TRAVEL

Collision wine and art: Ornellaia's breaks the tension with a very special limited edition La Tensione

Ornellaia Vineyards, courtesy of Ornellaia.

End of August and we are thinking about wine…..

I love it when worlds collide - when art becomes wearable fashion, fashion becomes functional experience, habitation becomes installation and culinary becomes performance. It happens in any media, in any art and every day, and it can even happen on the table. One of the best collisions, or what I like to call and overlap, is art and wine. Products of intense creativity, hardworking and community, there is a lot of commonality in both industries. There are the makers, the artists and artisans who move material to create one-of-a-kind visual and palatable experiences. There are the fans - whether FOMO or long-term invested - who go to every opening, taste every bottle, peruse every Instagram. And then there are mecenati - the patrons and ollectors who drop dollars to make these creations immortal - whether liquid, canvas, video or experience. And I love them all, even more so when one of the main ingredients to the overlap is Italy.

Olga Fusari, Ornellaia’s enologist and Axel Heinz, estate director. Courtesy of Ornellaia.

Enter Ornellaia

One of the heavy hitters on the wine scene, Ornellaia is a DOC Bolghieri that came almost out of nowhere with its first bottles from 1985. Decades of articles, awards, success and drinking followed. Ornellaia became a dream, a bucket list item, and even a hashtag #winegoals. Sometime in 2008, Ornellaia - CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaia and president Fernando Frescobaldi - decided to put their love for contemporary art on the very bottles that they were producing, bringing in curator Bartolomeo Pietromarchi to help choose artists who would imbibe the terroir as well as the wines to create Vendemmia dell’Artista, a limited artist edition of bottles- 100 double magnums, 10 Imperials (6L) and a single Salamanazar (9L). But there’s a catch: the artist would be inspired by a single word.

Every year, estate director Axel Heinz walks through the vineyards and reflects on the year’s winemaking, paring down an incredible, year-long experience from bud-break to barrel into a single word which then becomes inspiration and (dare I write) theme for a contemporary artist to create limited edition bottle labels (and eventually larger scale artwork) for the selected vedemmia. Past editions include Charisma (William Kentridge), Essence (Ernesto Neto), Equilibrium (Zhang Huan) and Energy (Rebecca Horn). Select bottles are available for purchase, but 111 bottles are chosen specifically for auction (with proceeds donated to a non-profit arts organization). To me, this is the most low profile and natural interactive art experience you’ll find.

Shirin Neshat, Courtesy of Ornellaia.

La Tensione (2016) by Shirin Neshat.- the ten Imperials (6L). Courtesy of Ornellaia.

La Tensione (Tension) is eleventh word in a decade of experiences bottled into Ornellaia’s Vendemmia dell’Artista. For the 2016 vintage, the Super Tuscan asked super artist Shirin Neshat to create tension, a perfect pairing as Neshat has long been known for her evocative photography and video installations that play on tension and fragility. Her response was photo series of gesturing hands calligraphed with words from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (lines which refer to how wine elevates the human spirit) on the Double Magnums, Methuselahs (Imperials) and Salamanazar, while there are limited edition 1 liters calligraphed with Khayyam’s poem and signed by the artist.

“The entire Ornellaia team contributed throughout the year with extreme tension. The word can seem suggestive. It has so many meanings- attention, apprehension, that relate to the different phases of the process. Great wines can be of two kinds of equilibrium- harmony or an almost static balance,'“ says Heinz. And the wine is great. I should know, I tasted it in a pre-auction debut.

La Tension’s 111 bottles (100 double magnums, 10 Methuselahs (6L) and a single Salamanazar (9L)) are being auctioned at Sotheby’s online with all proceeds donated Minds Eye project ( Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation) which helps blind and visually impaired people to experience art with all their senses.

Neshat signs every bottle. Photo by Erica Firpo.

In some cases…. you’ll find a Vendemmia dell’Artista bottle. Photo by Erica Firpo.

In some cases…. you’ll find a Vendemmia dell’Artista bottle. Photo by Erica Firpo.

The one and only Salmanazar. The 2015 edition sold for £45,000. Let’s hope 2016 is record breaking. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Uncorked: Natural Wines and Where to Find Them in Rome

Drinking in Piazza Navona.

Lately everyone seems to be talking about natural wines, a term that has become more than common in wine parlance- natural wines have become a trend, a hashtag, a preference, a movement and more.  But a concrete definition?  The jury is still out.  The term natural wines confuses many,  enrages others, and inspires a continuously growing number of dedicated followers. 

