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.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mangia e Beve in Italia

Carol and I recently returned from a ten-day vacation in Italy with our good friends Tony and Anita.  We visited the Amalfi coast, and a number of small hill towns in the Provinces of Avellino and Perugia.  It was a great trip.   
Our ten days were filled with terrific meals and delicious wines under absolutely gorgeous Italian skies.  As Tony likes to say, “Italy is a country in search of a bad meal”.  This trip did nothing to negate his comment. 

Our trip began with a four-night stay at the Palazzo Murat Hotel in the heart of Positano.  What a terrific and reasonably priced hotel this is.  Clean and spacious suites with a complete buffet breakfast for $330 Euro’s a night is indeed a bargain in this day and age.  

Positano is a gorgeous seaside hill town in the heart of the Amalfi Coast.  While it is a big tourist attraction, the restaurants do a magnificent job with fresh local seafood and pastas.  On this trip we revisited a number of our favorites.  At La Cambusa, one of the many beachfront ristorantes in Positano, we enjoyed an assortment of fried fish, eggplant parmigianno and spaghetti puttanesca.

Calamarata alla Calamarelle
Located directly below La Cambusa is Ristorante Le Tre Sorelle, my favorite restaurant in Positano.  Friendly and knowledgeable waiters serve up incredibly fresh seafood.  Highlights on this trip were Calamarata alla Calamarelle, pasta rings with local baby squid in a cherry tomato sauce; Spaghetti with basil and cherry tomatoesgrilled seafood and grilled langoustine.

Polpo Luciano
Also located on the beach and directly adjacent to Le Tre Sorelle is Ristorante Chez Black.  Once again the fish and pasta dishes here are exquisite.  Standout dishes included tender pieces of Polpo Luciano (octopus in a spicy tomato sauce) and Spaghetti with Fried Zucchini.

Whitefish Gratinata
Just a couple of hundred years to the left of Chez Black isCovo Dei Saraceni Ristorante. With food that is equal to the other restaurants we ate at, the wine list is one of the better lists in Positano.  Starters included Risotto with Lobster and Malfatti with Bacala e Porcini, followed by entrée selections of local Whitefish Gratinata and Risotto Frutti di Mare.  Each simply prepared dish was superb and tasted of the sea.  

No visit to Positano would be complete without diving into a plate of Spaghetti con Vongole at Buca Di Baco Ristorante.  Made with fresh baby clams and a hint of tomato, this may be the ultimate pasta with clam sauce on the planet.

Spaghetti con Vongole

We drank some absolutely delicious white wines that complimented our meals in Positano and were very kind to our wallets.  At about $20 a bottle Pieropan Soave 2010 is a crisp, fruity and delicious wine from the Veneto region of Italy.  A blend of Garganega and Trebbiano it is one of the better Soaves produced in Italy.  It is readily available in the states.

The Fiano grape is a white wine grape variety that is grown primarily in the Campania region of Italy.  A De Conciliis Fiano Donnaluna 2011 was wonderfully vibrant on the palate and went beautifully with the Polpo Luciano.  At about $20 a bottle, it is a bargain worth looking for. Try Italian Wine Merchants, NYC, DeVino, NYC and 56º Wine, Bernardsville, NJ.  

Another Fiano that we enjoyed was a bottle of 2010 Pietracupa Fiano Di Avellino.   It was wonderfully crisp and round on the palate.  Unfortunately, it does not seem to be available in the states.  

Most of my favorite Italian white wines come from Italy’s most North Eastern region of Friuli-Venezia.  On the border of Slovania, the wines from this region are simply stunning.  We enjoyed a number of them during this vacation beginning with a 2010 Schiopetto Colio Friuliano here in Positano.  This wine is made with 100% Tocai Fruiliano grapes and is fermented and fined in stainless steel.  It is crisp, fruity and has exhibits wonderful balance on the palate.  Good availability at about $25.  

A little further northwest is the Alto-Adige region of Italy, which also produces some wonderful wines, especially white wines such as Kerner.  We enjoyed a 2010 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner.  This bottle was round and elegant with a wonderful finish.  Abbazia Di Novacella is a monestary run by the order of St. Augustine.  The monks make all of the wine.  Finding it may take some time, but at $15 a bottle it is well worth the effort.  

As I alluded to previously, Positano wine lists are on the weak side, especially when it comes to red wines like Barolo. Conterno Fantino is one of the more modern style wine makers (he uses roto-fermentors and ages his wines in French Barrique) who’s wines I do enjoy.  The estate Conterno Fantino Barolo 2005 is a blend of grapes from his single vineyards that do not make it into the single vineyard wines.  The wine was okay but lacked the earthiness and complexity of more traditional Baroli.  At about $75 a bottle, I would pass on adding this to my cellar.  

