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Articles by: Charles Scicolone

  • Life & People

    The Food and Wine of the Alto Adige


    The drive north from Verona along the eastern side of Lake Garda past Trentino toward Bolzano is one of the most scenic drives in Northern Italy.  Once you are in the Alto Adige, it is difficult to believe that you are still in Italy. The area is also known as Sudtirol or the South Tyrol.  The people call themselves Tyrolians and German is their first language. It is the land of Italy’s majestic northern Alps and thousand-peaked Dolomite mountains, bordering on Austria and Switzerland.

     We were invited by the Hotel & Spa Rosa Alpina (www.rosalpina.it) in the village of San Cassiano, in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomite Mountains for a wine and food pairing in NYC. Our host was Hugo Pizzinini, General Manager and owner of the hotel.


    The menu was prepared by Norbert Niederkofler the Executive Chief of this Relais & Chateaux Hotel. The restaurant in the Hotel is the two-star Michelin St Hubertus, named for the patron saint of hunters. It is not often that I get to taste food from this region and was looking forward to it. Chef Niederkofler prepared a special menu with matching wines.

     

    The first course was speck, the traditional smoked ham of the area, served with horseradish, mustard and bread from the Dolomites that was light and crisp with a hint of anise. What better wine to match this with than the popular red Schiava 2007 from Peter Solva.  Schiava, also known as Vernatsch, is the most planted grape in the region.  Schiava means female slave in Italian.  Native to the Alto Adige, it is one of the most consumed varieties and is looked upon as the own home grown grape. This wine was light in style with fresh fruit flavors and it was served chilled.  Needless to say it was a perfect match with the Speck.

     



    The next course was char, a salmon-like fish cooked in mountain herbs with potatoes and ramp (wild leek) puree. The fish was cooked to perfection and the potatoes with ramps made the dish. It was paired with a 2007 Terlan Terlaner made from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. This wine was much better with the food than by itself.

     

    This was followed by crisp red mullet on tartar of scallops with sautéed calamari and coconut coriander sauce.  There is a lot going on in this dish but the flavors were subtle and there was just a hint of coconut.   2007 Riesling from Weingut Koferehof was paired with it. This is a very aromatic wine with a hint of pineapple that worked with all of the flavors.


    The next dish was risotto with Dolomite pine needles served with gently cooked breast of guinea fowl.


    I asked the chef about the pine needles and he said that they are only used for risotto. He said that they come from the tender green tips of the low-rowing mugo pine branches, pureed and blended with sweet butter and stirred into the risotto. The dish worked and it was perfect with a crisp 2007 Chardonnay from St. Michael Eppan with good acidity.


    Venison with white asparagus, pea puree and fresh morels followed. The venison was perfectly cooked and the tender asparagus were the essence of spring. This was paired with the Pinot Nero “Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano,from Hofstatter.  I found the wine to be too oaky for my taste and for the venison.

     


     

    For dessert the chef prepared rhubarb soup and warm chocolate pudding and fromage blanc ice cream. I loved this dessert and I loved the wine with the dessert, the 2006 Moscato Rosa “Schweizer” from Franz Hass. It had just the right amount of fresh red fruit flavors and aromas to compliment the dessert.

     



    For more information on the food at this event, see my wife Michele’s blog at www.MicheleScicolone.com.

     

     

     

  • Life & People

    Interview with a True "Pizzaiolo", Roberto Caporuscio


    It seemed like only a few moments passed between the time we ordered our pizza Margarita and its arrival sizzling hot at the table.  Light, crisp and full of flavor, Michele said it was the best pizza she had eaten since Naples.   Rosario, one of the owners whom we had met before came by to see how we liked the pizza and introduced us to the pizzaiolo, Roberto Caporuscio.  Roberto, who is a wealth of knowledge about pizza, is from Campania and has a passion for Neapolitan style pizza and trained and worked in Naples.  He has also made pizza in Denver, Chicago, Pittsburgh and NJ, among other places.  He asked us which pizza places we liked in NYC and Naples and we realized that we liked many of the same places. Meanwhile, we had finished eating and Keste was getting busy.  Roberto asked us if we would like to come back to see how he made the pizza from scratch.  We gave him an enthusiastic Yes! And made a date for the following Monday.

     

    Roberto’s experience making pizza in Italy and around the US taught him that despite the common belief, the water did not make a big difference in the finished pie.  The temperature and humidity were more important because these would affect how long the dough takes to rise. He does not use a “biga” starter.  He only uses fresh natural cake yeast that must be kept in the refrigerator.  Dry yeast does not do the job and can leave spots in the pizza. He uses a very small amount of yeast, 1 gram per liter of water, and lets the dough rise very slowly.

    Roberto uses “double zero” Antimo Caputo flour in 55 lb bags.  It is made especially for pizza from seven different kinds of wheat. The wheat is ground very slowly so as not to damage the flour and the nutrients.  This flour gives you dough that is easier to stretch and the slow rise gives you more flavor and makes it lighter. Roberto does not put the dough in the refrigerator but leaves it out to rise for 18 to 24 hours.

     

    The flour, water, salt and yeast are mixed in a special machine that has two arms and moves very slowly. The slow movement mixes the dough without heat buildup. It takes about 20 minutes for it to be ready. The dough remains in the machine until Roberto is ready to transfer it to a table where it continues to rise. When it is ready, the dough is shaped into 9.5 ounce balls.  The shaping method is the same for making mozzarella.  The finished balls are put into plastic boxes to rise. Roberto tried to find wooden boxes but did not like any of them. It takes about 20 minutes to shape the mass into individual balls. The finished dough is so soft, you might expect it to stick to your hands, but it does not. Roberto makes sure every ball of dough is perfectly round because any holes or gaps would prevent the pizzas from lying flat in the oven and they would not bake properly.

     

    When it is time to make a pizza, Roberto takes a ball of dough and with his fingers spreads it into a disk. He rotates the disk by quarter turns--it takes less than a minute to reach its final shape. He makes sure that the pizza is not too thin in the middle, if it is the cornicione or rim will be too thick. I have never seen a pizzaiolo in Naples toss the pizza in the air, but I had to ask anyway. Roberto gave me a look and said that the dough is not to play with, it is food!

     

    Next he puts on the sauce, starting in the middle and working in circles toward the edges-- not too much sauce in the middle. Buffalo mozzarella is then added and some basil and a touch of olive oil. The wood burning oven is 900 degrees. He stretchers the dough a little more before putting it on the peel. I took out my watch and timed it.  A perfect Pizza Margarita was done in only 45 seconds.  From the time Roberto touches the dough and to the time the pizza arrives at your table is less than five minutes!  Like the classic Neapolitan pizza, it is 9-10 inches and has a crust that is neither too thin nor too thick.  It can be folded in half and then folded again into quarters, without cracking or breaking the crust. Only the edge, called the cornicione, is crisp, though it is also chewy.

     Roberto grew up on a farm, and would milk the cows and make cheese. He told us a story of feeding the cows tomato skins so the milk had a pink tinge to illustrate for us that what you feed the cows determines what the cheese will taste like. He loves cheese and uses different types on his pizzas.  He says that he varies his pizza toppings as long as they make sense. Once a customer asked him to make a pizza with pineapple as a topping.  He considered it an insult and refused.   Would you have sushi and ask the chef to put Mozzarella on it?

