Airplanes and hotels have never been my first option when traveling. It’s not that I don’t like the commodity, it’s just that I like the adventure and looong philosophical window sessions a lot more. But besides all the fun and games I create for myself, every once in a while I get to be part of something profoundly professional fused with a colossal amount of enjoyment. This time my destination was Belgrade, Serbia where a Masterclass of southern-Italian wine was held by Barbara Tamburini (consultant oenologist for more than 15 Italian wineries) and Igor Luković (editor at Vino & Fino) in the Hyatt Regency. The trip was organized by the Italian Trade Agency (ITA), which is spread out in more than 65 countries and works strongly on the promotion of high-quality Italian products.
This two-day hedonistic trip was opened by a visit to the gastronomically acclaimed Madera restaurant in the heart of the capital. Our group was served a 5-course wine & food pairing consisting of local cheese, beefsteak, chocolate mousse, Malvasia Nera and other delicacies. But the true enjoyment started the next day.
I received a lot from this Masterclass, because, to be honest, I only turn to Puglia when I’m in search of big fruit bombs and to Sicily when it’s time for a laidback white. In two and a half hours Barbara and Igor covered four regions (Campania, Puglia, Calabria and Sicily) and talked about their soils, microclimates, aging techniques and grape varieties. All the wines displayed the region and terroir with perfection, but some were much better made than others. Below are my tasting notes followed by subjective scores to help you get a better idea of the good, the bad and the badass.
Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico Irpinia Aglianico 2004
Irpinia, Campania, Italy
A wine produced from 100+-year-old vines always intrigues with excitement and apprehension. This one is characterized by a deep garnet red color. Complexity is detectable immediately on the nose – notes of overripe cherry, chocolate, sweet spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla) and dried plum all followed by tertiary tones of rooibos tea, leather and wet soil. Dry, extraordinarily fresh and balanced for a 12-year-old wine. Pronounced acidity, juicy ripe tannins and a true expression of terroir, showing the essence of Campania. Long finish showing a sea of different tones with a significant highlight on tobacco, Asian spices and game. This one has it all – even more potential, titan structure, depth and complexity. Would pair beautifully with wild boar and baked potatoes. Watch out for Aglianico, it’s a grape that’s taking over the world one wine at a time. 95/100
Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé 2014
Medium amber color. BOOM! Apricot jam at its finest on the nose followed by notes of more stone fruit – peach compote and ripe nectarine. Hints of yellow apple and white flowers. Even though this was the tenth and final wine we tasted, it was like a calling from another planet. Lusciously sweet with a medium acidity and medium (-) alcohol. Magnificent balance with all elements in formation. A wine to spoon-feed your infant instead of milk and honey. 94/100
Librandi Ciro Bianco 2015
Ciro, Calabria, Italy
Pale lemon. Great nose reminiscent of late spring – white flowers, minerality, citrus fruit and green apple. Dry with a medium acidity, smooth texture, medium alcohol and superb balance. Rare are those tastings that start with such a good wine, so don’t forget to cherish those moments earnestly. On the palate, the wine seems to last for an eternity (I wish it did that in the cellar too). Crisp finish and pronounced green fruit with a hint of bitterness that’s surprisingly well-integrated. This white Greco gets a significant place in my book, because it’s the first white from southern Italy (after cca 50 tasted wines) that I truly enjoyed. Alongside that, overthinking a food pairing is not an issue here, because the generic white meat-white wine match applies perfectly here. Greco Bianco, you the real MVP. 93/100
Cantine san Marzano Primitivo di Manduria Talo 2013
Deep ruby red. Subtle nose showing notes of black fruit and sweet spices with a hint of hot alcohol. Dry with a bit of residual sugar (maybe 3-3.5 g/L?). Medium acidity, high alcohol, displaying a magnificent syrupy texture. Very well-balanced in the mouth with medium tannins and a long finish. If you want to comprehend topography, this is it – a great reflection of heavily Mediterranean-influenced Puglia cooled down constantly by sea breezes and a high diurnal range. Spread this wine on your toast instead of blueberry jam in the morning. IWC silver medal, ridiculous price tag, a definite must-try. 93/100
Cantine san Marzano Negroamaro Rosato Talo 2013
Salento, Puglia, Italy
Medium salmon pink. Aromas of red fruit (cherry, strawberry), roses, lemon zest and nicely pronounced secondary aromas of nuts and toast. A slightly hot nose. On the palate, the wine is dry with refreshing, sharp acidity and medium alcohol. Deep concentration of flavors followed by a long, sweet finish. I must admit that I’m on a streak with good roses lately, this one being no exception. 90/100
Antinori-Tormaresca Maime Masseria Salento Negroamaro 2010
Salento, Puglia, Italy
Deep ruby red with garnet hues. Medium nose showing notes of black and red fruit mashed together (blackcurrant, sweet cherry, forest strawberry) followed by an autumn-walk tone (wet leaves, forest floor, leather). A great spice aroma pulls through the whole nose. The palate is dry with a medium body. Alcohol and acidity could be in better balance, but the finish saves the day – great buttery smoothness with a hint of bitterness to preserve the masculinity of Salento’s main grape variety. 88/100
Donnafugata SurSur 2015
Because of its low yields and attractive aromatics, Grillo was the reason why many Sicilian winemakers shifted from quantity to quality. This wine reflects that philosophy nicely. Pale lemon color. Biscuity-lemon nose, dry on the palate with medium acidity and alcohol. Refreshing, with tones of blossom, tangerine, grapefruit, ripe apricot and lemon zest. A splash of salinity beautifully completes this well-balanced, but not overly complex wine. 87/100
Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2015
Medium lemon yellow. Subtle nose showing notes of yellow apple, lime zest, white flowers, followed by a hint of MLF (biscuit, cream). Dry with a light body, medium acidity and alcohol. Very straightforward, with a focus on minerality and mid-week drinking (if you want to pay an average price of 12 EUR). 83/100
Planeta Santa Cecilia 2010
Noto, Sicily, Italy
Medium ruby red. Nose showing dominant tertiary aromas mixed with splashes of overripe strawberry and sweet cherry. Dry, light body with medium acidity/alcohol/tannins. It’s a shame that the only Nero d’Avola here was well past its prime and lacking structure and depth. If you find this wine buried in your cellar, don’t overthink extending its drinking window. 77/100
Librandi Ciro Rosso Classico Superiore Riserva Duca Sanfelice 2012
Ciro, Calabria, Italy
The longest title for the poorest wine in the batch. Pale garnet color. The nose is best described as an oven-baked cheesecake – notes of biscuit, raspberry, yogurt, sweet cherry and sweet spices. Now mind you, I was excited to try this wine after smelling it and truly believed that it was going to be something spectacular. The palate on the other hand paints a different picture. Dry with medium acidity/alcohol/tannins, but bitterness and Brett ruin it completely, masking every single fruit tone that once existed in this beverage. The only true hope was its aftertaste, which was also nowhere to be seen, so I’ll try to stay away from Gaglioppo for the time being. 75/100
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Written by Aleksandar Draganić.
I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad