Sunday 19 May 2024

A funny thing happened on our way to the hotel.


On the way back to our hotel in Rome we decided to drop in to the aptly named Stravinsky Bar at the Hotel de Russie. Stravinsky was a whisky drinker (sometimes known as Strawhisky) so the name seemed apt. 

The Hotel de Russie is so-called not out of affection for Vladimir Putin but after members of the Imperial family and other Russian aristocrats, artists and writers who used to stay there. Strangely the original name of the hotel was Hotel de Russie et des Isles Britanniques.

Stravinsky, Picasso, Diaghilev and even Mahler were also guests there.

So with high expectations we sat down at a table and contemplated ordering a glass of wine for Mrs. Slotovino and whisky, preferably Chivas Regal for ourselves in honour of Igor S, a devoted Chivas fan.

The bar was empty apart from us and the young bar-tender. The drinks list was old and much thumbed; understandable with the extraordinarily high prices. We decided it wasn't going to be worth the detour and got up to leave.

On the way out a devilish plan occurred to us. We thought we would test the callow youth at the bar and so we asked him with false ignorance why the bar was called the Stravinsky Bar. 

He was racking his brains when a metaphorical light went on over his head. 

'After the famous painter' he confidently told us.

Ancient Rome


Caravaggio, self portrait as sick Bacchus.

Somehow our visit to Rome over a year ago never got written up even though it was so interesting and enjoyable. Ancient history indeed but you can go there and find that nothing has changed. Eternal indeed.

Let's start with our search for what wine the Romans drink. Researching the internet we found a Vino Sfuso store offering 20 different wines on tap. That was way more than any of the other Vino Sfuso shops we had found anywhere else so we took a taxi to the address, Via Mauri 1. 

Arriving there, no sign of the shop 'La Cantinetta,' We are no strangers to trying to find a shop that turns out to be some online operation working out of a flat in some apartment block, so at first that's what came to mind. We called the number and a lady answered;

La Cantinetta, buongiorno.

Siamo a Via Mauro 1 ma non vediamo il negozio.

After some to-ing and fro-ing it emerged La Cantinetta - and the signora - were in Varese, not Rome.

Another Slotovino disaster!

But we were not to be put off and immediately triggered plan B. This time we were in the right city and even at the right address for ,Vini Sfusi di Qualita,' one of several outlets of this name. It was closed of course.

On to another market.

Success at last. There was Gustavino 

and Azienda Agricola San Giovanni.

At Gustavino we counted some 18 varieties;




Muller Thurgau

Ottonese (Bombino)



Pinot Bianco



Sauvignon Blanc

and something called Vino Bianco Verriccino*. 




Pinot Nero



*Can anyone tell us what Vino Bianco Verriccino is? Verriccino comes up with Verdicchio on Google but nowhere is that actually stated as a synonym. There is no town in Italy called Verriccino. The Bianco di Olevano found also in this shop refers to Olevano, a town in Lazio and not a grape.

Over at A.A. San Giovanni, a smaller selection but still interesting;





Nero di Troia


these Vino Sfuso shops maintain the local varieties while casting their nets a bit further than those in Venice for example. How wonderful to find local produce maintained as is still the case all over Italy.

Puntarelle were in season

Romanesco of course.

Cesanese is the red grape of Rome. We have recognised its potential previously but something was missing. Maybe Jamie Wolff of Chambers Street Wines (NY) has put his finger on this;

Cesanese is the most important red grape in Lazio (the region around Rome). Cesanese was the house wine in many Roman trattorias in the 1970s and 1980s; it could be pretty crude, but we have fond memories of lively wines that went perfectly with carbonara and saltimbocca. We’ve tasted many recent attempts to revive and "improve" Cesanese that were over-extracted, over-oaked, international-style wines that negated all that was interesting and distinctive about the grape. But now there are quite a few fine examples out there, and our faith is restored: Cesanese actually can make wonderful, vivid and vivacious wine. Cesanese isn’t (or shouldn’t be) deeply colored, it isn’t a heavy wine, and the best examples have bright fruit and spicy / peppery aromatics which persist on the palate. For what might be a useful reference: in some ways Cesanese reminds us of Pineau d’Aunis, with similar weight and structure and good complexity and persistence at a relatively young age.

Plenty of Cesanese in the supermarkets.

And this being Italy, there was another contender for local hero; Nero Buono. D'Agata calls it 'an up and coming variety' and also

'Nero Buono is one of Italy's least-known native grape varieties, but as is often the case, one that has a lot to say...the fact is that Nero Buono ...can be the source of excellent, midweight red wines.'

Winesearcher Pro gives only two sources of Nero Buono wines currently available in the UK.

Bellone is in our view the white hero of Lazio. You can find it in some of the better versions of Frascati. Bellone does somewhat better than Nero Buono in Winesearcher with 8 listings.

On to historic Trimani (1821) 

There is always something to buy at Trimani. This time an 11.5% Bardolino. It was very good too.

If Trimani then Enoteca Costantini was obligatory.

The 'fratelli' at Costantini assured us that Granazza was a rare grape variety. We passed on this because we weren't sure if we believed them and also because the bottle was not cheap.  

Reunited with our reference books we discovered that Granazza is a synonym for Vernaccia di Orestano, itself a relatively rare grape variety from Sardegna. It is an ancient variety with a torrid back story involving all sorts of other local and non-localVernaccias to which it is unrelated. D'Agata writes that Contini's Antico Gregori is not just the best Vernaccia di Orestanos but one of Italy's greatest wines. So maybe not a let-down after all.

Our best drink on this Roman holiday? The hot chocolate at the Pasticceria d'Angelo. Every bit as good as it looks.

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Abv - enemy of grape typicity.


Referring to our Abv hobby-horse (increasing alcohol decreases the typicity of the grape) we found the following two comments recently.

The first ecapsulates our thoughts perfectly;

We’ve tasted many recent attempts to revive and "improve" Cesanese that were over-extracted, over-oaked, international-style wines that negated all that was interesting and distinctive about the grape.

 Jamie Wolff, Chambers St. Wines' newsletter.

The second;

"While for the ABV of each wine, that is more related to the vintage and to the phenolic maturity of the grape. Some grapes need to reach a certain sugar/alcohol level in order to have the right balance. This is to say that often low alcohol level is not necessary a positive factor, as well as the high alcohol can ruin easily the wine.

We strive to always find wines that...have a perfect balance expressing the grape and the location, therefore what we offer is what we believe are the perfect expression of those."

A UK wine merchant.

The 'right balance' throws the field open to a great deal more subjectivity than just preserving what is interesting and distinctive about the grape surely? We all know what any particular grape should taste like, don't we?

Others know a lot more than we do. It would be interesting to hear if the above makes sense to any of those persons.

Friday 26 April 2024

Australia Trade Tasting, 24.1.23




Another 'long ago but not forgotten' tasting. a year-and-a-quarter ago this one. Apologies. 

Just to be clear, once again we went to this Australia Trade Tasting not expecting to find rare grape varieties but to find ones unexpected in Australia.

At first we thought we might have found something truly rare. A bottle of a white wine whose grape was named Savarro which in turn was described on the back label as 'an ancient, green-skinned, tight-bunched variety.'

Searching feverishly, hopes high, we discovered Savarro was a pseudonym for Savagnin. A bit cheeky we thought. Then we remembered that there had been a problem with Savagnin in Australia not so long ago. Who better to describe what happened than Darby Higgs, author of the Australian 'Vinodiversity' book/blog and good friend of Slotovino;

"Until very recently Savagnin was not known to be used commercially in Australia. Since 2009 it has been known that the vineyards in Australia which thought they were planting Albarino were in fact planting Savagnin.

The wines are still excellent, it's just that the wine needs to be marketed under a new name.  

Apparently propagation material from Spain via France labelled as "Albarino" was in fact "Savagnin". This material was used by vine nurseries to supply all of the vineyards who planted it in the early 2000s. By the end of that decade DNA analysis had revealed the mistake."

Maybe the producers, Soumah had wanted to take revenge on the importers of 'Albarino'?

Darby Higgs goes on to say this was not the first time such mis-labelling of vines has occurred. He points to Carmenere being delivered to Chile as Merlot and in Australia people planting Carnelian when they thought it was Sangiovese. Also, Gros Manseng for Petit Manseng - a shocking one, that.

There was this Petit Manseng by Symphonia. We assume this really was Petit Manseng. 

Otherwise there was the first Australian Assyrtiko we had ever seen.

Ditto, an Arinto. What next?

Brown Brothers, non-alcoholic Moscato and Cienna, that's what.


