Archive for the ‘Italy’Category

Little Italy simmers with many new tastes

Different food approaches in Little Italy in Toronto
There are certainly fancier coffee shops than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637,, but few that so consistently screen European soccer matches on the TVs. Since 1968, it’s been one of the principal landmarks of Toronto’s Little Italy. Ironically, that’s just about the time that the neighborhood was beginning to lose its accent.

We met Kevin Dupree, owner of the Culinary Adventure Co. (647-955-8357,, in front of “The Dip” for a walk around the neighborhood along College Street between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street. Dupree’s company offers a full menu of neighborhood sampling tours and a number of other gastronomic activities—including a summertime canoe trip to the Toronto islands with a master chef who prepares a picnic.

But this particular evening, we concentrated on Little Italy. He explained that Italian immigration to Toronto began around 1880 and slowed to a trickle after 1930. The residential part of the neighborhood remained Italian into the 1960s, and it’s still full of Italian bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.

P.G. Clucks in Little Italy in Toronto That preponderance of eating and drinking establishments made this stretch of College Street a nightlife destination, and other cuisines have moved in to create a dynamic multicultural mix. We ducked into a streetfront stall—P.G. Clucks—selling “Nashville-style” fried chicken sandwiches. (They’re fiery hot with spices.) And we spent a while at Hapa Izakaya (602 College St., 647-748-4272,, a Toronto offshoot of the Vancouver-based chain of hip Japanese bar-restaurants. Dark and loud, our area was bathed in the blue glow of UV lamps—which made the white menus glow in the dark. The sake sampler was eye-opening, and the whole mackerel warmed up with blowtorch blast (see top image) was delicate and delicious.

entrance to Sotto Voce in Little Italy in Toronto But we really felt the soul of Little Italy in the spot across the street from the Dip. Sotto Voce Wine and Pasta Bar (595 College St., 416-536-4564, has been around for about 20 years, and it’s still serving the recipes of the Sicilian grandmother of one of the owners. The wine list is strongest on southern Italian wines, and the pasta plates feature red sauce without shame. We enjoyed some superb Sicilian meatballs made with pine nuts and currants and a bowl of gnocchi with wild boar ragu. The “fanciest” dish of the night was Gamberoni a la Puttanesca—spaghetti with tiger shrimp in a tomato sauce redolent of anchovies, garlic, black olives, and capers. It’s actually a modern Neapolitan dish that’s taken hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

The recipe below is not from Sotto Voce. It’s our own adaptation of many different approaches to puttanesca, but it has the same kind of umami punch as the one we enjoyed in Toronto.


Serves 4 Shrimp puttanesca at Sotto Voce in Toronto's Little Italy

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
pinch of salt
can of anchovies (2 ounces)
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
6 ounce can of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
26-ounce can or box of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup capers (drained)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces tiger shrimp tails with shells

In large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onions and pinch of salt. Cook at medium heat until onion begins to soften (about 5 minutes). Add anchovies and garlic, mashing up the anchovies with a spatula. Continue cooking about 3 minutes until garlic has softened. Add tomato paste, wine, and pepper flakes and stir well to mix. Add tomatoes, capers, and olives. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently with occasional stirring for about a half hour. It will become thick and saucy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook spaghetti. When pasta goes into the water, add the lemon zest and juice to the slowly bubbling sauce. Add the shrimp and raise heat until the pot just barely bubbles.

When spaghetti is al dente (7-8 minutes), drain it, reserving some cooking liquid. Add drained spaghetti to shrimp puttanesca sauce and mix well. Add reserved cooking liquid as needed to thin.

Serve hot in bowls.


10 2016

Valori wines show strong organic backbone

Luigi Valori at Boston tasting
“When you grow completely organically,” says Luigi Valori of Azienda Valori in Abruzzo, “an interesting thing happens to the grapes. The skins become very thick.” That’s more than an obscure botanical fact. It completely changes the potential of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape.

