This morning’s New York Times was hard to put down for a variety of reasons but one op-ed by Andrew Beahrs stood out particularly. His piece “Where the Wild Things Were,” speaks about the foods that Mark Twain missed when he was out of the country one Thanksgiving. Many of these foods no longer grace our tables because they are extinct. Twain happened to have been in an Italian Hotel room when he wrote the list of foods that he missed, according to the op-ed, which perhaps is also what caught my eye. When I lived in Italy, I rarely missed the foods of my childhood, except the Thanksgiving meal and Roast beef at Christmas. Once in a while, I missed foods from a Passover Seder but that usually had more to do with missing the people rather than the food. This Thanksgiving, I am going home to make my favorite foods en famille, dragging with me a variety of wines to pair. I know many people are having Zinfandel, Pinot Noir or Riesling but I am thinking about having a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Susanna Crociani . Susanna’s a friend and her traditional wine is right up my alley. I will write more about her later this week. Back to the Op-ed, Beahrs’ article is not just about missing home but about the links between our lives and the foods (and wines) that reflect them in specific landscapes. A lovely read. I am to looking forward to reading his forthcoming book “Twain’s Feast.” Off to make a sweet potato dish.
Monthly Archives: November 2008
I had the occasion to try a fabulous wine from Portugal this week. It was Casa Ferreirinha’s 1999 Callabriga. Imported by Broadbent Selections, it is truly a remarkable wine. Deep ruby red in color, it showed some red fruit, earthy notes, a hint of pepper and cedar with animal, meaty undertones and good structure despite its nine years. Made with the classic Port grapes – Touriga National, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), this wine comes from the Douro Valley region. Jamie Goode at Wineanorak has written extensively on the subject on his blog. Check it out. My experience with Portuguese wines is somewhat more limited but this one was definitely a keeper. Not inexpensive, it sells for about $60. The wine would work perfectly with game but I rarely have that at home. I do love a good roast beef though and here is a recipe for one from a dear friend who lives in Milan and happened to visit last week, Sally Altrocchi. Sally, an advertising star and much more of a fashionista than I will ever, is also a great cook and hostess. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, she is always baking cookies and making snacks for guests and friends. I love her apartment in Milan, the scene of many writing workshops, nice memories and good food.
Friend Recipe No. 2 – Sally Altrocchi
1 standing rib roast (meet with the bone on it), 2 to 4 ribs flour
salt & pepper
Remove roast from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (about
4 hours prior to cooking).
Preheat oven to 500°F/260°C
Place roast in open shallow roasting pan, fat side up. Sprinkle with a
little flour and rub the flour into the fat lightly. Season with salt and
pepper to taste.
Put the roast in preheated oven and roast it according to the chart below,
timing minutes EXACTLY. When cooking time is finished, turn oven OFF. DO
NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR AT ANY TIME. Allow roast to remain in oven until oven is
lukewarm, about 2 hours. Roast will keep an internal heat suitable for
serving as long as 4 hours.
Yield: 2 servings per rib.
Number of Ribs Weight Total roasting time
2 4.5 – 5 lbs. 25-30 minutes
3 8 – 9 lbs. 40-45 minutes
4 11-12 lbs. 55-60 minutes
Today I went to a wine tasting with six female colleagues who work in the wine business. We met early, at 11 and spent the next three hours tasting wines blind and discussing our reasoning for stating that a wine came from one place or another. I found this exercise incredibly useful and look forward to our next meeting in two weeks. When I taste alone, I tend to get a bit sloppier than when I am tasting with other people. I am endlessly fascinated by different methods of arriving at a conclusion, varied perceptions of a wine and the breadth of interest and knowledge that each person brings to the wine world. Perhaps what I appreciate most is the intense interest and curiosity that each person at the tasting displayed. I have decided to interview each of these women separately and share some of their wealth of knowledge with those who read this blog. Tasting in a group helped me pass my Diploma of Wines & Spirits at the WSET. Hopefully someday it will help me get through the next level as well. Check out Imbibe New York for a great description of the WSET and a truly useful list of NYC’s stores and wine bars. I highly recommend tasting in a group for all those who are studying or merely for pleasure.
Wines from the Veneto have been in fashion for a number of years. Be it Prosecco, Amarone, Valpolicella, Ripasso, Recioto di Soave or the most recent success in the United States – Soave – any number of people can list at least five wines from this area in a heartbeat. One of my first wine based vacations in Northern Italy was to Valdobbiadene to taste Prosecco and Cartizze. During the trip we visited beautiful cities in the Veneto among them Vicenza, Asolo, Bassano del Grappa and Treviso. We also followed the wine trails near the town of Oderzo, not too distant from Treviso. When I think about wines from the Veneto, I also think about the wines that are from this area and are made with the indigenous variety Raboso. I don’t think Raboso is imported into the United States yet. It is a more rustic wine, highly tannic and acidic which may not be a perfect match with the current American palate. I suspect we will see it in the not too distant future though.
I am optimistic that much is changing in terms of taste and wine styles in the United States. Ever more attention is being paid to food and the locavore movement has taken hold. I think a corollary of this will be that people will begin associating wine with food and drinking it on a daily basis. As this becomes more of a familiar ritual, people will begin drinking more acidic wines because they generally work better with food.
I haven’t had too many wines from the Colli Berici, a DOC that rises from the plains near the city of Vicenza. When I visited Vicenza, I don’t have any recollections of a memorable food or wine experience because I don’t eat their local delicacies ….Vicentini mangiagatti is a typical comment about their predilections. What I do remember is the splendid Teatro Olimpico by Andrea Palladio. This was his final work. It is was built in 1580 and is apparently the oldest surviving indoor theater in Europe.
The grape varieties in the Colli Berici are a blend of international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon as well as indigenous varieties Tocai, Garganega and the rare Tocai Rosso. This wine by Inama Bradisismo 2003 Veneto Rosso IGT was given to me by a “friend” who thinks Americans only drink big, full, round wines with low acidity. He means well and I just wanted a nice glass of wine so I declined to set the record straight about my own personal preferences for wines with enough acidity to balance food. I was pleasantly surprised.
This was indeed a big, juicy, full bodied red wine with dried fruit, meat, oak and spice notes on both the nose and the palate. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere. Carmenere, initially a grape from Bordeaux, has found its true home in Chile where it is used to make some wonderful wines. Carmenere, apparently, also does well on the soils in the Colli Berici. The soil is a clay-lime mix with a layer of red earth, the vines have a southern exposure and a 3500-4000 planting density per hectare. The 14% alcohol made itself felt rather quickly. This was a very easy wine to drink and enjoy and I can see why it would do very well in this market. Inama also makes a single variety Carmenere. I would like to try a bottle of that. I bet it will be noteworthy.
The weather and the sad news from Montalcino has made me somewhat dour. I have decided to combat this melancholy with an age old remedy: food and wine. Recently I have been thinking about some of the important experiences that I have had with Italian wines. One was a chance meeting with a Dolcetto di Dogliani from the Poderi Einaudi winery.
The family is one of Italy’s most illustrious in a number of fields. In addition to Italian wine, I have been fascinated with Italian politics and history for many years. During my studies at SAIS in Bologna, I took a fabulous class on Italian politics with Gianfranco Pasquino. He spoke of the first President of Italy, a statesman and economist – Luigi Einaudi 1948-1955 – a number of times. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was sitting at dinner with a member of the Einaudi family in Washington – Giorgio Einaudi – a physicist and Science attache at the Italian Embassy. We spoke about the family winery and he told me the family also counts among its members a very well known symphonic composer, Ludovico Einaudi.
I immediately went right out and bought a bottle of the Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore which I had first tasted in 1997. I was thrilled to see that my memory of the wine was correct. It was wonderful. I bought a Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore Vigna Tecc 2006 DOCG which comes from very old vines and is a true expression of Dolcetto from this area, a perfect example of a terroir driven wine. Supposedly, the dolcetto grape originated in the vineyard areas that the Einaudi family owns in Dogliani in Piedmont. The winery was founded in 1897 and began making Dolcetto in 1905. Both the Einaudi website and their importer Empson give extension explanations of the Einaudi wines and vineyards. They have three different Dolcettos to try. “I Filari” is the second DOCG Dolcetto, like Vigna Tecc, it comes from the best vineyard sites. They also have a Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC which comes from a blend of grapes from all of their vineyards. The winery has 43 hectares under vine and is equally well known for its Barolo, Langhe Nebbiolo and Barolo Chinato wines. In 1997, they came out with a Langhe Rosso DOC “Luigi Einaudi” to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the winery.
Dolcetto di Dogliani was given DOCG status as of the 2005 vintage. The wine was as I remembered it, a cut above all other Dolcettos that I have tasted. It was a deep ruby color, with small red fruit aromas, earthy notes and a hint of sage and bramble on the nose and palate. It was intense, persistent with fine tannins and a nice almond note on the finish. I love when a wine is as you remember it and as you want it to be, very memorable.
On a whim, I have also decided to put friend’s recipes on my website once a week. Before I left Italy, I asked everyone I knew and some that I didn’t to send me an easy recipe to make once I was back stateside. This is my friend Cristina Jonghi’s recipe for Risotto with mushrooms and sausage. Incredibly Milanese, I can only see Cristina drinking a wine from the North with this dish.
