Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

Compelling CARO marries Mendoza and Bordeaux

Bodegas Caro vineyard
In November, we wrote about the CARO Amancaya blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon as a bargain big red. (See this post.) On a cold and rainy March weekend, we decided it was time to dust off a bottle of that wine’s big brother. The 2013 CARO is a 50/50 blend of Malbec grown in Mendoza’s Lujan de Cayo district (above, courtesy of Bodegas CARO) and Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the adjoining Uco Valley. The CARO wines are a joint project between Nicolas Catena and the Barons de Rothschild. In this top wine of the collaboration, intense Argentine fruit meets Bordeaux-style winemaking to great effect. It retails for $50-$60.

CARO 2013 on our tableWe pondered what would pair well with such a voluptuous red and decided that grilled steak alone wasn’t up to the task. We like beef with Cabernet and blue cheese with Malbec. So we created a variant of boeuf en croute that uses an easy rough puff pastry with a potent Roquefort substituting for some of the butter. The result was even better than we expected.

CARO 2013 is still evolving in the bottle, and we found it changed markedly in the course of a meal. Intense initial aromas conjured blackberries and cassis with resinous overtones of the dry brush in the Andes foothills. The balance between Malbec rigor and Cabernet lushness was quite appealing. The acidity cut through the lusciousness of the pastry crust while the elegant, supple tannins brought out the meatiness of the filet mignon. The sweetness of the roasted tomatoes brought out the leather and tar of the wine’s Malbec component. As the meal progressed, Cabernet came more to the fore. The wine is ready to drink now, but we’d love to try it again with the same dish in a few years.

boeuf en croute with CARO

BOEUF EN CROUTE ROQUEFORT


We knew that we wanted to combine the intensity of a good Roquefort with the richness of puff pastry. Most versions of boeuf en croute that we found (or beef Wellington, for that matter) used frozen puff pastry. So we resorted to rough puff pastry, which is folded about a thousand times less than the real thing. Substituting bleu cheese for 20 percent of the butter provided just the right flavor without overwhelming the dish or messing up the texture.

Serves 2

For rough puff pastry


Ingredients

1 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 stick plus 5 tablespoons butter at room temperature but not soft
3 tablespoons Roquefort bleu cheese
1/3 cup cold water, more as needed

Directions

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter and bleu cheese in small pieces and add to the bowl. Using pastry cutter or two knives, combine until texture of fine gravel. Pieces of butter and cheese should be visible.

Make a depression in center of mixture and add about 1/3 cup of cold water. Mix until a firm, rough dough forms, adding more water as needed. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate 20 minutes to rest.

On a lightly floured board or counter, knead dough gently and form into a smooth rectangle about 7 inches long on one dimension. Keeping edges straight, roll out dough to roughly 7 by 21 inches. Butter and cheese should create marbled effect.

Fold 1/3 of dough down from the top, then fold from the bottom to overlap. Turn 90 degrees and again roll out to three times its length. Fold as before. Cut into four equal pieces. Cover pieces in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 20 minutes until ready to roll out to encase beef.

For beef and mushrooms


Ingredients

two 6-ounce filets mignon
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced then chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup sherry
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup minced parsley (about 6 sprigs, finely chopped)
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
2 clusters cocktail tomatoes (Campari tomatoes) on the vine

Directions

Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high flame. Add olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter, then sear beef on all sides. Remove to a rack over a plate to catch juices. Let cool, wrap and refrigerate.

Make mushroom duxelles in same pan. Add remaining tablespoon butter to pan and cook shallot until translucent. Add mushrooms, thyme, tarragon and bay leaf. Cook until tender. Add sherry and turn up heat. Cook until liquid has evaporated.

While cooking, combine cornstarch and yogurt in a bowl, mixing well. As mushroom mixture loses excess moisture, add yogurt mixture and stir well. Reduce heat and cook slowly until thick and pasty. Stir in minced parsley and reserve.

boeuf en croute to accompany CARO just cooked

To assemble


Roll out a quarter of the pastry into a circle about 2 inches bigger than one filet. Roll out another quarter slightly larger. Spoon mushroom duxelles on smaller piece. Place filet on top. Paint the exposed edges with egg wash. Lay second piece over top and pinch at edges to seal. Place beef case on aluminum foil. Repeat with second filet. Refrigerate two beef cases until ready to cook.

About 1 hour before serving, set oven at 425°F and place a heavy baking sheet inside on middle rack.

Brush both pieces of pastry with egg wash and make two slits on top to let steam escape. After oven is preheated, carefully lift pastries onto the preheated baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 400°F and continue to bake 20 minutes for medium rare.

