Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

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

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

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.

MERLOT ANTICA VIGNA

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.

GONZALIER

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 www.grigoletti.com.

18

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: http://hungrytravelers.com/learning-under-pressure/) 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

RED WINE RISOTTO

Serves 4

Ingredients

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)

Directions

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.

10

06 2016

Trentino shows off its superb wines at Mostra Vini

Tasting at Mostra Vini del Trentino
The wine district of Trentino is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets—at least from Americans. That translates into real bargains on some outstanding wines from unfamiliar producers. Trentino is the southern half of the region of Trentino-Alto Adige east of Lombardy and west of the Veneto. To help you place it, the wine district more or less corresponds to the Trento province in the map below.

Trentino Alto Adige map With high-altitude vineyards on a mix of dolomitic limestone and volcanic porphyry, the area produces startlingly good sparkling wines in the style of Champagne, highly aromatic white wines similar to the style of Alsace, and some fascinating local reds that many Americans have never heard of. Napoleon rolled through in the early 19th century, and many chardonnay, merlot, cabernet, and pinot noir vineyards date from that era. While the two big cooperatives of Cavit and Mezzacorona also produce daunting quantities of bargain-priced pinot grigio for the North American market, some Trentino wineries also make very sophisticated and delicious wines from the same grape.

Mostra logo I had the pleasure of attending the 79th edition of the Mostra Vini del Trentino, which translates loosely as Trentino Wine Tasting. Some 10,000 people showed up over the four days to file through one of the great late medieval palaces in central Trento to sample a selection of 128 excellent wines from the region. The general public paid 5 euros for three glasses of the “basic” wines, 10 euros for three glasses of the reserve wines. As always, there were a slew of other events, from wine-themed movies to lectures to workshops to special dinners. Before the event opened to the public, the Trentino wine consortium (www.vinideltrentino.com/ITA/32/Consorzio.html) turned a dozen of us wine journalists loose to sample and take notes. Trentino is better known in Europe than in the U.S., so I was the only American present. With few exceptions, we all worked our way through the complete selection—although I declined some of the dessert wines because my palate was exhausted.

In the next several posts, I’ll be writing about some of those wines, including some made from the unusual grapes native to the region and several where I had a chance to visit the wineries. The Trentino district is actually fairly small, and has an active program that encourages winery visits. In most of Italy, you need to make advance reservations. Along Trentino’s Strade del Vino, you can simply stop by to taste and purchase.

Trento is a perfect base for touring and is a truly beautiful city that’s easy to walk. It has shuttled back and forth between Italy and Austria over the centuries, so the architecture is as much Germanic as Italian. The Dolomite Alps hover in the background just outside the city, making the region a favorite for mountain bikers. It was the site of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) that led to the Counter Reformation. Indeed, it’s been a center of humanistic learning ever since. Here’s a shot of the main square.

Trento center square

02

06 2016

Frescobaldi celebrates its Tuscan estates

Lamberto Frescobaldi
There’s poetry in the Frescobaldi soul, and I don’t just write that because I like so many of the family’s wines. Back in the 13th century, poet Dino Frescobaldi helped his exiled friend Dante Alighieri recover the first seven books of the Divine Comedy, enabling him to complete one of the great masterpieces of world literature. About that same time, the Frescobaldi family also started to focus on making wine in the Tuscan countryside. A couple of years ago, Lamberto Frescobaldi took over the leadership of the family business, and since he has a son at college in Rhode Island, the chief often passes through Boston. When he was here in March, we had a chance to sit down and taste some current releases and talk about new directions he’s taking the company.

Lamberto is a businessman with the soul of a poet and the skills of a winemaker. Since he took the helm, the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi has quietly pivoted from emphasizing the 700 years of winemaking experience behind the entire portfolio to playing up the character of the six individual Tuscan estates that are part of the Frescobaldi Toscano branch of the family company. (They also produce Super Tuscans called Masseto and Ornallaia in Bolghieri, as well as Attems pinot grigios and sauvignon blancs in the sandy eastern hills of Friuli.)
Pomino Benefizio Riserva Frescobaldi The newest bottlings from the Tuscan vineyards play up the vineyard name over the Frescobaldi moniker.

