Monthly Archives: June 2008

Colli di Luni Vermentino – A Summer Favorite

This weekend I had the good fortune to go sailing in Liguria. We sailed from Bocca di Magra to Portovenere and back. This area is beautiful and incredible to see from the sea. In addition to stunning views from small colorful hilltowns, delicious focaccia and torte salate made with local herbs, this area is well known for its wines. One of its many treasures are the wines from a DOC called Colli di Luni.

I had the occasion to try a wine from Il Torchio, a winery in the Colli di Luni area on Friday evening. It paired perfectly with my grilled calamari. The winery used to be a frantoio, a place where olive oil was made. In order to press the olives, a frantoio used to use a huge stone called Il torchio. This Vermentino di LiguriaLunae, was light and dry with citrus and apple notes as well as floral hints and some minerality. An enologist friend calls Vermentino a semi-aromatic grape, not quite as aromatic as Moscato or Gewurztraminer but mid-way. I love Vermentino in the summer and in the fall. I have often had Vermentino from Cantine Lunae, a cantina run by Paolo Bosoni. Luni is an ancient Roman city near the Magra river. The whole area runs from the Apuan foothills to the Mediterranean and is at the crossroads between Liguria and Tuscany.

Azienda Agricola “Il Torchio”
Via Provinciale, n.202
19030 Castelnuovo Magra (SP)
Tel. e Fax 0187/674075

Cantine Lunae Bosoni

Ortonovo (La Spezia)

Tel 39 0187 660 187

http://www.cantinelunae.com

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Crodino & Chips – A Tried and True Combination

I am enjoying the first day of summer in Italy, it came a bit later than expected. I also had my first Crodino of the year this weekend. Crodino is a trademark brand owned by the Campari Group since the mid-1990s but it is often used as a generic term for an “analcolico” or drinks without alcohol. This slightly bitter orange-yellow drink is pehaps the most widely ordered analcolico in the world. Italians have it at ever time of the day, generally with chips. I had mine last weekend after a trip to the estetista (beauty parlor) with my friend as part of the preparations for her wedding in Zagarolo on Saturday.

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A rose’ by any other name would smell as sweet

I always liked this quote from Romeo and Giulietta and while it isn’t entirely appropriate for this post, I think it illustrates my point. I have often judged rose’ wines as all of a piece. As if the mere name rose’ was the issue and not the actual wine itself.

One I tried yesterday was a real find -the Alois Lageder Lagrein Rosato 2006. It was perfect on a hot and humid New York day. While I wasn’t immediately transported to the Alto Adige with cool mountain breezes, I did get a glimpse of what a rosato can be with the right winemaking and the right grape variety.

This rosato was refreshing and delicious with crisp acidity and enough structure that it didn’t fall apart after the first sip. Its cherry and raspberry flavors were embraced by hints of citrus and a floral undercurrent that created a soft and round landing which stayed with me for a bit. It fortified me enough to go fight the crowds in the Apple store, a real feat.

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W.I.N.O. – Wine Institute of New Orleans

W.I.N.O. is the name of a wine bar/wine shop on my favorite street in New Orleans, Tchoupitoulas street.  It is very different from any wine bar that I know. There are the requisite long tables and stools but little food and almost no servers. Instead, you go to the cash register and buy a type of smart card. You can put as much money as you want on the card and then proceed to taste any of the 50 or so wines that they have “on tap.” The pour sizes are 4 oz, 6 oz or 8 oz and vary in price.

I tried a variety of domestic wines including two that I particularly liked:

The first one was a Hendry Block 7 2005 Zinfandel from the Napa valley. The somewhat odd name refers to the fact that the Hendry vineyard is split into 50 different blocks, each managed separately. The Hendrys have owned their vineyards since 1939 and see each vineyard block as a learning experience. It seems to me that they have gotten something right with their zin. It was big and juicy with loads of plum and blueberry. The wine spends 15 months in French oak barrels and the wood tones are very well integrated. Drinking this wine with a big juicy steak would have been ideal. I, however, had work to do that day, and together with my friend and colleague Sunny Gandara, proceeded to taste through many of the wines on offer.

My other favorite was a Tofanelli 2003 Charbono from Napa, my first one. A fellow blogger and Italophile, Jeremy Parzen, had written a long piece on Charbono wines on his blog, http://www.dobianchi.com. Armed with this recommendation, I took the plunge.

I found this new grape enticing and was excited by its fruity notes of plum, black cherry, and blueberry together with nuanced wood, tobacco and cedar. The wine was complex and well integrated with a long persistent finish. The Tofanelli family has been farming their property since 1929. They use no irrigation, practice organic farming (no pesticides), and do not use trellising systems.

