Monthly Archives: July 2010

Foja Tonda: a Great but Little Known Red Wine Grape

Foja Tonda

I pride myself on the fact that I have tasted or at least heard of every Italian grape variety imported into this country so you can imagine my surprise when I was invited by the Albino Armani winey to tasting and dinner at Mia Dona in NYC of a wine made from the Foja Tonda grape. Known as casetta and in the local dialect it is known as Foja Tonda.

Foja Tonda is Aged in Large Solvenian Oak Barrles

 At the tasting and dinner we were the guest of Egle Armani wife of the owner and wine maker Albino Armani. She was born in Calabria but after marrying Albino moved to the Val d’Adige (Adige Valley) and became more interested in wine.

The Valley


Egle told us that the Armani family history in the Adige Valley can be traced back to 1607. Today the winery has some 550 acres in the regions of Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli.  Her husband is concerned that the identity of the Val d’Adige was being lost to non indigenous grape varieties and has worked to restore some of the area’s most endangered and ancient varieties. In the 1980’s he discovered plantings of Foja Tonda (the dialect name–in Italian it is called casetta) in several Armani vineyards in the Southern part of the Val d’Adige. He petitioned the government to reinstate the varietal for cultivation in 2002. He has had great success with Foja Tonda, developing it from a few vines to 12 hectares.  Some of the older vines have their original roots.  Egle pointed out that this was very important to her husband to restore a grape that is so deeply entrenched in the winegrowing tradition and history of the region.  


The label reads Foja TondaCasetta I.G.T.- Rosso Vallagarina until 2007 when it became D.O.C. Terradeiforti.  Foja Tonda is indigenous to Vallagarina in the Adige Valley. The grapes that go into this wine come from the prized Terradeiforti region of the southern Adige Valley.The DOC does not allow the cultivation Foja Tonda outside of this area.  Armani owns 90% of all the vines currently planted within the Terradeiforti zone which makes it almost an exclusive Armani family DOC. It is cultivated in the areas around towns of Dolce, Ala and Avio.

The first wine we tasted was the 2007 Foja Tonda- Casetta D.O.C. Terradeiforti

The principal training systems are the Pergola Trentina and Guyot. The grapes are harvested by hand. Cold maceration took place over several days followed by a slow, temperature- controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks for 15 days. Egle said that this was done to retain the classical varietal fruit aromas and flavors. She also pointed out that the grape seeds were gently extracted from the bottom of the tanks in order not to disturb the skins. Following the primary fermentation a complete malolactic fermentation takes place.  Egle said this was to “soften the palate”. The “dry wine” was then racked, pressed and aged in large Slovenian oak barrels of 4,500 liters for one year and six months in bottle before release. $20



 We also tasted the 2006 Foja Tonda – Casetta I.G.T- Rosso Vallagarina $20 and the 2005 Foja Tonda- Casetta I.G.T.- Rosso Vallagarina.$20

The 2005

All three wines had aromas of cherries, spices, dry prunes, and an undertone of leather. They are well balanced wines with good acidity and a long finish and very pleasing aftertaste. They are wines that could be drunk now but I think they would become more complex with age. It was interesting to taste all three vintages together to see how they developed over the years. These are my kind of wines: they are terroir- driven. The winemaker has respect for the grape and of tradition.

They are excellent food wines and went very well with pasta with a meat sauce, game, cheese and the other dishes we had at Mia Dona.


Filed under Italian Red Wine

Durello- A Grape from the Veneto that makes Great Sparkling Wines

Monti Lessini Durello DOC Spumante and Passito

 In the Veneto, the little known Durello (also known as Durella) grape is used to make sparkling wines. I have tasted one or two before and liked them so on a visit to the region last December, I was hoping to taste some others.  But as luck would have it, none of the producers we visited made one.

 In May, I found myself in the Veneto once again.  To my surprise, Azienda Marcato one of the producers we were scheduled to visit, specialized in sparkling wines from this grape. They also made a Passito which I had never tasted.

Enrico Opening a Bottle of Spumante

The tasting and tour of the Marcato winery was led by Enrico, the son of the owner, who proved to be very enthusiastic and informative. When I told him I was interested in the sparkling Durello, he said he would let me taste all of their production. He told us that the most popular style is the Spumante and many feel it is the best expression of the DOC.

 The DOC for Durello was established in 1987 and covers an area high up in the hills on the border between the provinces of Verona and Vicenza, in the area known as the Monti Lessini. The production zone for Lessini Durello is of volcanic origin. The hills on which the vines grow are layers of rocks formed by lava flows. The soil is dark, stony and rich in minerals and fossil deposits. Geologically, the soil is of volcanic tuff basalt.

 There are 500 growers but only I0 of them actually bottle the wine. About 600.000 bottles of Lessini Durello are produced a year, mostly as sparkling wine made by the Charmat Method.

 The grape is of ancient autochthonic origin and fossils found in the area are said to be the direct ancestors of Vitis Vinifera.  Its vines are vigorous, disease resistant, and grow best in a soil composed of lime and clay of volcanic origin.  The clusters are medium sized, pyramid shaped (sometimes with wings) and compact.  The grapes have a thick and leathery skin (may be the reason for it name) and good acidity.

 Lessini Durello — The Spumante and the Passito must be 85% Durello and a maximum of 15% of Garganega, Trebbiano di Soave, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

 At the Marcato winery I tasted a number of sparkling wines made by the Charmat Method (tank) and the Traditional Method (Champagne Method).

  I Prandi Estate — is on the site of the Marcato winery located on the Il Duello Hill between the two small villages of Ronca and Montecchia di Corsara in the heart of the Soave Colli Scaligeri area and Lessini area. It is 30km from west of Vincenza and 30km east of Verona.


I Prandi-Lessani Durello Brut – Charmat Method – Pergola Veronese method of training the vines, all the grapes are from the Veneto region, Verona and the Alpone Valley. The wine is 85% Durello, 10% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Nero. It is soft pressed, temperature controlled fermentation at 14-16 C, malolatic fermentation is complete and then there is a secondary fermentation and the wine is on the lees for eight months. It has a straw yellow color with greenish tints, tiny bubbles and good acidity like all wines made from this grape.

 I Prandi – Lessani Durello Extra Dry Charmat Method – 85% Durello and 15% Chardonnay. It is on the lees for four months and the residual sugar is 18g/Lt The wine is straw colored, fruity and floral, yeasty and mineral.

These were two of the best sparkling wines I have tasted that use the Charmat Method.

 The Barattaro Estate is situated at the foot of the Lessini hills in the village of Montecchia di Corsara in the heart of the Alpone Valley area. It is 32 km east of Verona and 27 km west of Vicenza.


Lessini Durello “36 months” Traditional Brut Method – Made from 85% Durello and 10% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay. It is on the lees in the bottle for 36 months. It is yeasty with citrus fruit aromas and flavors.

 Lessini Durello 60 Mesi Traditional Method Brut 2003 – Made from 85% Durello and 15% Pinot Noir. It is on the lees for 60 months.  It has aromas of bread and yeast and a hint of almonds. 

We really enjoyed this wine

 Lessini Durello AR 2002 Traditional Method Brut. – Made from 85% Durello and 15% Pinot Noir.  At least 10 years on the lees. This is a very complex wine with aromas of fruit, acacia, yeast and honey. Enrico let us taste this wine and told us that it had not been released yet. I liked all three of these wines but was so impressed by the 2002 that Enrico gave me a bottle of the current release the AR 2000. I drank it with friends recently and everyone was surprised that this grape could make such a great sparkling wine.


Lessini Passito The Durello grapes are dried for four months. There is 24 to 36 hours of maceration and then a complete fermentation. It is aged in large oak barrels for two years and has a minimum alcohol of 14%.Enrico said that it is vinified in the same manner as Recioto di Soave. It had flavors and aromas of apricot, orange peel, hints of almonds and acacia with a nice finish and aftertaste.


Filed under Sparkling wine- Druello

Romano dei Romani-My Favorite Restaurants in Rome

Romano dei Romani
   Rome is my favorite city. Se fosse un uomo ricco abiterei a Roma — If I was a rich man I would live in Rome.  As if the magnificence of the city were not enough, the food also makes me want to return whenever I can.

Last September we rented an apartment on the Via Giulia in the heart of Rome and in walking distance of all but one of my favorite restaurants.

 Roman friends often recommend restaurants that they like. Usually these are not restaurants that serve traditional Roman food. I can understand this because they live there and can have Roman food whenever they want.  But the restaurants they want to send me to serve sushi, or put foamy sauces on the food, and generally work very hard to be very inventive. This would be fine if the flavors or the Italian ingredients came through but in most cases this is not so. The basis for all Italian food is freshness and simplicity, like traditional Rome cooking.   When I am there I eat the same things all the time.

Da Giggetto in the Jewish Quarter

  The only city I have been to more times and know better is New York and that is because I live there.  The routine the first afternoon we arrive in Rome does not change.  We drop off our bags and walk to restaurant Da Giggetto (39- 066861 105) at Portico D’Ottavia 12 A, in the Jewish ghetto.  This time it was a perfect sunny afternoon and the restaurant was crowded.  But we were able to sit outside facing the Tiber with a view of the synagogue.  I do not need to look at the menu because I always order the same things: fiori di zurcca ripieni con mozzarella e alici (small and crunchy but very good), carciofi alla giudia  (fried artichokes) and spaghetti con vongole veraci. The clams were small and tender with just the right amount of parsley, garlic, olive oil and a hint of hot pepper. Michele had il filetto di baccala (she loves the way the Romans fry) and the puntarelle in salsa d’ alici , her favorite salad. We sipped prosecco with our meal in the bright autumn sun.

La Campana

Michele likes La Campana, Vicolo Della Campana 18 (39-06-6867820), we arrived without a reservation and got the last table for two.  If you call even a few hours before you can always get a reservation except for Sunday lunch when many Roman families eat out. The fried stuffed zucchini flowers here were bigger than those at Da Giggetto with a different coating.  The mozzarella filling was rich and creamy with just the right amount of anchovy flavor. The roasted porcini could not have been better and the maiolino arrosto con patate was excellent. Michele always orders the puntarella con alici salad and said this one was very good. For dessert I had fragolini con limone and zucchero.

 We passed Pierliugi restaurant(39-06-6861 302) a few times as it is around the corner from the apartment and it looked very appealing with outside dining in the picturesque Piazza de’ Ricci 144. The restaurant that we wanted to go to for lunch the next day was closed, Michele said “let’s go to Pierliugi” It was still early so we made a reservation for 1:00 PM.  When we returned at that hour, there were many empty tables because Romans eat late. Never go to a restaurant before 12:30 for lunch or 8:00 for dinner. The restaurant might not be open and if they are you may be the only one there. Pierliugi did not fill till 2:00 and after 2: 30 the owner was still adding tables to the outdoor space. It had been a number of years since I had been here so I needed a menu. The waiter was very friendly and when he heard Michele point out that they had ricci di mare (sea urchin) to me, he made her repeat the translation a number of times. He said he had been trying for years to find out the English meaning and no one else could tell him.

We shared a Catalana Salad, with shrimp, seppie, potatoes, slivers of red onion, parsley, cherry tomato halves, rughetta and lots of extra virgin olive oil.  Michele loves this type of sea food salad and this was one of the best. Next I had pennone with alici ragu, a hint of hot pepper, a touch of tomato, fresh alici and a sprinkle of bread crumbs. I finished it all. They had scampi on the menu any way you like it.

 In some restaurants when you order scampi they serve you shrimp. I want langoustine. It is almost impossible to get them in America. The waiter assured me they were langoustine “proprio” and I ordered them grilled. They were perfect with a little olive oil drizzled over them!  As a side dish I ordered carciofi alla guida, they were crisp and crunchy, fried to perfection. They were the best I had in Rome. We drank Frascati Superiore 2008 from Casale Marchese which was very fruity. The wine list was interesting because under each wine was an explanation of how it was aged, in acciaio (steel), barriques (small oak barrels) or botti (large barrels). The waiter suggested a wine aged in barrique.  When I told him I did not like wine aged in barriques, it does not go with food, especially Italian food, he did not understand. I explained that it would be like him drinking a cappuccino after lunch or dinner. It was a running joke for the rest of the meal. This was one of the best fish meals I have ever had.

