Marco Porello Wine Tour – Sunday 24 October 2021 @ 12:00 – bookings now open.

To book the Marco Porello Wine Tour, click here.

Meet Marco himself with this virtual tasting and presentation. Enjoy his wonderful Roero wines, as he and James introduce the region, grapes and the winery.

The tasting includes a full bottle of Marco’s Birbet, and a choice of sample sizes of three other Porello wines. Also, a Deli Pack of treats from our counters (let us know your dietary requirements), as well as tasting notes and an order form. The presentation usually takes around 60 minutes. We encourage questions and participation throughout.

Click here for to learn more and to book the Marco Porello Wine Tour. And click here for Marco’s website.

Tenuta Matteu – Sardinia pt. 2

Tenuta Matteu

The evening of the same morning in which I bade adieu to my family at Olbia airport, I drove the up the steep road to Tenuta Matteu. The purpose was to present my monthly Wine Tour to the customers back home.

(Incidentally, part one of James’s letters from Italy can be found here.)

“The best camerawork and editing I’ve ever seen.” – Steven Spielberg,

Were there ever a more picturesque vineyard setting? Rows of Vermentino vines, heavy in leaf and fruit, lead the eye to the bay 300 metres below. Small boats cross to and from La Maddalena. That is the island archipelago where Garibaldi spent his final years.

I had already seen photographs, before our family visit earlier in the week. However, they do not tell the whole story. The top vineyard occupies a natural saddle of land, which slopes away to either side. On the shoreward side, the rich colours of the sea nourish the eye.

But turning landward reveals a whole new drama. A great vista of distant mountain tops crashes across the horizon. Ridges, crests and peaks clamber over each other. In the summer haze of the evening, each fades ahead of the next.

The main track traverses the saddle. It leads from the old farmhouse, and the vines glide away to either side. Towering foursquare above the whole scene is the most dominant peak of all. So the ensemble effect – mountains there, the sea there, the vines in the middle, just so, and in the centre of it all, this vast massif – one feels to have inadvertently walked onto a film set.

Tenuta Matteu – Soliánu Vermentino di Gallura DOCG

Sardinia part 2 - Cinzia at gate of Tenuta Matteu.

There’s a bit of jargon coming up – so before we go any further, let’s go through it.

  • Tenuta in this context is the Italian word for an estate. The word tenuta is the past participle of tenere – to have (in one’s hand) or to keep. Hence, a ‘holding’.
  • Soliànu is a Sardinian word which translates to Italian as soleggiata. In English that means sunny, or, more pointedly – though still lacking the evocation – sun-kissed. You can buy Soliànu here.
  • Vermentino is a semi-aromatic white grape grown mainly in Liguria (where it is also called Pigato), the Tuscan coast and Sardinia. It is also known in Provence as Rolle and in Piemonte as Favorita. Vermentino is considered one of Italy’s ‘noble’ white grapes.
  • Gallura – the historical name for Sardinia’s northerly region, introduced in part 1 of this trundle around the island.
  • Ledda and Matteu are the names of estates. Ledda owns Matteu.
  • DOCGDenominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita. The top tier of Italy’s appellation system.

Cuculo regulars might recognise the name in connection with Tenuta Ledda. Andrea Ledda owns Tenuta Matteu. Matteu is planted completely to Vermentino, while the entirety of that production in turn makes all of “Soliànu”. In simple terms, Matteu (vineyard) is Soliànu (wine), and vice versa.

Soliànu is a sumptuous Vermentino di Gallura DOCG Riserva. You can buy it here.

Our guide at Tenuta Matteu was Andrea Pericu, manager of the various estates owned by Ledda. With his gently passionate manner, Andrea showed us the important features of the Tenuta.

Tenuta Matteu – in Andrea’s words

In considering Sardinian Vermentino, one thinks of three key influences. That is to say, proximity to the sea, the granite rock, and the maquis underbrush. This is the only vineyard in all of Sardinia which has all three of those together. It also benefits from being at 300m in altitude, and there’s a constant breeze coming over the pass.

Because the vineyard has a mix of aspects, altitudes and inclinations, picking needs several passes. A team of 40 pick the ripe parcels first thing in the morning, and the juice is vinified. The following morning, they go out again and choose the parcel which is ripe that day. And so on. It’s a skilled and time-consuming process, and it’s the way we achieve the perfect balance in the wine.

There is no oak used in Soliànu, only stainless steel.

Andrea Pericu, Tenuta Ledda

Matteu & Ledda – the wines

Then, in the shade away from the hot afternoon sun, we sat on the terrace of the tasting room. With Andrea we tasted through most of the wines currently in production across all three Ledda vineyards.

In terms of the Soliànu (from that very vineyard), we tried several vintages. Note that the only vintage available is the latest, 2020. Also, that just now, this is the only Ledda wine available in the UK. I have a pending order for some of the others – you can learn more in the next instalment.

