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» The Myths of Italy

Our tasting of Italian wine at Semifreddo restaurant brought plenty of comments from our expert guests, about the difference between ‘old-fashioned’ wine and ‘modern’ wine.

Charles W. Borden.
Photos by Alexei Gorov

Ways pleased to have real experts at our wine table, so this Passport Magazine wine tasting was called together quickly when we learned that Maurizio Micciche, owner of Casa Vinicola Calatrasi in Sicily, was in town and could join us. Maurizio has transformed his Calatrasi family wine business, located not far from the village of Corleone, into a progressive producer through strict adherence to modern techniques – he has even brought in Australian winemakers. Maurizio has been exporting some of his wines to Russia for the past two years.

Another surprise (and expert) was the unexpected arrival in town also of Italian Roberto Chiardia, who exports top wines throughout the world. In Russia, Roberto’s wines are sold through Palais Royal. These are the wines to buy when you are looking to fill that 5,000 bottle wine cellar for your new pad on Rublovskaya Shosse. Roberto’s wines include verticals of Chateau d’Yquem, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and Chateau Haut Brion. Other wines include the fabulous Australian Clarendon Hills Australis and Penfold’s Grange, and the Italian Sassicaia.

A third industry player also joined us, Preston Haskell, owner of Haskell Vineyards in the famous Stellenbosch area of South Africa. Preston purchased Haskell Vineyards in 2002 and promptly constructed a new, modern cellar, with a maiden vintage in 2005. Preston’s wines have scored very well in recent Passport Magazine wine tastings. His Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Amalgam and Syrah are again available in Moscow.

The presence of these three expat experts on wine, and regulars in the Russian market, made for an interesting evening of discussion about wine being sold in Russia today. All three experts had navigated through this year’s government-implemented custom’s tax fiasco that left Russia’s wine shelves practically empty during July and August. Shelves began to refill in September but still hold a fraction of pre-fiasco levels. Our friends all finally have their wines back on the shelves after a five-month hiatus.

Maurizio memorably described these ‘old-fashioned’ wines as reminiscent of “horse’s sweat” or “wet leather saddle.”

In honour of our guests, we decided to review a selection of some of the best Italian wines available in Moscow. We raided John Ortega’s cellar for some wines he had purchased in Moscow, and hit the wine boutiques. We found a broad selection of highly-rated Italian wines, and this time we also brought with us the wine comments from the Wine Spectator website to compare with our taster’s ratings.

We gathered at Semifreddo, considered by many to be one of Moscow’s best Italian restaurants. The chef at Semifreddo is Sicilian Nino Graziano, former chef-patron of Il Mulinazzo in Villaftati, a small town between Palermo and Agrigento. At Il Mulinazzo, he applied the products of Sicilian agri-artisans to create the islands greatest Sicilian cuisine, for which he was awarded two Michelin stars.

There were just two white wines. The La Scolca Gavi is an example of the extraordinary prices of wines in Russia; though this is a nice, tangy and light wine that retails at $18 in the US, it appears on restaurant wine lists in Moscow at 4400 roubles or about $170. We also sampled Mastroberadino Novaserra Greco di Tufo, from eastern Naples.

The first entry in the reds was Blau & Blau, a light red from the famous Silvio Jermann in northeastern Italy. We followed this with a Chianti Classico and two Brunello Di Montalcino wines. We topped these off with three Amarones, the legendary Sassicaia, and finally one of the best-known Sicilian red wines, Mille e una Notte Donnafugata.

The Brunello wines brought very interesting comments from Maurizio and Roberto about the differences between Italian wineries that are following a modern path, and the traditional producers like Brunello. Maurizio memorably described these ‘oldfashioned’ wines as reminiscent of “horse’s sweat” or “wet leather saddle.” This is not a slur against the wine; rather, as he said, it reflects the fact that the particular qualities of these traditional wines are coming more from the terroir than from the processes being used in ‘modern’ wine estates. In some cases these changes in production methods have meant that modern wineries in even some of the best areas have discarded the DOC regional restrictions (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and are producing wines with new labels from grapes not eligible for DOC status, freeing them from what people expect of an Italian wine, what Maurizio called the “myths of Italy.”

In other regions, not known for excellent wines, winemakers are now excelling. Maurizio’s Sicilian wines provide an example of the breaking of one of the ‘myths of Italy;’ they don’t all come from the Italian mainland. Sicily has long been a backwater of Italian wines; it produces large quantities of jug wines and is best known for its Marsala dessert wines. Despite the poor reputation that Sicily’s wines garnered in the past century, in recent years a small but growing number of wineries have traded quantity for quality and gained recognition for their wines. Many of them, including Calatrasi’s, have made it all the way to Russia. Other modern Sicilians include Cusumano, La Planeta, Donnafugata, and Tenuta Rapitala.

