Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vino Novello aka Nouveau Wine

The change in the seasons brings not only wardrobe changes but also culinary changes.  And that is followed by different wine choices.
November brings the release of Nouveau wine or Vino Novello in Italian. 

While Beaujolais Nouveau is released on November 15th, Italian Vino Novello is released November 6th and cannot be bottled after December 31st.   

Beaujolais Nouveau is without a doubt the most famous of the nouveau style wines.  However, there are many wine regions that produce this wine and you can find it throughout all of Italy.  This isn’t your typical red wine.  It is light, fresh and fruity and made to be consumed young.  Ideally, shortly after its release.  This isn’t a wine you want to hang on to.
Vino novello is not made like traditional red wines.  The process used to make these wines is called Carbonic Maceration.  After the harvest, the grapes are placed whole (stems included) into a tank.  The oxygen is removed and CO2 is pumped in.  The yeasts that are found on the skins of the grapes travel into the grapes in search of oxygen and water.  This begins a fermentation process within the grape while at the same time, the weight of the grapes causes the bottom ones to break causing the resulting juice to begin to ferment.  After 7 – 9 days, the tank is opened and the traditional red wine making process begins with a light pressing of the grapes followed by another fermentation lasting 3 - 4 days.  It is bottled immediately without ageing.
The wine created by this process is light and very similar to fresh grapes.  Some wines have a sweet/tart quality reminiscent of red Jolly Rancher candies.  As it lacks tannins, you want to serve this wine chilled.  It isn’t a wine that appeals to everyone but like many wines the correct pairing can make all the difference.

So what exactly do you pair with this wine?  Roasted Chestnuts are my pick.  The wine works well with the chewy chestnut and cleans the palate.   Chestnuts have long been a staple in the Appennini areas of Italy.  They are often ground into flour and used to make desserts.  Tuscany, Liguria, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna all have variations of a chestnut flour cake.  In Tuscany, it’s called Castagnaccio.  Baldino, Ghirighio and Pattona are other names for this cake.  Chestnut flour, water, olive oil, pine nuts and raisins are combined to make a dough.  This is a typical autumn dessert.  In Tuscany, we top the cake with ricotta and chestnut honey.

In today’s gluten free world, this is a great dessert that everyone can eat.  And with a glass of Vino Novello, you may be starting your own Fall tradition.
Here's a recipe for Castagnaccio if you'd like to have a taste of Tuscany this Fall.
3 T sultana (golden) raisins
1/2 lb chestnut flour
2 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling the pan and drizzling on top
pinch of salt
4 t sugar
2 to 2 1/2 c cold water
3 T pine nuts
a few sprigs of rosemary
1. Soak the raisins for a few minutes in a small bowl with warm water.
2. Mix the chestnut flour, oil, salt, sugar, and water (I used 2 c, but you can add a little more according to your taste and the consistency of the batter).

3. Drain the raisins and mix them into the batter, along with the pine nuts.

4. Pour the batter into a greased 9" diameter pan, 2" deep. The batter will not rise during baking, so if you have a slightly different size pan on hand, that is fine too.

5. Sprinkle the rosemary sprigs over the top of the batter and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil.

6. Bake at 400 F for 1 hour. You'll know it is ready when the surface is covered with little cracks. Cool, turn out onto a plate, and enjoy!


Friday, June 8, 2012

The Wines of Ischia

Recently I spent a few days on the island of Ischia. Ischia is the largest island in the Gulf of Naples. It was settled around 700 BC and was one of the first settlements of the Magna Grecia. Due to the volcanic origins of the island, there are 29 thermal basins from which 103 springs derive. Viticulture has always existed here.

The rich volcanic soils, sunny days and marine breezes create a perfect environment for the vine. Just don’t expect to find varieties that you’re familiar with. Autochthonous grapes rule the island. The wines of Ischia were also some of the first in Italy to receive DOC recognition.

The main variety in Ischia Bianco is Biancolella. This is an ancient vine which, according to some, originated in Corsica where it is still cultivated and known as Petite Blanche. It was introduced to Ischia by the ancient Greek society Pithecusa and it adapted immediately to the growing conditions on the island. The other white variety found on the island is Forastera. The name suggests it is ‘from the forest’. Its origins are unclear and there are no mentions of this variety until about 1870. Along with Biancolella, it is a large part of Ischia Bianco DOC and can be also found on its own.