The 2016 was the first vintage from the vineyard. Medium lemon with green flecks. Evolving fruit, floral, mineral and balsamic aromas. A wonderful balance between acidity and sugars; alcohol in evidence; richly textured – oily, even, like a great Burgundy – yet refreshing.

The 2017 Andrea describes as their perfect expression of Vermentino. I thought hazelnut on the nose but my companions both raised an eyebrow. Fantasic balance again – there was a delicacy and herbal lift lacking in the vintages to either side. A pity it has all gone.

The 2020 was excellent. A little young in the bottle (all these wines are made to age), and lacking the perfect poise that set 2017 apart. But still, such presence in the glass. The herb notes – maquis, dried grass, eucalyptus – balance the citrus and tropical fruits beautifully. This is the current vintage available to buy at Cuculo.

The pricing is as follows:

  • 75cl bottle £25.45
  • 6 bottles £140 (£23.33 per bottle)
  • 12 bottles £270 (£22.50 per bottle)

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About Vermentino

Vermentino is a semi-aromatic grape variety. Among other qualities, that means it is fairly high in sugars. These can build very quickly in the fruit near harvest, so it can easily become a sweet wine.

However, this is not usually what the winemaker wants. Instead, they want to show off the grape’s delightful floral (orange blossom, rose, acacia) and fruit (notably citrus and tropical). Not to mention the steely, more ‘mineral’ notes. Some sugar in the wine is desirable – more than many white wines – but that acidity is key.

So the winemaker works to keep a good level of acidity in the grapes. Altitude helps, as do the cooling sea breezes. The Gallurese granite lends that mineral quality. Picking early in the morning and at ideal ripeness is also important.

Vermentino typically has:

  • 23.7 °Brix of must sugars (i.e. before fermentation)
  • Alcohol around 13.5%
  • Acidity around 5.7 g/l
  • pH around 3.2

Its flavour profile tends to be:

  • Floral;
  • Some citrus;
  • Some pear and apple;
  • Tropical fruit;
  • Off-dry;
  • Fairly aromatic;
  • Medium acidity;
  • Fairly mineral;
  • Balanced between soft and structured;
  • Good length.

Mrs. Mantis – Sardinia pt. 1

Welcome to James’s letters from Italy.

Sardinia, part 1. Ancient, wild Sardinia is the jewel in the crown of the Mediterranean. The most northerly part of the island – the bit which almost touches Corsica – has kept its ancient name, Gallura. This is an area composed entirely of rose-gold granite rock. So in the evening, rich pink infuses the honeyed light of the lowering sun, and the maquis releases its heady perfume of herb and brush and pine.

Sardinia part 1

The sea rushes at its endless process of transforming the rocks into the fine sand of beaches, or destroying them altogether to create inlets. Some of the beaches are kilometres long, backed by regal forests of Maritime Pines. Their broad tops shine emerald against the azure sky, and provide cool and shade for shuffling tortoises.

It’s a strange time. Covid ravages the globe, so overseas visitors are very few. Yet Italians are holidaying here in large numbers. Indoors has everybody wearing a mask, whereas, on the streets and beaches, the world goes on in its usual way.

As for me, I find myself enjoying an extended stay here, to the amusement of many. I am here with a purpose, but I can see how everyone else thinks I’ve just taken the bold move of extending my family holiday. A bit of me time, right? I see those Mums and Dads to whom I have tried to explain it, calculating how they can pull off the same trick.

I’ve dropped my family at Olbia airport – what now?

A number of things. Since my last visit eighteen months ago, I’ve become an Italian national and I need to collect my carta d’identità in Valtournenche. But that’s just life’s admin. Of more interest, I have some winery visits to make – here and on the mainland. There are new hotels to visit, and old ones with whom I want to renew acquaintance. There are new walking and cycling routes to measure and write up.

I can’t lie – although I miss my family already, it’s raining back in England and I’m looking forward to this.

Thank you for reading Sardinia part 1 – my first letter from Italy.

Thank you for reading Sardinia part 1 – my first letter from Italy.

You can read letter 2 “Tenuta Matteu” here.

Aosta Valley wine

Aosta Valley wine is famous with the region’s holidaymakers. Because very little area is available for vine planting, production is tiny, with locals and tourists polishing off most of it. In wine terms, Aosta Valley – compared to, say, Tuscany or Sicily – is little known. However, for reasons we explain here, it is very high quality. Famous Aosta Valley producers include Les Crêtes and Cave Mont Blanc.

Luckily, a small amount of Valdostano wine reaches our shores. You can find the Cuculo selection here.

Heart of the Italian Alps – enjoy Aosta Valley wine at the winery!

You can also visit Aosta Valley with Cuculo, as part of our beautiful Heart of the Italian Alps wine itinerary. After the disruption of 2020/21, we will be relaunching Heart of the Italian Alps ready to receive travellers in 2022. Heart of the Italian Alps is operated by our sister company, MacNay Travel & Wine.

The trip uses high quality, diverse accommodation between elegant, bustling Aosta and chic Courmayeur. Enjoy wine tastings and a range of unforgettable mountain experiences.

