Posted by: tomciocco | November 26, 2014

PLAVINA OF SIBENIK, SPAWN OF TRIBIDRAG AND VERDECA

The lineage of demons? By the sounds of those names, you might think so, but since this is a blog about wine and food, what we’ve got here are three grape names and a place. Specifically, the place (Sibenik) is the name of a town on the northern Dalmatian coast in the nation of Croatia which holds a thin and delightfully rocky sliver of land bordering the Adriatic Sea. And though wine vines grow all over the country, Dalmatia is Croatia’s viticultural epicenter.

Most of this region’s vineyard area is dedicated to the production of massive, rustic reds made from grapes like Plavac Mali and Babic, but though Plavina is just as much a part of this region’s oenological as these black-skinned bruisers, it is a very different thing in the glass. As stated in the title, Plavina has been found to be the vinous child of Tribidrag (a.k.a. Zinfandel which by now has become well known as a Dalmatian native) and a fairly obscure white grape variety (Verdeca) from just across the water in Puglia, Italy. Precisely where this coupling happened is still not clear, but both Tribidrag/Zinfandel and Vedeca can be found in Puglia, while Vedeca is entirely absent in Croatia, so it seems likely that the deed was done on the Italian side of the sea, and carried over to Dalmatia, though oddly, there is no trace of Plavina anywhere in Puglia.

As already mentioned, most of the red wines from the Dalmatian coast are quite dark, dense and rustic, but Plavina’s nature is something quite different. Where the typical Dalmatian reds are tannic, thick-bodied and low acid affairs, most likely due to Plavina’s white-skinned parent, it is lighter in color with fresher acidity and a elegance not seen in any of its red coastal cousins.

In the interest of clarity, I’m in no way slagging off Tribidrag or Plavac Mali or Babic, but as anyone who knows Zinfandel wines first hand, it doesn’t turn out the most versatile wines in the world, so finding such a feminine red from a place that is so well-known for callous-handed, masculine reds is a real treat. None of these wines are likely to turn up at your corner liquor store, but the family of Dalamtian grapes are quite peculiar and are well worth seeking out.

I paired this lovely little Dalmatian red with a first course of lentil soup flavored with veggies, marjoram, savory bay leaf and paprika, followed by Croatian-style sausages pan-fried with onions with ajvar sauce and roasted potatoes on the side.

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Ivica Pilizota Winery North Dalmatian Coast Plavina 2013

Blackish purple garnet color. Fairly delicate nose of lightly smoky blackberry, raspberry and myrtle fruit notes underpinned by aromas of juniper, sweetened chestnut paste, and roasted beef. In the mouth the wine shows a medium weight and very well balanced mouthfeel with soft, smooth and elegant tannins and sprightly acidity that vaults flavors of black cherry, strawberry preserves, lingonberry, cinnamon, dark chocolate and black tea. Clean, “sweet” and polished finish. Nice stuff.

For whichever twists of genetic or environmental fate, the vast number of Italy’s white grapes, no matter how characterful, are not terribly ageworthy. Yes, there is Verdicchio in Marche and Fiano in Campania, both of which can benefit from oak-aging and subsequent cellaring, but then there are such grapes as Prosecco, Falanghina, Biancame, Verdeca, Vernaccia and a hundred plus others that show little to no improvement in bottle, and are fundamentally marred by exposure to wooden casks, even if it’s just a kiss; these are wines that trade on their vivacity and freshness rather than on complexity and weight.

But there is one grape – and a pretty obscure one at that – that has Verdicchio and Fiano and likely any other Italian white grape beaten handily when it comes to improving over time and it goes by the name of Timorasso. Native to the southernmost province of Tortona in the Piedmont region, there is a fair amount of strong evidence to indicate that Timorasso is a very ancient variety, and indeed there are written references dating back to the early 13th century that seem to describe a highly-prized variety that is the veritable spitting image of Timorasso. But then in the 1880s along came the dreaded phylloxera louse which very efficiently and nearly completely annihilated the variety, and almost every other one too. When it became understood that grafting European vitis vinifera varieties to native American rootstocks stopped phylloxera dead in its tracks, and replanting began, due to its much more cooperative nature, another local (and also quite fine) variety called Cortese (the grape that makes Gavi) almost completely filled the acreage vacated by the devasted Timorasso, which pushed it to the brink of extinction.

