Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Seated outside her eyes roamed from the bright yellow-orange of the Marchesi di Barolo cellars to the wine-covered hills above, the Barolo Castle and the barren parking lot in front. Melting in the heat but reveling in the scenery her mind floated from the suggestions of modern times to visions of the past. In some ways things have changed so much yet when immersed in these towns, one sees how little life really has changed, at least here drifting between the vineyards.
Lunch offered typical Piedmont dishes such as, raw hand cut and pounded Piemontese beef as an appetizer (do not shy away from this, raw meat is excellent for the body). A plate of mixed appetizers displayed Russian salad, raw meat, zucchini frittata with fondue alla Piemontese (the original fondue from Val D’Osta) and, bagna cauda, which was a big slice of blanched red pepper with green garlic sauce floating inside. Bagna cauda is famous in this region and the sauce is something you want to be sure to eat together if you are going home with your dinner partner because the garlic breath could kill a horse! (laughing, think I killed the Piglet)
The sauce is made from mashed garlic, lots of it, anchovies and olive oil (of course); the whole mix heated over a double boiler or at times served over a candle with raw veggies or served as it was that day on the pepper slices although not raw but just blanched. The fondue is another thing in and of itself!
This original fondue is prepared with Fontina, eggs, butter and milk and is a dense liquid (the cheese soaks in the milk for at least 8 hours if not longer). The milk is then tossed and the cheese is melted with fresh milk and a ton of butter and once it begins to thicken, an egg yolk or two is tossed in. Of course, this is best consumed with white truffles but hey, eating it by the spoonfuls is still a thrill and in the winter, this is a dish that outshines any cold day! So, while you all are putting kirsch in your fondues, just know that until you have tried the original here in northern Italy, you are missing out. ;-)
The rest of the meal consisted of agnolotti in butter and sage and risotto al Barolo, which is truly a local dish (just onions and wine)! They also served fresh homemade, hot bread infused with tons of oregano in a bread loaf form as well as a focaccia so her goal of limiting the bread intake that day went to the dogs! In that heat, no wine was ordered with lunch but then again, with all the little wine tasting who needed it (giggling)? To finish off the meal, a stop at the Antico Panettiere furnished a bag of local cookies or little fragile flat hazelnut “pancakes.” These contain the locally grown Piemontese hazelnuts and nice soft Amaretti cookies as well. ;-)
How can she emphasize enough the extent of excitement and depth of smiles this area can produce? To breathe-in this wine country one realizes this is not just about wine but about the substantial amount of history surrounding these great wines through the centuries. The vast amount of neat, well-cured vineyards will tantalize the dreams and emotions of any countryside lover; an unadulterated lullaby for all the senses. These hills undulate with history and passion at every turn and everywhere the eye might rest; one cannot help but get caught up in the spell. Speaking of spells, dinner at the Grinzane Cavour Castle is worth a separate post. To be continued…. ;-)
Across from the Chiesa di S. Giovanni or, il Duomo there is this simple and elegant little place to eat under the old portico. They have also placed a permanent “greenhouse” for dinning right on the piazza; this little glass house is fully enclosed with air conditioning and in the summer heat, it is a blessing to sit there and enjoy the view, eat and stay cool. The tables are set up with huge, fun and colorful charger plates with ultra comfortable chairs to rest in (such a rarity in Italy, and a change from the classic Osteria chair).
The menu offers excellent dishes typical to the region with nice, courteous waitresses and waiters serving everything very promptly. For starters, an assorted cheese plate was a must just to sample the local cheese creations as well as a fabulous insalata russa. Tagliolini with an oil and garlic or “white” sauce of ground rabbit dressed this homemade pasta, which was out of this world! There were also agnolotti made with a mix from a roast of various meats and these were dressed in the sauce of the roast, something Snow White had never tasted before in all her days in Italy. The sauce was limpid gravy per se, light in weight and exquisite in flavor. The agnolotti are a type of tortellini except the ends are brought together at the center of the “cushion” and pressed together. Some other versions of these wonderful homemade agnolotti are with the ends pulled together similar to a sack as if tied with string at the top. All this fare was accompanied by a nice chilled white Roero Arneis another great white wine produced in the Roero hills above the river Tanaro; and since this was gastronomic play-time, dessert was a must, which was accompanied with a wonderful Moscato d’Asti by, none other than the Piglet’s favorite, I Vignaioli di S. Stefano. Dessert was the classic Bunet; a type of chocolate pudding with crushed amaretti.
Now these little pigs will be off for some other adventure shortly so stay tuned...