RISOTTO AI FUNGHI E SALSICCIA
Serves four people
30 grams of dried porcini mushrooms
1 knorr boullion cube
Red Wine (Dolcetto)
A couple of hours before using the funghi, put them in hot water. Once they have expanded, drain the water and put them in a pan. Saute the mushrooms in oil with the sausage which has been cut into small cubes. After a few minutes, put in half a glass of wine, the boullion cube and a bit of the water from the mushrooms into the pan and cook slowly for 15 minutes, until the sauce is a little more concentrated. In the meantime, cook the rice and drain it when it is cooked “al dente.” Put the rice into the pan where you have cooked the mushrooms and sausage, add some grated grana padana and a touch of pepper. The rice is ready when all of the ingredients are blended and the rice is still crisp.
I read terrible news today on Franco Ziliani’s Blog Vino al Vino about Gianni Brunelli’s death. I met Gianni and his wife Laura Vacca through their New York importer Dancing Bear Cellars at Vinitaly 2007. I stayed with them last summer and have since developed a friendship with Laura and Gianni. I knew Gianni was sick but was caught off guard with this awful news. I just spoke to Laura and can only say that I have immense admiration for her and the work that the two of them have done together for the last 31 years. This is a modified piece I wrote about Gianni last year.
Gianni Brunelli, one of those larger than life figures, was a friend to artists, writers, musicians and Ambassadors, Brunelli shared his table with them all. His customers include Sting, who comes over to pick up crates of wine from his home and the late Italian poet and writer Mario Luzi who once wrote an ode to his Sienese restaurant Osterie Le Logge. Gianni, Laura and Gianni’s mother founded the restaurant in 1977. It is located just off the central piazza in Siena, Italy where the Palio race has been held for centuries. On a recent evening at the restaurant, a parade of musicians, politicians and bank directors made their way past our table. Gianni said hello to everyone. So much so, he almost seemed to be the local mayor. In fact, an American couple leaned over to ask who he was and why everyone kept stopping to say hello. In addition to his restaurant, Brunelli used to own a café in Siena with the world renowned artist Sandro Chia, right in the Piazza del Campo, the main square in Siena. Chia created a gorgeous mosaic in the bar which can still be seen. Chia went on to create his murals all over the world including the famous one in the restaurant Palio in New York City. While Brunelli’s restaurant is world famous, his wines are legendary. They are hard to attain and having one is considered a privilege. Gianni, though, was very down to earth. He had a shock of white hair and looked like an amused genius. His half smile was both charming and disarming at the same time. He had bear paw-like fingers and a warm touch. This warmth is transmitted in every encounter with Brunelli and along with the food and wines he produces, keeps drawing in new customers. Brunelli produces just 30,000 bottles of wine a year, a mix of Brunello Riserva, Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino and Amor Costante. Drinking Brunelli wines is an incredibly memorable experience. They are concentrated, layered and nuanced at the same time. Gianni and his wife Laura will tell you that most of the work that goes into making a fantastic wine is done in the vineyard. They work together with a well established team in the vineyard on a daily basis, pruning, trimming and watching over the vines so that each grape is healthy and picked at perfect ripeness and maturity.
Laura and Gianni have been working together for 30 years to create sumptuous food and impeccable service at Osterie Le Logge in Siena and have taken their commitment to excellence to new heights with the wines. A native son of Montalcino, Gianni was attached to his town, his country and his land. He believed in organic viticulture and planted all of his vines and every cypress tree on his property.
Laura takes care of the beautiful roses that head each vine row. Roses are often planted in vineyards for aesthetic reasons but more importantly they serve as a monitor for the health of the vine. Parasites attack the roses before they would attack a grape vine and thus give ample warning if any measures need be taken. Laura’s roses were shining beautifully on a recent visit.
Gianni explained to me that by tasting his Rosso di Montalcino wines-sometimes referred to as baby brunellos-you can get a real sense of what Brunello will be like in the coming year. He used the classic Sangiovese grape to make both his Brunello and his Rosso di Montalcino and also experiments successfully with merlot in his Amor Costante. All of his hard work has also garnered the acclaim of the wine magazines. Brunelli’s dedication was total. He was always toiling away in his vineyard or tirelessly working in the restaurant. Gianni put in long hours to make sure each detail is just perfect. Laura, his wife, was always at his side in all of his endeavors – a true amor costante…
Laura will continue to carry on both the Osteria and the winery with the help of Gianni and Laura’s numerous friends, colleagues and fans. The spirit of this son of Montalcino and Siena will live on and he will be sorely missed.
I am having a wonderful time going to the N.I.C.E. film festival at the Tribeca Cinema. Yesterday’s films included one by Toni d’Angelo, a young director from Campania. The film is a love letter to Naples in a sense. It is truly worth seeing and made me want to go right out and have a nice white wine from Campania. I might like something from the Campi Flegrei. I remember how surprised I was to find an entire page of wines from that area on the list at Paul Grieco and Marco Canora’s wine bar Terroir.
They also had an Asprinio, an indigenous variety from Campania on the list which was a surprise. Falanghina, Greco and Fiano are all getting a lot of press and placement on wine lists in New York but I would like to see a number of other grape varieties from Campania. I am looking forward to the new wines that Domenico Selections will be bringing in from that area. One of the owners, Terry Hughes of Mondosapore , is very plugged in to the Campania wine scene and I expect to see some interesting stuff in their portfolio. Naples is such a beautiful city although these last years it has been in the news primarily for its garbage problems, the Camorra, and other violence. Gomorra, another film in the festival, is also about Naples but this time about the Camorra. I saw it in Milan last year. The film is subtitled even in Italian and is very well done but truly hard to watch. It leaves you feeling indignant that people have to live in those conditions. La Notte’s director, D’angelo said that he sees Naples as being similar to New York. I can see what he means. Neapolitans of all ages have come into my life over the years and left a deep meaningful trail. Nonna Bianca was one of these people.
The grandmother of a person in my life she was full of joy and Neapolitan song. I will never forget her and the way she used to get all dolled up to go out to the circolo degli ufficiali at 86 years of age. She was one of the most joyous people I have had the good fortune to encounter. Whenever I see anything that has to do with Naples, I always think of her and smile.
There are numerous secrets to winemaking that escape me in this early novice stage. One of the most baffling is how to get the corks into the bottle and have them level. With a hand corker, I have found this nearly impossible. I recently bought a bottle of wine in a store that I am sure had also been hand corked. It was more professional looking than mine but still not perfect. I wonder if anyone has an tips on how to perfect corking without buying a large piece of equipment. If so, please chime in anytime.
Quick post to advise all NYC Italian film lovers that N.I.C.E. is having a four day festival at the Tribeca Cinema. I love this actor Toni Servillo. He’s very fashionable now as well and you can see him in a variety of wonderful performances including Gomorra. The film is based on a book by the same name by Roberto Saviano, the 28 year old journalist who essentially went undercover and worked for the Camorra or Neapolitan organized crime for a sustained period of time. It is a shocking read although I bought it in English for my father after having read it in Italian and it just doesn’t deliver in the same way. Saviano is now living sotto scorta or in witness protection because of threats against his life. Their are many petitions in his honor being circuled on the internet. Mama Africa aka Miriam Makeba died suddenly this weekend after giving a concert in Saviano’s honor. I loved her singing and was blessed to see her in Paris with Paul Simon on his Graceland album in 1987…
Back to the movies, tonight I saw two: Mare Nero by Federico Bondi which isn’t even out in Italy yet. His first film, it is very sottile or subtle in its portrayal of an unlikely friendship between an ailing elder Florentine woman and her Romania helper. The second movie, la Ragazza del Lago with Servillo was more of a noir or giallo about an event in a small town in Friuli. Both gave me the needed Italian jolt that I was looking for earlier today and I highly recommend them. No alcohol was served on the premises but I have plenty of I Due Gatti around if someone wants to stop by and grab some before heading to the cinema.
I embarked on a mini-winemaking adventure three years ago. I bought grapes in New Jersey from a local purveyor, Corrados, although they get them from California so our collective carbon footprint is not small. I press, rack, and filter the grapes with help from my family. I use cultured yeast and mature the wine in glass containers for a brief period before putting it into my mini barrique. I decided to try my latest vintage again today. It is a blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Highly alcoholic with too much harsh tannin, this wine wouldn’t even get an 82 on a good day. I think it needs some Merlot to round it out or perhaps I shouldn’t have put it in the barrel at all. I haven’t quite got the hang of this yet but I have hopes for the future. Christmas is around the corner and perhaps I can palm off a few bottles as a recycled gift, watch out Italian wine guy. In Italy, we used to have a recycled gift party after Christmas where we played tombola or bingo. It was quite the rage for many years followed by hours of card playing. I truly miss Italy these days. I haven’t been in almost 5 months, one of the longest periods I have been away in the last 20 years. Today I have been thinking a lot about a dear old friend who is no longer with us and I wanted to share her picture. This is Francesca, a true tuscan, she lived in the Mugello, a beautiful part of Tuscany between Florence and Bologna, more or less. She would have hated this wine and laughed at my attempts to make it but she would have been supportive in any event. She also would have made me a beautiful label for the wine bottles. She was a true artist. I met her in 1991 and spent countless hours with her, Stefano and their kids in her beautiful family home.