What Wine Pairs with Slayer and Vivaldi? Pairing Music & Wine

Cantina Muzic, Friuli-Venezia Giulia www.cantinamuzic.it

Cantina Muzic, Friuli-Venezia Giulia http://www.cantinamuzic.it

The relationship between food and wine and the benefits of pairing them correctly is a well versed topic.  Food and wine are meant to compliment each other, work together, each making the other more enjoyable.  But have you ever thought about pairing what you drink with what you are listening to?

Tuscan Wine School, Florence

Tuscan Wine School, Florence

When I started formally studying wine, I was struck by an important aspect of wine-tasting that I had never before considered: the ambiance of where you drink.  The brightness, colors, smells, temperature, and sounds all very much contribute to how you taste, interpret, perceive and even enjoy (or not) wine.   Would you enjoy your favourite wine equally in any and every setting?  In the spirit of Sam-I-Am’s green eggs and ham: would you drink it here or there, indoors next to a roaring fireplace, in a plastic chair on a sun-bleached beach, in the rain, or on a train?  Studies suggest that you would not have the same wine experience in all of these different situations, despite the fact that it’s the same vino in your glass. Even something as seemingly subtle as lighting is proven to have dramatic effects on taste and perception, (“Ambient Lighting Modifies the Flavor of Wine”, Journal of Sensory Studies. Volume 24, Issue 6, p 797–832, December 2009.) meaning that tasting the same glass of wine in a dim room versus and well lit room actually has a measurable effect on us.  The atmosphere around your glass is much more important than previously thought.  This is the reason why a wine classroom looks nothing like a swanky wine bar.  Though a velvety, romantic, candlelit wine bar is a great place for a date or a relaxing drink, it might not be the best place to seriously explore what’s in your glass….and it has everything to do with all of the elements surrounding the wine as much as the wine itself.

Pairing your music and your wine is therefore an interesting exercise with two senses we don’t often consciously unite: hearing and taste.  It turns out that sound is among the important senses in wine-tasting (and taste in general) too. Take a stroll through scientific journal articles on the subject and you’ll find that this is a well studied (albeit not completely understood) topic, covering not only wine and taste perception and preferences but also coffee, whiskey, and food. According to one particular study, there is even a connection between musical pitch and specific instruments and how we interpret tastes (Crisinel A-S & Spence C. 2010)!

How might we pair wine and music?  In the absence of equipment to scientifically match pitches, instruments, and flavors I feel like the easiest solution is to match personalities.  Every wine (and beer/cocktail for that matter), like music, composers, or bands, has a unique story, place, and character.

I’ll give you an example of a mismatch with beer to illustrate how this might work:  Imagine drinking a can of Coors Light while listening to Mozart’s Requiem in D minor or Chopin’s Ballade No. 1.  Seems weird, right?  With no intended offense to Coors, I’d argue that the reason this pairing feels wrong is due to the immense difference in the characteristics/personality of the music and this specific beer.  The simple and mass-produced personality of a can of Coors just cannot compliment such rich, complex, unique, and intense music.  Now imagine listening to those same pieces of music while sipping a Trappist Westvleteren 12 – one of the most complex and special beers in the world.  Works much better, doesn’t it?  No fancy attire necessary!

So which wines goes best with Slayer, Vivaldi, or Otis Redding?  Read on as I serve up some Italian and non-Italian pairing suggestions!

"Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta" by Nautinut

“Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta” by Nautinut

Contemporary Hip Hop/ R&B, or Opera  –
Franciacorta, a prestigious bubbly wine from Lombardia.  Widely considered the Champagne of Italy, it’s definitely an appropriate companion to the likes of Usher, Pharrell, Missy Elliott, or Jay-Z due to its combo of premium price, glamour, class, decadence, and celebratory spirit.  Why it works with opera relates not only to the luxurious character of both opera and this wine but also to its sense of place: Milan, renowned for its opera scene.
Non-Italian pairing= Champagne, the renowned French sparkling symbol of luxury, class, and indulgence.

