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.

Click here to continue reading…

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!

Solidarity for a Montalcino producer and Mazzoni neighbor

gianfranco soldera brunelloThe world of Italian wine is reeling today from the news that on Sunday night, vandals destroyed six vintages of one of Montalcino’s most famous wines, Soldera.

That’s Gianfranco Soldera, left, in a photo taken in a happier moment (image via

This morning, winemakers Alessandro and Fabrizio Bindocci (son and father), producers of the Mazzoni wines, posted the following note of solidarity on their blog, Montalcino Report:

Yesterday we have learned about an act of vandalism that took place at the Azienda Case Basse of Gianfranco Soldera, where, during the night before, unknown individuals had emptied the casks where his Brunello di Montalcino was aging. And we have had the confirmation from Soldera himself after we contacted him by telephone.

As friends and colleague producers of Montalcino, we are sending our solidarity to Gianfranco Soldera and we are saddened by the fact that something like this can happen.

The territory of Montalcino is a small and tranquil territory where many people still leave their doors of their homes unlocked. To find out about these sad events is shocking and it brings forth the spirit of solidarity that distinguishes the producers of Montalcino. They have never hesitated to step forward when there is need. And, again, this time, they will show their spirit of solidarity toward those who have been harshly injured.


Buon Giorno del Ringraziamento!

happy thanksgiving in italian

abbracci means hugs in Italian…

Sondrio is a town and province in the far north of Italy.

Our thoughts and prayers with the victims of the Emilia-Romagna earthquake

Above: The Renaissance Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) in the town of Finale Emilia, the epicenter of the 6.0 earthquake Sunday in Emilia-Romagna.

“Firefighters, surveyors, engineers and volunteers struggled through nearly continuous aftershocks on Monday,” wrote Elisabetta Provoledo in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, “to catalog damage and deter looters one day after an earthquake killed 7 people and left more than 6,000 homeless in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy.”

“More than 120 aftershocks rocked the area in the hours following the magnitude-6.0 earthquake, which toppled factories, apartment buildings, and medieval and Renaissance monuments early Sunday.”

According to the Italian news agency ANSA, “At least 10% of the production of Italy’s prestigious Parmigiano Reggiano cheese was destroyed by Sunday’s earthquake.”

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Finale Emilia and the region of Emilia-Romagna…

Travel like an Italian: Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples (Napoli)

Photo via Tyson Williams Photography.

If you ever go to Naples, you can’t miss the sprawling Piazza del Plebiscito. It’s one of the largest piazze in the city and dates back to the early 19th century.

Although it was eventually named for the referendum that unified Italy, its construction was initiated by Napolean’s brother, Murat as a tribute to the emperor. This massive piazza is anchored on one side by the Royal Palace and on the other by the Church of San Francesco di Paola.

The Royal Palace most famously housed the Bourbon kings (I Borboni), but it pays tribute to the eight rulers in the history Kingdom of Naples with a line of statues lining the side that looks onto the Piazza.

The Church of San Francesco di Paola gives an imposing embrace to the opposite side of the square. When Joachim Murat first conceived the idea of the building and the square, it was not meant to be a church, but an extension of the royal brotherly tribute. The building was eventually converted, consecrated, and named for a 16th century monk who lived in the monastery that had occupied the land previously. The imposing pillars and domes remind one of the Pantheon, and it gives just the right flair of the dramatic to the west side of the piazza.

Today, Piazza del Plebiscito is a place for young lovers to park their scooters and embrace in the warm night air. It’s also a prime place to passeggiare, have a smoke, or people watch.

Under the stars and kissed by the salty mediterranean air, there is hardly a more beautiful place be on a Summer’s eve in Napoli.

Guest post: A Kiss at Midnight by Brenda Hoops Rouse

Love like an Italian…

Another New Year’s Eve in Baltimore alone was not an option. It was time for a change, and before I knew it I had booked a trip to Genoa for a week. If all went according to plan I would arrive in time for dinner and fireworks. I had been to Italy before, and both times, I saw it through the eyes of the man I was traveling with. This time, I would see Italy through my eyes.

I had seen Italy (Rome, Florence and Carrara) through the eyes of my artist lover back in the 80’s. I had seen Italy (Bordighera, Italian Riviera, and Alba) through the eyes of my future husband in 1992.


Women’s Day – Festa della Donna, March 8

International Women’s Day — Giornata della Donna or Festa della Donna in Italian — is celebrated every year in March 8.

The festival originated in the early twentieth century as a means to promote awareness of universal suffrage. To this day, it reminds us of an era when women were denied the rights enjoyed by men. And it celebrates the contributions of women everywhere to the betterment of the world.

In Italy, the custom of giving women a mimosa flower on Women’s Day began in 1946, the year after the Second World War ended — a tradition unique to Italy.

While it may seem insignificant today, the gesture had powerful meaning in the years following the war. Italy had been devastated by the conflict, left in ruins by the retreating Nazis who had occupied Italy since 1943 when the Allies landed in the south. It was a time when even the wealthy knew the pangs of hunger.

At the time, the beautiful mimosa — which blossoms in its rich yellow at the beginning of March — brought a glimmer of joy and hope to Italians — men and women alike.

To this day, March 8 is celebrated by the exchange of the mimosa.

From the Wikipedia entry for Women’s Day (March 8):

International Women’s Day (IWD), originally called International Working Women’s Day, is marked on March 8 every year. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements. Started as a Socialist political event, the holiday blended in the culture of many countries, primarily Eastern EuropeRussia, and the former Soviet bloc. In many regions, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day. In other regions, however, the original political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

Tuscan Farmhouse Renovation, first in a series of posts @BrunelloMaker

Today, winemaker and wine blogger Alessandro Bindocci — winemaker at Tenuta Il Poggione in Montalcino where Mazzoni Toscana Rosso is made — blogs about the winery’s restoration of Tuscan farmhouses.

In the now distant 1956, owners and founders of the Tenuta Il Poggione, the Franceschi family, constructed brand new farm houses to give work to families and farmers who were without work or a home. One of these was the “podere” called “I Cancellini”, the “little gates”. Last week we have completed the phase of its restaurant and here live two families of our workers.

Tomorrow we will post modern-day photos of the “before” and the “after” of the restauration.

—Alessandro Bindocci, Montalcino Report

Mazzoni winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci remembers the great Giulio Gambelli

From the Tenuta Il Poggione blog Montalcino Report.

A few days ago, Giulio Gambelli passed away. He was a historical figure in Tuscan enology, with a great palate and innate ability as a taster, a talent he refined over the course of many years.

A highly capable man but at the same time a paragon of modesty who believed in the potential of Tuscan wines produced using only Sangiovese. He always said that winemakers are the ones who make the wines together with the land and the vine. He was a simple taster who gave his advice to winemakers on what to do in the cellar without forcing them to denaturalize their wines.

He made his first visit to Montalcino in the early 1970s when the Consortium of Brunello di Montalcino asked him to visit all of the producers in the appellation. He drove his famous Renault 4 from winery to winery, tasted the wine from the barrel or vat, and then he would patiently and phlegmatically explain the importance of cleanliness in the cellar, precision in vinification, the importance of racking, etc. But always with the humility typical of the greats in the world of wine.

When he came to visit us at Il Poggione, we liked to have him taste from cask. After our tasting, we would head over to the Trattoria Il Pozzo where we would continue tasting wines from bottle paired with classic Tuscan dishes.

I was proud to know him and our friendship was the source of great joy. Every year, we would speak to catch up and wish each other happy holidays. But this year, season’s greetings didn’t arrive. He was in the hospital. My thoughts and wishes go out to Giulio’s family and dear ones.

Fabrizio Bindocci

Rest in peace Giulio Gambelli

We join the families at Tenuta Il Poggione and the entire world of Italian wine in mourning the loss of one of the greatest figures in Tuscan winemaking, Giulio Gambelli, who passed away this week. Alessandro Bindocci, winemaker, posted the following post today on his blog Montalcino Report.

Photo from the Lavinium.

Necrology by the Decanter Magazine.

Giulio Gambelli, one of the giants of Tuscan wine, has died at the age of 86.

Gambelli – who was known as Bicchierino (or ‘Little Glass’) – was celebrated as one of Italy’s greatest connoisseurs of Sangiovese, and recognised as a superb taster.

He was born in 1925 in Poggibonsi in Siena, and joined Enopolio de Poggibonsi, which was then one of the largest wineries in the region, at the age of 14 as a cellar hand.

At Enopolio his tasting skills came to the notice of its director, Tancredi Biondi Santi, who took him on as his assistant in the company’s laboratory, where Gambelli started a lifelong study of Sangiovese.


buone feste

Living like an Italian:

Everyday it seems that we come across another great blog devoted to “living like an Italian.”

Today, we wanted to give a shout out to one of our new favorites:

That’s author Vincent Scordo, left.

Scordo focuses on Italian food, recipes, product reviews, lifestyle/culture events, and anything having to do with the Italian life.

I’m a first generation Italian-American and the son of immigrant parents from Pellegrina (Bagnara Calabra), Calabria in southern Italy. My parents taught me how to eat well, save money, manage a home, use my hands, and, yes, live like an Italian (which means living a little bit differently than everyone else)!

After spending some time on Vincent’s site, we’re thinking about adding a new category here at Live Like an Italian: BLOG LIKE AN ITALIAN! 🙂

Check out Vincent’s excellent blog here (the recipes and food photos are to DIE FOR!)

Even in times of crisis, the beauty of Tuscany…

Even as uncertainty looms over Italy, its country’s beauty continues to inspire us.

Today, winemaker Alessandro Bindocci of Tenuta Il Poggione (where Mazzoni is produced) posted this photo of the Tuscan sunset on his blog.

In these troubled times for all Europeans, we are keeping our Italian friends in our thoughts and in our prayers.