Monday, January 27, 2014

Slow Wine (ITALY) Kicks Off US Tour

Slow Wine kicked off its 2014 American tour today with a trade tasting this afternoon that was like a quick trip to Italy. Producers from Italy's lesser known regions - like Abruzzo and Puglia - lined up with well known top producers from Piedmonte and Tuscany - to pour Italian goodness for a packed crowd.

The Slow Wine tour (which I believe should be renamed Slow Wine Italy, but is a little presumptuously, simply called Slow Wine) touches down in three U.S. cities, including Chicago and New York in the coming week and was off to a roaring start in SF.

Slow Wine Editors Fabio Giavedoni and Giancarlo Gariglio

In an interview with Piedmont-based editor Giancarlo Giavedoni I was able to glean more of the rationale behind the guide which has seemed to me in the past to be, like so many things Italian, a mysterious and idiosyncratic collection.

The guide includes about 2,000 Italian wines chosen from 20,000 in Italy on the basis of farming practices (organic and Biodynamic practices boost winery ratings up to the highest level of Snail), affordability (no $400 wines, please) and taste profile - i.e. preserving traditional Italian wine flavors (and not Super Tuscans or Cab/Sangio blends, for instance). 

The guide includes both wines made with pesticides and herbicides as well as organically or Biodynamically grown wines.

Not every organically or Biodynamically grown wine makes the cut. Some organically grown wines are left out along with about 3-5 Biodynamic producers (the latter mostly out of a personal choice by a few vintners who choose not to be included in the guide).

The guide's selection process is curated by some 200 participants and is funded solely by the publisher. In Italy, Giavedoni said, 35-40,000 copies have been sold and about 10,000 in the U.S.

Wineries pay, however, to participate in the costs of the traveling tasting tour which brought about 50 of the 2,000 to the U.S. Some are distributed here; others were seeking distributors.

The trade tasting was very crowded so it was virtually impossible to find the organic and Biodynamic producers without the aid of the book itself. When I got one, I was able to zero in on a few producers - including one from the Abruzzo, one from Basilicata, one from Emilio Romagna and one from Piedmont (see photos below). The Abruzzo folks were amazed I had vacationed at Vasto and that I had spent a week on Tremiti Island (where I had sampled a number of their wines thanks to the wonderful hospitality and wine list at Hotel Gabbiano.)

There is also a public tasting this evening...from 6 to 8:30 at the same venue. 

Though it was not publicized at the event, the Slow Wine 2014 guide is also available as an app in the Apple App store...highly recommended. I found the app to be infinitely more useful than the book for ease of use. Paging through region upon region is tedious in the book. There is no listing by varietal. And alas, it is in Italian only, but it does allow you to drill down into wines and find wines of interest, even if the filters are somewhat limited.

It's great to see the first ever guide to wine that takes the way wine is grown into account as well as wine quality. It's at least a start toward eco wine connoisseurship, even if a lot of harmful substances are allowed, which I still personally find confusing and troubling. Am I just not Italian enough?

The other aspect that quickly surfaced as I began to taste around the exhibition area was that some wineries did in fact offer international variety blends (along with more traditional ones), so it was unclear to me how stringent that guideline was.

The other quibble is that the guide doesn't display certification at the wine level, only the winery. Since some organically grown wine comes from wineries that have both estate vineyards (usually these are certified) and purchase grapes from growers (who may or may not be certified or organic), I was unsure what was what. The guides I am publishing will show certifications at the individual wine level, which, as far as I can tell, is the only reliable way to do it.

Vajra Barberesco (which I just happened to have had at a dinner last week)
Francesca Vajra of G. D. Vajra

More details and pix to follow in a future post.

Friday, January 24, 2014

IN PICTURES: ZAP Trade Tasting (A Preview of Coming Attractions)

Thousands of Zinfandel fans and winemakers will gather this weekend for the annual ZAP gathering in San Francisco. Wednesday ZAP held a trade tasting in Alameda, of all places, at the funky industrial setting of the former Naval Air Station there now inhabited by Rock Wall Winery and other assorted enterprises. 

From 1-2 there was a panel of three Zin experts, moderated by Wine Spectator editor Tim Fish, followed by a large tasting with more than 100 participating wineries.

Here's the event in pictures, featuring the organic and Biodynamic growers and vintners among the crowd:

There was no cheese or snacks but one could order
takeout from a little place next to the dome and
tasting room.  Here a worker tries to explain to a customer what the fried pickles taste like.
The place has a rare vantage point with amazing views - where else can you
take  in both the Oakland cranes (that inspired their lookalikes in Star Wars)
and the cityscape from the water...
The tasting and panel discussion took place in the outdoor dome space at Rock Wall. (Did the winery bring this in for the event? Or is it a permanent fixture?)

Panelists from left to right: Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars, Mike Officer of Carlisle Winery, and Mark Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. spoke with Tim Fish from Wine Spectator moderating

Carol Shelton with her Wild Thing zin from the certified organic Cox Vineyard in Mendocino

Chinese buyers on a Wine Institute sponsored visit tasting Shelton's Monga Zin

Quivira Vineyards was pouring not one but TWO Zinfandels made from certified Biodynamic® grapes...(a third of their production is Demeter-certfied and with 6,500 cases of BD wines a year, they're just behind the other big Sonoma County Biodynamic producer, Benziger, which makes 7,000 cases of Demeter certified wines).

Tres Sabores proprietor Julie Johnson served her perennially
fine Zin, made from old, head-trained vines in one of
Napa's finest locations - Rutherford - just north of Inglenook.

Turley, one of the state's most enthusiastic and esteemed
producers of Zinfandel was well represented with
sales manager Christina Turley and winemaker/vineyardist
Tegan Passalacqua pouring. Approximately 70 percent
of their wines are organically grown. All of the
estate vineyards are certified.

Ken Morris of Grgich Hills poured Grgich Hills' Zin, which not many
people know is both Biodynamically grown and Demeter certified wine,
meaning, among other things, it's made with absolutely no additives (except sulfite)
and fermented on native yeasts (as are the two Quivira Zins, too)

Ready for their closeup: Ridge's sales team appeared in full force. Ridge's Zin
vineyards are in the process of converting to organic certification.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Featured Video: Coppola on Inglenook

A lovely video I came across in the course of doing research for the Organically Napa apps...

Enjoy a look at Inglenook - 235 acres organically farmed since 1994, thanks to Eleanor Coppola (who's reportedly friends with Alice Waters, organic food movement activist and gourmet restauranteur).


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New York Times Weighs In on Protecting France's Organic Growers

Don't miss this piece from the New York Times op-ed page on protecting organic wine grape growers in France. I am sure a lot of Napa's organic growers are breathing a sigh of relief for the attention. Now if we could just get the New York Times to take a look at organic grape growers in the U.S....