Monthly Archives: April 2015

Lunch with Barone Ricasoli at IL Gattopardo

One of my favorite Italian restaurants in NYC is Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). Gianfranco Sorrentino is a most gracious host and Chef Vito Gnazzo always prepares a memorable meal.  Recently, I met Barone Francesco Ricasoli for lunch there.IMG_7693

The name Ricasoli has been tied to Chianti from the 19th century when Bettino, known as “the Iron Baron,” developed the blend for Chianti . Francesco is the great grandson of the Iron Baron. The family traces its involvement in wine back to 1141 and theirs is one of the oldest wine estates in the world.

Barone Francesco Ricasoli

Barone Francesco Ricasoli

250 hectares of vineyards surround the castle of the estate which is the largest in Chianti Classico. The 1,200 hectares between the villages of Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga include valleys, oak and chestnut woods, and 26 hectares of olive groves.

Francesco took over the running of the family estate in 1993 when he bought back the Castello di Brolio from the British company that it had been sold to. With the  collaboration of universities and a key scientific research center, he began to look more closely at his estate and what he could do to improve it.

The Soil


The Wines

Brolio Bianco 2013 Made from Chardonnay, Trebbiano and Malvasia. Cold maceration at 5°C for 6-8 hours without oxygen. Fermentation in stainless steel at extremely low temperature 12/16°C. (53.6°-60.8°F). Trebbiano, Malvasia and part of the Chardonnay ages in 500-litre French barrels (first and second use). Sauvignon Blanc and the rest of the Chardonnay are vinified in stainless steel. The bouquet is delicate, fragrant and slightly fruity with floral notes. Dry, smooth taste, pleasantly fruity with an underlying note of almonds. $25IMG_7683

Francesco wanted to find out what the best clones of Sangiovese are, what is the best soil for that specific clone, and what is the best wood for it to be aged in. Beginning in 1995 the ancient Brolio vineyards were gradually being replanted. Francesco started a research project to study and select biotypes of Sangiovese and other typical Chianti varieties. In 2005, 12 were identified, considered to be the best with the most potential for the purpose of selection, and good candidates to become new clones together with those already officially recognized. Three years later, the rootings obtained from these clones were planted.  Francesco told me that there was an independent institute working with the clones and trying to have them certified by the Ministry of Agriculture. He added that all the grapes were picked by hand.

Terroir has a most important role to play. They are making a map containing all the data for each vineyard: physical-chemical composition, elevation, sun exposure and micro-climate to select the most suitable rootstock, the appropriate variety to plant, and the best row orientation. This has become known as the Cru project. Three of the wines involved at the moment are Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG, Casalferro IGT and Colledila Chianti Classico DOCG.  In 2002 they introduced stainless steel for vinification. Francesco said that because the estate is so large they can have single vineyard cru wines like they do in Piedmont.IMG_7691

Brolio Chianti Classico 2012 Sangiovese and other complementary  grapes from the estates, vineyards in Gaiole in Chianti which are at 280 t0 480 meters. Vinified in stainless steel with 16 days of skin contact and 9 months in large barrels and barriques. The wine has fruity black cherry aromas and flavors with hints of spice and violet. $23 Francesco said the 2012 was a poor vintage for Chianti Classico and as a result almost all of the grapes, even those intended for the cru wines, went into this wine. It has floral notes of violets, with hints of black cherry and spice. $24IMG_7694

This was served with a Tuscan classic caciucco di ceci alla toscanaIMG_7686

Colledila Chianti Classico 2010–100% Sangiovese.  Francesco said  2010 was a great vintage for the Chianti Classico region.  The vineyard is at an elevation of 380 meters and faces southwest. He felt that this was the most beautiful and representative part of the estate. It is a single vineyard which Francesco referred to as a cru because it is the right combination of Sangiovese clone in the right soil which gives you the best grapes. The wine has hints of black cherry and strawberry and a touch of vanilla. N/AIMG_7696

With this we had the pappardella con sugo di lepre

The land is Paleocene-Eocene in origin and forms part of the geological formation “Monte Morello.”  The soil is brown with a fine clay structure, very chalky, with subalkaline pH and little organic material. It is well drained and very stony. The grapes are destemmed and fall by gravity into special fermentation vats with a conical shape that are open at the top. During the alcoholic fermentation and the maceration period, a soft pressing is carried out between 2 and 6 times a day as well as the delestage. The maceration on the skins is between 5-9 days in stainless steel vats. Malolactic fermentation is in stainless steel vats. Francesco went on to say that the wine is aged in new barrels and casks for 18 months.

