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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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The Perfect Summer Lunch

Michele and I were trying to decide where to go for lunch with our friends Tom and Donna when Donna invited us to join them for lunch in their beautiful garden since it was going to be a beautiful day. Tom and Donna have a brownstone in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. Donna is an excellent cook and Tom has a good wine cellar. We gladly accepted the invitation.

The first course was figs, which I love, with prosciutto.  The figs were ripe and sweet and the prosciutto freshly sliced.  It’s always a great combination.

Their were also French breakfast radishes to eat plain or with coarse salt and sweet butter.

We  had Champagne  Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV  Made from 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It has tiny bubbles and a fruity delicate freshness. It has become one of my favorite champagnes.

For the main course, we had a Nicoise salad.  The fresh tuna steak was cooked to perfection, charred on the out side and pink on the inside.

On the side there potatoes, eggs, olives string beans and tomatoes.

With the steak we had Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco 1999.   Produttori del Barbaresco is a wine cooperative, arguably the best in Italy. It has roots going back to 1894 when there were 19 members, but the co-op as we now know it dates from 1958.  Today there are 52 members. Over the years, a few members have left the co-op to go out on their own. The wine is aged for two years in large oak barrels. It has hints of cherries, plums and faded roses with a touch of leather it was a perfect combination with the tuna steak.

For dessert we had homemade strawberry and blueberry ices with raspberries and a splash of grappa.  It was an idyllic summer afternoon with good wines and old friends.



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Pecorino Toscano and Winery Beer

J63 Tasting Beer and Pecorino Toscano DOP

Recently Michele was invited on a press trip to Tuscany for Pecorino Toscano DOP and I went along.  Pecorino is produced from sheep’s milk and it comes in many varieties.  We had an opportunity to visit several producers and learn about the production.

One of the cheese producers we visited was Caseificio Busti located near Pisa. It is a very large operation and includes a retail store and a restaurant.

To accompany the cheeses, we were scheduled to taste some locally made beers made by a winery.  One of the beers actually contained a small percentage of wine.

After touring the Busti facility and seeing how the cheeses are made, aged and stored, we headed to the cantina for lunch.  We tried at least a dozen different types of pecorino Toscano, including fresh cheeses, aged cheeses, and flavored cheeses and everything in between.

The beer is produced by the 500-hectare Torre a Cenaia Antica Tenuta  in the municipality of Crespina Lorenzana in the Val Tora at the foot of the hills of Pisa not far from Pisa and Livorno.  During the tasting we met Ester Filippone, the export manger for Torre A Cenaia, and she told us about the beer known as J63.

The J63 Craft Agricultural Brewery is in a country house in the village of the Torre a Cenaia estate. It is brewed from barley grown in the fields of the estate so the raw materials are right there. The beer is not pasteurized or filtered. The Estate is a member of the COBI-Italian Cosortium of Producers of Beer and Barley. The mark Birragricola issued by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture is on the back label of every bottle.


The beer is named for Julia, a martyr, and later a saint in Livorno. At some point, her body was stolen from Corsica and brought to Brescia. In 763 her body reached Torre a Cenaia where it stopped for one night.

The #63 is the house number of the Brewery, Julia arrived in 763 and in 1463 Luca Pitti, ancestor of Count Robert Pitti of Cenaia, was appointed Captain of commons and acquired in his coat of arms the Red Cross which today distinguishes the brand and the products of Torre a Cenaia. So the beer is called J63.

Ester said J63 production is inspired by the Belgian style whch captures the specific character from the use of our territory and the ideas of the brewmaster Lucca Briganti


Pecorino Toscano DOP


JIPA Birra Agricola Toscano– style Pilsner made from Water, barley, malt, hops-Premiant(CK) Saaz(CK), Strisselspait (FR) and yeast which is low fermented. The color is straw yellow and slightly hazy. The foam is white, fine, compact and very persistent. The alcohol is 5%. The beer has grassy and delicate malty notes with hints of honey and green apple.

