Rites of Spring: Gergovie & Tutto Wine Tasting

View of Tutto/Gergovie Spring Tasting 2016 in the Round Chapel, Hackney
View of Tutto/Gergovie Spring Tasting 2016 in the Round Chapel, Hackney

Those lucky enough to be in London for the Bank Holiday had a chance to go to an superb event at the Round Chapel in Hackney, organised by Tutto Wines and Gergovie Wines.  Both importers, along with a handful of others, have done much to create a space for natural wines in the London market – 15 years ago wine-drinking here was neatly segmented into high-end Bordeaux and Burgundy, set against high-alcohol, often New World, rotgut sold to the masses at off-licenses.  Natural wines, with their exacting standards of facture, respect for the land, artisanal approach, and sheer contagious enthusiasm, have brought in younger, cosmopolitan drinkers and really breathed life into the wine scene here.  While events like RAW have popularised natural wine, bringing in producers from Germany, Austria and further afield, Tutto and Gergovie have maintained a distinct Italian and French focus.  On the retail side, Noble Fine Liquor, closely associated with Tutto, has made Broadway Market in Hackney pretty much the hottest place to buy top-end, often idiosyncratic producers, particularly from Italy.  A short distance away, the eno-bistrot Brawn, by another natural wine pioneer Ed Wilson, keeps Columbia Road amply fed & watered. Lastly, south of the Thames, Gergovie’s food venture 40 Maltby Street, with its phenomenal but simple food and tiny menu, the place to go, even as Borough Market has descended into a tourist-driven fracas of selfie-sticks and ‘street-food’.

Wine swatches, akin to artist's colour samples, hundreds of them lined the entrance to the hall. The Gergovie team have been collecting these for years, and they were lovely in their minimal evocation of some phenomenal wines from far-off lands.
Wine swatches, akin to artist’s colour samples, hundreds of them lined the entrance to the hall. The Gergovie team have been collecting these for years, and they were lovely in their minimal evocation of some phenomenal wines from far-off lands.

Rant over…so this event was organised primarily for trade and growers, almost entirely from Italy, France, and Slovenia.  It was in an awesome de-consecrated Victorian chapel off Lower Clapton Road, across from Noble’s second venue P. Franco.  I can’t find much on the history of the chapel, but it had distinct echoes of the fine early Christian basilicas found in Constantinople and in Northeast Italy, the old Exarchate of Ravenna.  The room was hung with the lovely posters that have long been a feature of the London and Paris natural wine shops/enotecas, and are so sorely missed in the hyper-commercial (and somewhat more restaurant-based) New York wine scene.  There was a distinctly aesthetic vibe to the whole thing, from the posters, to the small-scale but utterly conscientious attitude of the growers, and even to some of the London-based staff, artists working part-time in the food and wine businesses around Maltby St.

40 Maltby St's spectacular grub: to start, a gutsy terrine, refined liver mousse; duck egg with asparagus; salt cod fritters. Mains: wood-grilled rabbit, aioli, and simple rough greens; a seafood rice. To end: selection of 3 cheeses; a stunning lemon-rind tarte with pure butter base, creme fraiche. This wasn't the day for vegans or diets.
40 Maltby St’s spectacular grub: to start, a gutsy terrine, refined liver mousse; duck egg with asparagus; salt cod fritters. Mains: wood-grilled rabbit (shown), aioli, and simple rough greens; a seafood rice. To end: selection of 3 cheeses; a stunning lemon-rind tarte with pure butter base, creme fraiche. This wasn’t the day for vegans or diets. Wine: Cristiano Guttorolo’s amphora-aged primitivo.

We ended up mostly sticking with the Italian stalls, with no disrespect intended to the others !  Food was essentially a holocaust of rabbits, grilled outside by 40 Maltby Street’s awesome team.  The evening ended at Brilliant Corners in Dalston, where wine crosses audiophile vinyl.