     

    In addition to the superb Margarita, we also tried Roberto’s Roman style pizza made with thin sliced potatoes, and the Mastro Nicola which is Roberto’s interpretation of the earliest Neapolitan pie, before tomatoes were introduced to Italy.  It was topped with pecorino, herbs and lard. 

     

    With all of the pizzerias here in New York City, we are thrilled to have Pizzeria Keste which is dedicated to making genuine Neapolitan style pizza.  Roberto Caporuscio is a true pizzaiolo and Keste raises the pizza bar in this city.

             

    Keste' Pizza & Vino
    271 Bleecker St
    New York, NY 10014
    (212) 243-1500

     
     

     

  • Life & People

    A Roman Easter with a Touch of Naples


     

      “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” (Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want) say the Italians, but no matter who you spend it with, Easter is a day of celebration. 

     This year, I decided to ask my wife, Michele, about what she is planning to make for our Easter dinner celebration. She is the author of 16 cookbooks and I could see her mind working on the menu possibilities. She suggested making some of our favorite foods from Rome, and one or two things from Naples where her family came from. 

       We will start with dates stuffed with pecorino served with Prosecco. This was something we first tasted many years ago at restaurant Colonna in the town of Labico just outside Rome. Since then, it has become one of our favorite starters.

        We would have to have pasta. (My grandmother from Palermo always made baked macaroni for Easter.) Michele knows what pasta I want.   Bucatini alla matriciana, thick dried pasta strands in a sauce made with tomatoes, guanciale and a little bit of peperoncino.   With it we will drink Quattro Mori (the four Moors), made from syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, produced by Castel de Paolis, in the town of Grottaferrata in the Castelli Romani. It costs about $44 and it will be perfect with the pasta. The Cesanese del Piglio, made from the Cesanese grape, and produced by Casale della loria $24 would also work.

      What would Easter and spring in Rome be without lamb? So the main course will be roast leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary, and little potatoes along with those harbingers of spring asparagus, artichokes and fava beans. With the lamb my wine choice is Vigna del Vassaol, made from 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. The producer is Colle Picchione in the town of Marino just outside Rome. This is one of the best Bordeaux blends made in Italy $44.

     Our touch of Naples will be La Pastiera Easter (Wheat Berry Cheesecake) which Michele learned to make with her mother when she was growing up. Now makes it every Easter with her niece, Amy. Traditionally it was only made at Easter time but now can be found at all times of the year. It is a ricotta cheesecake, but with the extra texture of cooked wheat grains. It is flavored with cinnamon, candied citron and orange flavoring, among others. If you would like a recipe for La Pastiera, which is also known as Piazza Gran, go to her website www.MicheleScicolone.com.  If she has the time, she will also make Pizza Rustica (pizza chiena in dialect, meaning full pie or stuffed pie).  Traditionally made on Good Friday to be eaten on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday (Pasquetta), this pie lives up to its dialect name because it is practically overflowing with sausages, ricotta, diced cheese, and salumi. It is practically a meal in itself.

       My family comes from Sicily and every Easter my father made a twisted loaf of bread studded with whole eggs in their shells. Michele’s Neapolitan grandmother made a similar loaf in the shape of a ring and called it casatiello.  Eggs are symbolic of fertility and rebirth and are used in many dishes at this time of the year, as is cheese, especially fresh creamy ricotta.

    The day after Easter is known as Pasquetta or little Easter. It is a big holiday in Italy and everyone takes the day off, packs up the leftovers from Sunday’s feast, and heads to the country for a picnic or day out of doors. The blueberries and pear tree on our terrace are starting to bloom. Maybe we will open a bottle of barbera and enjoy an al fresco meal Roman style.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  • Life & People

    St. Joseph's Day in Sicily


          In the heart of Sicily, the Marchesa Anna Tasca Lanza runs a  cooking school at Regaleali, her family’s wine estate.  Anna is also a cook book author:  The Heart of Sicily and The Flavors of Sicily are two of her books.  We were fortunate enough to visit there a few years ago for a week that included March 19, St. Joseph’s Day.  Anna’s father, the Count Tasca d’Almerita, who has since passed away, was named Joseph, and I knew there would be a great celebration.  In Southern Italy, the feast day of the saint for whom you were named, is celebrated like a birthday.

     
        St Joseph’s day brings the hope of spring and a break from Lent for the Sicilians. San Giuseppuzzu as he is known to the Sicilians is much loved. He is the patron of the poor, the needy, and the orphaned and the celebration of his day in unlike any other in Sicily.
     
         Anna suggested that we go to Salemi, a small town in the Belice Valley (about 50 miles southwest of Palermo) to see the bread altars especially constructed for this occasion. Our guide was the author Mary Taylor Simeti (Pomp and Sustenance and On Persephone’s Island). Mary came to Sicily in 1962, married a Sicilian and now she and her husband have a small farm and winery out side of Palermo.
     
     In Salemi as elsewhere in Sicily, the central element on the feast of San Giuseppe is bread.   We first went to see the official town altar. It was very elaborate and I will leave it up to Mary to describe:  “the altar is placed within a most extraordinary bower, constructed of poles covered with myrtle branches, decorated with oranges and lemons , and hung with hundreds of little breads… fashioned into a flower, a beast, a saint; roses, daisies, and fava beans in their pods; butterflies, birds, and fish; even St Joseph himself, the bread of his monk’s habit colored dark brown by cocoa added to the dough.”
     
     This bread is not meant to be eaten and the women of the town begin making the decorations for the next year right after this year’s celebration. In fact the whole town was covered with the bread figures.
    Of course, bread for eating in all shapes and sizes is always present on St. Joseph’s Day.  In her book On Persephone’s Island, Mary wrote “… on St Joseph’s Day the central element is the bread. Mainstay of the peasant diet and fruit of the island’s principal crop, bread is always sacred, so much so that according to an old superstition he who allows a crumb to fall on the floor will be condemned in the afterworld to gathering it up with his eyelashes”.
     
    The town officials of Salemi invited us to an elementary school where a St Joseph Day celebration was taking place.  There was a small altar, bread hanging everywhere, and a lot of food. Children dressed as Mary, Joseph and Jesus were at the center of the celebration.  No one was allowed to eat until the Holy Family arrived. 
     
              The next day we went with Anna to the village nearest to Regaleali, Vallelunga, to see the St. Joseph Tables set up in some of  the homes.  People who choose to set up these tables do so to thank the saint for prayers that have been answered, for example, a loved one’s recovery from an illness. Platters filled with fried seasonal vegetables, meats, pastries, cookies, and pitchers of wine and other beverages cover long tables. There is a sense of competition between one home and another, and pride as to which family has the best St Joseph Table.
     
              When we asked why certain foods were included, the answer was always “my mother or my grandmother did it this way”.  In one house we commented on the St Joseph Table of a neighbor.  We got a cold look, and the comment, ”they buy most of their food, everything here is home made”.
     
    The night before St. Joseph’s Day we were invited for dinner at the Case Grande, the Count’s home.  We walked there from the Casa Vecchia, where Anna lives and saw a big bonfire in the nearby field, symbolizing the preparation of the new crop and the coming of spring. The meal was prepared by a monsu, the Sicilian name for a French trained chef, and included many of the old Count’s favorite dishes, such as Duck a l’Orange.
     
