By Cynthia Chaplin IWA
Another day in paradise! Bright and sunny in Taormina, the gorgeous weather lured some IWAs to the beach early this morning, and everyone came back refreshed and ready for our first masterclasses of the day. Several of us started with Robert Camuto’s session, talking about his new book “South of Somewhere,” a copy of which he generously handed out to everyone in the audience. His charming storytelling and slow, careful Italian were praised by all of our Ambassadors, really appreciating the fact that everyone could understand him! He spoke movingly about discovering the value of his grandparents and respect for the land, nature and kindness. His fundamental question driving the book was “what is a southern wine now?” as compared to before the 1980’s, when southern wine was basically viewed as simply useful for washing down the great southern food. Camuto paired his session with a thoughtful selection of 8 wines including a surprisingly good Cesanese Superiore from Damiano Ciolli and the always stunning Fiorduva from Marisa Cuoma. The final wine was the luminous golden organic Monjebel Bianco made in fiberglass tanks by Frank Cornelissen, a nod to our current location overlooking Mt. Etna.
Next stop? Is it Lucido or is it Catarratto, with Jeff Porter rocking his ”hipster mentality dressed in a dad vibe.” The room was filled with several somms, which made for great discussions about how to sell and story tell about these wines. This grape is Sicily’s most widely planted, with over 30,000 ht producing some 850,000 bottles per year. We all agreed the wines that came from higher altitudes were the best, although the Gorghi Tondi “Coste” from Trapani, grown at 25 meters asl was a real surprise, almost manzanilla in style, with fascinating pickled lemon, savoury, saline notes, full body, a long bitter mandarin peel finish and a compelling texture. All five wines were excellent quality, showing a common thread of acidity and a balance of green almond, fruit and floral characters and a lot of zing and zest.
Lunch had all our IWAs on the hotel’s terrace perched above the sea, feasting on pig 10 ways! A whole piggy graced the serving table, and we were treated to porchetta with funghi stuffing, mortadella with truffles, several types of salumi and hazelnut Florentines to top it all off. A great way to soak up the wine, although some of us did mourn the lack of fruit and vegetables…
A photo shoot with Professore Scienza before his session on The Wines of Tomorrow, where Ellen Jakobsmeier and I were slightly stunned to witness the vociferous rant by the Cronche di Gusto moderator against Robert Camuto’s book (no wonder they wouldn’t let him into the room). Il Professore presented sound scientific reasons for the need for science to help wine producers cope with issues of climate change and sustainability. He argued that genome editing and better genetic research for crossing will help with the development of precise viticulture and mapping will assist in conserving our finite resources. Unfortunately, the 8 wines were disappointing, including an Etna Rosso described by Ellen (who knows her stuff) as not unlike a bad tempranillo and an amfora made trebbiano/montonico/pecorino cross that I called chalky, mousey and furry, with unpleasant notes of mushy peach and bacon fat. Not mentioning any producers names here, suffice it to say that we agreed the proof was not in the pudding (or the wine glass) today.
Never thought I’d have the chance to say “saved by Verdicchio” but that happened. Michele Bernetti led the tasting of ten Verdicchio Classico Superiore and Riservas, highlighting the clear differences between dry hot 2020 and cool wet 2018. Verdicchio has long been one of my favourite Italian whites (thanks, Henry Davar) and this selection was truly impressive, demonstrating the influence of the sea, the soils and the altitude on this high acid wine. Best wines included Sparapani’s “Il Priore” 2020 with its elegant nose of lemon verbena and mint, soft phenolics and lovely round mouthfeel, grown at 100 meters asl, as well as Bernetti’s own Umani Ronchi “Casal del Sera” 2021 with a fresh, bright, vibrating acidity, fragrant lemon and parsley nose and a gentle lingering grip. Garofoli’s “Podium” 2020 was just so good, 15 months on fine lees didn’t dim its nose of clear clean sea water and iodine, and the fresh almond and saline tang lasted forever. Angelini’s “San Sisto” 2018 was rich and exotic, filled with dry marzapane and a decadent silky delicious finish. Last but not least, Tenuta di Tavignano’s “Misco” 2018, grown facing the see and aged on lees in steel was a crowd pleaser with its full bodied, creamy blend of grapefruit and salmastre/salt bush notes.
Nothing ends the day right like some bubbles, and I was definitely not the only Ambassador who thought so! A packed room tasted 8 vintages of Ricci Cubastro Saten, led by none other than Gualberto Ricci Curbastro himself. Passion and pride made this tasting feel very personal and, despite a sommelier smashing one of my wine glasses and flooding my tasting mat, I couldn’t tear my eyes off the presentation, even though it was 8:30pm by the time it ended. Elegance and innovation were the key words and we learned that Franciacorta has 6 key microzones, with Ricci Curbastro, certified bio, growing grapes in four of them. Saten is something of a specialty for the family, 30% of their production is Saten, although only 10% of Franciacorta overall is made in this style. Winners here were the 2009 Museum Release, which spent 122 months on lees, and the 2006 Museum Release (174 months on lees and still incredibly bright). We were treated to pours of Gualberto 2012 and 2008 from magnums; these are not satens, as they contain up to 70% pinot nero instead of the required 100% chardonnay. The 2008 wowed with notes of cassis and bakery pastry – the two varietals were vinified separately, bottle aged in magnums, and then reunited for the final bottling – the wine had a beautiful lightness, exalting the dosaggio zero and sending us off into the night with a Franciacorta song in our hearts!