Approximately 15 miles up the Amalfi coast is the picturesque town of Ravello.  It boasts a magnificent view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, is home to some of Italy’s most beautiful hand crafted pottery (yes we bought some) and has a number of good eating spots such as Cumpa Di Cosimo.  Run by “Mamma Netta”, the food is quite good and the service is friendly.  We filled our bellies with tomato and onion salad, Coniglio (rabbit) and sausage.  We washed our food down with a bottle of 2010 Episcopio Vigna S. Lorenzo.  This was a crisp and delicious local white wine made from grapes that I was not familiar with, Ravello Ginestrella, Pepella, St. Nicholas and Biancazita e Biancatenera.  I don’t think this is available in the US.  If you can find it, expect to pay about $10 -$12 a bottle. 

Ocone Giano Greco 2010 was another local white wine that we thoroughly enjoyed.  Made from the Greco grape it was crisp, vibrant, unoaked with good acidity and balance.  It was a nice compliment to our Pizza Margharita and Gnocci alla Sorrentino at Basilica Ristorante in Sorrento.  At about $15 a bottle, try it if you can find it.

Coniglio Cacciatore
Tony’s grandparents as well as mine come from the Province in Avellino, which is located about 40 miles east of Naples.  Our first stop was to my grandfather’s hometown of Melito Irpino, about 30 miles north of Avellino.  This was the first time I visited this tiny town.  Unfortunately I did not have any living relatives whom I could visit, so we did the next best thing, we stopped for lunch at one of the few restaurants in town, Matullo Trattoria-Pizzeria.  We were very glad we did.  Talk about a great meal at a fantastic bargain, we began with an enormous antipasto that consisted of a vegetable frittata, grilled zucchini, roasted hot & sweet peppers, prosciutto, homemade soprasatta, boccincino, basket ricotta cheese, mashed potatoes with porcini & prosciutto, grilled mortadella, fried mozzarella, potato croquets and baked fagioli (beans).  It was amazing and all for 10 Euros.  The antipasto was followed by an absolutely delicious Coniglo Cacciatore (rabbit cacciatore) for 6 Euros.  A carafe of local homemade Alianico red wine went perfect with both courses.  Alianico is the red grape of choice in the province.  This wine was young, had terrific pure fruit and was served with a slight chill.  It was delicious.  

The next day we visited Tony’s cousins in Santo Stefano de Sole Montevirgine in the suberbs of Avellino.  What a delightful day.  We really enjoyed meeting these wonderful people and in the tradition of genuine Italian hospitality we were treated to a feast at Sunday dinner with the entire family.  The meal was prepared by Tony’s 77 year old cousin Sina and it was “off-the-charts”.  We began with an antipasto of homemade soprasatta, salami and mozzarella.  And of course there were ripe plump figs from their fig trees.  This was followed by a fantastic homemade lasagna that I could have eaten all day long.  Homemade eggplant Parmesan that was moist, light and brimming with flavor; beef braciole and peas with prosciutto, followed the lasagna.  We tried to cry uncle, but to no avail as we were served medallions of stuffed Tacchino (turkey) in a savory gravy and complimented by roasted potatoes.  Everything was cooked in cousin Luigi’s enormous brick oven lending that old world authenticity to the entire meal.  Cousin Luigi’s homemade red wine, Alianico of course, from his current vintage complimented the meal to perfection.  The wine had young, vibrant fruit on the palate with a clean and delicious finish.  For dessert there was homemade Nocellino cake, Baba Rum cake and an assortment of grappas and other after dinner liquors.  Needless to say we left there with full bellies and even fuller smiles. 
Cousin Luigi's Oven
During our two-day visit to the area we stayed at the Hotel Serino in Serino, a lovely hotel with an accommodating staff and at 98 Euro a night, the bargain of the century.  We also dined in the hotel’s restaurant, Antica Osteria O’Calabrisuotto Serino.  Risotto with Castagne (chestnuts) and Asparagus, Fagiano (pheasant) roasted with tomatoes, veal scallopine and homemade Fussili al Forno made up a delicious meal.  We drank yet another Fiano di Avellino, Terradora 2010, with the meal.  It had a bracing acidity and impeccable balance.  $25.

I Capricci di Merion
Our final destination was the town of Tuoro sul Trasimeno in Umbria in the region of Umbria.  We camped out at the historic 9-room bed and breakfast villa I Capricci di Merion situated above beautiful Lago sul Trasimeno.  This was yet another great hotel that Tony sourced.  Our rooms were clean and spacious.  The staff was professional, pleasant and accommodating and the tariff was very reasonable.

Our dinner, with the exception of a delicious Pork Tenderloin bathed in an exquisite wine sauce, was not up to the traditional rustic dishes we had become accustomed to.  The cooking was more Nouvelle Cuisine.  We drank a bottle of Tabarrini Sagrantino Campo Alla Cerqua 2007.  The Sagrantino grape, native to this region, is one of my favorite red grapes from Italy.  It had a nice balance of fruit and spice, however was a bit tannic, suggesting it could use a few more years of bottle age.  About $50.