              The next day, St Joseph’s Day itself, big tables were set up in the count yard of the Casa Grande.  Large pits were dug, fires set in them and they were covered with grills. We started with several kinds of arancini, rice balls filled with meat and peas or ham and béchamel as well as fried pasta timballeti, something like fried macaroni and cheese. Next we ate the grilled foods, including stigghiole, lambs intestines seasoned with scallions and pecorino and wrapped around a skewer, artichokes, sausages, chicken and lamb.  Pasta con le Sarde and macco (dried fava beans) rounded out the menu.  We drank Nozze d’Oro a white wine made from Inzolia and Sauvignon Tasca (a special clone of Sauvignon Blanc).  The red wine was Rosso del Conte made mostly from old vine Nero d’Avola. For dessert we had Sfinci di San Giuseppe (St Joseph Fritters). 
     
    For a recipe, go to  www.MicheleScicolone.com.  It was a great St. Joseph’s day celebration with family and friends.  We ate and drank all day, and the evening culminated with spectacular fireworks that lit up the night sky. 

     

  • Life & People

    Amarone: A Unique Wine



       It was a cold morning in February as I headed to Felidia restaurant for the Wine Media Guild’s Amarone tasting and lunch. What better wines to taste and drink on a cold day and who better to speak about then Sandro Boscaini of the Masi winery?  There were 30 wines to taste arranged by producer, so that we could better understand the different styles.

     

       Amarone, began Sandro, is made from three Veronese grape varieties: Corvina  is the most important because during appassimento it is subject to Botrytis (Noble Rot), which produces high levels of glycerin and glycolic acid. This, however, limits its ability to provide color and tannin.   Rondinella is the second most important grape variety and a perfect compliment to Corvina.  Its thick dark skin is very resistant to botrytis during the appassimento period and it adds color, tannins and aromas. Molinara, a light red grape, provides the acidity and drinkability that is unusual for a wine of this structure.

     

       Appassimento:  The drying of the grapes. The grapes are laid on straw racks for 80-to-100 days to dry, according to the vintage.

    The drying is now done in temperature controlled warehouses. During the appassimento the grapes lose 30-40% of their weight due to evaporation and become semi-dried. They have sugar levels of between 25 and 28 Brix.  Sandro Boscaini wants botrytis to attack his grapes. He feels it gives his wine a little added character.  Other winemakers feel that drying the grapes is enough and the sweetness should be saved for the Recioto.

     

       Recioto della Valpolicella is the sweet version of amarone made from semi-dried (appassito) grapes.   Recioto comes from the local dialect “recie”, ears.  Grape bunches have two small clusters branching out near the top. These “ears” are the choice part of the bunch because they stick out and get the most sun.

     

     

        Amarone della Valpolicella is the dry wine version made from semi-dried (appassito) grapes when the wine is fully fermented.  During vinification, if fermentation stops either naturally or by human intervention, the wine is left with residual sugar and is called Recioto.

     

        If fermentation continues until the wine is completely dry, then the wine is called Amarone (from amaro, bitter).

     

        Sandro pointed that until a few years ago there was great confusion between the two. Recioto della Valpolicella was the sweet and Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone was the dry.  Now Recioto is only used on the label for the sweet version.

     

       Amarone, said Sandro, is extremely concentrated, high in alcohol, deeply coloured and complex, and achieves a precise balance between all of its components. It is a velvety wine which is never excessively tannic or acidic.  For this reason, it is appealing when relatively young; although it improves with ageing, and can continue to improve for many years. Due to its nobility, balance and power, it is considered a truly “majestic” wine.

     

      Amarone has gained a new popularity over the last few years. This new popularity has led to Amarone being made outside the classical zone and to over-production. Sandro went on to say that regular Valpolicella is in danger of disappearing.  (Franco Ziliani has an excellent article on Vinowire 01/26; Quantitly or Quality- Amarone Production Growing at an Alarming Rate ). 

     

      Sandro pointed to the 1964, 1983, 1990, 1995, 1997, 1988 and 2006

    as the greatest vintages for Amarone

     

     

    The wines

    The first producer we tasted was Masi. There were eight of Sandro’s wines at the tasting.  All of them showed very well and all were similar in character. He has moved to a more modern style and likes to keep a hint of Recioto in his Amarone. Figs, chocolate, cherries and dried prunes ran trough his wines.  The Costasera Classico 2005 ($65) was the most modern in style and according to Sandro ready to drink. I found it to have a lot of flavor but it was tannic and needed more time.

      The Serego Alighieri Viao Classico 2001 ($83) is his most traditional Amarone. This estate was bought by the son of Dante Alighieri in 1353. (The famous poet from
    Florence
    --his full name was Durante degli Alighieri.) There was fruit, hints of spice and a backbone of chocolate. The 1997 had the same flavors but was more developed.

     The Mazzano 1997 ($240) had a lot of character but more subtle flavors. The Campolongo di Torbe Classico 1997 had that underlining chocolate aroma and flavor, with hints of bitter cherries and spice.

     

     Bertani is a very traditional producer of Amarone. They still dry the grapes in the traditional manner and use large Slavonian oak casks for the wine. Their current release is the Classico 2001 ($140). This wine needs more time to develop.  It was closed, tannic with underlining fruit flavors. I took an open bottle home with me and drank it two nights later.  It was just starting to open up. The Classico 1980 ($250), was full and dry with aromas of red berries, spices and chocolate.  The Classico 1972 ($365) was showing its age. I have had this vintage before and it was showing better. The wines from this producer in a good year will last for 40 years or more.

     

       Tommasi is a traditional producer. The Classico 2004 ($70) had flavors and aromas of prunes with a hint of chocolate. The 2003 ($70) was a bigger wine with more body. This may be due to the fact that it was very warm in 2003. The Classico “Ca’Florian” 2001 ($52) was drinking well and seemed very developed. These wines work very well with food.

     

     Fratelli Speri  is also a traditional producer. There were three wines: the Monte Saint’Urbano 2004 ($87) 2003 ($75) and the 1994. It was interesting to taste 3 wines from the same vineyard in different years. The wines tasted more of raisins than of dried prunes with hints of spice and chocolate.

     

     Tedeschi, Capitel Monte Oimi 2003 ($90). This was the wine that was closest to a Recioto, with very pronounced flavors, aromas and

    oak that gave it vanilla undertones. This is not a food wine.

     Some of the other wines that I liked were the La Salette “La Marega” 2004 ($75), Robert Mazzi & Figlia Classico Vigneto Castel 2004 ($77). This was a more modern style but the oak was well integrated and there were flavors and aromas of raisins.  The Sartori Classico Corte Bra 1999 ($90) had hints of ripe red berries and plum.

     

        Michele Castellani Amarone Classico was a producer that I had never tasted before. I was impressed by the Ca del Pipa, Colle Cristi 2004 ($65) , I Castel-Campo Casalin 2003 ($75) and the Ca del Pipa, Monte Cristi 1998. These wines were somewhere between modern and traditional, with hints of raisins, chocolate and spice but very well balanced.

     

     

     

     

  • Cenone di Capodanno in New York


    My wife Michele writes Italian cookbooks.  Every year at this time she gets the same question: “What are you cooking for Christmas and New Years?” Her answer is always the same, “Something Italian,” and when she explains what she is making people always say, “can we come?” This year we are having Christmas dinner at a friend’s house, so Michele will not be cooking but she will do a dinner New Years Day.

