Monthly Archives: August 2018

My Birthday Lunch at Home

We were going to spend the weekend in Pennsylvania with friends, so we celebrated my birthday at home and Michele made some of my favorite dishes.

We started with crostini topped with prosciutto, fig mostarda and a drizzle of a special, aged balsamic vinegar.  The mostarda is something we picked up in Rome.  It has a jam like consistency and goes great with cold cuts or cheese.  It is sweet from the figs and slightly hot from mustard.  

For the first course Michele made pasta with clams with touch of tomato, a dish I always order when I am in southern Italy.

With the first two courses we drank the Lacryma Christ del Vesuvio Bianco 2015  from CantinMatrone made from 80% Caprettone and 15% Falanghina and 5% Greco.  The Caprettone is distributed over three vineyards located at 30, 120 and 200 meters. Falanghina and Greco are at 30 meters. The Falanghina and Greco are fermented together with a pressing and fermentation without the pomace. The Caprettone is vinified alone with a 24-hour maceration period with the pomace. Then a soft pressing and fermentation takes place without temperature control.  This helps to obtain a wine with slightly more intense color and a bouquet of aromas that are more related to the varietal and less to the fruity or floral notes due to fermentation. The wine has hints of citrus, almond and a touch of sage with good acidity.


When we were buying the clams I noticed some large fresh soft shell crabs, another one of my favorites.  Michele said that she would fry them in a tempura batter.  They turned out plump, juicy and crisp.

With the soft shell crab we drank Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2012 Donnachiara 100% Fiano.   The soil is chalky clay and the training system is Guyot. There are 4,400 vines per hectare and the 4 hectare vineyard is located at 600 meters.  Harvesting takes place during the second week of October. . The aging potential of the wine is 15/20 years. This is a wine with good structure and body. There were floral notes, aromas and flavors of citrus fruits, good acidity and a hint of smoke.

For dessert, Michele made a blueberry tart — I could have the whole thing

I finished the lunch with a glass of Grappa Riserva  from Distilleria Mazzetti in Piemonte.  It is  aged for 5 years in barrels made from 6 different woods:  oak, chestnut, ash, cherry, mulberry and juniper. I bought this grappa from the distilleria and opened it for my birthday!



Filed under Cantine Matrone, Donna Chiara Winery

On Tour with the Pecorino Toscano Experience

This was one of the most interesting and informative press trips that Michele and I have been on. We tasted Pecorino Toscano in all of it forms, went to a sheep farm, tasted the cheese with wine and with beer, had a cooking lesson and lunch afterward, ate in some very good restaurants, explored the Parco della Maremma, went to two cheese making plants and spent an evening in Siena.

We not only learned about how Pecorino Toscano is produced, but also about the Maremma and the area around Pisa in Tuscany, how to cook with it, and what to drink with it, .

Michele and the wild boar

We stayed in the Villa Fattoria Granducale Alberese which is owned by the Consorzio Tutela Pecorino Toscano DOP.  The Villa was originally a fort built in the 15th century by a Prior of the Order of the Knights of Malta.  It sits in a park like setting on a hilltop.  It has undergone many transformations over the centuries and in the 16th century a chapel was built next to the main structure.

For lunch on our first day we went to Ristorante L’Uva e il Malto in Grosseto.  The menu features seafood and it was very very good.  Afterward,  we took a tour of the historic center of Grosseto.

That night we went to the beach town of Castiglione della Pescaia where we had a tasting of Pecorino Toscano and a locally produced olive oil and other products.

The next day at the Villa Fattoria Granducale Alberese Chef Giuseppe Villani from the nearby cooking school, along with some of his students  conducted a cooking class. Chef Villani demonstrated several dishes made with Pecorino Toscano and some of us helped  helped him prepare them.  In the photo below, he is showing Michele his technique for tossing his homemade pasta together and pecorino Toscano in the pan.

Michele and Chef Villani

For dessert, the chef made these delicious Sardinian cheese turnovers made with Pecorino Toscano.

