If you’re a wine devotee, it’s likely you’ve sniffed your share of corks and have relied upon your olfactory senses for vetting many a bottle of wine. And, as a connoisseur, you most likely know that swirling a sample pour in a glass mixes it with the air, facilitating the emergence of aromas.
However, if you’re more like me who is, well, a novice – I mean I’ve gleaned enough superficial knowledge over the years to pair a decent bottle of wine with dinner, having worked in fine restaurants during college, visited the California wine country, and perhaps picked up a thing or two at tastings —then you may not fully understand what certain aromas can tell you about the fermentation process of a wine you’re about to drink, or what your palate might experience from drinking it.
“Vanilla, cherry and tobacco,” I answered my crash course teacher, friend and local winemaker, Vincent Novello of the 2400 block of S. 21st St. in the charming Girard Estates section of Philadelphia.
That was 12 years ago, for a feature piece about the annual Vendemmia Wine Festival that year, for which Novello served as director. He earned that rank and garnered respect from his fellow, (serious) local winemakers, for his award-winning Brunello, zinfandels and others.
Vince had explained to me how aging wine in oak barrels contributes to the vanilla I detected, for one thing.
Last month, I had the pleasurable coincidence of being seated next to Vince and his lovely wife, Renee, at a wedding. Through our bouts of conversation between traditional dances and speeches, we sipped an elegant 2021 Amarone. Vince asked me what I tasted first on the sides of my mouth.
“Yes,” he nodded.
I was reminded not only of the knowledge Vince imparted to me a dozen years ago, but of the sentiment that remained with me.
“[Winemaking],” he had told me, “is a process, and at the end of it, you have something beautiful to share and savor and to experience as it changes over time.”
Thanks to a LinkedIn re-connection with Barbara Ann Zippi-Och, associate publisher of the Delaware Valley Italian American Herald, an opportunity surfaced to write this column. Naturally, my first call was to Vince Novello.
We sat in the Novellos’ living room chatting about wine and life just like last time, before heading downstairs to the wine storage room.
While perusing over a hundred bottles of wines on his storage racks in search of specific batches and years, like a Barnes & Noble sales attendant pulling books from the shelves on a requested topic, I asked Vince how long the entire process takes from purchasing the grapes to pouring a glass.
“About a year,” he said, without breaking from his search. “There are many steps involved beginning on ‘wine day’ when we crush the grapes. During the various fermentation rounds, we test the batches. If a little more oak is needed, say, we can add oak sticks, etc.”
Novello shares a winemaking cellar walking distance from his home with his “Valloreo” wine club pals. The club’s name honors the late Frank “Blues” Valloreo, widely respected in local winemaking circles and remembered as one of the best. I found it fascinating to learn there are roughly 1,500 wine cellars in Philadelphia alone.
For Novello, partaking in the fruits of his labor with friends is cultural and meaningful. Just like hosting huge family dinners at his home or dressing as Santa Claus for various organizations during the Christmas holidays. Vince tells me soberly (as if speaking on behalf of a long line of ancestors), “it’s all about sharing an experience.”
Vince pulls a 2020, 2021, and 2022 Bordeaux blend from the racks for me to take home
. . . with instructions: “Pay attention to the taste you experience as the wine passes through the inside of your cheeks, the back of your tongue, the roof of your mouth,” the winemaker advised.
What should I be looking for?
“Just follow your nose,“ he said, with a smile.