Color, tannin, and polyphenols all dwell in the skins of red wine grapes. More of those things make up for the shortcomings of mass-produced wine. Like many Italian wines, the reputation of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo suffers from a tradition of overproduction. Wines can still meet DOC standards while being grown at weights up to 10 kilograms per vine. Since the grape has naturally sweet and soft tannins, overproduction creates wines that are soft, flabby and don’t age well. But properly grown with a limited yield and vinted with care for its peculiarities, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be an elegant, structured, and noble. It is one of my personal favorites.

Valori Sant'AngeloA former professional footballer for Ascoli Calcio, Valori is a botanist by training. His vineyards in the commune of Teramo in northern Abruzzo near the Marche border are certified 100 percent organic. He has been producing wine on the estate since 1996. His yield is aaround 1.5-2 kilograms of grapes per vine/ In keeping with organic regulations, he treats the vines only with copper and sulfur. But he notes that grapevines find the copper mildly toxic. They react to it by forming slightly smaller berries with much thicker walls. By growing organic grapes with skins packed with tannins and polyphenols, Valori gives himself a leg up in the quest to make a great wine from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

He was in Boston recently for an industry tasting of wines distributed by Masciarelli Wine Co. Masciarelli’s property in Abruzzo adjoins Valori’s vineyards. When the American branch of the family began their outstanding boutique distribution of fine wines, Valori was happy to sign on. He would rather grow grapes and make wine rather than make sales calls.

Valori keeps striving for an ever better synthesis of the vineyard and the winery. He speaks of the temperature gradient of the Teramo hills that sweep down to the Adriatic just 30 kilometers away. The wind flows down the hill, then it flows up the hill,” he says. That ventilation eases the job of the organic grower. Late in the growing season (Montepulciano ripens late), he prunes away leaves to expose the berries. “My goal is to grow perfect grapes.”

Taste of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder—or the palate of the taster. Valori harvests entirely based on his subjective taste of the grapes. “You need all the science and stainless steel to make clean wine,” he says. “But you need the human senses to make great wine.”

I’d argue that he does that. His traditional Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is a bargain red with great fruit extraction and enough structure to stand up to light meats and most pastas. It’s about $10.

Valori calls his riserva Vigna Sant’Angelo. The grapes come from a 3-hectare plot of vines that are more than 50 years old. He macerates for an entire month for maximum extraction of color and polyphenols. (“The skins are almost white when it’s done,” he says.) The wine spends 18 months in new French oak barrique, where it undergoes a malolactic fermentation.

The result is one of the truly great Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines at about $30 a bottle. With an almost inky color in the glass, it exudes dry dark fruits, tobacco, hints of vanilla—all complemented by a bright note of tart cherry.


09 2016

Christo’s Floating Piers rise like Franciacorta bubbles

Floating Piers by Christo
For 16 days in late June and early July, the artist Christo let art-lovers walk on water. His “Floating Piers” project was his first outdoor installation since 2005 when he and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, installed 7,500 panels to make gates in New York’s Central Park. Like the gates, the piers gleamed with celebratory saffron-colored fabric. Some 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes supported the 53-foot wide walkway.

Christo at Lake Iseo Nearly two years in the making, the environmental artwork connected two small islands in Lake Iseo with each other and the mainland. And now it’s all gone — but not before an estimated 1 million visitors experienced it.

The poignancy of Christo’s works lies in the tension between the heroic scale of their vision and their ephemeral nature. How appropriate that he chose the wine district of Franciacorta, one of Italy’s great sparkling wines! Years of work go into every bottle. When the wine is poured, the bubbles rise and form a delicate mousse at the top of the glass. But they burst, and the moment is gone—just like “Floating Piers.”

Exploring Franciacorta

People on Floating Piers Timed to the Franciacorta Summer Festival in June, Christo’s work brought a million people to the Franciacorta area, about an hour northeast of Milan. Because so much of Lombardy has cutting edge industry, many wine drinkers don’t realize how bucolic the region can be. In fact, the Strada del Franciacorta was established in 2000. The wine road promotes the region for tourism focused on wine and food. More than 100 wineries along the route handcraft their wines in the metodo classico—with a second fermentation in the bottle. The road also details more than 30 restaurants and wine bars and 30 hotels, bed and breakfasts, and agriturismo farm stays. The Cappuccini Resort is a restored 17th century monastery. (For information in English, see the web site:

The area is also great for cycling. The wine road association also details five cycling paths. Each traverses a different section of the region, passing through small villages and vineyards. They are named after different styles of Franciacorta.