Metal, Goth, Industrial
Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, wine from the Campania region.  This wine comes in both red or white variations, and grows on the slopes of Vesuvius.  This is the very same volcano responsible for nearly wiping ou20150312_172455_Gesler Stt this entire area’s population in 79 AD, including Pompeii.  That dark little factoid I feel makes it quite perfect to pair with Bauhaus, Siouxsie, Swans, and especially Einstürzende Neubauten.  The legend behind this wine is that as Lucifer fell from heaven into the underworld (which perhaps he entered via the volcano), he grabbed onto the sky and ripped it.  When Jesus saw the descent of this falling angel-turned-devil and torn sky, he wept, and where his tears fell grew the vines responsible for this wine.  Lacryma Christi literally means “Tears of Christ”.  For this reason, I feel it would pair well with Slayer, Iron Maiden, Bethlehem, and Lamb of God.
Non-Italian pairing= Madiran of France, an inky, nearly “black”, extremely tannic wine full of flavors of leather and black fruit.  I feel this cup of darkness and earthy tones would accompany of the aforementioned music quite well.

Motown, Soul, Funk- anima
“Anima” by Marramiero, OR a beautifully balanced Chianti from the heart of Tuscany by Querciabella.   Anima literally means “soul” or “spirit” and is a delightful and lively white wine from the Pescara area of Abruzzo.  Querciabella is a biodynamic vineyard, meaning they grow their grapes with great focus on earthly and astrological harmony giving the necessary life force to the vines.  Plus, Tuscany is in many ways considered the “heart” of Italy, linguistically, viticulturally, and artistically.  Both are definitely wines to help put some rhythm in your step to the likes of Otis, The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, James Brown, and Sam Cooke.
Non-Italian pairing= A biodynamic Savennieres by Joly’s  Coulée de Serrant.  Nicolas Joly is the modern French godfather of biodynamic viticulture.  His Chenin Blanc based wines of the Loire Valley are as impressive as they are soulful.

1974_Bolla_AmaroneProgressive rock, 70’s rock, Arena Rock –
Amarone della Valpolicella, of the Veneto region.  Amarone is a hearty and powerful red wine made with raisined Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes giving an alcoholic boost and concentrated flavors.  What wine could better accompany all those pyrotechnics, power ballads, and complete lack of subtly than this costly and made-to-impress red wine??
Non-Italian pairing= California Zinfandel from Howell Mountain.  Dense, tannic, bold, concentrated, complex, and maybe even a bit of a show-off – this red is also a perfect companion to some Rush, Aerosmith, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, or Styx.

Pop, Electro –
Prosecco.  This sparkling wine from the Northeastern part of Italy is full of fun bubbles and made to be a light and easy companion to a pre-dinner/post-work aperitivo.  The refreshing and approachable nature of this wine makes it the perfect pairing with pop or electro.  It’s an affordable glass-filler for that makeshift dance party in your apartment to Kap Bambino, Depeche Mode, The Cure, NKOTB, Madonna, Britney and whoever your secret guilty pop pleasures might be.
Non-Italian pairing= NV sparkling from Argentina, New Mexico, or South Africa.  These offer inexpensive and smile-inducing bubbly solutions that tend to be friendly to most palates and easy enough on the stomach to allow some bouncing around any living room or dance floor.

Experimental, Post-Hardcore, Free Jazz-
Arboreus Umbria IGT – Trebbiano Spoletino by Umbrian vintner Paolo BeaetichettaTrebbiano06This Italian orange wine is created in a seemingly unconventional manner (fermentation with white grapes’ skins following ageing on skins and lees, and no added SO2).  The result is a carefully constructed and unique throwback to wines of antiquity, and though it may seem odd to modern wine-drinkers this more natural approach and experimentation in vinification is taking us back to our roots.  I can think of no better “unconventional” wine or style to pair with Fugazi, Sun Ra, James Chance and the Contortions, The Ex, John Cage, Cecil Taylor, and even some post-punk like Sonic Youth.
Non-Italian pairing= Oyster River’s “Morphos” sparkling wine from the state of Maine.  This lightly bubbly bubbly is a symphony of unusual:  unusual methods (=spontaneous fermentation, no filtering, no additives, etc), unusual grapes (=French-American hybrids), and unusual cultivation tools (=a horse!).  This is a coherent and brave new wine experience fit for any experimental or post-hardcore musical companion.

 Aubrie Talarico

Sources and/or articles or material worth checking out:

On why music changes what (we think) we taste, Charles Spence and Ophelia Deroy, Iperception v.4(2); 2013 PMC3677333 Crisinel A.-S., Cosser S., King S., Jones R., Petrie J., Spence C.