With lunch we had the wines of Provveditore presented by Cristina Bargagli. We tasted the Il Bargaglino Vermento Maremma Toscana DOC made from 85% Vermentino and 15% Trebbiano Toscano, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Ansonica.  The “Casaiolo” Maremma Toscana Rosato DOC made from 50% Sangiovese and 50% Syrah. The “Provveditore” Morellino di Scansano DOCG made from 100% Sangiovese and the “Primo” Morellino di Scansano DOCG Riserva made from 85% Sangiovese and 15% Alicante and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Waiting for our ride

That nignt we went on the horse drawn carriage ride in the Parco della Maremma. It took us an hour and a half to cross the Granducale pinewood forest and reach the beach and dunes of Collelungo.

The park is located south of the Maremma coast and it extends for 9,800 hectares from Peincipina a Mare to Talamone. The scenery changed as we passed Mediterranean  scrub, caves, dunes, sand and cliffs.

As the sun was setting we had  dinner on the beach with typical products of the area and a wonderful  Pecorino di Maremma.

By the time we finished it was getting dark and along the route we saw wild boar and wild cattle among other animals I could not identify. Their was some problem on the way back and the had two change the position of the horses. It was quite an adventure!!!

The next day we visited Caseificio il Fiorino were we saw first hand how Pecorino Toscano is made.  We were given a tour of the plant by the owners Angela Fiorino and her husband Simone Sargentoni.  In their natural cheese-aging caves, we tasted the cheese in various forms and toasted the cheesemakers with sparkling wine.  Simone said the company is over 50 years old  and all their products are made with sheeps’ milk from selected local breeding farms.

Producing Pecorino Toscano

Shaping the cheese

The cheese resting in a refrigerated room

The cheese in the aging cave

We went with Simone to a sheep farm where he gets the milk for a cheese.  The flocks are are raised in a limited territory specified by the Designation of Origin Protection (DOP).  The sheep come from different breeds, either those indigenous to Tuscany (mostly from the Massese breed) or those brought from the area of production from other places (Comisans and Sarda). We also saw the sheep being milked.

The next day left Acciaiuolo di Fauglia (Pisa) to visit Caseificio Busti, founded in 1955. Today Stefano Busti along with his son Marco and daughter Benedetta  manage the family company. This is a big operation and includes a large cheese making plant, a retail store and a restaurant. They have maintained the family tradition keeping the crafting method unchanged from the dry salting process, using a type of salt that comes from the nearby salt flats of Volterra, to manual cheese making and the crust treatment using natural products.

Putting tomato paste on the cheese which gives it a beautiful color and slight tomato flavor.

The finished cheese

We had lunch at Ristorante Il Rifocillo and a tasting of Olio Toscano IGP with Fabrizio Filippi,  president of the Consorzio Tutela Olio Toscano DOP.

We tasted the cheese and food with beer by Birrifico Artigianale J63 of winery Torre a Cenaia with Esther Filippi. Esther explained how the beer was made and the most interesting was the one made with 5% Vermentino wine.


JLIPS Birra Agricola Toscana con mosto di Vermentino made from water, barley malt, wheat flakes, hop yeast (Top fermentation) and Vermentino grape must 5%.  The style of the beer is Italian Grape Ale. The Vermentino must is added fresh while boiling. Vermentino grapes are grown on the estate. The color is golden yellow and the foam is fine, compact and persistent. It has fresh floral notes with hints of white fruit and grape aromas and nice minerality and a light taste of malt. The Alcohol is 6%. This was my favorite — the addition of  Vermentino  made it very mellow


We then went to Siena where we were privileged to see the presentation of of the new flag for this years Palio.  Afterward we enjoyed sitting in the magnificent Campo di Siena where we had dinner.

The trip was a real eye opener.  We not only learned a lot about this excellent cheese and all of its varieties, but we enjoyed visiting this remarkably unspoiled part of Tuscany.