Not obscure in the slightest was Pike's Riesling. We note it here because we like it very much.

Good show!

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Spain in your glass, February 2023. False friends and rarities



Horticultural Halls, London

Our write-up of 'Spain in a glass' breaks records for lateness for which we apologise. The fact that we're writing it now, over a year since it took place is a token of its merit.

Yet again there were hidden gems to be discovered. Spain doesn't trumpet these so it's for us to do so.

Along the way there were quite a few 'false friends.' Familiar grapes such as Graciano named after a synonym - in that case Merenzao.

Here they are:

False Friends

It's easy to get caught out. We regard it as a professional risk so it's good to be aware since wine merchants often don't know or try to palm you off with something purporting to be unique whan it is just a common variety such as Tintilla de Rota/Graciano.


Rufete Blanco = Verdejo Sorrano (itself a rarity).

Merenzao = Trousseau



Tintilla de Rota = Graciano



Listan Blanco = Palomino Fino



Brujidera = Marufo

Tardana = Planta Nova 

Tortozon = Planta Nova


Trincadeira Preta = Trincadeira 


Tinto Velasco = (sometimes) Alicante Henri Bouschet


At 'Spain in a glass' there were some genuine rarities: 



Vidadillo (almost extinct)


Moravia Agria

Saturday 20 April 2024

Valencia to Malaga (via Cordoba), February 2024.

Valencia is Spain's third largest city and largest port. In the 1950s a disastrous flood of the river Turia in 1957 (the 75th since the 14th Century),with more than 80 dead and many buildings destroyed resulted its diversion, leaving the massive river bed that extended through the city dry, Decades later the authorities spent 1.3 billion  Euros on creating attractions along a huge stretch to bring tourists to Valencia in the way the Ghery/Guggenheim has to Bilbao.

Santiago Calatrava designed the Museu de les Ciencias Principe Felipe (1998), the Agora which is used for sports and other activities and the Hemisferic  exhibition centre (2002). One of the world's largest aquariums, the Oceanografic (2003) designed by Felix Candela fits into that complex. There are also beautiful gardens to walk along.

Valencia Opera House

The Opera House (Palacio de las Artes Reina Sofia) was clearly designed, built and dropped in by friendly Martians to complete the complex (2005). The whole development has succeeded sensationally bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city every year including us.

A good thing too as Valencia is very well worth visiting with a wonderful historic centre, excellent beaches, amazing market, galleries and interesting restaurants. It is after all the birthplace of Paella.

The wines of Valencia province are overlooked but as usual in these situations, unjustly. If you order a house wine in a restaurant it is as likely to be a Malvasia or a Semillon as a Rueda/Verdejo. Monastrell (Mourverdre) prevents Tempranillo having a monopoly of the reds.

Valencia's best wine shop is the venerable Baviera. They know their stuff there but in reply to the question of wine made from a rare grape variety we were shown two bottles of red. One was named with a synonym for Trepat we discovered after a bit of frantic googling but the other appeared to be a genuine rarity, Miguel de Arcos is the name of the grape.

Later it appeared this may be none other than Moristel but we like Moristel in any case so might have bought it anyway.

As we have often remarked, the Spaniards keep their treasures well concealed so if this is not Moristel it will have been a real find.

We found these entries on Miguel de Arco. There are none in 'Wine Grapes either under that name or under Moristel. Galet has an entry on Miguel de Arcos with no mention of Moristel. He mentions a grape called Arcas but that comes from Romania.

Wine Australia:

Miguel de Arco is a medium ripening black grape from Spain. It has a medium growing season with low yield potential. Vitis vinifera, the selected clone for data analysis was Miguel de Arco ex VRS Rutherglen. The prime name of this variety is Cadrete.

Wein Plus Lexikon:

The red grape variety (also Miguel de Arco de Aragon) originates from Spain. The parentage is unknown. It must not be confused with the Cadrete variety (with synonym Miguel de Arco). The variety is mainly cultivated in the region of Aragon In 2010, 468 hectares were recorded, but there was no more stock in 2016 (Kym Anderson).


Moristel is also known as Concejón, Juán Ibáñez, Miguel de Arcos and Miguel del Arco (or Miguel d'Arco).