Since we were conversing as well as tasting, we kept to just four bottles. The first was my favorite Italian chardonnay, Pomino Benefizio Riserva 2013. The Pomino estate in the northeast corner of Tuscany is high in the hills. The family has been growing chardonnay here since 1855, first winning a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1878. Since 1973, the estate has been making this barrel-fermented white from a single vineyard at 700 meters. For an Italian wine, it’s very Burgundian—rich and luscious with very gentle French oak. It is a truly voluptuous white that makes a perfect pairing with intensely flavored fish, strong aged cheese, and light veal dishes. It retails around $43.

Frescobaldi Montesodi Although Castelo di Nipozzano is well within the Chianti district, the Montesodi 2012 wine is technically a Tuscan IGT because it is made from nothing but Sangiovese grown in the limestone and clay soil of the Montesodi vineyard at 400 meters. Starting with the 2012 vintage, the wine spends 18 months aging in large (30hl) French and Austrian oak casks. This bottle had been opened about two hours before we sat down, so the aeration had taken the edge off its young tannins without taking anything away from the complex nose. This is possibly the purest example of northern Tuscan sangiovese on the market. It displays strong notes of tart cherries, brick, and a bit of oregano and thyme. Although usually drunk at a meal with red meats, Montesodi would be spectacular with roast chicken–or even better, roast duck or pheasant. Retail is about $43.

Frescobaldi Giramonte 2012 Tenuta de Castiglioni is the oldest of the Frescobaldi estates, but the impressive Giramonte cru—a merlot wine with some sangiovese—has only been made since 1999. It’s a synthesis of flavors that the Frescobaldi winemakers pioneered when they started planting Bordeaux varietals in Tuscany in the 1850s. When I drink Giramonte, I feel like I’m getting both the full lushness of a ripe merlot (a hint of mint and mushroom) with the spice and leather of good sangiovese. We drank an old-style Giramonte 2009, which had an 88 percent merlot content. Lamberto explained that they pick the merlot in three stages, starting when it has only 10-10.5 degrees of sugar. The remaining grapes are allowed to mature more slowly. It’s a silky, complicated red that drinks nicely with red meats—or after-dinner philosophy. The 2009 is still in the market at around $108-$120, though the 2012 is available at about the same price.

Frescobaldi Mormoreto 2012 We finally capped off our tasting with Mormoreto, a Bordeaux-style blend from the Nipozzano estate. The Mormoreto vineyard was planted in 1976 with Frescobaldi vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot first established here in the 1850s. The vineyard is showing great maturity, and the 2012 is truly opulent—with a strong hint of black cherries, blackberries, and respberries. The scorching heat of the 2012 summer was clearly well-balanced by cool nights, as the wine has intense aromatics. The wine spent two years in small oak casks before bottling, and vanilla notes are still pronounced until it’s well-aerated. A large, full wine with all the chest-beating power of a Bordeaux blend, Mormoreto has a lot more finesse than many of Super Tuscans. I know by experience that the elegance becomes more pronounced after a few extra years of cellaring. Retail is around $65.

16

04 2016

And the winning Champagne is…

Barons de Rothschild blanc de blancs with raspberry tart

What was our best bubbly of 2015? We’ve been fortunate this year to enjoy some spectacular sparkling wines, from a range of proseccos to an elegant pink Franciacorta to several cavas and crémants that we simply drank without taking notes or photographs. (Even wine and food writers are entitled to a day off.)

Barons de Rothschild brut But the champagnes of Barons de Rothschild (www.champagne-bdr.com) really took us through the seasons. We started off in warm weather with the non-vintage brut, which is the company’s anchor champagne. It’s blended with 60 percent chardonnay (mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 40 percent pinot noir (principally from the villages of Verzenay, Ay, Mareuil-sur-Ay, and Bouzy). It has a Rumpelstiltskin straw-gold color, a faintly yeasty aroma, and fine and persistent bubbles, The full mouth feel and abundant acidity make it an excellent food wine, even with something as complex and spicy as mole amarillo. (Mexico did have a French emperor for a while, after all.) The BDR brut retails around $80.

BDR rose Come fall, we moved along to the non-vintage rosé, which might be our favorite sipping champagne of BDR’s non-vintage portfolio. It is produced from 85 percent chardonnay (again, mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 15 percent pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims. Some of that pinot noir juice goes in with the chardonnay at first fermentation, and some is fermented as a red wine before being blended together. The blend marries in the cellar for at least three years before dosage, then another six to nine months after disgorgement. The result is a wine with strong fruit and floral characteristics, with undertones of raspberry, rose petals, and sweet-tart wild strawberries. The color is a salmon pink, which accentuates the spiral of bubbles from the bottom of the glass to the top. We like watching the dance of the bubbles. How long do they last? They’re still prickling the tongue when we empty the last glass. The BDR rosé retails for around $105.

For our money (about $115), the blanc de blancs is the most elegant of BDR’s non-vintage champagnes and the perfect wine for the winter holidays. It is crafted entirely from chardonnay grown in the signature Champagne crus of Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, and Vertus. It is a little paler than the brut, slightly more acidic, and infinitely more sophisticated. Although it has a citrus-like freshness, some of the flavor notes include raw almonds and white peaches. The bubble profile can only be called creamy. It’s great by itself, but we think it’s the perfect pairing with a fresh raspberry tart (as shown above), since the bubbles cut through the unctuousness of the butter crust and pastry cream, while the acidity and mineral notes accentuate the flavor of the raspberries.

31

12 2015

Sherry takes back the bar

Tio Pepe sherry sign in Puerta del Sol
When we were in Madrid in October, we were happy to see that the Tío Pepe neon symbol darkened by the corporate forces at Apple had switched sides of Puerta del Sol and was lighting up the plaza again from atop El Corte Inglés department store. (See above.) The bright lights seem symbolic of the broader rehabilitation of the image of sherry. For a long time, drinking sherry implied that you were were old, prissy, British or all three.

Sherry by Talia BaiocchiBut now that cream sherries (a hideous adulteration of sherry by blending with sweet wine) are all but a thing of the past, cocktail-savvy drinkers are embracing real sherry in all its complex, nuanced forms. And though we’re a little late to the party, we want to call our readers’ attention to a fairly new book, Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret by one of the best wine and spirits writers to come along in a generation, Talia Baiocchi. It’s a great introduction to the wine and makes simple good reading. It’s also a good guide to visiting Spain’s Sherry Triangle if wine is foremost on your agenda.

The editor of the online magazine PUNCH (www.punchdrink.com) was captivated with sherry when she first started tasting the good stuff. So off she went to Spain to chronicle the wine, its production, and many of the leading bodegas that export to North America. She also includes a number of recipes and cocktails, including the directions for a Sherry Cobbler, the number-one cocktail in 19th century America. Classically, it consists of 3 ounces of amontillado, 3/4 ounce of simple syrup, a lemon wheel, an orange wheel, a glass of crushed ice—and a straw. “Don’t forget the straw,” Baiocchi says. The Sherry Cobbler actually popularized the drinking straw way back when.

09

12 2015

Off to Spain. Again.

Pat making photos from CentroCentro in Madrid
Readers who’ve been following us for a while know that we have a special love for Spain and its varied cuisines. In fact, if you just plug “spain” into the search box to the right, you’ll find multiple pages of posts about Spain and Spanish food stretching back to November 2009, when we wrote about the fabulous blue cheese of the Picos de Europa, Cabrales, and gave you a recipe for Cabrales with sauteed apples, walnuts, and honey.

Peruse those pages and you’ll find recipes for authentic paella, patatas riojanas, and a number of other Spanish classics. There are also some Spanish-inspired originals, like saffron shortbreads and orange and almond tart.

We’re heading back to Spain this week for some extended research, with stays in Madrid, the wine country of Toro and Rueda, a stopover for prayer (literally) in Córdoba, and longer stays in Sevilla and Palma (Mallorca). We have meetings and visits scheduled to flesh out research for about 40 essays in the new book Pat is writing, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, for Travelers Tales. Publication is scheduled for fall 2016. We’ll try to keep you apprised of tastes we encounter along the way, but given our busy schedule on the road, new posts may have to wait until early November.

Pats subject By the way, if you were wondering, the photo above is Pat taking pictures from the observation deck on CentroCentro, the former main post office building on Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid. She’s taking a picture of the Metropolis office building at the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía, the first Madrid thoroughfare designed for the automobile. Inaugurated in 1911, the Metropolis is a rare Beaux-Arts beauty in what Madrileños hoped would become the new modern district of the city.