Aosta Valley wine trail

You can book the itinerary purely as a wine trip, but it is also available as an eight day, exhilerating, self-guided walking trip (difficulty: ‘hard’). We provide detailed directions and maps, make all bookings, and move your bags ahead of you.

Aosta Valley wine trail - Morgex

All bookings include a visit to mainland Europe’s highest white wine vineyards at Morgex (pictured).

In autumn 2021 Cuculo will publish our dates for accompanied small group bookings. You can also book the trip as an unaccompanied itinerary. In all cases, we provide detailed literature and take care of the logistics (inluding hotels and winery visits) for you.

For more information, to book a trip, or to buy the wines, you can contact us by email, phone or in-store. We look forward to welcoming you to the Aosta Valley very soon. Meanwhile, enjoy the flavour of this magical region through its wines and cheeses.

Bookings now open for the Terredora Wine Tour

Tour dates are Wednesday 12 May (18:45) with a repeat on Saturday 15 May (also 18:45). We’ll explore this important winemaking region and the Terredora winery, with six wines and our usual “deli pack” of treats from the Cuculo counters.

We will be tasting:

  • Greco di Tufo
  • Falanghina
  • Lacryma Christi
  • Fiano di Avellino
  • Aglianico
  • Taurasi

What is more, for the first time, you can choose half- and full-sized bottles, as well as the usual 50cl sample bottles. More information can be found here, and the booking page is here.

Morellino di Scansano DOCG

On the south side of the Ombrone river (of which the Orcia is a tributary), south-west of Montalcino, this appellation is the best known of the southern Maremma. The appellation was elevated from DOC to DOCG status with the 2007 harvest.

The appellation’s name is a compound of Morellino – a synonym for Tuscany’s ubiquitous Sangiovese, and so named after the skins of the indigenous Morelli horses whose dark skins reflect the colour of the wine – and Scansano, the small town at the heart of the appellation.

Historically the zone follows the same story of elsewhere in the Maremma: inhabitation and vine cultivation by the Etruschi; then commercial success with the Romans, who exported the region’s wines to the colonies; followed by depopulation and decline into malaria-infested swampland after the fall of the Roman Empire. By the middle ages grape production was limited to family consumption and local trade. With the 18th Century, some advantage arose for Scansano by virtue of the summertime growth of the population by the Grossetani who sought escape from malaria each year.

The appellation is a mix of soil types, largely shallow with rocky outcrops, and grouped, broadly speaking, with sandstone to the west and more complex limestone and clay in the east.

The disciplinare stipulates a minimum of 85% Sangiovese, with 15% of other regional grapes permitted, including Alicante (Cannonau/Grenache), Ciliegiolo and Merlot. Yields are restricted to 90 tonnes per hectare.

With its warm Mediterranean climate, a typical Morellino di Scansano is soft and fruity, with the vines enjoying less dramatic day/night temperature changes as a result of the moderating influences of breezes from the Tyrrenhian Sea; while the Riserva, which must spend a minimum two years ageing, of which one in oak, is fuller in body, complexity and structure.

An introduction to the Italian wine regions: Toscana.

From its earliest pre-Roman settlers, the Etruscans, through to the modern day, wine has played a central role in the economy and daily life of Toscana. Ricasoli, Antinori, Frescobaldi: some of the world’s oldest continuously operating companies – not just wine companies, but companies – are those of the great Tuscan wine families.

Italy - Toscana map

In its position at the beginning of the Italian archipelago, Toscana marks the boundary of what is classified Italy’s Mediterranean climate, where one can measure the mitigating influence of sea breezes on day/night temperature and on seasonality; meanwhile the Apuan Alps in the north protect the region from cold, rainy northern weather influences, keeping it dry and warm. It is a large region, the largest of central Italy, and the range of wine styles it produces is correspondingly broad, as represented by the number of DOCGs and DOCs, in which it is second only behind Piemonte.

Coastal vineyards in the Colli di Luni DOC in the north (an appellation which straddles two regions) and in the Maremma (a large area which includes the famous Bolgheri DOC) in the south enjoy the moderating influence of the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian seas. Here, cooler temperatures mean the grapes can hang on to some of their acidity. Away from the coastline, in the hilly hinterland which accounts for fully two-thirds of the region’s terrain and famous appellations such as Chianti Classico DOCG and Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, summers are hotter and winters colder.

Cosimo III de Medici, grand duke of Toscana, made history when he issued the 1716 Bando, a document designed to protect the integrity of winemaking in Chianti, Pomino, Carmignano and Val d’Arno di Sopra. It was the forerunner to what is now the disciplinare (rulebook) of an appellation.

In the 1980’s, a number of Tuscan winemakers broke away from staid tradition, planting French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. They hired consultant oenologists and employed new techniques in the vineyard and winery. Thus were born the Super Tuscans, a suite of wines which rewrote not only Tuscan winemaking, but red wine production across the region.

As far as oenological imagery goes, no scene is more iconic than the cypress-lined Tuscan vineyard.

A number of Tuscan appellations, wineries and wines are available from Cuculo.

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