The fall Franciacorta Festival takes place September 17-18 this year. It features concerts and food and wine exhibitions throughout the region. For complete details, see the downloadable flyer at

Franciacorta with food

Franciacorta Contadi Castaldi Saten Franciacorta wines are great for celebrating. But given the modest prices (most $25-$40), you don’t have to wait for a milestone or life-changing event. We recently celebrated the annual tomato glut with pasta tossed with chopped basil and peeled cherry tomatoes. (Dip them for 5 seconds in boiling water, immediately chill, and pierce with a sharp knife. The tomatoes pop whole from the skins.) We drank a Contado Castaldi 2010 Sàten. The “silky” style, unique to Franciacorta, emphasizes tiny pinpoint bubbles. By DOC regulations, that’s a wine made only from white grapes. This was all Chardonnay. It has a lot of acidic backbone, so it held up well with the tart fresh tomatoes. Several years of bottle aging on the lees gave it a toasty nose and faintly bitter aftertaste that complemented the food nicely. The yeasty nose was a perfect counterpoint to the spicy, floral notes of the just-picked basil.

For more about Franciacorta, see our post from last September: “Franciacorta: effervescent joy from Italy.”


08 2016

Endrizzi ecological stewardship inspires great wine

Endrizzi vineyards in San Michele
Vineyards can be some of the most beautiful places on the planet, but few have charms to rival the original family vineyards of Endrizzi. Located in San Michele all’Adige (locale Masetto; tel. +39 0461 650 129: www/, the winery launched in 1885. Masetto is also the name of the name of the family homestead. In those days, the area was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Endrizzi operated wine shops in Vienna, Prague, Belgrade, and Switzerland. After World War I, Trentino reverted to Italian control. The wine, however, has always been bilingual.

Trilingual, if you count the origin of some of the grapes. Founders Francesco and Angelo Endrici (the Italian spelling of the family name) pioneered Trentino plantings of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Those French grapes complemented their native teroldego and lagrein as well as riesling and gewürztraminer. In more recent decades, Endrizzi has also added chardonnay, pinot bianco, and sauvignon blanc.

The range of grapes isn’t even the most striking thing about Endrizzi vineyards. When I stepped out of the car at the Masetto facility, blooming flowers scented the air. Birdsong was everywhere. Amber sunshine spilled down the vineyard rows, reaching to the Dolomites in the background. Rarely have I arrived somewhere that exuded such health and harmony.

There’s an apropos quote from Goethe near the door of the winery: “Nature and idea cannot be separated without destroying both art and life.”

Lisa María and Paolo Endrici of Endrizzi Dr. Paolo Endrici is the fourth generation to operate the company. His wife Christine, a German architect, designed the winery. Their daughter Lisa María recently concluded wine management studies at Geisenheim in Germany with graduate work in Bordeaux. (Paolo and Lisa María are shown at left.)

The family also operates Serpaia di Endrizzi in La Maremma in Tuscany. I have written elsewhere of the elegance and intense fruit of their Morrelino di Scansano, so it was a pleasure to taste through the Trentino production. For brevity’s sake, I’d like to focus on just a few of the Masetto wines. They are just barely available in the U.S. I’d be thrilled if a broad-based importer were to pick them up, since they offer extraordinary quality at modest prices.

Masetto di Endrizzi

Masetto Bianco from Endrizzi If I had my druthers, I would drink Masetto Bianco at dinner several nights a week. This is a complex white blend of chardonnay, pinot bianco, riesling, and sauvignon blanc. All the grapes come from vineyards that are either biodynamically farmed or tending that way. The traditional pergola vineyards are being retrained to guyot wire. While a tiny amount of phosphate is added in mineral-deficient portions of the vineyards, none remains in the juices. Endrizzi vinfies most of the must in stainless steel, but ferments about 20 percent in oak. The winery employs powerful air-splitting machinery. The nitrogen provides a neutral atmosphere for bottling and capping off fermentation tanks. The ozone takes care of almost all sterilization within the facility, drastically reducing sulphites.

