About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Osteria Lupa Romana

It has been a least a decade since I ate at Osteria Lupa Romana in NYC, which I believe is the second (Babbo was the first) of the Batali/Bastianch restaurants.  Wherever it falls in their hierarchy is of little consequence, what is important is that it is a terrific restaurant in my opinion. It offers the traditional Roman cuisine.  I enjoyed two or three visits when it opened more than a decade ago, which is why two recent visits had me asking myself, “Why have you stayed away so long?”  

A couple of weeks ago, Chambers Street Wines hosted a dinner there that featured the Nebbiolo based wines of Antonio Vallana e Figlio from the Alto Piemonte region of Northern Italy.  Giuseppina Vallana and her children Francis and Marina run the estate today.  Marina was on hand to discuss the wines.

Here Nebbiolo is called Spanna.  I love these wines.  They possess a wonderful terroir-filled bouquet with a beautifully balanced, medium-bodied palate and lengthy elegant finish.   They also represent some of the best bargains in quality wines to be found today.  They drink well early on, thus they can be enjoyed while you wait for your Barolo & Barbaresco to mature.  They also have the ability to age beautifully for many years.  If you are a Nebbiolo lover and have not had Vallana wines, you owe it to yourself to pick up a couple of bottles.  You will be glad you did. It has been said of Vallana that  "...Even if he had the same batches of grapes to work with, no other winemaker would end up with wines quite like his...” - Burton Anderson.

Before I detail the spectacular wines and incredible plates served at the dinner,  I would be remiss if I did not mention the glass of 2012 Morgante Bianco di Morgante I had at the bar before the event began. This is a Sicilian white wine that is vinified from red Nero D’Avolo grapes (this really surprised me).   The estate is located in Grotte in the Province of Agrigento.  The wine exhibited a soft golden yellow hue in the glass, clean fruit, and good acidity on the palate and a lovely finish.  A delicious wine.  Discovering new wines like this really add to the pleasure of enjoying wine.  $16 for this is an absolute steal.  Wine-Searcher.

With our first course, Carne Cruda (raw beef) with Smoked Cauliflower & Crispy Shallots we were served 2007 Vallana Boca DOC.   Terrific pairing.  Boca is a rare wine produced in a very tiny area of Alto Piemonte, around the village of Boca, on the eastern side of the River Sesia.  The wine is a traditional blend of native grape varieties: Nebbiolo (65-70%), Vespolina  and Uva Rara.   Marina explained, “Nebbiolo confers the structure and the aromatic background; Vespolina and Uva Rara add freshness and some interesting varietal notes”.  The varieties are hand picked separately, each one at its perfect ripening time.  Fermentation occurs in large cement tanks and the wines ages for 2 years in medium-large oak barrels. Another 1-2 years in bottle are necessary for the wine to start to develop it's potential.  Tonight’s wine was light-bodied with a most elegant nose and fruity and spicy notes on a smooth palate.  I loved the delicate finish. $28.  Wine-Searcher.

The first of two outstanding past courses, Fontina & Black Truffle Agnolotti, was served next along with 2011 Vallana Colline Novaresi Spanna DOC.  The Agnolotti were divine and without some restraint could become quite addictive.  

The Colline Novaresi DOC is 100% Spanna and the grapes come exclusively from the Colline Novaresi DOC, a growing area characterized by old vines and high altitudes. Vinification takes place in cement tanks in order to obtain a wine suitable for medium to long aging. The wine is released after two years of maturation.  Ruby red in color, the wine had an enticing bouquet of earth and soil, with a medium-bodied, focused and complex palate.  It finished with a refined excellence one does not expect in a wine that costs $15.  Wine-Searcher.  Average annual production is 3,000 cases.

The second pasta course, Orrechiette with Lamb Neck Ragu, was served with 2005 and 1998 Gattinara DOCG. The subtle richness of the dish made for an excellent pairing with the wines.  It has been said that Gattinara is the King of Alto Piemonte.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, the wine is produced only in the town of Gattinara, on the western side of the River Sesia.  In my opinion this is as close as one gets to traditional Barolo.  Vallana vinifies the wine in separately in large cement tanks before the final blending process and then ages the wine for at least 2 years in large oak barrels.  The estate recommends a few years additional aging in the bottle for the wine to fully develop its potential.

The 2005 is just beginning to enter its drinking window.  The enticing palate and impeccable balance, blossoming fruit, soft tannins and complexity on the palate provide insight into the pedigree here.  Tannins are soft and fruit is beginning to blossom.  This has all the makings of a blockbuster wine that will age for a few decades…and for the ridiculous price of $28 a bottle.  Wine-Searcher.

The 1998 was awesome and hitting on all cylinders.  I could not help but feel that this is what the 2005 will likely grow up to be. Simply put, a round and delicious with tons of soul!  Don’t think you will find this easily and if you do, expect to pay a handsome price.  Wine-Searcher lists a shop in the UK with a price tag of $400.

With the entrée, Braised Rabbit Leg with Green Olives & Swiss Chard, we drank 2010 “Cuvée Bernardo Vallana Spanna DOC.   This new addition to the estate is made in honor Bernardo Vallana, the founder of Vallana.  Spanna was his favorite wine. The wine is a blend from the best selection of Nebbiolo vines in Boca and Gattinara.   The wine exhibits a gorgeous translucent light red hue and a very soft and velvety palate. There is good acidity for aging, but this needs a few more years cellar time before it really shows its stuff.  $25.  Wine-Searcher.  I would be remiss if I did not mention how incredible the Braised Rabbit Leg was.  I really enjoy Rabbit, but this was off the charts.  I thought of the dish for days after.

With an amazing dessert, La Tur with Caramelized Pears, we got to taste the wine of the evening, 1958 “Castello Di Montalbano” Spanna DOC.  Let’s start with the dessert.  La Tur is a delicious soft, almost mousse-like cheese that consists of equal parts cow, goat and sheep milk.  Like the wine it comes from the Alto Piemonte area and is ripened for only 10 days to 2 weeks.  In addition to the pears, it was served with a thin sliced & toasted grain bread of some type.  It was a great combination. As for the wine, wow!  At 63 years of age, it displayed an amazing translucent red hue with nary a hit of bricking. The fruit was fresh and alive and tantalized the palate. Finished with great length and lots of elegance.

My hats off to Chambers Street Wines and Lupa for a wonderful evening of food and wine.

So inspired by the Vallana dinner, I returned last week to Lupa along with a couple of my wine group friends for lunch, one of whom is regular at the restaurant. He has always sung the praises of their pastas, and pehaps the most famous Roman dishes are the pastas.  Lupa offers a Roman Pasta Tasting Menu ($49) that features 5 signature pastas.  The entire table must participate in order to have this tasting, and I am happy to say, we eagerly agreed.

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.  Simplicity is the key to most great recipes, and this one is testimony to that premise.  Here homemade square spaghetti is tossed with olive oil, butter, Pecorino Romano Cheese and fresh, coarsely ground black pepper.  I had this dish on my first visit to the Eternal City 20 years ago and it instantly rekindled many fond memories.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.  Often called the Italian interpretation of Bacon and Eggs, this is another example of simple, quality ingredients coming together in harmony to provide a dinning experience.  In this dish the preferred cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is combined with sautéed Guanciale (pork jowl) or Pancetta and olive oil and then tossed with the pasta.  Off the heat beaten raw eggs are mixed into the Spaghetti and served.  True Carbonara DOES NOT INCLUDE CREAM. This was the real deal.  My one issue was that I would have preferred the Guanciale to have been cut up smaller and thus more of a part of the dish as to opposed to tending to dominate it.

Saltimbocca Ravioli.  Veal Saltimbocca is a classic Roman dish that combines tender veal scallopine, sage and proscuitto.  In this version, perfectly cooked homemade Ravioli are stuffed with seasoned ground veal and served in a sage butter sauce and topped with crispy fried prosciutto bits.  An absolute tour-de-force.

Pajata Finta.  Another classic Roman pasta, or so I have been told.  I never had this before, but you can bet I will be back at Lupa if for no other reason than to have this pasta.  For me, it was the best of the 5 remarkable pastas.  It is a sauce that is made with diced pieces of veal tripe and lamb sweetbreads. pancetta and tomato.  Rigatoni is added to the sauce, tossed and then served atop a dollop of fresh Ricotta Cheese. You mix it all together, take a bite and you are transported to culinary heaven.  The only thing missing was Dean Martin singing "On an Evening in Roma" as we savored this remarkable dish.

Bucatini All'Amatriciana.  Tomato sauce, pancetta or guanciale, olive oil, garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese combine to make what may be Rome's most famous pasta.  The addition of hot pepper seeds finishes the dish perfectly.  The classic version at Lupa is superb.

This is a remarkable bargain of good sized, perfectly prepared pasta for $49.  You even get lemon sorbet the cleanse the palate at the end of the meal.

As with all Bitali/Bastianch restaurants, Lupa has a good and reasonably priced wine list.  It was our intention to perhaps have a glass or two of wine with lunch.  That quickly evaporated with one sip of 2013 Principe Pallavicini Malvasia Puntinata from the Lazio terroir.  The wine is made from 100% Malvasia del Lazio, also called Malvasia Puntinata, which belongs to the aromatic Malvasia grape family, one the most ancient varieties cultivated in Italy.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 20 days at the controlled temperature of 16° C.  The wine is left to refine “on the lees in stainless steel tanks of 50 hl for 4-5 months and 1 month in the bottle before release.  The wine had a golden straw yellow hue with an clean crisp bouquet that was echoed on the palate.  The finish was delicate and quite lengthy.  $15.

We quickly drained the bottle and decided we would have one more bottle, a red this time.  Marc selected a 2001 Petterino Gattinara from the Alto Piedmont region of Italy.  I am very familiar with Petterino wines (have some in the cellar) and this bottle with 14 years of age on it was beautiful.  Made from 100% Nebbiolo, this is a superb example of traditionally made Nebbiolo. The terroir filled bouquet filled the nose with wonderful anticipation.  The palate was balanced, focused and complex. Tannins were soft as velvet and the wine finished with lengthy elegance.  Simply a round and delicious. $40.  Wine-Searcher.

This bottle went quickly also and so, what the heck, we asked the sommielier (forgot his name) for a recommendation to drink with the Bucatini.  He suggested  2012 Passopisciaro Scinniri IGT from the slopes of Sicily's Mt. Etna.  The wine is crafted by Andrea Franchetti who also owns the Tenuta di Trinoro estate in Tuscany. This wine, a blend of Nerollo Mascalase, Cesanese and Petit Verdot, is aged for 10 months in large oak, before being bottled.  The wine had a rich, masculine palate with good focus and depth.  A very nice wine.  $21.  Wine-Searcher.

If you live in or near NYC and have not been to Lupa, I suggest you consider giving a try.


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