Il Matriciano

The first time I went to Il Matriciano ,( 39-06-32500364) Via dei Gracchi, 55, was in 1981. It is one of my two favorite restaurants in Rome. Over the years nothing has changed. It is a family run restaurant and one of the owners, a brother and sister, always has lunch at the same table.  We sat outside and the tables around us filled quickly.  As usual, I ordered zucchini flowers (I cannot get enough of them) to start. These were perfectly deep fried with a small amount of mozzarella and more than a hint of anchovies. I ordered the bucatini alla matriciana. Along with one or two others, this is the classic Roman pasta. Some places serve it with rigatoni but it is not the same. Then I had bucatini alla abbacchio (baby lamb) roasted with potatoes. It was cooked to perfection, moist with crisp skin. For desert I had tiny fragoline, wild strawberries, and gelato. The 2006 Aglianico from Feudi San Gregorio went very well with the pasta and the baby lamb. I consider this the perfect Roman meal. In the afternoon it is quiet and I have sometimes seen Italian T.V. stars eating here. At night the restaurant is the most Roman of Roman restaurants. Sometimes it looks like it a scene from the movie La Dolce Vita, full of Romans who all seem to know each other and are having a good time. On Sunday afternoon and at night it is best to make a reservation.


The" Drink Menu" at Obika

         A branch of this restaurant has opened in New York. It has only been open in Rome for a few years. Michele wanted to go there because they do a sampling of different Mozzarella di Buffala . They were from Salerno and Paestrum. Two were fresh, one smoked, and there was also ricotta and buratta. The one from Salerno was creamy with a touch of sweetness. The Paestrum was less creamy and more full flavored. The smoked was from Salerno , with a nice smoked flavor and a creamy inside. It was interesting tasting them side by side.

Falengina 2008 from Feudi San Gregorio was a perfect combination especially with the smoked Mozzarella. We also ordered a plate of prosciutto.

Checchino dal 1887

 At Checchino dal 1887 (, Via di Monte 31 Testaccio. Francesco Mariani takes care of the front of the house while his brother Elio is in the kitchen.  It is the best restaurant in Rome for both wine and food with over six hundred wines from Italy and all over the world. I always have long conversations with Francesco about Italian wine and which wine I should order with what I am eating.  This time he even remembered the wine I ordered when I was there two years ago. They no longer have any Fiorano Rosso or older vintages of Colle Picchione “Vigna dal Vassallo”. They did have a double magnum of the 1989 but there were only two of us so I did not order it. 

Many years ago we arrived in Rome and were planning to go by train to Genoa.  At the train station, we were told that there was a one day strike by the train workers, but there would be a train coming from the south.  It would stop in Rome at four and then on to Genoa before heading to Paris.  As it was only noon, what would we do for four hours!  We looked at each other and said “Checchino”.  We found a cab and arrived with all of our baggage.  When we explained the situation to Francesco, he quickly whisked the bags out of sight and said that he would call the station at 3:30.    We had a wonderful meal and were just finishing the last drop of caffe, when Francesco came running into the dining room.  “The train is arriving early,” he said, “there is no time for a taxi.”   We quickly threw everything into his car and raced to the station.  We jumped on the train as it was starting to move with Francesco handing up the luggage.  We never could have done it without him.   The train was packed and we stood all the way to Genoa, seven hours.

 This time I ordered the tasting menu because it had all of my favorite foods. I started with a tortino of eggs, peppers and tomato, this was followed by pasta alla Martricina (yes again).  It could not have been better.  Then rabbit (coniglio alla olive di Gaeta con rughetta and pomodoro) followed by torta de mele (apple tart). The Fiorano Semillon from Alberico Buoncompagni Ludovisi from the ‘70’s was listed as a dessert wine. I asked Franseco about this and he said that it was the nature of the Semillon grape and the way in which they were made. The same wine is being sold in New York as a dry table wine. I always found these wines to be a little oxidized which I believe ads to their charm. Francesco recommended the1975. It worked great with the torta.  

 Testaccio, where the restaurant is located, is where the slaughter houses of Rome used to be and the vaccinari  (slaughterers) and the scorichini (tanners) once lived. Checchino has many specialties based on “innards” that cannot be found anywhere else.  Its specialties include: coda alla vaccinara, abbacchio alla cacciatore, la trippa, bucatini alla gricia, rigatoni con la pajata, and bue garofolata which is a recipe developed and owned by the restaurant.  

Checchino is a member of L’ Unione di Ristoranti del Buon Ricordo, a group of restaurants that give you a plate if you order their signature dish or tasting menu.  We have almost 100 of these plates and six are from Checchino.

Osteria da Giovanni Ar Galletto

Osteria da Giovanni Ar Galletto ,Piazza Farnese 102 (39-06-686-1714) located in a corner of the Piazza Farnese.  It is cozy inside but the view from the tables outside is more interesting.  If you get the right table, you can face the fountain in the middle of the piazza along with the French embassy where the second act of the opera Tosca by Puccini takes place.  We always try to sit outside but this time it was too chilly so we went inside.

I started with the usual, zucchini flowers followed by pasta all’amatriciana and then abbacchio scottadita, grilled baby lamb with a touch of rosemary. I believe they are the best in Rome. Michele had penne all’ arrabbiata and the baby lamb. They have two menus one is piatti pronti (prepared dishes, maialino or abbacchio del forno) and piatti dei giorno. I always order from the piatti dei giorno menu. They have pajata di vitello (calves intestines) but I will have that next time. The owner is a man of a certain age, with a large gray mustache and walks around the restaurant making sure everything is going right. His wife sits behind the counter watching him and everything else. For desert we both had fragoline con gelato.

 These are my favorite restaurants in Rome the ones that I return to time and time again. At the moment I am making plans to return to Rome in September. 






Filed under Italian Restaurants, Rome

Fiorano Rosso ” The Noblest Roman of Them All”

Fiorano Rosso: Wine Made by a Prince Fit for a King


            When in Rome, I go to wine stores looking for a very rare and special wine, Fiorano Rosso.  I make the rounds of stores like Trimani, Enoteca Cavour, etc., and ask if they have anyThe answer is always the same, “not any more”. 

About ten years ago I got lucky and found the 1991 vintage at Trimani. I brought as much as I could carry. One of my favorite restaurants, Checchino dal 1887, had vintages going back to 1961 but I guess I drank them all!  For a very brief time, the 1982 was imported into the United States.

Once I found three cases of the 1971 at auction. I do not have any more 1971 or 1982 left. However I gave a 1971 away because it was the wedding anniversary year of very good friends. They still have the bottle and I am trying to get them to open it for me. I will be in Rome again in September but have little hope of finding any more Fiorano Rosso.

            Every two weeks for the last few years I would go to the internet and type in the word Fiorano. The response would always be the same.  Two Fiorano Bianco’s were available, one made from Malvasa Candia and the other from Semillon.  They are easy to get — but the red that was a different story. I kept on searching  and to my amazement found a store that listed the Fiorano Rosso ,the 1992 and 1994 vintages.  I called the wine store and the salesperson gave me the third degree, wanting to know if I was familiar with the wine because it was “very particular”?   I told her that I have been drinking the Fiorano Rosso since 1981 and was familiar with vintages as old as 1961.  I asked how many bottles were available and said I would take all of them. However there was a problem, they did not know when the wines would arrive. Finally six months later they called and said the wine had arrived. For some reason I only could purchase 14 bottles.

Fiorano Rosso


             Often I am asked if I have a favorite wine. This is a very difficult question to answer, because with different foods and at different times I like different wines. However if I really had to name one it would be Fiorano Rosso. It is a wine made by a prince and fit for a king. This is a full bodied wine with great depth. The flavors and aromas of leather and cherry dominate making it a unique drinking experience.