A bittersweet symphony: Systematically modulating the taste of food by changing the sonic properties of the soundtrack playing in the background. Food Quality and Preference. 2012;24:201–204. doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2011.08.009 Crisinel A.-S., Spence C.

As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic correspondences in non-synesthetes between tastes and flavors and musical instruments and notes. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics. 2010b;72:1994–2002. doi: 10.3758/APP.72.7.1994.

The Tasting Experience: Our Five Senses and Some of the Ways They Influence Each Other, Lily Kubota

Wines and Spirits: Understanding Style and Quality, Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Revised Edition 2011

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Leonardo da Vinci’s Truly Old Vines

lastsupperLeonardo da Vinci’s fresco The Last Supper, located on the refectory wall of the Milanese church Santa Maria delle Grazie, is among one of the most easily recognized works of Italian art.  But did you know that payment for it was a vineyard in the center of Milan


Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan (circa 1495)

The fresco, like most other projects of this nature, was commissioned by a wealthy patron: Ludovico “Il Moro” Sforza, the Duke of Milan.  Although monetary compensation for art supplies was still commonplace, cash payment for the actual job was seen as sort of trashy or impolite.  For this reason it became more common during the late 15th century for material goods (read: silk, property, horses, etc) to be given instead – hence why Ludovico drafted up legal paperwork for a donation of a vineyard to the very noble Leonardo.  Leonardo’s family had a history with making wine, so space for vines in his new city of residence was an appropriate gift to the Tuscan artist.  What’s more the vineyard was part of Ludovico’s new palace gardens – quite an honor!  None of them could possibly have known what misfortune the fresco, vines, and people involved were to have after the paint dried.

The first (literal) stroke of bad luck of them all involves the “fresco” itself.  Though it’s a celebrated masterpiece in terms of its dramatic narrative and subtle illusionism, this work of art proved to be in many ways a technical failure.  Leonardo’s experimental painting technique differed from traditional fresco and meant that it started to deteriorate even before it was finished.  This ineffective dry plaster technique combined with centuries of neglect and poor treatments resulted in it being a mere faded shadow of what he must have originally envisioned.  In 1499 (just two years after the fresco was completed) Milan was invaded and taken over by the French, causing Leonardo to leave the city and his vines.  Ludovico was promptly imprisoned, where he remained until his death in 1508.  When Leonardo returned to Milan to work for the new French rulers some years after the invasion, his vineyard was given back to him unharmed.  Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519, but not before drawing up a will which left the vines to Andrea Salai (a longtime student and apprentice) and Giovanbattista Villani (a loyal servant).  Over the years the vineyard passed through the hands of many different owners.  It was eventually destroyed during World War II and abandoned.

leonardomalvasiaFive hundred years later the land where Leonardo da Vinci planted vines is still part of the palace’s walled garden in central Milan.  The project to resurrect Leonardo’s vineyard seems to be going swimmingly thanks to the efforts of folks at the University of Milan, geneticists, oenologists, and the family who own the property today.  Researchers were able to discover what grape variety Leonardo had planted 5 centuries ago from surviving remnants of the roots and plants still underground:  Malvasia di Candia – a common white variety and found today in many white wines in Lazio!

The gardens with the replanted vines will be open to the public in May of 2015, coinciding with the start of Expo 2015, uncoincidentally hosted by Milan.


Aubrie Talarico

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A Grape By Any Other Name: Traminer Aromatico & Gewurztraminer

Photograph by Jean Trimbach

Photograph by Jean Trimbach

*A Grape By Any Other Name posts are about exploring different grape varieties known by other names or nicknames, both inside and outside of Italy.

Traminer Aromatico gets its name from the grape Traminer (named after the village of Tramin in Tyrol/Alto Adige).  As the name might suggest, it’s a more “aromatic” mutation of the Traminer grape.  This unique pink-skinned grape is classified as a “grey” grape – meaning it’s somewhere in between a black and white grape varietal.  It’s wines are opulent and intense with a fuller body than might be typical for a lot of other white wines.  Common aromas are exotic lychee, roses, honeysuckle, baking spices, ginger, pear, and sometimes seemingly unusual descriptors like “old lady perfume”.  It can make dry, medium-sweet wines, and rich dessert wines. Italian Traminer Aromatico wines tend to be on the drier side and almost “hoppy” in flavors and aromas.

