Vino 2017 Takeaways

#VINO2017 rolled into New York with a bang—and all the fanfare of the Superbowl, which played live during the opening reception. This year, a huge number of out-of-towners were flown in and put up at hotels. A few expressed surprise that, as wine journalists, they received such luxe treatment. Writers are used to nibbling at crumbs.

It was great to catch up with old friends (that means you, WineHarlots!), meet social-media friends in person (Meg Houston Maker and WineOh.TV’s Monique Soltani), and just be in the same room with a Who’s Who of wine writers and bloggers, especially those leading lights of Italian wine: Alfonso Cevola, Jeremy Parzen, Alan Tardi, and Ian d’Agata. (I still get shy around them.)


Now that the annual event has been compressed to one day, it’s harder to get into seminars. (Also I suspect that we local New Yorkers were the last to receive invites.) I managed to get into the rosé seminar, “A Passion for Pink,” which is just what I was hoping for, since I’m gathering names for a story on Italian rosé, or rosato, as it’s called there.

It seems that rosé is indeed the passion these days. According to panelist Jeff Porter of the Bastianich hospitality group, “We’re now doing flights of rosé at our restaurants. Customers like it and expect it.” Eric Guido, marketing director at the Morrell Wine Group, concurs: “Now rosé is sold all year, not just in summer. When it comes to retail, we’re moving forward in leaps and bounds.”

That’s good news for me, a rosé lover. I was also smugly pleased when they recited stats showing that Italy trumps France in the number of grape varieties used for rosé. (That’s true across the board. As VinItaly’s Stevie Kim pointed out earlier in the day, 15 varieties make up 80% of all wine in France, while Italy has 550 native grapes in commercial production, and 450 denominations.)

The rosé seminar presented some old favorites, like Guado al Tasso’s Scalabrone, the first Antinori wine to gain fame in Bolgheri, advertised on billboards up and down the old Roman road in the post-war years. But I was smitten with two newcomers—or new to me. Both were from Puglia, the Italy’s only region that has a deep history with rosato. I went to Puglia last fall, but didn’t make it all the way up to the Castel del Monte DOCG zone. That’s where Torrevento’s Veritas originates, made from the obscure Bombino Nero grape. A pretty ballerina-pink color, it’s loaded with tutti-frutti fruit and has a pleasing freshness that’s essential for rosé. My other favorite was Cantine Le Grotte’s Selva della Rocca (above), made from Nero di Troia. Watermelon-candy colored, it offers nice herbal notes after the initial fruit kick.

Without realizing it, I again put a star next to this wine at the rosé table in the grand tasting. (It’s nice to be consistent.) Here I learned there’s a new organization promoting Puglia rosato, Puglia in Rosé. The association was born informally eight years ago, but incorporated in 2015 with 52 winery associates. “We plan to open an office in 2017, probably in New York,” says managing director Lucia Nettis. I hope so. Pugliese rosato could be a strong contender if more people knew about it, and a bonus for the region, now mostly known for its primitivo.

So what were my other takeaways?

PUGLIA’S UP & COMER - I discovered that I really, really like Nero di Troia. Le Grotte’s rosato was just the start. This native grape of northern Puglia is normally vinified as a red, and the various samples here—including, again, Torrevento’s and Le Grotte’s—were terrific, much more balanced than the too ripe, overly alcoholic primitivos I encountered on my travels last fall further south in the Salento zone. I’d heard that Nero di Troia is an up-and-coming grape, and I can see why.

A SURPRISINGLY CLASSIC BAROLOL’Astemia Pentitamakes pretty good Barolo. I'd had my doubts when writing about them in The World of Fine Wine. That story was about the uproar caused by the cantina’s Pop-style architecture—considered blasphemy in Barolo’s historic Cannubi cru. The two Barolos I tasted at Vino 2017 hewed to tradition and were sourced from vines with some age. The new winery also abandoned the goofy people-shaped bottles seen at their debut in VinItaly and came with an acceptably stylish bottle made from lovely purple glass. I’ll be watching their progress.

INTERLOPER BEER - I made a beeline to the one winery presenting a beer. Frank & Serafico makes a very good Belgian-style blonde ale, one of five brews coming out of this estate, founded in 2009 by two consulting enologists who decided to do their own thing. “Frank” (Fabrizio Testa), formerly a winemaker at Brancaia, now works with his partner on land in the Uccellina National Park, south of Grosseto. Because that part of the Maremma attracts its share of tourists (mostly Italian beach-goers), they set up a farm pub. And that called for beer! Frank told me they’re not the only winery that’s making beer these days, but the others are “just in it for the money.” They certainly don’t grow their own hops, nor source their grain from a national park, like these guys do. Oh, and their wine is quite good, too—from the easy-drinking Morellino di Scansano to the big cab franc/merlot/sangiovese blend, also named Frank. Another winery to watch.

ALPINE PINOT BIANCO - Finally, I was happy to find Castel Sallegg here. This old property (1851) once belonged to an Archduke of Austria, and its extensive vineyard sits smack in the middle of Caldaro, ground zero for Alto Adige wine country. I hike by that vineyard coming back from the funicular on our Alps and Dolomites hiking tour, and I’ve always wondering about this walled clos that the town has grown around . The winery has 30 labels, I learned, and their pinot bianco really soared. It’s hard to make a good pinot bianco (Marco Felluga’s remains my benchmark), but this had such intensity and character it made you sit up and take notice. We’re heading back to Alto Adige on tour this summer, so I’m making a mental note to stop in.