Greatness and weak Mexican beer – a perfect night out


Good friends are the best thing in the world. You know, the kind of friends that you can be separated from by years and great distance, but when you meet again there is no awkwardness, no embarassing lulls in the conversation. You just pick up where you left last time you were together. We are blessed with a few such friends, and last Friday we met with two couples of them.

The occasion – as if we needed one – was a concert by the fabulous Danish 80′ies funk big band Blast, a favourite back then, and active again since 2005. The exertions-to-be obviously required proper sustenance first, so we agreed to meet at our place for a bit of pre-dinner imbibition, and then proceed to have dinner at a restaurant right next to the concert venue.

The pre-dinner drinks had to be great to get us in the mood, but not so strong as to kill us. The cellar yielded the following:

BOLLINGER Champagne Brut RD 2002
Great stuff, broad and deep, with clear autolytic character (as you would expect of a wine having spent some 11 years on the lees). Intense and deep on the palate, with great length, an authoritative, dry and powerful character and a thousand little shadings of complexity.

PARKER Coonawarra Cabernet/Merlot Favourite Son 2007
Just a little something right before we left for the restaurant, the Bollinger having evaporated in no time flat. Juicy, fresh, cool-fruited nose with a bit of cassis and bell pepper, but importantly also with notes of autumn leaves, the beginnings of sweet tobacco and exotic wood. Medium-weight, good freshness and balance and good, fresh length mirroring the nose. Miles away from your run-of-the-mill jammy Aussie blockbuster, real elegance and character.

An auspicious start to the evening, in glorious spring sunshine, with geese feeding on the field across from our house and the deer standing at the edge of the woods behind them.

Onwards to the restaurant: MASH. This is short for Modern American Steak House and is an entirely Danish phenomenon started by a couple of friends, Jesper Boelskifte and Erik Gemal, among others. This is by now a chain of restaurants, and has even spread, with great success, to London. As you might imagine, the emphasis here is on steaks. The difference that sets MASH apart is that the steaks are exquisitely selected from the very best meat available, hailing from Uruguay, the US (Greater Omaha), Australia (Wagyu) and Denmark. The latter, in particular, is worth a detour, the meat being dry-aged for 90 days, by which time the natural enzymes have worked their magic, converting the vaguely sweet, meaty aromas of fresh meat into great, deep flavour full of umami.

We had agreed that we could bring a bit of wine along, against paying a corkage fee. The choice was easy, since our friends are Brunello-heads, and since the first wine Erik Gemal served for my then wife-to-be and myself in his earliest career as a sommelier in the early 90′ies was a Brunello (it was Il Poggione, the 1982 if I’m not mistaken). MASH’s wine list, highly commendable by the way, would have to supply the other wines required.

So, for the starters we had this one:

VINCENT GIRARDIN Meursault Vieilles Vignes 2010
A lovely wine, nose full of gunpowder and quince, still very young, but good breadth on the palate, with very accurate acidity providing great balance and intensity. Long and juicy. A chorus of contented voices greeted this wine around our table.

On to the steaks, accompanied by the centrepieces:
2014-04-11_Biondi_Santi_98_Poggio_di_Sotto_96_MASH

BIONDI-SANTI Brunello di Montalcino Il Greppo 1998
Fantastic nose, great nobility, purest sangiovese, with sour cherries, soot, rust, dried ceps, hydrocarbon minerality, autumn leaves and humus. Medium body, elegant and noble, slightly austere, with the acidity having rounded nicely and finely-grained tannins making their presence known without overpowering the wine. Very long, mirroring the nose, with emphasis on rust and hydrocarbons. A great, noble terroir wine, at peak, utter beauty.

POGGIO DI SOTTO Brunello di Montalcino 1996
Handsome, powerful nose, initially with plums, sweet cherries, walnuts, sweet hydrocarbons, dry soil and violets, with time in the glass developing lovely, complex notes of iron, sweet tobacco and autumn leaves. Medium to full body, dry, juicy, relaxed but good acidity, tannins soft and very finely-grained, with time actually tightens up a bit and delivers a bit of sangiovese austerity. Very long, repeating the aromatics from the nose, with minerality and added sweet meat. A great wine, and had it not been for the greatness of the Biondi-Santi, this would have been utterly breathtaking on its own.

These wines were perfection with the mushroomy umami character of the Danish dry-aged beef. Luckily, Erik Gemal was in the restaurant that night, and so I could close a loop started in the early 90′ies by having him taste both wines. What a pleasure to be able to see the span of time and some of the leitmotifs of one’s life come together in this way.

By this time, our little gathering was in full swing, happy conversation and outbursts of joy and pleasure at the food and wines taking place across the table. It stood to reason that we had to fuel the gladness a bit more, so for the cheeses and desserts we went for something fortified:

QUADY’S Amador County “Starboard” 1996
A Port-lookalike blend. Dark, berryish/plummy nose with a slight hint of alcohol. Lovely structure with a soft crunch, malty sweetness and good length, with raisins, bark, malt sugar and violets. Lovely way to finish a meal.

On over to the concert in the building next door. Blast – the band – has always first and foremost been a live band. It has great impact because of the large horn section, which really is its prime focus. It has also always had three female singers fronting the band. There is a special quality to many female Danish singers’ voices, a certain almost metallic coolness married to a light/high sweetness, that really came through with the line-up this evening. You can get a vague sense of how it all works here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjXvpC9y1zk, but beware! The sound on this recording is tinny and extremely poor, and the line-up is different on some points. The band was so much better last Friday. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

It’s a strange thing, but why does one always end up with a bottle of weakly malty Mexican beer at these events? It’s almost without fail. It’s not something I would consciously choose to drink, let alone buy, so there must be something subconscious at work here. Or friends…

At any rate, the concert was great, and – as always – too short. To avoid the DJ set afterwards, we fled back home to our place, where we proceeded to listen to funk music all night, talk happily and inhale a glass or two of some really nice wine:

DOMAINE DU PÉGAU Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Rèservée 2001 (magnum)
A gentle giant, huge nose of sweet red and dark fruits, barnyard, garrigue and grilled herbs. Full, round and soft in the mouth, yet with good supporting structure behind it, a bear hug of a wine.

QUINTA DO PASSODOURO Vintage Port 2011
The coup de grâce, just so we’d all sleep better. Wonderfully fresh and juicy nose of berries (blackberries, blueberries), violets, sweet liquorice and a hydrocarbon/shale minerality. Big, with fairly assertive tannins, but also great juiciness and fresh sweetness. Will easily keep for decades, but great drinking right now, too.

What a wonderful evening we had. We live for these moments of unrestrained good mood and happiness, together with good friends. The happiness lasts for days, and fuels a higher state of energy, positivity and optimism. Thank you so much for a perfect night out, Henrik, Tina, Henrik and Mette!

Yours truly
Ole

Posted in Wine, Food, Italy, France, Portugal, Restaurants, Tuscany, Wine producers, Burgundy, Champagne, Douro, Southern Rhône, Red wine, White wine, Fortified Wine, Port, Australia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Brunello di Montalcino, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time and Minerals – Custoza Anteprima


I provided a general introduction and Bardolino tasting notes on the combined 2014 Anteprima event for Bardolino and Custoza here: http://oleudsenwineblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/of-old-cats-and-tender-mice-bardolino-anteprima/. While I adore the best Bardolino wines and therefore had positive expectations for those, my expectations in respect of the Custoza wines were more moderate. Custoza is a white wine that is primarily marketed as a simple, young quaffing wine to be drunk within 1-2 years of the harvest, and this was indeed what I had come to expect from my relatively scarce encounters with it over the years, apart from the odd exceptions from the likes of Monte del Frà and Le Vigne di San Pietro. To be clear: there is nothing wrong with young and simple quaffing wine. I consider this an honourable and noble category of wine, fulfilling a need and having a function in the various uses that we have for wine, however, wine geeks such as myself often look for that extra something that gives wine a sense of place and a recognizability, and I had not yet generally come to identify Custoza with that.