JLIPS Birra Agricola Toscana con mosto di Vermentino made from water, barley malt, wheat flakes, hop yeast (Top fermentation) and Vermentino grape must 5%  Style 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. 

It  goes very well with aged Pecorino Toscano 


 Jrubra Birra Agriciola Toscana made from water barley, hop (American Pale Ale for hops) malt (Doppeblock for malts, yeast- low fermentation. The color is orange with red highlights and slightly hazy. The foam is fine, abundant and persistent. Alcohol is 7.5%. There are herbal aromas, malted notes with fruits in alcohol, and dried fruit flavors.

Pecorino Toscano

One of the cheeses was aged in fine straw which gave it a grassy quality.

Meditation Beer

JBlack made from water, barley, malt, coco beans, hop and top fermentation- Belgian abbey yeast. The style is Belgian Dubbel The color is very dark, clear with fine abundent and persistent foam- Esther described it as the color of a monk’s frock. Alcohol is 8%. The beer has toasted notes, licorice, coco and fruits in alcohol. Esther said most of the flavors are produced by selected Belgian yeast. Esther said this is an important mediation beer perfect for long winter evenings and with a good cigar. This was the heaviest of the beers. This beer goes very well with sharp  cheeses.

Pecorino Toscano cheeses are full of flavor and range from mild to sharp.  They are quite different from the salty pecorino cheeses used in other parts of Italy for grating.  They are excellent with wines, and this was the first time I had them with beer.  It was  very interesting and enjoyable experience.


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Pizza in the Shadow of Vesuvius

When Michele and I were in Rome last month we took the fast train to Naples one day to visit our friend, journalist Marina Alaimo.  Marina drove us to Cantine Matrone in the Vesuvius National Park to meet Andrea Matrone, the owner/wine maker.

After our visit to the vineyards, we were anxious to taste Andrea’s wines, so Marina, knowing our passion for Neapolitan pizza, took us to Sakura Piscine Magma Pizzeria in nearby Torre del Greco.

The pizzeria is part of a hotel complex with a large swimming pool popular with tourists and locals alike. It was a warm afternoon and we sat at a table overlooking the pool. Ciro di Giovanni, the owner and his wife Nicoletta joined us.

He told us that his pizzas are made with local ingredients.

Ciro suggested we try the Sakura Cocktail, a specialty of the house. It was a tasty combination of San Marzano tomato sauce, vodka and ginger beer, garnished with fresh basil.

As always, we started with a pizza margherita. This one was a classic, with an airy, tender crust, sweet tomato sauce and the freshest mozzarella fior di latte. The pizzaiolo, Claudio di Siena, told us that he lets his dough rise for 24 hours.

We let Ciro order the rest of the pizzas for us. Next up was a Pizza Radio Siani, named in memory of a young radio journalist who was martyred. The topping includes the piennolo tomatoes grown on land confiscated from the Camorra, provolone del Monaco, and fior di latte mozzarella.

Andrea Matrone enjoying the pizza with his wine


Then we had a Pizza Riso, or smile pizza, so called because the toppings included peperoncini di fiume, small red or green peppers that look like happy smiles, provola (smoked mozzarella) and tomatoes from Vesuvio.

There was also a Pizza Orto, garden pizza topped with yellow cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mozzarella and thyme.

We ended our pizza feast with slices of a fried pizza turnover filled with ricotta di buffala, ciccoli (nuggets of pork) and mozzarella fior di latte.

It was wonderful afternoon  of  eating and talking about pizza and wine in the shadow of  Vesuvius.



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Cooking with Pecorino Toscano by Michele Scicolone

Chef Giuseppe Villani welcomed us to the kitchen at Villa Fattoria Granducale Alberese in Parco Alberese in Tuscany. The chef and his helpers had been preparing for our cooking class featuring Pecorino Toscano cheese and my colleagues and I on the Pecorino Experience press trip, enticed by the aromas wafting through the door, were anxious to get started.