The island also has red varieties. Piedirosso or Pèr ‘e Palummo, also has ancient origins. Many feel that this is the same as the Colombina variety mentioned by Pliny the Elder. The variety gets its name from the color the stalks turn right before harvest, ‘red like the feet of a dove’. You find this variety throughout Campania in the DOC’s of Capri, Ischia Rosso, Costa D’Amalfi, Irpinia, Penisola Sorrentina, Sannio, Taburno and Vesuvio. The other red variety found on the island is Guarnaccia. While its exact origins are unknown, they are believed to also be of Greek origin and some feel it is related to Grenache. It is usually blended with Piedirosso in Ischia Rosso DOC.

Ischia wines are known for their bouquet. Oregano, rosemary, ginestra flower, wild fennel and wild herbs are some of the typical aromas of these wines. As one can imagine, a great deal of seafood is available on the island but one of the islands’ specialties is rabbit done Ischia style.

Stylistically, the wines are light and crisp. A perfect accompaniment to the local foods and the weather. While finding these wines outside of the area may be challenging, some producers to look for are Pietratorcia and D’Ambra. D’Ambra’s ‘Tenuta Frassitelli’ Biancolella and ‘Euposia’ Forastera are ones to look for.

If you find yourself touring the area, a few relaxing days in Ischia may be just what you need to recharge. I recommend some local wine and a large plate of peppered mussels (Impepata di Cozze) after a spa day. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Glassware Explained

When I was growing up, wine was always on our table and wine glasses were only used when company came over. Like many Italians, my father preferred drinking his wine in a water glass and my Italian relatives choose the same type of glass for their wine consumption. It’s the casual ‘trattoria’ approach.

While quaint and rustic, those glasses are not ideal for wines. Presentation, in food or drink, is part of the enjoyment and the correct glass enhances the appearance and bouquet of a beverage. While colored glasses are very pretty, they are not ideal for wine and are best used in other ways.

So what is the best wine glass?

The Riedel family has been producing glassware since the 18th Century and they have contributed immensely to the evolution of the wine glass. Claus Josef Riedel was the first to develop wine friendly stemware. Today’s clear, unadorned long-stemmed glasses were his vision. Prior to that, wine glasses were commonly made of cut, colored glass. He recognized that the bouquet, taste, balance and finish of wine were affected by the shape of the glass and a clear glass allowed you to properly examine the color of the wine. His son Georg Josef Riedel took it one step further and developed varietal specific wine glasses. Every grape variety has its own specific glass shape.

The shape and size of a glass helps to direct the wine to hit specific points on your tongue. For example, a highly tannic red wine with moderate acidity and a full-bodied white wine also with moderate acidity benefit from a glass which directs the wine to the centre of the tongue. In contrast, red wine that is of higher acidity and moderate tannins or a highly acidic white wine is best served in a glass that allows the wine to hit the tip of the tongue first. This action highlights the fruit component of the wine and balances out the high acidity. The other important factor in a wine glass is the rim. A cut rim is preferred to a rolled rim because it allows the wine to flow smoothly onto the tongue.

When wine is poured it immediately begins to evaporate and the aromas fill the glass in layers based on their density and specific gravity. By using this concept, glassware can be created to enhance the typical aromas of a grape varietal. The shape of the glass influences how you drink by forcing you to position your head in such a way that when the liquid flows it will hit specific taste zones of your palate. Glasses are an extension of the wine and should enhance its qualities not its faults.

Most of us don’t have the budget or the room to store wine glasses for every type of wine we drink. As a general rule of thumb, red wine in large glasses, white wine in medium size glasses, champagne flutes for champagne and small glasses for spirits. The small glass helps emphasize the fruit character by minimizing the alcohol impact. Never overfill a glass. Allow room for the aromas to gather. The recommended serving size for red wine is 4-5 oz, white wine 3 oz and spirits 1 oz.

A few years ago there was a trend toward wine glasses without stems. I personally am not a fan. You should never hold your glass by the bowl as you end up warming up your wine and changing its service temperature. Those do make lovely water glasses though. You should also never top up a wine glass. It is best to finish a glass of wine completely before refilling it. By adding new wine to wine that is already in the glass you are inadvertently creating a blend. For example, if you are serving a chilled wine, the wine in the glass is a different temperature than the one in the bottle. The new combination will result in a glass of wine that is not the ideal temperature. For a red, what is in the glass has opened and is different than what is in the bottle.

