Giusti Wines: From Dream to Vines

From:Giustiwine.com

Growing up among the vines of Italy’s  Veneto region, Ermenegildo Giusti  always knew Canada would be his destiny. “From the time I was 8 or 9, I knew where Canada was. My parents told me it was at the end of the vineyard and a bit further, ” he said.  Just shy of 18, Ermenegildo explored “a bit further”.  He landed in Canada where he took his dream and turned it into a multi-million dollar business.

But he never forgot the vines.

When he left home, his family stopped producing wine.  In 1998,  Ermenegildo took the family’s two hectares and began rebuilding,  “I grew up in the vineyard. My memories growing up are surrounded by  grapes and the harvest.”

      Today the Giusti vineyard is 100 hectares in the heart of Prosecco country.  The sparkling wine is part of Ermenegildo’s history. “It was like having water growing up. My brother and I would drink it after school.” To him, Prosecco also meant celebration. “It was celebrating friendship, life, birth, people coming together.”

Source: Giustiwine.com

It’s that history he honours.  ”Once a farmer always a farmer,” he explains. The fields are impeccably tended because that’s what he remembers. “My vineyards are like a garden because I remember how my father kept them. Everything was so tidy. They were so proud. There was so much love. It was like giving something of themselves,” he explains.

The Giusti produces 320,000 bottles a year, including a range of Prosecco, whites and reds.   The wine he is most proud of?  Umberto Primo – a blend  of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot he named after his grandfather.

This fall Giusti launched a sparkling Rosé. Ermenegildo laughs when I ask him about it.  “I never wanted to do a rosé because in summer when my mother would give me wine with water,  that was not wine. So I refused to make rosé because every time I looked at it, I thought  it was a wine I didn’t want to drink.” When he finally conceded, he took grapes from his best vineyards using Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a little Recantina – a heritage grape that’s regaining popularity. The results are remarkable. Even my non-sparkling-wine-loving family wanted more.

Giusti’s Prosecco is by far its biggest seller with sales of 200,000 bottles a year. It was their award-winning Rosalia  that won my affection at a wine tasting at Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory.   It was fresh, fruity and not overly sweet.  The second time was in a small wine store in Canmore, AB where I found the Giusti Merlot. 

     

Today, Emenegildo divides his time between  his vineyards in Italy and his  Calgary  where his three sons and seven grandchildren live.  At the heart of the vineyard is a tribute to the sense of belonging  in both lands. A tower overlooking the fields is  surrounded by water. “It is a symbol of somebody going away and leaving their home.”  he says. And though his history called him back to Italy, Canada is his future. “I am more Canadian than Italian. I spent 45 years in Canada. Canada is definitely home.”

Venice for the Wine Lover

A quiet spot in a city of water, a city most commonly associated with tourists fighting pigeons for space in front of the Piazza San Marco, gondolas gliding down the canals and Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the Bellini.  There is so much to see in this city that has the look of a movie set.  For the  wine lover, Venice is so much more.

Let the Ombra Begin

There is a tradition in Venice called the Ombra. The literal translation is shade. To Venetians, it means a glass of red wine. Some say the origin of the term comes from the wine sellers who sold their wares in the shadow of the tower in Piazza San Marco. Another story claims it came from the fishermen who worked each morning in the baking sun. Once they unloaded their small boats, heavy with their catch of the day, they retreated into small bars which lined the dock for a glass of red wine or Ombra.  My favourite story, echoed by the concierge at the Hotel ai Mori D’Oriente,  is that Ombra became a noun that refers to strolling from one small bar to another for a glass of wine, a pub crawl of sorts for the oenophile as in  “We are going for an Ombra.

Paradise Found

Paradiso Perduto (Translation: Paradise Lost)  topped  the recommended list and it turned out to be the perfect place to start our Ombra. We each had a glass of the house Prosecco, gentle bubbles of the lightest kind.   Outside, tables laden with cichetti or Venice’s answer to Tapas, lined the canal.  From roasted vegetables to fried shrimp, octopus, Baccala and  zucchini flowers.  Simple, fresh and affordable. 

The Real  Wine Thing

Our  best find of the day, just a few steps away,  has clearly been found before. Vino Vero is a small wine bar  with a dozen seats inside and a few tables outside. You know when you walk into a bookstore and can tell instantly  it is run by someone who truly loves books? That’s the feeling at Vino Vero.