For more information on either of these producers or W.I.N.O., check out their websites at http://www.winoschool.com, http://www.hendrywines.com, and http://www.tofanelliwine.com.

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The Muffaletta – One of Italy’s Gifts to New Orleans

The Muffaletta is a delicious slice of Italy that is an integral part of the Crescent City’s food traditions.

Local lore is that the Muffaletta was created at the Italian run Central Grocery on Decatur St in the French Quarter in 1906. The store still sells Muffalettas and many say they are the best in town. The sandwich as you can see is huge and has a variety of cold cuts and cheeses topped with olive salad. While not slimming, it is an incredibly satisfying meal. Sharing is the way to go with this gigantic treat. For a great Muffaletta recipe, check out http://www.gumbopages.com. I had my Muffaletta at Cafe Beignet, a nice outdoor location on Bourbon Street in Muscial Legends Park.

Not having had the original, I can only attest to the merits of the Muffaletta from Cafe Beignet but next time I am in New Orleans, I intend to do some comparison shopping. I had water with my Muffaletta but had I had the opportunity, I think I might have opted for a glass of wine. I am on a Chardonnay kick this month, having had too few to adequately pass blind tasting exams. One that I had during my stay in New Orleans was the Willamette Valley 2006 Chardonnay from Waterbrook. It had nice fresh fruit notes (apricots and nectarines stood out), some foral hints, a touch of minerality and the rich buttery, vanilla, nutty aromas that result from aging in American oak. It appealed to me and would have gone well with a Muffaletta without overpowering it.

A little history of Italians in New Orleans

Scores of Italians began moving to New Orleans in the late 1880s, mostly from Sicily. Often they worked in the food trade. They contributed to the city in a huge variety of ways and their history is celebrated in a local museum. Among the lasting achievements is a yearly celebration of St. Joseph. Sadly, the history of Italians in New Orleans is also rife with examples of prejudice and a terrible event that happened in 1891, the lynching of 11 Italians. I had no idea about this sad episode in American life before doing some research. To be honest, I also had never heard of a muffaletta. I don’t think I will be forgetting either in the near term.

For more information on Italians in New Orleans, go to the Museum’s website at http://www.airf.org.

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San Michele Appiano – A Jewel Among Italy’s Cooperatives

Wine cooperatives in Italy are often considered to be synonymous with low quality wines. While this is true of some cooperatives, it is an inaccurate perception of the quality of the wines from some of the best known ones. Nonetheless, many people shy away from these cooperatives and it’s a real shame. There are two or three stand-out examples that come to mind that are the exceptions to the rule and many people luckily know of their existence: Cantina San Michele Appiano, Cantina Produttori di Termeno, and the Sardinian winery called Santadi are a few that come to mind.

Each of these cooperatives is strongly linked to the success of their particular region. San Michele Appiano, a cooperative in the Alto Adige region of Italy, just celebrated its 100 year birthday in 2007. It was created in June 1907 and now has 355 members with 350 hectares of vineyards.

The long standing enologist is Hans Terzer, a Germanic type who I met recently at Vinitaly and who is credited by many with making the right choices-to produce quality wines and not bulk wine early on. Cooperative wineries have a long history in this small region of Italy. San Michele can guarantee a consistency that would be difficult for a small wine maker to match because of their more limited resources. In terms of its production, San Michele produces 2.6 million bottles. The winery has three lines: Classic Line, Cru Line and Sanct Valentin.

Last night I drank the 2007 Pinot Grigio with a delicious plate of pasta with shrimp and tomatoes at the home of some Italian friends in New York.

The wine was dry with citrus notes and hints of minerality. It had crisp acidity and worked well with both the light pasta we were eating and the more robust cheese that followed.

Earlier this month, I tried the Sanct Valentin 2006 Chardonnay at a restaurant in my neighborhood, Picnic. It was full bodied with lemon, buttery and nutty flavors on the nose and the palate. The use of oak was evident but not disturbing albeit not 100% integrated either. The wine had a long and round finish. I paired it with a delicious Alsatian tart on the menu that I would highly recommend.

Wines from San Michele always catch my eye both for their quality and their prices. I am never disappointed. Check out San Michele’s website, http://www.stmichel.it.

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Cibo Express – Even Jet Blue is Getting into the Act

I admit it. I am always surprised to see quality Italian food products in gourmet delis in New York CIty. Call me crazy but sometimes it seems odd to be able to get anything I miss from Italy here in the Big Apple. I have recovered from seeing caciocavallo on menus or Taglieri di affettati ovunque (everywhere) but I didn’t expect Jet Blue, a somewhat discount airline (contradiction in terms) offering chic and frankly scrumptious delicacies at its JFK terminal including soppressata and finocchiona...

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