Admittedly, the differences are small but now that you’ve gone to all the trouble to find the perfect wine glass, might as well enjoy the perfect glass of wine.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Barolo Chinato - The Bartender's Bacon

Not long ago a bartender friend of mine approached me with a cocktail recipe he had come across. One of the ingredients was a wine that he was unfamiliar with and wanted to know if I knew what it was. The wine was Barolo Chinato.

Barolo Chinato is a digestive wine from the Piedmont region of Italy typically served after dinner. It is made by steeping the bark of the cinchona tree (quinine) in aged Barolo. Each producer then flavors the wine with his own blend of herbs such as cinnamon, mint, vanilla, coriander even iris flowers. To say that it is an acquired taste is a bit of an understatement. If you’ve ever had the Italian soda pop Chinotto, then you’ve got an idea as to the flavor of this wine.

I had never thought of using it as a cocktail ingredient but once presented with the idea I could see the potential. The difficulty however, is finding the wine outside of Italy.

Over the holidays I ended up with a less than ideal bottle of Prosecco. Not wanting it to go to waste, I added a splash of Barolo Chinato. That mediocre wine was made drinkable and an Italian version of the Champagne cocktail was born.

I was so thrilled with my discovery I immediately messaged my bartender friend. His reply……...It’s like Bartender’s Bacon. Goes with everything.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sicily - Etna DOC

Recently, I have seen an increased interest in Sicilian wines.  The terroir and the indigenous varietals of the area make for wines that are a nice change from the classic varietals.  I thought a bit of info about this wine region could help.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and it is surrounded by a series of smaller islands including those of Lipari and Pantelleria.  The island is mountainous, 80% of the land is covered by mountains and you can see Mt Etna from virtually everywhere.  There are active volcanoes found throughout the smaller islands with those of Ustica and Pantelleria being inactive.  Mt Etna was very active last year with a series of eruptions.

Viticulture has existed here since the 7th Century BC.  The Phoenicians were making wine here in the 8th and 9th Century BC.  Further developments came with the Greeks in the 3rd Century BC when Sicily’s port became the most important wine emporium of the Mediterranean.  After the phylloxera outbreak, most all the vines were replanted with approximately 43.5% of the vines being less than 20 years old.  Most of Sicily’s viticulture is concentrated on the West Coast in the province of Trapani and the climate is typically Mediterranean with little precipitation.  Sicily lacks lakes and major rivers.

Sicilian wines have seen an increase in popularity over the last 20 years thanks in part to the increase of quality wines being produced.  One of the areas which is seeing an increase of quality producers is the Etna DOC.  Some of the islands’ most important producers are here.  Tasca, Planeta, Duca di Salaparuta, and Firrato.  Notable producers from other regions of Italy (Tuscany being one) are also attracted to this area.  Its unique climatic conditions and volcanic soils result in wines that are vibrant and rich in personality.  The excellent 2008 vintage helped draw attention to this area and we are only now starting to see its potential.  Super Sicilians perhaps?

The Etna DOC is produced in the province of Catania which is on the Ionian Sea.  The vines grow on the Eastern Slopes of Mt Etna and its unique terroir is made up of old vines planted alberello style up to 1000 m (3,280 ft) in the volcanic soils surrounding the volcano.  These vines are exposed to strong thermal air exchanges as well as sea breezes.  There are some very interesting wines being produced here with elegant bouquets that result in wines that are almost more northern in style.  More fresh and fragrant than alcoholic and overripe.

The white wines are predominately made with the local grape Carricante.  This grape has Sicilian origins and its name derives from its abundant production.  Up until the end of the 1800’s this grape was cultivated throughout the island but now it is found mainly in the Catania area.  The wines are straw yellow in color and have a delicate floral bouquet.

The red wines are made with a combination of Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese.  The name Nerello derives from the color of the vine which is blackish.  Nero is the Italian word for black.  This very simple way of identifying vines dates back to the times of Pliny the Elder.

Nerello Cappuccio is so named because of the cap, like a hood, that would grow and hide the bunches from sight.  Cappuccio means hood in Italian.  This particular varietal isn’t often vinified on its own.  It is usually found as part of a blend with Nerello Mascalese.  If found on its own, it results in a light ruby red wine, high in alcohol and not excessively tannic.

Nerello Mascalese gets its name from its place of origin.  The varietal is at least 150 years old.  These vines are grown ‘alberello’ (small tree) as opposed to the more common vine training methods.  The reason for this is to help contain this vines vigor.  This varietal is used throughout the Etna area and can be found vinified as a white, rose’ as well as a traditional red wine.  The reds are an intense ruby red with a delicate nose with strong violet notes.

The white wines of Etna are the perfect accompaniment to seafood dishes while the reds work well with pastas, roasts, strong cheeses and all types of salamis.

I hope that this has inspired you to give the wines of Etna a try.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cortona DOC

The Cortona area of Tuscany landed on everyone's radar with the Frances Mayes book Under The Tuscan Sun.  Since then people have been flocking to the town and the surrounding area.

The Cortona DOC is located in the Tuscan province of Arezzo and more specifically in the Cortona commune (municipality/township).  In order for a wine to be labeled Cortona DOC, the grapes must come from this specific area of Tuscany and only certain varietals are allowed.  Besides Sangiovese, which is the red varietal found throughout Tuscany, Syrah has a huge presence in Cortona.

In a country with more indigenous varietals than any other, having an international varietal like Syrah as the backbone of a DOC is unusual.  The explanation however is very simple.  The Syrah vines have been in this area for centuries.  Long before the current wine law system.  French soldiers who had settled in this area brought the vines with them and those plantings thrived.  And along with Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  In fact, the wine laws recently changed to reflect that.  Not long ago the allowable varietals in the Cortona DOC (red) were Sangiovese 40-60% and Canaiolo Nero 10-30%.  Both traditional Tuscan varietals.  The current regulations are Syrah 50-60% and Merlot 10-20%.  If a varietal is stated on the label then the wine must contain at least 85% of that varietal.

The Syrah's from this area are really great examples of the varietal.  With red and black berries, chocolate, coffee and white pepper, plus nuances of spices, tar and tobacco. The difficulty will be finding them outside of Tuscany.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Wines of Lucca & Montecarlo

For the last 8 years, I've been splitting my time between Italy and Vancouver.  In Italy I live in Lucca which is in Tuscany.  I got my sommelier training there.  When studying as a Som in Italy, you need to know everything about Italian wines.  The region that I live in has 2 DOC rated wines.  Colline Lucchesi DOC ( the Lucchese hills) and Montecarlo DOC.

Montecarlo has a long history of quality wines.   The latin name for the Montcarlo area was Vivinaria or Vivinaia which means the wine road.  This referenced the road that crossed the Montecarlo hills.  Montecarlo was most famous for its white wines.  Between the 1400 – 1500’s, Montecarlo white wines commanded the highest prices in the Florence markets.  In 1408, Pope Gregory XII wanted only Montecarlo whites on his table and personally came to Montecarlo to taste the wines.
Montecarlo has been a DOC region since 1994.  It was one of the first DOC ‘s to allow International (French) varietals.  Trebbiano Toscano, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Vermentino and Roussanne are all allowed in the white blend while the reds can be made up of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Syrah, Malvasia, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The reason why the French varietals are permitted is simply that they have been here for hundreds of years.  During the Napoleonic period, French soldiers were predominant in the area.  Napoleon has ties to Lucca via his sister Elisa.  She settled in Lucca and was the one who brought the Magnolia tree to the area.  One of Lucca’s main gates, Porte Elisa, is named for her.  The soldiers brought with them vine cuttings and planted their favorite varietals in the area.  So, after existing for hundreds of years, it seemed right to allow them in the DOC.

The Colline Lucchesi DOC is more traditional.  Established in 1998, its wines are made up of more classic Tuscan varietals.  The whites may contain Trebbiano Toscano, Greco, Grechetto, Vermentino, Malvasia,  Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  While the reds are made up of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and up to 15% Merlot.
Trebbiano Toscano is the most common white varietal in Tuscany.  It is the same as Ugni Blanc which is used in Cognac production.  It isn’t the most noble varietal but it does produce a nice dry, crisp white wine.  Sangiovese is Tuscany’s most planted red.  Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti’s and Morellino di Scansano are all Sangiovese based wines.

In general, the wines from Montecarlo and Colline Lucchesi are meant to be drank young, especially the whites.  You can hold on to the reds for a couple of years if you want.  The whites are crisp with a nice level of acidity.  Perfect on a hot summer day.  The reds work well throughout the meal, from antipasto to steak.  They have an excellent quality to price ratio too.  The chances of finding these wines abroad are slim so it’s best to enjoy them while you’re visiting.

There is no better pairing to local food than local wine.