There are about 200-300 wines here. So much choice but somehow Esmerelda, who handles the bar, makes it approachable.  “Give me something I have never tried before,” I asked.  Esmerelda pulled out two wines to try before committing  which  goes a long way to building my loyalty.

First up:  Esmerelda suggested  a sparkling wine called MUNI made from Durella, a white grape native to  Northern Italy. It was fruity, classic and elegant – with plenty of spritz. However, sparkling wine is the only spritz you’ll find at Vino Vero. There’s a  sign on the counter that warns – No Spritz –  just in case someone was considering ordering the popular Aperol cocktail.  In case you doubted their policy – “Nospritz” is even the WIFI password .

Esmerelda then pulled out a bottle of Slavcek 2012 –  a Merlot from Slovenia –  for me to sample.  Deep ruby red, dry and delicious. She is extremely knowledgable, with a lovely blog of her own called Yeasteria.it, focusing  on Italian bio-dynamic wine and beer.

Woman of Wine: Esmerelda
Vino Vero Regulars Chris and Vivian

We shared a drink with Chris and Vivian from Queensland, who were at the bar for the third time – proof that while the wines make Vino Vero worth visiting, the atmosphere and service make it worth the trip back.

Cannaregio District:  Both bars are located in the Cannaregio district. It’s the historical Jewish quarter and far from the cruise travellers and tourists armed with selfie sticks. A 10-minute walk from the train station and 20 – 30 minutes walk from most of Venice’s most popular sights.

Vino Vero, Fondamenta Misericordia 2497, 30100 Venezia

Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta Misericordia 2540, 30100 Venezia

Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Tops Amarone in U.S. Wine Competition

Judgement at Fortunes Rocks

Each year, a select group of committed wine drinkers gathers on the eastern Maine coast to swirl, sniff, slurp and savour at the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks. 

Ready, Set, Drink

The table is set. The teams are picked. The rules are simple. Each of us brings a bottle from a different country or region. This year offerings came from Italy, France, Portugal, California, and of course Canada.

The blind-tasting has evolved over the years. We  started off with wildly different wines, to give us a fighting chance.  We had the year when we got cocky and  featured all Cabernet Sauvignon ranging in price from $10 – $50 to find out if price really does matter. It did, sort of. We all identified the least expensive wine, but our favourite was the $30 special – which all of us needed to “sample” again… just to be sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is probably the one time of the week we all take seriously – well semi- seriously, during a beach week of fine wine, fine music and fine food.  The Judgement at Fortunes Rocks  is like taking the big exam after practicing a whole lot. There is even a trophy.

But this year, the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks 4.0 will be remembered as the year of Canada -Take that Mr. Trump.

 

 

 

Most of the teams nailed the Pinot Noir, a confidence builder because of its lighter colour.

Two teams identified wine #2  from Medoc. Bottle #3 – EVERY SINGLE TEAM – deemed it an obvious Amarone. This group should know – they have sampled many many bottles  together – and even toured and tasted at the Zenato winery north of Verona last year. 

And every single team got it wrong.

The best wine of the bunch was the Cabernet Franc from Vineland Estates. 

 

Vineland Estates Scores Big

Now wine snobs can sneer and call us a bunch of amateurs – we are. But the fact that all of us committed wine drinkers selected the Vineland Grand Reserve over Amarone under any circumstance is worth noting.

OK, this may not be quite on the level of the 1976 Judgement of Paris when a panel of the creme de la creme of French wine judges awarded two California wines – a  red and a white – top spots in a blind-tasting. The competition sent shock waves through the wine industry, opened the door to globalization,  and even inspired the film “Bottleshock”.   

VQA wines have come into their own.  It’s never been a better time to buy local. Our wines have lost the asterisk, that old descriptor of “that’s really good for a Canadian wine.”

Wine makers in the Niagara region are making outstanding wines worth savouring. Period.

And for the winner and the losers of the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks 4.0 …. we’ll just keep practicing.

Cheers!

The Prosecco Trail

I love prosecco.

I love it in the morning with a dash of OJ (for colour), as an afternoon palette cleanser, or a toast before dinner.

Prosecco turns any event into a celebration.

I am in great company.   More than 355 million bottles were sold worldwide in 2015 and the demand is still growing.

About 90% of prosecco comes from a region just north of Venice.  There you’ll find the  Strada of Prosecco, a 47-km trail lined with sparkling wine cantinas. 