Friday, July 25, 2008
For these two “pigs”, the balanced modernist version was destined for their wine cellar (costing, mind you, a lot more than the classic version), this wine was from Bergera Pezzole, labeled as Le Strette 2004, estate bottled. Happy as a clam with two bottles in her possession, they pointed their toes towards Belbo on a hunt for i Vignaioli di Santo Stefano. With a few stops here and there to ask directions, they wound up falling into the large cellars of Vallebelbo and while there, decided to stock up on the classics; Asti, Moscato and Brachetto (gotta LOVE that cherry red color with frizz)! While there, directions to “the boys” (i Vignaioli) were obtained and as heavily loaded as the mini mouse car was, they headed to the hills!
I Vignaioli di Santo Stefano are in a locale of Santo Stefano Belbo; way, way up top to the crown of the hills. Numerous switchbacks greet you on a road big enough for one car or a tractor as it winds up, up and away. Vineyards on steep slopes covered both sides of the old mule road; “Good lord” she thought, “How in the world do they harvest on these slopes, let alone work the vineyards daily without losing it?” Just as that thought crosses her mind while approaching the cellar drive, a weary, sweat-drenched soul pops out of the brush with his weed whacker and mask, leaving behind him a steep hill of vines. She does not want to know the cost of the wine because she realizes the price no matter what it is, is worth it; what kind of crazy fool works on slopes so steep their legs at the end of the day must ache from the effort to stay upright? Watching the scene before her she realizes few wineries in Napa Valley are anything close to the difficulty of these vineyards.
This stop was for a Moscato Golden Piglet had been searching out for, for quite a while. He quickly purchased a case (the heat was killing us all) of their elegant, long-necked bottles of frizzy, sweet, golden colored Moscato d’Asti. Looking at these bottles she realized this was a first, she had never before seen a wine with bubbles in anything but the classic champagne-type bottle. Moscato runs at 5.5% vol making this an easy aperitif or desert wine. While packing the box into the “mouse on wheels,” the young wine keeper gave them a bottle of their more expensive Moscato Passito 2002, labeled “Il” to test out. Next trip they can go back during the cooler weather and buy up a few of the Passito and really enjoy the heady pleasures of Moscato.
There was also a stop to the Mango Castello and wine shop to test out the Moscato on display. As it turned out a case of another wonderful delectable sweet/dry wine headed to their cellars. This was from the hills of Mango known for its Moscato. This one was labeled Tintero Moscato d’Asti, D.O.C.G., Sori’ Gramella 2007, 5% vol. and this ones goes down like silk! ;-)
Lastly but definitely not least, she must mention the grappa purchased at Grinzane. Never before had she tasted anything in the grappa department as divine as this amber colored ambrosia! This was called “Elisì” from the wonderful distillery, Berta, check out the link regarding the history of this four generation family in the distillation business!
This particular grappa is made up of 50% Barbera 1996, 25% Nebbiolo da Barolo 1999, 25% Cabernet 2001. The French Barriques are 225 liters of Troncais d’Allier, with a finished product at 43% vol. with a beautiful amber color.
Elisì is the result of careful selection of the best grappa products, refined for the last 10 years in those French barriques. Assembly of the different years and various grape varieties, bestow the elegance, complexity of aromas and emotions to this grappa that only the great, distilled liquors of the world can transmit.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
This wine packs a whopping 13% vol. so make sure when drinking you are eating as well, something we managed to do quite well. Ordering a "cutting board" of cheese and sliced meats we cleverly whiled away a few hours; how much better can it get? There were samples of prosciutto della Val Vigezzo, Bresaola, Pancetta Coppata, a dark prosciutto like bresaola seasoned with porcini mushrooms and spices, little tiny cacciatore salami, various cheeses, toma, and one type encrusted with fennel and other herbs. So who said we were taking the ferry back to the mainland? Nope we were going to have to swim after that feast!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Barolo is produced from the Nebbiolo grapes although the Lampia, Michet and Rosé types are authorized for this wine as well. Barolo matures at the end of September (well as long as our weather and climate does not change much more), and the clusters are a dark blue/grayish color covered with their own wax. Barolo typically smells of tar and roses, and is capable of taking on an unusual orange tinge with age; the initial nose of a Barolo is often that of a pine tree. When subjected to aging of at least five years, the wine can then be labeled as a Reserve and for connoisseurs, it is Italy's most collected wine; for beginners it is a difficult one to understand.
In the past all Barolos used to be very tannic and they took more than 10 years to soften up. The fermenting wine usually stayed on the skins for at least three weeks, extracting huge amounts of tannins; then it was aged in large, wooden casks for years.