Masetto Nero is the red version of a daily table wine. This blend of native and French grapes spends just a short period in barrels to meld the flavors without adding strong oak flavors. Blueberries, raspberries and cocoa are the dominant flavor notes, with a slight undertone of vanilla.

Gran Masetto

Gran Masetto from Endrizzi The pride and joy of the family, however, is Gran Masetto. This wine shows the potential of the local teraldego grape for making an important wine. The must comes from two pressings. Grapes from a vineyard where the fruit has been reduced 50 percent by a series of green harvests make up the first pressing. The second pressing squeezes passito, or raisined, grapes. These are ripe grapes stored in small baskets under refrigeration until around Christmas. This cold desiccation concentrates the flavor, sugar, and acids. It keeps the aroma intact and avoids the marmalade qualities of grapes dried with sun or heat.

The color is extremely deep—almost black. The wine spends about 18 months in old oak barrels, and often several years in the bottle before release. Paolo poured verticals of the Gran Masetto from 2006 through 2011. Each displayed some caramelized fruit on the nose along with a characteristic teroldego spiciness. The younger wines also showed a hint of black pepper. Consistently ranked among Italy’s top 100 wines, this striking red retails around 45€. It could easily fetch twice the price.

Endrizzi’s Vinoteca is open daily except Tuesday for tastings and sales. Hours are 9am-noon, then 2-7pm. Slightly shorter hours prevail in October and November, when the winery commands everyone’s attention.


07 2016

Mezzacorona proves big wineries can make fine wines

enologist Mateo Covazzi at Mezzacorona
Not all Trentino wine producers are modest family affairs. Established in 1904, the Mezzacorona cooperative ( comprises 1,600 members. Their vineyards stretch across 3,000 hectares (about 11.6 square miles). They grow a third of the grapes in Trento province—about 30,000 tons per year. And they make surprisingly good wine.

Three-quarters of the grapes grown by Mezzacorona members are white. The most important are pinot grigio and chardonnay. Mezzacorona pinot grigio is certainly well-known in the U.S. and Germany, where it is a nationwide top seller in both countries. Wine Enthusiast magazine gave the 2014 a score of 87 and rated it a “best buy.” Annual production reaches about 50 million bottles. In the U.S., it sells for as little as $8 at a discount wine supermarket to $12 at a convenience store.

According to winemaker Mateo Covazzi (above), 2014 was a very challenging year. The cooperative had to lower its ripeness standards for the members, as late rains put a literal damper on the harvest. But Covazzi and his winemaking colleagues work with truly state-of-the-art tools and equipment. Pinot grigio is the flagship of the cooperative, so it must be consistent from year to year. Drinking the 2013 and 2014 side by side in a blind tasting, I detected a little more acid and fewer floral notes in the 2014. Otherwise, I found it hard to tell the two vintages apart.

Sparkling wines carry Rotari label

Mezzacorona facility The sheer size of the Mezzacorona facility is hard to fathom. It is several wineries under one undulating roof at the edge of town in the shadow of the Alps. Built of local wood, the roof echoes the structure of the pergolas traditional in local vineyards. In addition to varietal still wines—pinot grigio, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot nero, and moscato—the same company also makes 2.5 million bottles of sparkling wine under the Rotari label. (The cooperative also makes and bottles smaller amounts of other varietals for local consumption.)

riddling cages at Mezzacorona Rotari Mezzacorona sorts its grapes carefully, grading them for their final use. The best of the chardonnay grapes are reserved for Rotari sparkling wines. The sparkling wines spend a minimum of 20 months on the lees. Riservas sit on the lees for three to four years, flagship wines for six years or more. Although production of sparkling wines is more fragmented than the still wines, the volume of production permits some considerable economies of scale—like the 360-bottle riddling cages shown here. The standard Rotari Brut is comparable to a good entry-level Champagne. At $12-$16, it is half the cost.

Mezzacorona offers guided tours and tastings Monday-Saturday 8:30am–12:30 pm and 2–6pm. Call for an appointment. The Cittadella del Vino (“Citadel of Wine”), as the company calls its new cutting-edge facility, is 300 meters off the A22 at Via del Teroldego, 1/E in Mezzocorona; tel. +39 0461 616 399;


07 2016

Scrigno del Duomo serves food fit for a treasury

exterior of Scrigno del Duomo in Trento
From the outside, it would be easy to think that the restaurant called Scrigno del Duomo is at least as venerable as Le Due Spade (previous post). The building dates from the 14th century and has some faded frescoes to prove it. It was built as the treasury for the cathedral across the plaza. The restaurant, however, is much more recent. It opened in 1999 and quickly became one of Trento’s favorite establishments. The strategic location on the main plaza helps, no doubt, but the kitchen stands on its own merits.

Many diners at Scrigno del Duomo opt to eat at the wine bar. The bar menu focuses on the local sausages and cheeses, as well as some small pasta dishes. The local wine list is exhaustive, but the restaurant also carries an extensive collection of fine French wines, especially Champagnes. Honestly, I’d rather drink a local sparkling wine than a Champagne with the cuisine, but Scrigno del Duomo clearly hosts many family and business celebrations.

Diners who elect a full dinner generally order from the a la carte menu. Count on spending between 35€ and 70€ per person, including two glasses of wine. Portions are modest but the flavors are sensational.

Dishes that surprise and delight

whimsical beef tartare at Scrigno del Duomo in Trento I started with one of the more inventive tartares I’ve ever encountered. When it appeared I thought the waiter had brought the wrong dish. It was smiling at me! The beef was patted into a neat block, faced on two sides by thin, lightly toasted bread. The assemblage sat on a small salad. Chef Mattia Piffer deconstructed the raw egg that customarily accompanies tartare. He dotted the dish with dabs of aioli (the egg white) and a carrot puree (with the egg yolk). When I realized that, I smiled too.

spaghetti with juniper berries and trout caviar at Scrigno del Duomo in Trento My pasta dish was also full of surprises. Simply described as “spaghetti,” it was a plate of well buttered, perfectly al dente egg noodles. They were tossed with chopped chives and trout caviar. Piffer had sauteed juniper berries in the butter before tossing the mixture with the pasta. The combination of the resinous juniper with the umami-laden caviar was truly inspired. I’m thinking that it should work equally well with smoked mackerel or fresh bluefish.

carrot cake at Scrigno del Duomo in Trento My dessert was the least unusual, but it made a nice conclusion for a light meal. Piffer served a slice of a simple olive-oil cake with a tangle of candied ribbons of carrot and a rich vanilla ice cream. It worked well with a glass of Rotari sparkling rosé.

The most prized tables at Scrigno del Duomo (Piazza Duomo 29, Trento; tel. +39 (0)461 220 030; are outside, but the interior rooms have a lovely late medieval ambiance. Meals this good deserve to be in a treasury.


07 2016

Le Due Spade in Trento serves creative seasonal fare

Osteria a Le Due Spade in Trento
Batted back and forth between Italy and Austria over the centuries, Trento developed a cuisine informed by both traditions. Osteria a “Le Due Spade” (or “the two swords”) claims to have served pilgrims since the 14th century. An attendee at the Council of Trent wrote in his diary on December 11, 1545, that he ate at the sign of the two swords and found the landlord “merry company.” So the restaurant simply claims “dal 1545” on its sign.

The restaurant’s creative local cuisine flashes forward nearly five centuries. Chef Federico Parolari and his staff make everything on the premises, including pasta and bread. They also use highly seasonal ingredients. I ate at Le Due Spade on the third week of May when I attended the Mostra Vini del Trentino. The appetizer plate below demonstrated the dual culinary traditions and the kitchen’s commitment to seasonal local products.

appetizer at Le Due Spade in Trento

On the left stands a cheese puff—essentially a popover with cheese sauce and a trickle of basil oil. Four delicious slices of veal carpaccio make up the middle offering. A small drizzle of balsamic vinegar provides a sweet-and-sour complement that enlivens the flavor of the meat. Dairy farms dot the hillsides of Trentino that are not covered with vineyards. Free-range veal is plentiful, mild, and delicious.

