Monthly Archives: March 2015

Tom Maresca’s Campania Stories

This is a three part article by Tom Maresca on his adventures in Campania in March. I have printed the first article and have links to the other two.  I highly recommend them.

Campania Stories: Naples

Campania Stories is the name of an increasingly important twice-a-year event held at a variety of sites in Campania. In the fall, it features the white wines of the region, with a focus on the newest releases and – usually – a retrospective of a five- or ten-year-old vintage. In the early spring, it showcases Taurasi and other red wines, with the same emphasis on the newest vintages and some significant anniversary vintages. For me, Campania Stories has acquired crucial importance as the most convenient and thorough way for me to track the rapidly accruing changes in what I believe to be not only the most dynamic wine area of Italy but also potentially the richest of the whole peninsula.

campania stories

I attended Campania Stories’ mid-March red wine sessions, held this year in Naples and Avellino, and my only complaint is that the wine seminars and tastings took so much time and attention that I didn’t have a chance to worship at any of Naples’s shrines of pizza (though I did manage to wolf down some excellent pizza at Pozzuoli’s Dea Bandata – but that’s another story). At the portion of the sessions held in Naples, the main focus was on the Piedirosso variety, and they afforded me a great opportunity to learn just how important this formerly secondary variety is becoming.

Piedirosso is a grape as ancient as any grown in Campania, and that probably translates to about two and a half millennia of history. The name means “red foot,” and its more poetic dialect name, per ‘e palummo, means “dove’s foot,” for the same reason: its vivid red stems look like the feet of doves. Some growers – notably Salvatore Avellone of Villa Matilde – believe that Piedirosso is the grape that made the ancient Cecubum, a wine prized in the Roman Empire; accordingly, Villa Matilde produces a wine that the Avellones call Cecubo, a blend of Piedirosso and Aglianico.

Whatever role Piedirosso may have played in ancient times, in recent history the variety has been upstaged by Aglianico, to which it has for a long time played second string. It has traditionally been used largely in blends to soften the asperities of Aglianico, whose tannins can in youth be very harsh indeed. Piedirosso on the other hand has very soft tannins and a kind of easy, giving fruitiness that makes it an ideal complement to Aglianico. So, if, as many winos do, you think in terms of the Médoc, Piedirosso acts to Aglianico as Merlot does to Cabernet. And like Merlot, Piedirosso has been discovered to have numerous virtues of its own. In recent years, better field work and careful clonal selection have uncovered in Piedirosso an intriguing complexity and a healthy ability to age, so more and more growers are now producing monovarietal Piedirosso of genuine quality and interest.


Tom tasting


Here are some of those that impressed me:

Agnanum Campo Flegrei Piedirosso Vigna delle Volpi 2007

Federiciane Campi Flegrei Piedirosso 2013

Grotta del Sole Campo Flegrei Piedirosso Montegauro Riserva 2009

Sorrentino Pompeiano Piedirosso Frupa 2011

Tommasone Ischia Per ‘e Palummo 2012

While the stand-out wine for me was the Grotta del Sole Montegauro – for the intensity and concentration of its varietal character – all these wines showed real Piedirosso softness and accessibility, and were revelatory of the great potential of the variety.

Interesting as it is, Piedirosso is not the only not-Aglianico-red vine drawing attention in Campania. The region holds a wealth of ancient red varieties, many of which are in danger of disappearing because of various manmade and natural disasters. Of these blights, phylloxera, devastating as it was, may not be the greatest. The impoverishment of the countryside caused first by Italian unification – which, for the then Kingdom of Naples, meant occupation and exploitation by a foreign power – led to massive emigration and to consequent depopulation. Then throw in two world wars and a major depression between them, and the end result is abandoned farms and vineyards and a severely threatened, if not outright broken, agricultural tradition, from which Campania is still in the process of recovering.

But recovering it is, and many ancient, threatened varieties are being rediscovered and propagated. Chief among these are Casavecchia and Pallagrello nero (also Pallagrello bianco, but that too is another story). Saved and propagated by Peppe Mancini and Manuela Piancastelli (Terre del Principe is their estate) and championed by, among others, Giovanni Ascione (his estate is Nanni Copè), these vines – most if not all on their own rootstocks – are yielding extraordinary wines that are already winning Tre Bicchieri in Italy. (I’ve posted about these before.) Other producers to know about include Alois, Il Verro, La Masserie, Selvanova, and Vigne Chigi.

Palagrello wines

Other varieties, like Tintore, are still further back on the rebirth curve but are nevertheless already making wines of more than passing interest – for instance, Monte di Grazia rosso, made from ungrafted Tintore vines that survived phylloxera and hence are well more than a hundred years old – as were the surviving scions of Palagrello and Casavecchia, from which all the new vines have been propagated.

Still other vines are even less known and have yet to make their way into growers’ and drinkers’ consciousness. Nicola Venditti, for instance, a traditional producer in Benevento province, cultivates 20 different varieties on his property, several of which, as he says, aren’t even in the books yet. Campania still has a lot of stories to tell, and will have for years to come.

