Thursday, June 27, 2013

From Cheap & Cheerful to High End, Lambrusco Satisfies

Ruinite on ice. That's nice.
For a certain generation of Americans, the sweet fizz of Riunite was their first and often only exposure to Lambrusco, the sparkling red wine of Emilia Romagna.
Today the wine flies way under the radar of most consumers, and that's too bad because it's truly perfect on summer's hottest days.  That's because -- unlike most red wines -- this one is alway served cold.
For those who prefer all things red, Lambrusco is like a triple berry pie compared to the apple sorbet of Prosecco. Those ripe fruit flavors in the wine are the same that you'd bring home from the farmers market this time of year: black cherries, blueberries, and - in the case of rosata Lambrusco - raspberries. 
At the Mondo Lambrusco tasting in New York this week, it was clear that the fizzy delight had a bit of a double identity. While one speaker reminisced about when Lambrusco in a can was available, others touted the wine as serious. One speaker happily called it cheap, while another admonished him for using the word.  "Why?" he countered, "we think cheap is good." There were producers pouring single vineyard Lambruscos, along with the old American favorite - Riunite, but now the winery was showing a more sophisticated side with a range of quality wines.
Many of the wines had very little residual sugar and alcohol of around 10-11 percent. This is one of the surprises about this wine - how delicious the dry styles are.
So sweet or dry? Single vineyard or in a can? To my mind, a wide variety of Lambrusco is a good thing. At its essence it is an unpretentious wine that's perfect for sultry summer days.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Vino e Sapori site guides visitors to Friuli Italy

Italy is one of the world's most visited countries, but when tourists get tired of the Venice, Rome, Florence routine, they might consider traveling to a little known region in the far north east: Friuli Venezia Giulia.

This region, whose green landscape can be attributed to plentiful rainfall, is home to memorable medieval towns like the well-preserved Civedale, as well as a rewarding food and wine route that now has its own website in English - Strado del Vino e dei Sapori (wine and food routes)  The site has sections covering information along the routes, in the region, and events.   

One of the most helpful parts of the site for wine lovers is an up-to-date list of the wineries that are open to visitors with no appointment.  Friuli wanted to make wine tourism easier for consumers - especially those who are accustomed to visiting wineries without scheduling in advance. Americans are definitely in this category! Just search on the Wine and Food link and you can see which wineries are open this week - or a future week when you may be in the area. 

If you click on a specific winery (known as Cantina in Italian) link, you'll see detailed information about the winery, including the types of wines it makes, and even how many parking spots are available - for buses and cars!  

The Friuli wine tourism movement has put a lot of effort into making this site as easy to navigate as possible.  Venice is the closest major destination city, so travelers headed there may want to add a weekend in Friuli on their itinerary using the site as an easy guide.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Douro Wine Tourism Conference - Enotourism No Douro

The Douro Valley has a vision – a land of tourists enjoying their UNESCO World Heritage Site scenery, enriching the local economy, and adding to the revenue streams of local wineries.

The question in Douro – as it is in many less-established wine destinations – is how to make it happen.  That’s one of the reasons that organizers from Douro contacted me to speak at their first wine tourism conference.

My presentation, “The Wow Factor in Winery Visits,” was a photo-driven slide show that highlighted wonderful winery visits I have had in France, Spain, Austria, U.S., and the Republic of Georgia.  I hoped to inspire Douro winery owners to go beyond generic wine tours to offer a memorable visit.

Other presenters included my friend, Melba Allen, who gave a lively demonstration of her online Wine Profilers site.  I truly enjoyed her online wine tasting game, which Melba told winery owners could be used in group tastings and to help develop their brand.

Portuguese wine journalist Rui Falcao had practical advice, including, perhaps most importantly, the necessity of proper road signage.  During my weekend in the Douro, it did strike me that -- unlike in other wine regions --there was a lack of a demarcated wine route and even signs pointing which way to turn from the main road to access wineries.

I think that Douro offers wonderful wines.  We had the opportunity to taste many at the weekend event, Taste Douro, in Lamego.  The wines of Quinta do Crasto, were particularly outstanding at a value price. I found that their red wines had exceptionally ripe fruit, and smooth tannins, high acid, mouth-filling richness, and a long finish.  And that was at the low end of the range at about 10 euros. I also enjoyed the Nieport reds and the Quinta do Vallado red and whites.

When I had visited the Douro Valley in 2009 as a participant in the European Wine Bloggers Conference, it was still a relatively new venture to ferment still red wines for an international market.  I feel like the wines I tasted this weekend were uniformly better – some of the stalky bitterness had left and the fruit had a more plush, sweet cherry character.

Yet this weekend in Douro, I was most surprised by the high quality white wines I tried, especially those of Dona Berta. I tasted both unoaked whites, as well as whites that had oak that was beautifully integrated.  The Centenary Vine 2009 White Wine Reserve, made from grapes grown on 100 year old vines – had lime zest nose and limes and white peaches on the palate –  offering both refreshment and complexity.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Douro tasting without Port – and I ended each evening by indulging in my favorite, tawny ports.  There were a number of producers offering ten year old tawnies, which to me are always redolent of caramel.  Yet one of the best sweet wines I tried was a Fragulho 2008 Moscatel made in the same way as Port, i.e., with neutral spirit added to stop the fermentation.  This wine had a lighter mouthfeel, while still offering hard-candy sweetness.

During my time in the Douro, I stayed at the Hotel Rural Casa dos Viscondes da Varzea .  My room was a comfortable space, with sitting area and bathroom on the first floor, and two double beds with elegant linens in a loft area above.  But the main house was the star – with three spectacular livingrooms that all looked like they had been conjured from the pages of decorator magazines.  Yet even the chateau-like house played second fiddle to the rolling hills of vineyards and sweeping views of the grounds.

It is easy to imagine a wine trip to Douro that would use this hotel – which had a very good kitchen as well – as a base for area visits.  The only problem is the driving – as road to the wineries are often full of potholes and only wide enough for one car.  Imagining a foreign tourist--unfamiliar with the terrain, with a couple of glasses of wine in his or her system-- negotiating these poor roads is not a happy thought. 

I wish the Douro luck in its efforts to increase wine visitors.  The wineries themselves include both historic properties and modern wonders, such as the sleek and beautiful Quinta do Pessegueiro.  With an investment in better roadways and a bit of promotion, this region could just be the next great destination for wine travelers.