Sometimes juxtaposition is a funny thing. A couple of weeks ago, I met separately with three winemakers who had no relationship with each other except they are all from Italy and all were in New York City on the same day. And yet, I felt as through in a few hours I had sliced through a good part of what makes up the Italian wine scene.
Antonio Fattori – Conversation with a Free Thinker
The area around Verona seems to foster contrarian winemakers, and to me that is as refreshing as a great glass of Soave at 10 a.m. in the morning – which is what I’m having with Antonio Fattori in the offices of Colangelo & Partners, Fattori’s PR firm. I’m alerted that this isn’t going to be the standard interview when I ask him if he knows another iconic Soave producer, Stefano Inama. “We went to school together,” Fattori says casually, “but he makes a different style of wine than I do. He’s black, and I’m white,” he says with a slight grin. “He’s a fascist, I’m a communist.”
Fattori took over the family business as winemaker in 1979, chiefly producing Soave but also other regional whites as well as Valpolicella reds, including his first Amarone in 2007. As he explains, the Valpolicella and Soave vineyards overlap.
While we are tasting his 2011 Runcaris Soave Classico (100% Garganega), he says that his philosophy of winemaking is to “try to use a physical activity instead of a chemical reaction if I can do it.” Therefore he use stainless-steel cold fermentation, does not do battonage, does filter (“after two weeks, the wine is back to normal”), uses minimal sulfites, corrects for sugar if needed and does reverse osmosis if needed. “The clearer I can make the whites, the less I need sulfites,” he says.
The Fattori wines are very good – the Runcaris is ripe with rich golden and green fruits, the 2011 Roncha (Garganega-dominated blend) is less fruity with cheese and whey notes, the 2011 Motto Piane Recioto di Soave is full of rich fruit but with great acidity and length and the 2007 Amarone is spicy with lots of soft red fruit.
Lodovico Antinori – The Second Time Around
Is success sweeter the second time around? One gets that idea from watching Lodovico Antinori talking about his new adventure with Tenuta di Biserno at a press tasting and luncheon at A Voce at Columbus Circle.
Of course, Antinori was first famous for his Ornellaia, the Bolgheri-based super Tuscan that he sold to Robert Mondavi and is thus now a part of Constellation. His new venture is next door in Bibbona, a little further north along the Maremma coast, and he joined with his equally famous brother, Piero Antinori, in the ownership. Planting started in 2002.
“I thought that the Cabernet Sauvignon was getting a little herbaceous in Bolgheri, except for Sassacaia,” he says, “so we planted more Cabernet Franc and a higher percentage of Petit Verdot, which I love.” He gives a broad smile reminiscent of Paulie (Tony Sirico) on The Sopranos. “Of course, the wines of Maremma are always very seductive.”
Consider me seduced! Of the three vintages tasted – 2006-07-08 – the ’06 was my favorite with very intense fruits like elderberry, yet was lean and leathery with lots of smooth tannins. There is also a second wine, Pino di Biserno, and Lodovico, a new super-super whose name fosters a long yet totally unconvincing story of its origin.
Consider Lodovico Antinori back.
Marco Caprai – Protecting an Heirloom
One has to admire the work that Marco Caprai has done in Umbria with the family business, Arnaldo Caprai. First he has spent more than 20 years helping to resurrect the neglected regional grape, Sagrantino, and, second, he trying to get the world to fall in love with the wine it makes. These days, I wonder if Caprai is finding the first task was the easier.
I first met Caprai a few years ago at his winery at Montefalco. His wines are just as good now – in fact, perhaps even better – as they were in Umbria, but when I sit down with him in the afternoon at the restaurant SD26, Caprai seems nowhere near as enthusiastic as he was back then. Perhaps it’s the hard life on the road; perhaps it’s trying to get people to warm up to polyphenols. Sagrantino has more antioxidant polyphenols than any other grape, which perhaps makes it healthful but also makes it tannic and often more mouth-puckering than green persimmons. By comparison, Bordeaux grapes such as the Cabernets and Merlot only have about half as much.
There are ways to soften the pucker – riper grapes, less extraction, barrel and bottle aging – and some of Caprai’s Montefalco neighbors, who are traveling with him to help sell Sangrantino to the world, have more-approachable wines. But one gets the idea that Caprai is uncompromising in his devotion to Sagrantino as it is. And maybe he is right in wanting the world to come around to his view.
After all, a pucker is prelude to a kiss.