 Traminer Aromatico has lots of synonyms.

  • Domestically (=in Italy):  Gewurztraminer/Gewürztraminer.  The choice to label the bottle with one of these German or French synonyms might be in part to appeal to the international market because folks are more likely to recognize this wine by a non-Italian name.
  • Internationally (=everywhere else): Gewurztraminer (France/Alsace); Gewürztraminer (Germany, Austria, USA); Tramini (Hungary); Traminac (Slovenia); Drumin, Pinat Cervena, or Liwora (Czech Republic, Slovakia); Rusa (Romania); Mala Dinka (Bulgaria)

Why so many names?
A lot of different areas of Europe (and even as far east as Russia and Ukraine) cultivate and vinify this grape.  The variation in languages is primarily what accounts for the differing names, especially when you consider that a lot of its names literally mean the same thing.  For example, Traminer Aromatico means “Aromatic Traminer” while Gewürztraminer means “Spiced” or “Perfumed” Traminer.

Further, some countries/regions might not differentiate between Traminer and any mutated relative such as Traminer Aromatico/Gewürztraminer.

Some Wines with Traminer Aromatico/Gewürztraminer:

Alsace- Gewurztraminer (France), $-$$$, among some of the most famous examples of this grape Alsatian Gewurztraminers tend to be off-dry, full bodied, with exotic aromas and sometimes savory notes.  Less complex wines offer inexpensive but good value wines.  Grand Cru wines (there are 51) or Vieilles Vignes (=old vines) will cost more but offer a more intense and ageworthy wine.  Also used for sweet wines, look for Vendange Tardive or Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN for short).

Traminer Aromatico/Gewürztraminer (Italy), $-$$, typically found in Italy’s northeastern regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Alto Adige, these are some of the driest examples of this grape around.  Dry versions are full bodied, deeper colored, and have exotic pear-meets-hops aromas.  Off-dry examples tend to be more complex and offer more exotic fruit flavors. Traminer Aromatico is however decreasingly planted due to its larger success and recognition abroad.

Oregon/Washington State Gewürztraminer (USA), $-$$, America’s Pacific Northwest has in recent years started to gain worldwide attention for some amazing wines.  Riesling is still planted much more then Gewürztraminer, however there are some pretty successful examples of wines that resemble in some ways the Alsatian examples.  

Aubrie Talarico

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Italian Wine Regions: Friuli-Venezia Giulia

friuliveneziagiuliamapThis northern region snuggled up closely with Slovenia has a long history (evidence suggests 20,000 years of human occupation) and with it a very interesting viticultural one too.  The Friuli territory has been on the wine map for quite some time, being situated geographically just right to have some rather important port/trade cities throughout the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Venetian Republic, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The Friulani today are very proud of their history, dialects/language, and of course wine!

Friuli is an important Italian wine region for a few reasons.  For one, though its production is much lower than Tuscany or Piedmont, it ranks as highly as them in terms of the quality of their wines.  Friuli is a quality vs quantity kind of place with its numerous and exceptional small vineyards (often family-run). A blend of innovation, tradition, and investment in winery equipment since the 1960s has resulted in a really impressive array of Friuli wines (especially so-called “super” whites).  Friuli vintners tend to use lots of their indigenous varietals as well as non-traditionally Italian ones like Pinot Bianco or Riesling.  The majority of wines produced are white but they do have some phenomenal reds too.

friuli_cartinaGeography: Situated between the Alps and the Adriatic, Friuli-Venezia Giulia has climatic variation between the north and south as well as some micro-climates.  The northern half of the region is mountainous with a grape-friendly alpine climate while the southern half is characterized by smaller hills, flatter plains and a more maritime climate as it gets closer to the Adriatic sea.  In general Friuli vines find themselves able to ripen well with the region’s favorable daily temperature variation (known as “diurnal range”, this difference between night/day temps helps grapes develop slowly and gain more complexity as sugar levels increase).  The region has two principal rivers: the Tagliamento and the Isonzo.  Some areas can occasionally be exposed to a strong and frigid wind called “la bora”.

