Thursday, September 14, 2017

Soave Preview Part II: Minerality and Volcanic Wines

As you might recall, one of my previous posts has been about a tasting that happened at the Soave Preview from the 18th to the 20th of May. During this event, journalists and wine experts from around the world gathered to try the latest vintage of Soave and debated different issues. This year two of the main topics were volcanic wines and the concept of minerality, discussed by a panel led by international wine experts such as winemaker Salvo Foti, journalist Alessandro Brizi and Master Sommelier John Szabo.

The Volcanic Wine Tasting at the Soave Preview

It is clear that volcanic wines and minerality are now two recurring trends in the wine industry, so some companies are trying to find new ways to express minerality in the glass. In this regard, chemistry and technology could help to give mineral sensations. However, it all starts in the vineyards and they cannot be merely done in a lab with any grape.

The volcanic wines tasted during the panel offered exactly the feelings expressed by Salvo Foti. For example, in a white wine from Canary Islands, the Listan Blanco of Bodega Suertes Del Marques, one could find some of the highest expressions of minerality.

Panayiota Kalogeropoulou (export sales and hospitality director of Sigalas winery in Santorini) said that volcanic wines share 'energy'. Actually, this is a recurring theme on the Internet. Winemakers, it appears, are also very energetic and excited about making wines on a volcano.

Popocatepetl, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave.

During the event, it has been often pointed out that the term minerality is often misused to describe wines that are not particularly good nor with particular characteristics. However, the definition that I like most about mineral wines is the one offered by Etna’s winemaker Salvo Foti, who notes that minerality is the feeling obtained when acidity and sapidity get together. Try a small slice of green lemon and then put some salt in the mouth. That’s a clear feeling of minerality. It is a pleasant sensation that is long lasting, not too sweet nor acidic.

Salvo Foti introduced another interesting point: "Before minerality comes humanity". Indeed, the human element is fundamental to consider when analyzing the quality of a wine, without forgetting that wine is a man-made product and also a cultural one. Szabo, instead, said there are some scientific elements related to minerality and that it is hard to find studies on the topic, especially because they are expensive and hard to conduct.

Volcano with lava flowing. Photo courtesy of Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave

In conclusion, mineral wines exist and play an important role in the world of oenology. Some of the best are definitely made in volcanic soil. Now it's time to use a common vocabulary for this often misunderstood word. I would suggest starting from Salvo Foti’s mentioned simple and clear definition.

P.S. Check out the video below featuring Panayiota Kalogeropoulou's speech at the Soave Preview!


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Volcanic Interview #4: Thomas Grundmann of Co-op PicoWines, Azores

Thomas Grundmann is the Coordenador-geral of Co-op Pico Wines, the largest wine producer in the Azores. He is managing both the day-to-day business and winemaking processes. In this interview, he tells us all about the fascinating history of Azores wines, Pico Wines, export and much more...

When did viticulture start in the Azores?

Viticulture started here on the Azores ca. 500 years ago, middle of 15th century with vines brought in by monks from South Italy and Greece. It was the time of the little ice age in Europe and people were looking for new regions for growing vines.

What are the main grape varieties and trellis systems?

Due to the remote situation of the Azores quite some indigenous varieties developed: on the white side we are growing nowadays mainly Arinto dos Açores, Verdelho, and Terrantez do Pico – genetically different from the varieties with the same name on the continent or in the case of Verdelho, thought as originated from the Azores and found all over the world now. Black grapes are mainly Merlot and Syrah, to a lesser extend indigenous Saborinho and Cabernets. There is hardly any trellising as such, most vines growing in a traditional style as bush vines, protected in little stone squares (“currais”) of 10-20m2 surrounded by walls of 1-1.5m of lava stones. Being exposed to a maritime climate, really strong winds and rain showers are a permanent threat to the viticulture here.

Were the fortified wines of the Azores widely exported overseas like Madeira wines back in the 17th century?

Fortified, liquor wines – and its erroneous to call them sweet wines, they can be everything from very dry to sweet, from 4g/l to 120g/l of (residual) sugar – were exported as far as USA, Canada, London, Hamburg, St. Petersburg. Export routes followed Madeira wines or fortified Sicilian wines, indeed they were sold quite often as Madeira wines.

How did phyloxera change viticulture in the islands?

Phylloxera (and a bit earlier powdery and downy mildew) hit the islands hardest by ca. 1860-70, earlier than in other European regions, and rapidly decreased yields. Vineyards were abandoned, and some tried to save a bit with American hybrids, like anywhere in Europe. Unlike anywhere in Europe, these hybrids play until today an important role in our viti- and viniculture. Since 1950 large efforts were undertaken to recover and replace abandoned vineyards with noble and indigenous varieties, red and white.