Maurizio Micciche,
John Ortega,
Nino Graziano
Preston Haskell
Roberto Chiardia
Natalia Chelikina

Wiine Ratings

For this issue of Passport Magazine, we decided to include comments from Wine Spectator including their rating and price in the US market. Wine Spectator provides the best online rating and information system for wines and is available by subscription.

White Wines

La Scolca Gavi 2003 $18
Spectator rating 81
Passport Magazine rating 2.44

Fresh and tangy, with citrus and light mineral character. Drink now. 10,000 cases made.

Mastroberadino Greco di Tufo Novaserra 2003 $24
Spectator rating 87
Passport Magazine rating 3.10

Aromas of lemon rind and anise seed follow through to a medium-bodied palate, with good fruit and a medium finish. Drink now. 6,700 cases made.

Red Wines

Jermann Delle Venezie Blau & Blau 2002 $38
Spectator rating 87
Passport Magazine rating 3.13

An interesting red, with berry, bark and a light earth character. Mediumbodied, firm and fruity, with a touch of herbs and vanilla on the finish. Delicious red. Blauburgunder and Blaufränkisch. Best after 2004. 650 cases made.

Vila Mangiacane Chianti Classico 2003 $29
Spectator rating 86
Passport Magazine rating 3.30

Plum and vanilla aromas follow through to a full-bodied palate, with fine tannins and a medium finish. Drink now. 3,330 cases made.

Pieve Santa Restituta Brunelo di Montalcino Rennina 1999 $105
Spectator rating 91
Passport Magazine rating 4.10

Interesting aromas of crushed berries, cedar and green tobacco follow through to a full-bodied palate, with gamy, smoky and fruity flavors. Long finish. Decadent style. Needs to come together with some bottle age. Solid red. Best after 2006. 2,200 cases made.

Castiglion del Bosco Brunelo di Montalcino Campo del Drago 1999 $70
Spectator rating 92
Passport Magazine rating 3.56

Plenty of crushed blackberries with hints of minerals. Very clean. Fullbodied, with layers of fine tannins and a long caressing finish. A beauty. Very well done for this estate. One to watch in the future. Best from 2005 through 2010. 900 cases made.

Allegrini Amaronedela Valpolicela Classico 2001 $78
Spectator rating 93
Passport Magazine rating 4.27

A superclean, juicy Amarone, with concentrated dried black fruit and a well-concealed, smooth oak note. Full-bodied, with fine tannins that give the palate an elegant poise and prolong the fruity finish. Classy and refined, with a long finish. Drink now through 2012. 12,500 cases made.

Masi Amarone della Valpolicela Classico Campolongo di Torbe 1998 $58
Spectator rating 91
Passport Magazine rating 4.24

Rich, dark grapey, almost Port-like aromas, with a raisiny, minerally edge. Full-bodied, with big, muscular tannins and a long, fruit-driven finish. Very good, but not as complex as the 1997. Best after 2003. 1,700 cases made.

Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicela Classico Capitel Monte Olmi 1999 $65
Spectator rating 86
Passport Magazine rating 3.99

Fresh aromas of forest fruits and piecrust follow through to a medium to full body, with a slightly astringent palate and a fresh finish. Turns a bit short. Best after 2004. 750 cases made.

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2002 $190
Spectator rating 87
Passport Magazine rating 3.77

Aromas of sweet tobacco and plum with hints of cigar box. Medium- to full-bodied, with sweet fruit and a silky texture. Herbal. Lovely caressing wine, but I expect a little more from Sassicaia. Best after 2006. 15,000 cases made.

Mile et una Note Donnafugata 2004 $65
Spectator rating 87
Passport Magazine rating 2.88

A wine with good vanilla character and fresh herb and berry undertones. Full, round and velvety. Long finish. Best after 2006. 2,900 cases made.

Ortega Easy Rating System
I love this whisky! 5 pts.
I really like this whisky! 4 pts.
This whisky is good! 3 pts.
This whisky is not that good! 2 pts.
I don’t really care for this whisky! 1 pt.

Panel

John Ortega Founder and Owner, Fashion Mart and International Apparel
Charles Borden Director, Meridian Capital
Maurizio Micciche Owner of Casa Vinicola Calatrasi in Sicily
Roberto Chiardia Owner, Arcum Trading
Preston Haskel Executive Chairman, Colliers International
Robert Brown President, B-II Capital
Robert Fekete Senior Vice President, Citigroup Realty Services
Timur Beslangurov Managing Partner, Vista Foreign Business Support


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