In this edition of James the Wine Guy Interview Series is Arto Koskelo. Arto is a Helsinki-based wine and food writer, wine judge, wine vlogger and radio host of a programme on food and wine.
I met Arto while we were judging wines in Bari, Italy for the 2016 Radici del Sud. I was fortunate to be on the same tasting table. Arto wine and food knowledge is vast and I appreciated his thoughtfulness. I feel it is essential to not just know wine writers in North America but my many friendships with European wine writers helps me to hone in on European wine and food and even the trends in respective locations throughout Europe.
Arto has such a great sense of humour that I found myself chuckling constantly at his quick wit. I had a flight scheduled to Helsinki this year that was cancelled and I was very disappointed as it would have allowed me time in Helsinki. But this was before I got to meet Arto–now I know a Helsinki resident and when I do get to visit it will be a great and optimised experience because I know I will get a great list of activities from him.
It is with pleasure here is the interview with Arto:
Q: What is your favourite southern Italian variety
A: I have two favourite Southern Italian varieties. No, wait, three. I adore Nerello Mascalese, the lusciously elegant reason behind Sicily’s Etna’s rise to stardom. I also love the nerello’s white counterpart Carricante, able to produce zippy and vibrant wines on volcanic soils that are closer kin to Chardonnay from Chablis than fat Grillo from the same neck of the woods. The third is my new love, Gaglioppo from Calabria. Especially from the region of Cirò, the variety is able to produce some stunningly appealing wines with finesse and poise but that come with an unforgivingly rustic tannic structure.
Q: What makes Primitivo so compelling?
A: To be brutally honest, I’m not sure if anything does. This is of course terribly harsh of me, but let me try to explain. The variety is capable of producing some lip smacking wines with depth and a tempting juicy character, but too often the impression I get from the variety is soupy, plummy and straightforward, which are not my favourite characteristics in an Italian rosso. Sorry Primitivo lovers but nothing ruins a perfectly decent day in South of Italy like a 16,5% Primitivo, served under the scorching sun of South Italy. Feels like a monster truck running over your palate and yelling prego while fleeing from the crime scene.
Q: Any stand out Primitivo’s for you from the 2016 Radici del Sud competition?
A: I enjoyed the Primitivo di Manduria from Masseria Pietrosa. It was juicy and savoury, like a Southern Barbera but with more muscle. It’s all about the balance.
Prior to judging wines at Radici del Sud had you tasted so many Primitivo and other Southern Italian wine varieties?
I had experience with Aglianicos, Primitivos, Negroamaros and so forth but visiting the source is always an altering experience for a wine lover. I’ve visited Sicily a few times and next on my list are Campania and Calabria.
Q: What is your ideal food wine pairings for Primitivo?
A: I’d go with All American Barbeque with lots of hickory smoke. Maybe a thick sauce to make it official. Nothing too elegant for Primitivo, it’s a big boy. The paradox of Puglia is that the local cuisine is mostly about delicate seafood and gargantuan red wines. This has a lot to do with the history of Puglia supplying Northern wine regions with a full bodied blending component with lots of colour and alcohol. Doesn’t really fly with uncooked shrimp, I tell you.
Q: How do Primitivo compare to Zinfandel?
A: I’d be careful with the comparisons, but it is obvious that the two share some of the same traits. Whether Zinfandel is irrigated or not seems to make a difference similar to also witnessed in Puglia. At worst, Primitivos and Zinfandels can be as overbearing and sappy, but with a touch of restraint, they can be very palatable and delicious.
Q. Any other callouts of from Radici del Sud?
A: Cote di Franze from the Cirò region of Calabria. Marvellous stuff, very easty to get geeky about. The Cirò boys are dong wonders down there as we speak.
Q: In addition to Italian wines any other favourite regions, varieties?
A: I seem to like many wines that come from Volcanic soils. For example, the Assyrtiko from the Greek island of Santorini is nothing short of stunning. I’m also a big fan of serious Beaujolais coming from one of the crus. A hidden gem with a bad rep, if you ask me.
Q: Has the wine culture changed in the past 5 years in Helsinki? What are the top 5 regions you will find in both restaurants and wine retail shops?
A: Helsinki is going through a restaurant boom with lots of great new places opening all the time. I’d say the sommelier favourites are German Riesling in general and French natural wines (any region, to be honest). Champagne is always a good thing to offer. Orange wine is bubling under. The general public is drinking more and more sparkling wines. Cava and Champagne are growing double digits. The most popular wine country is Chile with it’s bold and affordable wines.
About Arto Koskelo: Arto Koskelo is a Helsinki-based trouble maker on eating and drinking. He started with video blogging 2009 and was the wine guy of the Finnish morning show until 2014. Arto’s a published author on food and wine and a member of the prestigious Circle of Wine Writers. He’s hosting a radio show about gastronomy and writes to different medias about beverages and restaurants. Arto was elected as “the Food Ambassador of Helsinki” earlier this year as a token of his commitment to eating and drinking.
Arto’s blog: http://viinipiru.fi/ and http://koskeloonwine.com/
About the James the Wine Guy Interview Series. I love to interview people in my blog as I think it is essential to highlight people from all aspects of the wine world. The series is to look at not just wine makers, people who have had some touch to wine. I also believe it is important to highlight contributors to making wine a highlight and delight on each and every table.
James the Wine Guy
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Photo is courtesy of Arto Koskelo.
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