How do the volcanic Terroir and the climate influence the wines?

The Azores are mainly a cool climate region, dominated by a maritime climate and vines growing mainly on and in rocks (basaltic lava). Wines are influenced in a way that they can be characterized by their salinity and minerality, high acidity, and fine floral and/or fruity flavours.

What is altitude of the highest vineyards in the Azores?

Most vineyards are situated starting directly at the coast line in a strip of up ca. 500m from it. Altitude isn’t really given, 5-150m max.

When was PicoWines founded and how did it change since its inception?

The Coop-Picowines was founded in 1949. Initially producing the once famous liqueur/fortified wines, over decades still table wine got much more important. Nowadays 90% of our wines are table wines, of them 70% whites. Starting from 8 members in 1949, we are counting now 250 members, and still growing. Lots of EU and government funding went and is still going into the local viticulture, attracting more and more people and their investments. Picowines was and is the by far largest producer and plays a most significant role in the Azorean wine world. New products are arising, like our PetNats, traditional sparkling wine, and improved reds and fortified wines.

How much Azores wine is exported and what are the main export markets?

Exports were low the last decades as all wine can get sold locally due to raising tourist figures. Since two years now we try to internationalize in Central Europe (wines available via, Scandinavia (via, USA (via and Canada. Our exports should be this year around 20%. Our goal is it to achieve a healthy mix of one-third in local, export and direct tourist sales.

#volcanicwines #volcanicinterviews


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Azienda Agricola Sassotondo: A Volcanic Gem in Tuscany

"Tell me in a world without pity 
Do you think I my askin's too much 
I just want something to hold on to 
and a little of that human touch 
just a little of that human touch"

-Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch

We arrive in Sovana, near Pitigliano, Tuscany's best volcanic wine area. The path to the Sassotondo cellar seems more difficult than expected. Luckily, Edoardo told us beforehand patiently the way, by phone. Even the GPS seems to get lost in this volcanic corner of the world. The entrance is beautiful and scenographic ... I would say very beautiful, yet simple.

There is a large sign: Sassotondo. All around, perhaps with an intentional and subtle message, you see only stones. I then found out that the name of the company comes from a large round stone on which Edoardo's daughter used to play, as a child.

As soon as we get out the car, a dog barks at us. You notice that he does it just for duty. It is clear that he's nice and welcoming. Edoardo calls him to the order and leads us straight into the underground cellar: a spectacular tufo cave. Here the temperature, in contrast to the outside heat, is perfect for refining the wines. It is impressive to observe and imagine - thanks to Edoardo's explanations - the geological effects that various eruptions have had along the walls of the cellar.

Edoardo Ventimiglia moved to Sovana in the 90s together with his wife, Carla Benini, an agronomist from Trentino. It was an important life choice for both of them. Carla was a business consultant while Edoardo followed the footsteps of his grandfather, Hitchcock's first cameraman, in Rome. Their decision was to leave everything behind to start an exciting (and at that time still pioneering) wine project, what would then become the current Sassotondo winery and farm. Thanks to the entrepreneurial tenacity of Carla and Edoardo, today we can appreciate Pitigliano wines (an appellation not always up to its potential) that best reflect this volcanic terroir.

The original idea, since 1994, has been to produce top-quality organic wines and, since 2007, also following biodynamic principles.

In a nutshell, the winery has the utmost respect for the environment with a small production from 12 hectares of vineyards. Authentic wines, made by independent vintners.

Edoardo mainly deals with business activities of the winery. He told us about his recent experience at the Orange Wine Festival in Slovenia, during which his orange wine was a great success. Small wonder, given the high quality of the wines.
After the visit to the wine cellar - where we also see a great amphora to refine the Ciliegiolo - we head to the tasting room.

In my opinion, the wines of Sassotondo represent the perfect concise definition of the "vins du terroir". They feature high minerality, concentration and structure: characteristics that only a volcanic terroir can offer. Thanks to a production philosophy of "minimal intervention" - that is to say, attentive agronomic care in the vineyard, minimal winery interventions, marginal use of sulfur and strictly handmade harvest - the wines are truly unique. It rarely happens, as in this case, not to spit the wine during the tasting.