So I was somewhat surprised when our Anteprima host Angelo Peretti started waxing lyrical about the minerality and terroir fidelity of the Custoza wines when given sufficient bottle age. Angelo described the development of the best Custozas as one of having an initial young and fruity period, dominated by primary fruit aromas and freshness. After 1-2 years the wines then close down for perhaps 2-3 years, and then emerge with a richly mineral and vegetal character that reflects their places of origin.

I preach to anyone that bothers listening – and to Italians in particular, who seem mostly unaware – that Italy is a country of great and ageworthy white wines. It has some of the most interesting white wine varieties in the world, an incredibly varied geography and numerous climates with which to refine the art of white wine making, and the results are often stunning. I need only refer to the great verdicchios, the amazing vermentinos and the fabulous grecos, fianos and falanghinas to prove my point, but there are so many more Italian white wines of real interest for more than the short term. Now you can add Custoza to that list.

The growing zone of Custoza largely coincides with the southern part of the Bardolino district and is characterized by softly rolling morainic hills to the South and East of Lake Garda. In appearance, this is a soft, mild landscape, but soils are to a large part dominated by gravel and pebbles, here and there intermixed with larger rocks. The poverty of the soils does not lend itself well to intensive agriculture, but is ideal for growing fruits. And indeed, apart from vines, the fields here are mainly orchards of peaches, cherries and kiwis.

Custoza, like nearby and much more famous Soave, is primarily based on the garganega variety, with the potential addition of numerous other varieties, of which special mention must be made of trebbianello (the local name for the variety that we must no longer call tocai) and bianca fernanda (the local name for cortese, known from Gavi in Piedmont). Malvasia, chardonnay, riesling italico (welschriesling) and trebbiano toscano can also make up part of the wine, but do not seem to be much favoured, while manzoni bianco seems to be gaining in favour with the winemakers. Where garganega in the best versions of Soave displays notes of apricot, almond and bruised apples, with perhaps soft green herbs making an appearance, the character of Custoza seems slightly harder or edgier, with a fruitiness reminiscent of acidic apples or white berries, and notes of minerals and more resinous herbs.

Winemaking here tends to be quite “clean”, with little use of wood for ageing, and the wines tend towards very slender and fresh. As you will see later on in this post, age does not tend to make these wines much fatter, but it will generally soften the sometimes acidic edge that these wines can have.

The following are my tasting notes of my preferred 2013 Custozas, tasted at the Anteprima event itself. As usual, no colour notes and no points.

ALDO ADAMI Custoza 2013
Apple, elderflower, citrus. Slender, good acidity. An OK wine.

BERGAMINI Custoza Colline di Colà 2013
Lightly aromatic apple, flowers, touch of clay. Firm, good acidity, minerals.

BOLLA Custoza 2013
Hint of sugar snaps over minerals and apple. Dry, quite firm, lightly herbal.

CANTINA DI CUSTOZA Custoza 2013
Sweet apple, fennel, white flowers. Good fruit and acidity, greenish herbal touch.

CAVALCHINA Custoza 2013
Slightly reductive at this point, but apples and minerals. Dry, firm acidity, minerals.

CORTE GARDONI Custoza 2013
Celery, apple, hazelnut. Lightly and appetizingly bitter, good dry matter; clearly needs time.

F.LLI ZENI Custoza Vigne Alte 2013
White currants, citrus. Dry, mild and quite long, minerals.

GORGO Custoza San Michelin 2013
Celery, dry apples and minerals. Slender, good acidity, citrus. Good.

LAMBERTI Custoza Santepietre 2013
Apples and soft green herbs. Mild, charming, lightly floral.

LE TENDE Custoza 2013
Slightly neutral but firm nose, white flowers. Dry, good dry matter, waxy fruit and dry herbs.

LENOTTI Custoza 2013
Lavender and sweet apple. Slender, good perfume, flowers.

MENEGOTTI Custoza 2013
Minerally apple, herbs. Slender to medium body, good fruit, minerals.

PIGNO Custoza 2013
Has character, leesy, with apple and minerals. Slender and dry, with good acidity and a hint of grapefruit.

SARTORI Custoza 2013
Aromatic apple and white flowers. Slender, dry, good fruit, flowers.

TABARINI Custoza 2013
Slightly earthy/greenish citrus. Slender, minerally, citrus and flowers.

TAMBURINO SARDO Custoza 2013
Mild apple, light smoke and minerals. Slender, lithe, lovey minerality, flowers and apple.

VALBUSA Custoza 2013
Pears, minerals and boiled greens. Slender, firm, dry, minerally.

VILLA MEDICI Custoza 2013
Light herbs, minerals. Slender, good acidity, minerals and apples.

The absence from the above list of some of the normal greats of the area underlines for me that these wines were tasted very young, and that they would almost all benefit from coming into their own with a bit of time. As if to underline this, Angelo Peretti on the spur of the moment arranged two tastings of Custoza with significantly more age.

The first tasting took place at the Anteprima venue, and the following wines were tasted:

MONTE DEL FRÀ Custoza Superiore Ca’ del Magro 2008
Spectacurlarly minerally, intense, with hazelnuts, green herbs, a hint of varnish (not in an oxidized sense, more in the sense of resin). Slender to medium body, soft, dry. Long, with notes of boiled celeriac, celery leaves, hazelnut, quince and hydrocarbon minerality.

LE VIGNE DI SAN PIETRO Custoza 2007
Dry apple, waxy apple, lanolin, dry herbs and minerals. Slender, dry, with ample dry matter giving a hint of tannins. Long, with dry apples, dried celeriac and minerals.

CAVALCHINA Custoza Superiore Amedeo 2006
Delicious minerality of the babbling mountain brook variety, juicy apples, dry herbs, light touch of smokiness. Slender to medium body, soft, still good acidity, dry. Long, with apples, hydrocarbon minerality, touch of bitter leafy greens and hazelnuts. Impressive.

ALBINO PIONA Custoza Campo del Sèlese 1999
Soft, dense, quite intense nose with lightly caramelized apple over touches of lanolin, boiled herbs and strong minerality. Light to medium body, dry, good acidity, elegant balance. Long, repeats the aromatics from the nose, with great minerality, fading slowly away while developing touches of smoke and dried herbs. Excellent, and that this was to be topped by another bottle of the same wine in even greater shape the next evening is hard to believe.

LE VIGNE DI SAN PIETRO Custoza 2003
Apple, lovage, minerals and fresh hazelnuts in a relatively muted nose. Slender, soft, warm, dry, good dry matter, slight alcohol heat. Good length, somewhat muted, repeats the nose with a touch of bitter herbs and slight alcohol. From an insanely hot year, who would ever have thought that a slender white wine made for early consumption could have lasted this long?

ALBINO PIONA Custoza Campo del Sèlese 2004
Broad, mature nose with hazelnuts, dry apple, boiled herbs and hydrocarbon minerality. Slender to medium body, with good acidity, good dry matter and the merest hint of appetizing bitterness. Long, acidic dry apple, minerals, hazelnuts and touch of smoke. Good stuff.