Remove from the oven and let stand about 10 minutes before serving on individual plates with quickly broiled tomato cluster.

boeuf en croute with CARO cut on plate

29

03 2017

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano re-emphasizes terroir

bottle top of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Judging by the wines from the nine producers who visited Boston, Montepulciano winemakers have returned to native Tuscan blending grapes. DOCG rules permit up to 30 percent non-Sangiovese grapes in Vino Nobile. In truth, more than half the wines I tasted were more than 90 percent Sangiovese. And those producers blending in other grapes have largely stopped using Merlot. Instead, they opt for Canaiolo (which softens the acidity of Sangiovese), Colorino (which provides color and structure), and Mammolo (which gives a velvety violet note).

Since each producer presented three to five wines between the technical tasting and a dinner, my full tasting notes would be overkill here. Suffice it to say that Montepulciano superstars Boscarelli (poderiboscarelli.com), Dei (cantinedei.com), and Poliziano (www.carlettipoliziano.com)—along with Antinori-owned La Braccesca—continue to define modern Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Each presented a Rosso di Montepulciano with the spicy, fresh strawberry notes of young, unoaked Sangiovese, a voluptuous Vino Nobile with overtones of prunes and mulberries, and a muscular Riserva that added tobacco and leather notes to the full fruit.

But two less heralded producers surprised me with wines that showed greater fruit concentration and sharply defined flavor profiles that seemed to vault them into another category altogether.

Looking over Montemercurio vineyards to Montepulciano

Montemercurio fulfills founder’s vision

Operated by three young Anselmi brothers (aged 28, 30, and 33), Montemercurio (montemercurio.com) sits in the northern sector of the region. The aerial view above looks back toward town over the winery’s vineyards. It is the model of romantic Tuscan wine country. The first three hectares of vineyards were planted by grandfather Damo in the early 1960s, and they represent a field blend of mostly Sangiovese with some other Tuscan grapes (including a bit of Barbera). Another seven hectares have been added in the decades since, including some vineyards of white varietals for making Vin Santo.

Damo Anselmi passed on after the harvest in 2006. The family established the winery the following year and named its flagship wine after the founder. It is treated as an elite wine from the outset. The oldest vineyards are hand-picked, and destemmed and sorted by hand before being placed in small open vats for spontaneous fermentation. The skins remain for a minimum of 18 days to a maximum of 28 days, depending on the harvest. Racked off the skins, the wine is transferred to 1,000 liter Slavonian oak casks for two years. It is coarsely filtered but not clarified before bottling. It continues to age at least a year in bottle before release.

At about $50 per bottle, this wine is a steal. The nose explodes with intense blackberry and blackcurrant aromas and just a hint of violets. More full-bodied than many Sangiovese wines, it has a luscious structure with fully ripe tannins. Open early to let it breathe, and set out a plate of roast boar.

Starting last fall, Montemercurio also makes a stupendous olive oil—grassy and brassy with just a touch of bitterness like a good southern Spanish oil.

Salcheto sets sustainability benchmark

Those clouds lying on the dormant winter vineyards of Salcheto (salcheto.it) provide the blanket of moisture that the tuff-clay soil holds for the growing season. For the rest of the year, the climate is dry and well-ventilated. Salcheto adds no sulfites during vinification and the entire operation has been biodynamic since 2009. (It is not Demeter-certified, but is one of a dozen Montepulciano producers certified as organic.) Salcheto takes sustainability two important steps further. It generates all its own power for the winer, and recycles and manages its own water supply.

Salcheto is relatively young. It was founded in 1984 and produced its first wine in 1990. Since 2003, it has been consolidated under the multinational Lavinia corporation but is still operated by former owner Michele Manelli, who has made the wines since 1997. The capital injection helped create a strikingly elegant winery and turned the 13th century farmhouse on the estate into a nine-bedroom B&B.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Salco from SalchetoAll that is just window dressing. The real story is the wine. Salcheto’s basic red, a Rosso di Montepulciano called “Obvius,” is a big, brash young wine. It is saucy and tart and full of fruit. Salcheto boasts that it is made with fruit and nothing else—no added yeasts or even water. It’s fermented in steel and sold after months in the bottle. It shows what biodynamic farming can accomplish with the grape—and it commands a high price for Rosso, about $13.

Salco sets a high standard

Salcheto tends to over-ripen its Sangiovese, even partially drying part of the harvest. They don’t take the practice to an extreme, so the wines have none of the cooked grape caramel of Amarone, for example. But the flavors, sugars, and acidity are all concentrated in the Vino Nobile wines. My favorite is made with grapes selected from the Salco vineyard, which is planted in an early-ripening clone. (The vines are tied up with willow branches. “Salice” in Italian, the willow is “Salco” in the local dialect.) Listing around $35 but projecting a cellar life of 12-15 years, this is a must for any serious lover of Sangiovese. The nose is full of fresh herbs, mint, and wildflowers. The taste is full-bodied fruit with overtones of blueberries and black raspberries. The finish is smooth and elegant.

Reassessing rich reds of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vineyards surround hill town of Montepulciano in Tuscany
Less oak, more Sangiovese. In a nutshell, that’s the good news about the latest releases of Vino Nobile di Montepulchiano. Having just celebrated the 50th birthday of the D.O.C., the wine makers of Vino Nobile are converging toward a distinctive modern style. Nine leading producers visited Boston on a tour just ahead of ProWein in Dusseldorf and Vinitaly in Verona. Following on the heels of glowing coverage in Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, it was a chance for the small region to shine without the distraction of comparisons to Tuscany’s other major Sangiovese areas: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and even Morellino di Scansano.