The third appetizer was yet another variation on canderli, the bread dumplings of northern Italy. They are kissing cousins of Austrian knüdeln. Parolari gave this dumpling a delightful twist. Hop shoots—not the flowers that go into brewing, but the new spring shoots of the plant—were the primary component of the dumpling. They tasted slightly bitter, intensely green, and rather nut-like. Parolari wrapped each soft dumpling in shredded phyllo dough and baked them in the oven. One bite through the crisp crust reveals the oozing soft dumpling inside.

pork plate Portions at Le Due Spade are much more Italian than Austrian. Since the dishes boast bold flavors, a small amount suffices. My main dish of roast pork came as small pieces with explosive flavor accompanied by colorful, equally diminutive vegetables. The sweet carrot was balanced by even sweeter roasted onion. The braised radicchio supplied a touch of bitterness countered by the artichoke stem. The rich flavor of the pork itself supplied the salt and umami. The plate nodded to tradition but seemed utterly up to date/

Osteria a “Le Due Spade” (Via Don Arcangelo Rizzi, 11, Trento; tel. +39 (0)461 234-343; offers two tasting menus and a full a la carte menu, along with local wines. Nearly 500 years of satisfied diners can’t be wrong.


07 2016

Warm wind makes fine Letrari wines in Vallagarina

Letrari vineyards in Isera
Every afternoon at 3 p.m., warm air sweeps north from Lake Garda into the Vallagarina, the low hills around Trentino’s southern portion of the Adige River. Vineyard owners call it “L’Ora,” or “the hour,” and swear that you could set a clock by it. All through the summer, this steady breeze provides warmth and aeration to the grapes. It drives up the sugar concentration and sweeps away potential fungal infections. The warm, dry wind makes the Vallagarina one of the best places in Italy to grow heat-loving grape varieties. The big reds from Bordeaux flourish here. So do the classic grapes of sparkling wine: chardonnay and pinot noir.

Lucia LetrariThe Letrari family has been making wine in Italy’s Trentino region for the last few centuries. The modern Letrari winery ( was founded in 1976 by Leonello Letrari and his wife Maria Vittoria on the family lands in Borgetto all’Adige. Daughter Lucia (right) graduated from the region’s prestigious Institute of Agriculture and Enology in San Michele al Adige in 1987. She now runs the family winery, and her son is already working at her side.

Casa del Vino

The Letrari tasting room is a bit off the beaten path. As a result, Lucia often holds business meetings at the Casa del Vino della Vallagarina (Piazza San Vincenzo, 1, Isera: tel. +39 (0) 464 486 057;

Casa del Vino della Vallagarina Part restaurant, part enoteca, part wine shop, the Casa del Vino is an essential stop for a wine tourist. It is in the heart of the mountain village on the wine route known as the Strada del vino e dei sapori del Trentino ( It has a few hotel rooms starting at 90€ per night.

Impressive sparkling wines

Letrari produces a dizzying array of wines, but Leonello was a pioneer in making sparkling wines. The family still prides itself on sparkling wines made from high altitude chardonnay and pinot noir.

The very impressive Brut Riserva—60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay—was surprisingly good with a beef carpaccio topped with paper-thin swirls of sweet golden apple. The wine spends a minimum of 48 months on the lees. That produces a creamy head, notes of toasted bread, and a lingering taste of fruit. The prickliness of the tiny bubbles was a nice counterpoint to the raw beef. That wine, however, was only a warm-up for Letrari’s Riserva del Fondatore. This deluxe wine spends 96 months in contact with the yeast, developing a complexity comparable to high-end Champagne.

Letrari lunch canderli Letrari’s Dosaggio Zero is made without adding sweetness for the second fermentation. Tart and dry, it has a delicate apple-pear fruitiness. It mated nicely with a plate of canderli, breadcrumb dumplings laden with local herbs and served with cheese fondue. The yeastiness is less pronounced, since it only spends 24 months on the lees. The tart delicacy makes it perfect for pairing with cheeses and shellfish. With just a hint of brassiness like rice wine, it would be good with sushi. It’s also great this time of year as a picnic wine.


