Sangiovese: Italy’s quintessential red grape

sangiovese grapes

Above: The glorious Sangiovese grape, the variety behind some of Italy’s greatest wines.

A few weeks ago, the great American wine writer Eric Asimov, who writes a weekly column for the New York Times, outed himself on social media.

“I’m having a love affair with the Sangiovese grape,” he wrote on his Twitter, “and I don’t care who knows about it.”

What’s all the excitement about?

The answer: Sangiovese, Italy’s quintessential red grape, grown in every one of Italy’s 20 regions, and vilified most famously in Tuscany, where it is used to make some of the most coveted wines in the world.

One of the things that makes Sangiovese so unique is the fact that it is a thin-skinned but tannic red grape (wine gets its tannin from the skin of the grape). As a result, it can produce a wine that is light in body but that also has great nuance and structure, as they say in the wine trade.

The other thing about Sangiovese is its unmistakable plum and red fruit flavors that make it a favorite pairing — in Italy and beyond — for roast and grilled meats.

The best known “expression” of Sangiovese is Brunello di Montalcino, an appellation where it is vilified as a monovarietal wine, in other words, a single-grape wine.

Alessandro Bindocci, the winemaker behind Mazzoni Toscana Rosso, produces one of the most prestigious Brunellos at the estate where his family has worked for four generations, Tenuta Il Poggione (Eric is a big fan of their wine).

But knowing that wine lovers can’t drink Brunello every night (it’s really a “special occasion” wine), Alessandro created the Mazzoni Toscana Rosso — a blend of Sangiovese, grown on the same estate where the Brunello is produced, and Merlot — to give Sangiovese fans a more approachable, ready-to-drink version of his family’s wines.

The young Sangiovese vines used to make it give the wine the zinging vibrancy and freshness that you need in a food-friendly wine. And the Merlot gives it some extra depth and nuance.

The world of wine mourns the passing of Franco Biondi Santi

Today, the world of wine mourns the loss of Franco Biondi Santi, one of the greatest producers of Brunello di Montalcino. The following is a translation of a press release issued by the Consortium of Brunello di Montalcino, including a remembrance by consortium president Fabrizio Bindocci, winemaker at the Tenuta Il Poggione where Mazzoni wines are produced.

“One of the greatest symbols of Italian wine’s quality and excellence in the world has passed away. Without a doubt, he was one of the most important architects of the success of Brunello di Montalino on an international level. Thanks to him, Brunello is one of the best known and most appreciated made-in-Italy brands. With his passing, the Consortium and the entire appellation not only lose a great producer but also a very great man who was known for his profound sensibility and humanity. We owe a great deal to him and we are sure that his example and his ability will be carried forward by those who will succeed him in his leadership at the winery. The next time that the Council meets, it will consider potential initiatives to honor his memory in the best way possible.”

These were the words with which the President of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino Fabrizio Bindoci remembered Franco Biondi Santi, who had led the Tenuta Greppo di Montalcino since the 1970s.

The Mayor of Montalcino, Silvio Franceshelli, also shared his condolences with the Biondi Santi family and added: “I am profoundly saddened by the passing of a figure who gave a great deal to this land. It is thanks to him that Montalcino is so well known throughout the world and at such a high level. He was a man who enriched Montalcino and we will forever be grateful.”

In 1934, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry recognized Franco Biondi Santi’s grandfather Ferruccio as the “inventor of Brunello.” In 1994, Decanter awarded 10/10 (a perfect score) to the 1891, a wine that was 103 years old at the time. In 1999, Wine Spectator rated the 1955 Riserva as one of the “best twelve wines produced in the world in the twentieth century.”

Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the new Pope Francis

pope bergoglioFrom Wikipedia:

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ (born December 17, 1936) is the current pope of the Roman Catholic Church, elected on March 13, 2013 and taking the regnal name of Francis. Prior to his election, he served as an Argentine cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He has served as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 2001.

Jorge Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, one of the five children of an Italian railway worker and his wife. After studying at the seminary in Villa Devoto, he entered the Society of Jesus on March 11, 1958. Bergoglio obtained a licentiate in philosophy from the Colegio Máximo San José in San Miguel, and then taught literature and psychology at the Colegio de la Inmaculada in Santa Fe, and the Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 13, 1969, by Archbishop Ramón José Castellano. He attended the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel, a seminary in San Miguel. Bergoglio attained the position of novice master there and became professor of theology.

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Italy is for lovers… buon giorno di San Valentino a tutti!

ponte milvio rome locks

There’s an ancient bridge in Rome that spans the Tiber river called the Ponte Milvio.

A few years ago, young lovers began to attach locks to the lamp posts of the bridge: they’d engrave their names and their declarations of eternal love on the little locks, attach them to the lamp posts, and then toss the key into the water below.

At a certain point, the weight of the locks became so heavy that the lamp post broke and fell into the river!

When the mayor of Rome heard of this, what did he do? Did he send the police to prevent the young lovers from sealing their devotion to one another? Did he block access to the bridge to stop them?

No, he had city engineers install poles on the bridge especially so that the young people could continue to attach their declarations of love.

Italy is for lovers: it’s a country where love and passion are held in high regard, a nation where affection and expressions of desire are considered noble and commendable.

Buon giorno di San Valentino a tutti! Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Image via Wikipedia.

Thoughts and prayers for the Missoni family

Vittorio Missoni, the son and marketing director of the iconic family-run Italian fashion house Missoni is still missing after the disappearance of the plane he was traveling on off of the coast of Venezuela.

Vittorio and his wife, plus two friends and two crew members disappeared on January 4.

The family believes that the passengers and crew may have been kidnapped. There has been no debris field discovered and over the last 15 years, more than 57 small airplanes have disappeared from Las Roques. The incidents have all been tied to Colombian drug-running.

However, the area of the disappearance, just 11 miles from Las Roques, has a depth of over 2,000 meters. This can make it difficult to impossible to recover crash remnants, explaining why no evidence has been found yet. The search crews are awaiting special deep-sea equipment better adapted to this type of mission.

The Venezuelan government maintains that the plane crashed and they are continuing the search under this assumption.

missoni rug

Above: A classic Missoni design (image via A Textile a Day).

An Italian tragedy: the Costa Concordia

costa concordia

January 13 marked the one year anniversary of the Costa Concordia wreck of off the cost Tuscany at the island of Giglio. On board, it carried 3200 passengers and 1000 crew members. It was twice the size of the Titanic.

A memorial service to remember the victims took place last Sunday. The boulder that originally tore a hole in the ship was returned to the sea bed with a plaque containing the victims’ name attached. A mass was held and the victims’ families tossed roses into the sea.

This tragic incident claimed 32 lives at exactly 9:45 p.m. The final death toll of 32 was reached when the bodies of a couple were recently discovered by workers. The ship’s captain is accused of mishandling the wreck and abandoning his ship, charges he maintains are untrue.

Environmentalists worry that upon righting the ship, toxic chemicals contained in the ship will spill into the surrounding marine sanctuary.

Efforts to remove the Concordia have been going on around the clock, but will not likely result in the removal of the massive ship until late this Summer. The total cost is expected to exceed 500 million dollars.

St. Nick’s Italian origins

saint nick italy venice bari

Above: San Nicola di Bari as depicted in a panel from the Dowry for Three Virgins by Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1427).

Saint Nick is not only a popular cultural icon in the United States, he is celebrated and honored in Italy as well on December 6th, the feast of San Nicola.

Born in 270 AD, San Nicola was raised in the former ancient Greek port city of Myra, in modern-day Turkey. His parents were wealthy, but died in an epidemic when he was young. Nicola was raised by his uncle to be a priest, and he eventually became bishop of his city.

In his life, he was known for his generosity, having given his entire inheritance to help the poor. The most popular story of San Nicola is that he helped a destitute man with three young daughters who had no money for a dowry. In those days, lacking a dowry meant that a girl was destined to be sold into slavery, most likely as a prostitute. Hearing his story, Nicola secretly tossed a bag of gold through the man’s window on the three occasions of the daughters’ coming-of-age. These bags are said to have landed in the shoes left by the fire overnight to dry (some say the bags landed in their socks) giving birth to the tradition of hanging stockings for Saint Nick.

He is also the patron saint of sailors (among many other things) and many namesake churches have been erected in port cities all over Europe. Traveling back from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, his ship encountered a horrific storm. As the sailors panicked, Nicola quietly prayed and the storm ceased. For this he is associated with protecting the seafaring men of the world.

San Nicola is the patron saint of Bari, where half of his relics are stored in the Basilica di San Nicola. It is said that inhabitants of this city sought to save his remains from the impending Islamic occupation. In 1087, they took the larger bones and left the smaller pieces, which were eventually transferred to a church in Venice.

The Festa di San Nicola marks the beginning of the Italian Christmas holidays and children all over Italy receive a gift from him on December 6th. He gave birth the the Italian icon, Babbo Natale (Father Christmas), and the jolly Santa Claus that we know and love in the United States.

Happy holidays, everyone!