The wine was made by Alberigo Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di Venosa with merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes.  Burton Anderson, in his landmark Italian wine book Vino, called Fiorano Rosso the noblest Roman of them all”.  The Prince’s few aces of vines are planted along the Appian Way about 20 kilometers southwest of the center of Rome and almost right next to Roman’s second airport, Ciampino. It is the best cabernet/merlot blend made it Italy and one of the best in the world!  In my opinion–and I am in the minority here–one of the best places in the world to grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is in Lazio close to Rome.

            The Boncompagni Ludovisi family is one of the oldest in Rome and includes a pope (Gregorio X111 who was born Ugo Boncompagni).  When it comes to wine the Prince goes his own way.  He is a traditionalist and may have been one of the first to practice organic farming.  Marchese Piero Antnori of Tuscan wine fame is the Prince’s son-in-law, but unfortunately, they not get along.  The Prince said he would destroy all his vines rather than see Piero get hold of them.  I do not think he likes the modern methods that Piero uses to make Antinori wine.  When the Prince was asked if he would save the vines for his grandchildren, he said that they learned about wine from their father, Piero, and not from him.  The prince’s wine consultant was the late Tancredi Biondi-Santi, also a traditionalist, of Brunello fame.   The Prince has a passion for his vines and his wines and does not give interviews.  Even the late Luigi Veronelli, the dean or Italian wine writers, had a very difficult time with him.

      Eric Asimov, The New York Times wine columnist, went to Rome and tasted the Fiorano white wines, which he liked very much.  He wrote an article about them, “An Italian Prince and His Magic Cellar” (Dec. 22 2004).   I enjoyed reading the article and also like the white wines.  Not long after the article was printed, I was invited to taste wines at The Times with Mr. Asimov.  I told him that I had three vintages of the red Fiorano from 1991, 1989 and 1986. He was very interested so I invited him for dinner.  It took four years and finally  he came to dinner. Michele made lasagna from the town of Anagni just south of Rome; followed by lamb shanks (The recipe is available in her book, The Italian Slow Cooker.)  We also drank the 1990 Torre Ercolana from Cantina Colacicchi in Anagni, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a local grape, Affilan Cesanese.  This wine is only available at the Trimani wine store in Rome.  The main course was a simple roast lamb, a perfect combination with the Fiorano. This was the first of three dinners over the next two years.

Fiornao Rosso and "friends" at the dinner in March 2010

            Sadly, the prince stopped making wine commercially in 1995 because of his age and that of the vines. When I ask friends in the wine business in Rome about what has happened, they tell me that the property is so close to Rome that there might be pressure to build condos.

            Some wine writers have compared Fiorano Rosso to Bordeaux and others to Sassicaia.  I can see the comparison to great old style Bordeaux but not to Sassicaia. Fiorano Rosso was made with great passion and with no concern for the opinion of wine writers, the wine market, or economics.  It is a traditional wine which brings out the terroir and the true character of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. 

There is mixed opinion on which is the better wine the white or the red.  A few years ago, the prince sold off 14,000 bottles of his white wine but none of his red. When he pulled out his vines he only left a small amount of Cabernet and Merlot. Which wines do you think the prince preferred!?

Fiorano and "friends" and the first dinner

          Last year I was invited to Montefalco for a tasting of Sagrantino.  Wine writers and buyers from all over the world attended the event. At dinner the first night, I was talking to a gentleman from Holland and he mentioned Fiorano Rosso and was surprised when he heard that I know about it. He had never tasted it but had read Sheldon Wasserman’s book Italy’s Noble Red Wines.  After a long discussion he mentioned that he had two bottles and would send me one. I could not believe my ears. The difficult was that he could not send it to the United States. I told him I would be in Italy in Dec. and he could send it to the hotel. He was as good as his word and a bottle of 1967 Fiorano Rosso showed up at the hotel.

        A few months ago I was in La Pizza Fresca in Manhattan and I began talking to a man and his wife who were customers of a wine store where I had once worked. He said that he read my articles and that he had a few bottles of Fiorano Rosso. I said we should have dinner together and asked him for his card. He did not have any with him, so I gave him mine and told him to contact me. So far he has not. So if you read this, please contact me so we can have dinner and drink Fiorano Rosso together.


Filed under Italian Red Wine