Typical view of vineyards with olive trees from the train between Valencia and Cordoba

Next to Malaga via Codoba. We had time to stop over and visit the Mezquita (Mosque) with the church inside and the little Synagogue past the statue of Maimonides round the corner. We also had a fine lunch in one of the restaurants alongside the Mezquita with a delicious glass of a local white wine which could have been Pedro Ximenez, Layrén (Airen), Baladí (!) Moscatel or Torrontés but wasn't. Cordoba is part of the Montilla Morales appellation. We once has a terrific Montillo Morales Sherry which has put Montillo Morales in our good books ever since. As soon as we remember the grape of that delicious wine we drank at lunch we'll be sure to let you know. Meanwhile, you could drink lots of M.M wines yourselves to test our theory.

Food in Spain can be wonderful although on this trip we were appalled to find Russian Salad of all things on many menus. We wondered what was going on so actually ordered a portion. It was basically mayonnaise in huge quantities with bits of potato in it and not much else as far as we could see. None of the peas and bits of carrot which solicit the question 'Are you about to eat that or have you just eaten it?'

Having flown into Malaga countless times en route to places down the Costa del Sol towards Marbella we had practically never set foot inside the city apart from a couple of pilgrimages to the Museu del Vino reported a long time ago in these pages. 

Malaga has had a renaissance as well as Valencia. No interplanetary assistance was needed - just converting the historic centre into a pedestrianised zone. It's amazing how that alone seems to have transformed it. 

Wine-wise we are in PX and Moscatel - land. Even the dry wines are made with sweet grapes. At the Antigua Casa de Guardia, the oldest Bodega in Malaga, we entered another universe. 

It was thronged with people and had something of the atmosphere of a den of iniquity. Unbelievable that after so many visits to Andalucia we hadn't come across this joint before. 

Founded in 1840 the Antica Casa has a greater quantity of Solera barrels than anywhere else in the city. 

Pajarete Solera 1908

Malaga’s wines were at their greatest then: there were about 112,000 hectares of vineyards and the wines were exported halfway around the world from the port of Malaga. It was even the usual drink among nobs and gentry including the first presidents of the United States apparently. Phylloxera ruined all that but if the scene at the Antigua Casa de Guardia was anything to go by, there may be a revival afoot. 

The wines included

  • Pajarete 1908
  • Málaga Garijo
  • Pedro Ximén 1908
  • Verdiales con arte
  • Verdiales Cream
  • Verdiales Seco
  • Isabel II
  • Moscatel Guardia
  • El Chavea
  • Moscatel Guinda
  • Vermut Clásico
  • Vermut Especial 
  • We didn't try all of these of course. Verdiales we gather means young wine. Parajete is the term for a sweet wine which has been bolstered by some of it being concentrated by boiling and then added back to the base wine. It is a historical beverage and we were keen to try it. 

    Pajarete or Paxarette was popular as a straight dessert wine in England in the 18th century. It gets its name from a monastery and vineyards near Arcos de la Frontera in the province of Cadiz. It is made generally with Pedro Ximenez or Moscahel de Alejandria. The essence referred to above is produced by boiling the must down to a third or a fifth. It certainly was sweet and in a good way.

    The Verdiales Seco was a very pleasant dry version of Pedro Ximenez such as is to be found quite often these days,

    An amusing idiosyncrasy was the use of chalk on the bar to tot up the bill for the numerous shots the customer had drunk. 

    Over to the Museu del Vino, still going - perhaps strong in the tourist season but not so much that February day.

    We were offered a free tasting of this gorgeous Malaga Dulce. That reminded us that neither this nor any of the wines at the Antigua Casa de Guardia were fortified. 

    By great fortune, the shop at the Museu was still selling Bodega Schatz's Rosado made from Moscatel Negro. This is positively our favourite rose wine in all the world. Or at least one of them. 

    Malaga is also home to the Picasso Museum and the house where he was born and where he lived up to the age of 8. Don't miss the birth house! It packs an emotional punch that will remain with you; 

    'The models my father hired for me were my reward. After that I made my whole family pose for me. Then my father handed over to me his brushes an palette. At the time I didn't understand why. I was too young... but it made me very happy. It was not until much later that I came to understand the full significance of his gesture,'

    'My mother said to me, "If you are a soldier, you will be a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope." Instead, I was a painter, and I became Picasso.'

    At another museum, the Museo Carmen Thyssen, a wonderful discovery from Zurbaran;

    St. Marina, patron saint of the kidneys.