Monthly Archives: May 2008

Tenuta Di Blasig- Auguri 1788-2008

Vino, Donne e Canto

“Se uno non ama il vino, la donna ed il canto, pazzo rimane per l’intera vita” Martin Luther

Tenuta di Blasig celebrated 220 years of activity today with an impressive fete with soloists from the Vienna Philarmonic, dance and jazz as well as lectures on the Ronchi dei Legionari area by an interesting group of professors. Elisabetta Bortolotto Sarcinelli kindly invited me to the festa but alas alack, I could not attend. Today therefore seems like a good day to publish a very long post on Elisabetta and her winery.

I met Elisabetta at Vinitaly in 2007. I was trying wines at a stand nearby and was pulled over to try her wines as well. She was gorgeous and very tall. I was immediately struck by her beauty and by her German-accented Italian. I actually thought she was from Austria or Germany and spoke Italian very well. It turned out that she is from Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region in the North Eastern part of Italy, on the border with Slovenia. Elisabetta was giving us barrel samples from her winery to try. A barrel sample is a wine in its early stages. Wineries bring bottle samples for potential customers at Vinitaly. Often it is too early to try the wines. In fact, there is a lot of talk about moving Vinitaly to a later date in order to give the wines a bit of time to settle before bringing them to the wine fair. After a wine is bottled, it often has something called bottle shock. It takes a bit of time for the shock to wear off and for the wine to calm down and begin to show its natural aromas and flavors. Wines are constantly evolving and what a wine tastes like in April will be very different from what it tastes like three, six months or years later. In any event, Elisabetta had brought her bottle samples to let us try her wines. I found her Malavisa Istriana very interesting while others in my group were more interested in the Pinot Grigio. The Malvasia is fermented in tonneau for at least 12 months. Friuli is famous for its white wines although they are also trying to make a name for themselves with red wines.

I was in Italy for work last summer and decided to see if I could arrange to see Elisabetta. Little did I know the odyssey that I had in store for me as I tried to reach her winery in Friuli Venezia Giulia. First of all there are no direct flights from Milan to Trieste. The train takes at least 5 hours and lets you off somewhere in the middle of Friuli. I decided to use my Alitalia frequent flyer miles to fly into the Trieste airport. What I didn’t know was that I would have to fly to Rome first. For those of you who don’t know Italian geography very well, it is akin to flying from NYC to Florida in order to reach Maine. I went in exactly the wrong direction in order to try to get to Trieste. In retrospect, I should definitely have taken the train or rented a car but my driving skills leave something to be desired in the US in an automatic car so Italian driving has never really appealed to me.

I had been to Trieste for a brief visit in the past after having gone to see the beautiful Roman cathedral in Aquileia and the Venetian city of Grado. If memory serves, Trieste was somewhat sad looking to me with numerous bullet pocked walls. Other people love Trieste so I confess that I was there for a short time, on a wet and windy day in November with the Bora blowing strongly.

Elisabetta’s winery is about five minutes from the airport. She was just as glamorous this summer as at our first meeting. She sat down with me and introduced me to her enologist, a young woman named Erica Orlandino.

Tenuta di Blasig

Domenico di Blasig, Elisabetta’s grandfather, started the winery in 1892. He was also the mayor of Ronchi dei Legionari in 1850.

Her mother, Helga Blasig, an Austrian, began running the winery in the 1950s. Elisabetta took over at the start of the 1990s. She had been working abroad and had studied Chinese as an undergraduate. When she began at the winery, Elisabetta and her mother still followed the ancient tradition from the area which was to offer your wines in demijohns to the local population. They did not bottle the wines but only used to serve them sfuso and with boiled eggs. Eventually, Elisabetta turned away from that tradition and began bottling and labeling her wine. It was hard for me to imagine this incredibly chic, cosmopolitan woman selling wine in demijohns to consumers but she was very lively when talking about that part of her life. The current winery has 16 hectares on which white and red grapes are grown. She has 35% of her vineyards planted to the white grape varieties typically seen in this area: Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay. The red varieties include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Refosco. Elisabetta’s winery is located in an area called Friuli Isonzo or Isonzo Friuli.

New Label: Affreschi

Elisabetta has been working hard on trying to renovate her brand. She has expanded her product line, added a new label and created a new cellar. The original cellar was from the 1840s. Tenuta di Blasig has two product lines, the Classic line with Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Malvasia Istriana, Tocai Friulano, and Cabernet and the Affreschi line. The new line offers a Merlot, a Cabernet (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 30% and Cabernet Franc 70%), a Bordeaux blend Rosso, a white blend Bianco and Malvasia Istriana. The new line, Affreschi is named for a beautiful Affresco in her family home which was done in the 1800s.

Climate & Soil Issues

The area where Elisabetta makes her wines has a fabulous microclimate. It is considered to be very blessed because it is close to the sea, three kilometers. This is helpful for a variety of reasons. The sea breezes provide air to the grapes when it is too hot and they mitigate the temperature when it is too cold. Additionally, the sea breezes prevent the grapes from absorbing too much humidity and have a drying effect. Her vineyards are on a plateau and are protected from the Bora by the Carso mountain range.

The soil is another important factor. The red earth found near the Carso mountain range provides considerable structure to the wines. The soil in Elisabetta’s area is known for its minerality. This makes the area particularly adapt for growing white varieties. Elisabetta is especially proud of her Malvasia Istriana. This wine goes very well with fish and is what is known as a slightly salty wine or a vino sapido. Other wines that are comparable for their sapidity are the Muscadet from Sevre et Mains and some Vermentino di Liguria. Americans never really discuss sapidity but Italians use it as one of their primary descriptors.This same Malvasia that grows in this area also grows in the Peloponese in Greece.

Bringing back Refosco

Elisabetta and others in her area are very interested in the rediscovery of the indigenous grape Refosco by the international market. She hopes there will be a renaissance for this grape. Elisabetta also grows Verduzzo which she uses for a very special sweet wine that is dedicated to her girls, it is called Le Lule. The grapes are picked in the first days of December and are dried on trellises for a number of months. The wine is then put into a barriques for aging. Only some 500 bottles are made.

Women in Wine

As a woman with three daughters (Ludovica, Letizia, and Antonia), Elisabetta is obviously sensitive to the difficulties that women in the wine business undergo. She laughed at my question about women in the business and said that woman in the wine business were similar to women in many other businesses, ambitious. Initially, she said she had trouble and that people would look at her with some amount of skepticism about whether or not she could actually do the job. She also mentioned that often she was always the only woman in the room. She also said that being a woman was sometimes often an asset or merely just a non- issue. Her enologist Erica and I also spoke about life as a female enologist but that will be for another post.

Family Lore

Elisabetta’s father was a Venetian and was born in a room above Harry’s bar. The family home in Venice was requisitioned by the allied forces during the World War I. The area is so close to the former Yugoslavia that it is no surprise there was so much conflict there. The winery is only five kilometers away from Slovenia. The Villa was also a favorite haunt of Gabriele d’Annunzio, the poet and soldier, who fell head over heels for Elisabetta’s grandmother.

Elisabetta’s wines can be found in a variety of wine stores in the U.S. For more information on Tenuta Di Blasig, check out their website at http://www.tenutadiblasig.it.

4 Comments

Filed under Women in Wine

Bottarga di Muggine or Bottarga di Tonno – A Tough Choice

My first encounter with Bottarga was on the Island of Favignana, one of the Egadi islands, off the Sicilian Coast. It was 1994 and I wasn’t a very adventurous eater. Additionally, all over the island they had posters of the mattanza or the annual slaughter or tuna in the Tonnara. This event takes place in May-June of each year and has been celebrated on Favignana for many years. While I appreciate tradition and local lore as much as the next person, the whole thing was a little gory for my taste and kept me away from this delicacy for years. Luckily for me, a friend insisted that I try Bottarga when we were in Sardinia years later. I remember the fishiness of that first bite but then I grew to appreciate its delicate and subtle flavors. Over the years I have eaten Bottarga a number of times and had even brought home various vials of it for my parents to try. I confess until recently I didn’t know the difference between Bottarga di Muggine and Bottarga di Tonno. The first is roe from gray mullet while the second comes from Tuna.

Muggine generally comes from Sardinia while Bottarga di Tonno is largely from Sicily. Both are considered to be delicacies. I recently made spaghetti with bottarga at home, a very traditional dish but apparently hip chefs in the States generally use bottarga as a condiment. Either way, it is worth a try.

You can find bottarga on the menus of a few restaurants and can buy it from www.gustiamo.com, an interesting Italian food website and from Buonitalia, a specialty shop in the Chelsea market where many restaurateurs order their food. I also highly recommend a trip to the Egadi which lie off the Sicilian coast between Trapani and Marsala. There are incredible temples to visit at Erice and Selinute. Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo make up the Egadi archipelago. Marettimo was my favorite of the three. I remember landing on a beach which had no footprints. It was thrilling and rare. I collected four kilos of rocks that day. A bit heavy in our dinghy or tender.

Leave a comment

Filed under Italian Delicacies

Accademia di Vino – A Second Look

The first time I went to this enoteca on 64th and third avenue I went for the wine. The food was a distant second in terms of my interest. At the time, I was very impressed by the 500+ wine list but the pizza I shared with a friend faded into the background. I went back recently for lunch with a number of people and had the opportunity to try not just one but several of Chef Kevin Garcia’s creations. I was very impressed as was a friend from Naples. She paid him the ultimate compliment, stating that she felt that she was eating at home (in Italy). I know what she means. After 15 years in Italy, it is very hard for me to find a meal that I enjoy at an Italian restaurant in New York. Maybe I just miss il bel paese but what I noticed yesterday after the exquisite meal at Accademia di Vino was I too felt like I had just enjoyed a long lunch in Italy.