ALBINO PIONA Custoza Campo del Sèlese 2006
Slightly closed, slender, soft and somewhat neutral nose with apples, minerals, soft leafy greens and a touch of resinous herbs. Slender, round, soft and dry. Good length, remains somewhat neutral, but has hints of quince, boiled herbs and resin, with slight alcohol heat at the end. This appeared as if the fruit had been picked later than for the other vintages of the same wine, rendering the wine less characterful.

The second tasting took place the following evening at the fantastic little restaurant called Il Giardino delle Esperidi in the centre of Bardolino. This is an excellent, wine-centric place – self-described as an “enoteca con cucina” – run by the wonderful, energetic Susanna Tezzon. As it turned out, Susanna had once worked for a Danish charter airline, so spoke a bit of Danish. That did not help me in the language confusion that I always start to suffer from at such events, and which had seen me talking Italian, English, German and Swedish in the preceding days…

The food at Il Giardino is locally-sourced and at the same time simple and with great, complex flavour in that inimitable Italian way. During that evening, we first dug into a huge pile of homemade “polenta carbonera” made by Angelo’s wife. This is an old, traditional dish in the area, and basically consists of about 50% polenta made from coarsely ground maize and 50% cheese (normally 4 different ages of Monte Veronese), with a bit of olive oil to lighten the impact. The dish was originally invented by the coalmakers of the area, who needed the calorific hit to sustain themselves during long days of insanely hard work. These days, it’s a lot of densely packed sustenance for the likes of us couch potatoes, but it was so good that I had three servings.

After that followed a deceptively simple dish of spaghetti alla chitarra with spinach and lake fish. There is no describing the goodness of this plate of food, but I was dumbfounded by the simplicity, elegance and complexity of the flavours, the spinach being sweet, the olive oil used coming through so clearly, and the lake fish having clean, distinct and direct flavours and leaving an unctuous, slightly gelatinous sauce that stuck gently to the lips. I would love to be able to replicate such a dish at home, but I’m afraid it takes the exact raw materials Susanna had used to do it, and I’m rather certain I could only get those in Bardolino. Heaven is indeed a place on Earth.

My last dish that evening was another extremely simple serving: Slightly roasted fillet of bull, sliced very thinly, drizzled with olive oil and served with 4 different salts (I chose the Danish smoked salt…). Susanna normally serves it with mostarda – mustard-pickled fruits – but due to my allergies this was impossible, so I just had it with the fantastic local oil and the Danish salt. This allowed the raw material to shine, and what raw materials. The meat was fantastically flavourful.

The outing was primarily made to try another few bottles of Custoza with age, with a bit of other wines to provide comparison. This is what we drank that night (notes a bit brief, we were having a great time, with little time for writing…):

MONTE DEL FRÀ Custoza Superiore Ca’ del Magro 2009
Lovely nose of apricots, mandarin peel, saffron and minerals. Medium body, soft, intense, minerally.

ALBINO PIONA Custoza 2008
Apple, apricot skin, mountain brook minerality. Soft, long, minerally; lovely.

LUIGI MAFFINI Paestum Fiano Pietraincatenata 2005
Yes, a Fiano from Campania. These can live for a long time, so an interesting comparison. Intense, beautiful nose, with hydrocarbon minerality and citrus peel. Slender, intense minerality, long, repeating the aromatics from the nose.

FILIPPI Soave Vigna del Brà 2006
Slightly closed, apricot skin, bitter herbs, minerals. Medium body, good fatness, soft, long and very minerally. Clear family resemblance with Custoza here.

CA’ LOJERA Lugana Riserva del Lupo 2003
Somewhat closed nose, caramel, hazelnuts and minerals. Long, dry, just slight hint of oxidation setting in, with hazelnuts and minerals; good, but just slightly on a downward trend, drink up if you have any.

CA’ LOJERA Lugana Superiore 2002
Delicious, slightly greenish in an appetizing way, minerals and apple. Slender to medium body, long, soft, minerals, apple. Another clear family resemblance with Custoza.

UMANI RONCHI Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva Plenio 2002
Fat nose with oak vanilla, boiled greens, dry minerality. Rather intense, caramel from oak, dry, not really well balanced. I do prefer my Verdicchio without new oak.

ALBINO PIONA Custoza Campo del Sèlese 1999
Super-fresh and enormously minerally, with apples and a leesy hint. Slender to medium body, intense, minerals, green perfume, dry apple, dry and very long. Even better than the bottle the day before, very young.

HOFSTÄTTER VILLA BARTHENAU Alto Adige Pinot Bianco Vigneto San Michele 1990
Somewhat fungal, musty nose, touches of peach and minerals. Slender, rather neutral, not quite clean on the exit. A bit over the hill, this one.

GUIDO MARSELLA Fiano di Avellino 2005
Caramelly, minerals, fennel. Round, then dry, a bit short, with oxidized hazelnuts. This one a bit over the hill too.

ALBINO PIONA Custoza 2010
Slightly honeyed note over apples, minerals and a bit of herbs. Slender, minerals, apple. Not fully expressive yet, needs a bit of time.

MONTE DEL FRÀ Custoza Ca’ del Magro 2010
Here, too, a slightly honeyed note, with acidic apple, minerals and a strong hint of saffron that seems to be the hallmark of this particular vineyard. Slender to medium body, soft and long, with saffron.

CHÂTEAU SIMONE Palette Rosé 2009
Soft nose with raspberries and hints of garrigue and minerals. Quite dense, soft, lots of dry matter, somewhat lacking in acidity, light touch of alcohol heat. Long and intense, repeating the aromatics from the nose, with a hint of alcohol sweetness. This last wine was a contribution to a long-running, partly humourous debate that Angelo and I have had. Angelo loves the rosés from Provence, while I find them a bit too flabby and alcoholic. This one, while quite intense and full of character, and of surprising freshness for its age, was true to type, so merely convinced the two of us of our views on that matter.

Once again, Custoza showed surprising longevity. It is of course not the be all and end all of wine to be longevous, but when the wines develop in such an interesting manner as the Custozas here, I would say that good Custoza, in fact, needs to age at least 3-4 years – and sometimes much longer – to really show its best side. That was a nice discovery to make, and one that I would advise you to go out and make for yourself. And as opposed to many other longevous wines, Custozas won’t bankrupt you.

Yours truly
Ole

Posted in Alto Adige, Campania, Custoza, Food, France, Italy, Provence, Restaurants, Rosé wine, Veneto, White wine, Wine, Wine producers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Points – Why I prefer not to use them


The thoughtful Dario Bressanini has published this piece – in Italian, sorry – about the trustworthiness of wine judges and points scoring systems: http://bressanini-lescienze.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2014/04/07/quanto-sono-esperti-i-giudici-%E2%80%9Cesperti%E2%80%9D-assaggiatori-di-vino/. There is reference to articles in English at the bottom, so if Italian is not one of your strengths, you might want to go there.

It is to be expected, of course, that in a world so driven by personal preference, personal aesthetics and differences in individuals’ sense apparatuses as wine, there will be a huge spread in points awarded to wines. It is probably equally to be expected that any individuals’ scoring of several tastings of the same wine will have – on average – quite a large spread, as so many factors influence each tasting. Some will be more driven by their aesthetics and preferences, some become tired and unfocussed earlier than others, in general or on the day, some are not in it for the taste at all, and wine changes continually in the bottle, in the glass and with meteorological conditions.

