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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Abruzzo Adventure – Praesidium


The view from Prezza, on the way to Praesidium

Way up in the hills of Abruzzo, lies the picturesque little town of Prezza, and home to Praesidium wines. The name means fortress, and it’s a small family owned winery, founded by Enzo and Lucia Pasquale, with the second generation of sister and brother, Antonia and Ottaviano, taking care of much of it now.20160906_160451

20160906_165514It really is a one grape winery…Montepulciano reigns supreme here with only 6 ha of grapes planted with 55-60 year old vines on a clay/limestone soil mixture. The Pasquales are now trying their hand at Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and our group had the chance to taste the 2015 vintage still in tank. Although many in Prezza make wine for their own consumption, the Pasquale’s are one of two producers selling their wine, and they have exports to several countries including eastern Canada. Perhaps one day soon, we’ll see the wines here in Alberta, because they really are well made and certainly created with quality in mind.

20160906_15282620160906_155732To get to the winery, we had to park at the bottom of the hill, then climb up the winding road, up a set of stairs and around a few more bends to get to Praesidium. The cellars, dug into the rock, sit at 600M while the vineyards are on a flatter plateau of 400M. Before World War 2, there were many vineyards on higher elevations, but abandoned after the war as the flatter, lower elevations were easier to cultivate. The first vintage for Praesidium was 1988; prior to that, the wine was sold in the large demijohns, but the decision was made to bottle and sell for the ’88 vintage and beyond. A brilliant idea indeed!

A common thread for many producers in this area is the climate change. A notable increase of warm weather from vintage to vintage (of course with some exceptions, but the trend started around 1996) means earlier harvests, and darker, richer, more extracted wines. This was especially prevalent in the Cerasuolo vintage of 2015.

2015 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo – with the hot weather of 2015, the Cerasuolo only needed 1 hour on the skins (typically it’s 2-4 hours on the skins, and the saignée method is used, with the resulting must used to make the Montepulciano Riserva). The final wine was a very dark wine, darker than what might be typical for a Cerasuolo. These are interesting wines: not rosé but cerasuolo, which means cherry, for the aromas and flavours certainly include a wild cherry/sour cherry component.  This wine was beautiful with bright acid and along with wild cherries, fresh raspberries and cranberries. Very dry, and although the abv sits at 14.5%, it was integrated very well, and not at all hot. Bravo!

20160906_1552592015 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva  – tasted from the large Slavonian oak barrels, this wine was very deep PURPLE, again due to the warm 2015 harvest; only 10 days on the skins was needed to achieve this extremely dark colour. A young, tight nose, this certainly had that Montepulciano funk, but lots of cherry, chokecherry juice, plums and licorice. Tight tannins, and the alcohol will be 14.5%, this wine will need time to open up, but the potential of this wine will be outstanding.20160906_164625

2013 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva – also tasted from barrel, this was a cooler vintage, characterized with much rain and cooler weather. This was certainly not as purple as the 2015 vintage, and had more herbal notes of sage, with cherry on the palate and tart acid, chalky tannins ,although they were balanced well with the alcohol (which is 13.5%) .

2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva – when this wine was tasted, the Pasquale’s were set to bottle the following week, so with this post, it is very possible that this is either finished or in progress. Very refined with cinnamon spice, earth, mushrooms, and smoke. Smooth tannins, but with a grip, along with tart acids. It will be great to see how this wine develops!

20160906_1656532011 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva – this is current vintage in bottle that is being sold. I’m slightly embarrassed to be saying this, but for the life of me, I cannot remember tasting it, and I have no notes indicating that we did! I apparently had the sense to take a photo of current releases of both the red (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo) and the Rosato (not called Cerasuolo here but Rosato Terre Aquilane)

All this to say…the Pasquale’s have a great thing going, and the quality of their wines cannot be disputed. They want honest opinions on their wines, strive to do better, and continue to make a product worthy of not only Abruzzo, but of Prezza also. I sincerely hope to return to this beautiful town and the Praesidium winery one day soon!  Salute!



Prezza – this town ought to be painted. So pretty. I’m in awe…





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Le Marche: Just the Facts (for now)

One of the lesser known wine regions of Italy, but certainly one of the most beautiful, being in the Marche was like a little slice of paradise. Lucky me, I got to be there and take part in some pretty incredible tastings! Over 90 wines in 3 days, and most of them Verdicchio!


A glass of sparkling Verdicchio against a backdrop of the beautiful Adriatic at sunset in Portonova

The Collisioni Festival was responsible for bringing about 30 sommeliers, journalists, importers and other experts to the Marche for the weekend of September 2-5 to take part in their Collisioni Progetto Vino – on the Road. Not only was there wine tasting(s), we got to see  both the towns of Jesi and Matelica, the major wine producing areas of the region, as well as other local attraction. The wine producing regions have been compared to a 20160902_170616marathon as opposed to a sprint. They didn’t get to where they are today quickly: it took time to become established as an important wine region. Notice the name Le Marche, or on a map; Marches. It is the only plural region of Italy, named so because it is a series of areas highly invested in agriculture. Something I didn’t know before this trip, and probably many others did not either. And here are a couple of other things I learned:

  • The highest number of native grapes of any other region lives here. People have remained faithful to their plots of land and didn’t plant Chardonnay or any other international variety, despite earning less money for native grapes
  • Like Burgundy, it is very fractured. Lots of small plots of land20160903_130014
  • 35% of Marche wine is exported, of which 70% of that is Verdicchio
  • 400K Euros was invested in the Marche region in 2009
  • New plantings account for 3.5% every year, which translates to continued success for the Marche
  • There are 4 DOCG’s (Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Reserva, Conero Riserva, Verdicchio di Matelica Reserva, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona)
  • 12 DOC’s in the Marche (Bianchello del Metauro, Colli Maceratesi, Colli Pesaresi, Esino, I terreni di Sanseverino, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, Pergola, Rosso Conero, San Ginesio, Serrapetrona, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Verdicchio di Matelica)
  • Cooperatives are important, but decreasing here. Now, it is moreso about small family run producers. The “big boys” and “little guys” work together
  • Cost of labour is expensive here so the region is looking at new systems and updates for mechanization to cut costs
  • There are 2000 ha total under vine, with more money being invested into the region in 2016. The future of the Marche looks bright indeed20160903_174640




Fresh foods, culture, history, architecture, agriculture, wine, seaside, craggy bluffs and crazy caves; this region has a little bit of everything, and I barely scratched the surface of this amazing place!


The walls of Jesi


Castelli di Jesi – Castles of Jesi – another part of the walled city


Teatro Pergolesi of Jesi, in 1968 received the recognition of “Theatre of Tradition”, the first in the Marche region and the only one Italy NOT located in a capital town, it is known for its perfect acoustics.


“The Bride’s Veil” – a curtain formation in the Grotte di Frassasi (Frassasi Caves) in Genga of the Marche – a 30 km long underground of stalactites and stalagmites. Holding steady at 14C, this is a fascinating attraction not to be missed

Lots to see and do in the Marche! The wine is fantastic, but the sights are too! Stay tuned for more! Salute!


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Marche Experience and Abruzzo Adventure

“Sometimes life deals you a hand you can’t refuse”…I have a friend who is a regular customer here in the store who says this constantly, and it’s true. When opportunities come your way, you have to grab them and hang on tight!

I returned very early Friday morning from the Marche and Abruzzo regions of Italy. I was invited to participate in the Collisioni Progetto Vino in the Marche and a (somewhat) private tour of Abruzzo after that. Located on the east side of the boot on the Adriatic sea, I had the privilege to taste many expressions of Verdicchio in the Marche, along with Rosso Conero, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and other autochthonous varieties. That was followed up with a visit of 9 wineries in the Abruzzo region tasting Pecorino, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. What an amazing experience! I have a plethora of information and I hope to get much of it down “on paper” as I possibly can.

While Marche is full of quality wines and producers, Abruzzo is much more sporadic. Lots of bulk wine and mass producers of Montepulciano. There are however, hidden gems in Abruzzo, and I was able to visit some of these as organized by Italian grape guru, Ian D’Agata. What an awesome experience, which I shared with 8 others. Over the next few weeks, I hope to give you a glimpse into both the Marche and Abruzzo. Not just the wine, but the landscape also, and introduce you to some of the producers as well!  Stay tuned and Cin Cin!


The crew with the Valentini family, Loreto Aprutino, Abruzzo

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