Francesco made a point of saying that the choice of wood used is the result of experiments using 20 different types of the best French oak from different geographical areas (Vosges, Troncais, Nevers, Allier, and Limousin) with medium and medium-plus toasting levels and standard to tighter grains. He also said that they use many different size barrels.

Because of all of this, he felt that this wine was the top expression of Sangiovese at Brolio and that the aroma is so specific, intense and typical that it could not be confused with any other wine.



Casalferro IGT 2010 100% Merlot.  The vineyard is at 400 meters and faces south. Each small plot in the vineyard is vinified separately. The grapes are vinified in open fermentation tanks. Thermo-regulated fermentation takes about 9 days during which soft pressing and the delestage are carried out. The wine in aged in new oak barrels 90% French and 10% American for 18 months. $65

He said that in this particular terroir the Merlot “is “Sangiovized” meaning that in this harsh but generous territory it takes on sangiovese-like qualities.  Because of this for the first time the wine is 100% Merlot.

Francesco added that he did not consider this wine a Super Tuscan, in fact he felt the time of the Super Tuscans had passed–it was a wine of the 1990’s. I could not have agreed with him more but for me it did not pass soon enough.IMG_7687

Brunello di Montalcino 2009 ” Torre Della Trappola” 100% Sangiovese The wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature with 23 to 30 days skin contact. It is aged for 12 month in French oak and 14 months in Slavonian oak. It rests in the bottle for 6 more months before release. This is a Brunello with hints of cherries and spice and a touch of licorice with a nice finish and long aftertaste. $75IMG_7697

With the wine we had the  arista di maiale alla fiorentina con patate al forno

Frencesco said that the wine is named after a property which belonged to the Ricasoli family in 1329. This Brunello di Momtalcino represents their  first concrete example of diversification into other important areas of Tuscany. The wine was made with the cooperation of Castello Romitorio and the direct involvement of their wine maker Carlo Ferrini. The first vintage was 2009.IMG_7688

 Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico 2010 Sangiovese with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Grapes come from the best 230 acres of vineyards at 250 to 450 meters and the exposure is south/southwest. Vinification in stainless steel tanks with 7-9 days of skin contact and 18 months in barriques and new casks. The wine has aromas and flavors of black cherry, blueberries and a nice finish and long aftertaste. $65

This was served with an assortimento di formaggio con mostarda di frutta.


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Filed under Barone Ricasoli, Brolio Bianco, Brolio Chianti Classico, Brunello, Brunello Torre della Trappola, Casalferro, Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico, Colledia, Tuscany

Is High Alcohol the New Norm in Italian Wines?

Vineyard practices and climate change have yielded wines with high alcohol levels that used to be seen only in New World bottlings. Is this the new normal?

No one can deny that Italian wine has benefited from a string of great vintages over the last 15 years.  Hot, dry summers that extend into September and shorten the growing cycle have, with few exceptions, like 2013 and 2014, replaced the cooler, wetter harvests that plagued much of the country until the late 1990s.

For decades, reaching ideal grape ripening was a major concern for growers, particularly in northern and central Italy. But this once all-consuming challenge has almost become passé.

While quality across Italy is generally higher than ever before, there’s a caveat: rising alcohol levels. And climate change isn’t the only culprit.

In the early 1990s, in a reaction to a string of disastrous vintages, producers began overhauling vineyard practices to combat the cold, humid temperatures and increase overall quality.

Common techniques aimed to encourage ripening include planting at higher densities with low-yielding clones, short pruning, (cutting off excess canes in winter to control the number of buds), green harvesting (eliminating bunches that aren’t perfectly ripe about a month before harvest), completely defoliating the leaf canopy and longer hang times.