All of these factors obviously conspire towards rendering the trustworthiness of points scoring, whether for competitions or for publishing, impossible or at least dubious. However, since competitions are competitions, and since publishing a single person’s opinion is just that, a single person’s opinion, I have yet to see someone come up with a better system to render, in a brief manner, a judgement on wine. I would suggest that the steps to be taken here are in the systematization of wine tastings, and in the selection of consistent tasters, rather than in scrapping points systems.

While the lack of trustworthiness in wine scores is a problem in itself, my problem with points for wines is much more an aesthetic one. As I have written earlier (here: http://oleudsenwineblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/diversity-in-wine-or-a-craving-for-the-weird-and-wonderful/), I try to have an unbiased view of wines. I try to take them at face value, and I try to push my own prejudices and preferences aside. It goes without saying – but I’ll do it anyway – that I am almost entirely unsuccessful in doing so. I don’t necessarily think that anyone can entirely push own preferences aside, as many of them are deeply embedded and only partially conscious. However, I find merit in trying to do so.

Given this, what is the best method to convey to others the taste of a wine? By way of points scoring, which reduces the huge variety of wine to mere points, or by way of trying to write tasting notes that might convey a sense of the wine? After all, accepting points scoring as a universal indicator of wine quality and character would somehow seem to convey the sense that tastes are the same everywhere, and that there is a fairly limited range of expressions within wine that will appeal to wine drinkers. But this is so very obviously not the case, so for me, the solution must be to try to convey the character of a wine, rather than inevitably fallible points.

Of course, my like or dislike for a particular wine will shine through, but I do hope that I am reasonably faithful and trustworthy in describing it, so that others may at least stand a chance of forming an impression of the wine. For this reason I also find it difficult to bandy about deeply emotive and essentially meaningless words about wine such as “energy”. I have no idea what that means, and while it may make for more entertaining and emotionally satisfying reading, I don’t think it necessarily conveys anything about the wine to people.

Some may find that this position is a rather elitist and obscure one, and that my writings are of less use to the public because of the lack of a quick and easy reference to my preferences. However, that would seem to presuppose some sort of consumer advice utility of not only my humble blog, but of wine writing in general, and that, I venture, would be entirely wrong. Consumer advice, proper advice to consumers, in terms of wine is an almost non-existing category, and if practised exclusively would convert wine magazines, blogs etc. into platforms for advising on fine wine investment. Wine is much more of an aesthetic – almost intangible – good, and so dependent on tastes that it makes little sense to consider points scoring and tasting notes as trustworthy in respect of pointing towards some sort of utility to the individual consumer.

So, while I will gladly and consciously use points scoring in competitions, for my own tastings, and for my own writings, I refrain from them. I think they are essentially useless and aesthetically ugly. If that makes my blog convoluted, lengthy, elitist and obscure, then so be it. After all, it is mostly something I do for my own pleasure, and if any blogger tells you something else about their own writings, you will be excused if you cough a discreet “bullshit”. Most, if not all, blogs are primarily ego-polishing.

Yours truly
Ole

Posted in Opinion, Other, Various, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Of Old Cats and Tender Mice – Bardolino Anteprima


There is something enormously suggestive and attractive about the huge furrow carved by millennia of glaciation events that is Lake Garda. In Europe, the spread of what we call culture – the spread of neolithic farming practices and the cultural mores it brought with it – largely coincided with and was predicated upon the withdrawal of the glaciers after the last ice age. At this time, Lake Garda filled up with water, overflowed into the Po system through the Mincio river, and soon this system became a major thoroughfare for cultural and trade interchange.

The Lake and its immediate surroundings provide for a unique, balmy microclimate, which for instance allows for olives to be grown far north of their normal climatic frontier. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area was used for agriculture and sustained a surprisingly thick web of interchange and commerce early on in European neolithic history. This must have been an irresistibly attractive place to be for homo sapiens for as long as we have had the opportunity.

Standing on the brink of the Lake and looking out across it in pale, lovely spring sunshine, with a mysterious slight fog hanging over it, I half expected a neolithic wooden boat, full of weathered traders and entrepreneurial youngsters dressed in coarse fur and fabric, coming out from under the fog and making landfall right before me. I don’t know who would have been more surprised, me at their appearance or them at the highly un-neolithic, heavily built-up lakeside they had suddenly appeared on. Not to mention the sharply-dressed natives. The age-old mystery and romance of the Lake had certainly taken hold of me.

I was there from 14 through 18 March 2014 for the presentation of the new vintage at the Bardolino and Custoza Anteprima event, and as it happened, I was standing at the mouth of the tiny port of Lazise, one of the beautiful towns along the Lake, an ancient trade post, complete with a restored 13th century customs house once used for taxing the numerous boats that also were plying their trade across the Lake in mediaeval times. My contemplation was certainly to some extent fuelled by a bit of travel weariness and by having just had a wonderful lunch of local fish extremely simply prepared at the excellent Ristorante da Oreste on one side of the port. But the beauty and magic are just very tangible, part of the air one breathes there. Day-dreaming and rumination come easy here.

This post will be dealing with my impressions of the Bardolino and Bardolino Chiaretto (= rosé) wines tasted at the Anteprima event. A subsequent post will provide my impressions of the Custoza Anteprima wines, and I will also be providing a post with highlights of the producers visited during my stay at the Lake.

I was there by invitation of my friend Angelo Peretti, the director of the Bardolino consortium and the organizer of the event. Angelo is a font of knowledge about the Bardolino and Custoza area – and much more – and here is what he taught me:

Situated on the eastern shore of the Lake, the Bardolino and Custoza areas, which largely coincide in the southern part of the Bardolino area, are creations of several glaciation-and-withdrawal events, with four ages of hills – the youngest and lowest closest to the Lake and the oldest and highest furthest from it, spreading in an east-north-easterly direction. Generally, the highest elevations are reached in the northern and north-eastern parts of the area, towards the Alps, with the terrain levelling out towards the south, as we approach the plains of the Po.

As you would expect, the soil here is morainic, with much gravel of various origins. And as usual, the best vineyards are on slopes with a southerly aspect.

The Bardolino wine is mainly made from the indigenous corvina and corvinone varieties, allowed for up to 80% of the wine, with the rest being made up of a plethora of other varieties, of which rondinella must make up a minimum of 10%, and with molinara, sangiovese and merlot, among others, in supporting roles. The character of the wines is therefore mostly determined by the various expressions of corvina/corvinone.

According to Angelo, in the Bardolino Classico area, the historic nucleus of production of this wine centred around the eponymous town, that expression is of raspberry and cloves. Moving towards the north and east, that expression changes into strawberries and cinnamon, whereas the character changes into cherries and crushed black pepper towards the south. This was largely borne out by my own tastings, and I must join Angelo in fervently wishing for a change of legislation that would allow for Bardolino to be made from 100% corvina/corvinone. There is essential beauty in such terroir transparency and recognizability, and corvina/corvinone certainly have the potential for very high quality from this area on their own, as evidenced by several 100% corvina wines tasted. The character expressed by the best wines here is not unlike light pinot noir in its insistence upon fairly light red fruits, with hints of spice and autumn leaves. Clearly, the very light tannins and body set them apart from many pinot noirs, but the transparency towards the growing conditions is there.

