the oldest variety in the world?

I am in the early phases of a journey exploring the worldwide deployment of the Muscat cultivar so I was excited when a reader of my post on Muscat of Spina pointed me to a Muscat from the Izmir region of Turkey. This was an exciting lead in that it would allow me to explore very close to the site where Muscat first broke from the initial domesticated cultivar approximately 10,000 years ago.

The name of this Turkish cultivar is Bornova Misketi (Muscat of Bornova), said nomenclature deriving from its village of origin in the Izmir province of the Aegean region. The grape is now primarily grown in the neighboring province of Manisa.

Source; winesofturkey.com

Bornova Misketi is reputed to be the oldest known variety in the world and was mentioned in the 5th-century BC writings of Herodotus.

The growing region in Izmir is blessed with a Mediterranean climate and sandy-loamy soils. The Manisa area has similar soils but sits in a transition zone between the Mediterranean and continental climates and at a much higher altitude.

The soils in Izmir have higher levels of potassium, iron, copper and lime than is the case for Manisa. According to Kareoglau and Cabaroglu (A comparison of the volatile and phenolic compositions of Muscat of Bornova wines from two different terroirs in the Aegean region of Turkey, Food Sci. Technol 40(4), Oct-Dec 2020), higher levels of metal ions can influence the rate of enzymatic browning. Further, lime-rich soils tend to produce quality wines with "better aroma intensity, color, and body."

The characteristics of the Bornova Misketi cultivar are illustrated in the chart below.


The aroma compounds responsible for the characteristic muscat flavor are monoterpenic compounds mainly derived from the grape berry. These aromas result from the presence of threshold levels of terpenes (linalool, geraniol, nerol, citronellol, α-terpinool) and norisprenoids. Terpenes is the most important group of volatile compounds in Muscat varieties with linalool the most abundant compound.

The Kareoglau and Cabaroglu study showed that both the Linalool and Geraniol terpenes had values significantly greater than the threshold levels of typical Muscat wines. For example, the threshold level for geraniol is 30 μg/L while levels in Bornova Misketi is 50 μg/L. 

The purpose of the study, though, was to determine whether Bornova Miskiti was subject to terroir or vintage effects. Wines from the Izmir and Manisa terroirs were studied over two harvest periods and the following findings were reported:
  • The terroir effects on the concentrations of all terpene compounds was found to be significant (except for the (E)-pyran linalool oxide and geranic acid concentrations)
  • The effect of vintage on all terpene compounds was also found ot be significant.
Dry, semi-dry and fully sweet wines are made from the variety. These wines can be drunk alone as aperitifs as well as pairing extremely well with fruits and vegetables, seafood and white meats, and dishes featuring a variety of spices and savory condiments.

Getting back to the question posed in the title, we know, based on the work of Dong, et al., that Bornovo Misketi is not the oldest variety in the world. That honor is reserved to the CG1 and CG2 cultivars  domesticated in the Caucasus and Western Asia Domestication Centers approximately 11,000 years ago. It is a descendant, however, of the Muscat variety that split form the main line 10,500 years ago. The question remains as to how direct is the linkage.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Liatiko variety from Crete, Greece: Terroir, wines, and experiences

In my Pandemic-era InstaLive Chat with Yiannis Karakasis MW, he asserted that "Greek wine cannot become mainstream if we cannot expand the discussion beyond Santorini to other terroirs, other varieties." One of the candidate terroirs that he identified was Crete for the Vidiano (for whites) and Liatiko (for reds) varieties. 


I describe the Liatiko variety, and its terroirs, herein.

According to winesofgreece.org, the Liatiko variety -- which dates back to 3rd or 2nd Century BC -- can produce very fine dry red wines but "reaches its apogee in its sweet versions." The berries are thin-skinned and produce wines with low-color intensity, low acidity, and high levels of tannin.

Liatiko (Source: winesofgreece.org)

A total of 400 ha of Liatiko are planted across the island, primarily on the slopes of the southern and eastern coastlines. The variety is resistant to drought and hot weather and prefers soils rich in clay, lime, and sand. While planted across the island, the best wines are found in Heraklion (PDO Dafnes) and Lasithi (PDO Sithia). The chart below illustrates the terroirs associated with Liatiko.


Liatiko Wines
As previously indicated, Liatiko is utilized in the production of both dry and sweet wines. The dry wines are "intense, with rich, ripe red fruit and sweet spices" on the nose and high levels of alcohol and low levels of soft tannins on the palate. The sweet wines are even more intense with concentrated candied fruit notes and a rich, dense palate and higher levels of acidity. Long barrel aging is a must, with the dry wines requiring at least 5 years. While most red sweet wines are fortified with alcohol during the fermentation, Liatiko sweet wines are made with sun-dried grapes.

The Crete wines with Liatiko content are illustrated in the chart below.


Liatiko Experiences
I have tasted a few Liatiko wines, all, with one exception, being from the Sitia producer Economou. I recount those experiences in the following.

Fredrick Wildman and Son NYC Greek Wine Portfolio Launch
My earliest encounter with the Liatiko grape was in February of 2012 when Markus Stolz (@elloinos) brought a number of Greek producers and wines to New York City to launch the Fredrick Wildman and Sons Greek Wine portfolio. One of the winemakers who accompanied Markus was Yiannis Economou of Domaine Economou and he brought two Sitia VQPRD wines along with him, one 80% Liatiko and 20% Mandilaria, the other 100% Liatiko.

I was particularly impressed with the story and storied wines of Domaine Economou. I had extended conversations with Yiannis and he was highly enthusiastic about his product as well as the opportunity that being a part of this launch provided. He particularly impressed me with his dedication to his principles of production and the aging of his wines; his wines reflect those principles. 

The figure below provides some background on the estate and its operating environment.


Fourth Anniversary Winelovers Reunion in Athens
I encountered the Economou wine again when I was in Athens for the 4th Anniversary Winelovers Reunion in February 2016. The 2006 was served as a part of a dinner we were having at Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro but the owner, Panos Kyriazis, mentioned to me that the recently released 1999 was even better. That sounded like a dare so I bit and purchased a bottle. It was good. So good that I went back the following evening in order to taste this wine again. Once I got back to the US, I sought out the wine and stocked both the 2006 and the 1999 in my cellar.

Greek Wine Tasting in Orlando, FL
This tasting featured flights of Greek wines from different regions and producers. I solicited feedback from participants and used their voices to report on the tasting. The panelists utilized thusly were:
  • John Siudut, Proprietor, Vintage Vino
  • Andres Montoya, Proprietor, The Wine Barn
  • Jill Kathyrn Davis, Former Head Sommelier Capa Grill at the Four Seasons and Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse
  • Ron Siegel, Collector
  • Juan Valencia, Assistant General Manager and Sommelier, Norman's at the Ritz Grande Lakes.
The 1999 and 2006 vintages were tasted for the Economou flight. The panelists shared my view that this producer is doing an excellent job and that the 1999 vintage was the better of the two.


John thought that this flight was surprising considering the release dates of the wines. He really enjoyed the brooding power of the 2006 and the distinct power and structure of the 1999 which matured in the glass and was the better wine. These wines reminded Jill of Valpolicella in that they had a raisinated note with high acid.

Juan found the 2006 to be slightly oxidative and raisinated up front. Sweet and sour cherries appeared on the palate shortly thereafter. Supple tannins. Andres saw this wine as having "warm scents of garrigue, smoke, tar, and rose petal," the latter of which could be associated with Nebbiolo from warmer sites. "In the mouth it shows lead pencil, smoked plum, anise and currants, which make it seem closer to Cabernet on the finish."

The Economou 1999, according to Andres, had a beautiful nose of violets, grilled herbs, and red plum (it reminded him of Nerello Mascalese), shows high acidity, and finishes with intensity. This vintage is showing very well. Juan: "Wow. Muscular for its age. Very well structured in terms of acid, and tannin. Fruit was dried and fresh simultaneously."

Swirlery Wine Bar
Earlier this month I went to a local watering hole named Swirlery and after drinking some Champagne, asked the owner Melissa, to find me something interesting to drink. She pulled out a bottle of the 2004 vintage of the Economou. I lit up. I tasted it and remembered why I loved this wine so much. I offered to buy everything that she had but, alas, I had.


K Restaurant Greek Wine Dinner
The third course was a Grilled Swordfish and Octopus dish accompanied by the 2015 Douloufakis Liatiko. The Douloufakis Liatiko showed tar, dark olives, and blue fruit on the nose. Light-bodied. Dark and red fruits. Savory. Mineral. Drying finish. Does not engage the full palate. It will benefit from some aging.


*********************************************************************************************************
In Part 2 of my Chat with Yiannis Karakasis, we discussed varieties and terroirs beyond Santorini. Yiannis identified four varieties that he saw as being capable of producing world-class wines: Agiorgitiko (within two to three years), Robolo, Mavrodaphne, and Liatiko. Liatiko, he said, can produce high-quality wines and you need to look no further than the wines of Economou for proof of that assertion.

Keep the wines from Liatiko on your radar then, and snap up the ones from Economou -- if you can find them. According to Joyce Ghosn, one of my Facebook compatriots, responding to one of my posts on this producer and wine: "(In) 2019, prior to the masses discovering this now legendary Cretan winery, this wine retailed for a mere 20 euros. Stocks were removed from the market by their exclusive distributor and a few bottles were put back a few months later, retailing then at 50. Lucky were the people who could put their hands on this vintage then, let alone now. Today it has become the benchmark for all Liatiko originating fgrom Crete and is the reason people have started comparing this variety to Burgundy Pinot Noir." 

In that same comment chain Ian Cauble MS, co-founder of SommSelect and one of the stars of the original Somm, described the Economous as "Incredible wines" while Rico Thompson of Rick Thompson Wine commented that the estate was "crafting some very peculiar, long-aged wines."

Happy hunting.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Muscat (of Spina) wine of Crete, Greece

The Muscat grape is one of the oldest and most widespread grape families in the world, splitting, as it did, from the main branch of vitis vinifera some 10,500 years ago. The, predominantly, white wine has a pronounced aromatic quality due to the higher-than-average presence of aroma compounds in the berry. The most planted of the over 200 cultivars in the family are Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains and Muscat of Alexandria and my survey of these cultivars began with a review of the former, as implemented in the wines of Asti DOCG, and continued with the Muscat wines of Samos, Greece.  In this post I continue the survey with a review of the Muscat of Spina wines of Crete, Greece.

History of Crete and Cretan Wines
As shown in the map below, Crete is the southernmost of the Greek islands. The island's wine history

Source: tripsavvy.com

stretches back to the Minoan Period and has, except for the Ottoman period, been a story of successful, high-quality wine.


Selected Aspects of Cretan Wine Growing Environment
The physical and legal environments underpinning selected aspects of the Cretan wine industry are presented in the chart below. The chart highlights the areas of relevance to Muscat of Spina (which I am covering in this post) and the Liatiko variety (which I will be covering in a subsequent post).


Muscat of Spina
According to the literature, Muscat of Spina was another of the forgotten greek varieties (see, Malagouzia, for example) until the brothers Strataridakis (Manolo and Kostis) came along and gave it "the opportunity it needed." Today the variety is well ensconced in Cretan vineyards, the source of single-variety wines that "have earned their place on the top of white aromatic Greek wines."

Moschato Spinas (local terminology) originates from the province of Spina in the prefecture of Chania. The variety is a clone of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, differing mainly in berry-skin thickness. It is the only allowed Muscat on Crete. The primary growing areas for the variety today is in Central Crete in the villages of Maza and Spina and the Heraklion region.

The primary characteristics of the variety are detailed in the chart below.


Wines from this variety are characterized as the most flavorful of the wines on the Island with intense fruity and floral aromas of orange peel, lime, lemon blossom and rose petals. Muscat of Spina wines are primarily used as the minor partner in PDO blends (PDO Malvasia Handakis - Candia, PDO Malvasia Sitia) but play a much bigger role in the PGI sphere.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, October 2, 2023

Revisiting the Chianti Classico UGAs

I have previously treated the Chianti Classico zonation initiative, based largely on reporting from Decanter. I revist and expand on that effort based on recent work on the topic by John Szabo MS in his vehicle, Wine Align.

According to John Szabo, the Chianti Classico zonation effort is a continuation of the quality pursuit launched by the Consorzio when it introduced Gran Selezione as a quality level above Riserva. The purpose of that initiative was twofold:
  1. Distinguish some of the highest quality wines from the denomination
  2. Claim a secure spot in the luxury-wine tier.
That effort can only be viewed as a success:
  •  154 wineries now make at least one Gran Selezione wine
  • That class accounts for 5% of the region's production but 13% of its revenue, a clear testament to market acceptance of the value proposition
The zonation process is illustrated below. 


Chianti Classico declined to pursue UGAs based on soils and topography because of the geologic complexity of the area. As shown in the chart below, the region possesses a diversity of soils: marl (San Casciano Val di Pesa); calcareous clay (Greve and all zones at lower altitudes); sandstone (backbone of Chianti Mountains); limestone (central and southern portions of the district); and tufa (around Castelnuevo Berardenga). When limestone and sandstone are found in alternating layers, that soil is called Galestro. Clay-limestone mixes are called Alberese. According to Berry Bros & Rudd, "The sandy alluvial soils of the lower sites yield fuller, meatier wines while the limestone and galestro soils of the higher vineyards deliver finer, more ethereal examples" (bbr.com).


"The UGA areas are thus not mapped out exclusively according to geology or elevation or microclimate, even if these elements are of course taken into consideration. But the real boundaries were drawn up along cultural and historical lines, refining areas of broadly shared historical heritage and winemaking philosophy." Eleven areas were specified with eight going into effect immediately and three slated to be implemented subsequently. The initial specification only includes the Gran Selezione category. 



The charts above contain much greater detail than previously reported on the geologic characteristics of the UGAs as well as the characteristics of the wines emanating therefrom.

As regards the UGA wines, a producer can place the name of the UGA on the label if the grapes are sourced exclusively from within the UGA. This requirement will be applied retroactively to include wines from the 2022 vintage.

Beginning with the 2027 vintage, UGA wines will be required to contain a minimum of 90% Sangiovese, with the remainder of the restricted to a limited number of native Italian red grape varieties. This latter requirement shuts out the international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme