Monthly Archives: October 2009

Halloween Pairing: Penne alla Zucca With Ribolla Gialla

I have friends coming over for dinner and I have been thinking what to make for Halloween. Then it came to me, Penne alla Zucca (Pumpkin) one of my favorite all time dishes paired with Ribolla Gialla, a fabulous grape from Friuli. I make the pasta with white wine but sometimes I add a dollop of panna (cream) to finish it off.


Ribolla gialla is said to hail from Greece. From there, it made its way to Slovenia and then onto to Friuli. Boccaccio, the Italian poet mentioned this fabulous white grape as early as the 14th century.

The first time I ever had a ribolla gialla was in a Japanese restaurant in Milan. I was with someone from my Italian wine school, AIS, and he suggested it. It was subtle and elegant, sensual and complex – the wine not the guy…

Oddly enough, it paired very well with Japanese food. It had enough sweetness to contrast some of the savory flavors in our meal but it was also delicate enough with great acidity to match salmon. If memory serves, it was a wine by Josko Gravner , a very precise and particular wine maker who ages his wines in amphorae in the ground. He’s been doing that for most of this past decade although he began in a much more traditional style. He also experiments with open vats. While he refuses to call himself organic or biodynamic, his philosophy is as little intervention in the winery as possible. He uses only ambient yeasts as well.

His was the only amphora aged wine that I had tried at that point. Apparently, many others are experimenting with his technique. I read this on Alice Feiring’s blog about her latest tasting of Amphora aged wines. Sounded like a great tasting.


I met Gravner at a tasting in 2007 in Monza, a city outside of Milan where they hold Formula 1 races. The tasting was a small intimate affair. Gravner was there with his son, who tragically passed away earlier this year in a terrible motocycle accident.

Gravner was very serious when he spoke about his wines and how much time he had wasted in his initial winemaking years. He also told me California should stop making wine.

We had a vertical of Breg and some of the Anfora Ribolla Gialla as well. I loved the wines. My friend did not. He found them hard to drink. Il mondo e’ bello perche’ vario…

I am hoping to see this variety on many more wine lists. I don’t think it is getting the right amount of attention in the United States. It is a versatile grape and can pair with Asian cuisine, Indian cuisine or anything else for that matter.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Arneis From Piedmont

Piedmont is quite renowned for its red wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Ghemma, Gattinara and Dolcetto. In fact, Piedmont has the most wines that have received the Denominazione dOrigine Controllata e Garantita or D.O.C.G. designation of any region in Italy. That said, a few white grapes are also well known. Among them are Gavi which is making a comeback, Erbaluce di Caluso making its debut and Moscato d’Asti the well known wine but Arneis is the white grape variety that is on everyone’s radar.To read the rest of this article I wrote, please check out Altacucina’s website.

Also Altacucina will be holding a Wine and Cheese pairing this evening from 630pm to 800pm at their Epicurean Center, located at 22 East 38th Street in New York City.

If you can’t make it tonight, there will be a series of events throughout the holiday season but if you can, I will see you there later.

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Portugual’s Wines & Wine Tasting Friends

Since my return to the United States from Italy four years ago this December, I have been very lucky to meet lots of new friends with similar interests. You guessed it, wine friends of all colors, strips, ages and most importantly, palates. A font of these new friends have been the schools where I have studied, prinicpally the International Wine Center but also the Society of Wine Educators.

Additionally, one makes friends at all of the tastings and press conferences you attend if you are in my line of work. I have had the privilege of tasting with some great tasters and of meeting people from across the industry. I always ask people what their particular tasting method is in order to glean information to help me with my own tastings.

At a recent aperitif with people studying for Diploma this year, I had the chance to meet a lovely woman named Giselle. In addition to her charm and wit, she gave me some good ideas about tasting. When she tastes she said, she imagines wines as people. This was a novel approach for me. I am much more banal I guess. I try to memorize the profile of the wine and think about it in relative terms. I liked her approach however and have been trying to put it in practice.

