MEMORIES TO LAST A LIFETIME
The highlight of Wine Link Italy’s Fall season was my participation in a fabulous Ponant cruise entitled “Epicurean Delights of Southern Italy and Sicily“. I had the wonderful opportunity of sailing on the gorgeous Le Jacques Cartier yacht and as the natural wine expert on board I was thrilled to introduce international passengers to this brave new world. The experience has provided me with an array of amazing memories which will last a lifetime.
Everything started in July of 2020 when I was contacted by Ponant’s Product development manager. They were looking for a wine expert to carry out a series of lectures on Italian wines and related tasting events on board. My name and reputation had reached them via the American journalist Nancy Harmon Jenkins whose work I have admired for more than 10 years.
I remember that it took me almost three hours to answer Ponant’s email. My mind was fired up with excitement and ideas about this wonderful project. I was in the region of Emilia Romagna at the time, for my annual winery visits and reports on Lambrusco producers for the Slow Wine guide. So engrossed was I in thoughts of Ponant that I ended up being late for a dinner that had been planned at Trattoria Entra’, near Modena. (This is my favorite restaurant in the region, managed by a friend and great wine connoisseur Antonio Previdi.)
Ponant is a world leader in luxury cruises with an exquisite French touch. They can truthfully boast fivestar service, carefully crafted excursions and exclusive destinations and I was proudly determined to contribute in my own small way.I prepared two eye-opening seminars which were delivered within the conference theatre of the Yatch. These presentations were illustrated with beautiful pictures taken during my visits to hundreds of wineries all around Italy.
The first seminar took place on Oct.17th and focused on the definition of natural wine, the origin of the movement, the importance of vital soils and farming naturally, the use of different types of vessels in the cellar and finally, the meaning of “living wines“.
The second seminar on Oct.19th featured the main differences between natural and conventional winemaking: sulfites, yeasts and harvest. I also discussed the importance of local grapes and explained how in many cases these grapes are recovered and protected by natural winemakers with great benefits for general biodiversity and our palate alike. It was equally important to expound upon the meaning of expressing the terroir as a “sense of place”.
Lastly I provided the guests with a list of growers associations complete with names of natural wine producers, the most important natural wine fairs in Italy and abroad and a practical contemporary app which can be used to find natural wines in restaurants and wine bars all over the world.
The cruise touched upon Campania, Calabria and Sicily so I prepared an overview of the relative regional wines, the most famous areas of production, their local grapes and the most renowned wines.
My talk on Campania featured the province of Caserta which is well known for the stunning “Reggia”; the Royal Palace built by Charles III,( King of Naples and Sicily and member of the Bourbon dynasty) in the XVII century as his lavish residence.
All the vines of this territory are very ancient and almost all are mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia. Pliny referred to this region as “Campania Felix” meaning “fertile Campania”. A land of alluvial origins enriched with limestone and ennobled by the extinct Vulcano of Roccamonfina. Naturally the grapes retain the memory of all these geological characteristics.
I focused on the fraction of Aorivola in the province of Caserta where a delicious variety of Falanghina is grown and then vinified in cement for 12 hours (with the added plus of skin maceration) by the wine producer named I Cacciagalli. This was the natural wine I chose to introduce to Ponant guests; 100% Falanghina grapes from Campania.
When it came to Calabria, I selected the historic wine CIRO’: a name which is a beacon of Ionian Calabria and also one of the oldest wines on earth since, in antiquity, it was gifted to the victorious athletes who returned from the Athenian Olympic Games.
I chose the powerful Ciro’ made by wine producer Francesco Maria De Franco from the A’Vita wine cellar. Francesco is also the pioneer of the Ciro’ Revolution; a battle against the denomination DOC CIRO’ which was established in 2010. This Doc Ciro’ denomination allows the use of international grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet into the Cirò blend. This makes the wine softer and intensifies the color, for marketing purposes.
The 8 artisanal winemakers of the Cirò Revolution are, on the other hand, reviving ancient production methods and restoring status to local knowledge and territorial culture. Their wines are made from 100% Gaglioppo grapes.
Francesco Maria De Franco
The Sicilian part of my speech focused on the wines from the Northern side of Mount Etna and I enjoyed introducing my audience to the red grape variety of Nerello Mascalese, as well as the Carricante white grape.
Nerello is undoubtedly the king of red grape varieties in this location and its particular elegance comes from the mineral and obsidian-rich soils or layers of lava that alternate on the slopes of Mount Etna. The illustrious Etna soil also gives birth to the Carricante -an ancient indigenous white grape – which when properly vinified produces wines of unexpected longevity characterized by a sophisticated level of acidity and a very fine mineral quality.
I decided that the best way to represent these Etna grapes was to showcase the SRC wine cellar located in Randazzo, Etna. I had been invited there on a field trip in 2018 and my colleagues and I had participated in the Contrade dell’Etna festival which is held there on a regular basis. Needless to say, it was a revelation that I wanted to share with Ponant.
Ponant’s excursion on Mount Etna
All the wines described were included in the Oct.20th Natural Wine Tasting on board the Le Jacques Cartier. I conducted the event with the professional support of my friend John Camacho Vidal who is an Italian wine Ambassador in the States and a wonderful Italian wine storyteller.
Here below are the details of said wines, in case you want to give them a try or relive the experience!
– Aorivola 2019 – I Cacciagalli
– Cirò 2017 – A’Vita
– Etna Bianco 2020 – SRC
– Alberello 2018 – SRC
What else can I say about this wondrous experience?
I will never forget the unique landscapes, colors, and lights that I was able to admire from the boat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. One night the captain modified the route so that we could witness the eruption of the vulcano off the coast of Stromboli. On another occasion the vessel came to an unscheduled stop in front of Capri so that we could all enjoy the rising of the full moon for as long as possible. My attentive eyes basked in the glory of these incredible sceneries!
The Island of Capri
Also, the flavors on board were so incredibly delicious. The Chef was French and fabulous dishes were expertly prepared for us at every meal. And, though the wines were not exclusively Italian, I must say the featured wine pairings and daily Italian proposals were often very interesting.
My Birthmonth is October and I found this surprise in my cabine 🙂
Last but not least I met some incredible people on board, and this certainly made the experience livelier, and fun filled. The sensations shared with my fellow passengers will make these memories even harder to forget.
Finally, I am very grateful to the Universe for this incredible and unique experience that life has given me. In all seriousness I can affirm that it has been a successful challenge and a marvelous way to share my passion for natural wines. 😊
With love and wine,