     

    My grandparents came from Sicily and Michele’s were from the Naples area but she makes dishes from all over
    Italy and does not make the same thing every year.  Once she decides what she is making, I will try to find the wines to match the menu. Our Manhattan apartment is on the East Side and we have a great view of the
    Empire State Building, the golden tower of the New York Life Insurance Company and the clock on the Met Life building.  We are in New Yorkproprio,  but we try to make our guests feel as if they are in
    Italy with our food, wine and music (Verdi, Puccini, Neapolitan songs and The Play of Herod).

     

    This New Year’s Day, our dinner will begin with wedges of pecorino Toscano stuffed into large Medjool dates.  I love the combination of the sweet softness of the dates with the salty sharpness of the cheese. This is the last of the wheel of pecorino I brought back from
    Siena
    in October, but a nutty, aged Parmigiano Reggiano would work well too.  We will drink a toast to the New Year with Prosecco from Venegazzu.  Another good choice would be the Ferrari Brut NV. Either would be a perfect match with the cheese and dates.

     

     For the main course, Michele is making Bollito Misto.  The recipe is in her book 1,000 Italian Recipes.  She simmers various cuts of beef, veal, and chicken in a flavorful broth. At Buon’Italia, the excellent Italian food store in the Chelsea Market, we purchased a zampone, a boned pig’s foot stuffed with spiced pork sausage meat.  She will cook this too, but in a separate pot so that it does not ruin the bollito broth and make it greasy. 

     

    The first course will be the mixed meat broth with homemade tortellini. Barbera D’Alba “Tre Vigne” from Vietti  is a good combination. Then the assorted meats, including the zampone, will be sliced and served steaming hot with a variety of sauces, including my favorite, mostarda.  There are different kinds of mostarda made in different parts of
    Italy
    , but the kind I prefer is made with whole fruits, such as figs, apricots, cherries, and so on, preserved in sweet and spicy mustard flavored syrup. I try to keep the mostarda on my end of the table. Michele also makes Salsa Verde, with parsley, garlic, olive oil, anchovies and capers. We will also serve some good grainy mustard and coarse salt. Dry Lambrusco goes very well with Bolito Misto, such as the Lambrusco Reggiano Concerto from Ermet Medici, but this time of year I prefer Amarone such as Costasera or Campofiorin “Ripasso” from Masi.

     

    No New Year’s Day meal would be complete without lentils, which in
    Italy symbolize money and good luck for the coming year.  We have some tiny lenticchie di Castelluccio from
    Umbria that we have been reserving for this dinner. 

     

    To complete the meal, Michele plans to make Panettone Bread Pudding.   It’s a great way to use up the last of the holiday panettone.  Here is the recipe from her book 1,000 Italian Recipes: 

     

    Panettone Bread Pudding

    Torta di Panettone

    Makes 8 servings

     

    Serve plain or with ice cream or zabaglione. 

     

    2 cups milk

    3/4 cup sugar

    1 cup heavy cream

    1/4 cup orange liqueur

    1/4 cup rum

    3 large eggs

    2 teaspoons grated orange zest

    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    8 to 12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices leftover homemade or store-bought panettone, or brioche bread

    2/3 cup raisins

    Confectioners’ sugar

     

    1. Bring the milk and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cream, orange liqueur, and rum.

    2. Whisk together the eggs, zest, and cinnamon. Stir in the milk mixture.

    3. Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Layer half the bread slices in the pan. Scatter the raisins on top. Arrange the remaining bread slices in the pan. Carefully pour the milk mixture over the bread slices, pressing the bread down to keep it submerged. Let stand 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

    4. Place a rack in the centre of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the pudding 40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean and the top is golden.

    5. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.

     

    After dessert there is caffe and of course grappa.

    Felice Anno Nuovo from Charles and Michele.

     

     

     

     

  • Life & People

    Judging Tuscan Wines


    We had just sat down to dinner on board the Corinithian II as it was leaving Malta for
    Agrigento
    .  Suddenly, my cell phone
    rang.  It was a representative of the Italian Trade Commission in New York wanting to know if I would like to go to
    Siena to judge Tuscan wines.  My answer was, “Perche No?”

     

    The event was called the Vino VII Selezione
    del vini della Toscana
    and it was held on October 17, 18, and 19
    In collaboration with the Enoteca Italiana di Siena, Associazaione Enologi Enotecnici Italiani, Istituto Estero, Amministrazioni Provinciali, Camere di Commerico Consorzi di Tutela.

     

    The tasting and judging took place in the Garden Hotel,     

    (www.gardenhotel.it) which is about a 25 minute walk from the Campo, in the center of
    Siena.

     

    The event is held every two years.  The wines included in the competition were D.O.C.G., D.O.C. and I.G.T. denominations from
    Tuscany
    .  250 producers participated and there were 1,250 wines in seventeen categories. For example, category #2 included D.O.C.G. and D.O.C. white wines elaborated in barriques or refined wood while #8 was D.O.C. red wines from the last two grape harvests (2006/2007).   This is the only type of information we were given on the wines – we did not have the producers’ names, the names of the wines or even the grape varieties.

     

    Each of the nine panels of judges contained seven members:  five enologists, one sommelier, and one journalist.  Five of the journalists were non-Italians, representing England, Poland, Canada, France and the
    U.S.
    (me).

     

    We evaluated the wines based on the method used by the Union International des Oenologues.  We were given tasting sheets and told to write our panel number, the wine sample number, category, vintage, and whether the wine was White or Red.  We had four minutes to evaluate each wine on the basis of Sight, Bouquet, Taste/Flavor.  To do so, we circled numbers indicating a range from excellent to negative.  Finally we had to add up our scores and put in a total.  Once marked on the sheet, changes were not permitted.  If necessary, you could do the whole sheet over but the organizers preferred to have your first impressions.  If a wine was bad another bottle was poured, but now you had only two minutes between wines.  Finally, there was a place for remarks and the sheets had to be signed. 

     

     

    Giacomo Moretti of the Associazione Enologi e Enotecnici italiani

    www.assoenologi.it was responsible for running the tasting. With a nod of his head the sommeliers would appear, show the judges the bottle with the number on it (so there would be no mistake), and pour the wine. If there was a bad bottle he would say “un altro bottlglia” and indicate the panel. This went like clockwork; even if someone dropped a glass or spilled the wine it was taken

    care of efficiently. If a judge made a mistake on a tasting sheet it was Signor Moretti who came looking for you later.

     

    The final score for each wine is a mathematical average eliminating both the highest and lowest scores. Luigi Prosperini, a lawyer, was responsible for the tasting sheets and calculating the scores.  If a wine received at least 82/100 it was awarded with a Certificate of Merit, 85/100, a Certificate of Special Mention, and the first five wines in each category that obtained the highest number of points were awarded an Honorary Diploma.

     

    I have never tasted so many wines with so little information and so quickly. It was a great experience and I learned a great deal. By the end of the tasting my mathematical skills had improved greatly.