Friuli_wine_regions(map provided by Agne27 at en.wikipedia wikicommons)

Main Provinces and their Wine Regions:

  • Udine: Colli Orientali del Friuli, Cividale del Friuli, Aquileia, Latisana, Annia, Friuli-Grave
  • Pordenone: Friuli-Grave, Lison-Pramaggiore, Sacile, San Vito al Tagliamento, Spilimbergo
  • Gorizia: Collio/Collio Gorziano, Isonzo, Cormons
  • Trieste: Carso

Key Regional Grape Friends:

  • Chardonnay (white)
  • Cividin (white)
  • Garganega (white), makes up a lot of the Soave wine blend in nearby Veneto
  • Incrocio Manzoni (white), a crossing of Riesling and Pinot Blanc/Bianco
  • Malvasia Istriana (white), a sub-variety of Malvasia (planted widely around Italy)
  • Moscato Bianco (white), aka Moscato Canelli or Muscat Blanc à Petit Grain
  • Müller-Thurgau (white)
  • Pignoletto (white)
  • Picolit (white), a prized local variety that has been documented as far back as the 12th century.
  • Pinot Bianco (white), aka Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio (grey), aka Pinot Gris
  • Prosecco (white), aka Glera (see more about Prosecco sparkling wine made in the Veneto area in other posts)
  • ribollagiallabottleRibolla Gialla (white), probably originally Greek but now associated with aromatic and crisp wines from this area and Slovenia
  • Riesling (white), aka Riesling Renano
  • Sauvignon (white), aka Sauvignon Blanc
  • Tocai Friulano (white), now more commonly (and legally) labeled as “Friulano” due to confusion with the Hungarian dessert wine Tokaji and the Alsace wine Tocai.  Genetically identified as the French grape Sauvignonasse or Sauvignon Vert.
  • Traminer and Traminer Aromatico (grey), aka Gewürztraminer, the “aromatico” variety being more well…aromatic!
  • Trebbiano/Trebbiano Toscano (white)
  • Ucelut (white), local grape
  • Verduzzo Friulano (white), a local grape aka Ramandolo
  • Viognier (white)
  • Vitovska (white), a local grape that is the second most widely cultivated in the region.  Its name likely derives from the Slovenian city Vitolje.
  • Aleatico (black), grown all throughout Italy often used for sweet red wines
  • Ancellotta (black)
  • Cabernet Franc (black), of French origin
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (black), also of French origin
  • Carmenere (black), French grape used sometimes in blends
  • Cjanorie (black)
  • Franconia (black), aka Blaufränkish
  • Gamay (black), French grape famous for its light and fruity Beaujolais wines
  • Incrocio Manzoni 2.15 (black), a crossing of Prosecco and Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Lambrusco Maestri (black), one of the grapes famous for creating a red sparkling wine
  • Malbech (black), aka Malbec
  • Marzemino (black)
  • Merlot (black), this French grape is among one of the most planted throughout Italy due partly to its amicable relationship in blends with other grapes
  • Pignolo (black), possibly native to the Friuli area, this grape has been saved from extinction and makes spicy and dark wines.
  • Pinot Nero (black), aka Pinot Noir
  • Refosco and Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso (black), Refosco and a red-stemmed sub-variety, both making dark and tannic red wines.
  • Sangiovese (black), more associated with Emilia Romagna and Tuscany
  • Schioppettino (black), a native grape sometimes labeled as “Ribolla Nera” (but unrelated to Ribolla Gialla) or “Pocalza”
  • Tazzelenghe (black), in regional dialect means “Tongue cutter” referring to it’s striking acidity

pinotgrigioThe Better Known Wines:
Wines from this area can often be both regionally AND varietally labelled, for example “Colli Orientali Ribolla Gialla” or “Schioppettino di Prepotto”.

Ramandolo DOCG – $-$$,  This was the first wine region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to gain DOCG status.  All of its wines are either white or dessert wines (made from Verduzzo Friuliano of course).

Friulano Colli Orientali DOC – $-$$, Friulano wines today tend to be medium-bodied, crisp, refreshing, and full of melon, peach, blossom, and almond flavors.

Pinot Grigio – $-$$, a varietal that is not solely grown or famous for being in Friuli BUT some very creative and excellent winemakers have made some excellent golden/coppery examples of this amazing grape.  Try out Sot Lis Rivis to get an idea!

Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit -$$, Another sweet wine with delicate dried fruit aromas and a great reputation.

Ribolla Gialla – $-$$, this grape makes some refreshing dry whites loaded with exotic and tropical fruit armoas.

schioppettinoFriuli Isonzo DOC – $-$$, a zone that offers dry whites from Traminer/Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio as well as some reds made from Pinot Nero, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon

Schioppettino (Colli Orientali, Friuli Isonzo, Venezia Giulia IGT) – $-$$, sometimes also called “Ribolla Nera” on the label, this red grape is one of the Region’s red wine stars, making wines full of red fruits, floral, and sometimes peppery character.

DOCG Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to Date:

  • Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit
  • Lison
  • Ramandolo
  • Rosazzo

DOC Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to Date:

  • Carso or Carso Kras
  • Collio Goriziano
  • Friuli Annia
  • Friuli Aquileia
  • Friuli Colli Orientali
  • Friuli Grave
  • Friuli Isonzo
  • Friuli Latisana
  • Lison Pramaggiore
  • Prosecco

IGT Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to Date:

  • Alto Livenza
  • Delle Venezie
  • Venezia Giulia

Aubrie Talarico

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FAQ: Where does the “Grigio” come from in Pinot Grigio?

Pinot_Gris_closeFAQ: Doesn’t “grigio” mean “grey”?  Aren’t Pinot Grigio wines white…?  Where does the name come from?

Short Answer: Pinot Grigio, is technically a “grey” grape!  Its wines range in style from pale lemon to deep gold to orange.

Longer Answer:  There are three color categories of grape varietals: white, grey, and black.  White varietals include the likes of Chardonnay, Trebbiano, and Sauvignon Blanc while black varietals include grapes like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Merlot.  Some grapes have a coloration that is somewhere in between, hence where the “grey” term comes from.  Pinot Grigio is one of these.  While the “grey” in the grey grape varietal classification can sometimes be literal, it isn’t always.  Grey varietals can have spotty pigment (meaning that the bunch of grapes is not uniformly one color) or have actual spots on them. Sometimes whole berries in one bunch might be darker, or orangeish, and yes, sometimes greyish in color.

Pinot_Gris_glasses1Because the juice of any grape is colorless (with a few grape exceptions like Tannat), the color of the wine comes partially (but primarily) from skin contact or lack thereof.  Red wine production generally involves juice being in contact with the (black grape) skins for longer periods than other wine styles, resulting in more color being extracted from the skins and coloring the resulting wine.  White and rosé wine production tends to have less skin and juice contact, resulting in paler wines that may be any color from lemon-green or gold to pink or salmon.  This is why Pinot Grigio, “grey” as it may be, can yield wines that are quite pale and why non-rosé Champagnes are not especially pink or red despite the fact they are made with one or two black grapes (Pinot Noir and Meunier).

Fun Fact:  The “Pinot” in grape varietal names comes from the French word for “Pine cone”, referring to the shape of the grape bunch.  So Pinot Noir/Pinot Nero literally means “black pine cone” and Pinot Grigio literally means “grey pine cone”.

palazzone_pgOrange Wines:  Orange wines result when non-black grape varietals are vinified more according to a red wine method (i.e. with more skin contact).  The results are interesting, complex, and definitely worth trying.  Recent media attention to orange wines might incorrectly or unintentionally suggest that they are merely a new wine fad.  But the reality is that this is a method/style of wine with very old roots that still characterizes a lot of the wines of the world. Italian vineyards Palazzone in Umbria and Denavolo Catavela in Emilia Romagna make very nice examples.

Fun Facts:  Common synonyms of Pinot Grigio are Pinot Gris, Grauburgunder, and Auxerrois Gris.

The Pinot Particularity:  We have a lot of different grapes with “Pinot” in their names.  They are in fact all (genetically speaking) the same grape varietal.  Yes, this means that Pinot Grigio/Gris, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Blanc are all actually different mutations of one grape: Pinot Noir.  In fact, Chardonnay is a proud member of this Pinot family (confirmed by DNA analysis in 1999), being sometimes formally called “Pinot Chardonnay”!

Aubrie Talarico

UPDATES:  Meunier, a French grape most associated with sparkling wine production, has been incorrectly called Pinot Meunier for centuries.  Genetic mapping has only recently discovered that we were mistaken to think that it was part of the Pinot Family.  For that reason, I’ve changed it to its more accurate name Meunier here.

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Friday the 17th – Origins of the Unlucky

spilled-wineYou might have heard of the unlucky nature of the number 13, especially when it falls on a Friday in some parts of the world, but in Italy the number 13 is actually a good one!  Except in one very particular situation:  13 people sitting at a table…take a look at DaVinci’s Last Supper and you may understand why…lastsupp

In Italy the number 17 is avoided and feared, even to familiarly irrational lengths like skipping the number on airplane rows or street addresses.  Friday the 17th is a national day of sfortuna, or bad luck…and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an Italian who can coherently explain their motivation for avoiding travel and important events or decisions this particular day.

But why the number 17? There are a handful of potential reasons:

  • The Pythagorean Greeks considered the number 17 a disgraceful number between two otherwise “perfect” numbers, 16 and 18.
  • The Christian biblical flood (Genesis 7-11) started on the 17th day.
  • In 9 AD the 17th Roman Legion, among others, was brutally defeated by the Germans in Teutoburg.  Some 20,000 Roman soldiers died in this unexpected attack.
  • Confusion in the Middle Ages led to the Roman Numeral for 17, XVII, being associated with the Latin phrase “VIXI” (=”I lived”) seen on ancient tombs.

So why is Friday the 17th especially bad?
Likely because of Friday’s already tainted reputation due to Good Friday, which in the Catholic faith is the day that Jesus was crucified.

So on this Friday the 17th, if you find yourself superstitious, I suggest you grab a bottle of Italian wine and relax safely somewhere inside.  After all, wine helps calm the nerves!

Aubrie Talarico



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There’s Something About Montalcino: The Micro-Terroir Debate


To subdivide or not to subdivide…that is the question!

Wine-o’s who love a serious red wine probably already know about Tuscany’s precious red gem of Brunello di Montalcino.  But what do you know about the region’s micro-terroirs?  These seemingly small differences can make quite a big difference and are currently causing quite a debate.

Brunello di Montalcino is a wine made in the designated wine region Montalcino inTuscany.   Its wines are made of 100% the black grape variety Sangiovese (“Brunello” is one of Sangiovese’s many other recognized names and is actually a specific clone) and the wines must be aged in oak for at least 4 years (5 years for bottles labeled Riserva) before bottling and release.  The result is a complex, full-bodied and bold red wine, with all the best berry flavours and spicy aromas Sangiovese can offer with the addition of some earthiness (e.g. forest floor, leather) from ageing.

The current discussion is not to make any changes to Brunello wines.  Rather it’s to redraw the maps of the region due to the large number of micro-terriors (~20) inside the area.  Micro-terroir, or micro-climates are the differences within a region in terms of altitude, soil composition, sunlight, and temperatures.  Because the most subtle differences in any of these factors (sun, soil, altitude, etc) can create a lot of variation in the resulting wines made even from the same grape variety, even if they’re right next door to each other, some wine-makers of the Montalcino region are calling for some officially designated “sub-zones” within the region.  The idea is that consumers will be better able to find the bottle of Brunello they like most, knowing that wines in Sub-Zone 1 of Montalcino tend to be ones with characteristics they prefer versus the neighboring Zone 2 or Zone 3 wines.

Though this might sound complicated at first glance, it’s actually not unheard of that regions are subdivided due to the high level of climatic variation within.  Further, proponents of sub-zones suggest that redrawing of the area’s maps will also make the region easier to navigate for visitors.  This would be beneficial to some producers who feel they miss out on business simply due to visitors in the area getting lost.

Producers against the suggestion argue that even within a sub-zone there can be variation.  In fact this is why some producers in the region make their Brunello wines by blending wines from multiple areas within Montalcino  – blending from multiple zones ensures consistency and balance (a common practice in wine-making).  They claim that because of this, redrawing maps and designating these sub-zones will not necessarily provide a clearer picture on wines of the area and is therefore a pointless endeavor.

What do you think?  Do you think that micro-terroir are cause for creating sub-zones within regions? Or do you think it’s just splitting hairs and might not really be as helpful as people would like?

For a look at just how varied terroir can be, even within ONE region, look at this map made by the Brunello Wine Consortium:


Aubrie Talarico

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