This, in other words, is a very special corner of the Earth, with a unique combination of soils, climate, grape varieties and ancient culture, a place that has had the time and, through the ages, the wealth and the surplus of human energy to find out exactly what works in terms of combining the terroir and grape varieties to come up with the best wine that can be made there. Is it not strange, then, that what they have come up with is a red wine of such ephemeral lightness and youthful fruitiness as Bardolino? Why have they not landed on a combination that produces some of the biggest, most age-worthy wines in the world? Surely, that is the ultimate goal that all winemakers must strive for, right? Well, not really, or, at least, not only. In my opinion, the appreciation of – the striving for – the understanding of the profundity in – simplicity and lightness is a sign of maturity and sophistication.

I regard that as a frequently observed phenomenon, one you might recognize in yourself (given the right age and maturity…). The typical evolution of many wine drinkers is one of going from very light, fruity wines (think Beaujolais Nouveau, my own first real wine appreciation) which give little resistance and impact, to a youthful state of being impressed by wines of enormous stature, power and wow-factor (think big red Bordeaux and heavier), and then – gradually and not without exception – developing a real appreciation for lightness, finesse, the fine details (think red Burgundy). You see this development on a larger scale in emerging wine markets, where the big wines often make up the first wave, but where the gradual maturation of wine consciousness then entails much greater appreciation for the light, complex and detailed wines of this world.

We also see this development in other areas than wine. In food, for example, the ancient and highly evolved cultures tend to end up with great simplicity, lightness and attention to the individual raw materials. Italy is a prime example. Here is a country that developed – several times, for instance during the Roman age and during the renaissance – some of the most complex and elaborate cuisines and attendant food philosophies ever seen. Yet, today, we have a cuisine that tends towards regionality, simplicity, recognizability of the raw materials and digestibility. Why? Well, certainly not just because of poverty in the intervening years. My contention is that this is the sign of maturity, of the understanding of the profundity of lightness and simplicity.

For my own part, I also see this tendency in my work as an oil industry negotiator. When I started out in that business, there was no end to the complexity and depth of solutions I could come up with. Time – and no doubt the onset of decreasing mental capacity – have taught me to avoid complexity in solutions if at all possible. In fact, these days, I find myself increasingly smiling at people presenting complexity, particularly when simple and future-proof solutions are evident.

I want to be clear here: I am not talking about lightness and simplicity in wine in the sense of banal or thin. I am talking about those characters in the sense of youthful exuberance, of the transparency towards terroir, and of the drinkability of certain wines. These are wines that I find myself gravitating towards more and more as I grow older and as I taste more and more wine. This is by no means to the exclusion of big, great wine; no, on the contrary, I may in my youthful ignorance and impressionability have tended to exclude the light wines, so this is more of an inclusive rather than exclusive process.

Danish wine importer Carlo Merolli shares a liking for such wines, and just a few days ago sent out a newsletter in praise of them. He used an old Neapolitan saying to highlight the transformation that he has also undergone in his appreciation for these wines: “Jatte vecchierelle, surice tenerielle”, which translates into “old cats (prefer) tender/young mice”. While there could be a hint towards the unsavoury, or even the implication of the debilitating effects of old age, in that saying, what it does highlight in this context is the effect of time and maturity on the development of our preferences.

Angelo Peretti, on his own web site http://www.internetgourmet.it, has introduced the moniker “vinino” for these wines. The understanding is that a vinino must be light and irresistibly drinkable, yet not banal, because it has a clear imprint of where it comes from, and little endearing details that sets it apart. This is one point where Angelo and I are in complete agreement on wine. And this is where the Bardolino that has emerged in the last 10 years is utterly archetypical. The very best versions combine euphoric fruitiness, juiciness, lightness and great drinkability with hints of spices, autumn leaves and exactly that transparency towards territory and its subdivisions which makes it non-banal and very worthy.

So it was with great anticipation and no little enjoyment that this fat old cat sat down and tasted the complete selection of Bardolino Chiaretto, Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante and Bardolino being poured at the Anteprima event. The following are brief notes on the wines that I want to highlight from those tastings. As usual, no colour notes and no points.

Bardolino Chiaretto

BIGAGNOLI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Slightly closed nose, but with acidic red berries and minerals. Sapid, lithe, dry and long.

CA’ DEI COLLI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Raspberries and granite dust. Juicy, raspberries and flowers.

CAVALCHINA Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Light raspberries and hints of garrigue herbs. Soft, fine, lightly perfumed, still a bit of reduction on exit.

CORTE GARDONI Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Juicy raspberries, flowers, herbs and minerals. Sapid, tight berries and minerality. Excellent.

F.LLI ZENI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico Vigne Alte 2013
Slightly reductive nose, with raspberries and talc. Good balance between fruit and tight struture.

SUSANNA E EUGENIO GIRARDELLI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Slightly reductive, but good weight of berries underneath. Raspberries and herbs, good weight of dry matter, lightly bitter and salty finish.

GIUSEPPE E GIAN PIETRO GIRARDI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Light raspberries, flowers. Tight, dry and juicy; give time.

GORGO Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberries with a hint of spice, minerals. Soft, creamy, lightly juicy. Delicious.

IL PIGNETTO Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberries, cherries, boiled herbs, hint of sweet meat. Tight, good dry matter, minerals.

LE GINESTRE Bardolino Chiaretto Classico Cà Roina 2013
Wild raspberries, elderflower, citrus and minerals. Slender, juicy, repeats nose.

LE MURAGLIE Bardolino Chiaretto Birò 2013
Soft berries, flowery talc, weighty nose. Minerally, dry, good width.

LE VIGNE DI SAN PIETRO Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberries, verdant perfume and minerals. Soft, with good herbs and fruit.

LORENZO MORANDO Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberry candy. Juicy/tight, raspberries and lavender.

GIORGIO POGGI Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Perfumed raspberries, light green herbs, granite. Tight, dry and minerally.

RAVAL Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Raspberries and minerals, hint of horseradish. Soft, mild and with good dry matter.

GIOVANNA TANTINI Bardolino Chiaretto 2013
Raspberry candy, lavender, good. Repeated in the mouth, dry and minerally.

TRE COLLINE Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Fresh raspberries, white flowers and minerals. Dry, juicy and minerally.

VALETTI Bardolino Chiaretto Classico 2013
Somewhat neutral berry nose with hint of sweet meat. Slender, juicy, good minerality, raspberry finish.

Looking back over my notes, this was a very good sitting, with a good number of very likable wines. Generally, my preference went towards those that had juiciness, sapidity even, and which were dry and minerally. Some wines were a bit too obviously made, and I have tended to tink less of them. A few of the wines had more of a Provencal character, being quite soft and with hints of herbs, but the best of them avoided the flabbiness and alcoholic excess that otherwise tends to afflict many Provencal rosés.

Bardolino Chiaretto can be a really lovely, charming, highly drinkable wine. It generally does not try and convince you of its greatness by way of extract or alcohol, preferring instead to sneak up on you with lovely hints of light red berries and minerals. From memory, I cannot recall having had very many good Chiarettos, and I therefore conclude that winemaking practices have improved enormously here. Many of these wines are really worth seeking out for perfect summer drinking.

Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante

FULVIO BENAZZOLI Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Light raspberries, minerals. Good acidity, dry and juicy

CANTINA CASTELNUOVO DEL GARDA Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Minerally raspberries. Good acidity, dry enough, minerals.

COSTADORO Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries and lavender, delicious. Slender, good acidity, juicy and dry.

F.LLI ZENI Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries, lavender, minerals. Slightly high on the dosage/slightly sweet, but good raspberry and lavender finish.

GUERRIERI RIZZARDI Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries, flowers, hint of sweet meat. Light, raspberries, minerals and flowers.

