About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pepe & Valentini: The Icons of Abbruzo

Our monthly wine group met recently at Lorena’s in Maplewood.  Emil, who’s family hails from Abruzzo, Italy selected wines from the top wine producers in the region, Emidio Pepe and Edoardo Valentini.  Both estates are traditional in their winemaking, resulting in wines of depth, complexity and distinction.

Abruzzo is located about 2 ½ hours northeast of Rome. Its immediate neighbors are Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and southwest and Molise to the southeast. Winemaking traditions in Abruzzo date back to the sixth century B.C.  Abruzzo provides a perfect haven for grape growing. Vines flourish thanks to the terroir, the abundance of sunshine, the generous rainfall and a variable climate: warm and dry on the coast and more continental (hot in summer and cold in winter) inland. Furthermore, the high altitudes see dramatic diurnal temperature variations. When combined with cool mountain air currents, they moderate the temperatures in the vineyards situated on the slopes, providing a perfect mesoclimate for the vines. The most favorable growing conditions are found in the low hills of Teramo, the Colline Teramane.

The region produces two white wines; Trebbiano (one of the most widely planted grapes in the world); Pecorino, a white grape that has seen a renaissance in the past 25 years or so; Cersasulo, a full-bodied Rosé of incredible depth; and the flagship red wine, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo made from from 100% Montepulciano grapes.  This full-bodied, earthy red should not be confused with the Tuscan wine Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, which is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes.

Emidio Pepe. Emidio Pepe is known for crafting amazingly complex age worthy reds and whites year after year.  With a great belief that Mother Nature is the best care-giver for the vines, grapes are grown organically, hand-harvested, hand destemmed, naturally fermented and aged 18-24 months in glass-lined tanks. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, without added SO2, and aged in their cellar, in bottle, for continued development.  Only after 10 years does he release his wines. Before release, the wines are decanted by hand into new bottles, and then labeled. An extensive stock of older vintages is kept at the cellar. For his Trebbiano, the grapes are crushed by foot in a wood vat.  Pepe makes Pecorino, Trebbiano, Cerasuolo and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Valentini. Edward passed away in 2006 and the estate today is in the very capable hands of his son Francesco, who follows in the traditional methods of his father.  Only the very best grapes go into the wines with his name on it.  Based on the regional laws and standards of this wine zone, the Valentini estate could deliver 800,000 bottles annually. However, artisanal craftsmanship relies on selecting the ripest fruit thus limiting their production to approximately 50,000 bottles annually.  The rest is sold off. The estate keeps the details of their traditional winemaking methods a closely guarded secret, and rarely allows anyone to visit their cellars. The estate produces Trebbiano, Cerasuolo and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Edoardo claimed that his Trebbiano was the best wine he made.  I can tell you from experience, all three are sensational.

The Wines

2010 Emidio Pepe Pecorino.  The Pecorino grape has seen a Renaissance over the past 25 years.  The wine had terrific acidity and reminded me of a Northern Rhone white with a lovely viscous and chewy palate, that finished with considerable length.  $82.  Wine-Searcher.

2001 Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d'Abruzzo.  The Trebbiano grape accounts for about 1/3 of all white wine in Italy.   Tonight's bottle was just spectacular juice.  It possessed a gorgeous golden yellow hue with a rich and elegant bouquet.  The palate was perfectly balanced and endowed with great focus, finesse and complexity.  Monster finish.  A wine with soul that is drinking at its peak at the moment.  This vintage is no longer available.  Recent vintages are however and priced at about $85.

Pepe (left) and Valentini (right)
2006 Azienda Agricola Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  The pedigree of this wine was eminently apparent, however the fruit is still asleep. I have had the wine twice in the past year and on both occasions it was very tight.  I suggest keeping this in the cellar for a few more years and decanting it for 4 to 5 hours when you do open it. This is not an easy wine to find and when you do expect to pay about $300 for it.

1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This was spectacular.  I have had many vintages of this wine from Pepe, and this ranks amongst the very best.  It possessed a gorgeous translucent red hue that showed no bricking.  It displayed that earthy bouquet that one expects from his wines, especially when they have age on them.  What surprised me was that this was ready to drink immediately upon opening and kept evolving in the glass as we drank it.  A completely round and delicious wine with soul!  $200.  Wine-Searcher.

The Food

Lorena’s is a popular French restaurant offering seasonally fresh cuisine.  With the exception of my steak, which while perfectly cooked, I found very bland, the food and service were very good indeed.

Squid Ink Risotto, Sautéed Florida Sun Shrimp, Leeks, Peas, Saffron Emulsion

Warm Crepe of Lump Crabmeat, Field Mushrooms, Fresh Herbs, White Truffle Oil Beurre Blanc

Barnegat Sea Scallops, Savoy Cabbage, Corn, Peas, Tomato Concasee, Potato Puree,
Mushroom-Truffle Emulsion

Lamb Sirloin, Almond and Dijon Mustard Crust, Organic Red Quinoa, 
Haricot Vert, Bell Pepper Marmalde, Za'atar Yogurt

Pasture Raised Angus Beef N.Y. Strip,Glazed Baby Vegetables, Potato Puree, 
Scallion-Herb Buerre Fondue

Wonderful selection of wines Emil.  Thanks for sharing these with the group.



  1. I've never had the Pepe Pecorino. Great to see your notes here.

    1. My first time also. Terrific wine. Will not be last.