     

     

    The day before I was to leave for Siena I was invited to a tasting in
    New York of the wines of Ruffino (www.ruffino.com ) at Bar Boulud. The speaker was Adolfo Folonari, a member of the family that owns the winery. We tasted a number of wines but the one I liked best was their Vino Noble di Montepulciano Riserva “Lodola Nuova” D.O.C.G. 2004.(90% Prugnolo Gentile-the local name for Sangiovese and 10% Merlot)  When I received the list of medal winners at
    Siena, this wine was one of them and it was one of my highest rated wines.  I was glad to see that my taste had been consistent.  (See The Sangiovese Family November 5th 2007)

     

    For more information on the tasting and a list of the medal winners go to  www.enoteca-italiana-it and www.toscanapromozione.it 

     

    Salvatore De Lio , manager of the Enoteca Italiana and Franco Ignesti from Toscana Promozione answered all of my questions and did a great job in organizing the tasting. ).  Elena Boggiano, who organizes special events & promotions for the Enoteca Italiana, was of great help to me during and after the event supplying me with useful information.

     

     

    I did not just taste wine while I was in
    Siena, I also had some good meals.  On the first afternoon I had some free time and decided to walk into
    Siena
    . There were workmen eating in the Osteria Da Titti (Vai Camollia #19), and the menu looked interesting so I went in. It was typical Tuscan food, very good and inexpensive. I had an antipasto including tomato topped bruschetta, pici cacio e pepe, veal stew with Tuscan style beans, water, a half liter of red wine, and coffee, all for 42 Euros.

     

    Signori Ignesti, Moretti, Prosperini, and De Lio took the foreign journalists to dinner. They could not have been nicer and we had long and interesting discussions on Italian wine and food. Il Mestolo dl Gaetano restaurant in
    Siena, Via Fiorentina, 81, Tel. O57751531. There are not many restaurants in the heart of
    Tuscany
    that serve seafood. This one was excellent. The Fiano di Avellino-Colli di Lipio 2006,- Ramano Cielia and Furore 2007- Marisa Cuomo went very well with the food.

     

    The second night we ate at the Enoteca Italiana in
    Siena.
    If you are in
    Siena you should stop there if you what to know more about Italian wine. We had dinner featuring tartufo bianco from
    Tuscany
    . This is the first time I have had white truffles from
    Tuscany – they are more typical of Piemonte.  The food was very good and the best dish was the Gnocchi al tartufo bianco delle
    Crete Senesi. The dessert was panna cotta al cioccolato con tartufo delle
    Crete Senesi.
     It was an interesting idea but I would have preferred it if they had put more tartufo on the gnocchi instead.  The wine was served in glasses made of luxion, a material I had never heard of.  I was told that it was a resistant and brilliant new material created by RCR Cristalleria Italiana using a unique mixture of pure raw materials  (www.rcrcrystal.com

     

    The last night we ate at the Antica Osteria Divo, a few steps from the Duomo, Via Franciosa 29 (www.osteriadaivo.it).  The young chef, Pino Di Cicco, served some very innovative appetizers. The highlight was the bistecca Fiorentine with boiled white beans in olive oil.  The meat was cooked to perfection (I had the piece with the bone) and how I love the beans!

     

    Michele wanted me to bring back an aged pecorino cheese and I looked all over
    Siena
    for one. At the Antica Pizzicheria Chigiana De Antonio Niccoli-via di Citta 93,  I found a cheese that had been aged in ashes.  When I arrived home Michele was very happy that I had remembered the cheese.  One of our favorite ways to eat it was stuffed into large medjool dates acoompanied by prosecco. 

     

     

     

  • Life & People

    The Wine Media Guild Tastes the Wines of Puglia


     

    Wine Media Guild Tasting and Luncheon

     

    The Wine Media Guild (www.winemediaguild.com)  is an association of wine communicators dedicated to providing wine information and education.  Each month a wine tasting and luncheon is held at Felidia restaurant in
    Manhattan
    . The November 5th event was a tasting of the wines of
    Puglia
    . I was the guest speaker and here are some of my remarks on wine making in
    Puglia
    .

     

    Like most of Southern Italy, the Phoenicians and the Greeks taught the people of
    Apulia (Latin name) how to cultivate the vine (viniculture).

    When the Roman Emperor Augustus divided Italy into eleven regions,  Apulia was one of them, but at that time it also included Calabria and part of Campania (
    Sorrento).

     

    The Latin derivation of
    Apulia (A-Pluvia) was not in the sense of lacking rain but as the Roman poet Horace used it, a land “dry and parched”.  Horace mentions the red wines of
    Apulia in his writings and was very fond of them. Pliny the Elder (d 79AD) in his Natural History says that the wines of Apulia were as good as the highly praised Falerno from
    Campania. The wines were made from black grapes and had high alcohol content.

     

    Apulia was a crossroads of civilization during the Middle Ages, especially during the Norman period 1078 -1250, a golden age.   Basilian monks kept viniculture alive, though wine growing in
    Puglia
    would not improve until well into the 20th century.

     

    Beginning in the late 18th Century, France and Northern Italy began to look to
    Puglia as a source to strengthen their wine. This continued into the 19th and 20th Centuries. Puglia became even more important to France after it lost
    Algeria
    in the 1950’s.  The wines of Puglia were perfect for strengthening the wines of
    Northern Europe and for making vermouth.

     

    Growers in
    Puglia
    picked the grapes late (high sugar) and used growing methods to increase grape yields.  They got what they wanted: high production and high alcohol and were not interested in making quality wines. In fact, most of the growers believed that they could not, given the conditions for wine growing in
    Puglia
    . It was easier to produce grapes in this way and sell them in bulk.
    Puglia also is a big producer of table grapes and some of these were being used for wine.

     

    Italian enologists gave up on Puglia and considered
    Apulia unsuitable to produce quality wines because the grapes had too much alcohol; the region had too much heat and wind (sirocco).  

     

    Puglia produces more wine than
    Australia
    .  In Italy, it is second to the Veneto in total production and second to
    Sicily
    in the number of vines planted.  Although there is a sea of wine in
    Puglia
    , people there drink more beer than wine.
    Puglia
    does not have a wine culture.  Only 35% of the wine produced in the region is consumed there.  Until recently the locals did not consider their wine to be special. This attitude began to change slowly. One of the turning points was when the Candido winery hired Severino Garofano from the Scuola di Enologia in 1957. Candido was making good wine but wanted to improve the quality and they felt Garofano could make a difference, and he did. Not only did he improve the wines at Candido but went on to consult for many wineries in southern
    Puglia. Today he is considered one of the top enologists in
    Italy.

     

    Leone di Castris, founded in 1661, may be the oldest winery in
    Puglia
    .  Their “Four Roses Rosato” is thought to be the first rosato made in
    Italy
    .  Today they have a very modern winery with a state of the art tasting room.

     

    Cosimo Taurino winery was founded in the 1970’s.  For a number of years they were the only wines from Puglia one could get on regular basis in the
    U.S.

     

    Rivera Winery in the Castel del Monte area has been making very good wines for a number of years.

     

    Accademia dei Racemi wines were launched in 1999 at Vinitaly. They are a modern winery but went back to the traditional way of training the vines the Alberebllo method (bush trained vines).

    These were some of the wineries that understood that quality wine could be made in
    Puglia
    .

     

    Foreigners began to see the untapped potential of
    Puglia
    . Kendall Jackson (U.S), Feudi di San Gregoria (Campania), Calatrasi (Sicily) , Avignonesi (
    Tuscany) have investments here. The most famous perhaps is Piero Antinori of Tuscany who makes wine in
    Puglia under the Tormaresca label.