LA CA’ Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries, lavender and flowers, hint of orange zest. Dry, tight, good acidity.

LE TENDE Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante Voluttà
Discreet raspberries, violets. Slender, dry, good acidity, raspberries.

MONTE DEL FRA’ Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante La Picia
Palest raspberries, very minerally. Slender, raspberries, minerals. Good.

VILLA MEDICI Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante
Raspberries, sweet herbs, minerals and flowers. Slender, good acidity, dry.

This was a somewhat smaller flight, resulting therefore in fewer wines to be recommended. Again, my preference went towards those that had juiciness, sapidity and dryness. Sparkling wines, and sparkling rosés in particular, are of course all the rage on international markets these days, and I had feared that many wines would have suffered as a consequence, being made for markets with a sweet tooth, and for a price point. Luckily, this was generally not the case, and there were many wines with good terroir fidelity. I don’t see many of these wines at home in Denmark, but the above would certainly be a huge improvement on much of the plonk being sold to the unsusecting public these days.

Bardolino

BIGAGNOLI Bardolino Classico 2013
Cherries, raw artichoke, iron. Light, good dryness, fruit very intact, finishes with a hint of cloves.

CA’ DEI COLLI Bardolino Classico 2013
Sweet cherries, cinnamon, charming. Juicy/sapid, cherries and ginger.

CANTINA CASTELNUOVO DEL GARDA Bardolino Classico Cà Vegar 2013
Cherry candy, cinnamon. Juicy, cherries and sweet herbs.

CASARETTI Bardolino Classico 2013
Tight nose, cherries and pepper. Juicy, dry, lovely.

NATALE CASTELLANI Bardolino 2013
Sweet cherries, sweet meat. Juicy/tight, dry and fine.

FREZZA Bardolino Classico 2013
Dark berries, hint of geranium. Tight, juicy and good.

GIUSEPPE E GIAN PIETRO GIRARDI Bardolino Classico 2013
Tight cherries, spice, minerals, hint of herbs. Fruity, juicy and fresh.

GORGO Bardolino 2013
Sweet cherries, lavender and cloves. Soft, good fruit, slightly too rounded.

IL PIGNETTO Bardolino 2013
Tight cherries, pepper. Good juiciness, tight, spice.

LA PRESA Bardolino 2013
Full of character, perfumed berries, sweet herbs, delicious. Firm, fruity, lovely minerality.

LE FRAGHE Bardolino 2013
Cherries, dark herbs and spices. Soft, rounded and dry.

LE GINESTRE Bardolino Classico Mondragon 2013
Light cherries, fennel, minerals. Juicy, lively, lovely minerals.

LE MURAGLIE Bardolino Vicentini 2013
Raspberries, sweet herbs, hints of sweet meat and wet clay. Juicy/sapid, delicious fruit.

LE TENDE Bardolino Classico 2013
Dark cherries, geranium, autumn leaves. Juicy, full of character, dry.

MONTE DEL FRA’ Bardolino 2013
Dark cherries, exotic wood, cloves and minerals. Mild, rounded, good dry matter. Good.

MONTE ZOVO Bardolino 2013
Carbohydrate minerality, light cherries, sweet flowers and spices. Juicy, fruity and minerally.

ALBINO PIONA Bardolino 2013
Fresh and juicy cherries, herbs. Slender, juicy and minerally.

GIORGIO POGGI Bardolino Classico 2013
Sour cherries and hint of meat. Juicy/tight, dry, cherries.

RAVAL Bardolino Classico 2013
Raspberries! Slender, dry and juicy. Vinino.

TRE COLLINE Bardolino Classico 2013
Soft red berry fruit and sweet spice. Juicy, lovely fruit.

VIGNETI VILLABELLA Bardolino Classico Vigna Morlongo 2013
Juicy cherries, geranium. Soft, juicy, delicious.

VILLA CALICANTUS Bardolino 2013
Balsamic cherries, carbohydrate minerality. Somewhat tannic, hint of oak, but juicy and good.

VILLA MEDICI Bardolino 2013
Spritzy cherries, sweet green herbs. Slender, juicy, good fruit.

ZENATO Bardolino 2013
Lifted cherries, perfumed green herbs, autumn leaves towards exotic wood, very charming. Juicy, long and lively, repeats nose. Lovely.

This was a lovely tasting, with many wines hitting the sweet spot in terms of juiciness, fruitiness, immediacy and quaffability. Just what the old cat needed after the dreariness of Danish winter. Again, the wines that really convinced were those that had not been overdone or rounded off. There were very few of those, which to me is an extremely healthy sign that the Bardolino winemakers have come to terms with the area’s real vocation and are working towards maximizing that expression. The few ripasso-like wines that were there were generally clumsy and much less drinkable than the good stuff listed above.

Clearly, the character in these wines is being borne by corvina/corvinone. I had the luck of also tasting a few wines that were made from 100% corvina/corvinone (notes in a later post), and they really did point towards a glorious future. They were not larger or heavier than normal Bardolinos, but they tended to express even more the lovely, transparent, euphoric fruitiness and terroir fidelity that surely is the goal towards which this area must strive (and is striving). I would particularly single out the 100% corvina/corvinone wines of two producers, Albino Piona and Corte Gardoni, in this context. If you want to taste the pure fruit and the potential, get hold of those wines.

I will be providing notes of my visits to certain producers, as well as notes on the Custoza Anteprima wines, in later posts, but just to round off this post a quick note on my favourite producers from this event: The big guns – the likes of Monte del Frà, Le Vigne di San Pietro, Cavalchina and Le Fraghe – certainly did deliver with excellence across the board, but that was hardly surprising. What really struck me here was the breadth of excellence and the serious intent and view towards the long term which was exhibited by a group of producers that really came up with interesting and lovely wines. The best among these were Corte Gardoni, Le Tende, Giovanna Tantini and Albino Piona. But this post would not be complete without me mentioning my real favourite, Raval. This tiny, artisanal, humble producer does not produce – and does not pretend to produce – the most profound wines in the world, or even in the area. But the drinkability and charm of them, the immediacy and fruitiness, the honesty and fidelity, are just off the charts. And you can buy them at the cellar door for 3 Euros per bottle. Unbelievable. Go get some.

Yours truly
Ole

Posted in Bardolino, Custoza, Italy, Red wine, Rosé wine, Veneto, White wine, Wine, Wine producers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alla Borsa – Tortelli Heaven


tortelli_asparagi_verdi_di_verona

At the recent Bardolino and Custoza Anteprima event, I had the great good fortune of dining twice at the Alla Borsa restaurant in Valeggio sul Mincio. I had never tried this restaurant before, nor heard of it, but that turns out to be my own fault more than anything else. And there is now no way that this will be my last stop there.

The market town of Valeggio sul Mincio has functioned as a commercial crossroads for centuries, probably for millennia, with its position right at the southern tip of the ancient trade route along the Garda lake and into the Mincio river, leading further south into the Po system. As in so many other such towns, this function has led to a strong gastronomic tradition, with Valeggio sul Mincio becoming especially well-known for its tortelli. There is an abundance of pasta shops selling tortelli in town, and all of the restaurants are specialized in it.

The Alla Borsa restaurant is named for its function through the ages as a meeting place for merchants making deals over a good meal. The name literally means “the bourse” or “the exchange”. The place has functioned as an actual restaurant since the 1950’ies, and is presently headed up by the dynamic, likable and strong Nadia Pasquali, daughter of the founders of the restaurant. It is widely held to be the best in town, and judging from the two meals I had there, that is very likely to be true. I would at least have difficulty imagining somewhere better to eat anywhere.

