Chilly Nights

With all good intentions, I wanted to post another Thirsty, and more Abruzzo Adventures, however, the weather here has changed drastically, and with that, the want to “hunker down” as it were, wrap oneself in a warm blanket and sit in front of the fireplace with a glass of something a little warmer. Gone are the days of patio whites and chilled rosés and thoughts now turn to something that will warm from the inside out!

My evening beverages have turned from white to red, and from red to fortified! I’ve been enjoying more Port and Amaro (bitter in Italian) and with the white stuff already coming down today, I know what I’ll be having later on this evening, after I’m done work.

croft-portSomething that is quite inexpensive, but also very good is LBV Port – also known as Late Bottle Vintage, it’s the more affordable Vintage Port option! This is a ruby style of port, although as opposed to Vintage Port that is bottled without filtering and meant to age in bottle, LBV is typically filtered before going into bottle, and doesn’t develop the copious amounts of sediment like vintage port. It is DEEP purple, mouthfilling and tannic. But of course, it’s sweet, because the fermentation process is stopped before all the sugars have been consumed by the yeast. But at 20% abv, how does it get there? Port is a fortified beverage, meaning a neutral grape spirit or brandy is added after fermentation to increase the alcohol content, yet the sweetness remains. It’s good for after dinner, goes well with a cigar (if you’re into that), or many stinky cheeses. In fact, one of the most famous food and wine pairings is Port and Stilton cheese. If you’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying Stilton cheese, having had Bleu cheese, just personify it and amp it up a bit, and viola…Stilton! It’s at least worth it to try the pairing, so you can say that you did!

Sitting in my cupboard just waiting for me to return home this evening is Croft 2008 LBV Port. Croft is part of the Taylor Fladgate group of companies, and as many already know, have been around for centuries! As previously stated, the colour is deep purple, and lots of black fruit flavours and aromas (think black plums and blackberries mostly) along with some smoke, cigar box, cedar, and even hints of toasted pecans and almonds. And of course, at 20% abv, it warms you all the way down. It’s meant for sipping, so do take your time and enjoy it! It sells for around $23, a nice “I can try it” price!

20160919_112304Another warming beverage is Amaro. Used by the Italians as a digestif, I’m convinced it works. I’ve become a believer in Amaro! Europeans eat late, and for us North Americans (this particular North American anyway) it plays havoc with my system. Finishing dinner at 10:30 and 11 pm at night just doesn’t work for me, and I typically go to bed with a big stomachache! But with all of these secret herbs and spices, it seems to work wonders, and I can go to bed without feeling as though I’ve eaten an entire animal, horns and all.20160919_112243

One of the most historical distillers in all of Italy is the Varnelli family, and like all amaros, the recipe is secret. The cool thing was, even though I never got to know specific amounts, I got to smell all the herbs and spices that they DO use, in their natural state. The Amaro Dell’Erborista is distilled from honey which makes it even more unique. Full of cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel,and just hints of anise, this too, warms all the way down. It also sells in a 1L bottle, which means you get a little more bang for your buck. On the shelf for $65, but this bottle will last you for a long time, and your gut just might thank you for it!

Some delicious options for you to ‘hunker down’ with and stay warm with this fall and upcoming winter! Salute!

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Abruzzo Adventure- Tiberio


Cristiana Tiberio

During this Abruzzo Adventure, of the nine wineries visited, in a town called Cugnoli, is (another) family owned winery, run by brother and sister team Cristiana and Antonio Tiberio, and one of the only wineries (of the ones visited) with wine here in Alberta.

First of all, let me just say, that I first had opportunity to taste these wines during the Italian Wine Ambassador program I took in Veneto, Italy in April. I was so impressed with these wines that after I returned, I immediately began to look and see if we had brought them in for import. Imagine my delight when I saw them in inventory but not yet available to order, but with a quick message to Cristiana herself and the Import Agency, I had an ETA! We have three of her wines in the house right now, with possible two more coming in the very near future. With all of that, along with everyone else, I was excited to see her in person and taste her wines at her place and even walk amongst the vines. What an incredible experience!


Just a sample of some of our dishes from La Bandiera


One of our courses from La Bandiera

And if that wasn’t enough, she and Antonio were gracious in taking us all out for dinner to one Michelin start restaurant La Bandiera in  Civitella Casanova, Pescara.  An incredible end to an incredible day! The food was fantastic, and I was thrilled (along with everyone else) to be able to taste the Fonte Canale – Tiberio’s small production Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Can’t wait to get THAT one on my shelf!


I love the fact that Cristiana doesn’t20160906_183542 have a LOT of wine, so the tasting itself was intimate and the wines continuing to impress, one right after the other.

2015 was a hot vintage with a hot wind. Trebbiano Abruzzese was harvested 10 days earlier than normal in order to preserve the freshness. Grapes for Fonte Canale are always harvested first because the sugars can change so fast in the grapes. She will usually use the smaller bunches that are most shaded, and closer to the main stalk (such as to the right) For 2015, it was a day before the rest of the TA grapes! By picking when they did, the acidity remained high(er) while preserving the sugars. The skins for Fonte Canale must be soft and Cristiana knows this by taste and feel. Brilliant.


Trebbiano Abruzzese

2015  Tiberio Trebbiano d’Abruzzo -this was very fresh with a beautiful nose of golden delicious apples, melons and minerality. High acidity, yet round in the mouth with balanced alcohol. Very elegant with notes of citrus fruits also on the palate. Notes of almonds will be detected with age and development.

2015 Tiberio Pecorino – sage and rosemary with green fruits, citrus and green figs. Rich 20160906_192948texture with more herbal notes and green fig on the palate. Very high, crisp acid with balanced alcohol (though high – 14%) with a long, mineral finish. There was this harmony of freshness vs. richness on this wine, and truly one of the best Pecorinos I have ever tasted, and since acid is our friend when food pairing, this would be an excellent choice with food!

We also had the chance to taste her 2006 Pecorino, which at the time, was only her 2nd vintage, with the vines being planted in 2000. The Pecorino vines on the property are some of the oldest in Abruzzo!

I’ve mentioned Cerasuolo before in previous blogs. Let’s be clear on something: these wines are NOT Rosato, nor are they Montepulciano. Yes, they are made with the Montepulciano grapes, but it is called Cerasuolo. The word means cherry, which of course is not just the colour, but major flavour of these wines. In the beginning, before global warming, the Montepulciano grapes had difficulty ripening in mountainous areas (that is certainly not the case now) which allowed them to justify vinifying the grapes to a lighter colour. Now, it’s tradition to make Cerasuolo in Abruzzo and most producers have one! For Tiberio, there is a specific site for the Montepulciano grapes used to make Cerasuolo. These grapes are harvested 2 weeks earlier for optimum freshness. It is then made like a white wine. Short maceration time on the skins for colour, then extraction of the juice only for fermentation.

2015 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo– Loved this wine!  Lots of wild cherry, strawberry and raspberry, just bursting with red fruit on the nose! Great tart cranberry and high acidity on the palate with just a hint of tannins and slight glycerol.


Montepulciano grapes on Tiberio property

2014 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – really, one of the finest Montepulciano’s I have tasted. Served in a large bowled glass to enhance the aromas, it had a beautiful nose of cherry, red plum and blood orange with just a hint of cinnamon and sage. Very soft on the palate with cherry, cinnamon, sage, rosemary and smoke. Slight minerality with medium acidity, medium alcohol and medium soft tannins. A nice bright finish! Cristiana only uses stainless steel on the Montepulciano, and is considering barrique for future vintages. Personally, I like the fresher versions of Montepulciano, as it serves to show us the grape itself, rather than have it hide behind a lot of oak usage.

What a fantastic experience to be there, walk amongst the vines, with harvest on the horizon (Pecorino was already being crushed), taste the impeccable wines, then have dinner as a group and be hosted by Cristiana and Antonio! Bravo, and thank you!

If you haven’t had a chance to taste wine from Tiberio, and you are in the Edmonton area, come on by Hicks Fine Wines and pick up a bottle or two! You’ll be glad you did. Salute!

Tiberio website


With the Queen of Abruzzese herself ~ Cristiana Tiberio!


A VERY big winery dog! Quirmire – an Abruzzo variety, similar to the Pyrenees Mountain dog! He was very gentle despite his size!

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Thirsty Thirty-Something Thursday #27 – Argentina

For those that know me well, will know I’m not a big fan of Malbec. At all. A big part of it has to do with what was the rising trend of this grape and it being everywhere. (This trend seems to be slowing down somewhat.) Like literally on every wine list around and on everyone’s mind when they came to buy a wine, it’s always Malbec. I try to steer folks to Cahors and French Malbec, but most stick with Argentina. I’ll say one thing: the Argentinians grabbed hold of the trend and gave themselves a serious boost in the international wine market with this grape. Good for them. There are some Malbec blends out there that are fabulous~where Malbec might have the most percentage in the bottle, but other grapes are added for complexity, additional structure and even ageabilty. Or maybe because French winemakers are involved?!🙂

cuvelierToday’s wine is the Cuvelier Los Andes Colección. A blend of 58% Malbec, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 8% Syrah and 4% Merlot. A little cornucopia of grapes allowing them to add different things to the mix. I like that about blends and trying to figure out what other grapes might be involved as they certainly bring their little personalities into the mix. Petit Verdot for a little tannic backbone, Syrah for that aromatic lift, Cab Sauv for flavour and structure, and Merlot for softness. It works!

And yes, French winemakers are involved! Cuvelier is a French family that owns Châteaux in Bordeaux,including Château Léoville-Poyferré and Château Le Crock since 1903. Bertrand and Jean-Guy Cuvelier purchased land right below the Andes Cordillera and planted a vineyard. All grapes are picked by hand, and a certain famous wine consultant by the name of Michel Rolland gave them advice in the winery to come up with this fabulous wine. What’s cool about this area is that it has that great diurnal range – the grapes have lots of sunshine and warmth during the day, but it cools off substantially at night (due to their proximity to the Andes) to keep the grapes from ripening too fast and keeping the acidity high in the grapes. It’s a great little microclimate for growing grapes and this is a wine that I’d be happy to drink, to serve and have served! It’s very plush, with huge mouth feel (it DOES have 15% abv) with dark fruits of plum, mulberry and blackberry, along with some spice notes of clove and pepper. Great acid structure and well balanced (even with that high alcohol) this is an extremely delicious, well made Argentinian wine! Salud!

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Abruzzo Adventure – Emidio Pepe


The vineyards of Emidio Pepe, Turano Nuovo, Abruzzo

What a a privilege it was to start our adventure in Abruzzo with a winery that specializes in “natural winemaking”. What does this mean exactly? A family owned and operated estate that uses only their own fruit, no chemical sprays in the vineyard, only natural yeasts (whatever is in the air and on the grapes – yeast is all around us), no oak treatments whatsoever, and next to no sulphites. (If they are added, it’s done after fermentation and only up to 40 mg/L; very little)  In fact, no fining or filtering is done on the wines before bottling, and when an order comes for product, the winery always gives a timeline of 2 weeks to fill…because “Nonna” decants everything by hand, before labeling and boxing for shipping!  Now that’s some serious natural winemaking – in ALL areas!


Only a small part of the wine cellar of Emidio Pepe

20160905_124443Emidio Pepe learned to make wine from his father, who learned from his…very typical for Italians to learn the art of making wine at a young age. These are the men (& women) with no formal training, just generations of it being taught from one to the next. Sofia, Emidio’s daughter, spent 10 years watching her father make wine, before she was given the green light to make it herself. Wow…that’s dedication!

Chiara, granddaughter to Emidio Pepe and our expert tour guide, was there to give us the goods on the estate. Cantine Pepe has 15 ha, with 70% Montepulciano, 30% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and a small amount of  Pecorino, (which amounts to 6000 bottles) and a total production of 80K bottles per year. The vineyard is completely organic, and since 2006, biodynamic. All the fruit picked for harvest is done by the family members only. There is no sorting table at the winery, because the family will only pick the best clusters in the vineyard. And because they are the best, there’s no need for further sorting. The white grapes are crushed, or rather stomped, with those participating, wearing their rubber boots (7 straight days of foot crush) and getting on in to break down the fruit! The white grape harvest is already in progress!


the concrete fermenters


where the red crush occurs

The red grapes are placed in a big tray with a screen, with one person at either end of the tray, pushing the grapes back and forth to crush. The juice, skins and seeds fall to the large barrel below, while the stems are left behind on top. The must is then transferred to the concrete tanks lined with glass, bucket by bucket to begin the (spontaneous) fermentation process. Concrete tanks (the preferred vessel at this winery) are lined with glass – a neutral vessel with steady temps from the concrete and glass to keep oxygen out.  During fermentation, there are around 100 strains of natural yeasts working for 35 days. This is where much of the flavour profile and complexities come from for these wines. It’s completely mindblowing that nothing is added or taken away, it’s just the grapes- as it should be. Chiara quoted her grandfather many times during our tour, and I loved all the wisdom he was instilling in his family members. One of the things she quoted (that came from her grandfather) was this: “We are not powerful enough to change nature – we need to use what nature gives us. Wine speaks to us like a book and we must listen to what it says.”  If the grapes aren’t the quality they expect, no wine is made that vintage. Since the first bottling of 1964, there have only been nine vintages where wine has not been made. Originally called Aurora 20160905_122704which means “beginning”, but because everyone referred to the wine as “Pepe’s wine”, the name was officially changed. Again, like many of the wineries we visited, they export only to eastern Canada. A serious shame, as these wines were stunning! We were served a lovely selection of wines of all varietals with different years for comparison.

20160905_1350562013 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – an elegant nose of fresh green fruit, green figs, citrus peel and fresh dairy and nuts. Lovely high acidity made this wine easy to drink and very 20160905_130545appealing. A balanced season weather wise, made this wine 12.5% abv.

2007 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – as with age, the wine was darker in colour with more baked fruit on the nose and palate. Amber, hay and sunflower on the nose with candied aromas and sponge toffee. Great high acidity, but with a round, soft mouthfeel. Again, at 12.5% abv, 2007 was characterized by warmer weather, which might be the reason for a rounder, fuller and fatter wine.

20160905_1323492004 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – some light tannins on this wine and although no oak, I certainly got many aromas of such with lots of popcorn, kernel and hay notes. Herbaceous on the palate with baking spices, it had a dense mouth feel, but again with balanced acidity and alcohol. This and the 2002 were rainy and cool seasons, and according to Chiara, for the white wines, the cooler seasons produced better than warmer seasons!

2002 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – seriously my favourite white.20160905_132630 Simply outstanding with bright floral, lemon zest and baked pear on the nose with smoky minerality, hay, candied and sponge toffee on the palate. Super complex and interesting. High acidity with a great texture and mouthfeel. Also from a cooler vintage, this wine has years of ageing ahead of it!

20160905_1411282014 Pecorino – a bright, floral, herbaceous, lemony highly aromatic wine. Tangy acidity with almonds and lemon basil on the palate with amazing texture. An expression of Pecorino I’ve never had before.

And then came the reds with some of their best vintages:  20020160905_1125337 & 2001

2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – a nose of balsamic, tomato leaf, mushrooms and forest floor along with red fruit of red currants and cherries on the palate with hints of smoke, balsamic and balanced tannins and acid.

2001 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – very savoury with tomato leaf and basil along with saddle leather. More savoury herbs and balsamic on the palate with very strong tannins, high acid and a long finish!

Perhaps it was the scenery, the beautiful winery, the company I was with that made these wines amazing…maybe so, but my palate doesn’t lie. And as we were leaving, there was “grandfather”, Emedio Pepe himself, standing by the family table, waiting patiently for us to leave so he could sit down for pranzo with his entire family. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Salute!



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Thirsty Thirty-Something Thursday #26- Beaujolais

After a few weeks hiatus, since I was in Italy, then back in full force to fall scheduling at the store, Thirsty is back this week with something other than Italy! (I’m trying really hard to think outside my Italian box!)

Beaujolais is often misinterpreted, and certainly misunderstood. ‘Tis the season for Beaujolais Nouveau pre-orders, and everyone wants to get on the bandwagon to get them on the shelf and into the consumers hands! Let me explain: The third Thursday of November is the infamous release of Beaujolais Nouveau. The harvest has been completed, and a quick (Carbonic maceration) fermentation and bottling leads to a light coloured, fruity, bubblegum, kirsch concoction known as Beaujolais Nouveau. Not meant for ageing, and earlier than early consumption. Analysis: drink immediately upon purchasing! These wines can be fun, and certainly appealing to many consumers.

But Beaujolais is more than this. It can be very serious, but sometimes that seriousness gets lost amongst the Nouveau crowd. There are nine crus in Beaujolais, all of them offering slightly different soil compositions, microclimates and terroir. What remains the same is the grape variety: Gamay. Of those nine crus, three of them are bigger and more powerful, and certainly have the ability to age. Fermentation is done with the more traditional crush as opposed to carbonic maceration.

Let me give you the Cole’s notes version on carbonic maceration: It is a whole berry fermentation. The grapes are placed in a big vat, and the resulting weight of the berries causes the ones on the bottom to be more broken and crushed, starting the fermentaion process as we know it (yeast combining with the sugars to create alcohol and carbon dioxide) but the ones on the top remain as whole berries. When the fermentation process begins, a carbon dioxide rich environment is created, and rising to the top, the whole berries are bathed in the C02, causing fermentation to occur on an intracellular level, fermentation taking place inside each single, still intact berry…literally, from the inside out. The resulting wines are much lighter in colour and lower in tannic structure, since there is minimal skin contact.

fleurieSo while many Beaujolais are known for the above, the following three crus (of nine) will be the antithesis of the fruity, bubblegum, fuschia pink Nouveaus – Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-A-Vent. Today’s wine is a Fleurie from Lucien Lardy, the founder of the Terroir Originels Group, a community of vintners who farm independently, yet they all share the same vision to conserve the heritage of Beaujolais, and to respect the individual terroir of each cru.

Contrary to popular belief, this wine can age. I’m not one for Beaujolais, but I really like this and unlike the Nouveau, this wine is purple, deep, dark and brooding with red fruits of raspberry, red and black cherry on the nose, with undercurrents of spices. A slight earthiness on the palate along with more black fruit and baking spices. The tannins are quite soft due to the ageing in (neutral) oak for 12 months. A very balanced wine, with light alcohol and that great acid structure for ageing! According to Mr Lardy himself, this wine can age for 10 years or more! Enjoy with the traditional bean cassoulet, mushroom dishes, even pork or beef dishes. On the shelf for $30.95! Santé!

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