Marsala sits with its back towards Africa, shorelined against the Mediterranean on the northwesternmost tip of Sicily.
Magical as a metaphor for a place so ancient, and a wine craft with such a long tail of lore. Yet when you visit your local wine shop, search the web, the intrigue evaporates in a flash.
You are left with an image of boatloads of sweet dreck, commoditized cooking wine, and Marsala itself at the very bottom of the list of fortified wines.
Few of the most wine enthused know that the traditional regional wine, perpetuum, is still being made. Nor that unique and delicious natural expressions of the Grillo and Zibibbo grapes are available, albeit impossible to find.
Marsala as a region, as a brand, as a wine type is truly a mess in the wine market’s eyes. But well worth brushing off and reimagining.
I did so with a visit recently. Two winemakers, Renato De Bartoli and Antonino Barraco, were at the top of my discovery list, hinting at what Marsala is really about.
Marco De Bartoli
This huge cask is in the ‘perpetuum’ room, a 200-year old cellar on the vineyard where the De Bartoli family has been growing grapes for 6 generations. Marco, the patriarch and regional wine revivalist, started the winery that holds his name in 1978, fermenting a back-to-the-past-future of truly delicious and place-unique natural wines.
In these immense casks, Grillo, the chameleon-like indigenous grape of the region, is being transformed into Vecchio Samperi, the De Bartoli family perpetuum wine. An ancient wine that predates the creation of fortified Marsala in 1796, patiently aged using the Solera method, a blending style where new vintages of Grillo are added to old, year after year, decade after decade.
Take organic Grillo grapes, add the deepening power of time, natural oxidation and concentration. Open the cellar to atmospheric humidity, an air born terroir from Sicilian winds—the Scirocco from Africa, warm and wafting from the Southeast, the Tremonton, cooling from the North
What you get is Vecchio Samperi, 17-18% alcohol, unnervingly compelling and delicately rich on the palate. A ticket to taste hundreds of years old.
Renato De Bartoli, one of Marco’s three sons is the winemaker of the Samperi vineyard. He told us tales of the wine, this place, and Grillo with unbridled exuberance, a palpable disdain for what Marsala has become in the world’s eyes and a resolute focus on recreating the best of this regions tradition for today’s market.
I liked him instantly—even more so after we spent hours feasting on local fare, tasting bottles of Vecchio Samperi equal to my age, samples of Grappoli del Grillo, back to the mid 1900s, and Bukkuram, made from the Zibibbo grape, grown on their vineyards on Island of Pantelleria.
An astounding (and very long) evening. A deep stride into De Bartoli’s Marsala–in taste, in authenticity, steeped in the old and focused on recreating something uniquely their own.
This is the infectious smile of Antonino (Nino) Barraco, natural winemaker, holding court under the Sicilian sun, pouring Grillo, serving fresh caught shrimp and sea urchins at his tiny (8,000 sq. meters) Vignammare Vineyard.
We are in Riserva di Capo Feto nature preserve, a salt marsh with a dirt road, heading due west to the ocean. At the very end, ocean smack there, the Scirocco and the Tramontana winds in full force, is the vineyard.
Not a cellar in sight, just sea, sand, salt….and Grillo grapes.
Nino comes to winemaking through his father, a grape grower, and we are drinking their first vintage of Vignammare, 100% Grillo, grown where we stand. As natural and non-interventionist as can be– organic, spontaneous fermentation with long skin macerations. Unfiltered, unclarified and no added sulphur.
This is wine born of the love of land, the taste of the sea, and a trust in nature and the winemaker. This is bottled fruit, time, place and natural intent.
Salty to the tongue, a touch of iodine in the palate, spicy somehow, ocean fresh and just a pleasing clarity of taste with distinct minerality.
Perfect with the fresh sea urchins, the hot sun, feet in the sandy loam, surrounded by friends in a foreign place. Perfect just about anywhere really.
This is the Marsala I discovered.