In order to meet the international taste, which preferred fruitier, more accessible styles, the "modernists" cut fermentation times to a maximum of ten days and put the wine in new French barriques. The results, according to traditionalists, were not even recognizable as Barolo and tasted more of new oak than of wine. Thus, the Barolo wars began between traditionalists and modernists.
Today, the war has subsided although outspoken modernists are still committed to new oak and there are many producers who are now choosing the middle ground, often using a combination of barriques and large casks. The more prestigious houses still reject barriques and insist on patience for their wines (considering them far superior). As such, these have become auction staples, sought after by wine aficionados in Italy, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the United States.
For those of you who are interested, here is a list of the wineries producing in the traditional methods as well as, the modernists (note from previous post on Barolo Chinato, we purchased one from Ceretto, loving the balanced flavors of that liquid luxury).
Traditionalist producers include: Giuseppe Rinaldi, Marcarini, Bartolo Mascarello, Brovia, Giuseppe Mascarello, Cavallotto, Giacomo Conterno, Giacomo Borgogno, Paolo Conterno, Comm. Burlotto, Oddero, Barale, Cavallotto, Cappellano, Massolino, Bruno "the Maestro" Giacosa, Luigi Pira, Vietti (especially the Riserva Villero), Vajra.
Modernist producers include: Azelia, Scavino, Gigi Rosso, Rivetti, Ceretto, Aldo Conterno (from 1996 onwards), Boglietti, Mauro Veglio, Altare, Sandrone, Domenico Clerico, E. Pira & Figli (Chiara Boschis), Einaudi, Icardi, Parusso, Prunotto, Ceretto, Corino, Alessandria, Grimaldi, Silvio Grasso, Seghesio (Aldo e Ricardo).
Gaia was not mentioned because this ultra famous winery deserves a separate post.
Monday, July 21, 2008
A trip through the Piemontese wine country, le Lange e Roero is a sight to behold. The stops for this tour were Grinzane Cavour castle and regional wine store, Mango (hills of Moscato) and their regional wine store, Barolo and it’s regional wine shop with an off the track stop at i Vignaioli di S. Stefano and the cantine di Vallebelbo.
Grinzane offers a great little self guided tour of the castle, which includes the history of Le Langhe and after that there is a cute little bar for coffee and a book, a restaurant for suggestive dinners and a super-duper wine shop!
The storekeeper was wonderful allowing us to taste (without paying) three types of Barolo Chinato, and various grappa. Of the two Chinato, we preferred the drier one so on that note, she gave us a taste of one by Ceretto and what a great suggestion that was! Barolo Chinato is a splendid, unique digestive and dessert wine.
This little known beauty goes back close to the end of the 1800’s to the heart of the Barolo territory. The drink stems from an ancient recipe, which has been carefully preserved through the centuries. The infusion of China Calissaya bark and several aromatic alpine herbs with aged Barolo wine has long been considered a remedy for several diseases. Aged for quite a long time in oak barrels, this aromatic wine becomes a low-alcoholic "elixir", amber-colored and with ruby-red reflections. The spicy, intense and persistent nose coupled with the bittersweet taste of the China bark make it a lovely and inviting wine. A rare specialty for connoisseurs!
Granted, Barolo Chinato debuted as a medicinal wine but quickly found popularity for reasons other than medicinal. Production of this wine comprises a natural infusion of China Calissaja bark, rhubarb root, and about ten other aromatic herbs where the alcoholic content is deliberately kept low in order to highlight the wine’s Barolo component,
Colour: Deep garnet red. Bouquet: Full, rich, heady, and opulent, exuding spices and aromatic herbs. Palate: Sweet, full-bodied, velvet-smooth, pleasantly bitterish in the finish.
Grape variety: 100% nebbiolo Alcohol: 16.5 % vol. Residual sugar: 18% Serving temperature: 18 – 20° C.
Cesare Pavese’s book “Il Diavolo sulle Colline” was chosen to represent the wine’s magnificent sensory complexity, its power, its aromatic pleasures, as well as its profound relationship to the land from which it originated. The Barolo base wine for the “Il Diavolo sulle Colline” Chinato is produced from grapes from the comuni of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, and Monforte d’Alba, which yield Barolos of pronounced character and structure, to which are added others from the areas of Barolo, La Morra and Verduno, rendering wines of greater fragrance and elegance. After a 20-day, 30oC maceration, the wine goes into the traditional oak casks where it matures for at least two years.