The first meal I had there was an official dinner under the auspices of the Anteprima event, and featured asparagus in several declinations. Without mentioning every plate we had, I would single out the following servings:
• The first starter was raw white asparagus, which we had to peel into thin strips ourselves and then dip in olive oil with ground pepper. This was great in its simplicity, relying completely on the quality of its raw materials. The Verona area is famous for its asparagus, and grows about 70% white, 30% green. This white asparagus was by no means the fattest or longest I had ever seen, but its flavour was so exquisitely fresh and sweet that it completely filled my mouth with the noble character and sweetness of white asparagus.
• Next on my list is the sorbir d’agnoli. This is essentially a dish of meat broth with tortelli, and as such no doubt sounds somewhat boring. However, in this version, the broth was light, but enormously flavoursome and well-balanced, and the tortelli were revelatory. The pasta was so thin that the stuffing – of meat – was clearly visible, and the soft texture of the pasta, a marvel in itself, was such that it allowed direct access to the grainy-yet-soft texture of the stuffing. Great cooking technique, and even greater flavour. Two discussions emerged: One: Apparently, in the Emilia Romagna, sorbir d’agnoli is the same dish, but requires that Lambrusco is poured into the dish when the tortelli have been consumed and there is still broth left, whereas in the Garda area this is not done; much loud and good-natured recrimination ensued. Two: Our host, Angelo Peretti, likes these tortelli even better simply served with butter and sage. While this is clearly my favourite way of eating another type of tortelli, agnolotti (for example the fabulous agnolotti of Hotel Barolo in Piedmont), I had my doubts. Angelo therefore ensured that the tortelli were also served with sage and butter, and while this method actually enhanced the meat flavour of the stuffing, I clung to the broth version, as this method ensured the amazing softness of the pasta, which was slightly compromised by serving it with butter and sage.
• The ultimate dish served here, though, were the tortelli with Monteveronese cheese and green asparagus from Verona. I am normally a white asparagus lover above all, but in this version, the greenness of the green asparagus, which is too often rather bland and covers what I consider to be the nobler asparagus aromas, was exalted to such a degree, and was complemented so beautifully by the rest of the stuffing as well as the fragrant olive oil it was simply served with, that I had to give in. This was one of the most beautiful dishes I have had in years, a veritable foodgasm, with its beautiful, softly perfumed greenness, the fantastic, soft consistency of both the pasta and the stuffing, and the beautifully balanced savoury counterpoint provided by the cheese and the olive oil.

I am not doing that meal justice, as we had other dishes, all lovely, but I will have to urge you to go there to experience it all.

My next meal there was a couple of days later, for an informal lunch while driving around the neighbourhood visiting wine producers. I will spare you the details, but the stand-out dish on this occasion were tortelli very much in the mould of the green asparagus tortelli, but this time made with tender young hops shoots. Hops shoots are a highly seasonal Northern Italian specialty, not frequently encountered in restaurants, but here done in the best way I have ever come across, with the tender crunch and slight green bitterness of the shoots playing perfect counterpoint to almost the same stuffing as for the green asparagus. I was in heaven once again.

To sum it up, Alla Borsa is a fabulous place. This is no molecular gastronomy place, but technique is nonetheless at the very highest levels, an exaltation of traditional craftmanship, mixed with a sensitivity to the raw materials and a philosophy of seasonality that you can really only find in Italy, and then only at the very best places. Ignore it at your peril.

After the informal lunch, I spoke with Nadia, and she promised to send me the recipe for the green asparagus tortelli. She promptly did, and with her permission, I have translated the recipe. This is somewhat timeconsuming, but I promise you that it is worth the effort (any inaccuracies or mistranslations are purely mine):

TORTELLI with Monteveronese d’Allevo and Mezzano dop and Green Asparagus from Verona

Ingredients for 4 persons:

For the pasta:
• 400 g wheat flour “00”
• 100 g spinach, boiled, squeezed, chopped and passed through a sieve
• 3 whole eggs
• 1 spoonful extra virgin olive oil, preferably Garda Trentino dop (Nadia uses the herbal-tinged, greenish-perfumed oil from Madonna delle Vittorie, which is fabulous, but probably difficult to find, so use any fresh, green but not too pungent/bitter extra virgin olive oil you can find)
• Salt, a tiny bit

For the stuffing:
• 200 g fresh cow’s milk ricotta
• 200 g grated Monteveronese d’Allevo and Mezzano dop cheese (these are two different ageings of the same cheese)
• 200 g green asparagus stalks, tips off (Nadia uses the green asparagus with protected denomination of origin from Verona, and while these have a unique sweetness and perfume, they are likely to be very hard to find, so you should use what you can get your hands on, so long as it is fresh)
• 50 g grated Monteveronese extra-aged (so-called stravecchio)
• 100 g mascarpone
• 1 egg yolk
• Salt, sugar, pepper, nutmeg
• Possibly a boiled potato

For serving:
• Extra virgin olive oil, preferably Garda Trentino dop (Madonna delle Vittorie)
• A handful of young, thin green asparagus tips (left over from the stalks used in the stuffing)

Make a “volcano” with the flour and add the other ingredients for the pasta in the centre. Using a fork, start beating the eggs and gradually incorporate the other ingredients. When this starts to form a dough-like consistency, start working the pasta with your hands. Work the pasta long and energetically, to obtain a smooth and homogeneous pasta. Cover with foil and let rest in a fridge for 2 hrs.

In the meanwhile, pass the ricotta through a sieve into a large bowl. Add the rest of the cheeses, the yolk, salt, pepper and nutmeg (I personally hate nutmeg so would leave that out) and mix. If the stuffing turns out too soft, make it thicker with a boiled potato. Boil the asparagus, stalks and tips, for 20 seconds in a large pot of boiling water with salt and a bit of sugar, strain and throw immediately into water with ice cubes in order not to lose the beautiful green colour of the asparagus. Leave aside the tips for serving later and cut the stalks into tiny rounds. Mix the rounds into the cheese stuffing and add salt and pepper to taste.

Roll out the pasta to a thickness of about 5 millimetres, cut it into squares about 4 cm by 4 cm, place a small spoonful of stuffing in the middle of each square and fold one corner of each square over the stuffing and onto the opposite corner, forming a triangle. Now fold the “long” corners of each triangle onto each other, giving it the classic tortello shape.

Boil the tortelli in salted water, strain and serve with the gently re-heated asparagus tips and some extra virgin olive oil.

Nadia proposes to serve this with the rosé Chiaretto Bardolino, but I also found it had a beautiful affinity for white Custoza with a bit of age.

This is a strongly seasonal dish, depending on the availability of asparagus, which in the Verona area is from the end of March to the beginning of May.