I fell in love (hard!) with Grillo, and these winemaker’s expressions of this grape. But I never had the chance to spend much time with Zibibbo. Or Perricone, the local red variety, especially interesting in the care of Marilena Barbera of Cantine Barbera in Menfi.
There is just something very special here that I barely tapped.
The distinctive quality of the indigenous grapes. The hot sun tempered by a deep loamy limestone soil. The sea itself as important as the bordering lands. And the crisscrossing of winds, whipping up something unique in each and every glass.
These wines are really hard to locate. Marco De Bartoli is imported into New York by Louis Dressner, but near impossible to find with the exception of a few at Chambers Street Wines. Baracco is without distribution here at the moment.
Consider asking for wines from these producers when you are in a wine friendly place. Your local shop or wine bar, or when chatting with your favorite sommelier. With some luck, someone will eventually say, ‘Yes!’, we have it.
The pleasure will be all yours. I guarantee it.
Big thanks to Regione Siciliana – Istituto Regionale Vini e Oli, in collaboration with Fermenti Digitali / Proposta who sponsored me on this trip.
For those interested in excellent posts by my fellow wine bloggers, check them out here.
What a really fun time this was!
Not quite a year in, theLocalSip is making a big step forward.
We’ve listened hard to the market, to our users and our merchant community.
With some 1500 tastings put on by 45 wine shops pouring over 2000 different wines to thousands of New Yorkers in 20 neighborhoods—we’ve learned a few things.
–>We’ve learned that there is indeed a unique relationship between how people buy wine and the experts in their local wine shops. People want to be sold to, one on one.
–>We’ve learned that the market wants a community of connections to a world infused with a passion for all things fermented and drinkable. Not a club for the elite.
–>We’ve learned that today’s community gets really excited by interesting taste, and by connections to place and people in the wines they consume. They demand knowledge of source, and expertise from those who pour and sell.
–>We’ve also learned that this community is interested not only in wine tastings at shops, but in wine dinners, flights at wine bars, workshops and seminars, and in an endless array of creative events pairing wine with food, charcuterie, music and the arts.
–>We’ve learned that winelovers embrace as one, the huge artisanal movements in spirits and craft brews, from Sake to Mead to cider.
–>We’ve learned that shops are where we buy, but restaurants, bars, and wineries are where we develop our tastes as well. Everything feeds to the retail wine shop but starts in many tasting places.
–>And mostly, we’ve confirmed that community exists at the street level where people gather together. Where they sip, taste, mingle and learn. The web, for this community, is the tool to discover where to attend and the network for sharing.
So…welcome to the new theLocalSip!
This is a platform for quality merchants to bring the most interesting tasting events to the community. For commerce to happen at the shop, and online through theLocalSip.
This is a platform for everyone who enjoys connecting with people and experts, at wine shops and restaurants, wineries and distilleries to see what’s going on. To know what is being sold, both online and off. And to benefit from special community discounts for events and wine.
Look for thelocalSip tasting glyph on shop windows, tasting tables and checkout counters. And let the merchant know that you are a member of the community!
We are really excited with our new direction–we are looking forward to your input, so do please share your thoughts.
See you at the tastings!
If you are a wine shop, bar, restaurant, winery, distillery or craft beer brewery in NYC. A PR agency, event planner, organization or festival–theLocalSip is now open for you to host and publish events!
Cross posted from theLocalsip blog.
I love the Jura.
This tucked away, off the grid wine region on the eastern border of France just touches me at my very core.
Truly delicious and unique wines that are at once both foreign and familiar. Indigenous grapes like Trousseau, Poulsard and Savagnin that call only the Jura home. Wines like Vin Jaune that make you shake your head with disbelief, and, in the hands of a few masters, nod and sigh with satisfaction.
You either love the Jura or you don’t. There are the curious who try but don’t get it. There are those that fall hard at first taste. I’m certainly one of the seriously smitten.
I don’t love Jura wine because its unusual, but because it’s wonderful. But unique and interesting it most certainly is.
The Jura is a great connector—to the culture of this place, to the traditional approaches to winemaking that have rolled on through the centuries, to unique grapes and to a taste of terroir like none other.
But more importantly to people, in a unique way that few of my other favorite wine regions do. And it has driven me to blog more about this area and a few rock star producers than any other wine region I’ve written about.
I credit my friend and Jura maven, Sophie Barrett from Chambers Street Wines who, for over three years, has been nudging me and has given me bottle after bottle, story after story to take home and try. She started me on this path. Thanks Sophie!
Friendships have blossomed over a love of this wine. With other wine shop owners, like Christy Frank at Frankly Wines, Dan Weber at Flatiron Wines, importers and distributors like Zev Rovine, Camille Riviere and Guilhaume Gerard, great wine lovers like June Winters and the ceaseless crusader for natural wine and author, Alice Feiring.
Not to mention the thousands who have read my Jura posts, friends who for three years now have celebrated the ‘Summer of Jura Reds’ on my rooftop. And to my son Asa, with whom, every year in Tulum, I crack a bottle of Tissot Trousseau, with our feet in the sand of the Mexican Caribbean.
Now enter Wink Lorch to this Jura ecosystem!
Wink, a veteran wine writer, penultimate wine educator and a great friend.
We have traveled and fallen hard together for the wines of Carso, Fulvio Bressan in Friuli and many producers in Etna. But we connect the most over the Jura. Wink is truly an expert of this area. She is the Yoda of Jura communications.
After some prodding and much cajoling, and with the support of a worldwide community of Jura wine lovers, Wink is writing ‘the’ book on the Jura—wine, food and the place itself.
As a friend this week said: “The Jura needs a book and Wink is the person to write it!”
I couldn’t agree more!
She has the support of my wine community here in New York, my blog readers. I am positive that the Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds will not only be successful, but will coalesce the worldwide community of Jura lovers around this project. The power of the web, crowdsourced funding and common passions combined!
Check out the Kickstarter project HERE!
There are a number of cool incentives to support this book on the Kickstarter page.
But honestly, support it because the world needs a book in English on this really special place, replete with unusual tastes that define the terroir like few other regions I’ve experienced.
And support it because I believe that Wink is the perfect person to write it with a rare blend of deep knowledge and honest humility.
And support it because it will bind the community together and gather in one place a treasure trove of information wrapped in an experienced storyteller’s words.
I’m sipping my second glass of Stephane Tissot’s La Mailloche 2010 from the Jura as I write this post. Chardonnay never had a more unique expression of place.
I’m convinced that those who learn about this region through this project will not only help to aggregate knowledge of the wine region and join the community of enthusiasts, but also just learn to love Jura wine.
It’s truly a gift.
There is something special going on in the New York wine community.
It has nothing to do with convention-sized festivals with VIP passes. Little to do with Grand Tastings and rows of tasting tables beyond the interest level of most consumers.
It’s happening at the neighborhood level. Grounded in retail shops and local restaurants, yet truly a community of interest across the city, bringing the most interesting and quality wines–in the most natural way–to the broadest group of consumers possible. One sip at a time.
We see this happening individually by the sheer number of tastings in the city (now 1000 in the last 6 months!) offered by the shops, importers and distributors, bringing winemakers from every part of the globe to pour for customers from Green Point in Brooklyn to Washington Heights in Manhattan. In single store festivals like the month-long WhiskeyFest. All toll, over 2000 different wines and spirits have been poured for free since August of last year at retail wine shops.
This street side festival trend is a step beyond, taking the success of tastings as both sales and celebration to a community level.
And forging a nod of cooperation across independent merchants, distributors and importers. It’s as if with visibility and transparency of supply-side availability through innovators like SevenFifty, and consumer-side visibility of tastings and online access through my own theLocalSip fledgling community, a corner is turning for the wine world as it has for so many market segments
This idea struck home to me last Fall when SherryFest 2012 took the city by storm. We tip our hats to festival organizers Rosemary Gray and Peter Liem, who not only created something new, but also understood the importance of free retail tastings. theLocalSip partnered with them, and on one Saturday in October, 27 wine shops in 20 neighborhoods, with winemakers at hand, poured Sherry to thousands of New Yorkers. Many found tastes they liked and walked out, bottles in hand.
For the last week and into this one, on a smaller scale, two festivals are happening which are breaking new ground at retail and bringing to our immensely complex city a new view of a grass roots festival. This isn’t a street fair in one place in Little Italy, it’s a celebration that is happening simultaneously in the Upper West Side, Chelsea, Flatiron, TriBeCa, the Village and throughout Brooklyn.
Two importers, Jenny & Francois Selections (a mainstay of natural wines in NY) is hosting Natural Winemakers Week, and Indie Wineries (a new boutique importer of artisanal wines) is hosting Indie Week. Together they are bringing to the New York, a celebration of natural and small production wineries from around the globe.
These are mini festivals, small in scale but powerful in quality and access.
A dozen or so shops participated, a handful of wine dinners and workshops, and really great parties. Jenny & Francois, free to all at the Ides Bar at Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. And from the guys at Indie Wineries, a tweet simply invited whoever wanted to join them and ten winemakers at 10 Bells in the LES for drinks and wine talk.
While modest in scope, this is grass roots at its best from the street level up. Over 30 winemakers are in town from across the country and all over Europe. They are pouring wine and chatting about how they make it. They are at bars and parties, meeting their fans and making new ones.
And there is a community of buyers, bloggers, shop owners, restaurateurs, sommeliers, importers, distributors and just hundreds of people who love wine, socializing, tasting, having fun, celebrating a love of wine as a connector of people and cultures…and buying lots of it from their neighborhood merchants.
This is a win for everyone.
The customers get to do what they must—taste before they buy, not in a convention center, but down the street in their neighborhood, kids and dogs in tow as they go about life, or post work on the way home. Shops are getting discovered by new wine lovers who didn’t know they were just down the street or around the corner.
And having a city-wide celebration across shops and restaurants, in many neighborhoods, percolates the buzz, lets the word spread broader and with more impact than it can possibly as a single event in one shop. It lets a wine tasted somewhere in Park Slope get shared online to a friend who can buy it or find it being tasted in Chelsea the next day.
I’m a believer that this is the start of something really interesting.
There will be many of these, cross distributor organized I bet, where we as consumers will find Saturday festivals on wines from the Jura, Savoie, Republic of Georgia, Beaujolais or the Loire Valley. Or themed around grape varieties, Alpine wineries or important to understand ideas like no sulfur wines.
All poured by experts. All poured for the consumers. Paired with restaurant menus. And everything purchasable.
I’m loving this. As a consumer. A wine blogger and enthusiast. And as a dreamer for web driven community commerce that happens neighborhood by neighborhood
A big shout out to everyone in the New York wine community who is making this happen. A big heads up to everyone across the country that all of this excitement may be happening here, but all of these wines being tasted are available online to be bought wherever you are.
Ever question that wine tasting is the perfect mix of learning, having fun and meeting new people? Check out the photos from theLocalSip community.
I’ve never written a post about food and wine pairing. Not going to start now.
But often I’m the bringer of libations, and when the gathering called for the odd combo of a pizza and sushi brunch, I pinged my wine community for some emotional support. It ended up a rapid-fire education, a veritable outpouring of favorites on a Facebook string some 50 comments long, with friends from down the block, to Finland, Sweden, Portugal, the UK…just about everywhere.
Articulate rules of thumb to be careful with the whites for fear of overwhelming the fish with too much acidity or stomping on the freshness of the pizza with too heavy tannins in the reds. A brilliant (but way over the top) lexicon of do’s and don’ts that suited each of the different types of toppings, from vegan to vegetarian to meat and tomato sauce.
A short discourse on sparkling sake as the penultimate sushi solution. A cultural reminder from my friends in Italy that they drink beer rather than wine with pizza.
And a veritable treasure trove of grapes and regions: each as the only possible solution, including Albarino, Bardolino, Chiaretto, Durello, Greco di Tufo and Vinho Verde. An articulate list of producers from Cos (his Rami white), endless great Rose´makers, Occhipinti (her Frapatto), Les Chais du Vieux Bourg Pinot Noir and even a Gannevat field blend.
Pure oenological concrete poetry to the wine enthused.
Wondrous silliness on the science of food pairing, as there may indeed be a science in here somewhere, but you are most likely to get it 95% right.
A great experiment nonetheless. I spent countless hours beyond the logic of the quest. And ended up doing what I honestly always do, which is follow my own inspiration to try something new-to-me, focus on the smallest and most natural producers I could find at the best value, and think mostly about the pleasure of the group I was pouring for.
Along with my wine network, a big thank you to my friends Ariana Rolich, Sophie Barrett and John Ritchie of Chambers Street Wines and Christy Frank of Frankly Wines for their patience and help as I made this quest a neighborhood event.
The final choices are in the picture above and the list below.
I bought twice what I needed, spent a delightful few hours pouring, talking about the wines and, at the end of it all, home made pizza (as expected) won the day. It satiated everyone’s expectation, was the takeaway memory, regardless of what was in the glass.
Francois Pinon 2009 NV Vouvray Brut (Non Dosage)
This was the first bottle opened. It vanished immediately with ahs and ‘what is this?’ remarks. Creamy palate. A bit of crusty effervescence that spoke of raw honey and really pleasing acidity. At $21, organic with no added sugar (dosage), this bottle is a new friend and permanent part of my cooler.
I’ve opened three bottles of this since. Each one a firm reminder that sparkling is indeed a daily wine to begin any meal and most every conversation with friends.
Vigneto Saetti 2011 Lambrusco Salamino di S.Croce
This is nothing like any Lambrusco I’ve ever tasted. It’s actually unbubbly. Quite delicate. Deep red, almost black in color.
Drinking this bottle just makes you happy. Happy if you are just sipping it, or grabbing a piece of pizza. Happy if you are a wine geek, sitting back amazed that this has no added sulfur, is made from organic grapes and with natural refermentation in the bottle.
Luciano Saetti and the Salamino di Sante Croce grape are on my watch to try and try again. At $17 a bottle, too amazing.
COS 2011 Sicilia IGT Frappato
I couldn’t find the Rami white recommended (still looking), ignored the plea for the Occhipinti interpretation of this grape and went with Giusto’s Frappato. A long-term favorite of mine from the very Southeast corner of Sicily. A really beautiful wine, reminiscent of fresh fruit from an orchard’s tree, faintly floral, easy on the palate.
Perfection for under $30.
Bernhard Ott Reisling 2011 Feuresbunn Wagram Riesling vom Rotem Schotter
Ott’s Gruner Veltliners are not my favorite but this Riesling is astounding. So crisp. So focused and gravelly to the taste, it’s a fingerprint of unique taste that has a structure you can visualize. I’m a convert. This bottle ended up at my side, I nursed it through the meal and took the remainder home with me at the end of the evening (manners be damned!)
Biodynamic at less than $30 a bottle.
Regnie 2010 Ducroux Beaujolais
I pulled this one from my cooler at home as I’m a long-term fan of Domain Christian Ducroux. And an unabashed lover of Gamay as the perfect daily red. This bottle is just delicious, quaffable and satisfying, with an underlying interest that lasts on the palate. As natural as wine can get, no sulfur added.
All I can say is Thank You for such a bottle being made, and offer a head nod of disbelief that this and all of his vintages cost less than $15.
Eric Texier (Vignenvie) 2011 Vin de Table L’Anecdot’hic Rose
I’m a fan of Eric Texier and chose this bottle based more on intellectual curiosity than on anything else. It’s a field blend of 26 (so it is said) different varieties. Completely natural with an adherence to Fukuoka school of no intervention agriculture.
A low alcohol Rose´, a bit too acidic for some, but fresh and light and sprightly to my taste. Impossible to find usually. Beyond organic and $17 a bottle.