There are diverse and excellent ways to serve this wine: mixed with mineral water and ice, as an aperitif; neat, as a delicate after-dinner liqueur; or warmed up and served with orange peel, becoming the ideal drink for frosty winter evenings. Barolo Chinato is a fantastic companion with chocolate desserts expressing its diversity as something more than a meditation wine. Barolo Chinato is best served in a long-stemmed wine glass.
To be continued…;-) so much more to come!
They brought an antipasto of baccalà mousse with white grilled polenta that was incredible, sort of reminded her of the fish mousse served on the terrace on the lake at Isola Madre. There was the classic Vincentian veal liver with glazed onions on a bed of polenta and sauce that was worth every bite particularly for liver lovers and for those who are not (moi), it was fantastic; She was so sure she would have hated it, ha! Veal liver is divine; tender and light in flavor and not as dense as beef liver and definitely lacking the heady heavy liver flavor. If anyone hates the taste of beef liver, then you should give this a try just to put your taste buds right with the world. ;-)
Finishing off the meal with a dessert, which she truly had no room for, was definitely one of the smarter choices made in her life one she would not soon forget. This simple and light little offering was called “cherry soup.” These were hand-pitted local grown cherries (Marostica, and Vicenza are famous for their cherries) swimming in their own cherry juice with a dash of a secret spice topped with a tiny ball of spearmint green gelato and cherry liqueur. The soup was served cold with giant soup spoons to ensure you did not miss a drop of the luscious juice. She dreams of picking some cherries from those trees in the garden or buying some in Marostica and making up her own batch of this mix to save and serve on those hot lazy summer evenings…guess she needs to figure out how they made the mint gelato; did they mash and “Cuisinart” the leaves or did they make a very concentrated tisane?
A bottle of Amarone, one of the other famous wines from the Veneto region accompanied this meal and, never having tasted a good glass of it, this little angel was impressed even with 15% alcohol. After a bottle she was far from tipsy because good wine (not that cheap 2-buck Chuck) does not give you headaches, does not turn you tipsy even after a bottle and it is usually consumed over a longer period of time and slowly (slow meals, slow eating). Unfortunately, the Amarone expert Golden Piglet will have to fill you in on the beauty of this wine, this is truly out of Snow White’s league
Monday, July 14, 2008
The other night at Antico Ristorante agli Schioppi (ski-yop-pi) she finished off her meal with a rosolio never having heard of it before she let them recommend this little sweet after dinner drink. Rosolio, also known as Rosoli used to be made from the herb called "sundew" (Drosera rotundifolia), or "Rosa Solis" and, it was made completely from the juice of this herb. The Sundew plant (carnivorous, Lat. Drosera rotundifolia L.) was used to make a bright yellow cordial water that was somewhat strong in alcohol content. This water seems to have originated in Renaissance Turin and was redeemed as a medicine and an aphrodisiac before becoming a popular drink.
The very first arrival of these waters to England in the late 1400’s, was strictly for medicinal use as alcoholic medicinals, which were prescribed in small doses to lift the spirits and strengthen the heart. By 1700, these precursors to modern liqueurs were used for their intoxicating effects as well as supposed medicinal virtues, most of them becoming recreational drinks. Many cordials were made with precious ingredients such as, gold and pearls thought to renew the natural heat, recreate and revive the spirits and free the body from the bad diseases. Some of these forgotten concoctions were Royal Usquebaugh, a spicy liqueur laced with flakes of gold leaf, which actually had an origin from the Aureum potabile or drinkable gold of the alchemists. Many early varieties of “waters” were flavored with spices and herbs thought to settle the stomach after excessive eating, which lead to the name of surfeit waters.
The fact that many cordials were considered aphrodisiacs, contributed to the consumption in social settings instead of in a medical context and this is how we believe Rosa Solis originated. This was distilled over large quantities of the sundew plant while including hot provocative spices like cubebs, grains of paradise and galingale. Supposedly, the sundew plant stirred up lust and when distilled, reflected a glittering yellow color like gold and silver rendering the whole concoction “golden” thus imparting it’s golden warmth within once ingested. During the time of Salmon, rosa solis was used in England at the end of a banquet to wash down other revered food items such as, kissing comfits and candied eryngo roots (sounds truly wicked if you ask me). Today, rosolio is produced in Italy and Spain although no longer a distillate of the sundew plant.
Today, Rosolio is a generic name for any sweet, syrupy, aromatic cordial or liqueur (with low alcohol content) frequently homemade. When rosolio is made from a fruit, the syrupy liquid is extracted then mixed with grain alcohol and in some instances, the addition of specific herbs and or spices occurs. When the drink is made from fresh red rose petals, it is usually called Rosolio di Rose. This version is red or pink in color and has an alcohol content between 22% and 24%.