Sangiovese grapes in Montepulciano in Tuscany
Traditionally known in the Montalcino area as Prugnolo Gentile, the Sangiovese grape is almost ideally suited to the clay and sandy soils of the hills around the beautiful medieval Tuscan city. (Montepulciano played a supporting role in the films Under the Tuscan Sun and The English Patient.) Typically planted in tiers following the contours of the slopes, the vineyards sit at 250 to 650 meters above sea level.

Montepulciano embraces Sangiovese roots


The Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (consorziovinonobile.it) has always permitted the addition of other grapes, including many minor white varieties once used to stretch the crop. And like so much of the world, Montepulciano embraced international varietals and new oak barrels in a big way in the 1980s. That trend has turned. In recent years, growers have embraced traditional red blending grapes (Canaiolo and Mammolo) in place of white varietals, and have replanted vineyards with more Sangiovese than ever. Slavonian oak is more prominent than French of American, and most producers use very little new oak.

“We finally realized that good Cabernet and good Merlot grow lots of places,” explained Silvia Loriga of the consortium. “But no one can grow Sangiovese like Montepulciano.”

(Photos courtesy Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano)

Valpolicella Classico matches chocolate-spiked ragù

Valpolicella with chocolate-spiked ragù
We discovered a Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013 nestled among bigger reds in our limited wine storage. Not having a lot of room to hold wine means drinking bottles when they’re ready. With the 2014 already in the market, we figured this welterweight red was ready to go.

Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013But what dish would do it justice? The Marchesi Fumanelli family (www.squarano.com) has been making top-flight Valpolicella wines since 1470 at their estate just outside Verona. Perhaps the age of the vineyards (up to 40 years) accounts for the clean flavor and deep fruit expression. The blend has a backbone of 40 percent each of Corvina and the bigger clusters of Corvinone. The rest is Rondinella, which deepens the color and gives the wine more body. The finished wine is aged 8-10 months in French barrique—most of it second and third passage.

We prefer this approach to Valpolicella Classico over the increasingly common practice of adding the pomace from an Amarone pressing to the fermentation of the Valpolicella grapes. (Both wines use the same grapes, but those destined for Amarone are partially dried to concentrate the sugars.) We think the lingering toasted, caramelized Amarone flavor in what is properly called Valpolicella Ripasso often masks shortcomings in the Valpolicella itself. The Classico Superiore approach at Fumanelli lets the grapes speak for themselves.

Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore is a fine red for sipping, though the hint of ash in the finish (typical of Corvina) cries out for food. A brilliant ruby red, it presents a nose of black cherries and blackberries. Those flavors carry through on the palate—along with the bitter almond or ashen note. It’s velvety in the mouth with a long, satisfying finish.

Finding a dinner dish


Maybe it’s the season, but it seemed a good companion to dark chocolate. But we wanted a savory dinner dish to accompany the wine, so we did a little digging. Savory chocolate often means Mexican mole poblano or mole negro, but both dishes would overwhelm the Valpolicella. Then we stumbled on a recipe that’s been kicking around in magazines and online for the last few decades. It’s a ragù of browned pork, onion, red wine, and tomato, slow cooked and finished with just a little dark chocolate and cinnamon. Said to have originated in Abruzzo, it’s usually served with fresh egg pasta called chitarrina. The pasta is rolled out in sheets and cut on a box frame strung with fine wires like guitar strings.

We’ve made some adjustments to the basic recipe given by Michele Scicolone on page 173 of her masterpiece 1,000 Italian Recipes (Wiley, 2004). Michele calls for using a pound of fresh tagliarini. We made our own fresh pasta (1 1/3 cups flour, pinch of salt, tablespoon of olive oil, 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk), and cut it with the tagliatelle rollers. It weighed about 10 ounces and made two generous dinner entree servings. If you use a pound of pasta, you could serve a less saucy pasta course to four diners. Just don’t forget the Valpolicella Classico.

ABRUZZESE BITTER CHOCOLATE RAGÙ


Ingredients

1 onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 pound ground pork
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of cinnamon

Directions

In heavy saucepan, cook onion in olive oil over medium heat until onion begins to turn golden. Crumble in the pork and continue cooking. Break up meat with spatula. Cook until pork begins to brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Don’t skimp on the pepper. You need the flavor to round out the dish.)

Add wine and bring to a simmer for three minutes to burn off the alcohol. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. Bring to a simmer and cook slowly for about an hour, stirring now and then. Sauce should thicken.

Stir in chocolate, sugar, and cinnamon until chocolate melts. Keep sauce warm while cooking pasta. Add cooked, drained pasta to sauce all at once and toss to coat. Add extra cooking water if necessary to achieve a saucy texture. Serve immediately.