The next day we visited the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.  Magnificent!  We lunched in a local pizzeria, La Pasterisa, in the town of Perugia.  Here we drank a bottle of 2010 Forchir Ribolla Gialla.  From Fruili-Venezia the wine was crisp and round.  About $10.

Pici with Cingiale Ragu
We dined that evening at Osteria LaBucaccia in Cortona.   The restaurant is known for its Chianina beef and delicious pastas.  Pici is thick, hand-rolled pasta that looks like a fat spaghetti.  It is the traditional pasta of the region.  On this night I had it with Cinghiale (wild boar ragu).  It was magnificent and paved the way for our grilled Chianina beef, which was very tasty.  The wine list here was reasonably priced and well thought out.  We began with Isole e Olena Chardonnay 2010.  This is a great producer of artisanal wines from the Chianti region of Italy.  I have enjoyed his Chiantis on many occasions but this way first taste of his Chardonnay.  It had forward fruit and was crisp on the palate but a bit too much oak for me.  $50.  For red we thoroughly enjoyed a 2009 Salvioni Rosso di Montalcino.  Salvioni is one of the greatest producers of Brunello di Montalcino in Italy.  The rosso is also made from 100% Sangiovese grapes as is the Brunello, but does not see the aging time the Brunello sees.  It is bottled young for early drinking.  The wine had terrific purity, balance, complexity and a soft elegant finish.  $40.

Cappelli Ripiene
From here we were off to lunch at one of Tony’s favorite spots in the area, Siro Ristorante in Torgiano.   After the meal I could easily see why he felt that way.  We all ordered pasta and each dish was superb, but the Cappelli Ripiene, hat shaped pasta bundles stuffed with Scamorza (a cow's milk cheese similar to mozzarella) and eggplant in a fresh cherry tomato sauce, stole the show.  Each bite had you hurrying back for another forkful. Homemade Tagliatelle with a meat ragu and Papparadelle con Lepre (wild hare) also brought huge smiles to our face.  For wines we went with two whites, beginning with a delightful Lungoroti Grechetto 2010.  Made from the Grechetto grape which is one of the local grapes it showed young fruit, vibrancy and nice acidity.  At $7 Euros it was hard to pass up.  I also could not pass up the 2011 Elena Walch Pinot Grigio at $13 Euros.  Elena Walch is a rock star producer from the Alto Adige region of Italy.  Her wines are not easy to find, but widely sought after.  They are beautifully crafted wines.  Rich and fruity, they have a wonderful stony minerality that dances on the palate.

Bronzino alla Cartoccio
For dinner we dined at Ristorante Sottovento on Lago Trasimeno.  As you might expect be situated on a lake, fish is the real star here.  Pristinely fresh Crudo (raw fish) of salmon, tuna & shrimp, Fettucine di Mare, Scallop Gratinata, Lobster Risotto, Risotto with Sausage & Saffron and Bronzino alla Cartoccio (oven baked in a paper bag) made up our menu for the evening.  Each dish echoed the sea and brought huge grins to our faces.  Another Elena Walch white complimented the meal.  This time it was a Muller Thurgau 2011.  The Muller Thurgau grape is a cross between the Sylvaner and Reisling vines and is principally grown in Germany, Austria and the Alto Adige region of Italy.  It is a mild white wine that should be drunk young.   It pairs well with fish and is inexpensive.

Parslied Pasta w/ Vegetable Ragu
Our final meal of the trip was at La Badiaccia Restaurant in Castiglione del Lago. Great food and a spectacular wine list made for a wonderful end to a wonderful vacation. Highlights of the meal were Spaghetti Carbonara w/ black truffles (one of the best versions of this Roman classic I have ever had), homemade parsley imprinted pasta triangles in a vegetable ragu, and Birramesu, a take off of Tiramesu that uses Italian beer in place espresso.  Tony selected a local wine, Bianco del Cavaliere Grechetto di Todi 2010 while I chose a Gravner Breg Anfora  2005.  Made in large beeswax-lined clay amphorae, the wine is a blend Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling Italico, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.   I did not taste the Grechcetto, opting instead for the Gravner.  I have written about this wine in previous blogs.  It is spectacular.  It has a gorgeous orange hue, a compelling earthy bouquet and incredible purity.  This is a unique and quite special white wine that must be drunk at red wine temperature to be fully appreciated.  In fact the wine should be decanted for at least 4 hours before being served.  Once opened it can last for a month if re-corked and place back in your cellar or refrigerator.  It is not a wine for everyone.  You either love it or hate it.  On this evening I was only able to share the wine with Elisa, proprietor/sommelier.  We both enjoyed it immensely.  According to Elisa the 2005 vintage will be his last for Breg.  He will instead only make Ribolla Gialla in the amphorae going forward.  Available at Italian Wine Merchants, NYC for $90.

A rather long post, but it was a lengthy trip.  Needless to say we had a great time and were unable to find a bad meal or a bad wine (fortunately)!

Salut a tutti!

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