     

    Here are my comments on the tasting:

    There were 35 wines from the different regions of
    Puglia. I am the co-chair of the Wine Media Guild and my co-chair is Pat Savoie. It was my honor to be the speaker at this event. I was introduced by Jeremy Parzen (see his blog on the event www.dobianchi.com  (Nov. 12, 08). Jeremy helped to get many of the wines for the event and invited Francesca Mancarella, the export director for the Candido winery, and Gary Gunnner the
    USA
    brand manger for Candido wines to the tasting. The wines of Candido are not imported at the present time. However I have been to the winery and liked the wines. Gary and Francesca were kind enough to bring samples to the tasting.

     

    It was a very impressive tasting and my co-chair and I agreed that we liked 95% of the wines.

     

    Puglia is not known for its white wines but the Gravina Bianco 2007 from Botomango, (60% Greco and 40% Malvasia) was light, fruity, with a hint of pear ($ 11).  It was the favorite white wine.

    The Five Roses  Rose 2007 from Leone de Castris  (90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia ) had a strawberry flavor and was very balanced ($18 ). It is one of the oldest wineries in
    Puglia
    but the facilities are very up to date. In fact it has the best tasting rooms that I have ever been in.

    Il Falcone Riserva 2003 from Rivera $26 (70% Nero di Troia and 30% Montepulicano) was one of the most elegant wines at the tasting. It was very well balanced, with good fruit, acidity and a pleasing after taste.

     

    There were a few red wines that I believe were great values:

    Vigna Flaminio Riserva 2007 Vallone $15 (70% Negroamaro and 20% Montpulciano 10% Malvasia Nera).

    Salice Salentino (80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia Nera, $15

    and the Notarpanaro (Negroamaro)$20 both from Taurino.

    The Cappllaccio Aglianico Riserva 2003 Rivera (100% Aglianico)

    ($18).

    I had never had a 100% Syrah from
    Puglia.  The Suahili from Vignamaggio aged in botti (large oak barrels) was very good and a bargain at $13.

     

    Piero Antinori now makes wine in
    Puglia
    under the Tormaresca label. Bocca di Lupo 2004 (100% Aglianico) $38 is a modern style wine with more than a hint of oak. However, I found it to be very well made and a good wine of this type. It was the number two wine in a tasting of Aglianico in Eric Asimov’s column in the Times on September 17, 2008 at which I was a member of the tasting panel.

     

    The 1999 Patriglione from Taurino (90 % Negroamaro and 10 %Malvasia Nera) $70 may have been the top wine of the tasting as every one was trying to take it to their table to drink with lunch. The grapes are late harvested. It has prune-like aromas and flavors with good acidity. It has a long finish and lingering aftertaste.

    Gratticiaia 2003 from Vallone (100% Negroamaro) $70.  The grapes are dried for three weeks in the hot Puglian sun. It is a big wine with deep prune aromas and flavors.

     

    There were two desert wines the Moscato di Trani “Piani di Tufara” 2004 Rivera  (375)$ 20

    and the Aleatico 2002 from Candido. The Moscato was very pleasant with hints of pear and apricot and not too heavy. The Aleatico was aromatic with undertones of red fruit and good acidity.

     

    Unfortunately I was unable to have the old style Primitivo at the tasting that I wanted, an omission noted by Paul Zimmerman. There was also a discussion of the origin of Primitvo, which is a very interesting topic. Everyone agrees that the grape originated in
    Croatia,

    that it is related to Zinfandel, but when and how it came to
    Puglia is a matter of debate.  Terry Robards agreed with me on the origin of the grape and when and how it came to
    Puglia
    . For Terry’s comments see Robert Simonson www.offthepresses.com  11 - 2008

     Peter Hellman asked his usual question on barriques and did mention “The Dark Side” (wines the have too much oak aging).

     

    A few nights ago I had the Cappello di Prete (Negroamaro) 2004 from Candido.  It had black cherry and licorice aromas and flavors and was a perfect combination with the roast lamb we had for dinner. The wine was much better with food then on its own.  This just goes to prove some wines need food in order to be at their best.

     

    Next time a tasting of Tuscan wines in
    Siena

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Life & People

    Romano dei Romani


     


    Rome
    is my favorite city. Se fosse un uomo ricco abiterei a Roma -- If I was a rich man I would live in
    Rome.  As if the magnificence of the city were not enough, the food also makes me want to return whenever I can.

     

    In September, I was invited to a Sagrantino tasting in Montefalco in
    Umbria
    .  The tasting ended five days before our cruise of Sicily, Malta and
    Tunisia.  I did not want to come back to
    New York and then leave again five days later.   Michele knew what I was thinking and said, “let’s rent an apartment in
    Rome for five days.”  My answer was, of course, “Perche No?” .

    I met her at the Rome airport after the tasting and we took a car to the apartment on the Via Giulia in the heart of
    Rome
    .

     

    Roman friends often recommend restaurants that they like. Usually these are not restaurants that serve traditional Roman food. I can understand this because they live there and can have Roman food whenever they want.  But the restaurants they want to send me to serve sushi, or put foamy sauces on the food, and generally work very hard to be very inventive. This would be fine if the flavors or the Italian ingredients came through but in most cases this is not so. The basis for all Italian food is freshness and simplicity, like traditional
    Rome
    cooking.   When I am there I eat the same things all the time.

             

              The only city I have been to more times and know better is
    New York and that is because I live there.  The routine the first afternoon we arrive in
    Rome
    does not change.  We drop off our bags and walk to restaurant Da Giggetto ( 39- 066861 105) at Portico D’Ottavia 12 A, in the Jewish ghetto.  This time it was a perfect sunny afternoon and the restaurant was crowded.  But we were able to sit outside facing the
    Tiber with a view of the synagogue.  I do not need to look at the menu because I always order the same things: fiori di zurcca ripieni con mozzarella e alici (small and crunchy but very good), carciofi alla giudia  (fried artichokes) and spaghetti con vongole veraci. The clams were small and tender with just the right amount of parsley, garlic, olive oil and a hint of hot pepper. Michele had il filetto di baccala (she loves the way the Romans fry) and the puntarelle in salsa d’ alici , her favorite salad. We sipped prosecco with our meal in the bright autumn sun.

     

    Michele likes La Campana, Vicolo Della Campana 18

    (39-06-6867820), we arrived without a reservation and got the last table for two.  If you call even a few hours before you can always get a reservation except for Sunday lunch when many Roman families eat out. The fried stuffed zucchini flowers here were bigger then those at Da Giggetto with a different coating.  The mozzarella filling was rich and creamy with just the right amount of anchovy flavor. The roasted porcini could not have been better and the maiolino arrosto con patate was excellent. Michele always orders the puntarella con alici salad and said this one was very good. For dessert I had fragolini con limone and zucchero.

     

    We passed Pierliugi restaurant(39-06-6861 302) a few times as it is around the corner from the apartment and it looked very appealing with outside dining in the picturesque Piazza de’ Ricci 144. The restaurant that we wanted to go to for lunch the next day was closed, Michele said “let’s go to Pierliugi” It was still early so we made a reservation for 1:00 PM.  When we returned at that hour, there were many empty tables because Romans eat late. Never go to a restaurant before 12:30 for lunch or 8:00 for dinner. The restaurant might not be open and if they are you may be the only one there. Pierliugi did not fill till 2:00 and after 2: 30 the owner was still adding tables to the outdoor space. It had been a number of years since I had been here so I needed a menu. The waiter was very friendly and when he heard Michele point out that they had ricci di mare (sea urchin) to me, he made her repeat the translation a number of times. He said he had been trying for years to find out the English meaning and no one else could tell him.