We were in Tuscany to learn about the region’s iconic cheese, Pecorino Toscano. The name pecorino comes from the Italian word for sheep, pecora. Flocks of sheep graze everywhere on the hillsides in Tuscany and their milk is used to produce a variety of cheeses from fresh ricotta to aged Pecorino Toscano PDO. Different breeds of sheep are raised, and they produce enough milk to supply 17 caseifici (cheesemaking establishments) in the region. Sheeps’ milk cheeses range in flavor from mild and milky when fresh, to nutty and tangy when aged.

Pecorino Toscano DOP

The class began with–what else–a cheese tasting. We tried several varieties of Pecorino Toscano PDO including a fresh variety, aged between 45 to 60 days which was soft and pale yellow in color. The flavor was sweet and rich, and it had a creamy texture. A second variety had been brushed with olive oil before aging which made it slightly drier and more the flavor more concentrated, while the third variety was aged more than 120 days which gave it a flavor of nuts, and dried fruits and a crumbly texture. They all were good for eating with fruits and nuts, honey or jam. The chef told us he uses all three types for cooking.



The first dish he demonstrated was very simple. He spread coarsely grated Pecorino Toscano – a mix of different varieties – in a baking dish to which he added a generous splash of white wine. After baking, when the cheese was bubbling and melted, he arranged a few anchovies on top (he suggested topping it with prosciutto or black truffles as an alternative). He spooned the bubbling cheese over thin slices of toasted bread and served it with dry white wine. You can be sure I will be duplicating this soon. It’s a great dish for lunch or brunch or to serve as a first course.


Next came individual flans with cheese and vegetables, followed by miniature tartlets filled with cheese and guanciale, an Italian version of quiche Lorraine. Then one of the chef’s assistants showed us how to make pici, thick handmade pasta strands. The chef sauced the pasta with “cacio e pepe”, pecorino Toscano cheese and black pepper. He asked me to do some of the pasta tossing, which was a challenge for me given the size of that pan! The pasta was terrific, cheesy, creamy, and peppery.

Tossing the pici with Pecorino Toscano DOP

Meanwhile, the assistants were preparing our dessert, known as fiadoni. They filled tender pastry rounds with a blend of sugar, lemon, eggs and pecorino Toscano before baking them. The little turnovers were irresistible warm, even though I had thought I couldn’t eat another bite.

Since we have been back home, I have been experimenting with other ways to use Pecorino Toscano PDO. Grilled open-faced sandwiches, tossed with green beans and butter, and in a salad have all been big hits. Of course, it is most enjoyable on its own, with a good glass of Tuscan wine.


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Cantine Matrone a Winery on Vesuvio

I first met Andrea Matrone In NYC at an event at Ribalta where he was presenting his wine. The event was organize by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Vesuvio. Five producers from the area were presenting their Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco and Rosso. I wrote about the event and Marina Alaimo, a journalist friend in Naples, saw the article offered to take me to visit Cantine Matrone the next time I was in the Naples area.

Michele and I last month were in Rome for a few days and contacted Marina.

Cantine Matrone is located in Boscotrecase in the heart of the national park of Vesuvio with great views of Vesuvio and the Bay of Naples.

The view

Andrea told us that he worked in many different places around the world to enhance his winemaking skills. Coming back home he and his cousin Francesco Matrone managed to bring new life to the old family vineyards once cultivated by their grandfather. There are four hectares of vineyards divided into smaller plots.


As we walked, Andrea pointed to the Panoramic Vineyard at 250 meters that has one hectare of espalier rows that face south toward the sea. Behind the Volcano is the area know as Vigna Tre Moggi and planted here are a few vines of Caprettone.

Vigna Montagna (La Montagna is the name the locals give to the volcano) is at 300 meters. There was a strong lava flow here caused by the eruption of 1906. Andrea said the soil is young , rich in lapillus (very small pebbles) and minerals. It is among the pine trees. Here there is one hectare of Piedirosso (Pier e palumm).  Here, Andrea said very proudly, is the vineyard dedicated to my grandfather Nonno Andrea.