Ciliegiolo has hints of cherry and plum, but also nuances of black berry fruits, such as blackberry. Smooth and fresh in the mouth, it's really a pleasant wine. The rosé, which has an excellent quality / price, stands out for its freshness and sapidity. The white Isolina -made up mostly of Trebbiano, with some Greco and Sauvignon - remains my favorite. Long persistence, mineral and complex, with notes of menthol, sage, yellow peach and citrus. Really excellent.

After the tasting we meet Carla, who greets us warmly. She was in the fields. There is always work there. The activities that Carla and Edoardo carry with the support of the oenologist Attilio Pagli - a key figure in Tuscan enology - is really noteworthy.

I therefore invite you to discover this volcanic gem of Pitigliano closely, where the human touch - to say it using Springsteen's words - really has high value and overtakes everything else.

Only in this way will you be able to understand and appreciate the work behind these excellent wines. Get ready for your trip: it's worth it!
Maybe - once you arrive in front of the great sign "Sassotondo" - listen to Springsteen's words reminding you of my tasting review of the Isolina 2016.

Have a good trip and enjoy the tasting!


Azienda Agricola Sassotondo: Una Gemma Vulcanica in Toscana

"Tell me in a world without pity 
Do you think I my askin's too much 
I just want something to hold on to 
and a little of that human touch 
just a little of that human touch"

"Dimmi, in un mondo senza pietà 
pensi che sia troppo quello che chiedo? 
Voglio solamente qualcosa a cui aggrapparmi 
e un po’ di quel tocco umano 
solo un po’ di quel tocco umano"

-Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch

Arriviamo a Sovana, nei pressi di Pitigliano, la zona vulcanica toscana per eccellenza. Il percorso per la cantina Sassotondo sembra piu' difficile del previsto. Per fortuna, Edoardo ci aveva spiegato con pazienza, via cellulare, la strada. Anche il GPS sembra perdersi in questo angolo vulcanico del mondo.
Bello e scenografico l'ingresso...Aggiungerei bellissimo perche' e' senza fronzoli.

Campeggia una grande scritta : Sassotondo. Intorno, forse con un voluto e sottile gioco di sottointesi, solo sassi. Scopriro' poi che il nome dell'azienda deriva proprio da un grande sasso tondo su cui giocava, da piccola, la figlia di Edoardo.

Appena usciamo dalla macchina un cane ci abbaia. Si vede che lo fa solo per dovere d'ufficio. Si intuisce che il "quattrozampe" e' simpatico e accogliente. Edoardo lo richiama all'ordine e ci conduce subito nella cantina sotteranea : una spettacolare cava di tufo. Qui la temperatura, in contrasto con la calura esterna, e' perfetta per affinare i vini. E' impressionante constatare e ricostruire - grazie alle spiegazioni di Edoardo - gli effetti geologici che le varie eruzioni hanno avuto lungo le mura della cantina.

Edoardo Ventimiglia si e' trasferito a Sovana negli anni '90 insieme alla moglie Carla Benini, agronoma trentina. Per entrambi e' stata una scelta di vita importante. Carla era consulente aziendale mentre Edoardo a Roma seguiva le orme del nonno, primo cameraman di Hitchcock. La decisione finale e' stata di lasciare tutto per seguire un appassionante (e all'epoca ancora pioneristico) progetto vitivinicolo. Cio' che sarebbe poi diventata l'attuale azienda vitivinicola ed agricola Sassotondo.

Grazie alla tenacia imprenditoriale di Carla ed Edoardo, oggi possiamo apprezzare vini di Pitigliano (una denominazione non sempre all'altezza del suo potenziale) che rispecchiano al meglio questo terroir vulcanico. L'idea originaria, fin dal 1994, e' stata quella di produrre vini di qualita' a conduzione biologica e, dal 2007, anche seguendo principi biodinamici.

In sostanza, si tende al massimo rispetto per l'ambiente con una piccola produzione proveniente dai 12 ettari di vigneti. Vini autentici, fatti da vignaioli indipendenti.

Edoardo si occupa prevalentemente della parte commerciale. Ci ha raccontato della sua recente esperienza all'Orange Wine Festival in Slovenia, durante il quale i suoi "orange" sono andati letteralmente a ruba. Non ci meraviglia - in effetti - data l'elevata qualita' dei vini.
Finita la visita alla "wine cellar" - dove vediamo in bella mostra anche una grande anfora per affinare il Ciliegiolo - ci dirigiamo verso la sala degustazione.

Secondo me, i vini di Sassotondo rappresentano la definizione perfetta e - se volete didascalica - dei "vins du terroir". Sono infatti dotati di grande mineralita', concentrazione e struttura: qualita' che solo un terroir vulcanico puo' offrire. Grazie a una filosofia produttiva che gli inglesi amano definire di "minimal intervention" - vale a dire attenta cura agronomica in vigna, minimi interventi in cantina,  utilizzo marginale di solforosa e vendemmia rigorosamente a mano - si degustano vini davvero unici. Raramente capita, come in questo caso, di non espellere il vino durante la degustazione.

Il Ciliegiolo ha sentori di ciliegia e susina, ma anche sfumature di frutti a bacca nera, come la mora. Morbido e fresco in bocca, e' di gradevole beva. Il rosato che, tra l'altro, ha un ottimo rapporto qualita'/prezzo, stupisce per freschezza e sapidita'. Il bianco Isolina - base Trebbiano, con parte di Greco e Sauvignon - rimane tuttavia il mio favorito. Lunga persistenza, minerale e complesso, con note di mentolo, salvia, pesca gialla e limone. Davvero eccellente.

Finita la degustazione incontriamo Carla, che ci saluta cordialmente. Era tra i campi. Li' il lavoro non manca mai. L'attività che Carla ed Edoardo svolgono con il supporto dell'amico enologo Attilio Pagli - figura fondamentale nell'enologia toscana - e' davvero degna di nota.

Vi invito, dunque, a scoprire da vicino questa gemma vulcanica di Pitigliano, dove il tocco umano - "human touch" per dirla con Springsteen - prende davvero valore e il sopravvento su tutto il resto.

Solo così si potrà capire e apprezzare il lavoro che sta dietro a questi vini di pregio.
Preparatevi al viaggio: ne vale la pena!
Magari - arrivati davanti alla grande scritta "Sassotondo" - ascoltate i versi e la musica di Springsteen ricordandovi della mia recensione dell'Isolina 2016.

Buon viaggio e buona degustazione!


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Volcanic Interview #3: John Szabo MS

John Szabo is the first Canadian Master Sommelier and an international expert on volcanic wines. His book "Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power" is the winner of the Andre Simon award in the drinks category.

I met him during the Soave Preview 2017, where he held a seminar on volcanic wines along with Etna's winemaker Salvo Foti and Italian wine journalist Alessandro Brizi. I interviewed John for my MBA thesis on the marketing and export of volcanic wines, which will be discussed in September. 

John Szabo in Lanzarote, Canary Islands

When did you first become interested in volcanic wines ?

In 2009 I wrote an article for a Canadian magazine called Wine Access, linking several wines I had recently discovered and found intriguing through their volcanic origins. This included wines from Santorini, Etna and northern Hungary, among others. This article eventually led to my book.

What differences and similarities did you find between the volcanic wine regions of Etna and the Canary Islands?

That’s an easy question with a complicated answer. The Canaries are highly varied, with soils ranging from a couple hundred years old to 20 million, so extremely diverse. The climate also varies significantly from island to island and from north to south (Tenerife especially), and over 80 varieties are grown, so generalizations regarding wine styles are of limited utility. Etna is a little more homogenous, with just a couple of main varieties, though there too, soil composition and age varies, and altitude plays a big role in wine style. All this said, I’d say the commonalities revolve around bright acids, fresh, crunchy-tart fruit, and a distinct saltiness.

During your volcanic wine seminars, what are considered the most popular volcanic wine regions and why?

Etna seems to have captured the imagination of wine professionals around the world, and increasingly, consumers also. But it’s also one of the most obviously volcanic wine regions, with regular reports of eruptions that re-focus attention and generate interest. Santorini is also firmly on the map - they have been trumpeting their volcanic origins for many years now, and are benefiting from the increased interest in volcanic wines in general. The Azores, and Pico in particular, as well as Lanzarote also seems to fascinate tasters, given their utterly unique vineyard landscapes. Other regions like Soave, Napa and Sonoma, and Tokaj are less readily associated with volcanism as it has long been extinct in those areas, but the trade has been keen to learn about their contributions to the world of volcanic wines. 

Do you see a growing interest in volcanic wines in North America?

Absolutely. From zero awareness just 4-5 years ago to regular mentions in articles, trade circles, back labels, restaurants, marketing material, etc., volcanic wines are a bonafide subject. I’m planning the world’s first volcanic wine conference in New York next year at the end of March, and possibly a volcanic wine awards competition, and the interest so far is great.

Do you foresee a volcanic wine section category in wine shops? If so, who would be the target consumers?

Already I’ve seen several restaurants/wine bars with volcanic wine sections on the the list, and I imagine that some avant-garde shop owners may put together a volcanic wine section, but I think it will remain a fairly niche category overall. Even within the category, wine styles vary significantly, so as a sales tool so it's not an easy-to-grasp marketing concept. But the image of volcanoes remains very powerful. I think the ideal target consumer would be in the 20-40 year old range, highly engaged and interested in discovering new wines, both trend followers and trend setters.

John Szabo signing his book "Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power"




Monday, July 31, 2017

Volcanic Interview #2: Alfonso Cevola, Italian-American Wine Blogger and Wine Import Director

Alfonso Cevola is a leading wine influencer and a key figure in the Italian-American wine business. He is the wine director of the American import company Southern Glazers Wines and Spirits. His wine blog "On the Wine Trail of Italy" is among the most popular in the United States. In this interview, he tells us about his blog and his thoughts on volcanic wines and La Muntagna, the sacred mountain of Etna.

Alfonso Cevola at Contrada Bastonaca, Vittoria

When did you first get the idea of starting the blog and how did it change since its creation?

2005. I kicked the idea around for a while and then launched it in December 2005, but really didn’t get it going until a few months later. I had to find my groove, and writing is a discipline. But when the taps were opened, the words came pouring out. It has evolved into a more long form (essay style) kind of blog. I take most of my own photographs, but the writing isn’t from the Twitter, Instagram short form school No, it’s kind of olde-school. Delving deeper into a subject matter, not necessarily “newsie.”More of what I am interested in at any one particular time.

What are some of the most up-and-coming Italian wine regions today in the US?

For me, Marche, Abruzzo and Sicily. I still love Piedmont and Tuscany, they are always coming-up, rather than up and coming, with something interesting. I recently was in Sicily with Eric Asimov, who was on assignment for the NY Times. I was his photographer. Etna and Vittoria are definitely places of high interest. Marche and Abruzzo for me are underappreciated. Really solid wines; tasty, savory whites and rich unfettered reds. Good for my daily habit of breaking bread with wine. I really love wines (and the people and the food and the landscape) of these two regions.

When you think of volcanic wines what regions do you think of?

Etna, Campania, Basilicata and Soave.

What styles of wine come to your mind?

Reds and whites with firm backbones. Crisp, sharp, laser-focused. Hearty rose’s too.

Have you noticed a growing interest in wines from Etna in the US in the last few decades?

Yes, more in the last 5 years…

You have been to the Etna a few times. What does La Muntagna represent for you?

Etna is a sacred place, with those ancient vines and the even more ancient lineage of souls who have passed their lives working this mountain; this is the great argument to those who think terroir-driven wines are the only way. Yes, terroir, and Etna has a constantly evolving one at that. But without the human element, the keepers of the flame, these wines would be bulk juice for some merchant looking to make money on the mainland, in Italy or France. The wine community is forming. While Etna was a powerhouse in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, those glory days are gone. Etna is in reinvention. You are witnessing the re-birth. It’s really exciting. And there are people from all over the world who have come to Etna to make wine. They know wine. They hang with their Burgundian and Piemontese and New California friends. It’s like one big giant reunion.

What Volcanic Wines do you like most? 

I love Aglianico del Vulture, Etna Rosso and Bianco, Soave, Cesanese, Taurasi, Fiano di Avellino, Greco del Tufo, Passito di Pantellaria, Malvasia delle Lipari…

What are some advantages and challenges of selling volcanic wines in the US?

Any advantage will be to folks who are predisposed to thinking volcanic soil wines are preferable, and that is a very small minority. No, it's more the story and the challenges faced by winemakers and wine growers who make their work in what can be a harsh environment. The struggle, the triumphs and the product resulting from those actions. Is the Volcanic terroir easy to communicate to the consumers? Not exactly… it’s part of a larger conversation – farming, to go organic or not, how sustainable the methods are in response to the overall ecology of the place, lifestyles, tourism access (think Tuscany or Napa vs. Etna or Basilicata).



Sunday, July 9, 2017

Intervista Vulcanica #1: Dario Costanzo, CEO di Winery Tasting Sicily (ITALIAN)

Dario Costanzo é il CEO (Chief Executive Officer) di Winery Tasting Sicily, un portale online per l'enoturismo in Sicilia che consiglia ai clienti dove bere e mangiar bene, spesso e volentieri anche nella zona dell'Etna, centro importante di turismo enogastronomico a livello internazionale. Dario segue differenti attività di web marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (Search Engine Marketing), Social Media ed altro. Adora giocare a beach volley e trascorrere serate insieme alla moglie e ad amici, possibilmente degustando un buon vino! L’ho recentemente intervistato per il mio progetto sul marketing ed export di vini vulcanici. 

Quando e come è nato il progetto Winery Tasting Sicily? 

Winery Tasting Sicily nasce per promuovere l’enoturismo in Sicilia attraverso la conoscenza del vino prodotto dalle cantine siciliane. Consigliamo dove degustare il buon vino, dai ristoranti alle enoteche. Vogliamo far scoprire il territorio dando l’opportunità di visitare le cantine, vigneti, palmenti e antiche terrazze di pietra lavica. Questo perché riteniamo fondamentale far incontrare i produttori, contadini, maestranze, agronomi, donne del vulcano e del vino. Il progetto è nato nell’aprile 2017. Mi occupavo di web marketing per un cantina. Ci siamo accorti di ricevere richieste di enoturismo ma anche di non poter rispondere alle domande molto spesso, perché la cantina non è sempre aperta. Però, essendoci altre realtà più strutturate e magari con più personale, ho pensato: perché non dare a tutte le cantine una mappatura e inserire delle informazioni utili per i turisti? Da quell'idea è nato il progetto.

Che servizi offrite e chi sono i vostri principali clienti? 

Desideriamo comunicare soprattuto con i Winelovers. Offriamo servizi di degustazioni, notizie ed eventi, ma soprattutto vogliamo descrivere al meglio il territorio di ogni zona della Sicilia.

Quali attività svolgete in territori vulcanici? 

Le attività che si svolgono in territori vulcanici includono trekking, sci, degustazione di miele, degustazione di formaggi, preparazione della granita tradizionale,visita dei pistacchieti con degustazione, gite a cavallo tra le vigne, preparazione della salsiccia e di dolci tipici e lezioni di cucina.

Che tipo di turisti partecipano alle vostre degustazioni organizzate? 

Da gruppi classici in viaggio con tour operator a gruppi di winelovers. I turisti che ci trovano tendenzialmente sono appassionati di vino che vogliono visitare la Sicilia o si trovano in vacanza e desiderano trascorrere una giornata immersi nella natura del vulcano.

Pensi che ci sia stata una crescita nell'enoturismo nella zona dell'Etna negli ultimi anni? 

Penso che in questo momento ci sia un movimento verso l’Etna, soprattutto per quanto riguarda il territorio, visto le ultime gelate in Francia che hanno fatto molti danni.

Quali sono i vostri progetti per il futuro? 

Per ora il progetto è in fase di startup. In futuro vorremo gestire meglio i Social e vendere online.

#volcanic wines #volcanicinterviews


Volcanic Interview #1: Dario Costanzo, CEO of Winery Tasting Sicily (ENGLISH)

Dario Costanzo is the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Winery Tasting Sicily, an online wine tourism portal in Sicily that advises customers where to drink and eat well, often also in the Etna area, a major wine and food tourism center internationally. Dario manages web marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (Search Engine Marketing), Social Media and more. He loves to play beach volleyball and spend evenings with his wife and friends, possibly tasting a good wine! I recently interviewed him for my volcanic wine marketing and export project.

When and how did the Winery Tasting Sicily project begin? 

Winery Tasting Sicily was born to promote enotourism in Sicily through transmitting knowledge of the wines produced by Sicilian wineries. We recommend where to taste good wine, from restaurants to wine bars. We want to let people discover Sicilian terroir by giving them the opportunity to visit the cellars, vineyards, palmenti and ancient lava stone terraces. This is because we believe it is essential to meet producers, peasants, workers, agronomists, women and winemakers from volcanic regions. The project was born in April 2017. I was involved in web marketing for a winery. We noticed that we received requests for wine tourism but also that we could not answer the demand very often, because the winery was not always open. However, having bigger and more structured wineries with more staff, I thought: why not mapping all the wineries and thus let tourists access useful information? From this idea the project was born.

What services do you offer and who are your main customers?

We want to communicate particularly with winelovers. We offer tastings, news and events, but above all we want to describe the terroir of every area in Sicily.

What activities do you do in volcanic areas? 

Activities in volcanic areas include trekking, skiing, honey tasting, cheese tasting, traditional preparation of granita, visit to pistachio fields with tasting, horseback riding in the vineyards, preparation of sausages and typical desserts and cooking lessons.

What kinds of tourists participate in your tastings? 

From classic groups traveling with tour operators to groups of wine lovers. Tourists who find us are usually wine lovers who want to visit Sicily or they are on holiday and want to spend a day immersed in the nature of the volcano.

Do you think there has been a growth in tourism in the Etna area in recent years? 

I think at this moment there is a movement towards Etna, especially as far as the terroir is concerned, also given the last frosts in France that have done many damages.

What are your projects for the future? 

For now the project is in a start-up phase. In the future we want to manage better social media and do e-commerce.

#volcanicwines #volcanicinterviews


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Volcanic Tasting: Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2014 (ENGLISH)

Using the Slow Food approach suggested by Fabio Pracchia in his latest book “I Sapori del Vino: Percorsi di Degustazione per Palati Indipendenti" (i.e. The flavours of Wine: Paths of Tastings for Independent Palates), we can discover volcanic terroirs in a new and dynamic way. In fact, considering cultural, historical and anthropological aspects of wine, we can really learn about and understand volcanic wines, and wines in general. We start with the Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2014, which is their base wine and represents an interesting entry-level and a good alternative for those who want to spend well (about 15 euros in an Italian wine shop) and appreciate the quality of the terroir of Etna.

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere

Wine / Appellation:
Etna Rosso DOC 2014

Marc De Grazia, an Italian-American producer and importer in the US, a key figure in spreading Etna wine overseas.

Nerello Mascalese (95%) and Nerello Cappuccio (5%)

600-900 meters. Strong thermal excursions. The vineyards are located in the contrade (i.e. city subdivisions) on the northern side of Etna volcano.

Organic, Good quality/price.

A nose full of red fruits (blackberry and cherry), undergrowth, hazelnut and chestnut. Already in the nose it reminds me of refined pinot noir of Burgundy. In the mouth, we find mature cherry, licorice and blackberries.  It has a long and pleasant finish. Despite its high alcohol content (14 degrees), it is drinkable, fresh and with soft tannins.

Learning while Drinking: The freshness and elegance of the wine is expressed through its complexity, clean palate and long length in the mouth. A must for all wine lovers. It contains flavors of Etna, memories of Burgundy.


Degustazione Vulcanica: Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2014 (ITALIAN)

L'approccio sensoriale di Slow Food - suggerito da Fabio Pracchia nel libro "Sapori del Vino: Percorsi di Degustazione per palati indipendenti"- ci consente di scoprire i terroir vulcanici in modo innovativo e dinamico. Infatti, considerando aspetti culturali, storici e antropologici del vino, possiamo davvero imparare e capire a fondo i vini vulcanici in particolare, ma anche gli altri vini in generale. 

Iniziamo oggi con il Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2014,  vino base dell'azienda siciliana, che rappresenta degnamente un interessante entry-level, nonché un'alternativa valida per chi vuole spender bene (circa 15 euro in enoteca) cominciando ad apprezzare le qualità del terroir etneo.

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere

Etna Rosso DOC 2014

Marc De Grazia, italo-americano produttore e importatore negli Stati Uniti, figura fondamentale nel diffondere il vino dell'Etna all'estero.

Nerello Mascalese (95%) e Nerello Cappuccio (5%)

600-900 metri. Forti escursioni termiche. Le vigne si trovano nelle contrade nel versante nord del vulcano Etna.

Biologico, buona qualità/prezzo.

Un naso pieno di frutta rossa (mora e ciliegie), sottobosco, nocciola e castagno. Gia' al naso ricorda la raffinatezza dei pinot neri di Borgogna. In bocca, in evidenza ciliegia matura, liquorizia e more. Un finale lungo e piacevole. Nonostante l'alto contenuto di alcol (14 gradi), è gradevolmente beverino, fresco e con un tannino morbido.

Bevendo si impara:
La freschezza e l'eleganza del vino si esprimono attraverso la sua naturale complessità, pulizia al palato e lunghezza in bocca. Un must per i wine lovers. Sapori di Etna, ricordi di Borgogna.


Friday, May 26, 2017

SoavePreview 2017 Part I: Soave Grand Cru Tasting

The first day of the Soave Preview featured an interesting selection of Soave grand cru in a tasting led by Sarah Abbott MW and Italian wine journalist Alessandro Brizi. 

Interesting examples of both young and aged Soave, which show the influence of terroir and the power of ageing of the garganega grape. The tasting, which took place in the historic Palazzo Del Capitano, included 12 wines with different profiles and terroirs, ranging - in my humble opinion- from good to excellent. 

Let's do a quick recap of the tasting!


Soave Superiore DOCG "Il Casale" 2015. 

