April 28, 2011
Deep in the 'Heel' of Italy
I knew that I was onto something special when I read what financial consultant Alberto Longo said about his parents, Adele and Giovanni, his inspiration for building on his father’s earnest winemaking efforts.
“The difference between me and my parents is that, thanks to their sacrifice, I had the opportunity to study and take a degree. Life did not offer them the same chance. Nevertheless, they are better than me. They are my true wealth.”
Alberto Longo is employed by KPMG, a global network of professional firms providing audit, advisory and tax services — a job in Bari that has allowed him to seriously invest in his real passion, wine.
With his dad by his side, Longo decided to combine his love for the land with his passion for wine, giving birth to a project that would be of value to his native land, Daunia.
The Longo wine estate is located in Lucera, west of Foggia, in the heart of an area with both environmental and historical merits. With 35 hectares of vineyards that are meticulously cultivated, its cellars are in a farmhouse built in 1800, the “Fattoria Cavalli” (the farm of the horses). The farm has been carefully restructured so as to allow the most modern winemaking technologies to be utilized and thus its visitors can enjoy an environment that unites both esthetic charms and precious antiquities.
The majority of the Alberto Longo vineyards are not far from Fattoria Cavalli. Row after row of falanghina, Montepulciano, nero di Troia, negroamaro and bombino bianco surround the 17th century Massera Celentano, home to the family and a place where they welcome visitors. A few international varieties are planted here as well.
Well, the welcome mat was really rolled out the day that I arrived, for Adele Longo had prepared a traditional midday meal for her visitors — this writer and my friends, Rita and Umberto Ballanti, who have a home in the Gargano.
But first, we got a tour of the Fattoria and a detailed explanation of the state-of-the-art winegrowing effort from chief operating officer Michele Digregorio. And, wherever we went, Papa Longo was within earshot — he just wanted to make sure Digregorio was giving me the real skinny, even though the octogenarian didn’t speak English.
We were told Alberto Longo wanted the best expression of the vineyards possible, so he invited Giacomo Tachis, father of super Tuscan wines and renowned enologist/viticulturist, to serve as consulting winemaker for the project. That was a smart move, our tasting showed. We focused on Longo’s reds — particularly nero di Troia and negroamaro. But he also produces a wonderful syrah and a spicy primitivo, the latter grapes coming from a cousin’s vineyard near Taranto.
Total production at Longo is about 25,000 cases annually, a third of which is dedicated to nero di Troia, an important variety in the region that has just received DOC status. The name undoubtedly comes from the town of Troia in this province whose legendary founder was the Greek hero Diomedes, who destroyed ancient Troy. The vine is fairly vigorous with lots of girth and carries large, rather compact, winged clusters of violet-colored grapes which ripen mid-season. It’s adaptable to a variety of soils and does not suffer unduly from Puglia’s high summer temperatures.
Negroamaro is a red wine grape variety grown almost exclusively in Puglia and particularly in Salento, the peninsula which can be visualized as the lowest part of the “heel” of Italy. The grape can, indeed, produce wines very deep in color. Wines made from negroamaro tend to be very rustic in character, combining perfume with an earthy bitterness. The grape produces some of the best red wines of Puglia, particularly when blended with the highly scented malvasia nera, as in the case of Salice Salentino.
The first of the two nero di Troia wines tasted, 2008 Alberto Longo Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera is fermented in stainless steel and doesn’t get near any wood, only cement tanks. It’s blended with Montepulciano and bombino bianco that are vinified separately. The final blend is different every vintage … the 2008 a wonderful, medium-bodied red with a plummy nose that speaks to its terroir.
The 2007 Alberto Longo Le Cruste is all nero di Troia, aged for more than a year in oak and then 18 months in bottle prior to release. This one is all plums, on both nose and palate. At the time, I jotted down it was like spreading plum jam on toast, but not in the sense that the fruit is cooked, mind you. It’s fresh plums and a few blackberries that coat the tongue in this well-balanced offering. You may well find this one on the wine list at Lulu Restaurant & Bar, at Fourth and Folsom in San Francisco.
Also tasted was 2007 Albergo Longo 4.7.7 Syrah, a wine named for the day on which Alberto’s son, Giovanni (in honor of grandpa), was born. “You should know this date,” Giovanni Sr. said through a translator. “It’s the Fourth of July.” It has a brambly nose and palate, with lots of bright fruit — blueberries and cherries, with a touch of blackberry on the finish.
I’ve been lobbying to get Longo wines to California. There are any number of Italian restaurants who would love to put them on their lists. What’s the Alexander Pope phrase? Hope springs eternal … that’s it.
April 13, 2011
Sake of the Week: Ama no To-Heaven's Door
"For April, I suggest that you try Ama no To, from Akita Prefecture, snow country in the far north of Honshu Island. This sake takes its name from an ancient poem about how the world began. It is a fascinating brew from a fascinating kura, with a fascinating toji (master brewer). Master brewer, chef, photographer, rice farmer, published author and all around interesting guy, Yasuichi Moriya, is certainly well rounded. And his sake rocks, to boot. On top of that, they are adamant about using only local rice. Like, really local rice - all of the rice they use is grown in fields that can be seen from the roof of their brewery.
This tokubetsu junmai is laced with fig and butter, with a slightly rich and sweet touch to the flavor that seems perfectly in place. A drier and clean finish ties it all together. Very enjoyable with salty grilled salmon or bacon-garnished cream pasta." -John Gauntner
April 01, 2011
This Time He's Gone Too Far: An E-gris-gious Error
Santa Cruz, CA — You all know Randall. He always has one crazy idea or another—freezing grapes for "nicewine," working with funky Italian grape varieties that end in vowels, staging funerals for corks, putting all of his wines in screwcaps—that sort of thing. We've heard he's trying to simplify matters chez Doon, to focus on fewer things and to try to do them all very, very well.
But this time he really has gone too far. He has just today proclaimed that henceforth there will be but one permitted color for all wines released from Bonny Doon—a very pale salmon pink. This new policy is inaugurated with today's release of the 2010 Vin Gris de Cigare, an elegant dry pink wine.*
He has suggested that all other Bonny Doon releases currently in the marketplace be utilized for the production of sangria.
* Vin Gris is made from the direct pressing of red grapes, unlike rosé, which is typically made from the saigner, or bleeding, of tanks that have undergone a greater or lesser degree of skin-contact.