The distinctive wine posters
The distinctive wine posters
...and the sun from basilica windows
…and the sun from basilica windows

In keeping with the superb spring day, it all got a bit out of hand, with a bit of a Dionysian rendition on the preacher’s pulpit.  A tender respect for religious sentiment restrains me from a pic…

Doyen of the corps de vigneron, Gabrio Bini of Serraghia has long been a fixture on the London wine scene. His wines, from Pantelleria, closer to Africa than Sicily, come from old vines, are hand-tended, and partake of the saline air. Our favourite is his amphora-aged white of Zibbibo (local name for the Moscato di Alessandria, the name of which brings out Cavafy's poems of a vanished city).
Doyen of the corps de vignerons, Gabrio Bini of Serraghia has long been a fixture on the London wine scene. His wines, from Pantelleria, closer to Africa than Sicily, come from old vines, are hand-tended, and partake of the saline air. Our favourite is his amphora-aged white made from Zibbibo (local name for the Moscato di Alessandria grape…evoking perhaps Cavafy’s poems of a vanished city).
Gabrio's distinctive bottles.
Gabrio’s distinctive bottles.
The wines of Cantina Giardino come from the highlands of Irpinia, in Campania, known for the great Taurasi appellation. The noble grape Aglianico (Nebbiolo being the Alianico of the North) dominates reds, here and in Basilicata. The white wine Sophia, is based on Fiano, foot-trodden (by children apparently) and aged in unlined clay amphorae. Other wines are aged in chestnut/acacia barrels from the area.
The wines of Cantina Giardino come from the highlands of Irpinia, in Campania, known for the Taurasi appellation. The noble grape Aglianico (Nebbiolo being the Aglianico of the North) dominates reds, here and in Basilicata. The white wine Sophia, is based on Fiano, foot-crushed (by children apparently) and aged in unlined clay amphorae. Other wines are aged in chestnut/acacia barrels from the area.
Cantina Giardino's amphorae
Cantina Giardino’s amphorae
The wonderful proprietors Antonio & Daniela De Gruttola of Cantina Giardino.
The wonderful proprietors Antonio & Daniela De Gruttola of Cantina Giardino.
Farnea's wines, from the Eugenean Hills just outside Padova in Veneto. The soil is volcanic, grapes are fermented in concrete with natural yeasts and skin contact - Emma, based on Moscato Rosa and Moscato Giallo was a fave.
Farnea’s wines, from the Eugenean Hills just outside Padova in Veneto. The soil is volcanic, grapes are fermented in concrete with natural yeasts and skin contact – Emma, based on Moscato Rosa and Moscato Giallo was a fave.
Marco, one of the nicest chaps, in a roomful of them, isn't averse to a cuddle from a comely Celtic lass...
Marco, one of the nicest chaps, in a roomful of them, isn’t averse to a cuddle from a comely Celtic lass…
...meanwhile back in the Colli Eugenei (Source: Tutto Wines)
…meanwhile back in the Colli Eugenei (Source: Tutto Wines)
Again from Veneto, Daniele Piccinin lands are in the Alpone valley near Verona. His focus is on the local, and almost extinct, Durella grape (aka Rabbiosa - the angry i.e. acidic and hard to vinify).
Again from Veneto, Daniele Piccinin’s wines come from the Alpone valley near Verona. His focus is on the local, and almost extinct, Durella grape (aka Rabbiosa – the angry i.e. acidic and hard to vinify).
Cristiano Guttarolo from Apulian karst-covered hills at Gioia del Colle emphasises the local stalwarts Primitivo and Negroamaro, but works hard to tame them and harness refinement and balance instead of the alcoholised fruit that often marks lesser wines of the mezzogiorno.
Cristiano Guttarolo from Apulian karst-covered hills at Gioia del Colle emphasises the local stalwarts Primitivo and Negroamaro, but works hard to tame them and harness refinement and balance instead of the alcoholised fruit that often marks lesser wines of Italy’s mezzogiorno.
Guttarolo's phenomenal Negroamaro - skin contact in steel and clocks in at 12% ABV.
Guttarolo’s phenomenal Negroamaro – skin contact in steel and clocks in at 12% ABV.
...all the better to follow his Trebbiano/Verdecca blend, again skin contact but in terracotta amphorae, giving a salty savouriness. Here supported by a brodetto w/ saffron, staple seaside soup of the Abruzzese, Molisano, and Pugliese coasts.
…all the better to follow his Trebbiano/Verdecca blend, again skin contact but in terracotta amphorae, leaving a salty savouriness. Here supported by a brodetto w/ saffron, staple seaside fare of the Abruzzese, Molisano, and Pugliese coasts.
From the Slovenian border with Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, near Gorizia, we had some excellent wines from Klinec, based on Malvasia, Ribolla Gialla, Jakot (i.e. Tokai Friulano), growing in marl/sandstone soil similar to that of the neighbouring zone in FVG. The wines are aged in cherry, acacia, mulberry, and oak.
From the Slovenian border with Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, near Gorizia, we had some excellent wines from Klinec, based on Malvasia, Ribolla Gialla, Jakot (i.e. Tokai Friulano), et al, growing in marl/sandstone soil similar to that of the neighbouring zone in FVG. The wines are aged in cherry, acacia, mulberry, and oak.
One of our favourites was the aged blend Medana Ortodox, aged since 2006.
Aleks Klinec with one of our favourites – the aged blend Medana Ortodox 2006.  He was here with his wonderful family, with whom he runs an agriturismo we’re going to try to stay at on our winter pilgrimage to NE Italy.