Though there is no official definition,  there are a number of individuals and organizations who have forged forward with unofficial definitions that a majority of people - professionals, wine lovers, et all-  agree on. Natural wine is wine made with minimal intervention in the vineyard and the cellar.   It's about healthy grapes grown with no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides using organic, biodynamic or permaculture methods. There is no use of additives, the spontaneous fermentation uses only ambient yeasts and no temperature manipulation, and minimal use of sulfur.

To me, natural wines are also a story, an experience and an expression of place, with the wine grower dedicated to stewardship of natural resources.  And every glass of natural wine speaks  speaks volumes about its producer and birthplace.  My natural wine journey began when I opened the pages Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization I had no idea what natural wine was, but I knew who Robert Parker was and I couldn’t understand why the wines he gave such high points to were never to my liking. Alice’s book read more like prose than the boring, over-analytical wine writing I was used to.  Wine writing can sometimes be quite tedious.more like a game of words and narcissism rather than stories about wine and people who make them. Alice instead wrote stories about vineyards and the culture of wine, opening up a new world to me and introducing me to a movement of people with shared values and dedication to the earth, people making authentic wines with a sense of place. . The book changed my life and how I eat and drink. 

So, what was I drinking before? Honestly, I don’tknow.  Conventional wines found in supermarkets -even those labeled organic- can contain dozens of preservatives, engineered yeast strains, concentrates, artificial color, acidifiers, de-acidifiers, and many more additives that are not on the label.  Even if a bottle of wine is labeled ‘organic,’ it simply means the grapes were grown organically but doesn’t tell the consumer anything about what is happening during the wine making process. 

What I am drinking now? I am drinking homegrown stories and natural wines. Living in Italy, I am lucky to have access to some of the country's most dedicated producers.   And over the past past decade, natural wine producers have flourished like the craft beer movement- natural wines have dedicated sections in wine lists and natural wine bars are popping up all over the world.  How can you get to know natural wines?  The best ways are talking about it: heading to natural wine fairs to meet producers, asking sommeliers, and joining tastings. If you are in Rome, I have a go-to list of five wine shops and enotecas with great wine sold by friendly people.

Les Vignerons in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood.

Les Vignerons (Trastevere) the first enoteca in Rome completely dedicated to natural wine and craft beer.  Owners Antonio Marino and Marisa Glands are charming, friendly, and incredible listeners- one of the most important wine qualities, in my opinion. I’ve been their client for years and always walk out with new wines that are suited for my tastes. Keep in mind that Les Vignerons is not a wine bar, but a shop- one of the best - for both product range and prices - in Italy.

Enoteca L’Angolo Divino (Campo de’ Fiori): the corner wine bar. Owner Massimo Crippa has one of the most well curated wine lists in Rome and a bonus is that it is right in the heart of the historic city center. Not only are the wines fantastic, the ambience is perfectly charming and rustic, with low lights and lots of wood paneling. Massimo has always served wines from small, traditional producers, even before natural wines became trendy. Like me, he has a great passion for promoting Lazio producers. I also love the flow of local Romans who come in for a glass of wine or to buy a bottle- a great spot to brush up on Roman dialect and hear local gossip. 

Enoteca Vignaioli Naturali (Prati): bolt hole wine bar conveniently located around the corner from St. Peter’s Square. Owner Tiziana Gallo is not just one of the most important women in wine here in Rome, she also is the pioneer of the Eternal City’s natural wine movement, hosting annual wine fair Vignaioli Naturali a Roma. At least once a month, you can find me here for her wine tastings- thematic yet not guided, in other words a great place to catch up with friends and talk wine.

Da Cesare al Casaleto (Monteverde): a new style/old school trattoria in a residential neighborhood.. Owner Leonardo Vignoli took over ownership in 2009 and has done a fantastic job of maintaining a classic trattoria ambience with amazing food and a stellar wine list. There are fantastic naturals on their wine list, and if you don’t know how to order them, the waiters are happy to help you pick out the right wine at a great price point.

Barnaba Vino e Cecina (Testaccio) The first time I visited Barnaba, I immediately texted my wine bestie an urgent message that I found our new Rome hang-out. It’s exquisite. While snooty hipsters seem to have taken up a lot of space in the movement, there are still places out there that care about quality and service. The wine list is stellar and has a heavy emphasis on Champagne and French producers. So for a person like me who is steeped in Italian wine, having access to non-Italian wine is a fantastic change of pace. The Italians on the list are all well curated, clean, well made wines. The food is upscale wine bar fare that pairs perfectly with the wines. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. This is my place for celebrating with great wine. 