31

01 2017

Limestone mountains loom over Jerzu vines

Jerzu and Antichi Poderi winery
Famed for its local strain of Cannonau, the vineyards of Jerzu grow in a massive natural amphitheater scooped out of the side of a limestone range. The basin ascends from sea level to 750 meters, and the soils are all a mix of soft limestone and crumbly schist. The photo above shows the ridge and the hillside village of Jerzu. The industrial site in the foreground is the Antichi Poderi Jerzu cooperative (www.jerzuantichipoderi.it/en/), which produces 1.8 million bottles a year.

The predominance of limestone subsoil at Jerzu means that the vines have to live with scarce water that drains away underground. This drainage carves out great cavern systems for spectacular spelunking. On the outskirts of nearby Ulassai, the Grotta di Su Marmuri (www.grottasumarmuri.it) is open April through October for €10 guided tours. The journey takes about 90 minutes, including the time to climb a steep 100 meters up the mountain to the mouth of the cave. The descent of about 50 meters into the main chambers is much easier. Formed by water erosion during the Jurassic period, the cave system consists of several high-vaulted rooms with marvelously abstract stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Antichi Poderi Jerzu

Antichi Poderi winesThe limestone basin has been known for a thousand years or more as a good place to grow grapes. Records from A.D. 1103 show the people of Jerzu paying tribute to the papal legate in wine rather than gold. Eighteen owners of the oldest vineyards launched the Vitivinicola Antichi Poderi Jerzu wine-grower’s cooperative in 1950. (“Antichi poderi” translates as “ancient estates” or “ancient parcels.”) Now boasting 430 members, this powerhouse cooperative also carries out extensive historical and technical research on Jerzu winemaking.

The cooperative makes Cannonau wines in several styles and price points. Its basic young Cannonau di Sardegna, called Marghia, sells widely in the U.S. for less than $10. It is a bright young wine with raspberry notes and very soft tannins—easy-drinking red. The base riserva, called Chuerra, is made in much the same manner, but receives six months in large oak barrels and a year in small barrels before bottling. The combination of Slovenian and French oak imparts more structure to the tannins as well as pronounced cedar and eucalyptus herbal notes.

Josto Miglior Cannonau di Sardegna DOP Riserva Antichi PoderiThe Josto Miglior riserva, named for a famous Jerzu doctor, is a more bracing version of Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva. I had the chance to taste a 2013, which was still very closed. The wine was elegant, but the tannins were so pronounced that they were like steel bones sticking out of a tuxedo. Then I tried a 2010, which was smooth and supple. The tannins and fruit were in perfect balance. Clearly, this wine rewards the patient buyer. It retails in the U.S. just under $20.

Lorenzo Pusole

Roberto and Lorenzo Pusole operate their family estate in Baunei, well north of Jerzu in a different range of hills. Located near Tortoli, their vineyards are planted in alluvial soils of mixed sand and stones. But the vines are very old. (The youngest were planted in 2004.) The slopes range 30 to 150 meters, and the brothers grow the white Vermentino grape on the lower reaches.

I’ve rarely met wine growers who have gone so all-in for organic production. “We live in the vineyards,” explained Roberto. “A healthy environment is essential to our well-being.” In addition to grapes, the brothers raise semi-feral Razza Sarda pigs and grow heritage varieties of grain and olives.

The Pusole brothers make two versions of Cannonau di Sardegna. Both are fermented in stainless steel without temperature control using wild yeasts. Both wines remain on the skins for about 12 days, or until the initial fermentation subsides. In spring, spontaneous malolactic fermentation softens the wines.

The version bearing the family name, Pusole, is aged 10 months in stainless steel and three months in bottle. It is a lusty Cannonau with pronounced dark berry fruit, hints of leather and anise, and a nice herbal finish.

Spectacular Sa Scala

The version labeled Sa Scala is not registered as a riserva, but it does spend 16 months in small French oak barrels and a year in bottle before release. Made only in limited quantities (2,200 bottles last year), it’s expensive for Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, retailing around €50. (It’s not yet available in the U.S.) The complexity is remarkable enough to justify the price. With a comparatively low 13.5 percent alcohol and little residual sugar, it nonetheless boasts ripe and supple tannins. The fruit is elegant instead of jammy. The nose is so redolent of classic Mediterranean scrub, that you can almost hear the bees buzz as they gather their nectar.

14

01 2017

Mamoiada and its wines evoke primal power

Francesco Sedilesu in Ballu Tundo vineyard near Mamoiada
The little community of Mamoiada sits at the foot of the two highest mountain ranges on Sardinia, the Gennargenti and the Supramonte. It is known for two powerful forces: ancient vines of Cannonau and atavistic carnival masks.