Also see Tom Maresca on:


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Alfonso Cevola: A Dear John Letter to Veronafiere

Alfonso Cevola  has been attending Vinitaly for many years.  He gives his opinion on this years event and why it may be his last Vinitaly. I attended Vinitaly for the first time in eight years and  have to agree with most of what Alfonso writes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why this might be our last Vinitaly in Verona: A Dear Giovanni letter to Veronafiere

Dear Veronafiere,

We have been coming to Verona and Vinitaly since 1967. We have watched it expand over the years and have endured the labor pains of growth along with many other long persevering Italians, as well as people from around the world. But we are seriously considering not coming back to Vinitaly in Verona.

1) The first day of the fair, Sunday, has become a drunken party for people who have nothing to do with the wine industry. Booths in the Veneto, Trentino/Alto-Adige and Lombardia halls are impossible to navigate with the throngs of people looking to fill their glasses. No spitting, along with with sloppy drunks in abundance. It is impossible to get any business done in those areas on a Sunday.2) The parking scene is still a joke. Tonight we collectively sat in our cars in the parking lot across the street from Veronafiere, with hundreds of vehicles trying to leave and with only one exit. Two hours later we finally got out. Late for our evening appointments, again. Really, how hard is it to get some light rail to go from Veronafiere to other areas around Verona to ease the congestion? Or open two more exits? We’ve only been talking about this for 20 years!

3) What is with all the people hanging around the outside of the halls, blocking the doors, and smoking? This is supposed to be a trade show, not a place to light up while waiting for a hooker. And the people who hang on the doors, and then get irritated because one wants to open them to go to another hall? Who is policing the area? No one, that’s who.

4) The bathrooms are still, in large part, a disaster. They stink, the floors are urine soaked, and women still don’t have enough stalls that they have to invade the men’s room. How degrading is that to women (and men) who just need to take a pee? This is disgusting.

5) You have still not managed to keep some of the halls properly ventilated. How hard is it to put in LED lighting that won’t heat the place up, along with opening windows and preventing the rooms from getting stifling hot?

6) Once again, communications within the halls via cell phone, text, messaging and internet, all the different ways we use to communicate in this connected era, these are not possible at Vinitaly. Texts arrive hours later; many of us miss critical communication in order to meet up or change meeting places. Phone calls endlessly are dropped. And trying to access the internet to check on information about a winery or access an app, this is still a huge challenge within the halls of Veronafiere. How can we move our business forward if we cannot use the tools that are essential in today’s world? This is an ongoing scandal and one in which the leadership at Veronafiere have failed, once again, to address.

7) Three wineries, friends of ours, had their booths vandalized and wine stolen? How many more that we don’t know about? Was that a coincidence? Or lack of security. #ThisMustStop.

Do you want more? We spend our hard-earned money trying to promote the wines of Italy. And Verona and Veronafiere has let us down. We are tired of fighting the selfie-obsessed drunken crowds, the foul toilets, the dank halls and what appears to be incompetence of the highest degree of the management of Veronafiere. We would welcome a change; whether to Milan or even to not come at all. At this point we’d rather spend my time (and money) and personally visit the wine suppliers in their well-lit, fresh air, clean water and crowd-free, smoke-free environments. The infrastructure of Veronafiere and Vinitaly appears to have finally crumbled. Really Veronafiere, someone needs to clean the house out of all the inept leadership or risk losing the attention of hundreds of thousands of folks who just want to make the world safer for Italian wine. Where is Luca Zaia when we need him?

We love Italy and we love the wine community of Italy. We have many friends of Italian wine business and for many years. We all want a solution more than we want to complain about it, we really do. But Veronafiere, and Vinitaly by association, you have not proven to be capable of finding sustainable solutions. We’re considering to #BoycottVinitaly2016, the 50th anniversary of a show that had good original intentions. But, it appears it doesn’t have the will, the vision, and the leadership necessary, to take it to another 50 years.


The Italian wine industry

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Alfonso Cevola on Barolo’s Best Vineyards

Barolo’s Greatest Vineyards Ranked

Barolo experts are in agreement over the superlative quality of Rocche di Castiglione

© Mick Rock/Cephas | Barolo experts are in agreement over the superlative quality of Rocche di Castiglione

Alfonso Cevola charts Barolo experts’ vineyard classifications to find the region’s best sites.

Barolo is one of the hottest wine collectibles today. But Italian laws and classifications can make navigating the landscape a tar pit for the collector who simply wants to get in, find the best of these great Italian wines, and get out. Unlike Burgundy, which has official categorizations for vineyards and the Médoc, which ranks its estates, Italy’s Piedmont region has no official hierarchy of the great Barolo vineyards.

It was Renato Ratti who first put his imprimatur on a map ranking the top “prima” categories in the 1970s. Ratti’s map was inspired by an unofficial Barolo classification written by Francesco Arrigoni and Elio Ghisalberti for Luigi Veronelli’s book “The Wines of Italy”. His became the map everyone hung in their winery or office. And while Ratti was a visionary, winemaking practices, vineyard management and global climate have changed since his day.The local visionary

The passionate mapster

In the 1990s, cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti began demarcating Piedmontvineyards. With the advent of more sophisticated computer-aided mapping techniques at the beginning of the 21st century, Masnaghetti presented his considerable knowledge of the vineyards of Barolo at a visceral as well as intellectual level. He used sophisticated computer models and mapping to drill down and devise a personal hierarchy of greatness for the region. Masnaghetti’s maps dive deep into the specific zones and are fully compliant with iPad, iPhone and computers.

The tech-savvy Americano

In the new millennium along came Antonio Galloni, who first made a splash with his Piedmont Report and then as a reviewer for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate. Galloni left Parker to start his own project, Vinous, which harnessed his tech-savvy team and tasked them with elaborating his theory of prominence in the Piedmont empire. The result is an interactive map with vineyard classifications. Galloni recently announced that he will soon by releasing a new interactive Barolo map, “breaking down the Barolo vineyard designations ‘menzioni geografiche’ into Grandi Cru del Barolo, Primi Cru del Barolo and Menzioni del Barolo, an equivalent to Burgundy’s grand crus, premier crus and villages vineyards”. In conjunction with Galloni, the Barolo Consorzio has also released maps, which are based on the geographical definitions they have developed. While the Consorzio doesn’t get into the business of delineating the greatest ones, their maps have given Galloni and his team a jumping-off point.

1+1+1 ≠ 3

It comes as no surprise that these wise men’s visions don’t line up exactly. They offer three personal interpretations of what constitutes the great vineyards of Barolo. They don’t necessarily take critical acclaim for winemaking into account in these great vineyards (or elsewhere). But there’s no question that they agree about Barolo’s best vineyards.

© A. Cevola/Wine-Searcher

Charting the expert opinions

To make this visually clearer, the above chart shows the lay of the land.

Ratti lists 10 “prima” vineyards. Masnaghetti has nine locations that qualify for a five-star rating, four of them additionally qualifying as five-star superiore. And Galloni lists 10 vineyard locations for his top (Exceptional) category. What these three listings have in common are three vineyard sites, Brunate, Cerequio and Rocche di Castiglione. These three hit the prima/Exceptional/five-star superiore trifecta.

They’re followed by two sites – Monprivato and Rocche dell’Annunziata – that have two experts giving their top rating (Ratti and Galloni) and Masnaghetti weighing in with five stars. Vigna Rionda drifts slightly down with two experts giving top ratings (Masnaghetti and Galloni) but doesn’t make it onto Ratti’s top 10 list. Inching down the list is Francia, where Masnaghetti assigns five stars and Galloni bestows his top rating. And finally Villero, cited as one of Ratti’s top 10, with Masnaghetti giving five stars and Galloni abstaining.

These vineyard areas – Brunate, Cerequio, Rocche di Castiglione, Monprivato, Rocche dell’Annunziata, Vigna Rionda, Francia and Villero – are THE places where great picks can be found with the minimum of effort. For collectors who don’t have time to stalk the chat rooms and who want to maximize the knowledge of three top experts, this is the sweet spot for collectable Barolo wines.

Time is money

Undoubtedly, there’s a hardcore Italian wine geek out there reading this, asking questions like: “But what about Barolo from a great vineyard like Ravera? Or Monvigliero?” To that I say: Barolo is a rabbit hole. If that’s where you get your groove on, by all means jump in. But for the collector who wants to find the dependable jewels quickly and easily (and with minimum investment risk), the trifecta is a good solid place to start. Gems from the three top consensus rated vineyards – Brunate, Cerequio and Rocche di Castiglione – can be found readily and, in most cases, for a lot less than the 100-point cult wines. Brunate offers superb wines from Elio Altare, Marcarini and Vietti. Cerequio has solid producers in Batasiolo, Michele Chiarlo and Roberto Voerzio. Worth finding from Rocche di Castiglione are wines by Giovanni Sordo, Oddero and Rocche Viberti.

Drill down into the next levels – Monprivato, Rocche dell’Annunziata and Vigna Rionda – to unearth more jewels from Giuseppe Mascarello, Luigi Pira and Renato Ratti (the guy who started this whole discussion). The point is, finding great wines from a complex landscape of vineyards and hierarchies, official or not, doesn’t have to be an exercise in bewilderment. One can find great, satisfying collector values without succumbing to the 95-100-point wines every trophy hunter is after.

Barolo's Greatest Vineyards Ranked

© Oddero; Marcarini; Robert VerzioTake it to the bank

Here’s the key insider hint – these three experts, independently and in consensus, have made finding the great growths easier, while the Barolo Consorzio members are still endlessly debating the great growths. Ratti, Masnaghetti and Galloni have pinpointed the sites where great wine has been made for generations. Information like this, say in Burgundy, would have one looking at bottles costing multiple hundreds of dollars. Many of these Italian wines, from collectable vintages, can be had for less than $100. But not for long; savvy collectors, who have turned away from Bordeaux and Burgundy, are aiming their sights towards Barolo.

Frankly, this is my strategy going forward when looking for great wines to cellar from Barolo, and those that will produce a better-than-average return on my investment in value and in pleasure. And that’s just Barolo; we haven’t even talked about Barbaresco. That’s a rabbit hole for another day.

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One Wine Bar, One Restaurant and Tartufo in Rome

There are so many wonderful restaurants in Rome and Michele and I try to eat in as many as possible. We rented and apartment for two weeks in the Monti which is close to the colosseum and the forum and were able to walk to many of them.  IMG_7430

Enoteca Cavour 313, located at 313 Via Cavour, is a wine bar in Rome that I always wanted to try but never got to. Last month we rented an apartment in the Monti section of Rome and I realized that it was right around the corner so we went. It is a cross between a pub and a bistro with dark wooden beams running across the ceiling.

There are two wine lists. One is for the restaurant and it contains close to 1,000 labels in all price ranges. The other is a list of wines for sale that you can take home with you.IMG_7422

The menu is limited but appealing. I had an insalata mista and roast pork with house made pear mostarda. The pork was perfectly cooked and delicious.IMG_7420

We drank a Bramaterra 2005 from Tenuta Sella made from 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina and 10% Vespolina. The production area is in Northern Piedmont. The vines are 48 years old, the exposure is Southwest, the vineyard is at 300 to 350 meters the training system is guyot and the soil is volcanic in origin and reddish brown in color. Harvest takes place between September 22 and October 12. After the grapes are crushed, fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks with pumping over and delestage. There is 30 days maceration for the Nebbiolo and 16 for the Croatina. The wine is aged in 10 hl Slavonian oak casks for 28 months. The wine was showing no signs of age. There were hints of faded roses, leather, blackberries and a hint of spice. The wine could age for another 10 years. It is an excellent buy.

Roscioli Salumeria Vineria con Cucina – Via dei Giubbonari 21-22. Roscioli is very difficult to describe because it is not only a restaurant but also a salumeria, a shop specializing in salumi and cheese, and a wine bar all at the same time,IMG_3237

It was opened in 2002 when Alessandro and Pierluigi Roscioli decided to make the change from the family grocery. They also have a bakery named Roscioli around the corner, with the best fig bread I have ever eaten. They also sell Roman style pizza by the slice. Michele likes the restaurant because it has one of the best spaghetti carbonaras in Rome.IMG_3270

We started with hand made Mortadella from Bologna garnished with crisp bread and 36 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano from red cows.IMG_7342

Then I had the water buffalo DOP mozzarella from Paestum served with Cantabrian anchovies and Taggiasche olives.IMG_7343

We both ordered La Carbonara: Spaghettone Pasta tossed with bits of crispy guanciale (pork cheeks), black pepper, Paolo Parisi eggs and Roman Pecorino DOP.IMG_7396

The wine was the 2012 Cerasuolo d’ Abruzzo (Rosè) made from100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Eduardo Valentini. Aged in large botti of Slavonian oak for 12 months. There was just a touch of strawberry in the wine but that may be the only thing it has in common with other rose wines. I believe it is Italy’s best Rosè and it was less than 40 Euro in the restaurant. Eduardo passed away a few years ago but his son Francesco continues the tradition. IMG_7400

Taurasi Radici 1998 Riserva 100% Aglianico Mastroberadino The soil is poor in organic substances but with a high content of clay, limestone, minerals and microelements. The vineyards are on two hills, Mirabella vineyard at 500 meters and the Montemarano vineyard at 550 meters. Because of its position on the hill and its altitude, the temperature at the Montemarano vineyard is much colder and the grapes are picked a little later. Harvest is from the end of October into the beginning of November. The vinification is the classic one for red wine, long maceration with skin contact at controlled temperatures. The wine spends one year in Slovenian oak barrels and two years in bottle, the wine can be laid down for 10 to 15 years. The riserva stays in medium sized 40 to 50HL oak casks for 2 years and 2 years in bottle. It can live in the bottle for 25-40 years. This is the way I believe the 1998 was produced. The wine was showing no signs of age. This is a full, complex wine with hints of black cherry, plum, spice, smoke and a touch of leather.

Roscioli has a very good wine list and the wines are displayed on the walls of the restaurant.


We were walking in the Piazza Navona and passed Tre Scalini, a café and restaurant famous for its Tartufo, chocolate covered chocolate gelato. The tartufo was created in 1946 by the head of the Ciampini family.IMG_7467

It has 13 varieties of Swiss chocolate and the exact recipe is still a secret. It has been a number of years since we had one so we decided to try it once again. The shape is different than I remember it, but it was just as good.

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Filed under Bramaterra, Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo, Enoteca Cavour 313, Italian Red Wine, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Mastroberardino, Roman Restaurants, Rome, Roscioli, Taurasi, Tenuta Sella, Tre Scalini Tartufo, Valentini

Classic Roman Restaurants

Michele and I rented a apartment in Rome for two weeks. It is in the Monti area which is very close to the Colosseum and the  Forum.

IMG_7354 The apartment we rented was  very comfortable, functional and a  good value for the money. Here is the link

As I have said many times before I love the food in Rome. This time we went back to some of our old favorite restaurants all of which are family run.

 Checchino dal 1887 (, Via di Monte 31 Testaccio).


