Monday, August 30, 2021

Destination Terra Madre - a Komarna and Dalmatian Winery

One of the most eventful excursions during our three-week European vacation was a tour of Terra Madre Winery led by oenologist Marko Šuman and Executive Director Davor Martinović. The winery is located in Komarna, just north of the border with Herzegovina and adjacent to the middle of the Peljesac Peninsula. Terra Madre is also a founding member of the Komarna AVA which consists of seven members -- all certified by the EU for organic wine production. 

Organic certification among the members was accelerated because the wineries started near the same time in the early to mid-2010s. They were able to leverage the same resources when surveying plots, planting the vineyards, and building out production and tasting room facilities. Economies of scale in action. Their youthfulness also allowed them to adopt the latest in technological advances pertaining to vineyard management and winemaking chemistry where even some laboratories are utilized by Croatian state wine officials. Such is the case with Terra Madre, where the appellation-wide K7 Plavac Mali was vinified by Šuman at their state-of-the-art facility from fruit contributed by each Komarna winery.

Our visit to Terra Madre was facilitated by Croatian Premium Wine Imports, the importer of Komarna wines into the United States.  It occurred during the return ride from a pilgrimage to Medjugorje and when we arrived Mr. Martinović informed us of the cross in the vineyard which was a replica of one from the holy site and that the apparitions were an inspiration for naming the winey "Mother Earth".  

This cross sits near the base of a 45-degree limestone slope that is populated with vines from the 200-600 foot summits to the Adriatic. The grapevines are predominately two indigenous Dalmatian varieties, Plavac Mali and Pošip, with smaller plantings of Chardonnay, Syrah, and Cabernet.  They are planted facing south-southwest in order to receive the longest sun exposure from the star itself and from reflection from the sea. In total, the estate covers 16.55 hectares with 125,000 vines planted. 

The Terra Madre winery itself is a structure occupying 2600 square feet on top of the largest hill. The first floor is intended for wine tasting and is dominated by a terrace with its amazing views of the Neretva Bay, Pelješac Peninsula, and apparently on especially clear days, the outline of the islands of Brac and Hvar. 

After Mr. Šuman and Mr. Martinović greeted us we proceeded with a tour of their facility with Šuman describing both the equipment and his winemaking goals for the region. This equipment included a large press, gravity-flow fermenting stainless steel tanks, stainless steel tanks for aging, large barrique casks, a separate barrel room, a large chemistry lab, and a modern bottling line.  They have complete control of the vinification process. 

Šuman also discussed his ideas for the winery and the region. They will continue to focus on Plavac Mali and Pošip while developing various new styles. One example is their new Pošip aged on lees which is a clear distinction from their flagship stainless steel Pošip. Whereas Šuman believes the standard Pošip will still dominate sales, the lees Pošip will entice those who desire a white wine with a larger mouthfeel or have more funk in their palate. Šuman also related how they have experimental plantings of autochthonous grapes that are more prevalent in other Dalmatia regions. One of these is Grk from the island of Korčula and while Šuman wants to stay connected to the camaraderie of the Komarna appellation, he also wants to start promoting the Dalmatia region. He believes a focus on Dalmatia wines will elevate the region on the world market. 

Returning to the tasting room and over a plate of prosciutto and cheese we sampled the two versions of Pošip mentioned above, the 2019 Plavac Mali Rosé, the 2015 Barrique Plavac Mali, the eye-opening 2016 Premium Plavac Mali, and ta cellar bottle of the 2017 Premium Plavac Mali. From previous samples and subsequent purchases from Croatian Premium Wine Imports, we were already well-versed with the 2018 PošipRosé, and the Premium Plavac Mali and the tasting just reinforced our fondness for these wines. Interestingly Šuman plans to lighten the rosé in order to make it more appealing for the summer heat and visitor's palates but we definitely prefer this more textured version.

The 2018 Pošip Sur Lie provided a delicious alternative with its creamy mouthfeel and funky finish.  A gifted bottle did not last long when we returned to Dubrovnik. And I wish we could pair with Mali Ston Bay oysters -- considered the best from all of Europe. We also were gifted the next iteration of the Premium Plavac Mali which will allow more time aging in the bottle for the tannins to become a little tamer.

During our visit, a large group arrived for a similar tasting as ours with wine, cheese, and prosciutto. Komarna is a short trip from both Split and Dubrovnik so check out excursions when visiting each destination. Two weeks home and I'm already itching to return to Croatia to revisit Terra Madre but also the other K7 area wineries such as Rizman and Deak Family Farm or onto the Pelješac Peninsula to Grgić or Saints Hills. In the meantime, I will have to settle for the large selections of wines available from Croatian Premium Wine Imports.  Živjeli.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Brindisi DOC Tenute Rubino Susumaniello

The Brindisi DOC is a sub-region in Puglia that was created in 1979 and dedicated primarily to the production of Negroamaro wines. Yet the regulations also stipulate that Susumaniello can be made as a second red wine with Chardonnay, Malvasia Bianca, Fiano, and Sauvignon Blanc permitted as white grapes. The DOC is an enclave anchored by the city of Brindisi and spreading out from the Adriatic. 

The region is also both hot and dry. No wonder since Apulia is derived from the Latin phrase "a pluvia" translated to "without rain'". The region enjoys 300 sunny days each year with summer afternoon temperatures regularly surpassing 104 Fahrenheit. As a result, the grapes which grow here develop high levels of sugar which leads to a high percentage of alcohol in the wine.  

Susumaniello is grown almost exclusively in the Salice Salento area with much smaller amounts in the Brindisi and Squinzano DOCs and is ranked among the world's rarest wine grapes. DNA evidence shows that it is a natural cross between a Puglian table grape and the white-wine grape Garganega. Its name is derived from "somarello", meaning "donkey" - maybe because the deep ruby color and dark, baked fruit flavors can carry a heavy load?

Tenute Rubino considers itself the "House of Susumaniello" as it helped lead the effort to recover the endangered variety after many Apulian growers were driven to explant their less productive vineyards. In response, Tenute owner Luigi Rubino "chose to stake his company’s fortunes on the rediscovery and promotion of one of Puglia’s most identitarian varieties". Susumaniello is planted in sandy and limestone-rich soil in a 20-hectare single vineyard. This Jaddico estate is located eight kilometres north of Brindisi and resides at sea level directly on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. 

In addition to a few sparkling wines, the primary output for Susumaniello is the Brindisi DOC Rosso Oltremé. This wine is 100% Susumaniello with a dark ruby red complexion and aromas of red berries and cinnamon. On the palate expect dark fruit with rounded tannins and a vibrant mouthfeel. Wish I had brought a bottle home. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

A Trip to the Assisi DOC & Tili Vini Family Organic Winery

Germanic descendants of the Tili family have been farming the hills of Assisi since the 12th century. They came to the area after fighting for the Holy Roman Emperor Federico Barbarossa's conquest of northern Italy. Afterward, Frederic I granted the soldier rights to grow olives and grapes which continued through successive generations. In 1978 the Tili Vini Family Organic Winery was formed.

The vineyards are composed of medium-textured calcareous soils, poor in organic matter, but rich in skeleton and mineral salts. The porous soil and lack of groundwater enrich the organoleptic content of the grapes with particular saline components.

The winery produces Assisi DOC and Umbria IGT certified organic wines. In fact, the Tili family was instrumental in petitioning for the creation of the Assisi DOC, granted in 1997.

Our tour of Assisi included a side trip to Tili Vini and the tasting experience was exceptional.  Their new tasting room overlooks the Umbrian valley and provides a comfortable setting to sample their wines. And during this tasting, they paired a lunch of local cheeses and charcuterie with half a dozen generous pours of wine. 

Their Assisi DOC Grechetto is delicious, full-bodied, stone fruit and pineapple. The unoaked Assisi DOC Pinot Noir was also highly appreciated with its easy yet noticeable tannins and juicy cherries.  By far the most impressive was the 2012 Assisi DOC Sacreterre, 100% Sagrantino.  The tannins had developed into a velvety chewy texture full of dark fruit and chocolate.  Exceptional.  And besides the Grechetto,  Matthew's other favorite was the Muffa Reale, a late harvest dessert wine gushing forth stone and tropical fruits.

Don't miss out on this winery if visiting Umbria or Assisi. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Puglia's Padre Peppe Elixir

Was there any doubt that I wasn't going to purchase the Padre Peppe Elixir  ($20) when I saw it in the DM grocery store? This walnut liqueur has been produced since 1832 in Altamura, a city in Puglia southwest of Bari, and is based on a recipe created by Capuchin Friar Giuseppe Ronchi. It is produced by macerating green walnuts -- that have been stored our years in oak barrels -- in alcohol and then augmenting with botanicals. Some of these botanicals are baking spices that help to lift the sweetness and any bitterness to a lasting finish. Here's the Striccoli family's story of Padre Peppe:


The story of Padre Peppe begins at the end of ‘700, when Father Giuseppe Ronchi retired in Puglia with the desire of discovering, in Murgia area, in his woods, fields, water and rocks, a remedy that could heal the illnesses of daily life. According to the monastic tradition, he lived his life trying to help everybody find global wellbeing: mind, soul and body. In Puglia he found a way to extract medicinal juices from herbs and fruit. He also worked them with dedication in the laboratory of the monastery, where the monk could experiment with the therapeutic effects on his companion and devotees.

With the passing of time, a serious problem began to torment the apothecary monk (that’s how monks who worked and healed with herbs were called): storing and maintaining preparations until they would be used. He tried to store them for their medicaments and with time he perfected a healing extract.

According to the tradition, women should pick unripe wanuts that should be used to produce the magic liquor… Barefoot, they should also dance around the tree in order to instill vigour to the plant and to the people who will taste its fruits. Everything happens on the shortest night of the year when light wins over dark. Even today on that night we pick the green and unripe walnuts. They are processed and then stored for 4 years in old oak barrels where they release the same unique flavour of 200 years ago, maintaining the mahogany colour and the walnuts and underground herbs aroma. Striccoli family has kept with care and dedication the book written by the monk. In there he explained and codified all the formulations created in the laboratory of the monastery and the steps to prepare the precious elixir.