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13

10 2015

First Vineyard marks origin of American winemaking

Tom Beall on porch of tasting room at First Vineyard The first libations that come to mind in north-central Kentucky are likely to be bourbon, and, if you’re a craft brew fan, beer. But the first commercial winery licensed in the Midwest and adjacent South was actually in Jessamine County, Kentucky in 1799. (Franciscans, of course, were making wine in the missions along the Rio Grande and in California a century and a half earlier.) The current owner of the land, Tom Beall, has rescued that tidbit of history by resuming production at First Vineyard (5800 Sugar Creek Pike, Nicholasville, Kentucky; 859-885-9359; www.firstvineyard.net).

John James Dufour hailed from a wine-making family in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. In the 1790s, he purchased a piece on land on the Great Bend in the Kentucky River that had been first surveyed by Daniel Boone in 1783. Dufour published his business plan for a vineyard in the Kentucky Gazette in 1798. A year later, he was licensed as a winery and planted his terraces above the river.

Dufour managed to produce a few small vintages, but a killing freeze in 1809 put his Kentucky property out of business. He and some relatives launched Second Vineyard in Vevray, Indiana, which became America’s first successful commercial winery. Dufour’s book, The American Vine-Dressers Guide, Being a Treatise on the Cultivation of the Vine, and the Process of Wine-Making, Adapted to the Soil and Climate of the United States, published in 1826, was the bible for aspiring wine-makers throughout the middle of the country.

Alexander grapes at First Vineyard There are a slew of details to the story, and some very handsome, if steeply terraced land to look at if you visit First Vineyard, where Tom Beall (above, on the tasting room porch) is again producing wine on Dufour’s site, mostly from French-American hybrid grapes and native fruits. The wines are actually crafted on contract by another Kentucky winery using First Vineyard’s fruit.

In researching the history, Beall discovered that Dufour’s main grape was probably the Alexander, not the Cape of Good Hope that he thought he was planting. The Alexander was named for James Alexander, who discovered it growing in William Penn’s vineyard as an accidental hybrid between a North American native labrusca and a European vinifera wine grape. Alexander became popular in 19th century vineyards but most scholars had thought the variety lost. Beall, however, tracked some vines down to a USDA depository in the Finger Lakes. Starting from 40 cuttings in 2008, he has planted it extensively. It is a very vigorous grower and producer of fruit, but the vines are just beginning to mature so the taste test is still a few years away.

tasting glasses at First Vineyard Meantime, Beall offers tastes of three wines for $3 in the picturesque log cabin tasting room. The most striking of the whites, made from American Diamond, has a brisk fruitiness,. The best of his reds is Chambourcin, a 19th century French hybrid of uncertain parentage. The nose has a distinct note of wild cherry and the aftertaste is lightly but pleasantly bitter with a bit of smokiness. It’s a pretty good wine with barbecue.

The tasting room is generally open 1-7 p.m., Friday-Sunday, but call first to make sure. The winery is less than 30 miles south of Lexington, but the rural road can be tricky in bad weather.

02

10 2015

Franciacorta: effervescent joy from Italy

Franciacorta rose with lemon risotto and insalata caprese Contrary to common usage, there’s nothing like real Champagne, the sparkling wine made in a delimited area in France. We’d suggest that there is also nothing like Franciacorta, the elegant and more affordable sparkling wine made in the Lombardy countryside an hour east of Milan. In fact, that city’s fashionistas have been drinking a lot of Franciacorta for the last several days during Milan Fashion Week.

The district has been growing grapes at least since the 16th century under the aegis of the region’s monasteries. (The name of the region indicates a region of monasteries not subject to ducal taxes.) Serious spumante production is much more recent, dating from the years after World War II, and the big players are industrialists, not monks.

That said, Franciacorta did almost everything right from the start, and won DOCG status (Italy’s top quality designation) before any other sparkling wine in Italy, including Prosecco DOCG. The grapes are a familiar bunch to Champagne lovers: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot blanc. Secondary fermentation is carried out in the bottle in what the Italians call metodo classico and the rest of the world calls méthode champenoise. The chief advantage is that the wine develops on the lees, gaining a yeasty complexity that bulk carbonation cannot impart.

The DOCG regulations recognize two styles and three aging designations, each of which can be made with varying residual sugar ranging from brut to demi-sec. The Non-Vintage must be made of chardonnay and/or pinot noir (with up to half pinot blanc) and be aged at least 18 months. Sàten is a blanc-de-blancs style made with only white grapes, of which chandonnay must constitute more than half; it’s aged a minimum of 24 months. Rosé is made with chardonnay and pinot blanc with a minimum of 25 percent pinot noir to give it the desired color. Millesimato is a vintage Franciacorta in either style and indicates that at least 85 percent of the wine came from a specified quality vintage and has been aged a minimum of 30 months. A riserva is a vintage-dated Sàten or Rosé aged at least 60 months.

The Sàten style is something of a misnomer, since silkiness is characteristic of all good Franciacortas, which typically sell at retail for $20-$40, except for a few rare riservas. Personally, we like the Rosé style, since the pinot noir gives it a little fruitiness and extra structure. We popped a 2010 Millesimato Fratelli Berlucchi Rosé (fratelliberlucchi.it/) for the meal shown above: lemon risotto (Franciacorta is splendid paired with the acidity of the risotto) and a plate of our final garden tomatoes in an insalata caprese.

We expect to be drinking even more Franciacorta as the holiday season approaches.

Salute!

26

09 2015

Craggy Range shows original NZ wines

Matt Stafford of Craggy Range
Matt Stafford (above) isn’t just any winemaker. He’s a winemaker who came to the trade originally as a soil scientist. The post-grad diploma in viticulture and oenology came later, but the grounding (no pun intended) in soil might just make him the ideal person to make wine for Craggy Range (www.craggyrange.com) in New Zealand. Stafford was in Boston a few weeks ago to introduce some of his wines. New Zealand has become notorious for popular sauvignon blanc and pinot noir–even though the former often tastes medicinal and the latter like cherry cough syrup. It was a pleasure to taste elegant New Zealand wines that spoke first and foremost of terroir.

It was clear that Stafford wanted to confound expectation when a few of us gathered at L’Espalier for dinner. Instead of pouring a sauvignon blanc as an aperitif, he poured the intense Kidnappers Vineyard chardonnay that drank like a Chablis. It’s grown in Hawke’s Bay on a shallow, clay loam soil aired out by cool sea breezes, a combination that intensifies the varietal flavors. At $22 a bottle, it’s a good alternative to its French counterpart.

By contrast, Craggy Range’s Gimlett Gravels vineyard, also in Hawke’s Bay, is a patch saved from being turned into a gravel mine. The combination of stony soil with terrific drainage and intense sun and heat makes the vineyard excellent for growing the very ripe components for Te Kahu, a soft Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec. Also priced at $22, it was gentle enough to pair with quail breast served with walnut polenta.

Stafford contrasted Te Kahu nicely with Sophia, a different Bordeaux blend (it includes more petit verdot than malbec). Although the blend is closer to the right bank Bordeaux wines, the cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc are much more pronounced than in Te Kahu, giving Sophia more of a left bank flavor profile. Le Sol from Craggy Range All the grapes represent the best from Craggy Range’s vineyards and they’re all hand-selected and destemmed. At $76, Sophia has good aging potential. The 2013 we tasted is still a little closed and the tannins are tight, but there’s a lot of promise in the fruit.

The biggest red from Craggy Range is another Gimlett Gravels wine, Le Sol. Made from 100 percent syrah from heritage stock brought to New Zealand 150 years ago, it provides a powerful flagship for the winery. Rich, seemingly sweet from the high alcohol content, and full of fruit with licorice and green herbal overtones, Le Sol has the approachability of a good pinot noir, but the body and intensity to drink well with strong meat dishes. L’Espalier threw a veritable mixed grill at the wine—rack of lamb, spare ribs spiced with ras el hanout, garlic sausage, and some charred eggplant. The spare ribs and eggplant were the best match, but it was interesting to see how a New Zealand syrah could bridge the gap between the balanced style of the Rhone Valley and the more aggressive hot-weather style of Australia. Suggested retail is $107. It would be spectacular with a powerful game dish, though we’d suggest double-decanting.

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07 2015