Spotlight on Abruzzo and Bordeaux wines at Il Gattopardo

I made my way through the Rockefeller Center-bound Christmas crowd on a Monday afternoon in mid-December to attend a wine seminar and lunch at Il Gattopardo. The midtown-based Southern Italian restaurant, with the tireless Gianfranco Sorrentino at the helm, his equally intrepid waitstaff, and a soaring private dining atrium, is a popular venue for hosting events. The focus of the tasting was a joint Franco-Italian affair, with Abruzzo wines and sweet Bordeaux varieties sharing the spotlight.

Abruzzo and Sweet Bordeaux Wine Luncheon Menu at Il Gattopardo Restaurant

Abruzzo Wine Ambassador Susannah Gold, gave us an overview of both regions, beginning with the centuries-old Italian winemaking territory of Abruzzo. The landscape is mountainous – you’ll find the highest peak of the Appennines here – not to mention the Gran Sasso d’Italia, and the Majella Massif. But there are also hillside coastal areas along the Adriatic Sea. The climate is predominantly mild, with plenty of sunlight, enough rain and good ventilation; ideal conditions for making wine. Abruzzo is home to a total of 40 cooperatives (32 are in Chieti Province), and 200 privately owned wineries. The region has two DOCGs, including the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane, and the Terre Tolesi/Tollum. It also has 7 DOCs. These are Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano d’ Abruzzo, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Villamagna, Controguerra, and Ortona.
Abruzzo’s wine making areas are concentrated in 4 hillside provinces. Of these, Chieti makes up 83%, followed by Pescara with 10%, Teramo with 6%, and L’Aquila making up the final 1% of Abruzzo wine production. Together, Abruzzo has a total of 36,000 hectares of vineyards. About 17,000 hectares are devoted to the cultivation of Montepulciano, 12,000 to Trebbiano, and 7000 to Pecorino, Montinico, Cococciola, and Passerina collectively. The majority of the vines are trained using the Abruzzo pergola system.

A total of seven Abruzzo wines were served with the four course lunch. The first, an Abruzzo DOC Pecorino Superiore 2020 consisting of 100% hand harvested Pecorino, had a crisp acidity, floral, lemon peel, green apple, and peach aromas, and citrus and orchard fruit, along with mineral notes.

The second was a sustainably produced Tenute Agricole Masciarelli, Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva comprised of 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from the Chieti province. The wine was aged for a year in French oak followed by another year in bottle. The result was an elegant wine with floral, peach, and apricot aromas, and notes of ripe orchard fruit, white flowers, and tangy spices.

The third wine, a Talamonti Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Rose’ DOC, 2020 consisting of 100% Montepulciano that underwent 24 hours of fermentation with its skins, had a balanced minerality, aromas of red berries and fruit, and notes of strawberries, raspberries, and juicy pomegranate.

Patate Maritate, an Abruzzo Specialty Served with Abruzzo Wines

The fourth wine was an organically produced Vini Valori Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC comprised of 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that was also fermented for 24 hours with its skins before being aged in stainless steel tanks. Grapes aged in stainless steel tend to retain their natural acidity, fruitiness, and freshness. It had a balanced acidity, and gave off aromas of luscious red berries, dark stone fruit, and notes of strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and a hint of spice.
The fifth wine, a Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, 2019 consisting of 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that was grown on biodynamic soil and fermented in natural yeasts before undergoing 4 months of aging in stainless steel tanks, had good structure and acidity, soft tannins, aromas of mixed red and dark berries, and black stone fruit, and notes of raspberries, blackberries, cherries, plums, and earth.

A Brodetto alla Vastese, Another Abruzzo Specialty Paired with Abruzzo White and Red Wines

The sixth wine was a Cantina Frentana Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva, DOC Rubesto 2017 comprised of 100%. Montepulciano that had been fermented on its skins for around 2 weeks before being aged for a year in oak barrels and an additional 6 months in the bottle. This fresh and full-bodied wine produced by a small, family-owned winery, had floral, and red and dark berry and stone fruit aromas, and notes of ripe cherries, blackberries, and plums, along with black pepper, oak, and violets.

The final Abruzzo wine served at the lunch was a Podere Castorani, Montepulciano
d’Abruzzo Casauria Riserva, 2015 consisting of 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that was pre-macerated at cold temperatures for over a week before undergoing fermentation. This process was followed by a second maceration for 40 days during which malolactic fermentation took place. The wine was then aged for a total of 4+ years before being released. It spent a year on the lees in oak barrels, an additional 6 months in vats, and finally 15 months in the bottle.

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This medium-bodied wine gave off lush raspberry, blackberry, and red currant, as well as brown sugar aromas, and ripe red and dark berry, and black pepper notes.

Now over to France and its coveted sweet Bordeaux. The Bordeaux region has a total of eight sweet Bordeaux-producing AOCs. These are Bordeaux Supérieur, Côtes de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire, Sainte-Croix-duMont, Loupiac, Cadillac, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, Cérons and Bordeaux Moelleux. The gravel, clay, sand, and limestone-dominant soil in these areas make it ideal for growing Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle. These three varietals are also used to make dry white Bordeaux. The production of sweet Bordeaux is overseen by The Union des Vins Doux de Bordeaux, an association established in 2009, and formed from the ODG des Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieurs, ODG des Premières Côtes de Bordeaux et Cadillac, ODG des Liquoreux de Bordeaux, and ODG des Côtes de Bordeaux Saint Macaire, to verify both the quality and provenance of sweet Bordeaux that are made in these areas.

A Lattacciolo to Accompany the Trio of Sweet Bordeaux

These Bordeaux are much sweeter than the standard dry white Bordeaux despite the fact that they are produced using the same grapes because sweet Bordeaux are made from botrytised grapes that are harvested later than those for dry white Bordeaux. Grapes that have been botrytised are infected by the Botrytis Cinerea fungus, a condition that causes them to undergo “noble rot,” a process that reduces the moisture and increases the sugar concentration of the affected grapes.

Wines made from botrytised grapes have higher levels of residual sugar, and tend to have a silky, smooth, and almost glycerin texture, and aromas and notes of white flowers, ripe citrus and orchard fruit, and honey, along with subtler elements of menthol, grass, and verdant herbs.
Three Bordeaux were presented at the lunch. The first wine, a Château de Garbes “Cuvée Fût de chêne”, AOC Cadillac 2019, originated from the hillside vineyards of Cadillac, an area in Bordeaux located on the right side of the Garonne River. This wine was made from hand-selected, late-harvested Semillon that had been cultivated on guyot-trained, 60-year-old vines before being aged in French oak barrels for one year.

Chef Vito Gnazzo of Il Gattopardo Restaurant

The second wine, a Château Fayau, Prèmieres Côtes de Bordeaux 2019 consisting of 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc, comes from an estate dating back to 1826.

The third wine, a Château Loupiac-Gaudiet, 2017, comprised of 90% Semillon and 10% Sauvignon harvested from guyot-trained, 45-year-old vines, came from Loupiac, a wine appellation located on the northern bank of the Gironde River. Loupiac is situated between the sweet wine-producing appellations of Cadillac and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont. Sweet Bordeaux from Loupiac are among the most prestigious in the region. Residual sugar levels in sweet Bordeaux from Loupiac are usually higher than those produced anywhere else in Bordeaux because AOC regulations in Loupiac stipulate that the botrytised Semillon being used to make sweet Bordeaux has to reach a minimum must weight of 245 grams per liter (the minimum for Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle is 229 grams per liter), before being harvested. This was a particularly beautiful and elegant wine, and a perfect paradigm of sweet Bordeaux.

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