Andrea in newly planted vineyard showing the lapillus-very small pebbles

Here also is where he has his “new” training system, new to Vesuvius because he is the only one doing it. He calls the new vine training system system “Alberello Alsaziano” because  it is very popular in Alsace. It should be good for Piedirosso because it has longer shoots than the traditional Alberello. This project is particularly dear to Andrea who  believes very much in the potential of his training system  on Vesuvius.  The work of recovery and selection of the plants to be reproduced on their own has been very accurate, to ensure maximum consistency to the territory and to enhance the Vesuvian viticultural identity with respect.

The Panoramica (named for the view) is at 200 meters facing south overlooking the Bay of Naples.  Andrea said this is the best place for Caprettone because here it ripens best. One hectare here is planted with the alberate-80cm by 1,60 meters or 7,200 plants per hectare. Andrea said it will produce only 600 gr of grapes from each plant. Every two plants will produce a bottle of wine. A big chance for a small company.  All of the plants are ungrafted because phylloxera cannot survive in the volcanic soil.

Andrea explaining how he uses the wine press

Andrea took us into his very small cellar and showed us the machine for crushing the grapes and his press.  The small horizontal  wine press works by electricity. Andrea said it is good because it is  like the pressing of grapes on other grapes, in this way it makes a soft pressing, and he like it  because he can control  its every movement.

He only has 6 barrels: One tonneau, 4 barriques and one barrel of 300 liters, which he bought because it was a good price.

All of the barrels are old as you can see from the pictures.

The Wines

Lacryma Christ del Vesuvio Bianco 2015 made from 80% Caprettone and 15% Falangina and 5% Greco. Lacryma del Vesuvio Bianco made from 80% Caprettone, 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. Andrea said 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.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso 2015 made from 75% Piedirosso, 15% Sciascinoso, and 10% Aglianico. The Piedirosso is cultivated in 3 vineyards located at 30, 120 and 200 meters. The soil is volcanic sand/lava and basalt. Sciascinoso and Aglianico are cultivated at 30 meters. Maceration is for 10/12 days and delestage takes place. The wine is aged in stainless steel vats and tonneau barrels. The wine has aromas and flavors of red fruit and cherry with hints of spice and a touch of smoke.

His first vintage was in 2014 and the current vintage is 2015. Andrea said he likes to hold on to the wine a little longer before release. The production is about 10,000 bottles.

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Due Ladroni — A New Favorite Roman Restaurant

Almost 25 years ago, a restaurateur in NYC told us that next time we are in Rome, we must go to restaurant Due Ladroni (two thieves). Over the years we have passed the restaurant a number of times but never went in. In fact 2 years ago we rented an apartment around the corner and passed it almost every day. Michele said we have to go there one day. Last year friends went for dinner and told us how wonderful it was, the food, service and decor.Finally, last February we rented an apartment a few short blocks from the restaurant. It was very rainy and cold in Rome, so one night we decided to go to Due Ladroni because it was close by. We went for dinner and had a great meal.

When we finished dinner the woman at the next table was still on her main course- -it was langoustine and I could smell the delicious aroma. We went again just before we left Rome and had another great meal. That time, I had the langoustine and  I have been thinking about them ever since.  So  now that we are in Rome again, we returned to Due Ladroni and had another wonderful meal.

Michele had the Tonnarelli Gamberi Pistacchio to start.


I had the Spaghetti ai Moscardini.  Moscardini are tiny octopus.


For the the main course Michele had the Mazzancola alla Griglia and an insalata mista

Once again, I had the grilled langoustine.

 I also had Broccoletti, something like broccoli rabe but all leaves.  Like all Roman vegetables, it was well done, cooked with a little hot pepper.  

For dessert we had fragolini del bosco, tiny wild strawberries.

The Wine

Due Ladroni is now one of our Roman favorites.  We have been there three times and have always been pleased.  Michele and I plan to be back again soon.

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