Soil: Wine’s X Factor

When we think about all the factors that shape our experience of wine – climate conditions, sun exposure, irrigation, yeast selection, vine treatments, natural and chemical additives – it is easy to conjure up an image of vineyards, barrels of wine fermenting in a cellar, a winemaker testing for quality and deciding when to bottle the latest vintage.

What is harder to imagine is another factor, literally millions of years in the making, determined long before wine – or even humans – existed on the earth: soil.

How much impact does soil really have on a wine, and how can we understand that impact?

Luiz Alberto, writer behind The Wine Hub blog and founder of the #winelover virtual community, explains it this way: “Arguably, the 2 most important factors of a soil, for the purpose of growing grapes and making wine, are its structure and texture. These two components will cause a vine to grow and produce grapes differently. In principle, the percentages of clay, sand, silt, loam, and rock present in the soil will determine the grape varieties that would be well suited to produce grapes of the best quality for that specific site.”

According to Alberto, the composition of the soil determines which wines are best suited to a specific sites, which is why certain regions and even certain plots of land come to be closely associated with a specific grape variety.

Soil may be one of the reasons why Le Marche is the ideal home of the Verdicchio grape – and one of the factors that makes Pievalta’s San Paolo Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG so exquisite.

The San Paolo vineyard is located on Monte Follonica in the town of Cupramontana, in the province of Ancona, indicated in light blue on this map:

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The soils there are rather loose, characterized by sandstone that dates back to the Pliocene era – 2.5-5.3 million years ago. In antiquity, the area was covered by the Adriatic sea, and the currents of sand that formed these soils came mostly from the Alpine range.

According to the “Strada del Gusto” website of the comune of Cupramontana, the grapes of this zone maintain a bright freshness and intriguing salinity. This helps explain the principal characteristics of Riserva San Paolo; these soils yield extremely complex wines, with a long finish and deep notes of ripe fruit and honey.

While there are some who dispute the importance of soil in shaping the profile of a wine, others, like Alberto, agree that the uniqueness of each plot of soil is that certain X factor that makes great wines truly one-of-a-kind:

“Even if some specialists will argue that the influence of the soil is not as dramatic in wine quality as those presented by the climatic conditions of a region … to a certain extent soil can influence wine quality with its own positive or negative characteristics and the viticultural practices used to optimize the positive ones, and reduce or even eliminate the negative traits,” Alberto writes.

In the case of Pievalta, nature and culture combine in a remarkable way: methodical biodynamic winemaking principles put into practice on a territory characterized by ancient, high quality soils perfectly suited to Le Marche’s native grapes.


Pizza + Wine, a Match Made in Heaven

While beer is the traditional beverage accompaniment to a great slice, beverage directors around the country are calling that logic into question, and unleashing their enthusiasm for the unlimited possibilities for wine and pizza pairings.

After all, beer and pizza is like washing down bread with…more bread?

Last month, Wine Spectator published this roundup of 9 pizza restaurants around the US with outstanding wine lists. It came as no surprise that Marta, Danny Meyer’s stylish foray into thin crust, made the cut; as Wine Spectator tells us, “the 250-selection list, with strengths in …Italy, featur[es] many options in the $50-and-under range.”

We asked Courtney Schiessl, sommelier at Marta, located in the Redbury Hotel in Manhattan, what she thinks makes pizza and wine a match made in heaven.

“Pizza with wine is a no-brainer; think of wine as an expansion of the already-broad range of toppings that can adorn a pizza, just in liquid form. How will the wine “topping” compliment and contrast the pie topping? A meat-lovers pizza is an entirely different dish than a white pizza with fresh veggies, and therefore could be paired with an entirely different wine, turning make-your-own-pizza night into an adventure.”Pizza 2

Franciacorta is particularly well-suited to pizza; its vibrant acidity adds a clean contrast to rich toppings like cured meat and cheese, and its zesty minerality pair well with sautéed vegetables, onions and garlic.

“At Marta, our favorite pairing with pizza is sparkling wine,” agrees Schiessl. “Pizza is meant to be casual and fun, and what’s more fun and delicious than bubbly? Sparkling wine is also incredibly versatile and food-friendly, due to its fresh, clean fruit flavors and bright acidity. Franciacorta comes from a warmer climate…so the wines tend to be more richly fruity. This makes Franciacorta perfect for pizzas with heartier toppings like sausage, guanciale, gooey cheeses, or even pineapple. Plus, the best part of an impromptu pizza and Franciacorta party: no wine opener required!”