We got the chance to tour one of the prettiest wineries in the region in late September.  And the prosecco was the lure.

Pitars is a fourth generation producer in San  Martino al Tagliamento, about 90 minutes north of Venice. 

The staff was setting up for a wedding the day  we visited. This place is so gorgeous, such a perfectly romantic setting,  it almost made me want to convince my husband to renew our vows.  Almost.  We opted instead  for a few toasts – mostly counting our lucky stars to be there.

After the tour, hospitality director Valentino Florian led us through a tasting of half a dozen wines.  Plan to spend some time.  They have 20 wines, each worth sampling.  White grapes rule the region. Most of fields in the area are planted with Glera grapes and used for prosecco.  I loved its aromatic flavour and bubbles that tingled on the way down. I especially loved their sparkling Ribolla Giallo – a white grape gaining popularity in Canada. 

Pitars produces eight whites and  four reds. Their  portfolio includes a Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Naos, a knockout red blend.  My cousin Lindo claims the only good wines in the world are produced in this region. 

“Un minuto!” I responded. “California, France, Canada, Spain? What about Tuscany?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders “I suppose I will give you Tuscany,” Lindo said .

Finally, the price.  A bottle of award-winning prosecco was SIX EUROS. Even with a generous exchange, that’s $9 CDN.  A  prosecco of this quality in Canada sells for more than twice the price.

As we were leaving, my husband tried to persuade me  to take home a dozen bottles, until I reminded him he was the one who challenged me to do carry on only.

That’ll teach him.

If you find Pitars on the shelves, try it first…then let me know!

Bonus Cocktail discovery:

Italian Lemonade uncovered at a Bistro in Canmore Alberta – Amounts vary to taste but I used:

1 cup of Limoncello from the freezer

Juice from 2 lemons

1/2 bottle of Prosecco

1-2 teaspoons of sugar (optional and to taste)

Top with sparkling water.

on ice.

Discovering Grappa

Distillery Pagura

Grappa is proof grapes keep on giving.

I never knew much about Grappa, other than my father telling me when I was a child, “Don’t touch, it can kill you.” Grappa was what was passed around the plastic-covered table when my father visited friends in our Italian neighbourhood in Montreal.

Grappa is made from the skins, seeds and stems  leftover when every drop of goodness is pressed out of grapes for wine. The aroma of the pomace or vinaccia is rich and heady, like the inside of a whiskey barrel.

It is steam distilled into a clear liquid of between 35 and 60 per cent alcohol.  Yes Dad, it can kill you.

Grappa is a digestive typically paired with coffee.  You can serve Caffe Corretto or corrected coffee, pouring it right in the cup,  or my favourite,  ammazzacaffe – coffee killer – where you throw back an ounce of espresso followed by a healthy shot of grappa.

 

Many years later, at my cousin’s table in Italy, it was served to me after dinner with espresso and a story.

In Italy, there is always a story.

Lindo Pagura’s family has been producing Grappa for four generations. His grandfather and namesake worked as an apprentice for Domenico Campagna who founded the Pagura Distillery in 1879.  Every morning farmers would drop by at 5am for a quick hit to get them started for the day. When Campagna died,  he left the distillery to his young apprentice.

 

Young Lindo grew the operation, winning international awards for his Grappa. But his success was short lived. He died at 35 leaving a wife and two children. Young widow Giovanna Mistruzzi kept the distillery running between two wars even though soldiers of all stripes freely came in to seize the Grappa.

“It is really all because of my grandmother that we are here,” says Lindo today.

The distillery looks much like it did one hundred years ago. Lindo and his three sisters  still use equipment given to the family in 1923 by Germany,  part of reparations from the first World War.

The distillery is in the small town of Castions di Zoppola, about 90 minutes north of Venice. It is a centrepiece of the village. Everyone knows Lindo and his family.  Several times a year he opens his courtyard to musicians and events.

The night I was there five jazz musicians and a choir of 40 performed the music of George Gershwin under the stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Today the distillery produces a variety of grappas, from tawny coloured barrel aged varieties to bottles infused with local produce.  The bottles are personalized and each year, the family contracts an artist to create a unique bottle which is in itself a work of art.

Now the next generation of Pagura’s is preparing to take over the family business, moving forward with innovation, but very much  respecting the rich traditions of the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Woman of Wine

 

My journey of wine discovery has involved  many tastings. From massive producers to boutique variety to wine bars,  I have been graced to meet  many remarkable and generous people.  Sicilian winemaker Ciro Biondi gave us a tour and tasting with a heaping side of Italian history and the struggles between the north and south.

Morning Glory in Montepulciano

Irene Lesti of Montemercurio fed our love of Tuscan wine with stories of the valley, the people all, of course, over generous pours of their wines.  I’ve toured the spectacular Culmina vineyard in Oliver, BC with Don Triggs.  Thanks to Canadian wine collector Garrett Herman and crossed schedules with his close friends, we had the good fortune to be stand-ins at a  dinner with Marchese Piero Antinori, the head of one of the eldest winemaking families in Italy over a glass of Solaia.

My journey has been a very lucky one. I came to the conclusion that wine people love to share stories, a glass, a meal.  They all look at least 10 years younger.  They are the kind of people who despite the many challenges of the wine business, they are living their dream.

Cinzia Caporali was one of those people. We met her  at E Lucian Le Stelle, my favourite wine bar inside Locanda San Francesco – a stunning B & B in Montepulciano. The first time we shared a joke.  The second time, I brought 8 friends and we drank them out of Valdipiatta, her family’s wines.

Organizer Cinzia in Action

The third time she invited Steve and I to join a blind tasting of the new release of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with a dozen winemakers. My dream come true. That night I heard one of my favourite lines that I have used many times since.  “You don’t make friends drinking milk.”

The Contenders

When friends Matt and Crystal  were going on a honeymoon, I contacted Cinzia to ask her to have a bottle of Valdipiatta waiting for them in their room along with a gift and a card. Cinzia made it an extra special vintage to mark their  very special day.

Steve’s First Glass
at E Lucevan Le Stelle

And when my husband Steve had a terrible accident, she sent her best wishes. When he had his first glass of wine in 19 months at her wine bar, she said she was honoured and would not let us pay.

Guilio Caporali Among His Vines

Cinzia also organized what was undoubtedly our best wine tasting experience at Tenuta Valdipiatta with Guilio, her father. He talked about his love of opera, his love of wine and how proud he was of his daughters.

Over these visits, I learned Cinzia  was a mechanical engineer, she had a great sense of humour and she certainly knew how to bring people together and make them feel welcome.

We talked about getting together in Rome. Steve and I thought how incredible  it would be to explore the city with her. 

Just two days ago I sent a tweet with a photo of Steve and I sharing our last bottle of Valdipiatta, very excited to see her again in three weeks when we will be in Montepulciano.  I received a letter today telling me that Cinzia passed away last month. I have no idea how old she was because  wine people always look so much younger.   All I know is she was far too young.

E Lucevan le Stelle means  the stars are shining brightly, a line from Tosca, one of Puccini’s most famous operas.  Indeed, Cinzia made the lives of all she met a little brighter. I count myself  so very lucky that she became part of mine,

Continue reading A Woman of Wine

Stratus Winery: When Style Meets Substance

A bottle of wine tells a story even before it is  opened.  The shape can reveal its geography, its varietal, its history.

The iconic bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape with the embossed logo representing a papal crest, hints at its storied history.   Burgundy, Bordeaux and Riesling  all have distinctive bottle shapes.

And then there is the 2014 Stratus Cabernet Franc ‘Decant’.

Stratus Decant 2014 Cabernet Franc

Industrial designer Karim Rashid has created a wine bottle as spectacular as the 2014 Cabernet Franc created by winemaker J-L Groux.

The design was inspired by the layers of soil that create some of the finest wines from the Niagara region.  The bottle  is elegant, easy to hold, and the design acts like a decanter when pouring the wine.

“The best designs come from functionality,” says Rashid, who Time magazine called ” the most famous industrial designer in all of the Americas.” His website is a cornucopia of the greatest design hits. Guess which shoes are his?

The unique style is matched only by the substance of the wine.  The Cabernet Franc grape grows well in the region. The problem is there have been too many wines with a nose and flavour of ripe green pepper.

“People have been making it wrong,” says Groux. “This is what Cabernet Franc  tastes like, when you get it right.” This wine is full-bodied and complex and has changed my impression of the much-maligned varietal.

At $95, this is  a collector’s item so act quickly. The production is small – only 110 cases – and it is only available  online or at the  winery.