Francesco and Elio

The Mariani Family has owned the restaurant since it opened in 1887. Francesco Mariani takes care of the front of the house while his brother Elio is in the kitchen.IMG_7460

Considering the wine and the food, it is the best restaurant in Rome with over six hundred wines from Italy and all over the world. The wine cellar is dug into Monte Testaccio, a hill made from broken amphorae which date back to Ancient Rome. The slaughter houses of Rome used to be located here and the restaurant still specializes in the so called quinto quarto, the fifth quarter, or innards and other spare parts.

I always have long conversations with Francesco about Italian wine and which one I should order with what I am eating. Francesco recommended a bottle of white to start.IMG_7450

Est, Est, Est di Montefiascone, Poggio Dei Gelsi 2013 Falesco Made from 50% Trebbiano, 30% Malvasia and 20% Roscetto. Riccardo Cotarella and his brother Renzo, the winemaker for Antinori, own the winery.

There is soft pressing of the grape-clusters. Vinification is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with selected indigenous yeasts. There is no skin contact and malolactic fermentation does not take place. Ciromaceration is used for the Roscello grapes. The wine is bottled early to keep its characteristic freshness and taste and it is aged in the bottle. This is an easy to drink wine with floral hints, fruity notes and good acidity.

Three great Bordeaux blends are produced within a short distance from Rome: Torre Ercolano, Colle Picchione and Fiorano. Older vintages of Torre Ercolano and Fiorano Rosso (made by the old Principe who stopped making wine in 1995) are no longer available. Two versions of Fiorano are now made by the old prince’s descendants, his cousin Principe Alessandro Jacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi, and another by his granddaughter, Alessia Antinori.IMG_7452

I asked Francesco if they had any older vintages of Colle Picchione. He said he would look and came back with a 1983. This was the last vintage before they singled out “Vigna dal Vassallo” as a cru.

Colle Picchione 1983, Paola di Mauro, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The wine consultant at the time was the legendary Giorgio Grai. The wine consultant today is Riccardo Cotarella. The wines were aged in large oak barrels. I have visited the winery twice and both times drank the 1985 vintage. The 1983 had hints of leather and cherry with a very long finish and great aftertaste.IMG_7453

With the wines, we ate artichokes alla Romana, Coda alla Vaccinara, oxtail in tomato celery sauce with pine nuts, raisins and bitter chocolate, Bucatini all’Amatriciana and grilled baby lamb chops.IMG_7457

Torta stracciatella, a chocolate chip cake, was served with a glass of di Roscetto Passiro Felesco 2012 IGP Lazio Made from 100% Roscetto. This is a native variety from Lazio. The grapes are air dried in a special room to facilitate the development of Botrytis (noble rot).IMG_7456

The wine has nice fruit sensations on the nose, its taste is creamy, full bodied and harmonious with a long lingering finish with honey notes. It was a perfect combination with the torta.

Checchino is still a member of L’ Unione di Ristoranti del Buon Ricordo, a group of restaurants that give you a hand painted plate if you order their signature dish or tasting menu.

The first time I went to Il Matriciano (39-06-32500364) Via dei Gracchi, 55. The Calasanti family has owned and operated the restaurant since 1912. The present owners, a brother and sister, are always there. Alberto Calasanti is on the floor. He greets the guests and plates the food while his sister sits behind a counter and takes care of the checks. There is a nice outdoor space but of late we like to sit inside, which seems to be favored by the Romans. On Sunday afternoon and at night it is best to make a reservation.IMG_7469

As usual, I ordered zucchini flowers (I cannot get enough of them) and artichokes alla giudia to start. The flowers were perfectly deep fried with a small amount of mozzarella and more than a hint of anchovy stuffing.

IMG_7471 I ordered the bucatini alla matriciana.IMG_7475

Then I had abbacchio al forno, baby lamb roasted with potatoes and rosemary. It was cooked to perfection, moist with crisp skin.IMG_7477

For desert I had tiny fragoline, wild strawberries, and gelato.IMG_7473

We had a Pecorino 2014 IGP Terre di Chieti Cantina Tollo Abruzzo 100% Pecorino Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature. Malolatic fermentation does not take place. The wine has hints of white peach, a touch of spice, with good minerality and acidity.

Armando al Pantheon can be difficult to get into, so always book ahead. The restaurant was established in 1961 by Armando Gargioli. This time we went there twice, once on our own and another time with friends Ernie and Louise.IMG_7315

On the first visit I ordered the bruschetta, one with truffle and quail egg and the other with lardo and walnuts. Then I had bucatini alla matriciana and grilled lamb. The dessert was a strawberry crostata with a lattice top.IMG_7359

The next time we went, both Michele and I ordered the pasta with black truffles because we remembered how the aroma of the truffles filled the whole room on our previous visit. It was wonderful.

The Torta

The Torta

Michele also had Roman style chicken with peppers and we ended with their famous dessert, Torta Antica, made with ricotta.IMG_7316

By the way, she says that the artichoke alla Romana here is the best in Rome.IMG_7314

Both times we ordered 2011 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, from Emidio Pepe.   It was less than 40 Euro–a real bargain in a restaurant. The wine was big but with a lot of fruit and not as tannic as I would have expected. Most of my experiences with Pepe’s wines are ones that are 25 years and older.

Trimming Artichokes at Da Giggetto

Trimming Artichokes at Da Giggetto

Da Giggetto (39- 066861 105) at Portico D’Ottavia 12 A, in the Jewish ghetto. The Ceccarelli family has owned the restaurant since 1923. We went here twice, once by ourselves and the second time with friends. IMG_7335

I do not need to look at the menu because I always order the same things: fiori di zucca ripieni con mozzarella e alici (small and crunchy but very good), carciofi alla giudia  (fried artichokes) and spaghetti con vongole veraci.IMG_7437

The clams were small and tender with just the right amount of parsley, garlic, olive oil and a hint of hot pepper. But since we went twice I also had the aliciotti fritti, fried anchovies, and the fava beans stewed with guanciale.

Fava Beans with Guanciale

Fava Beans with Guanciale

Michele also had fava beans with guanciale. We have been going here for many years and have never been disappointed.IMG_7434

We had the Bellone 2013 IGT Lazio “Castore,” I00% Bellone, Cincinnato. The Bellone grape may go back to ancient Roman times and is now grown mostly in vineyards around Rome. This is a fresh, fruity, easy to drink white wine that worked very well with the starters.IMG_7438

We also drank a Passerina Del Frusinate 2013 from Feudi Del Sole 100% Passerina. The winery is located a few kilometers from Rome in the Castelli Romani. It is a wine with hints of apples and white preachers, good acidity and a long finish and nice aftertaste.







Filed under Armando al Pantheon, Checchino dal 1887, Cincinnato winery, Colle Picchioni, Da Giggetto, Falesco Winery, Feudi Del Sole winery, Il Matriciano, Italian Red Wine, Italian White Wine, Pecorino, Roman Restaurants, Rome

The Truth About Sulfites

Excellent article on Sulfites and what gives someone a “Wine Headache”

The Wall Street Journal

Wine Headache? Chances Are It’s Not the Sulfites
Since the government insisted that wine labels include a “Contains Sulfites” warning, folks have been blaming the compound for their wine headaches. Very likely, finds Lettie Teague, the cause is something else

March 13, 2015 8:48 a.m. ET

THE LATE SENATOR Strom Thurmond was famous—some might say infamous—for a good many things, including a marathon filibuster against the Civil Rights Act, but the South Carolina congressman’s most lasting contribution may be the two words found on every bottle of wine sold in this country: Contains Sulfites.

The fiercely anti-alcohol senator successfully lobbied for this particular warning to be part of the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, a continuation of the so-called War on Drugs. Never mind that the average bottle of Cabernet contains far fewer sulfites than, say, a can of tuna or a bag of dried fruit, products that carry no warning at all. (A glass of wine contains roughly 10 mg of sulfites; two ounces of dried apricots, 112 mg.)

This back-label notification has led to a great many misunderstandings among those who attribute health problems, primarily headaches, to sulfites in wine, specifically red wine. Over the years, I’ve received many letters from readers lamenting the headaches they’ve suffered due to their alleged allergy to sulfites.

Often as not these readers wrote in the hope that I could recommend a “sulfite-free wine.” Alas, I could not, since there is no such thing as wine completely free of sulfites, which are inorganic salts produced as a byproduct of the fermentation process.

It is important to note that sulfites are also commonly added post-fermentation to combat oxidation and stabilize the wine. Many winemakers use sulfur dioxide, potassium metabisulfite or some combination of both. The latter is also used in a broad range of foods, from potato chips to shrimp (fresh and frozen) to lemon juice, like that in the small plastic lemon I have in my refrigerator—and perhaps you do too.

My plastic lemon doesn’t carry a sulfite warning, and until approximately 10 years ago, neither did wines sold in Europe. This may be why some American wine drinkers who’ve traveled abroad believe European wines contain no sulfites (another issue I am asked about quite often). They do, but European governments only recently required that wine labels acknowledge the fact.

A reader named Diana emailed me a few months ago about a sulfite-related encounter she’d had with a snobbish (and misinformed) sommelier in Salzburg. The sommelier told her that regulations required European winemakers to add sulfites to bottles for export, which is why Americans got hangovers from European wines stateside. This is, of course, false and hopefully not a reflection on the knowledge and trustworthiness of Salzburg sommeliers.

More important, only a tiny percentage of the U.S. population—less than 1%—actually suffers from true sensitivity to sulfites, and these people are invariably chronic asthmatics, according to David Lang, M.D., chairman of the Department of Allergy and Clinical Immunology of the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dr. Lang told me that in his 28 years of practice, he’s seen only one person who had “true allergic reactions” to sulfites. Such reactions, he added, typically involve shortness of breath and wheezing, not headaches. “Sulfites have been around for centuries and have been very well-tolerated,” Dr. Lang pointed out.

Non-asthmatics who come to Dr. Lang with sulfite-related fears might actually be allergic to something else in the wines, such as proteins or histamines. What’s more, white wine contains more sulfites than does red, so those who suffer from “red-wine sulfite allergy” may be reacting to tannins, which tend to be more significant in red wine than white.

I asked Dr. Lang how he tests whether a patient is actually sulfite-sensitive. He performs what he calls provocative dose testing, administering capsules of small amounts of sulfites in successively higher doses every thirty minutes, and closely monitoring the patient’s reaction.

‘‘Sulfites have been around for centuries and have been very well-tolerated.’’
—allergist David Lang, M.D.
This is the only viable test because blood or skin tests cannot detect a sulfite sensitivity, said Beth Corn, M.D., associate professor of medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine and part of the faculty of the Department of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Dr. Corn sees quite a few patients who believe they have wine-related allergies; the real problem, in some cases, probably has more to do with excess alcohol intake than sulfites. “Sometimes patients tell me they don’t have a reaction to wine if they stop at one glass,” said Dr. Corn, who replies, “Then, why don’t you stop at one glass?”

Oregon-based winemaker Rollin Soles of Roco Winery in Willamette Valley has fielded his share of allergy-related questions from wine drinkers. Before founding Roco, Mr. Soles was head winemaker at Argyle winery for many years, where he made high-quality sparkling wine as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Some tasters told Mr. Soles that, while most sparkling wines gave them headaches, his never did. Mr. Soles asked where they drank sparkling wine. Often as not, the answer was gallery openings or weddings, where the cheapest sort of wines are often served. Inexpensive wines often have sugars added to boost the alcohol content, and this added alcohol is often what causes the pain.

These headache sufferers were also likely drinking sparkling wine without eating. Drinking even a modest amount of alcohol without food is a sure way to a headache.

The anti-sparkling mind-set is similar to the prejudice against red wines that presumes they are the cause of sulfite-related headaches. Mr. Soles cited a study conducted in the early 1980s by Cornelius Ough, then a professor at University of California at Davis. Professor Ough was interested in tracing the source of red-wine headaches and devised a study in which people with a history of red-wine sensitivity were served both red and white wines as well as white wines colored red. He found that tasters had no more adverse reaction to red wine than to white.

For drinkers who do have a reaction to sulfites or an unshakable fear of one, there are wines with no added sulfites, known as NSAs, which I decided to try. I found about half a dozen bottles in my local wine shops, sometimes in a “no sulfites” section, despite the fact that no-sulfite wines don’t actually exist.

The NSA wines were so hard to find at the ShopRite store in Little Falls, N.J., I asked the salesman to lead me to them. What did he think of the NSA wines? He wasn’t impressed, although he said that the 2013 Badger Mountain Chardonnay, from Washington state, was better than the rest. So I bought a bottle of the Badger Mountain and a few others, both white and red, including the 2013 Mother’s Choice Organic California Red, which has the words “Contains No Detectable Sulfites” emblazoned on the front label just under an ersatz portrait of Whistler’s mother holding a wine glass.

The faux “Whistler’s Mother” was the best part of the wine, which was devoid of any character or flavor and possessed a flat, tinny finish. The same was true of the next two reds, but none were as terrible as the whites: the 2013 Pacific Redwood Organic Chardonnay, Frey Vineyards Organic “Natural White” Table Wine and the recommended 2013 Badger Mountain Chardonnay. They were among the worst wines I’ve ever had. All three looked and tasted like old apple cider and smelled oxidized. Upon tasting the wines, a friend of mine said, “Bring on the sulfites!” There wasn’t a single NSA wine from my selection that I could recommend.

I called a winemaker friend, Kareem Massoud, at Paumanok Vineyards in the North Fork of Long Island, for some professional insight. Mr. Massoud wasn’t surprised to hear my report of the undrinkable wines. “Those wines are completely naked, from an oxidation point of view. They have no protection at all,” he said. “Any winemaker worth his salt knows that wine is susceptible to oxidation.”

I mentioned to Mr. Massoud that several bottles carried advice to refrigerate or store them in a cool, dark place, and that the shop in which I purchased them was actually quite warm, no doubt hastening oxidation. Mr. Massoud wasn’t surprised by this either. “Once a wine is out in the market, there is no guarantee of the storage conditions. Even when you buy from the producer, there’s no guarantee,” he said.

Mr. Massoud has heard complaints about sulfite allergies over the years but thought wine drinkers should probably focus on something else, such as alcohol. Wine has alcohol. And too much alcohol can cause headaches. Perhaps that’s the warning that Senator Thurmond should have lobbied for instead.


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Tom Maresca and the 2010 Brunello

I was unable to report on the Brunello tasting held in NYC recently because I had already committed to attending the Caputo Pizza Challenge which was held at the same time. Tom Maresca did attend the tasting and he has given us this excellent report:

Brunello 2010

February 6, 2015

By now, I’m sure that anyone with the smallest interest in wine has heard at least some of the hoopla about the 2010 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino. The ’10 Brunellos are just now being released, because of the strict aging requirements that the Brunello DOCG demands. I didn’t make it to the Benvenuto Brunello event in Montalcino this year, where almost all the Brunello producers showed their wares, especially their 2010s, so I only caught up with any of the wines recently.


Brunello seal


Last month at Gotham Hall in New York, 44 Brunello producers showed their new releases. Forty-four may sound like a lot of Brunello makers, but it is only a fraction – about one-fifth – of the ones who pour their wines at the Montalcino event, so the New York version hardly gives a comprehensive view of the vintage. As you might expect, most of the participants here were larger estates, and all were wines that have already established at least a toehold on the American market. Consequently, I can’t make any judgments about what the vintage was like throughout Montalcino: My comments can reflect only the group of wines I was able to taste.

Enough qualifications: Let’s cut to the chase. What do I think of Brunello 2010?  Well, it’s unquestionably a good vintage, potentially a very good one indeed, but it’s not of the same caliber as the 2010 vintage was in Barolo and Barbaresco, which are superlative wines. Brunello producers love their 2010s, especially because they follow a few less-than-exciting harvests. The winemakers themselves who were actually in attendance in New York – very few, unfortunately – all raved about how equable the growing season had been, how problem-free the harvest went, what perfect ripeness the grapes achieved.

And I could taste that: All the wines, across the board, had fine structures, with good acidity, already softening tannins, and an abundance of dark-cherry fruit. Some displayed remarkable accessibility, being already pleasantly drinkable, though most still need time to fully come together. Almost all of them displayed the kind of equilibrium of fleshy fruit and acid/tannin/alcohol structure that promises not only long life but really interesting development. I think many of these 2010s will get better and better as they age. Certainly, were I a few decades younger than I am, I’d put some cases away and forget about them for as many years as I could.

This is not to say there weren’t the usual evidences of the human ability to screw anything up. A few wines were perceptibly over-oaked and/or over-manipulated, so that good Sangiovese fruit was submerged in a sweet stew of oak and vanilla and coffee. But there were in fact very few of those, and most of the wines I tasted reflected admirable restraint in the cellar, letting the pure pleasure of Montalcino’s grapes and soils shine through.

So why am I hesitating to be as super-enthusiastic about these wines as I have been about the 2010 Barolos and Barbarescos?  Good question, and one I’ve been trying answer for myself ever since I tasted them. Partially, of course, one cause is the difference in the grapes themselves. For my palate, Sangiovese, much as I love it, never achieves the amazing complexity and layered-ness that the best vintages of Nebbiolo reach. Granted, that shows best with older wines, and younger Sangiovese almost always makes pleasanter drinking than young Nebbiolo. But I think the main reason I’m hesitating is the growing season itself and its results in the two zones.

Good as the 2010 harvest was in Montalcino – especially in comparison with the two preceding ones (both generously overvalued by the consortium) – it just doesn’t seem to me that it was as off-the-charts good as 2010 in Alba. As much as I enjoyed the vast majority of 2010 Brunellos I tasted, very few of them made me tingle with anticipation from the very first smell and smack my lips with relish at the very first taste as so many of 2010 Barolos and Barbarescos did. Granted, that may be purely a subjective response – but it’s the only one I’ve got to work with. I’m just not getting from Montalcino’s wines the intensity, the perfect pitch, that I got from Alba’s.

Still: For all that, these 2010 Brunellos offer extremely high quality and the probability of very long life. Just because I’ve got an almost impossible standard of comparison for them is no reason to ignore them. As I implied before, if I had the slightest chance of living long enough to drink them at their maturity, I’d be stocking up on them. And these, in alphabetical order, are the wines I’d buy first:


Very good; still lots of tannin, but plenty of acidity and fruit – a meaty wine in the very best sense.



A very small estate. Soft tannins, lively fruit, a bit of astringency in the finish, but developing nicely.



This one’s going to go long – a big, structured wine, with excellent fruit. Totally worthy of the vintage.



The basic Brunello has a lovely nose, good fruit, terrific acid, soft tannins, all developing very nicely. The cru Vigna del Fiore is huge and will need years to show its no-doubt spectacular best.



Deep, dark nose, slightly tobacco-y. Big dark fruit on the palate, beautiful long finish, almost licoricey. Well structured, like all the best wines of this vintage.



Canalicchio di Sopra
Lighter-bodied than most, but well balanced and juicy. Structure is sound, on a slightly smaller scale than the very best wines of the vintage.



Col d’Orcia
Good tannic, grape-skin nose. On palate, soft tannins, fine fruit, lots of acidity, quite long finish. Should develop and improve for many years.

col d'orcia


A classically structured, classic tasting example of this very fine vintage.

ferrero label


Another slightly light-bodied wine, but beautifully put together and already juicy and flavorful.



Sassetti Livio Pertimali
Simply a gorgeous wine, one of the best of the vintage I’ve so far tasted.

Pertimali label


A huge wine, beautifully balanced, with deep black cherry fruit supported by excellent acid and tannin, for me the outstanding wine of the vintage. My hands-down favorite. I think this is a great wine.

talenti label


So there you have it, 2010 Brunello as I’ve so far experienced it. I may report on the vintage again in future posts as I taste more of it, especially if I come across anything I like better than these.

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