But the combination of these practices and climate change is increasing sugar levels in the grapes, which in turn yields wines with the high alcohol levels that used to be seen only in bottlings from the New World and in Amarone, a wine made with withered grapes.

My collection of empty bottles of wines that I’ve particularly enjoyed shows many Barolos, Barbarescos and Brunellos from the 1980s and ‘90s with 13.5% alcohol by volume. A number of labels from the 1960s and ’70s stated between 12.5%–13.5% abv. These days, it’s rare to find Italy’s top reds under 14%, with 14.5% being more common.

“If 20 years ago, Montalcino’s producers had difficulty reaching 12% alcohol, now we can almost never keep the alcohol under 14%,” said Donatella Cinelli Colombini, a leading producer in Montalcino, during the 2013 Brunello press tastings.

Although 14% and 14.5% abvs were the norm just a few short years ago, more Brunellos now claim 15% (a few even 15.5%) on their labels. While still a minority, it’s a growing phenomenon, and one that isn’t isolated to Montalcino or Tuscany.

In Barolo, particularly hot vintages like 2007 and 2009 are having the same effects, and it’s no longer uncommon to see whites with 14% abv. Italian regulations allow a half-point of flexibility, so wines labeled 15% abv are often closer to 15.5%, while those declaring 15.5% are likely near 16%.

In the rare case that a wine has enough fruit richness and fresh acidity to support such high levels of alcohol, I don’t take issue. But when the alcohol is evident, it gives the wine a “hot” character at the expense of vibrancy and freshness. It also masks aromatics and flavor profiles, resulting in a wine with a one-dimensional, homogenous character.

Wines marred by noticeable alcohol lack balance. And balance between fruit richness, tannic structure and fresh acidity is a benchmark for quality wines. When the heat of alcohol overwhelms a wine, it loses this equilibrium.

“Our customers are definitely aware of higher alcohol levels in Italian wines, and will very frequently request and select lower-alcohol wines,” said Jamie Wolff, a partner at Chambers Street Wines in New York City, which has an outstanding selection of classic offerings from Italy.

Italian authorities have taken notice. In 2013, Italy’s Minister of Agriculture began allowing emergency irrigation to combat heat waves and drought, even in denominations like Brunello and Barolo that are, by law, dry-farmed.

According to Fabrizio Bindocci, president of the Brunello consorzio, growers there have petitioned for a decree allowing emergency irrigation for their Brunello and Rosso vines.

Growers have other options to cap alcohol levels, including managing the leaf canopy to protect grapes from the sun, reducing the green harvest and decreasing hang time. Others say that eliminating harsh chemicals helps plants find the right balance.

But some Italian producers seem happy to watch the alcohol levels rise. Perhaps they believe robust offerings with evident alcohol will garner higher review scores. But these are the same wines that in real life are often left unfinished on the table. They are a chore to drink and impossible to pair with food.

I don’t reward wines with searing alcohol sensations. It’s a fault that skillful winemakers avoid by using the appropriate methods in the vineyards and cellars.

Italian Editor Kerin O’Keefe Award.


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Amphora Wine

The following article appeared in Decanter Magazine.  It is of interest because these wines are made by wine makers that believe in a mineral intervention or a minimal approach to their wine making. If you have never tasted these wines before the descriptions  are very informative.


by Tina Gellie

First taste: 12 Amphorae wines to try

As increasing numbers of wine producers are making wines in terracotta vessels, Decanter’s associate editor Tina Gellie attended the Feats of Clay tasting held by UK merchant Les Caves de Pyrene, and shares her 12 best value wines.

These clay amphorae – or qvevri, as they are known in Georgia, where this winemaking technique has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list – are increasingly being used by producers across the world who prefer a minimal intervention or natural approach to their winemaking.

While they come in many sizes (250 litres to several thousand), and from several types of clay, these porous amphorae are essentially egg-shaped vessels where the grape juice is pressed and fermented and remains in contact with the grape skins, from just a few days up to several years.