My favorites were the salad of endive, gorgonzola, walnuts, and apples and the garganelli, a pasta with chicken sausage, zucchini, tomato, and cream. I also tried two carpaccio. One was a plate of salmon carpaccio with tomato, basil, scallion & olive and a caper-oregano vinaigrette and the other was manzo, fennel, onion, and mint salad. The orecchiette with pork sausage, and broccoli rabe were also delicious.

Anthony Mazzola, the owner of Accademia di Vino and west side favorite ‘Cesca did a wonderful job with the wine list. He comes from the retail wine business and his expertise is evident in the depth and breadth of the list. It has something for everyone. There are over 50 wines by the glass. Even better, you can also learn something while you eat. There are seven pages of descriptions of wine varieties in the back of the menu. Blackboards abound with news about Italy’s 20 regions, their grape varieties and local wineries. The place does a pretty big business in the evenings with a mixed crowd. The formula seems to be working and they are talking about opening in other locations. I’ll be coming back for both the food and the wine in the not too distant future.


Leave a comment

Filed under Italian Restaurants, Wine Bars

Adventures in Wine-Making: A Super Teaneck

It’s my first vintage. I’m calling it a Super-Teaneck. Teaneck is where my parent’s porch and my cellar are located. It’s a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. IMy best guess and I confess it is a real approximation is that the wine is 51% Sangiovese and 49% Cabernet Sauvignon. I bottled the wine today with my bottling machine and corker. Unfortunately, I used too much wood. My small (26 lit) barrel is made of new American oak. Italians would say that my Super-Teaneck tastes like a “vino da falegname” or a carpenter’s wine. I hope the wine will improve with age. If it doesn’t many friends will be receiving Christmas presents of cooking wine. My winery is called I Due Gatti. I must say that through this process, I have gained even more respect for wine makers and all of the small nuances that make the difference between “Two buck chuck” and a fine wine as well as all the wines in between.

I began my wine making odyssey last year by buying grapes at Corrado’s – a paradise for home winemakers in Clifton, New Jersey, www.corradosmarket.com. Corrado’s sells grapes and juice. They also sell everything under the sun that you might need to make wine. Last year I bought grapes and hand pressed them. This year I was too late and had to buy pressed juice. The grapes are shipped in from California.

I go to Corrado’s about once every three weeks. I am endlessly forgetting to buy something I need for my wine – yeast, potassium metabisulphite, bottles, corks, labels, capsules. I am now the proud owner of a press, a filter machine to rack the wine, a bottler and a corker. Next year I might spring for the de-stemmer. These are the most expensive bottles of cooking wine that I have ever made but I do recommend a little home-wine making for all. I love Corrado’s because it is filled with Italians who miss the old country even though they have been here for 40 years. Max, a lovely Sicilian, always helps me to find what I am looking for and often dissuades me from buying the latest and most expensive equipment. His approach is a more organic one, although like many Italians he wouldn’t define it as such. He doesn’t believe in all the filtering and yeast. For my second vintage, I have followed his advice. I will be bottling again in about three weeks. I look forward to my next trip to Corrado’s.

There are a number of places where you can make your own wines in the Tri-State area. The few that I know about include MYO WINE in Elmsford, New York. www.myowine.com. I made wine there last year with a wine group. The events are fun and if you get a group together you can buy a barrel. This summer another place to make and bottle your own wine is expected to open in New York City. It’s called Citywinery. Check it out, www.citywinery.com. In Connecticut, M&M Family of Wine has a school of wine making located in Hartford. I met the owner at a trade show at Mohegan Sun last fall. He was very personable and seemed to be very knowledgeable.

3 Comments

Filed under Adventures in Winemaking: Super Teaneck 1st Vintage

Xai Xai – It’s all about context

I went to Xai Xai, the new South African wine bar on 51st and 9th with a friend last night. It was actually the perfect occasion because I had just read Eric Asimov’s article in the NYT about context and wine drinking. I have to say, I have never been a fan of South African wines and Pinotage is not on my top 10 grape varieties. However, the article had helped me to remember that the event and the context of the evening was just as important as the stature and preconceived notions of the wines at hand. I wanted to try something new and Xai Xai was the perfect choice. It was packed. We waited about 15 minutes until Will, the helpful greeter, seated us. The bar is nicely done in wood and earth tones with cypress trunks and wooden ceiling beams. My favorite aspect of the decor was the stand of white driftwood in the corner. This is a nice date location or for a drink with a few friends. The menu is eclectic with African dishes such as Mini Bunny Chow with Lamb Bredie and Pap & Boerewors ( sausage) with Soweto Sauce. We stayed with more traditional fare. The salmon & asparagus with a sort of couscous were great as was a refreshing summer salad with goat cheese. Chef Chris Van de Walt who hails from South Africa did a great job. His Malva Pudding was an outstanding way to finish the meal.