The most famous masks are the Mamuthones, shown here. The pre-Christian figures perform in ritual ceremonies that mark the turn of the agricultural calendar from the dark of winter toward the season of spring growth. The parade through Mamoidada predates Lenten carnivals. Men dressed in these shaggy black sheepskins with primitive wooden black masks dance slowly through town, each laden with more than 30 kilos of bronze bells. The figures appear first on January 17, the feast of Sant’ Antonio Abate, when the people of Mamoiada dance around bonfires lit on the town squares. They reappear in processions on the Sunday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Mamoiada’s museum building includes an archaeological museum that’s tough to grasp unless you already know a lot about Nuragic culture. The same structure also contains the Museo delle Maschere Mediterranee, or the Mediterranean Mask Museum, which explains a bit about the Mamuthones tradition. It’s at Piazza Europa 15 (+39 0784.569.018, www.museodellamaschere.it). Admission is €5.

About the Mamoiada wines

100 year old Cannonau vine in Mamoiada With vineyards located between 600 and 900 meters above sea level, Mamoiada can boast some of the oldest Cannonau vines still producing. Almost all the grapes are grown bush style, and the vines are cut back annually to train them in the “goblet” style. The vine in the photo to the left was planted in the early 20th century, and it still yields a few clusters of grapes each year. The prevalence of such old vines tends to give Mamoiada wines an unusual depth and complexity. The region had a cooperative winery that flourished from 1950 until failing in 1980.

Since then, a few producers have consolidated holdings of older vineyards and have begun vinting their own wines. Most growers follow organic and even biodynamic practices, and most are certified organic. These high-altitude Cannonaus need to stay on the vine a long time to fully ripen the tannins. As a result, many show an alcohol content up to 15.5 percent.

Cantine Giuseppe Sedilesu

Giuseppe Sedilesu winery in MamoiadaThree children of the founders operate this winery that was created in 1981 to fill the gap left by the coop’s failure. The entry-level Cannonau called “Sartiu” is a pleasant young red that shows the youth of the vines (3-15 years) in its comparative lightness. The flagship “Mamuthone” comes from older vines (15-50 years). Sedilesu ferments this wine in stainless steel and ages it briefly in large Slavonian oak barrels. Spicy notes of wood, anise, and eucalyptus grace an otherwise elegant, rich grapiness.

Sedilesu also makes two distinctive riservas. One is named for an ancient circle dance of Barbagia, “Ballu Tundu.” At the top of this post, winemaker Francesco Sedilesu is standing in the vineyard where the grapes grow. The vines range 60-100 years old. This wine ferments for four to six weeks in big conical vats with manual punch-down. (Fermentation is spontaneous, depending on wild yeasts.) The extraction from the skins is extreme, resulting in a very deep color and tannins that stand up to the 15.5 percent alcohol. All the aromas in the Mamuthone are present, along with leather and tobacco. On first taste, it is very spicy with a long finish.

Best of the best

Francesco Sedilesu sips his riservaThe other riserva is named for founder Giuseppe Sedilesu. Only grapes from the lowest yielding plants in the highest parts of the oldest vineyards are selected for this Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva. The winery only makes it in the best vintages. This is the big brother to Ballu Tundu. It is fermented the same way, and also aged in big oak barrels and in bottle before release. Tart cherries, bramble fruit, and elderberries come to mind on the nose and first taste. As it opens up, this riserva blooms into a complex glass of fruit and herbs with notes of almond and hazelnuts. Although it is great with roasted meats, Francesco (above right) considers it a wine for musing.

The winery is located in the center of Mamoiada at Via V. Emanuele II, 64 (+39 0784.567.91, www.giuseppesedilesu.com).

11

01 2017

Design and wine shine at Hotel Su Gologone

folk art at Su Gologone
Hotel Su Gologone is a destination for design fans as well as wine-lovers. The whitewashed stucco walls and terracotta floor tiles serve as a blank canvas for an explosion of color. Potted geraniums and bright folk art dot every corner of the sprawling property. Bougainvillea crawls up the walls, its blossoms dangling overhead. Immense fig trees provide shade to outdoor patios and dining areas. The guest rooms, which range €121–€287 per night, are virtual galleries of local crafts—hand-loomed bed coverings, ancient pottery, brightly glazed ceramic folk art, furniture fashioned from local juniper wood, charmingly naïf paintings.

double room at Su GologoneSu Gologone began in 1967 as a small restaurant serving food next to the mountain spring by the same name. Since the location was remote, the family opened a small hotel that has grown over the decades into a designer destination. All the connected buildings cling to the topography of the hillside, creating multiple indoor and outdoor steps and staircases to access all the wings. The interiors overflow with folk art. (See the sitting area at the top of this post). Typical of the region, the hotel has no useful address. (You can send mail to Loc. Su Gologone, 08025 Oliena, Sardegna, Italia.) Reservations can be made by phone (+39 0784.287.512 or +39 0784.287.552) or at the multilingual web site (www.sugologone.it).

Showcase of different Cannonau styles

Su Gologone provides such an artistic atmosphere that many of the Cannonau producers like to use it to showcase their wines. The wine list in the restaurant is almost encyclopedic, and the producers frequently host potential distributors at the hotel. My little group organized by Renzo Peretto and Donatella Muscianese of Laore met with a handful of producers during our stay to sample some of their wines.

Sella & Mosca

Sella & Mosca (www.sellaemosca.it) began in 1899 as a vine nursery to help rebuild the Sardinian wine industry after the scourge of phylloxera. As such, the company takes a leadership role in rehabilitating some of the island’s indigenous grape varieties, most notably Vermentino among the whites and Cannonau among the reds. The main plantings in Alghero encompass 550 contiguous hectares (1359 acres), one of the largest vineyards in Europe.

The company makes three levels of Cannonau, including a very simple fruity style and a spicy “Dimonios” label made entirely for the domestic market. I recommend trying it in Italy. The low-yield grapes from old vines are fermented and aged in huge oak barrels and concrete. Its very spicy nose is followed by a velvet feel in the mouth and bright raspberry afternotes.

The wine widely available in the U.S. is Cannonau di Sardenga DOC Riserva. Retailing $16-$18 (in Massachusetts), this wine has everything you might ask of a food-friendly Cannonau. The brilliant ruby color and nose of violets and raspberries give way to a plummy mouth-feel flavor with hints of anise and rosemary. There’s just a touch of oak in the finish for an aristocratic balance.

Cantina Santa Maria la Palma

By contrast, Sella & Mosca’s neighbor in Alghero, Cantina Santa Maria la Palma (www.santamarialapalma.it), is a cooperative of about 300 members. In the 1960s, the farmers were all granted uncultivated land near the city to plant Vermentino and Cannonau. The winery’s principal production is Vermentino—it’s the largest in Sardinia—but it also makes two levels of Cannonau. The basic level, called “Le Bombarde”, is an easy-drinking young wine priced under $10 in the U.S. Its Cannonau di Sardenga DOC Riserva is less widely available but worth seeking out. For starters, it’s unusually low in alcohol for a Cannonau (13 percent), yet the tannins are fully ripe. It’s also a rarity among Cannonaus for using a substantial portion of American oak in the aging. This gives it a more pronounced vanilla note, but does present a smooth and elegant finish.

Viticolori della Romangia

This relatively new cooperative of 10 members formed in 1996. It is based in Sorso, in the far northwest corner of the island. Soils here are a hodge-podge of sand, clay, and limestone and the vineyards lie near the sea in the rain shadow of a high ridge. As a result, strong downdrafts and updrafts keep the vines well-ventilated. Although young, the cooperative’s “Radice” (a Cannonau di Sardegna DOC) seemed to really speak of its terroir. The fruit is very deep and clean—like an especially ripe Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The nose is closed, as you might expect from young vines, but the wine blossoms with food.

Cantine di Orgosolo

Representing 19 small growers in the Locoe and Sorasai valleys, Cantine di Orgosolo (www.cantinediorgosolo) makes a entry-level Cannonau called “Neale” (meaning “honest man”). The blend includes 15 percent Bovale, which is immediately apparent on the nose by the aroma of leather. The taste, however, is bright raspberry and cherry. The winery’s “Luna Vona” organic wine is fermented on the stems with wild yeast. It has some slightly green tannins that pair well with robust meats. The flagship wine of this young cooperative (formed in 2006) is the most interesting. Called “Urùlu” after the archaeological site near the vineyards, it presents with a bold, sweet nose of raspberries and roses. Grown on granitic soils at 400-600 meters above sea level, the blend includes tiny percentages of some of Sardinia’s other indigenous grapes. Urùlu is said to be a sacred spot for the ancient Sardinians, and the wine has a certain sacramental quality.

09

01 2017

High-altitude Cannonau wines exude lush fruit

Mountain vineyards near Oliena
Nearly three-quarters of Sardinia’s Cannonau vineyards grace the steep slopes of Nuoro province. These half-wild uplands are a world apart from the sybaritic beach towns along the coast. They’re also vastly different from Sardinia’s lowland vineyards famed for the white Vermentino

Oliena mountainsRemnants of the Nuragic culture from the Bronze Age persist in the hills, including two dialects of the ancient Sardinian language, which edges out Italian as a first language in some villages. The archaic Sardinians (1800bc-ad200) were adept architects, erecting more than 1,000 tall stone towers. Judging from the archaeological evidence, they also made wine.

Rome never conquered Sardinia beyond the coast. Cicero called the mountainous interior “Barbaria.” In Sardinian, it’s Barbagia. With vineyards as high as 700 meters, Barbagia is home to the most powerful and complex Cannonau wines. They are literally barbarian wines, though the term hardly does justice to their finesse. The winemakers of Cannonau di Sardegna DOC have put together a touring itinerary called La Strada del Vino Cannonau (www.stradadelvinocannonau.it). It covers most of the landmark churches, tiny museums, and points of sale for Cannonau. Marked by the sign at right showing a roadway and a goblet of red wine, it even includes a few wineries.

Cantina Oliena

Cantina di Oliena muralThis cooperative producer reflects one strain of Cannonau winemaking. Most growers are too small to make their own wine, so they band together as cooperatives. Cantina Oliena has about 100 members and produces about 350,000 bottles of top-flight wines. In addition to a sparkling Charmat-technique rosé, the cooperative makes three wines from Cannonau—all of them called “Nepente di Oliena.” Just to add to the confusion about Cannonau, the grape and the wines made from it near Oliena are called Nepente—a reference to the ancient Greek “medicine for sorrow,” also known as the “drink of forgetfulness.” Since the wines contain a minimum of 14 percent alcohol, careless drinkers will feel no pain (until the next day). The showroom is open Monday-Tuesday and Saturday mornings (Via Nuoro 112, Oliena, +39-0784-287-509, www.cantinasocialeoliena.it).

About the wines

Cantina di Oliena bottles The base Nepente di Oliena comes from vineyards at 200-300 meters. The grapes are hard-harvested in small buckets so they don’t crush each other. The cooperative makes this wine with 10-12 days of maceration on the skins, then ages it in concrete tanks before bottling. The resulting young wine is bright red tending toward purple. The nose contains pronounced notes of tart cherries and hints of roses and violets. The acidity is high and the tannins soft. It’s terrific with pizza and Pecorino di Sardo, the region’s characteristic sheep’s milk cheese.

The top of the cooperative’s Cannonau line is Irilai Nepente di Oliena Classico. It made from grapes grown at 300-400 meters given more than two weeks maceration. The wine ages in in large Slavonian oak barrels for at least a year, then another year in the bottle. Alcohol tops 15 percent, but the fruit concentration, the acidity, and the tannic structure keep the wine from tasting “hot.” The growers never have trouble producing fruit with a high concentration of sugar. But Cannonau’s polyphenols—i.e., the tannins—take a long time to ripen. This wine is strong and elegant with jammy cherry and blackberry fruits. As it opens on the palate with food, it gives off marvelous resinous scents of rosemary, eucalyptus, and wild thyme. It is spectacular with roast lamb.

04

01 2017

Cannonau takes its place in world of Grenache

Harvesting Cannonau in Sardinia
On February 10, Sardinia struts its stuff as it hosts the fifth annual Grenaches du Monde competition in the town of Alghero. It’s the first time that Cannonau di Sardegna (the Sardinian version of Grenache) has really taken center stage in the international competitions. The most widely planted wine grape in the world, Grenache is grown extensively in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, California, and Australia. In the 2016 competition, Spanish wineries dominated the gold medals, French and Sardinian winemakers the silver, and all three countries won bronze. No other nation even placed.

Glass of CannonauSomeday DNA research will unravel the tangled, contentious history of the grape. Grenache was long thought to hail from the southern Rhone, where it’s the backbone of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But preliminary DNA research has convinced scholars that northern Spain, where’s it’s known as Garnacha or Garnatxa, is the real birthplace. That’s the official version codified by Jancis Robinson’s The Wine Grapes.

Sardinians beg to differ. They’ve been vinting Cannonau for close to a thousand years (or 400, or 500, or 600, depending on which expert you ask). The DNA match for Grenache/Garnacha/Garnatxa/Cannonau is exact, although some Sardinian clones of Cannonau share DNA sequences with other ancient grapes that originated in Georgia and Armenia. That both the Spaniards and the Sardinians blend Garnacha/Cannonau with Cariñena/Bovale (another red grape that geneticists identify as Spanish) only adds to the confusion. The secondary grape provides both tannins and acidity for balance and better aging potential.

But when it comes to drinking the wines, it’s clear that each region produces a very different style. The monster Garnatxa reds of Spain’s Priorat and Montsant are only distant cousins of the well-mannered Grenache from the Courbières and Minervois regions just over the border in France. Châteauneuf-du-Pape represents still another style—brash and bold, but without Spain’s bombast. Sardinian Cannonau takes many guises, but it is typically characterized by intense dark berry flavors with nice overtones of anise, leather, tobacco, and violets.

Cannonau comes of age

Open vat fermentation of Cannonau After nearly a week traveling through Cannonau country in Sardinia this fall and tasting nearly 200 wines, I came away excited and impressed with Sardinia’s contribution to the world of Grenache. I had not tried Cannonau in more than a decade, and the flawed bargain wines I remembered have disappeared. Led by a strong and disciplined D.O.C. group determined to compete in the international market, the winemakers of Cannonau have brought their ancient grape into the 21st century. A wide range of individual styles still persists, but overall, Cannonau now arrives to the table dressed for success. Despite the finesse of the wines, Cannonau remains a relative bargain—assuming you can find it. In the next few posts, I’ll be treating some of the more striking examples and offering a few peeks at life on Sardinia in the uplands above the famous seaside resorts.

02

01 2017

Château La Nerthe delivers warmth, finesse, and power

Turkey lentil cassoulet with 2012 Château La Nerthe from Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Châteauneuf-du-Pape might be the ultimate late autumn comfort wine. At its best, it’s rich, nuanced, and warm. It has a gentle power that responds to those hormones that surge when the days get shorter. It also plays very well with food.

Château La Nerthe from Châteauneuf-du-Pape on tableThe 2012 Château La Nerthe is the very model of what Hugh Johnson once called “a glowing, roast-chestnut warmth” characteristic of good Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Admittedly, good wines from this southernmost portion of the Rhone cost enough to be out of our league for everyday drinking. But this bottle comes in at a reasonable $65 suggested retail price—closer to $55 at discount wine shops. Just entering its drinking years (now through 2023, we’re told), it blossoms when double-decanted and served at around 60° F. We opened the bottle two hours ahead of dinner and found it tannic and tart. Placed back in the bottle after decanting and rested on a cool windowsill, it was spectacular with a classic cool-weather cassoulet.

Great Châteauneuf-du-Pape in tough year

Châteauneuf-du-Pape had a difficult year in 2012. A severe winter froze a lot of buds and some entire vines. Grenache was afflicted with coulure (a tendency not to develop grapes after flowering). Plus the region had a very dry summer. The 225 acres of vineyards at Château La Nerthe weathered these vicissitudes better than most.

Château La Nerthe vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape Certified organic since 1998, the vineyards depend on a thick layer of glacial cobbles (galettes) that seal in moisture and radiate heat up to the vines at night (see photo at right, courtesy of Château La Nerthe). The vineyards were harvested on schedule in late August. The vintage ended up with a blend of 44% Grenache Noir, 37% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre, and 5% Cinsault. That’s about a quarter less Grenache than usual for Château La Nerthe, but Grenache still dominates the finished wine. The nose is rich with blackberries, dark cherries, and aromatic spices. Hints of oak remain on the palate, and just a hint of leathery Syrah comes through.

It was the ideal wine for the dank weather that followed Thanksgiving in New England. Low turkey prices inspired the following cassoulet using Puy lentils, roasted garlic, and charcoal-roasted turkey thighs in place of duck confit.

POST-THANKSGIVING SMOKED TURKEY CASSOULET

cassoulet-for-recipeTurkey is ridiculously cheap in the weeks running up to Thanksgiving. We butcher the birds, saving the breasts to brine and roast separately. The backs and wings go into stock. We slow-roast the thighs and legs in a charcoal grill to produce the next best thing to duck confit without the fat. Rub the legs with 2 teaspoons ras al hanout and 1 teaspoon sea salt and refrigerate in a plastic bag overnight. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the bag and rub well to coat. Roast about 15 minutes per side in closed but vented Weber grill with fire built on the other side of the grill. This produces smoky, overcooked turkey. Let cool and strip the meat. It should yield 12-14 oz. of stringy, smoky pulled turkey.

8 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces smoky thick sliced bacon, cut in 1-inch strips
12 ounces chicken garlic sausage
1 head of garlic
white wine to deglaze pan
meat from charcoal-roasted turkey legs

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme

1 bay leaf
2 cups French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)
8 cups chicken or turkey broth, preferably homemade
3 cups breadcrumbs made from day-old white bread (or panko, if necessary)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted, or equal amount of olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Set oven at 350ºF. Place half the bacon strips, sausages, and whole head of garlic in heavy-bottomed roasting pan or 12-inch cast iron skillet. Roast 25-30 minutes, turning sausages at least once, until sausages are browned, bacon has rendered its fat, and garlic is roasted through. Remove sausages and bacon to a plate to cool. Place garlic on separate plate to cool. When garlic is cool, cut head in half horizontally and squeeze out roasted garlic for use later with vegetables.

Drain fat from roasting pan into a Dutch oven. Deglaze pan with wine and reserve liquid.

Add remaining bacon to Dutch oven and heat over medium-low until bacon begins to color but is not yet crisp. Remove bacon to plate with sausages and other bacon.

Turn up heat in Dutch oven and add turkey meat. Cook, stirring often, to crisp up edges. Remove from pan and reserve.

Add olive oil to Dutch oven and add onion, carrots, and celery. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to become translucent and vegetables are al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cayenne, fresh herbs, and the mushy garlic squeezed from roasted head. Cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Remove from pot and reserve.

Turn oven up to 375ºF.

Deglaze Dutch oven with a little chicken stock. Then add lentils and bay leaf. Add remaining stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook about 15 minutes, until lentils are tender but not mushy. Remove bay leaf. Stir in vegetable mixture and turkey. Cut cooked sausages into 1/2 inch slices and stir in. Add reserved deglazing liquid.

Assemble and finish

At this point you can transfer everything into a 4 quart casserole, if desired, but the Dutch oven will work fine as well. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter and spread evenly over surface. Place lid on Dutch oven or casserole (or use aluminum foil) and bake in oven about 30 minutes. Remove lid or foil and continue cooking another 20 minutes until breadcrumb topping has turned dark gold.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Let rest about 15 minutes before serving with a green salad topped with pear slices and dressed with a mustardy, garlicky vinaigrette.

15

12 2016