Many wines are made in small quantities, so allocations are small and prices are high, but here are 12 exciting examples available at £25 or less.


De Martino, Muscat Viejas Tinajas, Itata, Chile 2014
18.5pts/20 (95/100pts)
Lychees and roses on the nose suggest Gewurztraminer rather than Muscat but on the palate there’s more of the savoury, straw and almond characters you might associate with a manzanilla Sherry. Zippy and grippy, from ungrafted, unirrigated old bush vines. Great value.
Price: £16 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 13%

Loxarel, Xarel-lo Amfora, Penedes, Spain, 2014 
18pts/20 (93/100pts)
This is a limited, biodynamic Xarel-lo (one of the three traditional Cava grapes) from passionate Penedes winemaker Josep Mitjans. It has five days’ skin contact then spends five months in amphora before being bottled unfiltered. Crisp, juicy, fresh and approachable, it’s full of grapefruit, yellow apples and savoury Indian spices.
Price: £14.50 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 13%

Bernabé-Navarro, Benimaquia Tinajas, Alicante, Spain, 2011    
17.75pts/20 (92/100pts)
Rafa Bernabé makes a host of idiosyncratic, small-parcel, natural wines from his organic vineyards. This 100% Moscatel spends four months in tinajas (amphorae) and offers great acidity, tart apple fruit, quince and wet-stone minerality. Bone dry, like a light fino Sherry.
Price: £15 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2018
Alc 13.5%

Paolo & Gustav, Wildstyle Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia, 2013    
17.75pts/20 (92/100pts)
For the third vintage of this quirky Riesling, the grapes spend 30 days on their skins in a Magnum ceramic egg called ‘Dora the Amphora’ then move to oak barrels for six months. The acidity is quite muted, but it has lovely mouthfeel and lipsmacking flavours of mandarin, fresh lemonade and almonds.
Price: £25 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 12.5%

Pheasant’s Tears, Mtsvane, Kakheti, Georgia 2013    
17.5pts/20 (91/100pts)
Co-owner and winemaker John  Wurdeman admits this white is a bit of a Marmite wine. From 70-year-old vines on a 0.9ha plot, it is a little sweaty to start but then enticing  notes of potpourri, bonfire and lapsang souchong tea come through. There’s great acidity too to leap it fresh.
Price: £20 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2020
Alc 12%

Pheasant’s Tears,Tsolikauri, Imereti, Georgia 2013    
17pts/20 (90/100pts)
With no skin contact, it’s just free-run juice that spends nine months in qvevri here, resulting in a very pretty nose and soft palate of fresh green apple and a hint of tropical fruit. Easy to like and a good introduction to the many other native grapes in the Pheasant’s Tears range.
Price: £18 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2016
Alc 11.50%


Bernabé-Navarro, La Amistad, Alicante, Spain 2014
18pts/20 (93/100pts)
Made from the local red grape Rojal this is more like a souped-up rosé in colour and style. Its fermented in amphorae and then goes straight into bottle, keeping a bright, zingy freshness of pure cherry juice and a bit of pomegranate. A perfect balcony wine!
Price: £15 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 13.5%


Vino di Anna, Qvevri Rosso, Etna, Sicily, Italy 2013
18.5pts/20 (95/100pts)
Anna Martens and husband Eric Narioo (founder of Les Caves de Pyrène) started this estate on Mt Etna in 2010. This delicious red is made from very old bush-vine Nerello Mascalese planted at 900m, whose grapes spent six months in a 2,000-litre qvevri and a further six in an old oak cask. Lifted and forward notes of violets and red cherry with textural tannins, bright acidity and a long, linear finish.
Price: £25 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 13.5%

Cos, Pithos Rosso,  Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2013  
18.25pts/20 (94/100pts)
Pithos’ is the Greek name for the 400-litre clay amphorae buried in the floor of this natural winery. This red is Cerasuolo di Vittoria (a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato) which spends 12 months underground. It’s deliciously sappy and richly complex, with a textured palate  redolent of sour cherries, slate and almond blossom.
Price: £25 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 12%