Take of the hearbe Rosa-Solis, gathered in Iulie one gallon, pick out all the black moats from the leaues, dates halfe a pound, Cinamon, Ginger, Cloues of each one ounce, grains halfe an ounce, fine sugar a pound and a halfe, red rose leaues, greene or dried foure handfuls, steepe all these in a gallon of good Aqua Composita in a glasse close stopped with wax, during twenty dayes, shake it well together once euerie two dayes. Your sugar mutt be powdred, your spices brused onely or grosselie beaten, your dates cut in long slices the stones taken away. If you add two or three graines of Ambergreece, and as much muske in your glasse amongst the rest of the Ingredients , it will have a pleasant smell. Some adde the gum amber with coral and pearle finely poudred , and fine leafe golde. Some vse to boyle Ferdinando bucke in Rosewater, till they haue purchased a faire deepe crimson colour, and when the same is cold, they colour their Rosa solis and Aqua Rubea therewith.
From Sir Hugh Platt, Delightes for Ladies (London: 1600)
Friday, July 4, 2008
There exists no myth about eating and drinking well in the province of Veneto; the region oozes simplicity paired with the utmost taste and elegance but then, what is to be expected from a wealthy province laden with luscious history, art and architecture? She sits back in the chair watching the passing parade, the trams, the pretty people, the locals, (and yokels) briskly walking the sidewalks (somewhere in some city in Italy) while she ponders returning to Vicenza, to see if the city affects her the same as it did the first time.
Inviting, leisurely in spirit, rich in history and unbelievable eye candy (yes, of course you are all thinking the other kind of eye candy), but this is about architecture (as her ears pick up chuckles from her readers). She finds herself truly dreaming of another glass of that stupendous Venegazzù and an afternoon on the square with a spritz and an evening dining outside with centuries before her eyes. Lord, that Venegazzù was such a luxury on the palette; paired with super, stinky aged cheese from the region, Puzzone di Moena, sliced tart green apples and limpid honey from the mountains around Asiago, life could not get any better.
This fabulous cheese is made from cow’s milk using a semi-cooked mixture. The salting of the cheese is done in a brine solution lasting two days. Starting at 15 to 20 days of age, the forms are bathed weekly with tepid water, which creates a perfect impermeable patina allowing the forms optimal fermentation within the milk mixture protected by this patina. Aging occurs in cool environments with a high level of humidity where the cheese is placed on wooden shelves and turned twice weekly. The average aging is two months minimum with eight months the maximum. A nibble of this and a sip of that red and she is in serious heaven.
Venegazzù is a Bordeaux blend using 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 5% Malbech. The origins of this wine spring from a historic vineyard called Hundred-vines with vines that are 50 years old and also in part from the Falconera vineyard. This prestigious wine is produced in Montello on the infamous iron rich soil of the area. This high mineral and iron content determines the structure of the wine as well as, bestowing it a long life. The vines are planted in a density of about 3,000 plants/hectare yielding on the average 5,800 kilos/hectare. This stunning wine ferments for about twenty days in oak fermentation tubs, (fifteen of those twenty days are on the skins) at a temperature of 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. Once the malolactic fermentation has ceased, the wine is put to rest in barrels of French oak (of different weights) for 18 to 24 months and then refined in the bottle for one year.
Of the two versions of this lovely red liquid, is Capo di Stato I.G.T. Colli Trevigiani by Villa Spineda Loredan a Venegazzù. This supreme blend has been listed by a French publication; “100 vins de légende” or, among the hundred wines in the world for either their history and top quality can be considered legendary by all standards. This Venegazzù Capo di Stato is the first true Italian Bordeaux blend. The other one, is Venegazzù della Casa, I.G.T. Colli Trevigiani, another historic wine from Loredan Gasparini. This other important Bordeaux blend displays right out of the starting gate, true magnificence and luxury. This is made with the same grapes using the same composition as the main wine of the winery but with one big difference; the yield per hectare is higher and the aging time in the oak barrels is shorter, eighteen months or less. Nonetheless, the wine is still a perfect display of that ultra special character of the plant varieties, the rich soil where it is grown as well as combining the distinctive personality of the Bordeaux blend. This wine presents and maintains the elegance and balance of the greatest Italian wines and this creature needs to grab her car and head straight to the winery on a buying trip!
Yes, now she is smiling (once again, angel)!