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Filed under Italian Beer, J63, Pecorino Toscano

Introducing Sandro to Dino

Dino Tantawi is the CEO and founder of Vignaioli Selections, an importer and distributor of fine Italian and Austrian wines. I know Dino for many years and have a lot of respect for his wine knowledge and portfolio.

One day, I was having lunch at Tarallucci and Vino in New York City with Elisa Bosco of PR Vino, and Sandro Tasoniero  from the Sandro De Bruno winery near Verona when I spotted Dino across the room. I introduced him to Elisa and Sandro and told him how much I liked Sandro’s wines, especially his Soave. Dino mentioned that he was missing a Soave in his line and so I invited him to taste Sandro’s wines. Dino said he liked them and would be in touch with Sandro. The next time he was in Italy, he visited the winery and spoke to him about bringing his wines to the United States.

Elisa, Sandro and I enjoyed our lunch and Sandro told me about his winery.

The winery is located in Pergola di Montecchia di Crosara just outside of Verona and the vineyards are in Montecchia di Crosara and Terrossa, where there are 12 hectares of vines at 600 meters on Mount Calvarina, a dormant volcano. The soil is lava, enriched with minerals.

Monte Calvarina is an area with a unique and ideal microclimate with a range of temperatures between night and day. Good rainfall, daily sun exposure, constant ventilation and perfect drainage.

Sandro said they always apply the principles of sustainable and integrated agriculture in the winery and try to create a natural balance without interfering with nature. No chemical products are used and this also goes for the weeding. It is the perfect combination between organic and conventional farming.

These are the wines we had that day.

Soave Doc “Scaligeri” made from 100% Garganega from small plots of land located on the slopes of Monte Calvarina. The vineyard is at 4,000 meters and the average age of the vineyards is 20 years. The training system is Pergoletta Veronese and the exposure is south. The soil is volcanic. There is manual harvesting using crates, grape sorting, de-stemming, grape selection, then a slow crushing of the grapes and pressing with nitrogen saturation. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel. This is a wine with hints of pear, figs, and almonds with good minerality.

Soave Superiore DOCG “Monte San Pietro” made from 100% Garganega from the hills around Roncà, at 330 meters. The soil is volcanic, there are 4,000 vines per hectare, the training system is Pergoletta Veronese and the exposure is south. Fermentation is in big oak barrels of 30hl. This is a well-structured, complex wine with hints of tropical fruit, white pepper and vanilla. This soave can age, I tasted a few bottles from older vintages and I was impressed with all of them. Sandro said all of the wines remain in the cellar for at least one year before release. This is why the wines age so well, even the whites. Sandro makes some of the best Soave I have ever tasted.

Pinot Nero “Nero Fumo” IGt Veneto made from 100% Pinot Noir from Monte Calvarina at 580 meters. There are 7,000 vines per hectare, the training system is guyot and the exposure is south. The soil is volcanic with basaltic rocks. The name Nero Fumo, black smokeis the typical color of the basaltic rock in the vineyards. There is a manual harvest using crates the third week September. There is a grape selection, de–stemming and a selection of berries. Fermentation is in conic vats and the must is punched down for 30 days. This is a fruity and full-bodied wine with hints of red berries and spice.

Lessini Durello DOC Metodo Classico “Durello” made from 85% Durello and 15% Pinot Bianco. From Monte Calvarina at 600 meters. The soil is volcanic, there are 4,000 plants per hectare, the average age of the vines is 30 years, the training system is Pergoletta Veronese and the exposure is south. Fermentation takes place in 30hl oak barrels for the Pinot Bianco and stainless steel for the Durello. The wine remains on the lees for 36 months. This is a wine with nice bubbles and hints of white flowers and citrus fruit and a mineral undertone.

A few days ago I was informed that Dino is now bringing in Sandro’s wines, and they will soon be available in New York City and other parts of the United States. I was very happy to be the matchmaker for this fine importer and a maker of wines I really like.




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Filed under Durello, Pinot Nero, Sandro Bruno Winery, Soave, Uncategorized