Cristiano Guttarolo, Primitivo Amphora, Gioia del Colle, Puglia, Italy 2010    
18.25pts/20 (94/100pts)
A beautiful wine from a tiny plot of Primitivo at 400m altitude. It spends eight months in 500-litre amphorae and then another eight in stainless steel. Deep stewed and spiced plums on the nose with balsamic cherry and strawberry on the palate. Crunchy, pure and focused.
Price: £23 Tutto Wines
Drink 2015-2020
Alc 14.5%

Pheasant’s Tears, Saperavi, Kakheti, Georgia, 2013  
18pts/20 (93/100pts)
Deep, dark and vivid bramble fruits leap from the glass here, to join grippy fruit tannins, a firm structure and refreshing acidity. Of all the 2013 reds, this has the longest skin contact at three weeks, and then spends 10 months in qvevri. A bold and delicious wine for the barbecue.
Price: £19 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2021
Alc 14%

De Martino, Cinsault Viejas Tinajas, Itata, Chile, 2013    
17.75pts/20 (90/100pts)
Dry-farmed, old-vine Cinsault grapes are fermented and aged in ancient clay jars and then unfined and unfiltered at bottling. The result is an incredibly pure, long yet gentle wine with ripe raspberry fruit, earthy tones and a taut cranberry and tart mineral finish. One to quaff very slightly chilled.
Price: £15 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2016
Alc 13%

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Rose at its Best!

Every other year in the summer, Michele and I rent a house in Provence with another couple. The husband likes Rosè wine, and since it is August, we drink a lot of it. I am always on the lookout for a good Rose and prefer the ones from Provence with their beautiful salmon color.

We are going to Provence again this year, so I was only too happy to accept an invitation to taste Rosè wines from Provence. There were only three wines presented, but it was well worth it. The wines were from Château Barbeyrolles and Chateau La Tour de l’Eveque, both owned by Regine Sumeire.

Pierre-Francois De Bernardi

Pierre-Francois De Bernardi

Matthieu Garcia, the assistant wine maker and Pierre-Francois De Bernard were there to represent the wineries . Matthieu said that Règine Sumeire, third generation of the wine growing family, acquired the Barbeyrolles estate in 1977. She was among the first women winemakers in Provence and has received many honors for her work.

In 1985 Règine visited Haut-Brion and afterward decided to create a new Rosè at the Barbeyrolles estate based on the advice that she received to align her Rosè with some of the white wine vinification methods. This is how “Pétale de Rose” was created.

Matthieu Garcia

Matthieu Garcia

Matthieu said that the Chateau is located in the costal land of the Maures hills. The 12-hectare estate is at the foot of the village of Gassin, one of the three villages on the Saint-Tropez peninsula. The soil is shale dating back to the Paleozoic era.

The WinesIMG_7659

Château Barbeyrolles Rosè 2013 Cuvèe Pétal de Rose AOC Côtes de Provence. Made from 50% Grenache, 21% Mourvèdre, and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Ugni-Blanc, Rolle and Sémillon. Pierre-Francois De Bernard said that the 2013 vintage was marked by a very cold and rainy spring that delayed the blossoming. This also delayed the harvest. The flowering did not begin until May 26th on the younger vines. The hand harvest took place between September 4th and September 26th. He said that the winery has been using organic growing methods since 2005.

The grapes are hand handpicked between 5:00 AM and 12:00 PM, sorted and loaded directly into the crusher without pressing. The different varieties are vinified separately. The grapes are again sorted in the cellar. The grapes are lightly pressed to obtain optimum delicacy and fragrance. He said that they use a special technology to produce the rose using typical presses from the Champagne region, including one traditional press. Pierre said that the reason for the complexity and unique flavors of the wine is that it undergoes malolatic fermentation and is made from seven different grape varieties. He added that it could age.