Wine talk at Angolo Divino.

Wine talk at Angolo Divino.

Want to know more about Uncorked and Sarah May? Listen to Travel: In Situ with Darius Arya. Episode 4 is all about Sarah and Lazio wines.

Uncorked: Sarah May Grunwald talks Lazio wines

Wine.  I drink it, I love it, and I don’t really know much about it.  Enter Sarah May Grunwald, my friend and personal wine mentor who is always there when I need a great bottle, on site and in-the-cantina research and yes, especially when I need make sure that I know what I am drinking, and talking/writing about. Sarah is a walking encyclopedia of vineyards and vintners, a DOCG demi-goddess,  and most importantly a hands-on gardener who gets into the dirt for wine, spirits and food.  Sarah and I have talked wine for years, and now Sarah will share her wine brain and take us into the vineyards on CiaoBella.

Hey, who are you? I’m a new world girl, a native Californian born to Australian parents. I’ve lived in Italy for 15 years, but I started becoming a wine lover long before that when I lived in south Australia for university.  South Australia is one of the main wine regions in the country and my roommates were studying enology, wine culture and viticulture in general. That was my first introduction to wine that went beyond picking up wine out of a fridge out of a 7/11.

Don’t you have a lot of wine education? I have a certification as a sommelier through Associazione Italiana Sommelier.  I study wine with Sandro SanGiorgi at Porthos Racconta and I’m currently a diploma* student at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust WSET. It is difficult and I have to study a lot as it encompasses the entire world of wine whereas sommelier certificate was mostly Italian wines which helped me for what I want to do because I find that outside of Italy wine education Is does very poorly with Italian wine- they don’t give you enough education about the diversity in Italian wines so have both international education and Italian wine education. *The diploma is one of the highest levels of wine expertise, follwing the Masters of Wine, aka the most prestigious wine qualification.

So if you were to continue with a Masters of Wine, would I call you Madame or Mistress of Wine?  You can call me Mistress of Wine now.

Darius Arya leans into Sarah May for TRAVEL: In Situ

Let’s talk about wine, more specifically what is so important to you about Lazio wines? Well, I live here. I live in Castelli Romani and I am surrounded by vines. When I first moved here, I started really appreciating the work that goes into the finished products that’s in the glass. It’s really poetic- its work that people do to convey a natural setting- very hard work, little reward except the alcohol and yet every glass is different.  My passion is simply because I am local. It goes along with my life philosophy- how I eat, how I shop, what I do, everything comes from within 20 miles from where I live.  I do drink wines outside of Lazio but on a day to day basis I drink Lazio wines.

What’s the most expensive wine you’ve ever purchased? I don’t want Ettore [her husband] to hear  this. . .  You know, Italy has something that a lot of other countries don’t - you can drink really well and not spend a lot.  I don’t remember how much it cost but the most expensive wine I bought was a bottle of Fiorano from the 1970s, which is a Lazio wine made near Ciampino.

It seems like everyone is talking about Lazio wines.  I just had dinner in Milan who surprised us by picking Silene, a Cesanese - not just because we live in Lazio.  The wine industry is very prone to trends, just like any other industry.  Right now, everyone is drinking Cesanese, comes from southeast of Rome.  It’s like with the Georgia wines, why are we are seeing them?  They [Tourism boards] are bringing sommeliers to taste the wines and they like them.  You aren’t just going to find them.

For people like me who really enjoy wine but have no wine memory, how should we drink?  Find wines that you like and keep drinking them... and also leave room for experimentation! 

It’s no fun if you’re not sharing a bottle with Sarah, so lift your glasses with my favorite encyclopedia and Darius Arya on  Travel: In Situ, Darius’ peripatetic podcast going on site for history, culture and travel (iTunes, SoundCloud and everywhere else you download your podcasts).  Join Episode 6 “I’ll Drink to That” where Dariusand Sarah drink up history and Lazio.  Line up these Lazio reds to taste along:

Casale dela Ioria

Sete Freaky

Ortaccio Rosso

IMG_0112.JPG

Sarah May Grunwald is a certified Sommelier, former professor of wine and current WSET Diploma candidate.  She goes knee-deep into Lazio wines on Guild Somm, and contributes wine, food, culture and travel articles  to Wine Chronicles, Eat Sip Trip, Veg News, Curiosity Magazine, Wine Sofa, Culture Trip, World Footprints and more.  Sarah curates and leads wine-centric excursions and experiences in Italy, and is founder of Taste Georgia, cultural consulting and itineraries in everyone’s favorite former Eastern bloc country Georgia.  Follow her on Instagram @Sarah_May G.