So whether your next pizza night involves your perfected homemade crust with sautéed veggies, or your favorite take-out sausage pie, make the flavors shine with a bottle of Barone Pizzini Franciacorta.

Italian Wine List 101

We’ve all been there – you sit down to enjoy a meal at a new restaurant with a group of friends, and the waiter hands you all menus and fills your water glass. He then sets down on the table a hefty wine list – a binder full of sheets in plastic sleeves, a booklet of absurdly fine print, an oversized laminated card of indecipherable names, places, and prices. Your dining companions nudge it in your direction. “Pick whatever you want!” they say with cheerfully feigned innocence, happy to pass off the work to you as the wine enthusiast of the group.

You crack open the booklet and start to scan the list, and realize the enormity of the task before you. Somehow, you’re expected to quickly digest pages of information, and make a choice that will satisfy a group of individuals with different tastes, who will be eating different meals, all without missing a beat in the conversation.

And for all its merits, Italian wine can often be the most complex of all to understand. Italy has at least 550 native grapes – and by some estimates, up to twice as many more that haven’t yet been documented – which is more than the number of grapes native to Spain, Greece, and France combined. Add to that 20 different regions, innumerable microclimates, and a dizzying number of denominations, and the result can be difficult for even a seasoned wine pro to digest.20-italian-wine-regions

Dr. Ian D’Agata, arguably the worldwide expert on Italian grape varietals, has spent years exploring all those layers of Italian wine complexity; his research is compiled in his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014). “I think when it comes to Italian wines, the best thing to know is the grape varieties and what kinds of wines they can make. Everyone is comfortable with Merlot and Chardonnay because they know, more or less, what the wine they are buying will be like. It’s a comfort thing,” says D’Agata. “So you need to know the general characteristics of some of Italy’s best and most common varieties, such as whites like Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio, and Arneis, and red grapes like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Nero d’Avola.”

Familiarity with various grape varietals comes with experience, which can be enhanced by wine tasting classes. D’Agata teaches seminars on Italian native grapes as part of the Vinitaly International Academy, an educational initiative aimed at increasing understanding of Italian wine around the world.

But for a basic introduction, Wine Folly has created a handy guide to deciphering an Italian wine list, by breaking down the four pieces of information contained in a typical menu description of a wine: producer, wine type, region, and vintage.Pievalta 2 draw

Producer – Knowing who the producer is – or even just what type of producer it is – will help you understand if the wine is rare, easy to find, organically produced, etc. In this case, Pievalta is the first and only biodynamic producer of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, so you know you’ll be getting a wine made according to the strict Demeter standards.

Type of Wine – A producer can give his or her wine its own unique name, but Italian wines are often named for a region, or a sub-region, which is classified according to certain production rules. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi must contain a minimum of 85% Verdicchio with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes rounding out the rest.

Region – Italy has 20 regions, and each one specializes in certain grapes or wine types. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is a traditional, and highly prized, wine of the Le Marche region.

Vintage – Like all produce in Italy, the climate conditions of each year affects the wine; and for red wines, generally the tannins mellow with age.

Mastering the rich complexity of Italy’s many wine grapes, styles, and regions would take a lifetime; luckily there is an Italian wine for every occasion along the way!

More than one reason to raise a glass of Franciacorta this 4th of July

As Americans get ready to fire up their grills and put the finishing touches on their berry pies this this 4th of July, Italians remember a significant event in their own history; the birth of Giuseppe Garibaldi, largely credited with the nineteenth century unification of Italy.sparklingwinefireworks

He was a man after the American founding fathers’ own rhetorical hearts. In an 1854 letter to English liberal politician Joseph Cowen, Garibaldi declared: “My heart is entirely devoted to liberty, universal liberty, national and worldwide – ora e sempre.” (Joseph Garibaldi, Patriot and Soldier).

Garibaldi monuments can now be found in cities and towns throughout Italy, but the first is said to have been erected in 1883 in the town of Iseo – within the production area of Franciacorta.

You can bet that in Lombardy they’ll be drinking Franciacorta this weekend in honor of one of history’s greats. And while in the US July 4th is typically associated with beer or light cocktails, sommeliers agree that wine is a great pair for typical barbecue foods. Franciacorta’s floral acidity goes well with summer fruits and can help cut the fattiness of hamburgers or hot dogs.

So this weekend when you gather with friends around the grill or under the fireworks, pop open a bottle of Barone Pizzini, and together let’s hope for a future worthy of Garibaldi’s aspiration for liberty around the world, ora e sempre.

