Well, here I am again ... in 'lockdown' for my birthday. OK so maybe that's not what we're calling it this time, but it's not a lot different to May 2020.
So what's the plan?
Yep, you guessed it - have some great wine at home to celebrate being another year older (and wiser?).
Keep reading for stories about my favourite wines ...
As anyone who came to my wine tastings will know, I'm a big fan of all Pojer & Sandri wines (and their moustaches)! They represent so many of the best things about artisan wines - they respect traditions while pushing ahead with innovations; they promote endemic grapes alongside international vines that suit their local terroir; their wines are different every vintage as they reflect the specific weather of the growing season and harvest; they believe in minimal intervention to allow the wines to speak for themselves.
In fact, their wines were the first time I fully appreciated how and why vintage variation can be a wonderful element of wine. I still remember their 2008 Burgundian style Pinot, Rodel Pianezzi, and the difference with the 2009 - not better but different. As an IGT wine (rather than DOC/G) the winemakers enjoy the flexibility of adapting to what each harvest gives them and making a wine that reflects that year's specific story.
It's also been a privilege to get the 'inside scoop' over the years on exciting new products - from their once secretive Zero Infinito (col fondo, pet nat, from rare PiWi grape Solaris) first released in 2014, to their new offering for 2021 that arrives next month (a late harvest wine that undergoes Georgia-influenced long skin maceration in a non-oxidative environment and then a Spanish/Sicilian-inspired solera system with further ageing in old brandy barrels). And this bottle pictured here is another fantastic example ...
Back in 2014 I asked Federico Sandri (son of Fiorentino Sandri) about their metodo classico Brut Rose and wondered if they felt a 100% Pinot Meunier could also work in the Dolomite soils. There were a few hints over the next few years, rumours and winks, then around comes 2020 and the first release of this very limited-production (2,500 bottles) extra brut 'rose de noirs' from Meunier, the 'miller' grape!
ROSE DE NOIRS
Sticking with pink bubbles, the more traditional Rose De Noirs (Pinot Noir) by Ridgeview is a richer wine compared to the light and refreshing Molinar. It's gorgeous with richer dishes too, like sashimi or even dim sum and duck! As well as being a tasty drop, this wine (and winery) represent another important element of the Once Upon A Vine story...
2020 was a tough year for expanding our portfolio of wines, given the importance we place on always knowing our winemakers personally. We obviously couldn't travel to the vineyards, so we weren't sure we could add any new wineries at all. But back in 2018, when home visiting family in the UK, Chris and I had been to the Ridgeview estate in Sussex and spent time with the team. We fell in love with their wines and were inspired by their dedication to promoting the potential of English wine.
Finally adding their delicious sparkling collection to our website in late 2020 was like connecting with a little piece of home (their vineyard is a 30 mins drive from where we both grew up) and every time I pop the cork I feel a little closer to home, in these strange non-travel times! :)
VITOVSKA Selezione 2010
In terms of lessons learnt, a key 'lightbulb' moment for me came when I tasted the wines of Edi Kante. There's a very fresh minerality in his wines ... a clean yet quietly intense character ... a tightness in younger wines that develops as they age to open into incredibility complexity. But why?
Looking at the soil in Edi's vineyards, packed with bright white rocks, I understood the significance of the idea that "vines benefit from struggling". As the vines send their root system down deep, often more than 20m, in search of water and nutrients, they struggle to survive. This results in powerful fruit, 'survivors' that made it though the challenges of the season, and the wine is rich in structure with phenomenal aging ability.
We recently enjoyed our last bottle of Vitovska Selezione 2005, so now I can only hope that I'll have the patience to hold back a few bottles of the 2010 to taste in 15+ years time!
It's no secret that I love a great orange wine...
If you're looking for the benefits of anti-oxidants you might instinctively reach for a bottle of red, with its healthy tannins, but you could also go for an orange wine - made from white grapes but macerated with the skins and seeds, like a red.
And if you want to taste a traditional style of orange wine, that follows the same winemaking practices as those very early winemakers of central Europe, don't miss the chance to try a bottle from Damijan Podversic. He studied under the legendary Josko Gravner and now boasts an impressive following of his own. As his tiny estate slowly grows, he is also passing on his passion to his daughter Tamara.