I have tasted a number of lovely French wines in recent days and I keep thinking of them as chic and sultry French women and men, elegantly dressed with subtle notes and much harmony. Something like a longchamps handbag or a perfect tarte tatin, nothing out of place or overwhelming but an elegant combination and one that lasts…

I met Giselle together with fellow IWC students who were studying for their fortified wine exams. We met at Pao, a delicious little place with great food on the corner of Spring and Greenwich in the West Village. A friend from Washington was in town and he thought we were walking to New Jersey. The place was a delight. They have a large menu of Tawny ports, Madeiras and the like but my favorite was a wine that we ordered thanks to Rodolphe Boulanger, a fellow Diploma graduate and lovely person. Can I say hysterically funny as well… Anyway, he did the legwork to find out some information about this lovely wine.

It was called Morgado de Sta. Catherina Reserva 2006 and is made in Estremadura in the Bucelas DOC. Made from the Arinto grape, it is fermented in 80% new French oak barrels for 9 months. It had tropical and dried fruit notes.


It was elegant with lovely acidity and reminded me of some wines from Josko Gravner in Italy. I saw the news last week that Gravner is now being imported by Domaine Select. That’s quite a coup but I can see the fit. The other wines that this Bucelas brought to mind were those of Movia, also a Domaine Select producer.

This past summer I took a seminar on wines from Portugal at the Society of Wine Educators conference in Sacramento. Entitled “Still Wines of the Douro Valley, Ed Korry gave a very detailed account of Portuguese wines and their history.

An ancient wine producing region, the Phoenicians were apparently active in this part of the world in the 10th century B.C., yes B.C. Most people used to think of the Douro only for its’ Port wines. In recent years, the Douro has been producing some very interesting still wines as well.

For many years Portugal lived under the Salazar dictatorship and quality wines were not a priority. All that changed in the past 10-15 years. The Douro is a very small region, only 63 miles long.

It has a difficult climate to contend with in certain parts as it is prey to violent downpours and can be affected by the Atlantic ocean. The making of port wines is very complicated in terms of the qualities that wines are judged by. This has created a niche market for still wines from the Douro which may not respect the parameters needed to make a port wine. There are some 50 to 80 varieties in the Douro but the most renowned is Tourga Nacional which makes big, black fruity and tannic wines.

Some of the vineyards have very old vines. Among wihite varities you can find much Rabigato, Viosinho and Codega. Viticulture in this part of the world is extremely challenging because of the steep slope of the hills. We tried a variety of interesting and modern wines made from indigenous grapes including Niepoort Tiara 2007 made with Ribagato, Malvasia, Codega and other grapes. It was really interesting and I would surely not have picked it out in a blind tasting as a portuguese wine.

My two favorites wines were the Chryseia 2004 which was layered and nuanced with waves of flavors and the Quinta do Crasto Old Vines 2006 with its spice, leather and cedar notes. It was rich and developing with fine tannins and savory flavors. The tasting ended with a gem called Pintas 2006. This fabulous wine had oak and savory meaty notes. It was Burgundian in style, slightly contained and just exquisite.


The photos of the Douro Valley alone are enough to entice one on a trip. The wines are now giving the landscape serious competition as a tourist draw.

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Luca Maroni in Town At Altacucina

Italian wine expert Luca Maroni is in town for a tasting today at Altacucina at 3pm.

I’m running over there to taste some of the new fruit driven wines that he will be showcasing. I look forward to trying a great pecorino from Farnese winery in Abruzzo as well as a DOCG Colline Teramane from the same region. I get a jump on everyone else because I know what they are serving.

Every year I miss Luca’s big tasting in Rome, Sensofwine. This year it is being held on November 21-22. Once again, it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for me, although I do love Rome in the Fall, in the Spring, etc….Luckily, I will be attending the New York version on February 3. Last year was grand. I tried lots of wines that I had never heard of and generally had a great time.