Celebrate Biodiversity with Barone Pizzini

Vineyard mountainsThis weekend, June 25 and 26, lovers of Barone Pizzini can experience the biodiversity of the region with a “passeggiata” in the vineyard, led by a wild herb specialist and followed by a tasting of three organic Franciacorta wines in the cellar, constructed according to green building criteria.

As the first certified organic Franciacorta, Barone Pizzini is dedicated to keeping their lands free of the chemical pesticides and fertilizers that can damage the living flora and fauna that contribute to the richness of their vineyards and the surrounding region.

But you don’t have to travel to Lombardy; there are plenty of ways to discover biodiversity in your own backyard – urban or rural – wherever you are. Here are just a few ideas for your summer nature exploration – and where to enjoy a bottle of Barone Pizzini while you’re at it!

  1. The Pine Barrens, NJ

This sprawling stretch of forest in the center of the nation’s most densely populated state has the distinction of being the first National Reserve. Due to its uniquely diverse plant and animal life, it was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in 1988. Head to the Winslow Wildlife Management area for hiking trails, blueberry and huckleberry picking, and the “blue hole,” rumored to be one of the homes of the legendary Jersey Devil. Then calm your nerves with a bottle of Barone Pizzini Franciacorta from nearby Maro Brothers in Williamstown, NJ.

  1. Daniel Island, SC

This 4,000 acre island has long been a natural oasis within the city of Charleston, SC. Undeveloped until the 1990s, it is now home to a planned residential community, but still contains hundreds of acres of parks. Enjoy your fill of flower walks, biking, and fishing along the Wando River, and then stop by Sauer Grapes for a cold bottle of Barone Pizzini.

  1. Baltimore, MD

The Baltimore Bird Club offers a rich summer program for amateur ornithologists. Catch glimpses of flycatchers, American Kestrel, Wood Ducks and more among the gardens and wetlands of Patterson Park, a verdant space in the center of Baltimore. With or without that elusive rare sighting you’re hoping for, finish the day off right with a visit to the Wine Source for a bottle of Barone Pizzini.

Drink to Your Health!


We hear a lot of buzz when it comes to the complex relationship between our health and wine consumption. Drinking wine in moderation can reduce your risk of certain diseases such as heart disease and stroke. Moderate intake of wine can also increase your intake of polyphenols, antioxidants found in foods like tea, cocoa, blueberries, and dark chocolate.

Barone Pizzini and Pievalta have your health in their best interests by practicing organic and biodynamic viticulture. Your intake of unnatural chemicals is significantly decreased when you enjoy one of our beautiful wines as many producers do not follow the same high standards of production. For a closer look at the pros and cons of different types of wine, visit this article by PopSugar.

Have you ever considered the health benefits you receive from drinking wine?


Silvano Brescianini’s Journey from Sommelier to General Manager


Barone Pizzini General Manager and Vice President Silvano Brescianini was born in 1967 in Erbusco (province of Brescia), in the heart of Franciacorta. Silvano grew up on his grandfather’s farm where they produced artisanal wine.

After completing the prestigious FISAR sommelier program in 1982, Silvano completed his studies in hotel and restaurant management at the Hotelier School in Iseo the following year. Silvano gained important experience and became assistant sommelier at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Ezio Santin’s Antica Osteria del Ponte in Cassinetta di Lugagnano, one of only four restaurants in Italy to hold a Michelin star at that time.

In 1989, Silvano went into business with friends and bought a restaurant piano bar in Erbusco where they earned an award as one of the eight best restaurants in Brescia.

Silvano joined Barone Pizzini in 1991 to oversee the opening of the estate’s new restaurant. Tragically, in 1994, unforeseen tragedy struck when Silvano’s friend and business partner at Barone Pizzini was killed in a car accident. That same year, Silvano became the winery’s production director.

Surprised and taken aback by the chemical sprays and herbicide used in vineyards, Silvano was inspired to experiment with organic farming methods. These efforts led to Barone Pizzini becoming the first certified organic winery in Franciacorta in 2001.

According the Silvano, “When we began, nobody had produced organic vineyards in Franciacorta, so we had to learn from our own mistakes. We kept saying, ‘Yes we can, yes we must!’ I’m lucky because I have an amazing job in a beautiful place with extraordinary staff and friends. No job can be better. Barone Pizzini is proud to be a pioneer in this growing field of organic farming.”