Italian wine 101
Just when I thought I was getting ahead of the game on Italian wines (I just wrote about Brunello di Montalcino last Sunday), I am humbled to learn that I haven’t even scratched the surface.
On Independence Day, I was invited by old friend and lawyer extraordinaire Gale Atienza to try wines from Puglia. “This was the wine that chef Jessie served to the Pope,” she said.
Now a certified Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle fanatic (after watching him concelebrate a mass with no less than the Pope in Rome last month), I immediately said “yes” when she said the word “Pope”.
I arrived at the dinner extremely confident with my new knowledge on Italian wines: That to be considered a Brunello, a wine must be made with 100-percent Sangiovese grapes from Montalcino; that a Chianti is 70-percent Sangiovese; that there are over 250 producers of Brunello in Tuscany; that to be considered exceptional you must look for the letters DOCG.
My knowledge was immediately downplayed by Gale’s partner and wine expert at iTrulli, Adriano Stefanutti. “Sangiovese is just one grape. Puglia alone has so many other grapes, some of which grow only in the Puglia region,” he explained.
At the MenhirSalento wine dinner, a gorgeous calamari starter topped with seaweed brought in from Puglia was paired with a rosè Negroamaro.
Negroamaro is another grape variety native to Italy, specifically in Southern Italy in Salento. As I tried to understand where Salento was located, Adriano said that visually on the map, Salento is the “heel” of Italy. Still, I couldn’t visualize where it was located. Then he said it is where Padre Pio is. Ah! Suddenly, I knew.
“THAT is more relatable to Filipinos!” I told him. “Not the heel. Tell us it is near Padre Pio and we are there.”
Negroamaro means “black bitter” and usually spelled as one word. “When you taste the grape, it gives you a bitter sensation in your mouth but after vinification, the result is an edge of sweetness.”
It was the same grape that was used to create the red wine Numero Zero or N.0, the chosen wine of Pope Francis.
How the wine was born is a poignant story. Gaetano, the visionary husband of Menhir Salento brand ambassador Miriam Daniele, wanted to build a winery. He had no land, just a vision.
Miriam recalled that they went around Puglia and surprisingly, Gaetano chose land that was at the opposite end of where all the other wineries were. In this area, he saw that the sun shined gentler. Then he simply said, “One day I will have here my wines.” And he did. “That is why the name is number zero. In Italy, it means we start from zero, we start from scratch,” Miriam explained.
This was also what intrigued and enticed Adriano to purchase from Gaetano. “I loved his vision,” Adriano confessed.
Adriano never imagined that this wine would be chosen by the Pope. “Bergoglio is actually an Italian name hailing from Piedmont so it would have been more likely for him to have chosen a wine from the north. But we got lucky and he chose this wine,” Adriano said.
Another grape variety that we tried was the Fiano, an Italian white grape variety. Truth be told, what I liked most about this wine from MenhirSalento, the Pass-o Bio IGP, is the artsy label, designed by Miriam herself. Instead of a print or sticker on the bottle, the label is inside the bottle and then there is a see-through section in front where you take a peek.
My favorite for the evening, though, was their Primitivo. Primitivo is the grape from which Zinfandel was made, Gale explained. (Some sources say that while genetically, these two grapes are extremely similar, the Primitivo and Zinfandel are actually both clones of a Croatian grape called Crljenak.)
The Primitivo wine is called Quota 29 and the brand ambassador says this is because the terroir for this wine is 29 meters above sea level.
It was lovely to note that each wine has its own story. The best story, of course, is that of Pope Francis’ choice. I don’t know if you can get any holier with this wine—but it can sure feel like it.
MenhirSalento wines are exclusively distributed by iTrulli, located at the Ground Floor, LRI Bldg, N. Garcia (Reposo) Street, Makati. For inquiries, call landline 832-9600. They also distribute other Italian delicacies: Cheese, braesola, pastas, etc. Open for lunch and dinner and you can also inquire about wine classes.
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