Yours truly
Ole

Posted in Bardolino, Custoza, Food, Italy, Restaurants, Rosé wine, Veneto, White wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2013 Summer Holidays – Campania – Part 4 – Aglianico del Vulture


This is the fourth installment of tasting notes from my 2013 summer vacation in Southern Italy, as introduced here: http://oleudsenwineblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/2013-summer-holidays-intro/

The time had now come for the tasting of the noble aglianico wines from the slopes of extinct volcano Monte Vulture in Basilicata. These are archetypical great, austere, characterful and noble red wines if ever there were any:

Aglianico del Vulture

Aglianico is a difficult variety whose grapes need very long time on the vine in order to reach phenolic ripeness. In a hot climate this tendency can result in very alcoholic, raisiny wines (if harvested late to ripen the phenolics) or wines with a greenish disposition (if harvested before phenolically ripe in order to preserve the freshness of the fruit), unless handled very astutely. However, on the high, cool slopes of Monte Vulture, and enjoying the sun and stable climate of the South, aglianico has near-ideal climatic conditions, and in addition some very interesting soils, rich in micronutrients. One would think that some of the very best wines in all of Italy should come from this place, but until rather few years ago, the great wines from here were few and far between. One reason for this is that aglianico, even when phenolically ripe, is a tough nut to crack. Even when ripe, the grapes have fierce tannins and searing acidity. Winemaking has traditionally sought to soften the wines by oxidating the tannins, but the result has far too often been tired, dry and oxidized wines. Another reason has been the socioeconomic backwardness of Basilicata, which is still among the poorest regions of Italy. There has been little development of a local market willing to support great, expensive wines, and hence viticulture seems to have been volume- rather than quality-focussed. Aglianico grapes with high yields, resultant thin fruit with bracing tannins and acidity are difficult to make really great wine from. Luckily, within the last decade or so, but particularly within the past 5 years, we have seen an explosion of good wine from here. I chalk it down to much-improved vineyard practices, and in particular to much better winemaking practices. The leap forward in quality was also evidenced by this tasting, where 12 out of 19 wines scored 85 or above for me, a high percentage indeed.

A little gripe: Aglianico is often called the nebbiolo of the South, due to many structural and aromatic components that the two varieties do share. Even if there is perhaps some praise in comparing aglianico to the legendary nobility and longevity of nebbiolo, I do feel that there is a bit of condescension in this moniker, and it is high time that aglianico steps out on its own, with confidence. Yes, the typical cherry and earthy aromatics, as well as the tannins and acidity, can be nebbiolo-like, but aglianico is still very much its own, with a frequently staggering minerality as well as a Mediterranean, barky garrigue-spiciness that sets it particularly apart, and nowhere more resoundingly so than on Monte Vulture. It is time that the world wake up to these noble and great wines.

Grifalco 2011
Cherries, garrigue and and exotic wood on the nose. Rounded, mild fruit, then hefty tannins. 85

Cantine del Notaio 2011
Dark berries and dry garrigue, handsome. Very good fruit and lovely tannins. 87

Musto Carmelitano Maschitano 2011
Slightest hint of reduction, but bursting with dark berries and wild garrigue. A wild and wonderful wine. 90

Carbone Terra dei Fuochi 2011
Slightly high-toned red berries, hint of tar. Good spiciness and good tannins. 85

Elena Fucci Titolo 2011
Huge, deep, dark nose with wild spices and herbs. Repeated in the mouth, incredibly handsome and intense. Fucci is the stand-out star on Monte Vulture for me these years. Incredible depth, power and nobility, great winemaking. So when I tasted this wine, it sang out the name Fucci before we were told its identity. 92

Grifalco Grikos 2011
Garrigue, bark, dark berries and minerals. Tight, very good tannins, great future. 88

Mastrodomenico Likos 2011
Slightly high-toned cherries, geranium and garrigue. Majestic tannins, fruit perhaps lagging a bit behind. 85

Basilisco Teodosio 2011
Cherries, hydrocarbon minerality, tar. Mild, rounded fruit, good acidity. 86

Carbone 400 Some 2011
Hint of reduction, but mostly black cherries and garrigue. Same aromatics in the mouth, very handsome. 87

Basilisco Basilisco 2010
Cherries, garrigue and tar. Cherries and hint of caramel, notable tannins. 85

Terre degli Svevi Re Manfredi 2010
Black, sweet cherries, hydrocarbon minerality, walnuts. Tight, minerally, spicy. 86

Martino 2010
Fur, sweet meat, clay, quite complex. Round and somewhat neutral, soft. Oddball in this company, but interesting complexity. 85

All in all, this was probably, in quality terms, the best of the sittings I participated in. I was astounded and happy not just with the percentage but also with the sheer number of monumental, majestic wines here. I have too little of it in my cellar, but that is chiefly because I keep drinking it. While impressive on their own, these wines truly sing with food.

Yours truly
Ole

Posted in Basilicata, Italy, Red wine, Wine, Wine producers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2013 Summer Holidays – Campania – Part 3 – Greco di Tufo


This is the third installment of tasting notes from my summer vacation in Southern Italy, as introduced here: http://oleudsenwineblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/2013-summer-holidays-intro/

The time had come to taste the lovely white wines of:

Greco di Tufo

Greco is another ancient grape variety that has made its home in the Irpinia hills, and which has seen an explosion in diversity and quality much like that of fiano. It makes some lovely, highly drinkable white wines with aromas of yellow fruits, resinous herbs, ample mouthfeel, middling acidity and a hint of pleasurable, cleansing bitterness. Some do not consider it as being as noble as fiano, claiming that it has less longevity, may not express its terroir quite so forcefully – opting to Express its own varietal character more forcefully – and is a bit too ruffiano, meaning eager to please. While fiano certainly has great minerality and the potential for great terroir fidelity, I think that the detractors are being unjust towards greco. Yes, it does have a more obvious, ample fruit character, but why should that count against it? It certainly has the potential for longevity and terroir fidelity as well, and can provide fantastic drinking both when young, middle-aged and old. Again, we were tasting very young wines, so were not necessarily doing them full justice, and so again, there may be some notable absences from this list of the best. Nonetheless, of a lineup of 23 Greco di Tufos, I scored 14 wines 85 and above, which is a high percentage of good and great wine indeed.

Torricino Raone 2012
Peaches, flowers. Good acidity, full, flowers. 86

Feudi di San Gregorio 2012
Dryish nose with apples and resin. Full, with resin and herbs. 87

Macchialupo 2012
Aromatic apple and minerals. Full, hint of resin, just slightly alcholic. 85

Villa Raiano Contrada Marrotta 2012
Peaches and minerals. Full, good acidity, herbs. 88

Mastroberardino Novaserra 2012
Apples and mineral. Linear, dry, minerally. 86

Villa Raiano 2012
Peaches, minerals and acacia. Good acidity, minerals and herbs. 88

Torricino 2012
Peaches and herbs. Linear, apples, very minerally. 86

Benito Ferrara Vigna Cicogna 2012
Fairly neutral, appley nose. Very handsome in the mouth, lovely, lively, great minerals and a hint of herb. 87

I Favati Terrantica Etichetta Bianca 2012
Slightly sulphurous, overlaying peaches and apple. Dry, acidic, somewhat closed, but concentrated and built for a long life. 85

Antonio Caggiano Devon 2012
Slightly reductive, with apple and minerals. Slender, with very good acidity. 86

Di Prisco 2012
Apples, minerals and flowers. Somewhat tartaric in its acidity, minerally. 85

Montesolæ Vigna Breccia 2011
Apples, minerals, dry resin and herbs. Juicy, with dry herbs and resin. Characterful. 86

Di Meo Selezione Roberto di Meo 2010
Delicious nose with minerals and sweet apple. Consistency lovely all the way, handsome acidity, very long. 88

Mastroberardino 2008
Somewhat neutral nose with apples and minerals. Firm, dry, long, with good acidity, resin. 86

In conclusion, this was another great sitting, with some rather dazzling wines of great character and drinkability. I rejoice at how far Campania has come with this variety, and at the thought of so many great wines from it to come in future.

Yours truly
Ole

Posted in Campania, Italy, White wine, Wine, Wine producers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment