Veronika Goes To Vinitaly USA

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Franciacorta Master Class, Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.

Position four table eight, Annette sat down, I greeted her, she smiled at me. Her presence in the room a refreshing change to the usual doldrums of an otherwise non-eventful night. Per Annette’s request, I opened a bottle of Tomasella Osè, their demi-sec sparkling rosato made from a concentrated blend of Refosco and Verduzzo. Bottle service afforded me even more time for conversation and inquiry, and by the end of the night I knew that I had found a friend in Annette. I could feel it in my toes, dear God how I love the Europeans. The following day, Annette came back to the restaurant to taste buyers on Tomasella Cabernet Franc, Friulano, and Chinomoro, a digestive wine made from barrel aged Merlot and herbs. Asking that I please keep in touch, Annette handed me her business card. I gave my word, we said our farewells, and I wished her the safest of travels.

“If I were a grape, I would be Grüner Veltliner”
      – Annette Lizotte, Export Manager for Tenute Tomasella

January 31, 2014: The Front Range was hit by a blizzard of nearly epic proportion, dumping upwards of thirty inches snowfall in the high country. My flight departed from Denver the following morning remarkably on schedule, I connected to a puddle jumper in DC, and from there we took off just before sunset. Gazing through the airplane’s oval shaped window, I saw day fade into night over the Atlantic coast. The sky settled black, and thousands of tiny lights flowed beneath us like a river. Suddenly, there it was: Brooklyn, Williamsburg, the Queensboro Bridge, Midtown Manhattan, the George Washington. I couldn’t believe it, I was back, hello New York City.

Annette Lizotte looking over Columbus Circle. The Mandarin Oriental Lobby Lounge, NYC 2014. Photo by V. Sprinkel
Annette Lizotte looking over Columbus Circle. The Mandarin Oriental Lobby Lounge, NYC 2014. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.

The following morning, I woke up to a clear and unusually temperate day. Cutting through Tompkins Square Park, I paused a few moments for requisite dog run spectating. Walking up 1st to 14th, I made my way to Times square, where Annette and I had planned to meet. I found her on 7th avenue in the midst of a phone call, and as I approached, Annette reached out with her one free hand to touch the side of my face. We went for brunch, then afterwards tea at the Mandarin Oriental. Sipping through pots of Orange Pekoe and Jasmine Pearl, Annette and I traded stories in meticulous detail. We then cut through Central Park, en route to her East Side accommodation, where we were met by Venetian based husband and wife sommelier duo Paolo and Dana Rubsam Penso. Born and raised on the island of Giudecca, Paolo met Long Island native Dana at a discotheque in Venice. In time, the two were married, and together earned their sommelier certificates. Since then, Dana and Paolo have worked for the Brunello Consorzio, founded a wine blog, given birth to a baby girl, and are now creating a series of craft beers called Redentor. Paolo’s inaugural Pilsner is out now, Skia, named for the yellow-grey shrimp in the Venetian Lagoon. Upcoming Redentor releases include a stout called Sepa, and an amber ale, Moleca, named after the local red soft-shelled crab. On the subject of wine, both have plenty to say. For one thing, neither believe in blind tasting, decanting, or swirling before sniffing. 

“I want to smell the first impression right away, you have to respect the wine as it was in the bottle for such a long time. When you swirl you break the molecules of the perfume, It’s like when somebody wakes you up in the morning, and they start to shake you before talking. I’m against the Decanter for the same reason, I want to keep the house a wine was built in.”
     – Paolo Penso, Sommelier and Creator of Redentor craft beers

Quentin Paillard and friends at #winelover dinner, NYC 2014. Photo by V. Sprinkel
Quentin Paillard and friends at #winelover dinner, NYC 2014. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.

A few hours passed, Annette, Dana, Paolo and I caught a cab downtown for the highly anticipated #winelover dinner at L’Apicio. This international community of social media employing wine professionals hosts BYOB hangouts all over the world. Among us that night were Vinitaly International Managing Director Stevie Kim with Vinitaly International Academy Director Ian D’Agata. Champagne producer Quentin Paillard, and Barolo producer Federico Scarzello were also in attendance. Among the many bottles opened that night, Quentin generously shared his family’s Millèsime Grand Cru Brut 2004. 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay, a soft voluptuous mousse introduces mineral driven notes of poached pear, ripe apricot nectar, warm brioche and white flowers, lovely. Federico shared a few treasures as well; Scarzello Barolo, and Erpacrife, his méthode champenoise Nebbiolo. Produced in collaboration with friends Erik, Paolo, and Cristian, Erpacrife unites the first syllables of their first four names. I’d never seen anything like it before; classic Nebbiolo characteristic combined with the texture and delicacy of Champagne. A seriously thrilling glass, I liked it a lot. Born and raised in Barolo, Federico earned his viticulture and enology degrees at the University of Turin. Federico then went to work for his family’s winery.

Scarzello Erpacrife, Méthode Champenoise Nebbiolo. Photo by V. Sprinkel
Scarzello Erpacrife, méthode champenoise Nebbiolo. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.

Located smack dab in the heart of the Piedmont’s Langhe region, Scarzello Giorgio e Figli date back to the 1940’s, when Federico’s grandfather Federico began making wine with his brother Joseph for a country tavern run by grandmother Marcella. Today, Scarzello Giorgio e Figli, produce Langhe Nebbiolo, Barolo and Barbera d’Alba Superiore, all imported to an international market.

My favorite wines are good ones, those from which you do not tire, those that leave memories, wines that I drink with my real friends.”
     – Federico Scarzello, Winemaker

Franciacorta master class, Vinitaly USA, NYC 2014. Photo by V.Sprinkel
Franciacorta master class, Vinitaly USA, NYC 2014. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.

Monday morning had finally arrived, I met Annette for a quick breakfast at a nearby Chelsea diner, we then set off to VinItaly USA. Once inside, we went upstairs and caught the very end of Ian’s Cannubi talk. Annette had signed us both up for his following class covering Franciacorta, after which we went back downstairs, grabbed tasting glasses, and said hello to a few of Annette’s Friulian colleagues at Ca’ Ronesca.

Ca' Ronesca Marnà Bianco 2001. Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo by V. Sprinkel
Ca’ Ronesca 2001 Marna Bianco. Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.

Enologist Franco Dalla Rosa and Sales Manager Serena Fedel took us through their lineup, the 2001 Marna bianco an obvious standout. 60% Malvasia Istriana, 40% Pinot Bianco, a great example of authentic Collio style while retaining it’s own distinct personality. Marna is both the name of the wine, and the soil from which it came, a terroir rich in sand, clay and stone, with origins dating back some fifty-six million years. Sharing the table with Ca’ Ronesca, Martina Tomasig of Castelvecchio. Whites again dominated, Pino Grigio, Sauvignon, Malvasia and Traminer, Cabernet Franc showed as well. Castelvecchio keeps vineyards in Carso DOC, the southeastern corner of Friuli, a region bordering the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia known for its rocky terroir.

Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot 2010. Vinitaly 2014. Photo by V.Sprinkel
Avignonesi 2010 Desiderio Merlot. Vinitaly 2014. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.

Annette and I moved on to chat with Giuseppe Santarelli, North American Sales Manager for Avignonesi, a biodynamic producer in Montepulciano. Highlighting the individual terroirs of Avignonesi’s ten Tuscan vineyards (eight in Vino Nobile DOCG, two in Cortona DOC), Avignonesi owner Virginie Saverys works tirelessly to maximize the quality of these sites. I had the pleasure of tasting the 2011 “Il Marzocco” Chardonnay, and 2010 “Desiderio” Merlot, named after Avignonesi’s prized 19th century bull. Within each, I found a balanced mixture of power, elegance, structure and finesse. These are sophisticated wines which remain approachable and welcoming, sort of like a dinner party with friends in a beautiful home. In a word, these wines are delicious.

Andrea Greifenberger (R), Paolo Penso (M), and Danilo Nada (R). Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo by V.Sprinkel
Andrea Greifenberger (R), Paolo Penso (M), and Danilo Nada (R). Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.

I had lost Annette, and was therefore forced to fend for myself. Around that time, I met a man with a perfectly manicured mustache, dressed in a tweed blazer and bright red Wellies. He introduced himself as Thomas Crowley, Wine Director at Bar Veloce in New York. While Thomas and I were chatting, Dana and Paolo walked by with New York based sommelier Andrea Greifenberger, who also happens to be Dana’s cousin. Together we tasted our way through Piedmonte, stopping to speak with Danilo Nada. Dana and I then traveled on to the world of Montefalco, where we met Giampaolo Tabarrini, a self-described egocentric intolerant perfectionist.

Giampaolo Tabarrini (L), Dana Rubsam Penso (R). Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo by V. Sprinkel
Giampaolo Tabarrini (L), Dana Rubsam Penso (R). Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo credit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink. 

Giampaolo lead us through three very different expressions of his 2009 vintage Sagrantino di Montefalco, each showcasing different vineyard sites and vinification methods. This was yet another first, tasting one of  the world’s most tannic varieties, I’m not going to lie I was a little bit scared. As it turns out, there was absolutely nothing to fear, Giampaolo’s wines are well crafted, big, dark, inky, masculine, lacking in any suggestion of gratuitous flash or a “more is more” sensibility. I am happy to know these wines, I am happy to know Giampaolo. For my final taste of the day, I visited Calabrian producer Caparra & Siciliani, and their Mastrogiurato Rosso made from Gaglioppo, a cousin of Sangiovese. It showed similar notes; bright red cherry, tomato paste and marjoram, with the addition of black olive floating around on the finish.

Medaits founders Riccardo Siviero (R), and Fabio Pulcini (L), visit with friends. Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo credit Medatis
Mediaits founders Riccardo Siviero (R), and Fabio Pulcini (L), visit with friends. Vinitaly USA 2014. Photo courtesy of Mediatis.

With my palette shot beyond repair and two terribly achey feet, all really I wanted at that point was a cup of hot black coffee. After braving the coat check queue, Annette and I stepped outside into the cold wet February night. Pausing to chat with Mediatis founders Riccardo Siviero and Fabio Pulcini, Annette invited them to join us at a nearby café, they accpeted. As Mediatis, Riccardo and Fabio promote small, lesser-known producers, thirteen in Italy, one in South Africa, one in Austria, and one in Georgia. Many of these wineries owned and operated by women. This includes former Bolshoi Ballet principal, Nina Ananiashvili, whose Wine Art estate is devoted to preserving ancient Georgian viticultural tradition and indigenous varieties. Nina’s wines are made just as her Georgian ancestors did some five thousand years ago, in large terracotta jars called amphorae.

“What brings me to the selection of a wine, what ties me to it is the transmission of emotion. A wine must relocate us to the area of origin; only through direct contact with the people, their terroir and their culture, is it possible to convey this emotion.“
      – Riccardo Siviero, Mediatis

We grabbed a corner table at the corner coffee shop, our paper cups filled with glorious, hot liquid caffeine. Once seated, I tried my very best to keep up with conversation; Riccardo, Annette and Fabio were all unnecessarily patient with me. Closing time arrived in no uncertain terms, we packed up our belongings, exchanged hugs and contact info, then disappeared into the night. Annette and I hopped a cab to Porsena in the East Village, where Peter, my friend of eighteen years had made reservations. Although I’d been sleeping on Peter’s couch for several days, I hadn’t seen him yet, he’d been staying with a “friend” in Brooklyn over the weekend. Annette and I sat at the bar, promptly ordering two glasses of sparkling Loire Valley rosé. Peter arrived, excitement settled, introductions were made, and I realized that loved ones are the unsung secret to a perfect recipe. A drink, a meal, a moment, can be only as enjoyable as the company we keep. Incredible wine plus terrible conversation equals a big old “no thank you” in my book. So there we were, closing down Porsena, the day had come to an end. Peter and I put Annette in a cab, and walked back to his place on 7th and C. A feeling of ease washed over, as I realized that New York and I were no longer at odds. It had been a very good day, all was right within the walls of my tiny little kingdom.

Now then, let us raise our glasses high, to old friends and new, to delicious, compelling, unforgettable moments shared between those who are themselves, greater than the sum of the wine we drink. Mille grazie amici cari, civediamo presto. Baci e abbracci, Xo Veronika.

Annette Lizotte at Porsena. NYC 2014. Photo by V. Sprinkel
Annette Lizotte at Porsena. NYC 2014. Photocredit: Veronika Sprinkel Ink.
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