    We shared a Catalana Salad, with shrimp, seppie, potatoes, slivers of red onion, parsley, cherry tomato halves, rughetta and lots of extra virgin olive oil.  Michele loves this type of sea food salad and this was one of the best. Next I had pennone with alici ragu, a hint of hot pepper, a touch of tomato, fresh alici and a sprinkle of bread crumbs. I finished it all. They had scampi on the menu any way you like it.

     

    In some restaurants when you order scampi they serve you shrimp. I want langoustine. It is almost impossible to get them in
    America
    . The waiter assured me they were langoustine “proprio”

    and I ordered them grilled. The were perfect with a little olive oil

    drizzled over them!  As a side dish I ordered carciofi alla guida, they were crisp and crunchy, fried to perfection. They were the best I had in
    Rome. We drank Frascati Superiore 2007 from Casale Marchese which was very fruity. The wine list was interesting because under each wine was an explanation of how it was aged, in acciaio (steel), barriques (small oak barrels) or botti (large barrels). The waiter suggested a wine aged in barrique.  When I told him I did not like wine aged in barriques, it does not go with food, especially Italian food, he did not understand. I explained that it would be like him drinking a cappuccino after lunch or dinner. It was a running joke for the rest of the meal. This was one of the best fish meals I have ever had.

     

    The first time I went to Il Matriciano ,( 39-06-32500364) Via dei Gracchi, 55, was in 1981. It is one of my two favorite restaurants in
    Rome
    . Over the years nothing has changed. It is a family run restaurant and one of the owners, a brother and sister, always has lunch at the same table.  We sat outside and the tables around us filled quickly.  As usual, I ordered zucchini flowers (I cannot get enough of them) to start. These were perfectly deep fried with a small amount of  mozzarella and more than a hint of anchovies. I ordered the bucatini alla matriciana. Along with one or two others, this is the classic Roman  pasta. Some places serve it with rigatoni but it is not the same. Then I bucatini alla had abbacchio (baby lamb) roasted with potatoes. It was cooked to perfection, moist with crisp skin. For desert I had tiny fragoline, wild strawberries, and gelato. The 2005 Aglianico from Feudi San Gregorio went very well with the pasta and the baby lamb. I consider this the perfect Roman meal. In the afternoon it is quiet and I have sometimes seen Italian T.V. stars eating here. At night the restaurant is the most Roman of Roman restaurants. Sometimes it looks like it a scene from the movie La Dolce Vita, full of Romans who all seem to know each other and are having a good time. On Sunday afternoon and at night it is best to make a reservation.

     

     

    At Checchino dal 1887 (www.checchino1887.com), Via di Monte 31 Testaccio. Francesco Mariani takes care of the front of the house while his brother Elio is in the kitchen.  It is the best restaurant in Rome for both wine and food with over six hundred wines from
    Italy
    and all over the world. I always have long conversations with Francesco about Italian wine and which wine I should order with what I am eating.  This time he even remembered the wine I ordered when I was there two years ago. They no longer have any Fiorano Rosso or older vintages of Colle Picchione “Vigna dal Vassallo”. They did have a double magnum of the 1989 but there were only two of us so I did not order it. 

     

    Many years ago we arrived in Rome and were planning to go by train to
    Genoa
    .  At the train station, we were told that there was a one day strike by the train workers, but  there would be a train coming from the south.  It would stop in Rome at four and then on to Genoa before heading to
    Paris.  As it was only noon, what would we do for four hours!  We looked at each other and said “Checchino”.  We found a cab and arrived with all of our baggage.  When we explained the situation to Francesco, he quickly whisked the bags out of sight and said that he would call the station at 3:30.    We had a wonderful meal and were just finishing the last drop of caffe, when Francesco came running into the dining room.  “The train is arriving early,” he said, “ there is no time for a taxi.”   We quickly threw everything into his car and raced to the station.  We jumped on the train as it was starting to move with Francesco handing up the luggage.  We never could have done it without him.   The train was packed and we stood all the way to
    Genoa, seven hours.

     

    This time I ordered the tasting menu because it had all of my favorite foods. I started with a tortino of eggs, peppers and tomato, this was followed by pasta alla Martricina (yes again).  It could not have been better.  Then rabbit (coniglio alla olive di
    Gaeta con rughetta and pomodoro) followed by torta de mele (apple tart). The Fiorano Semillon from Alberico Buoncompagni Ludovisi from the ‘70’s was listed as a dessert wine. I asked Franseco about this and he said that it was the nature of the Semillon grape and the way in which they were made. The same wine is being sold in
    New York
    as a dry table wine. I always found these wines to be a little oxidized which I believe adds to their charm. Francesco recommended the1975. It worked great with the torta.  

     

    Testaccio, where the restaurant is located, is where the slaughter houses of
    Rome used to be and the vaccinari  (slaughterers) and the scorichini (tanners) once lived. Checchino has many specialties based on “innards” that cannot be found anywhere else.  Its specialties include: coda alla vaccinara, abbacchio alla cacciatore, la trippa, bucatini alla gricia, rigatoni con la pajata, and bue garofolata which is a recipe developed and owned by the restaurant.   

    Checchino is a member of L’ Unione di Ristoranti del Buon Ricordo, a group of restaurants that give you a plate if you order their signature dish or tasting menu.  We have almost 100 of these plates and six are from Checchino.

     

    Osteria da Giovanni Ar Galletto ,Piazza Farnese 102 (39-06-686-1714) located in a corner of the Piazza Farnese.  It is cozy inside but the view from the tables outside is more interesting.  If you get the right table, you can face the fountain in the middle of the piazza along with the French embassy where the second act of the opera Tosca by Puccini takes place.  We always try to sit outside but this time it was too chilly so we went inside.

    I started with the usual, zucchini flowers followed by pasta all’amatriciana and then abbacchio scottadita, grilled baby lamb with a touch of rosemary. I believe they are the best in
    Rome
    . Michele had penne all’ arrabbiata and the baby lamb. They have two menus one is piatti pronti (prepared dishes, maialino or abbacchio
    del forno) and piatti dei giorno. I always order from the piatti dei giorno menu. They have pajata di vitello (calves intestines) but I will have that next time. The owner is a man of a certain age, with a large gray mustache and walks around the restaurant making sure everything is going right. His wife sits behind the counter watching him and everything else. For desert we both had fragoline con gelato.

     

    These are my favorite restaurants in
    Rome
    the ones that I return to time and time again. At present I do not have any plans to return to
    Rome
    in the near future but one never knows…….

    Next time an interesting tasting and judging in Siena.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Life & People

    Montefalco Sagrantino, Child of Umbria


    I am often asked which Italian red grape varieties make the best wine. I have to stop and think because there are so many good ones, but three always come to mind: Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Aglianico.  Recently I was invited by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco to the hill town of Montefalco in
    Umbria to taste Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G.and now I may have to add another varietal to my list:  Sagrantino.

     

     

    There are many different explanations on how the Sagrantino grape came to
    Umbria.  Pliny the Elder (d.79 A.D) in his Naturalis Historia writes that a grape called Itrola was cultivated there in Roman times. Some sources state that it might have been brought to Umbria by followers of St. Francis returning from
    Asia Minor in the 14th and 15h centuries.  Others think that it is native to Spain and may have been brought to
    Umbria
    by the Saracens.