06 2016

Grigoletti makes superb wines a family affair

Grigoletti vineyards in Nomi, Italy
Slender and willowy, Bruno Grigoletti reaches his big hands into the canopy of a grape pergola and starts ripping out the extra foliage. In his late 70s, he works at a pace that would exhaust a man a third his age. Bruno manages a dozen family vineyards. They total about 15 acres (6 ha) in and around the commune of Nomi on the west bank of the Adige river, 9 miles (15 km) south of Trento. Some of the heat-loving varieties grow at the edge of the village in the alluvial soils of the Adige. But the most striking wines come from steep vineyard plots on the limestone hills behind the village.

Grigoletti brunoBruno prunes the white grapes—mostly pinot grigio, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc—three times across the summer. He then cuts out foliage a few weeks before harvest to improve air circulation and maximize sun exposure. Some special plots of white grapes and all the red grapes—merlot, marzemino, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and schiava—get an extra pruning across the summer to keep their yields in check.

Although this end of the Adige valley lies far north in Italy, the southern end is strongly influenced by Lake Garda. The lake effect makes it warm enough to raise lemons and olives. A warm wind siphons up the valley, extending the growing season around Nomi and providing warmth and moisture to go with the intense summer sunlight. Vineyard managers work hard to keep yields down and acids and sugar up.

Vineyard management is just the beginning. Azienda Agricola Grigoletti is a true family affair. Bruno commands the vineyards, and his son Carmelo makes the wine and runs the cellars. Marica, Carmelo’s wife, runs the tasting room and sales. They produce about 50,000 bottles per year of a dozen wines. Ten are table wines and two are sweet wines they call their “Meditation” series.

Grigoletti winery signI can heartily recommend them all. But I confess a special affection for Marzemino and for the four “selection” wines. Marzemino is a native grape, probably an offspring of Teroldego. It’s best known outside the region through a reference in the opera Don Giovanni. The rake calls for a glass just before he is cast into hell. (The librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, probably drank Marzemino when he grew up a few miles away.)

Most of Marzemino Trentino D.O.C. that I tasted at the big Trentino tasting in May (Mostra Vini) were an almost opaque dark plum color with a gentle warmth and very little tannin or acid. Grigoletti’s version is a cut above. It shows pronounced red fruit on the nose and a dried fruit aftertaste that’s very pleasant with food.

At the moment, North Americans must visit Italy to try these wines. But if Grigoletti breaks into distribution on this side of the Atlantic, the four “selection” wines will lead the way. They stand on their own with anything similar in the world.


L’Opera chardonnay (9€ at the winery) comes from a mountainside vineyard where the vines are all at least 25 years old. Most of the soil is dolomitic limestone with a thin covering of topsoil, but part of the vineyard overlays a band of gravel. The grapes are soft-pressed and the juice is fermented in stainless tanks. The wine rests on the lees (with regular stirring) for six months. L’Opera is never touched by oak, but the influence of the lees and and high mineral content of the soil gives it an intensity and backbone usually associated with barrel aging. This is a chardonnay with pronounced fruit (golden apples more than pineapple or banana), a honey-like viscosity. and a well-defined structure. It mates well with ocean fish and mild young cheeses.


Retiko (11€) is Grigoletti’s complexly flavored white blend—70% chardonnay, 30% sauvignon blanc. Sauvignon blanc is very aromatic in this part of Trentino, almost mimicking riesling and gewürztraminer in its intensity, though the flavor is much more like lychee. Carmelo ferments the wine directly in large barrels made of French acacia (black locust). That gives the developing wine access to oxygen without picking up the vanilla and other flavors from oak. He leaves it on the lees for another five months (with regular battonage) and then rests the wine in bottles six months before release. It’s clearly a sister wine to L’Opera, but with a more sprightly personality and a prickly acidity that makes it a good complement to veal carpaccio.


Grigoletti makes Merlot Antico Vigna (13€) from vines that are 60 or more years old. During the harsh economic times after World War II, merlot was “the family bread.” In those years, the Grigolettis overcropped the grape. But they have narrowed the historic pergolas and have retrained many old vines to wire. That drastically reduces yields and concentrates flavor and sugar. Carmelo makes a simpler merlot for ready drinking. But the grapes from the old vines are fermented in wood, then spend six months in French oak barrique, and two years in the bottle. The resulting wine tastes of cherries and bramble fruits with a pronounced spiciness. It is merlot in a very Trentino style—warm and round and slippery in the mouth due to soft tannins. Drink with a country salami, grilled lamb, or aged cheese.