For more information on Luca, check out an article he wrote about wines on Altacucina. His take is interesting and while you are at it, you can also look at Radicchioblog, Altacucina’s blog about food, wine and local events…

Sometimes, my PR side comes through…it’s inevitable.

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Spanish Wines Take US By Storm


Spanish wines are getting a lot of attention these days and with good reason. The country offers a host of delicious wines and many in affordable price points. Additionally, Spanish food is also a growing component of the restaurant scene. In New York City alone, I have noticed at least five new wine bars with Spanish wines as the central theme.

My favorite is a local hangout near my home, Buceo 95. The sommelier who runs Buceo is lovely and very welcoming. He often offers you a variety of wines to try and see what appeals to you most. I have had numerous wines there which have surprised and delighted me. The food is also delicious, small plates that complement the ever changing wine list.

Spain is on my mind a lot lately as I try to branch out from my Italian focused experience. About 10 days ago, I participated in a class on Sherry held by the Spanish Wine Academy. I have studied the solera system numerous times in every wine class but I have never taken a full day program on sherries and still wines from Andalucia. I thought it was fascinating and would love to see more classes that focus on one or two DOs (Denominacion d’Origen) specifically. I like this concentrated approach to wine study.

Speaking of Spanish wines, here is an article I wrote for Gourmet Retailer on the Spanish wine industry. I am also looking forward to the upcoming tasting on Oct. 29 of wines from the DO Vinos de Madrid. It should be exciting and give further impetus to my Spanish wine craze. I wish I could go to Wine Future 2009 in Logrono in Rioja on November 12-13 but unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this year. I can go out to Rioja week at participating restaurants in NYC though this week to cheer myself up…

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Ansonica/Inzolia

I wrote this article for Altacucina as part of my Italian grape dictionary. It is amazing that I am still in the first letter of the alphabet. I feel like I have been writing about grapes that begin with the letter “A” for months.

Ansonica Bianca, also widely known as Inzolia, has very different expressions in its two home areas, Tuscany and Sicily. This medium sized grape variety which is yellow green in color is quite vigorous and grows well in hot, arid climes. It can be vinified as a mono-varietal which is what generally happens in Tuscany or as a blend, a more common practice for this wine in Sicily. It is also used as the base wine to make the aperitif Vermouth as well as the sweet wine called Marsala from Western Sicily.

In Tuscany, this grape grows on the Monte Argentario coastline, a gorgeous location in lower Tuscany. Some of the well known towns in the area are Manciano, Orbetello and Capalbio. Capalbio is the local hangout of well to do left leaning politicians in Italy. This part of Maremma is not far from Rome. The area is very well known both for its seaside villages, hill towns and ancient Etruscan ruins.

Ansonica also grows on the small island called Giglio which is part of the Tuscan Archipelago and used to be grown on the larger island, Elba. Giglio is a beautiful place where many Romans and Florentines vacation. Ansonica is the principal grape in the recent Costa dell’Argentario DOC or Denominazione d’origine controllata wine.

The vines are all on terraces and harvesting them is a difficult task. Ansonica from Tuscany is fruity and balanced with low acidity and low alcohol.

While no one is certain of its province, it is thought that Ansonica arrived in Sicily with the Normans and then spread to other small areas in Italy. Recently, studies have suggested that it is actually generically related to the Greek varieties, Rhoditis and Sideritis.

To learn more, please look at the Altacucina Society website

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Super Teaneck, Getting Better By The Day

Shocking but true, the wine I made three years ago using a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon is actually drinkable. There really is something to be said about aging wines to let the tannins soften and the alcohol diminish. I was pleasantly surprised this evening when I opened a bottle.

New Due Gatti label

My wine label, I Due Gatti,, has only come out with two vintages thus far. I still have many bottles and there is a risk that some people will be getting it for Christmas…

My wine making adventures are New Jersey based, thanks to Corrado’s, using California grapes which are trucked in and then stored. Obviously these are not optimal conditions but I must say I am pleasantly surprised. I’ll be taking orders should anyone have to have this blend for their cellar :).

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