     

    Recent studies show that the Sagrantino variety does not have any similarity to any other grape variety cultivated in
    Central Italy, nor is it related to Sangiovese as some believed. The grape is only found around five hill towns, Montefalco being the best known. It is therefore a very local grape variety.

     

    The name can be traced to the Latin “Sacer”, meaning sacred and related to the sacraments, since the grape was cultivated by monks to produce a raisin wine used for religious rites.  Sagrantino is first mentioned in a document dated 1549 when a Jewish trader Guglielmo and his wife Stella placed an order for this grape

    .

    Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G. must be produced from 100% Sagrantino grapes.  In the beginning it was only made into a passito (made from dried grapes) wine. It is an ideal grape for this process because it can dry for as long as four months and can conserve its sugar components intact.  By law, this version has to be aged for 30 months and have at least 14% alcohol. The dry version (secco) must also be aged for 30 months but 12 of the months must be in wooden barrels. The alcohol content must be at least 13%. It was not until the early 1970’s that a dry version was produced.

    The Sagrantino grape is very high in polyphenols (substances extracted from the skins of grapes that provide the coloring and texture for the wine) and also tannin which helps red wine to age.  We were told by Signore Mattivi from the Instituto Agrario Di San Michele all’Adige that of the 25 most popular grapes tested, Sagrantino was the highest in polyphenols and tannin. I also learned that the structure of tannin is different in the pits and the skins. Even though the Sagrantino grape is so high in tannins because of the nature of the grape, it is possible to have a balanced wine.   Phenolics (polyphenols)  have powerful antioxidant properties, but I will not go into this discussion!

     

    It was only a three day trip and the first morning began with a bind tasting of 25 Montefalco Sagrantino wines: 13 from the 2005 vintage, 6 from the 2004 vintage and 6 from the 1998 vintage.  The wines were all dark in color and high in tannins, with good acidity. They are rich in both red and black berry aromas, a little jammy, with a hint of cloves and eucalyptus.  Others can have mushroom, leather, barnyard, coffee and toffee aromas. On the palate they were tannic with fruit but the flavors were not as concentrated as the aromas. They all had a very long finish and a good aftertaste, which make them very good with food.

     

    From the 2005 vintage- I liked the Tenuta Rocca di Fabbi, the Adanti “Aruqata,” the Terre de la Custodia, the Perticaia and the Tenuta Alizature

     

    2004 vintage- Terre de Trinci ”Ugolino” and the Tenuta Castelbunno

     

    The best of the 1998’s was the one from Scacciadiavoli – black fruit aromas mostly blackberries, eucalyptus, mushrooms and a little barnyard. On the palate it was full and tannic with a great blackberry finish and aftertaste. This wine proves that Sagrantino can age!

      

     At the Gala Dinner I tasted the 2003 Adanti Montefalco Sagrantino. The wine was showing very well with a lot of aromas and flavors and the best finish and aftertaste of any of the wines that I tasted.  I was pleased to see an old friend, Liu, named after a character in Puccini’s great opera Turando at the dinner.  She is the daughter of the owner of Scacciadavoli. She had spent two weeks with me at Vino to learn about Italian wine before she went to
    Bordeaux
    to study winemaking. Liu thanked me for teaching her about Italian wine and told me that she had even brought the notes that I gave her to
    Bordeaux
    to show the French. I think that she will make a very good wine maker.

     

    In addition to tasting wine, I was able to visit several wineries.  At Colpetrone Winery, the oenologist is the well known and respected Lorenzo Landi . He took us on a tour of the vineyards and the cellar. Signore Landi let us taste barrel samples of the Montefalco Sagrantino which was very interesting. He then instructed us on the importance and use of barriques in the production of this wine. Colpertrone produces a very modern style wine.  He also spoke about the vintages going back to 2001. After the tour we went out side where we sat in the afternoon sunshine sipping their passito with bitter chocolate - a great combination. The passito was wonderful with cherry and blackberry aromas, full bodied with just the right amount of sweetness and of course tannin. I was thinking to myself that it might go well with certain game dishes and asked a young lady from the winery if it was ever used in this way. She replied in the “old days” they would drink it with lamb on Easter Sunday. I could see how this would work .Colpetrone is now owned by the Saiagricola group that has other wineries in Italy and are producers of rice, olive oil, honey and other Italian products.

     

    The next winery I visited was Azienda Agraria Terre De La Custodia. The winery is owned by the Farchioni family.  La custodia was the name for the cupboards and strongboxes where the Franciscan friars and the Poor Clares of Montefalco kept their wine.

     

    The Farchioni Family had a special bottle created for their Sagrantino. It has an indentation at the front and a notch at the back that makes it very easy to grasp. The internal shape of the glass and the slightly conical shape of the bottle causes the sediment to deposit in a single spot .The notch keeps the sediment from coming out when pouring, allowing all the wine to be poured from the bottle. It really works.

     

    The highlight of the visit was a special menu created by Chef Massimo Inffarinati which he called “Eight Meats for Eight Wines”. If I were to say that each dish was perfect, it would be an understatement. The sauces with each dish were so light and so good that everyone sent back clean plates .We enjoyed hen, chicken, pig, cinghiale, Chianina ragu, venison and pheasant. The chicken “Galantina” paired with Grechetto dei Colli Martani D.O.C. 2007 was a perfect combination as was the pork filet rolled in bacon fat paired with the .Plentis Grechetto dei Colli Martani 2006 D.O.C.

     I could really list all of them!!  Everyone wanted to know if the chef had a restaurant but he did not. Peccato!. Lo Chef teaches at a professional cooking school and does special events at the winery.

     

    The last winey we visited was Perticaia where we had a tasting of five pecorino cheeses with five Perticaia wines. The owner Guido Guardigli worked for the Saiagricolo group until 2000. He feels tied to the land and the name Perticaia, in the archaic language of central
    Italy, means plough, the passage from animal herding to farming.

    The matching of the cheese and wine was very informative as was Signore Guardigli.. All of the combinations worked, but the two that I liked best were the Canestrato from Grosseto in Tuscany paired with the Trebbiano Spoletino 2007, and the Stagionato in Grotta aged in caves, from Pienza and Siena in Tuscany paired with the

    2003  Montefalco Sagrantino. All of the white wines at this winery are aged in stainless

    steel and were very fresh and clean..The Montefalco Rosso (60% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15 % Colorino) is also aged in stainless steel. The Montefalco Sagrantino 2003 was aged for 12 moths in tonnaeaux, 12 months in steel and six months in bottle.

     

    I also enjoyed at the Rosso di Montefalco and the passito from Antonelli. The 2006 Adanti  Rosso di Montefalco was drinking very well. They are a traditional winery and all their wines went very well with food.

     

    I was very impressed with the overall quality of the wines, both the secco and the passito. The passito is a unique wine because it is a desert wine with a lot of

    tannin and the sweetness is not over done. It is a very balanced wine

    .

    My stay at the Villa Zuccari in San Luca di Montefalco www.villazuccari.com

     was very enjoyable. It is about 10 minutes from Montefalco by car in a lovely

     setting with a garden and a pool.. There are rooms with large terraces that overlook the garden with a nice view. The staff could not be nicer or more helpful.

     

    Next time the restaurants of Rome.

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