Monthly Archives: June 2012

Eating and Drinking Along the Costiera Amalfitana

Our first stop on the Costiera Amalfitana was Sorrento. Michele wanted to stay in Sorrento because there were a number of restaurants that she wanted to go to that could be reached by bus or by the Circumvesuviana, the train that goes from Sorrento to Naples.

Ricotta Ravioli

Before heading into the countryside, we tried a few restaurants in Sorrento.  Walking down the steps to the restaurants Il Buco di Giuseppe Aversa you notice the little platforms or terraces on different levels where you can dine. Since it was a nice night we decided to have dinner outdoors on one of the terraces.

The waiter spoke English and told us that during the winter months he worked in Florida. He gave us the English menu but we told him we wanted the Italian one since we did not understand the description of the dishes in English!

The food was a combination of traditional and innovative based on local ingredients. Two dishes that stood out: ricotta ravioli with a hint of lemon on a bed of escarole with an octopus ragu. The other was paccheri di Gragnano, large tubes of dried pasta with tomatoes, mozzarella and escarole.  Michele loved the tomato and fennel breadsticks, the escarole bread and the focaccia.

Paccheri di Gragano

They have an extensive wine list and we drank the  Pietramarina Etna Bianco Superiore DOCG 2008 from Benanti made from 100% Carracanti.

Restaurant La Basilica is a traditional style restaurant with a very good wine list. The dishes that stood out where the octopus in tomato sauce, the fried fish mixed grill and the grilled langoustine-some of the best I have had in Italy.

We drank the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC 2004 100% Trebbiano from Eduardo Valentini. It was 50 Euros, which is less than retail in NYC. The outside tables are on either side of a narrow street so there are always people walking past you. This can add to the charm as can the guitar player and singer, who was very good.

The Franco

Da Franco Pizzeria was recommended to us for pizza.  I ordered a Pizza Margarita, which was not very good. Michele ordered the Saltimbocca Franco- a sandwich made from pizza dough stuffed with melted mozzarella, tomato, prosciutto, and rughetta. It was terrific. We went back again and this time both of us ordered the Da Franco- Michele really liked it!

Our first trip out of town was to restaurant Antico Franceschiello in Messa Lubrense.  The bus ride to the town was only 20 minutes but when we were on our way there we were not sure if the restaurant was in the town of out of town. When we arrived in town we went to the tourist office and were told that the restaurant was almost 2kl in the direction of Sorrento and there would not be another bus for some time. It was a nice day so we decided to walk.

In the restaurant we sat at a corner table overlooking a lemon orchard with a fabulous view of Vesuvius and Capri.

The wine we drank was a Bianco Terra del Volturio IGP 2010 called 3-tre, punto trentatre 33(3.33). It is 100% Pellagrello Bianco and the producer is Tenuta Pezza Pane.  3.33 refers to the bushel, the ancient unit of measurement used in agriculture in the province of Caserta corresponding to 3.33 sq. ft.

We liked everything here especially the pasta with squid ink, the roasted peppers with eggplant filling–Michele said it was just like her grand mother’s only lighter–and the octopus with marinated artichokes.

One of the restaurants she wanted to go to was Lo Stuzzichino in Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi about a 30-minute ride by bus. We knew this restaurant was in the town and it was easy to locate.

The owner of the restaurant is Domenico (Mimmo) De Gregorio and he is also the sommelier. In the kitchen are his father Paolo, his mother Filomena and his wife Dora. Often when Mimmo was shouting an order to the kitchen he would holler “Mamma”.  It is a true family restaurant.


One of the dishes that stood out was the ravioli, some were made with cows milk ricotta and others with sheep milk ricotta and it was easy to tell the difference. The last course was a fillet of pezzogna and it just about knocked me over. It was the best fish fillet that I have had in years.

He suggested a Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2011 from  Vadiaperti. It was a full-bodied wine but it needed more time and did not open up until the end of the meal.

After lunch Mimmo and I had a long conversation about the wines of the area. He asked me if I have ever had wine made from the Caprettone or Catalanesca grapes and said they were cultivated in the heart of Mount Vesuvio. When I said that I hadn’t, he gave me a bottle of wine from Società Agricola Cantine Olivella. It was a Vesuvio Bianco DOC 2011 and it is made from the Caprettone grape. The name of the wine is Emblema.

I had never heard of either the winery or the grape variety.

Back in Sorrento I tried the wine again and I liked it. In a wine store I found another wine made from the Catalanesca grape from the same producer and it was only 9 Euros. More on these wines in another article.

Michele wanted to go to restaurant Torre del Saracino in Vico Equense. We had met the chef, Gennaro Esposito, in NYC when he was doing a demonstration and we liked the food. This time we called the restaurant and they told us to get off the circumversuviana the stop before Vico Equense and they would drive us down to the restaurant, which is on the beach.

The Pasta

This is a charming modern restaurant with excellent service and a great wine list. Michele liked the Pellagrello Bianco from Tenuta Pezza Paneso much that we ordered it again.

Fried Anchovies

We left the menu up to the chef and what followed was a wonderful 12-course lunch. Some of the dishes were: paccheri with fried anchovies on a sweet and sour onion sauce, scabbard fish alla parmigiana, pea soup with one ricotta dumpling, a lemon raviolo and with raw shrimp and lightly cooked calamari, and his famous fish soup with 10 pastas which we had in NYC.  The highlight of this great meal might have been the grilled monkfish and foie gras with lettuce, celery leaves and lemon cream sauce. The wine that they served with this course was a sweet wine the Muffato della Sala Umbria IGT 2007 from Marchesi Antinori made from 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Grechetto, Traminer and Riesling.

When I complimented the sommelier on the pairing he gave me two official looking papers to sign stating that I liked the combination! There were a number of desserts including a chocolate mold with mandarin and ricotta filling. To top it all off there was a chocolate cart with many different kinds of chocolate to try.

It was a fitting end to our stay in Sorrento and we were looked forward to our stay in Praiano, which is between Positano and Amalfi.



Filed under Amalifi Coast, Da Franco Pizzeria- Sorrento, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Lo Stuzzichino- Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi, Restaurant Antico Franceschiello, Restaurant Il Buco- Sorrento, Restaurant La Basilica- Sorrento, Restaurant Torre del Saracino- Vico Equense, Sorrento

Chianti Classico Revamps the Denomination

Following is a press release from the ChiantiClassico Consortium-they will have a new category of Chianti Classico

An historic day for the Black Rooster: today the assembly of consortium members met in Tavarnelle and by a wide majority approved the measures proposed by the board of directors to revamp the denomination, valorizing the Riserva with new production rules and creating a new category of Chianti Classico at the top of the quality pyramid. After an extraordinary restyling, the Black Rooster will exit the state seal to increase its visibility.

Big news also for sales of bulk wine.

Says president Pallanti: “I end my term with great results. An overhaul aimed at re-launching this prestigious denomination, definitely veered towards great quality”.

In a general assembly with the biggest participation in the past 30 years, Chianti Classico Wine Consortium members this morning approved a set of measures marking an historic turning point for the Black Rooster DOCG.

The changes to production regulations were proposed to the assembly after more than two years’ work by the consortium’s board of directors, with help from outside experts, and discussed with members in a number of preparatory meetings and assemblies in recent months. The changes approved concern various stages in the production chain, from actual winemaking to brand communication, and in detail:

Qualitative pyramid: approval was given to the proposal to create a summit for the Chianti Classico qualitative pyramid, which currently goes on the market in two different types: “vintage” and “reserve”.

This new kind of Chianti Classico, whose name the assembly will define in coming months, will exclusively denote the Chianti Classico wines made from grapes grown solely by the pertinent winery. So there will be no percentage of grapes grown by or wines made by other wineries.

As concerns the maturation period, the regulations foreseen for this type aim at product excellence; in fact, this new category of Chianti Classico can be marketed only 30 months from grape harvesting, three of which spent in the bottle as for the Riserva, whose maturation period remains two years (12 months for the vintage wine).

New “Riserva”: Even the Riserva, which accounts for 30% of the amount produced and 40% of the denomination’s value, was involved in the revamping. While the maturation period remains unchanged, the new fact is that the vintner has to declare wine destination (year’s vintage; Riserva; new category) when applying for certification. Thus, the producer makes a more conscientious decision, in the production stage already deciding which grapes should be destined for the various types.

Black Rooster restyling: the trademark that since 2005 represents the entire denomination and that since then has been present on the state neckband for all producers of Chianti Classico (whether belonging to the consortium or not) will be graphically restyled to make it still more outstanding on every bottle of Chianti Classico. Precisely from this standpoint there will be a new positioning of the trademark: the Black Rooster will no longer be on the governmental seal but on the neck of the bottle.

“I’m pleased to have finished my term as president with this important result”, says Marco Pallanti, the consortium’s outgoing president, “I’ve been working with the board for a long time to find the biggest consensus from members about these changes. Endeavors aimed at having the consumer perceive the higher quality that our wines have achieved in recent years, enabling us to face future challenges with a set of regulations able to make Chianti Classico stronger with regard to growing international competition. Even the assembly’s ruling on bulk wine, which now has to be certified before being marketed, should be interpreted from this standpoint. I thank the board of directors for their help in these difficult years of being president of one of the world’s most important tutelary consortiums. And I thank all consortium members for having upheld and understood the great efforts the board of directors made in this revamping project”.






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Visiting Donna Chiara

We were planning to spend a few weeks on the Amalfi coast. This was going to be part vacation and part work as Michele was doing research for a new book.

Illaria Petitto

I had not planned to visit any wineries on this trip, but as we were about to leave I received an e-mail from Tom Hyland, a friend and fellow wine writer. He also was going to be in Campania, but unfortunately we would miss him by two days. Tom mentioned to Illaria Petitto, whose family owns the Donna Chiara Winery that I was going to be in the area. I had met Illaria and tasted the Donna Chiara wines in New York and I liked them very much.  Illaria invited us to visit the winery, less than hour’s drive from Sorrento where I was staying. She offered to send a car for us, introduce me to the winemaker, and her mother would prepare lunch for us. It was an offer that I could not refuse.

Ilaria showed us around the winery, which is located in Montefalcione in the Irpinia area near Avellino.  The modern building is set on a hilltop in an area of rolling hills.

Angelo Valentino

Winemaker Angelo Valentino arrived and I told him that the Donna Chiara whites were some of the best I have tasted from this area. He said that all of them are made in the same way. The juice was free run and fermented and aged in stainless steel. Malolactic fermentation does not take place. Angelo believes that most white wines are consumed too young. He feels that they should be at least 3 years old because in the first year or so all you get are the aromas and taste of the fermentation process.

Ilaria’s mother Chiara Petitto joined us and told us that the winery was dedicated to her grandmother Chiara, a noble woman born in 1883.

We tasted the wines with Angelo and Ilaria as Chiara began to prepare lunch

The white wines

Coda di Volpe DOC- DOP 2011 made from 100% Coda di Volpe. The wine had been bottled just 8 days before. Angelo said that this is a different variety of Coda di Volpe than is used in other areas and has more body. The soil is mostly clay and the training system is Guyot. There are 2,500 plants per hectare. This is a wine with good structure, hints of citrus and herbs. There is good acidity, nice minerality, long finish and pleasing aftertaste.

We tasted two Beneventano Falanghina IGTside by side: The 2011 and the 2009. Both are made from 100% Falanghina. The grapes come from vineyards that they rent in Benevento. The soil is chalky clay, there are 2,500 vines per hectare and the training system is Guyot. The grapes were picked at the height of maturity.

2011 and 2009 Falanghina

Angelo wanted us to taste the wines side-by-side so we could see how the wine has developed with a few years of bottle age.  He said that they were very good vintages. The color of the wine had changed and so did the flavors and aromas. The 2009 was more developed, its aromas and flavors of citrus fruit with hints of apricot and pear were riper and easier to identify. I had to agree with Angelo, I would rather drink the 2009.

Greco di Tufo 2011 DOCG 100% Greco di Tufo The soil is Tuffaceous and the training system is Guyot. There are 3,300 plants per hectare and the harvest takes place during the second week of October. Angelo said that the grapes come from highly rated vineyards. This is a wine that needs at least 5 or 6 years of bottle age before it is ready to drink, he remarked. I mentioned that about ten years ago I was given 2 cases of Greco and Fiano that were more than 20 years old. Most were in very good condition. At a wine class I once gave I opened a 1983 Greco and a 2003 Greco from the same producer and it was difficult to tell which was the older wine!

We tasted 3 vintages of the Fiano di Avelliano DOCG 2009, 2010 and 2011. 100% Fiano di Avelliano. The soil is chalky clay and the training system is Guyot. There are 4.400 vines per hectare and the harvest takes place during the second week of October. One could see the development of the wines from the different vintages. This was a wine with good structure and body. There were floral notes, aromas as flavors of citrus fruits and good acidity. There was a hint of smoke and it really become noticeable in the 2009.

The current vintage of their white wines on the market is the 2009.

We then tasted barrel samples of two wines, a Greco and Fiano, which they made for the first time.

Ilaria said that her father Umberto had planted the Greco di Tufo grape in Torre le Nocella, which is not in the DOCG zone. He felt that this area would produce a Greco of great quality. It is a single vineyard (cru) and will be called Vigna Nascosta, which means hidden vineyard.

The Fiano is a cru form a single vineyard in Montefalcione and will be called Esoterico.

Angelo explained that both these wines would be different from their other white wines. Both of these will be fermented and aged in new barriques.

The new Fiano and Greco

The Fiano looked and tasted liked it had completed the fermentation process but the Greco looked and tasted like it had a ways to go. They were both barrel samples.

The Donna Chiara wines are released later than other wineries, the current vintage being 2009. When I asked Angelo when these two new wines would be released his answer was, when they are ready.


After the tasting, we enjoyed the wines with the excellent luncheon Chiara had prepared for us, including local cheeses, porcini ravioli with tomato sauce and baked orrecchette with mozzarella, and stracetti – strips of beef sautéed with arugula and lemon.


Filed under Avellino, Coda di Volpe, Donna Chiara Winery, Falanghina, Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine

Tasting Chianti’s Past


One of the members of my wine group is going on a retreat where he will be spending four months in total silence and will not be able to drink any wine.  Before leaving, he wanted to try some older vintages of Ruffino that he had just purchased so we put together a group of six to have the wines with dinner at The Leopard at Café des Artistes. This group does not taste wine but drinks it with dinner or lunch.

The wines we drank were made from 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia and Trebbiano and 5% Colorino, Ciliegiolo and Cabernet.  All of the wines included white grapes, Malvasia and Trebbiano, and all of them were made by using the governo method. The governo method, once common in Tuscany, is a secondary fermentation created by the addition of dried grapes 10-15%, or the must of dried or concentrated grapes.  Colorino was usually the grape of choice to be dried.

Ask almost any producer in Chianti today and they will tell you that wines made with white grapes and the governo method and aged in large Slavonia botti will not age! It is more difficult to make wine in this way. It is much easier to add 20% of an international grape variety and age the wine in barriques. But you will not have a better wine, you will have a “baby super Tuscan” and as we all know the only real super Tuscans were Michelangelo and Leonardo Di Vinci.

As far as I know Querciavalli is the only Chianti Classico producer that still uses the governo method for their Chianti.

The best gapes from Ruffino’s vineyard were used for the Riserva Ducale, which spent at least three years in large oak casks. The Riserva Gold Label is a selection of the lots of the best vintages of the Riserva Ducale.

The Riserva Ducale was first produced in 1927.  The first release of the Riserva Ducale Ora was in 1947. They are the only wines that have the word Riserva as part of the wine’s name.

When these wines were produced Ruffino was the largest producer of Chianti “Classico” (the 1958 just has Chianti on the label) and had the greatest holdings in the area –1200 hectares, 230 covered with vineyards.

A few years ago a friend came over for dinner and brought with him a bottle of Riserva Ducale Ora. He wanted us to taste it and guess the vintage. Everyone there was involved with wine and had experience with older Chianti. Someone guessed 1990, another 1982, another 1958 – not because it looked or tasted old but because 1958 was a great year. We were all wrong — the wine was the 1947. The wine was 57 years old at the time.

Wasserman in his classic book “The Noble Red Wines of Italy” wrote of the 1947 Gold Label, which he tasted in 1983, “Brilliant, tawny robe with orange edge, lovely, almost Claretlike bouquet, persistent and expansive, toasty with a touch of blueberry, refined, a mouthful of wine, lots of class, a classic.”  He gave it four stars, his highest rating.

Recently I had the opportunity to drink with lunch the 1947 on two different occasions. The wine on both occasions was showing a bit more age than it did 8 years ago but did not taste like a wine that was 65 years old. It still tasted like a much longer wine.  1947 was a great vintage in Tuscany.

It is interesting to note that none of the wines had the Gallo Nero, the symbol of the Chianti Classico Consortium on the neck label. All of these wines and other older wines from Ruffino I have tasted have the “Putto on the neck label”, the symbol of the Chianti Consorzio, or they just had Chianti Classico on the neck label.

I do have a bottle of Riserva Ducale Gold Label 1990 which has the Gallo Nero on the neck label. It seems that Ruffino did not join the Chianti Classico Consorzio until much later.

The Wines at Dinner

Before my friend’s departure dinner, I looked at Wasserman’s book to see what he said about these wines as I respect his opinion and drank some of these same wines with him in the 1980’s.

 Riserva Ducale Gold Label 1958 This was an excellent vintage in Chianti and Wasserman rated it three stars. He  also gave the wine three stars when he tasted it in 1983 and said “needs more time.” He was right as it was still drinking in 2012.

Riserva Ducale Gold Label 1961 Wasserman said that the Consorzio gave two stars to the vintage but he did not rate the vintage having tasted only two wines. This wine was showing very well and was one of my favorites.

Riserva Ducale Beige Label 1964 Wasserman gave this vintage two stars and the Consorzio gave it four.  Wasserman goes on to say “It was the best vintage of the decade for Chianti.” He reviews the Gold Label and gave it two stars but did not  review the Beige Label

Riserva Ducale Gold Label 1967 Wasserman calls it “…one of the best vintages of the 1960’s,” and gave it   two stars. The Consorzio gave it four. In 1980 he tasted the wine and wrote, “Perfumed aroma; full bodied, still has tannin and considerable fruit, surprisingly young, needs more time, though it has a troublesome dryness at the end.”  He rates it two stars with a question mark.  Again he was right, the wine was drinking very well.

Riserva Ducale Gold Label 1970 this was a very good vintage but suffered in comparison to the excellent 1971. Wasserman gave it two stars, as did the Consorzio. He wrote, “For the most part, the 1970’s are wines to drink not to hold.” Wasserman tasted the wine in 1981. “Color beginning to show age; floral bouquet with a raisiny notes; still has tannin to shed but the fruit is there to support it.” He gave the wine one/two plus stars. I do not think Wasserman believed these wines would last so long and enither did I. We tasted this wine together at my home and never imagined it would still be drinking so well today.

Riserva Ducale Gold Label 1971 both Wasserman and the Consorzio give the vintage four stars the highest rating.

 Riserva DucaleGold Label 1978 the Consorzio gave the vintage three stars and Wasserman gave it two. He wrote ”…we find the vintage doesn’t live up to the press it received early on.”  He goes on to say that, ”It has never been one of our favorite vintages.”

All the wines were showing very well. I disagreed with Wasserman on the 1978 vintage.  I have had a number of 1978 Chiantis over the years and have found them to be drinking quite well. In fact the 1978 Riserva Ducale Gold Label was the wine of the night for me.

I am looking forward to my friends return from his retreat and we already have a dinner planned for October to drink the rest if the wines.


Filed under Chianti, Chianti Classico, Chianti Ruffino Gold Label, Governo Method, Italian Red Wine, Italian Wine, Sangiovese, Sheldon Wasserman, The Noble Red Wines of Italy