With dinner, we tried a Viognier, the Eventide 06 from Wellington. The wine is made by Mischa Wine Estate. It was golden in color, with a citrus grapefruit, peach nose and a persistent, slightly buttery taste on the palate. It had nice acidity which went well with the salmon but it also didn’t overwhelm the summer salad. We also tried a Ken Forrester Petit Chenin ’07 from Stellenbosch. It was lemony and more floral than the Viognier on the nose with nice acidity and a good mouthfeel. It also had a touch of that yeasty, nutty flavor which I always get with Chenin Blanc. It also worked well with our small palates. The real stunner though, was the De Wetschof Estate dessert wine from the Robertson region. Nutty and rich with notes of burnt sugar, cedar, tobacco and honey on the nose and palate, it paired perfectly with the Malva Pudding. Xai Xai which is the name of a beach town in Mozambique is the brainchild of an Indian, a South African and an Albanian. Tanya Hira is the wine buyer and she has created an interesting list with over 80 wines. Wines are served either by the 250 ml pour or by the bottle. Prices by the glass are about average by New York standards, $8-22. I will definitely come back to this hangout and who knows under the right circumstances, I may just order Pinotage.

Leave a comment

Filed under Wine Bars

Bacaro – Venetian Mores

Bacaro is a word in the Venetian dialect for a meeting place. It is also the name of a new winebar on the lower east side in Manhattan. Kama Geary, one the new owners, is a tall New Zealander. She’s the wine buyer at this hangout on Division Street on the lower East Side. The wines are offered by the Ombra or shadow in Italian which translates into a 3 oz pour, al bicchiere (6 oz pour) and by the caraffa or half bottle. A long and eclectic list of wines from Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Lombardia, Trentino, Alto Adige and Piemonte are offered both by the glass and by the bottle. My favorites are the Nosiola from Trentino producer Cesconi 2006, Colpo di Stato 2003 from Conte Loredan Gasparini, Cantina di Venegazzu and a host of wines by the producer Maculan from the Veneto. I had the razor clams which were exquisite and shared a panna cotta, perhaps the best I have ever had in New York. It was deliciously light and creamy. I had a small glass of nocino to finish off the evening. The bar and restaurant is a large space with tables upstairs and a cave-like lower floor with interesting and private nooks and crannies. Bacaro has been open for five months, after 2 years of renovations. It is fast becoming a destination for the art crowd thanks in part to the new museum in the Bowery and the 10 or more galleries that have popped up nearby. The Venetian theme is carried on throughout their decor and in their products, from the water a brand called Azzurre to their coffee, Caffe Rialto. Definitely worth the wait.

Leave a comment

Filed under Wine Bars

Fiore – Neighborhood Gem

Fiore (Flower) is the name of Chef Roberto Aita’s restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was just introduced to Roberto by a good friend, the architect and writer Matteo Pericoli, www.matteopericoli.com. Fiore has been open since January and Matteo and Holly’s daughter Nadia is a regular. She really appreciates the food at Fiore and frankly although she is only two, she has a good palate. Roberto is originally from Calabria and has been cooking in restaurants in the United States for 22 years. This is his first restaurant venture on his own and it is a real success. Fiore is a somewhat upscale trattoria. The wooden credenzas and black and white checked floor were handmade by Italian artisans. All of the objects and the decor were brought over from Italy and contribute to making you feel like you are in an Italian home . The food is delicious, the wine list is reasonable and the atmosphere warm and friendly. Last but not least, Roberto’s prices are well below the average for Italian fare in New York. This cash only restaurant aims to be the type of place you come back to again and again. Don’t miss the pizzas, the antipasti and some of the salads. Wines by the glass are very reasonable, $6. Roberto is partial to some southern varietals like Ciro from his native Calabria and Primitivo from Puglia and has interesting touches on his list. My favorite dish was the light and crispy fried zucchini. I actually had a spritz before dinner and just drank water. The spritz, originally from the Veneto, is a combination of Aperol, Campari or Cynar mixed with white wine or prosecco and sparkling water. It was delicious and refreshing. Following the meal, Roberto serves a number of desserts, digestivi and coffee in a glass-my favorite. I wish I lived closer. Fiore would be my neighborhood restaurant. Fiore deserves attention.

Leave a comment

Filed under Italian Restaurants