Carmelo Grigoletti with a magnum of Gonzalier Gonzalier (16€) is Grigoletti’s meritage. It contains 50% merlot, 25% each cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. They harvest most of the grapes a month later than the rest of the family vineyards. That is always tricky here, since they run the risk of rain. Gonzalier is fermented in oak and aged in a mix of oak and cherry barrels. Vineyard management is key, and the wine displays none of the green pepper aromas common in unripe Trentino cabernet. Carmelo has elected to make Gonzalier velvety and fruity with just a hint of vanilla and spice, and has kept the alcohol level to 14 percent. Every few years, he will blend three vintages to create magnums, available only at the winery for 65€.

Grigoletti welcomes visitors to the tasting room and store at Via Garibaldi, 12 in Nomi Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Call them at (011-34) 0464 834 215 or visit the website at


06 2016

Hearty Trentino dishes complement the wines

chef in Trento at Mostra Vini
If you’re going to spend all morning tasting 128 wines, you really need some hearty food to follow up. The Trento cuisine is a fascinating blend of Italian and Germanic foodways, and it’s well suited to the regional wines. After we sampled our way through the wines, most of us had absorbed enough alcohol, even without swallowing, that we really needed a good meal. The Trentino wine consortium made sure we got it!

We started with a glass of light white wine made from the Incrocio Manzoni Bianco grape. It’s part of a group named for professor Luigi Manzoni (1888-1968), who experimented with crossing a number of grapes during the 1920s and 1930s at Italy’s oldest school of oenology in Conegliano, north of Venice. The bianco cross of riesling and pinot bianco (pinot blanc to French speakers) does quite well in cold climate, high altitude vineyards like Trentino’s. In fact, it’s often too vigorous and has to be aggressively pruned to keep from overcropping. A fairly delicate wine, it has just enough astringency to clear the palate before a meal.

Mostra Vini del Trentino lunch of braised veal cheeksThe meal was a humble feast of straightforward dishes typical of the region. We started with a red wine risotto—a treat when it’s made with the local Teroldego red and the local grating cheese—before moving on to braised veal cheeks with roasted potatoes (right) and, for dessert, a beautiful apple strudel.

The local grating cheese, Trentingrana DOP, is made in a part of the province that falls within the delimited region for Grana Padano DOP cheese, but it has the name “Trentino” prominently stamped in the form that makes the big wheels. Since it’s hard to find in the U.S., substitute a 24-month Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for the same effect.

Note that the chef stirred the risotto vigorously (see photo at top of post), almost folding the mixture as it cooked. The recipe below follows the traditional way to make risotto—about a half hour of stirring—though you could also use our pressure cooker method (see this post: by reducing the volume of liquid to about twice the volume of rice. Note that the alcohol and the tannins in red wine affect the cooking time, making it about 25 percent longer than using mostly broth and a white wine. But the extra time is worth it for the perfect melding of red wine and aged cheese with the creamy mouth feel of the dish.

Mostralunch red wine risotto


Serves 4


2 cups beef broth
2 1/2 cups red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
4 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Trentingrana (see above)


Place broth in a medium saucepan and add 2 cups of the red wine, reserving the remainder.. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat so wine-broth is hot but not simmering.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottom pot (a Dutch oven works well) over medium-low heat. Add shallots and and cook, stirring occasionally until shallots are soft and translucent. Add rice and 2 tablespoons butter and stir to coat.

Stir in the reserved half cup of wine and cook over medium heat, stirring until wine is absorbed. Stir in a half cup of the hot wine broth and adjust heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed. Add more wine broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until most of the liquid has been absorbed. It will take 25-30 minutes for nearly all the liquid to be absorbed. At this point, the rice should be creamy and glistening with a starch coating but still be al dente when sampled.
Adjust to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and remove from heat.

Remove pot from heat and cover to let rest about two minutes before serving in shallow bowls. Pass extra grated cheese.


06 2016