Vino 2015 presented at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan was billed as the “Grandest Italian Wine Event” ever held outside of Italy. Hosted by the Italian Trade Commission, this amazing occasion lived up to its billing. I was very pleased at what I was able to learn from the knowledgeable presenters, wine producers, and foremost members of the wine industry who have their pulse on the latest trends in agriculture and production to insure some of the finest Italian wines make it to U.S. shores while informing us about the incredible Italian wines being produced.
The three-day whirlwind of happenings featured wine tastings and master classes on wines from Campania, Puglia, Calabria, and Sicilia. There was a fascinating and erudite presentation on the impact of climate change on the world’s vineyards as well as a presentation on global vs. local, and the growth of Italian craft beers. As I sauntered down the rows of tables during the walk-around tastings downstairs and upstairs, I had to release myself of the notion that I would be able to get to every table to sample all the wines. Nevertheless, I covered a good bit of ground and, with the master classes I attended, gained a wide swath of information as I savored some sterling Italian wines. Here is one of the tables I visited on the first day and my impressions of the wine offerings.
Sam Pignato and Carlotta Scotti Pignato are the proprietors of Tuscan Vineyard Imports. I was initially attracted to Carlotta’s and Sam’s table because, in addition to other varietals from Tuscany, they also showcase wines that are categorized to fit in with Slow Wine production. A Slow Wine designation means that the vines are grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. The vines are certified organic or bio-dynamic and the producers hold to the standard of making “natural” wines. This means that there is no mechanization in the agricultural process; the work is done by hand. And in the cellar there is little intervention.
The wines are truly artisinal because the focus is on producing healthy luscious fruit that whispers the notes of the terroir in each unique bottling. Tuscan Vineyard Imports’ portfolio carries four Slow Wine Wineries: Podere Concori, Pian delle Querci, Caiarossa, Benanti, (a Tre Bicchieri winner), and Tenuta Argentiera. Gambero Rosso standouts edition nominated amongst the 6 Best Wineries of the Tuscan Coast: Podere Concori and Caiarossa, two that Carlotta and Sam feature. That they are are in the company of Ornellaia and Sassicaia is no small feat!
In addition to offering wines from producers that are third generation winemakers, they work with producers who have made career changes and have established or taken over wine making estates in order to follow their passion for wine. Some of these producers adhere to more traditional methods and others follow a more modernist approach. Fattoria Dianella, a delicious wine I also tasted, Sam and Carlotta suggest is the ultimate “garage winery,” though the “garage” is in the cellar of a Medici Renaissance villa, hardly the basement where my father made wine on Long Island back in the 1950s. Fattoria Dianella produces a fine Chianti and newer wine editions (muscular Sangiovese Cru, Il Matto, and sparking Sangiovese, Maria Vittoria, and Ottavia among others). Their new enologist, Franco Bernabei (of Fontodi), is one of the great names in Italian winemaking. Bar none, Tuscan Vineyard Import’s portfolio of wine supports some of the finest world class wines made in Tuscany.
Another feature about Carlotta and Sam’s company that I appreciate is that their portfolio also specializes in small production artisan Italian wines from this phenomenal region of Italy. An important factor with Tuscan Vineyard Imports is that they work with wine distributors in the U.S., specifically the SouthEast. One is more easily able to purchase products online through one of their distribution partners. Or if one is visiting relatives in the South as I do frequently, one can stop in at a few retailers which offer the wines they represent. For example, if you are going to be in Atlanta on business or pleasure April 19th, Brookhaven Wines will be featuring the wines of Pietro Beconcini Argicola, from San Miniato Italy. These are some of the fabulous wines I tasted at Tuscan Vineyard Imports‘ table at Vino 2015. Beconcini are makers of IXE, and Vigna alle Nicchie (Jancis Robinson 17/20), the only Tuscan Tempranillo made in a traditional and in a passito style.
Sam and Carlotta told me an interesting story about Leonardo Beconcini the producer. Beconcini stumbled upon vines on his property but could not identify the vines amidst all of the Tuscan varietals that had turned up on the estate. When he had the vines analyzed by academics and third and fourth generation vintners, they were clueless about the vine they referred to as “X.” Nevertheless, they propagated the vines sure that one day, someone would be able to categorize these little known Tuscan vines. After years of growing “X” with no identifiable results of the vine’s origin, Beconcini spent the money to have its DNA analyzed. Scientists discovered it was an ancient grape vine that had been cultivated on the Iberian peninsula at the time of the first Phoenician settlements: Tempranillo.
In fact, Tempranillo is the signature grape of Spain known as the “noble grape.” It is widely grown and used to make a variety of full bodied red wines in its native Spain, the primary one being Rioja. Though it is now being grown globally in Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Texas, Washington State, Uruguay, Mexico, and elsewhere, the one country where it has never been grown is Italy. When Leonardo Beconcini discovered the “X” vine was Tempranillo, his imagination was sparked about how the grape had arrived there on the property; with more research he came up with some possibilities that trace back centuries.
Sam and Carlotta refer to him as a “maverick,” because of his perseverance in propagating the vines until he could identify them. He also had the enthusiasm and faith to assert that his discovery should be recognized. Eventually, the vine was classified as an IGT Toscana making it a varietal native to Tuscany. In celebration of his find, he worked with the original vine and its clones and through trial and error, he created a wine using the full bodied flavors of the black graped Tuscan Tempranillo. It is this vine explorer Leonardo Beconcini, and his Partner Eva Bellagamba, the Wine Maker, who will be personally appearing at Broohaven Wines in Atlanta to present their “Super Tuscan blends” and the Tuscan Tempranillos, IXE and Vigna alle Nicchie (Jancis Robinson 17/20). And from what I am told, with the current vintage he is producing a third wine. Considering all things, they are the only Tuscan Tempranillos on the planet. Beconcini’s love and labors to produce great wines also brought him the award, the” November winery of the month” in Gambero Rosso’s 12 Wines for 12 Months of 2015.
Tuscany, Italy, is a land I visited twice. It holds such incredible memories for me. I especially enjoyed tasting the food and wine pairings. You just cannot get a bad meal there and the wine is wonderful. Even the Autostrata food and wine is sumptuous because no one who cares about great food and wine in Italy (and who doesn’t), settles for second best. They don’t have to. Of course, the beauty of the Tuscan towns and countryside are without parallel. From Fierenze to Lucca to San Gimignano one’s breath is taken away. So another happy discovery for me when I researched Carlotta and Sam’s website was to recognize that they also feature wine tours of the wineries they represent in Tuscany. And on the site there is listed a fabulous Tuscan guest house overlooking the seaside which is well reviewed on TripAdvisor, a perfect retreat from which to decompress after frenetic city lifestyles. At an event like Vino 2015, synchronicity and serendipity are the catch all buzz words that open the doors to learning about wonderful wines, amazing people, and great opportunities.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0982102372]