Ribolla Gialla + Cherry Chapstick = Yo La Tengo!

(Always did love that Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo compilation.)

There’s a growing number of California winemakers working at the margins of the current industry to produce truly distinctive wines, and some of these fine folks have chosen to work with ribolla gialla, a variety that hails from the northeastern corner of Italy. In fact, it became legal in United States only this year to label varietal wines as ribolla gialla.Exciting!

One recent and (to me) quite successful example is the Arnot-Roberts 2009 Vare Vineyard Napa Valley Ribolla Gialla. Sourced from a tiny nook of a vineyard that industry veteran George Vare planted in the foothills of the Myacamas Mountains on the eastern side of the Napa Valley, it’s both generous in texture and energetic in expression, with a hint of almond and a fruit character that falls somewhere between a Meyer lemon and a tangerine.

Though this really has nothing to do with the Arnot-Roberts Ribolla Gialla — other than I think the band would really dig — in honor of the first day of Hanukkah, here’s a recording of Yo La Tengo performing “Cherry Chapstick” during their annual Hanukkah stand at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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Wine of the Week: That Old Black Magic

Time to take a break from all that Italian wine here at Spume. One of the more notable wines this week comes from Steve Edmunds at Edmunds St. John.

That Old Black Magic, 2006 California Red Wine, Edmunds St. John

This feisty blend of syrah and grenache feels spicy and lean — more about savory flavors than sweet fruit, though there’s enough California power to give it an appropriate New World charge. Edmunds co-ferments the grapes for this wine from three vineyards, Wylie and Fenaughty (both in El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills), and Eaglepoint Ranch up in Mendocino. I was surprised by the wine’s finesse and texture, which was silky without being overly generous or stupid. Edmunds’ response to my question/statement about the relationship between co-fermentation and texture:

Not just texture, but harmony, and integration. It’s amazing, after pressing into cask, I didn’t rack until August of the year after harvest, and bottled right after the rack. Glad you liked it! The nose, I think, is pretty persuasive…

“Persuasive” is an excellent word for it. A lovely effort, worth tracking down (I found my bottle at Castro Village Wines in San Francisco, where it was about $21). You can learn more about That Old Black Magic here.

Skin-Fermented Fiano from the Volcanic Highlands of Campania

What a week for wine! As indicated earlier, I was in New York for the latter half of last week for VINO 2010, a massive conference of seminars, tastings, meetings, dinners and the like, all celebrating the contemporary world of Italian wine in the US. I’ll get to details of wines tasted at the event, as well as notes from the panel I participated in, later but first a little indulgence.

One of the more notable wines I tasted all week was a fiano from Calitri, in the Irpinia highlands deep in inland Campania. Think the other side of Mount Vesuvius and you’re about right. Head south a little too, through the raw farmland, mountains and ancient Germanic castles on the road to Basilicata.

Don Chisciotte 2006 Fiano Campania IGT is a an unusual take on one of this region’s most promising indigenous white varieties from the father-uncle-son team of Michele, Pierluigi and Guido Zampaglione. Made in a natural style — ie, organically farmed, with no additions of yeast, enzymes, or chemicals; limited use of sulfur — it’s also fermented on its skins, where it acquires a distinctive golden-orange hue.

(Above: Skin-fermented fiano and a bowl of just-fried hushpuppies. Note the similarity in color.)

I met Guido Zampaglione this past year at ViniVeri in Verona where he was pouring wines from Tenuta Grillo, his winery in Monferrato. Don Chisciotte is a project Zampaglione started with his father and uncle at their family’s Il Tufiello estate in Calitri, where they’ve long been growers of organic wheat, oats and sunflowers. Two hectares of fiano vines were planted in 2001, at an altitude of around 800 meters (2,600+ feet). The high-altitude viticulture in this part of Italy is part of what makes the region so thrilling.

This ’06, found at Chambers Street Wines in Manhattan, is an unusual wine — not for everyone, but certainly interesting. and worth checking out. On top of apple/ stone fruit flavors and the gripping texture from the skin fermentation, we noticed a curious spice component, sort of like curry. Pretty groovy stuff.

Production is quite low — apparently there’s around 5,000 bottles produced — but it’s the kind of thing that will attract attention, and apart from Antece from Bruno De Conciliis, it’s the only skin-fermented fiano I know about (though I’m sure there are more).

For more about Il Tufiello and Don Chisciotte, check out the farm’s blog. Also, Jamie Goode weighed in on the 2007 vintage of this wine a couple weeks ago.

Memories of Autumn

Taking a break from writing up Italian wineries for a book project to report on an interesting wine from last weekend, Domaine La Tour Vieille’s “Memorie (d’automnes)” from Collioure in the Pyrénées-Orientales in southwestern France. Lovely stuff. And what an evocative name.

I believe it’s a blend of grenache blanc and genache gris that’s made in a manner similar to Sherry or perhaps vin jaune (Old wooden vats! Flor!), and here it is at once saline and bone-dry, yet with the sweetness of dried apricots and sultanas. The golden-orange color is also quite pretty to look at, reminiscent of, well, autumn.

Kermit Lynch imports this wine, at least on the west coast, so it is available. In San Francisco it’s available at Arlequin Wine Merchant for around $25.

And here’s some newish music, “Islands” from The xx. I think this is someone’s fan video, but I could be wrong. Lovely song though.