Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ciao dall'Italia!

Hello from Italy! It's my annual visit to see Mom in Umbria, smack-dab in the center of the country. OH, you weren't aware that she lives in Italy? Allow me to get you up to speed with an excerpt from an article I published in Flavors magazine in early 2005:

My mother moved back to her Umbrian homeland in 2003 after many years of living in various places, most recently Alabama. After my father died a few years before, she found that she could be more useful to herself living in Italy full-time. Among her reasons was the open space afforded by the property she had already started “to bring back to life after decades of neglect.” The house on that property, now fully renovated, previously served as a summer villa on whose surrounding land the owners cultivated wheat, sunflowers, olives, and grapes for winemaking. Going back even further, the original structure was built in the early 1700s around a medieval tower. Like so many in Umbria, the tower itself was built to keep an eye on neighboring enemies. At that time, long before Italy became a unified nation, even small villages were, in a sense, on their own as self-contained city-states ruled by a count or duke.

The land, including the villa, was purchased by an ancestor of my mother’s, a real-estate lawyer by the name of Innocenzo Mariani, who bought the property along with his three brothers in 1774 to increase their land possessions. For the past 30 years, however, the land (now belonging to my mother) has been divided into parcels for residential use; as a result, little is left for agricultural purposes and is limited to those crops for which there is a healthy demand. There’s always a healthy demand for wine grapes, but the vineyard was about 30 years old and needed to be replaced. Mom bought a bit of extra land to enlarge her holdings, then shifted the location of the vineyard itself so that new vines could be planted on virgin ground."

We grow a total of six grape varietals on a little more than 4 hectares of vineyard land (one hectare equals 2.47 acres). Besides Pinot Nero (Noir), Merlot, and Chardonnay--all occupying roughly one hectare each--a healthy share of the space is devoted to Grechetto, a white grape considered native to Umbria and possibly related to the Greco varietal found elsewhere in the country.




Monday, September 14, 2009

"R" is for Roccafiore




Looking at the labels on bottles of wine from Cantina Roccafiore, the first thing that comes to mind is smart marketing. The logo of the estate (a black "R" with a red stylized flower beside it) as a whole is simple, colorful, and identifiable. Anyone searching for their wine in a shop need only look for that flower--not in shops in the U.S. though, as they haven't made it across the pond (yet?).

Mom and I visited the winery during my trip and spent a couple of hours chatting with the 24-year-old winameker named Cristian. All the while we toured the facility, snapped pictures, asked questions, and finally engaged in a tasting. We tasted only three of their wines--two reds and a dessert wine--due to unavailability of the rest, but to my delight, they were quite enjoyable:

2007 Rosso Melograno IGT -- Sangiovese, Merlot, and Montepulciano

Lovely ruby red color, with a very fresh nose of lively cherry. Fresh cherry echoed on the palate along with a hint of earth and a crisp, fruity finish. A very pleasant, easy-drinking red.


2006 Rosso Roccafiore IGT -- Sangiovese

Medium garnet color, with a nose of cherry fruit, a bit of earth, and a thread of toastiness. Palate full of dark cherry, earth, and spice from the oak aging. Definitely a food-loving, classic Italian red.


2006 Collina d'Oro Passito IGT -- Moscato

Medium gold color, with a nose of flowers, dried fruit, and honey. Flavors of honey and raisins, delicate and not fully sweet. Good acidity ensured a nice balance--yum!

The property, the buildings, and the landscaping were all lovely and thoughtfully designed. Check out the site for a more complete view of what I'm talking about!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Who says I have to stick to writing about wine?

Wine is my passion, but frankly I would be remiss if I ignored the other members of the adult beverage world. Of late I've noticed a trend towards bringing classic cocktails back to the forefront of the spirits world, manifested by everyone from bartenders to home mixologists who love to entertain (or just drink a lot).

Why are these classic cocktails so irresistible? For the same reason we are fascinated by other things "vintage": they evoke a certain glamour from days long gone. Old Hollywood, the Rat Pack, Havana in the 50s...these images are familiar to most of us only from old films, photos, or even postcards, but nevertheless they are extremely powerful in conjuring a mood and a compelling idea of what men and women did back then--and what they drank while doing it.

I will be making cocktails, spirits, liqueurs (and beer for that matter) a part of this blog, but do not fear! Wine will always be the main focus. In the meantime, enjoy 2 cocktail recipes that everyone should know by heart...we'll start with the obvious one. Salute!

(Recipes courtesy of the book Vintage Cocktails by Susan Waggoner and Robert Markel)


Dry Martini

2 1/2 oz. gin
1 tbsp. dry vermouth

Place gin and vermouth in a metal shaker along with cracked ice. Shake (or stir gently) and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with olive.


You can substitute vodka if you must. As a purist and an admirer of gin, I always stick with the classic version.

Sidecar

1 1/2 oz. brandy
3/4 oz. Cointreau
3/4 oz. lemon juice, strained of seeds

Combine ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

recommendations, part II




And now for some recommendations lots of folks ask me about: Slap-me-silly-GOOD reds for a mere $10 - $15.

Taurino Salice Salentino Rosso (Italy) - $10
Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) - $10
Tittarelli Malbec (Argentina) - $10
Cusumano Nero d'Avola (Italy) - $10
Casillero del Diablo Carmenere (Chile) - $10
2006 Fontanafredda Barbera Piemonte "Briccotondo" (Italy) - $11
Christian Moueix Merlot Bordeaux (France) - $11
Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone Villages (France) - $12
Cecchi Chianti Classico (Italy) - $14
Boccadigabbia Rosso Piceno (Italy) - $15

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In/Out

I know everyone likes “In/Out” lists, so let’s see if I can come up with something any wine lover might be able to appreciate (in my humble opinion, of course).

IN

“naked” Chardonnay
connecting with other wine lovers
sampling new grape varieties
dry ros├ęs
saving bubbly for special occasions


OUT

big, oaky butter bombs
name-dropping
drinking the same few grapes
White Zinfandel
enjoying bubbly any ol’ day

Sunday, June 21, 2009

recommendations, part I

A lot of folks ask me for recommendations when it comes to wine, and I don’t blame them because there is nothing short of an ocean of wine out there for us to get our hands on anytime we want. Knowing where to begin—even when most of us can narrow down our preference to red or white, Old World (European) or New World (everything else), etc.—can be a challenge. Except me, of course. I’m devastatingly easy to please when it comes to wine. Now we all lead busy lives and the last thing we have time for is to have to track down that elusive bottle. I plan to make this a recurring post, so that whatever your tastebuds might dictate, you can find a list that applies to you and can help guide you a little. Let’s see…why don’t we start with Italian whites you might never have heard of but will probably really like?

Lolovino’s recommendations:

Moscato d’Asti - okay, you probably have heard of this one but let's revisit for clarity. This is a fizzy (meaning not fully sparkling), slightly sweet wine from the Piedmont region. It is a highly regarded, usually nicely made wine that smells like flowers and fruit candy. A favorite of many.
Gavi - Also from Piedmont, this is made with a local grape called Cortese and is crisp, dry, and great with food.
Tocai Friulano - Hailing from the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, this one has real personality, fragrant and fruity with a citrusy edge.
Vermentino - They make this on the island of Sardinia; its crisp citrus and mineral profile is a perfect match for fresh seafood.
Orvieto - Umbria's famous wine made from a blend of local grapes. A useful alternative to your run-of-the-mill Pinot Grigio.
Fiano - A lovely wine from the South; the nose hints at toasted hazelnuts, and who doesn't love that?
Falanghina - Another lovely white from the South; deliciously round but still zippy.
Verdicchio - The white wine that is the pride and joy of the Marche region.
Soave - The best examples of this reliable white from the prolific Veneto region possess an attractive minerality.
Prosecco - Not obscure, no, but deserving of mention here. This is my go-to bubbly, and that's saying a lot since we all know by now that I have a deep passion for sparkling wines. Delicate and great for every day, every occasion. Try it in your Mimosa.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

wine (and chocolate) is for lovers!

Happy February! Even if you're not thinking about Valentine's Day (or perhaps are trying to forget about it), there's no reason not to enjoy two of the most pleasurable things on earth: wine and chocolate. Contrary to what you might be thinking, thankfully you can enjoy both together--at the same time. If you keep a couple of simple guidelines in mind, the two can be as good a match as you and your sweetie.

Sweet wine with sweets? Not necessarily when it comes to pure chocolate. If what you have in mind is chocolate cake or other chocolate-based desserts, for instance, you're better off sticking with dessert wines. My suggestions are for chocolate by itself--good-quality pieces or truffles. There's no need to break the bank, but remember that cheap chocolate is mostly fat and sugar. What we're really after is the stuff that has a nice shine, a good cocoa butter content, and is smooth as silk on the tongue. Wine doesn't only favor dark chocolate, mind you. My pairing ideas below include milk chocolate as well.

I have found that a good rule of thumb is to match dark chocolate with dark wines, ones that are dark in color, higher in alcohol, intense in flavor, and robust in general. This wouldn't really include Pinot Noir, for example, but rather a Zinfandel or a big Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Even better, a ruby Port. Ruby Port delivers all those attributes, plus the right sweetness for chocolate and a vibrant berry character. This is why the two are a classic match. Don't like Port? Try the Zin or Cab, or an Australian Shiraz. If tawny Port is more your bag, reach for chocolate with nuts in it as it will really bring out the irresistible nuttiness of the tawny.

If we consider the same guideline, lighter chocolate would logically go well with lighter wines. This includes sweeter wines made from white grapes, like a French Sauternes. Wine writer Natalie McLean suggests trying that with chocolate that has some cream in it, like ganache-filled truffles. For milk chocolate lovers, you could try a Canadian Ice Wine. (It's called ice wine because the grapes are harvested while still frozen on the vine, which means the water inside the grapes is frozen solid and all that pours out when the grapes are crushed is a concentrated juice of sugars and acids.) If you'd rather enjoy a red wine with milk chocolate, you could reach for that Pinot Noir or a lighter-bodied Merlot. Just remember that because milk chocolate is sweeter than dark, the dry wine might end up tasting a little more bitter than it actually is. But hey, it's all about what tastes good to you. Not all palates are created equal, so what might be a heavenly match for some might be a train wreck for others. Experimentation is the name of the game!

(I personally really enjoy Dove chocolates. They're affordable and always satisfying, especially the red foil-wrapped dark chocolate. If you happen to agree, check out their site for their approach to pairing wine with their products.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

everything's better with bubbles!

So new year's eve has come and gone, but why not enjoy sparkling wine during the whole month of January? In fact, why not enjoy it all year long, like I do? For some wine lovers, the bubbly stuff is not their thing. For others, it is a love affair. It's not so much about the luxury or undeniable cache' of fine Champagne, although that certainly adds to the mystique. For me it's that sparkling wine is impressive to look at, from its pale golden color to the stream of tiny bubbles floating purposefully towards the surface. In an elegant Champagne flute, it is nothing short of beautiful. Let's not forget it's also fun to drink. The bubbles dance on my tongue, and how could that not make me happy? All around, sparkling wine just gives me a feel-good feeling.

Nothing compares to real Champagne, but we all know there's more to this category than just that. A lucky thing considering our current economic climate. Face it, times is tough! Just in case we have forgotten the bevy of bubbly alternatives out there, let's review.

Prosecco -- this is a classic accompaniment to mimosas, bellinis, and any other cocktail you would otherwise use Champagne for. A very refreshing sipper from Italy's Veneto region.

Cava -- Spain's answer to Champagne, at a mere fraction of the price. Lots of nice apple and pear and a touch of biscuity aroma. Very versatile and also comes in a lovely rose'. Literally a $10 purchase and you cannot go wrong.

Moscato d'Asti -- only faintly sparkling, this is a pleasantly sweet wine from the Piedmont region in Italy. It won't threaten your sobriety with its low alcohol content, and it goes swimmingly with those pretty fruit tarts you find in food store cases.

France isn't only in the business of producing the fancy stuff, mind you. Other regions also offer some attractive bubbles at even more attractive prices. Here are two examples:

Cremant d'Alsace -- Alsace is a fine white wine-producing region, and these wines are so yummy. How could you not love something with Riesling in the blend? If you run across one at the store, please buy it. If you buy more than one bottle but find you do not like it, please feel free to send one to me.

Blanquette de Limoux -- bubbly from a blend of Champagne and Chenin Blanc made in southern France. Those two grapes together = double the pleasure! Also buy if you find it, and also send to me if you have extras you're willing to part with.

I don't know about you, but all this talk about the fizzy stuff is making me wish it was Sunday morning with an entire day of very little to do stretching out ahead.