My first meeting with Damijan, in 2014, was exhausting as he speaks almost as much as me ;) so I spent hours scribbling in my notebook to take down all his words of wisdom on grape growing and winemaking ("the secret is in the seed") and the place of wine in our lives. In 2018, standing in the unfinished cellar of the new winery, looking at the walls carved out of the rock and cautiously stepping over rubble where the stairs were still being made, I shared in Tamara's excitement for the future of this family-run estate.
We would love to stock a higher quantity of his wines, but the production is simply too small. So we're delighted to have the few bottles that we do have in Singapore and plan to savour them!!
The little wineries are the most fun to support and it doesn't get a lot smaller than biodynamic-certified Marche estate Serra San Martino, where this husband and wife team produce around 16,000 bottles a year (across just 5 or 6 labels), such as this rosato blend of Montepulciano, Merlot and Syrah.
There's also another reason behind these particular bottles having a place in my heart, as they gave me the chance to play 'winemaker' when a batch turned up without any labels (a reminder of how far our wineries are from 'mass production'). After discovering these naked bottles, I got copies of the labels printed here in Singapore to stick on myself :) Maybe not the most important job in the whole process, but it's one more reason to be proud of these little beauties!
PRINTI Roero Riserva
So, no doubt you know a bit about the famous Nebbiolo wines of Barolo in southern Piedmont. But have you explored the other Nebbiolo from that prestigious region?
I'm so pleased to offer a variety of Nebbiolowines, including one from outside Piedmont (the Lombardy estate of Castello di Cigognola make Per Papa, dedicated to Angelo Moratti who believed in the potential of this vine in Pavia) as this key Italian grape offers such a wide range of styles depending on vineyard location, vintage and winemaking styles.
As well as loving the Nebbiolo from north of Piedmont, in Gattinara, there is another under-appreciated area - Roero. Just on the other side of the river to Barolo and Barbaresco, the Roero vineyards produce similarly complex Nebbiolos to their more famous neighbours. The Printi 2010 by Monchiero Carbone has been a wonderful wine to taste over the years, to appreciate how those delicate floral notes develop with bottle ageing. If you'd like another opinion on Roero vs Barolo, and specifically this wine, you can watch this video by celebrated wine educator (somm and IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year) Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly!
SATOR Gran Maestro
So there are a few reasons behind my love for this wine...
I can't deny that the beautiful label was the first thing that drew me to this bottle at a wine fair in Verona, in 2014. I'm a bit of a logomaniac and geek out by reading up on the etymology of interesting words, so when I saw the 'SATOR' square that gave me a new puzzle to study (the 5 word poem can be read horizontally and vertically, forwards and backwards). Then I got chatting to the winemaker and his wife, discovering more about the rare grape - Tintilia. It's little known outside of Molise, let alone outside Italy. And even the region of Molise is almost a myth (Italian friends joked that it's a mythical land ... no-one quite believes it exists)! To top if off, this particular wine is their limited-production Riserva, with a hand-written bottle number on the neck (for example, the photo is 1,807 of 2,600 produced in 2011) and an absolute gem of a wine - with a rich and smooth character that goes so well with flavoursome dishes or just on its own as a 'meditation' wine.
Vinophiles can also be cocktail lovers ... and these beauties by Pietradolce* of Sicily are not only stunning with a splash of biodynamic Prosecco, they're also an example of supporting our small family wineries when they release new products - as mentioned at the start with Pojer & Sandri's new bubbles, Molinar.
* Fancy exploring more products from Pietradolce? The popularity of Etna wines has been growing in recent years, globally, and yet the endemic grapes Carricante and Nerello Mascalese are still quite hard to find outside Italy. You'll love the tingly acidity of the white and if you like Nebbiolo (ie: Barolo) you should enjoy the tannic structure of the reds. Oh and don't forget they also make fabulous EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) that's delicious drizzled over some burrata and fresh lemon juice. Why not pair that with the Amaro Citrange Limone? :)