Some reductive notes on the nose. In the mouth, it is fresh, sapid with dominant citrus notes. Easy Drinking. Good.


Soave DOC "Vigna Della Corte", 2016.


In the nose, peach and apricot notes (typical of garganega), in the mouth more citrus and grapefruit. Good.


Soave DOC Classico "Ca' Visco" 2002. 

A good example of how garganega can age well. Golden yellow colour, in the nose saffron and vanilla, a refreshing mouthfeel with high acidity, despite its age. Finish with an almond note. Very good.


Soave Superiore DOCG Classico "Castelcerino" 2012. 

Vinified with semi-dried grapes. Notes of apricot and saffron, in the mouth similar to the nose with also notes of citrus. Sapid. Good.


Soave DOC Classico "Carniga" 2011. 

From calcareous rocks. In the nose, some ripe fruits as yellow peach. In the mouth, fresh, smoky, mineral, with notes of stone fruits and camomille.
Excellent! My favourite of the tasting for its complexity.   


Soave Superiore DOCG Classico "Foscarin Slavinus" 2008. 

From volcanic soil. In the nose, ripe stone fruits and marzipan. In the mouth predominant almonds and stone fruits aromas. Mineral. Good.


Soave DOC Classico "Pigno" 2015. 

Complex nose, with notes of citrus (orange, lemon) and mint in a second smell. High acidity, fresh and very long in the mouth. Very Good. 


Soave DOC "Sereole" 2005. 

Golden yellow with amber hues. Smoky and barbecue notes in the nose. In the mouth, predominantly smoky, with less evident primary fruit notes. Good (and interesting). 


Soave Superiore DOCG Classico "Castellaro", 2013. 

Aged in stainless still and barrique. Golden colour. Nose with camomille and white flower notes. In the mouth, it shows aromas of white peach and vanilla. Good.


Soave DOC Classico "Monte Sella", 2013.

Aged for 12 months, it has an interesting of camomille, stone fruits and white chocolate notes. Fresh and easy drinking. Good.


Soave Superiore DOCG "Monte di Fice", 2016.

Straw yellow in colour. It has a remarkable note of william pear in the nose. In the mouth, notes of citrus and white peach. Good (Note: Stefanini"Il Selese"2016, which I tried earlier with colleagues, is excellent: sapid, almost salty, with white flower, citrus and stone fruits notes. Extremely fresh and long in the mouth.)   


Soave DOC "Motto Piane" 2015. 

Straw yellow, with golden hues. In the nose white peach and pear. In the mouth, nice array of herbal notes, marzipan and acacia honey. Complex. Very good.

Stay tuned for the second part, which will include wines made with the pergola system and volcanic wines chosen by MS John Szabo.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Food Memories from Soave: Tortellini Di Valeggio and Risotto Mascarpone Basilico

Doing research on volcanic wines, this week I had the chance to go to Soave, in the Veneto region, to meet important people in the industry for the Soave Preview event, organized by the Soave Consortium. One of the best encounters was with master sommelier John Szabo. Two amazing days, filled with journalists from around the world. Great wines to be tasted, but also some foods that have remained in my mind. 

I am talking about the classic Tortellini di Valeggio. Not the classic tortelli from Emilia, this little hand-made pasta is actually from the Veneto region, more precisely from the town of Valeggio. Filled with beef and pork meat, and seasoned simply with butter and sage, these are simple yet delicious home-made pasta, which in my case was also accompanied by culatello (the best of Italian salami), following the advice of Aldo Lorenzoni, the president of the Soave Consortium. This was from day 1, lunch time, at Enoteca Il Drago.

Tortellini di Valeggio


In the evening we are in the stunning Palazzo del Capitano of Soave. The best dish of the night is a risotto mascarpone basilico that is full of taste and creamy. Luckily, we could pick any Soave we wanted from the ones available for tasting. So we were able to taste this risotto with one of my favourite whites. 

Risotto and Morning View in Soave

The day after I wake up in the agritourism Corte Tamellini and I still have in mind the simple, yet great food I had the previous day. I am surrounded by nature, lots of trees and vineyards. I am thinking of the risotto that I had and I just think: I could not be in a better place.

In the upcoming post, more on the wines tried during the event!



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Volcanic Wine Review #3: Hauner Hierà Terre Siciliane 2015

The volcanic wine tasting series is now featuring Hauner Hierà 2015, a wine from the island of Vulcano, in Sicily. A beautiful discovery from this small volcanic island. High minerality, freshness, complexity and great value make this wine stand from many others in the market.

Check out the video review and let me know what you think!