There were a number of other Italians that I didn’t manage to get pictures of – like Skerlj from the Carso in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, and of course all the wonderful French winemakers.  We also missed, but are looking forward to see at RAW, some others: Cornelissen, Radikon, Lamoresca, Quarticello and so many more from other regions in Italy.

Udine, Cormons, and Orange Wine

Udine's poshest cafe, Beltramme.  Superb porchetta panini.
Udine’s poshest cafe, Beltramme. Superb porchetta panini.

Udine, the second city of Friuli Venezia-Giulia (FVG), is somewhat overshadowed by its beautiful, literary, acutely self-conscious and slightly “tristesse” sister, Trieste. More inland, it’s not far from the foothills of the Giulian Alps and close to verdant vine-covered hills of the Collio. The sea plays much less of a part in both life and food, and the city feels more Venetian than Slavic/Austrian.

Udine's cathedral
Udine’s cathedral

Yet it’s precisely this relative lack of mitteleuropanisch glamour that helps the city, for in June, we heard virtually no English, and the few tourists present were Austrian or Italian. Moreover, Udine (as is Trieste) is well-located by bus for the Roman and early Christian ruins of Aquileia, and those of Grado, a wealthy beach resort filled with some fine 1960s-1970s seaside apartment blocks. The patriarchal city of Aquileia itself was an important Roman centre, said to be on par with Antioch, Milan, and Trier. Grado, similarly, had its own patriarch (we had the pleasure of sampling a grappa Due Patriarchi which celebrates the curious schism). Both have lovely cathedrals that hint at their importance in days of old.

Aquileia: Roman ruins
Aquileia: Roman ruins

acquileia6 acquileia5 acquilea1

Udine’s food was rather heavy (for the summer), but distinctive and terroir-infused: cjarsons, a ravioli with a complex filling of sweet things, herbs, and/or nuts, in a melted-butter and aged ricotta sauce; the delicious gnocchi di susine, a potato gnoccho with a ripe pitted plum in the middle, which softens as its cooked, again a mix of savoury and sweet; frico, a disc of montasio cheese that is fried until most of the fat renders out, leaving it crunchy or chewy, depending on the variety; and lastly, the lovely San Daniele prosciutto, second only to that of Parma. All quite different from the distinctive sausage, cabbage, or marinated fish cuisine of Trieste; or the intensely fishy food of Venice. A favourite place was the enoteca La Spezeria Pei Sani, dating from 1939 but with recent new (and very hip) owners. Great wines, very knowledgeable and friendly, awesome meatballs, stun-negronis. For more substantial food, the Osteria al Vecchio Stallo was very likeable and warm-hearted, even if the food was simply good (again in the middle of winter, this old horse-changing stall would probably come into its own).

Polpette and negroni
Polpette and negroni
At the "Stallo" restaurant
At the “Stallo” restaurant

Cormons is the centre of the Collio wine zone and is close to Udine (the other main wine zone is the Carso, near Trieste). We didn’t explore the town’s enotecas but did spend time walking through the surrounding hills and vineyards, basing at the superb inn and restaurant La Subida (1 Michelin star). It was at La Subida where we had exquisite orange wine of Gravner: the 1998 of Friuli’s autochthonous ribolla gialla grape (made before he started using Georgian amphorae in 2001) from nearby Oslavia. We also had La Castellada’s excellent ribolla gialla, again from vineyards near Oslavia. Oslavia, a good 2 hour walk away over the vineyards in the heat proved out of reach, and we missed Stan Radikon’s intense, but temperamental (owing to a no sulphur approach), production. The food at La Subida was memorable, particularly a goose ragu nestled in a basket of semolina, which softened in the sauce to become like a pasta.

La Subida's food and Castellada's orange wine
La Subida’s food and Castellada’s orange wine
Gravner and grappa "Due Patriarchi"
Gravner and grappa “Due Patriarchi”

Further reading:

Eric Asimov’s blog on the NY Times has quite a lot on the orange wines of Friuli, particularly on Gravner and the other pioneers.

http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/orange-wines/

For food in FVG, as in most of Italy, a great starting point is Italy for the Gourmet Traveller by Fred Plotkin (2010, Kyle Cathie Limited, London). He covers the cuisine, wines, and towns/villages of Italy, and gives restaurant recommendations, which are, at least, a starting point. A few will perhaps have changed owners or even gone downhill, but fortunately things in Italy change but slowly…

Trieste

A funny city, with more than a hint of melancholy, that’s offset by the good cheer of the residents. Formerly the most important port of Austria Hungary, a major centre of trade and banking, and only a part of Italy since 1954 (it was a free city after WWII), it has lost much of its former importance, but none of its beauty. Like Genova on the opposite coast, it sits betwixt great big wooded hills and the sea, and still has the huge railyards of olden days. The architecture is somewhat neoclassical and grand, borrowed from Vienna, but there are smaller streets and townhouses, as well as some modernist buildings.

The food is varied – between the standard of a sea town, fish particularly tartare, and the more robust Slavic fare, sausages, boiled meats, cabbage, pickles, mustards, often eaten standing up at “buffets”.  But the wines are the real draw – Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and particularly the Carso, which surrounds Trieste on both the Italian and Slovenian sides, provide for very good whites.  More importantly, there are a disproportionate number of winemakers trying biodynamic or archaic (ie ageing in amphorae) techniques, such as Radikon, or Kante, which can be dear, but producers like Zidarich make more affordable wines (with the indigenous Vitovska grape as well as others, like Malvasia).  Good place, but very busy, to try is the enoteca Osteria Da Marino.

The city’s real culinary passions seem to run to pastries and coffee.  Superb strudels, cakes, etc., served in grand cafes.  We liked the San Marco which seems still to be a bit of an artist/writer hangout, albeit with unforgiveably bad espresso. On the Via Duca D’Aosta there was a very good bakery, and across the street a little bar/restaurant called something like Bar Motonave (the steamship) which was cheap, delicious, and filled with old men playing cards.  Further along the street (Duca D’Aosta) towards town, a popular hot-chocolate spot, Chocolat, which neighbours a specialist in fish aperitivi/crostini.

We were the sole diners one night at Ai Fiori, where the service was gracious, the bill pricey, and the food refined.  After an (excellent) meal eaten in aristocratic isolation, we ran next door to the enoteca which was super-lively.

Highly recommended is an excursion to Duino Castle, where Rilke wrote his poems as a guest of the Thurn-and-Taxis family (still there).  Check when the castle is open, but a particular treat is to see the old Duino Castle, dating from the 11th century versus the more sprightly 1389 neighbour. There is a very pleasant walk on the cliffs above the Adriatic.

If interested, Jan Morris, James Joyce, Italo Svevo have quite a bit more to say about Trieste, and the biography of art dealer Leo Castelli gives great context: the city in the twilight of the Empire, and particularly of the Jewish experience there.

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