This may be the best Rosè I have ever tasted. It is a complex wine with subtle fruit aromas and flavors with good minerality, a wonderful aftertaste and a very long finish. This is a Rosè to drink throughout the year and one which I associate with fine dining.IMG_7660

Château Barbeyrolles Rosè 2014 Cuvèe Pétal de Rose AOC Côtes de Provence Pierre said that the winter was mild and rainy. It was a warm and dry spring, which led to an early summer starting at the beginning of June. By mid–June the temperature became comfortable and there was some rain. The end of August was sunny which allowed the grapes to ripen fully. Harvest was from August 25th to September 16th. This wine was just bottled and needs more time. I would like to try it again in a year or two. The 2013 is the wine to drink now, or if you can find it the 2012. The wine retails for $40 but is well worth the money.IMG_7661

Château La Tour de l’Evêque Rosé 20014 Cuvée Pétale de Rose AOC Côtes de Provence. Made from 42% Cinsault, 38% Grenache, 9% Syrah, 4% Ugni-blanc 3% Mourvèdre, 2% Sèmillon, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Rolle. The hand harvest took place between August 16 and September 16. This is a wine with nice red berry aromas and flavors that is very easy to drink with a nice finish and aftertaste. This is a Rosè to enjoy in a more relaxed setting. $18

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Filed under Chateau Barbeyrolles Rose, Chateau La Tour de lEveque Rose, Provence, Regine Sumeire

Natural Wine??

The following article appeared in Newsweek. I agree with many of the points made by the author in this interesting article

Natural Wine Tastes Worse Than Putrid Cider

BY BRUCE PALLING / JULY 7, 2014 5:38 AM EDT\FILED UNDER: Culture, wine

Join us
There’s a tendency among wine writers to keep their heads down and opt for a quiet life. That may explain why they don’t tell the truth about natural wine. They never write that most of it is undrinkable. For many, it tastes like vinegar.

So what is natural wine? Let’s stick to the facts and sidestep whether the name itself is an oxymoron. The natural wine movement believes that what hundreds of million people drink daily is an artificial abomination that relies on chemicals and mechanical processes that strip it of its inherent character. Instead, they believe we should drink wine made with the absolute minimum of human intervention, so that it can fully express its character.

This all sounds perfectly reasonable. It becomes more complicated because there are no agreed upon standards for what makes a wine natural. While some object to adding forms of sulphur, for others it is more important whether the yeasts used are imported or local.

The other confusing thing is that a wine can be deemed organic or even biodynamic, but have nothing to do with natural wine, as for instance Domaine Romanée-Conti, the most expensive wine in the world.

It is true that natural wine isn’t on the shelves of local supermarkets, or probably even at a wine merchant. We come across it in considerable volume in trendy restaurants or wine bars, which often pay homage to New Nordic Cuisine, as brilliantly expounded by René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen. The feeling goes that if the food served in a restaurant is best when it has no pesticides and herbicides, then the same must be true for wine.

This is a noble idea. However, at this point the world divides. What natural wine devotees think is pure, clean and authentic can taste for others like putrid apple cider or just as bad – -characterless, bland and acidic. Without adequate preservatives – around 30 parts per million – wine becomes highly unstable.

Unfortunately, wine without any human intervention doesn’t exist – it is purely a man-made invention and without any human interference, all you have is either grape juice or vinegar. Stephen Browett, the owner of Farr Vintners, the largest broker of fine wine in the world, is baffled by the natural wine movement. “Our trade in natural wine is zero. I am quite nonplussed by it – I just don’t get it. Everyone who is passionate about food and wine wants the least amount of human intervention possible. We all know what factory farming does to the quality of meat and we all know what herbicides and pesticides do to the quality of fruit and vegetables. The problem with wine is that it is not just a fruit product. It is more than just grapes and you can’t make wine without human intervention, unlike cows or carrots. The natural wine movement seems to think that being natural is more important than being good. If you can’t deliver a consistent product, that’s not much use and of course it would be a disaster if we sold it.”

It’s worth knowing which restaurants offer only natural wine, if only to avoid them. This means places like Terroirs or Ducksoup in London, Bastard in Malmö or Chateaubriand in Paris. These places serve first-rate food alongside undrinkable wine. Fortunately many restaurants have had a change of heart, now offering choice. At Noma, where the natural wine movement really took off, they sell traditional wines from world-famous producers. In London both The Dairy and Hibiscus, the two-star Michelin restaurant, have reintroduced top vintages.

If only everyone offered customers such variety. I suffered at the hands of a natural wine zealot recently in Paris, where I was eating at one of the very best new style of restaurants that prides itself on innovative cuisine at affordable prices and is booked for weeks in advance. I was left in the capable hands of the chief sommelier. I told her that I had a weakness for Burgundy, but would be happy with anything she chose – as long as it was not natural wine.

When it came to the white wine, I was told: “This is better than Burgundy.” I had noticed that the wine list had several superb wines from the late Didier Dagueneau, a wild man who made extraordinary Pouilly-Fumé. I was expecting something sensational.

Alas, I was served only natural wine, which was sometimes drinkable in a bland one-dimensional sort of way, but usually verged on the disgusting. I drank a silent toast to the late, great Didier Dagueneau. How I miss him.

This article orignally referred to the element sulphur being added to wine, which it is not. What is in fact added is potassium metabisulphite or forms of sulphur dioxide, and the text was edited to better reflect this.
From the Web


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Making Carciofi alla Giudia at Home

Deep Fried Roman Artichokes – Carciofi alla Giudia

This article was written by Josephine Wennerhome,-see the link to her web-site below. Josephine is also an expert on the Castelli Romani area, espically the town of Frascati and is in the process of setting up a web-site called “Frascati Food Embassy”. When I am in Rome I love to have the Carciofi alla giudia – artichokes cooked in the Jewish style. I had to share her article! Now Michele can make them at home!

Perhaps not everyone knows that many a traditional Roman recipe owes its origin to the Jewish cuisine of Rome, which in turn harks back to techniques and textures that go all the way to southern Italy and Sicily.  I am fascinated by the history of food and by the resourcefulness and intelligence of human beings in developing deliciousness and sustainability at the same time.  The Jewish population endured terrible conditions in Rome for many a generation, contending with all kinds of cruel rules and regulations making life inordinately difficult for them when they were enclosed in the Ghetto, and yet their menus are a delight to eat even today.  Here is a link to some more background if you are interested:

“Carciofi alla giudia” means “artichokes cooked the Jewish way” and the area of Rome known as the Ghetto is famous for this speciality.  I personally do not know anyone who has cooked these at home amongst my group of friends.  It is definitely the sort of dish one only orders at a restaurant during this time of year.

Sunday evening, i.e. yesterday, however, I looked at three formerly glorious roman-type artichokes that were looking at me as if to say, “Look sweetie, we’re doing our best to keep fresh but there is only so much we can do! if you don’t eat us tonight, don’t expect anything tomorrow.”


They were somewhat flaccid to the touch, their colour was no longer resplendent, and their allure suffered definite signs of the slings and arrows of time.  This said, they were eminently edible I hasten to add.

2I trimmed them one at a time, and lay them to bathe in a bowl of acidulated water (i.e. water and lemon juice).  For those who are not intimate with artichokes, the reason for this is that an artichoke will turn a very sad shade of grey shortly after it has been trimmed of its outer leaves (i.e. it oxidises). The lemony water prevents this.  Sparkling water will have the same effect.  When you are ready to cook the artichoke, remove it from the water and squeeze it gently to remove any excess liquid.  Pat dry with a paper towel.3If you go to a restaurant and ask for this dish, the artichoke’s stem will be left nice and long.  I cut mine right back because I couldn’t find the saucepan that was deep enough to accommodate these little blighters.  I poured the oil into the pan above and waited for the oil to reach the temperature before I ventured to gently place the artichoke inside it.  The artichoke needs to fry for about 10-12 minutes, so the oil must not be too hot.4I added the second artichoke.  I used a set of tongs to turn the artichokes now and then, so that they would cook evenly on all sides.5I then removed them from the oil and left them to cool off over some kitchen paper.6If you look closely, you may spot a few beads of water.  That is because I sprinkled a little bit of water over the artichokes.  That helps them to crispen up when they are fried a second time.
7I then gently but firmly pressed the artichoke to flatten it a little …8And this time the temperature of the oil must be much hotter.  The artichoke is already cooked, all it needs is for its outer leaves to go very crisp (the same idea as with potato chips or French fries).  Fry for less then five minutes.9Use the tongs to help the artichoke fry all over, turning it this way and that …10I fried the artichokes one at a time.  I ran out of kitchen paper (it was one of those days) and so I resorted to a clean tea towel.    I sprinkled some salt all over …
11And here is my little trio on the plate …13Home-made carciofi alla giudia.  Not too shabby.

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Tommasi: La Forza della Famigila

Last May Michele and I were staying on Lake Garda. One day, we went to visit the Tommasi Winery in Valpolicella which is only a half hour away. Tommasi is a very traditional producer of Valpolicella and Amarone and I like their style of wine.IMG_5492

Annalisa Armani, the PR person and marketing director, greeted us and took us on a very nice tour followed by a tasting. She mentioned that the Tommasi family has other estates in Italy and that Pierangelo Tommasi was coming to NYC to speak about the Masseria Surani Estate in Manduria, Puglia.

Pierangelo Tommasi

Pierangelo Tommasi

When Pierangelo arrived in New York, he contacted me and we tasted the wines at lunch. Pierlangelo said that Tommasi Vinters is a family affair founded in 1902. The company has grown over the decades. It is a very large family working together, each member with a well-defined area of responsibility. I mentioned to Pierangelo that this was unusual because one hears often of Italian wineries where family members cannot get along. He said in Italian La Forza della Famigila, the strength of the family, is what makes the company a success

When the fourth generation of the family started to be involved, the company launched “Tommasi Family Estates project”, a major investment program dedicated to the acquisition of lands best suited for wine grapes which include:
Valpolicella Classica, DOC areas of Verona;  Prosecco in Treviso; the Maremma Toscana; Manduria Puglia; and Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy. Each Estate has its own history and identity.

He said that they acquired about 80 hectares in Manduria in the Salento area, the best zone for the cultivation of the Primitivo grape. There are 55 hectares of vineyards now: 30 hectares of Primitivo, 5 hectares of Negroamaro, 10 hectares of Fiano, 5 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 hectares of Chardonnay. They are in the process of planting another 25 hectares of vines. The soil is made up of limestone and clay. The training system is guyot and there are 5,500 vines/hectare. The vines are surrounded by nearly 25 miles of stonewalls, built from rocks pulled up when the vineyards were planted 10 years ago.  In the center of the vineyards lies the Surani manor and a complex of buildings originally used for agricultural purposes, all of which have been newly refurbished with vinification facilities (including many Slavonian oak barrels that were brought down from the Veneto).

The wines are named after Greek gods because this part of Puglia was founded and colonized by the ancient Greeks about 700 B. C.

The Wines all the wines sell for around $15IMG_7482

Arthemis (Goddess of the Moon) 2013 made from 90% Fiano and 10% Chardonnay. Pierangelo said that in the future it will be made from 100% Fiano. Fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and the wine matures is stainless steel tanks for about 4 months before release. It has cirtius aromas and flavors and hints of grass and herbs.IMG_5502

Helios (God of the Sun) 2013 Rose made from 100% Negroamaro. One day skin maceration and about 10 days of fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. I tasted this wine at the winery in May. The wine has nice fruit with hints os strawberry.IMG_7480

Ares (God Of War) Rosso 2012 made from 50% Primitivo, 30% Negroamaro and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and matures in oak casks for 6 months. Nice black berry flavors and sromas with a touch of spice.IMG_7481

Heracles (Son of Zeus) 100% Primitivo. Fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for 12 days. The wine matures in oak casks for 10 months before release. This was the most impressive of the wines a true Primitivo

Pierangelo also said that the family owns the Villa Quaranta Park Hotel not far from Verona, the Albergo Mazzanti and the Caffe Dante in Verona, and an agriturismo at the Poggio Al Tufo in Tuscany. All are run by family members. Pierangelo was right when he said La Forza della Famiglia!

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