How to Train Your Wine Palate

Training your wine palate isn't difficult. Earlier this year, I ventured to Florence to meet with expert Filippo Bartolotta to discuss simple ways to gain a better understanding of what's in your glass. This article fist appeared in Wine Enthusiast, August 2018.

Filippo Bartolotta has walked miles of countryside in the pursuit of understanding terroir, and he’s spent years tasting flavors to find the building blocks of vintages. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET)-certified sommelier is based in Florence, Italy, where he curates wine experiences around the world, as co-founder of the luxury wine tour group, Le Baccanti, and in collaboration with chefs like Alice Waters and Massimo Bottura.

In his latest venture, he tackles the topic of how to train your palate in a newly published book, Di Che Vino Sei (What Kind of Wine Are You). By breaking down eight personality archetypes, Bartolotta believes wine lovers of all levels of expertise can get in groove with their palates. This practice of “wine training” has worked for the likes of actor Dustin Hoffman and former President Barack Obama.

Wine training is exactly what you’re likely thinking: Hours and lots of bottles dedicated to tasting wines. Part emotional and part physical, wine training is about pace, consistency, dedication and exposure. And it’s not just for the academics, collectors or would-be sommeliers, it’s for anyone who enjoys a great pour.

“The truth of a bottle of wine is when you are sitting down and sipping glass after glass, just seeing what happens,” says Bartolotta. Instead of having an experience bound by rigid rules, the only requirement he has for participants is a healthy desire to drink wine. Here are three of his surefire tips.

Don’t worry about memorization

The palate is a complex experiential combination of the four of the five senses: sight, smell, taste and feel. To those, Bartolotta adds another a fifth dimension, experience. It starts out simply, as participants open a bottle of wine to see how and why they like it.

Memorization is the least important aspect. More important is tasting and more tasting to train the palate to recognize flavors, which breeds confidence and natural instincts.

“I don’t like [to guess wines], you miss the whole the concept,” he says. “Instead, it’s all about developing the gut feeling, because your first impression is the most accurate one.”

Establish a daily practice

To understand and identify the nuances of wines, vintages and producers requires daily dedication. Bartolotta has spent thousands of hours in morning-long tasting sessions to solidify his gut feelings. But anyone can train these skills, whether with sommeliers or on their own.

Not many people have the time to taste every single day, of course. Bartolotta suggests that wine lovers dedicate a few hours weekly or monthly to hang out with good friends and great bottles.

Pick a few bottles from the same region, producer or grape variety, sample them and talk about it. Bartolotta suggests doing it again and again until it becomes part of your life. He says that after consistent wine enjoyment with no pressure, the palate becomes more sophisticated. Flavors become familiar, and instinct develops into intuition.

Eventually, tasting becomes a mindfulness practice, says Bartolotta. By the third or fourth glass, it becomes, as Bartolotta says, “a Matrix moment and you’re Neo, synergistically knowing what you are tasting.” The key is to continue to taste and drink, and to hang out with friends is a great reason to expand the selection of wines and experiences.

Compare and contrast

Pop open two semi-related bottles at the same time, say a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of Prosecco. Compare and contrast simultaneously to help you discover subtleties to what you like and don’t like. Otherwise, if you have a good bottle tonight and another next week, it’s difficult it to say which style you really prefer.

Also, get vertical. Much like tasting different styles from the same producer, vertical tastings are when you taste the same style from different years. Tasting the same label, but from three or more different vintages can help understand how the weather and other variables can affect the wine. And given the region, you can also ascertain whether you like hotter vintages versus cooler ones.

Experienced or entry-level, wine training is less about becoming an expert at blindly identifying wines, and more about self-understanding and preferences. As Bartolotta believes, wine was not invented simply to be tasted, it was meant to be enjoyed.

in Florence and want to taste wine with Filippo? Easy.  His company Le Baccanti organizes customized luxury cultural food & wine vacations and day tours in Tuscany and Italy- so yes, you can sit down at a table with him for a few hours eating, drinking and talking wine.  I did and totally developed a wine crush.