Thankfully, thither and yon, a few rows of Timorasso in a handful of old vineyards survived the phylloxera scourge and the neglect of the subsequent decades, until a local farmer and winemaker named Walter Massa in several test vinifications in the early 1980s discovered the great flavor and aging potential of Timorasso and began a truly single-handed campaign to revive the variety. And thanks to Signor Massa’s faith and tenacity Timorasso was saved from extinction and eventually was able to earn inclusion in two appellations – Derthona, which is dedicated exclusively to Timorasso and the multiple and mixed (red and white) Colli Tortonesi designation which the is place of origin of this evening’s wine.

So what’s Timorasso like in the glass? Well, as stated above, it’s about as burly and broad-shouldered as any white grape from anywhere, let alone one from Italy. It tends to a coppery-gold color, high alcohol levels (this one clocks in at 14%), which the wine always carries adroitly due to its hard-bodied structure and viscous mouthfeel as well as its somewhat peculiar range of flavors and aromas of dried flowers, honey, roasted nuts, savory spices, petroleum products(!) and minerals that only intesify as the wine ages, which by the way it can do gracefully for approaching two decades. If Italy ever had a grape that could run neck in neck over the long haul with cru white Burgundy, Timorasso would be it.

With a wine this big and oddly gregarious, only the boldest foods will do so I went with a classic Piemontese appetizer called salame di tonno (literally “tuna salame” made with a hash of said fish, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley and anchovies rolled into a cheesecloth, tied off, poached and then chilled, sliced and served with an olive oil, vinegar, anchovy and caper sauce) followed by a pork tenderloin roasted with sage, rosemary, pears, yellow peppers, onion and carrot with a broth and cream pan sauce.

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Claudio Mariotto Colli Tortonesi Timorasso “Cavallina” 2010

Very bright, greenish, deeply yellow golden color. Pungent, musky and toasty nose of dried limes, quince, pineapple, Shiitake mushroom, white spices, and kerosene. The palate is full, big, broad, powerful and intense but still well-balanced, elegant and cohesive with chalky,softly pointed sweet and sour flavors of apricot, honeydew melon, toasted almond and fennel seed, dried herbs. Long finish rich with quinine and candied citron. A unique and fascinating wine.

Posted by: tomciocco | November 19, 2014

NO TREPAT-ATION WHATSOEVER

When thinking about Catalan wine regions that chiefly produce red wines and the grape varieites that grow within those borders, the mind will almost certainly turn first to Priorat and next to Penedes and then to Montsant with regard to the growing zones, and in terms of the grapes, to the native vines like Garnatxa and Carinyena, and then the copious acreage of “International” (read “French”) grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that have been plated in Catalan vineyards beginning about 30 years ago or so. What we have here on the table this evening is none of those places or grape types, but rather a more obscure region and its just as obscure signature grape, namely Conca de Barbera` and Trepat.

The Conca de Barbera` region lies adjacent to and just “behind” (inland) Penedes and Montsant, both of which front on the Mediterranean Sea. This region, due to its distance from the sea and its elevation (many of the vineyards rest at over 1,500 feet above sea level) makes this region a bit more extreme than the coastal growing zones, with both hotter days and colder nights. That said, Conca de Barbera` is not so far from the sea that it doesn’t benefit in turns from the moderating breezes that blow in off of the water.

Unbeknownst to most, the lion’s share of the produce of the Conca de Barbera` are the white grape varieties (Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo) used to produce the sparkling wine Cava. What is even less well known is that rose` Cava also exists, and this pink bubbly is almost always made from the the pale red Trepat grape. Relatively recently, a few innovation-minded producers decided to try their hands at producing still, red (albeit fairly pale) wines from Trepat, and the results were decidedly positive, and as a result, quite a few other producers soon followed suit.

As already stated, in the glass Trepat shows a pale red color (some would call it a very dark rose`) with characteristic aromas of berries, citrus, underbrush, and sweet brown spices, and an overall easy-going, pretty and distinctly lithe and feminine body. Again, still, red Trepat is not the easiest bottle of wine to put ones hands on, but for chicken, duck, turkey and meatier fish dishes – especially ones that include some fruit component – it’s well worth seeking out.

So in keeping with these guidelines, I served this suave little red with a first course of bacalao and potato fritters flavored with lemon peel and nutmeg, followed by a main course of chunks of chicken cooked with raisins, prunes, tomato, pine nuts et al. with a side of white rice cooked with turnip tops.

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Jordi Miro’ Canto’ El Petit Carlania Trepat Conca de Barbera` 2012

Uncharacteristically deep purple/garnet color. Complex nose of black cherry, blueberry, cranberry sauce, roasted chestnuts, damp earth, juniper berries, wet straw and licorice. The palate is medium-full in weight with a chewy texture and a good tart acid/dry tannin balance that frames flavors of blackberry, strawberry jam, blood orange and allspice. Finishes with powerful and slightly bitter cocoa and dried rose petal flavors.

Posted by: tomciocco | November 11, 2014

ON THE MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA

It has become more and more commonly known that the nation of Georgia in the Caucasus was the birthplace of the wild vines that eventually became domesticated into what we know today as the grape, as well as this fruit’s greatest realization, wine, which in the Georgian language is known as ghvino (any similarities to other culture’s names for this noblest of beverages is likely directly derivative). Wine has has been made in Georgia for over 8,000 years.

The vine grows in all but the coldest and most moutainous regions of this exceptionally beautiful country – from the hot and humid southwesternmost region of Guria hard by the Black Sea to the sunny and semi-arid Kakheti in the country’s northeast. And though Georgia is only the size of South Carolina, there is scientific documentation for well over 500 exclusively Georgian wine grape varieties, and almost surely scores more languishing untended and/or unnamed in tiny hidden plots in every corner of the nation.

And for place that has been making wine for eight millennia, it’s not surprising that Georgia’s winemakers have developed some unique techniques for doing so, and this wine grown above 1,800 feet of elevation in the Kartli region northwest of Gerogia’s capital, Tbilisi is no exception. Traditional Georgian wine is made in huge clay vessels called qvevri that are buried up to their necks in the earth inside wine sheds called marani. At harvest, the grapes are pressed directly into the qvevri and the skins and seeds and stems (which are covered with natural, wild yeasts that cause a spontaneous fermentation) are included as well. The qvevri are then sealed with beeswax to undergo a long and very slow vinification process. After about a year or more, the wine is racked unfiltered into smaller clay vessels (traditionally) or nowadays into bottles. Precisely what happens to wines made in qvevri is difficult to fully convey in words, but suffice it to say that they are wonderfully incomparable.

This particular wine is made from one of those hundreds of Georgian vine varieties called Shavkapito that yields tiny-berried, thick-skinned fruit that makes dark, earthy, smoky but still very elegant wines. So to match these characteristics, I matched this wonderful ancient wine with a very traditional first course called pkhali – a whole class of vegetable pates made with the main vegetable (in this case spinach) ground walnuts, coriander seed, herbs, onions, vinegar et al. and garnished with yogurt and pomegranate seeds that I followed with a main course of twice-cooked (boiled then fried) beef patties with ground walnuts, mashed potato, egg and parsley, and garnished with with raisins fried in butter and accompanied by another Georgian classic called lobio – a room-temperature dish of kidney beans in a vinaigrette with parsley, cilantro, tarragon, dill and basil.

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Pheasant’s Tears Kartli Shavkapito 2011

Deep, blackish crimson color. Complex and elegantly rustic nose of wild blueberry, wild raspberry and sour plum backed by notes of pungent spice, roasted red peppers, cooked mushrooms, wood smoke and brown underbrush. In the mouth the wine is medium in body with dry stiff tannins and a tart acidity that vaults sweet and sour flavors of myrtle, burnt orange peel, pomegranate molasses violet and roasted chestnut. Long, pleasantly austere peppery finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | November 7, 2014

A CONTEMPORARY FANTASY BLEND FROM THE ANCIENT SLOPES OF ETNA

Whether they’re red, white or pink, for me, there are really only two valid and basic philosophical approaches to winemaking. In the old world, make maximum use of your local grape varieties from the most common to the most obscure. Ancient/local varieties are the patrimony of the terroirs in which they’re grown and because these vines were spontaneously or intentionally developed in situ, they are far more likely to reach their fullest potentials in their respective homelands than they are planted willy nilly, thousands of miles from their points of origin simply because of a familiar (and therefore saleable) name and a sexy reputation (see Chardonnay planted in Napa).

The other ideal approach, which is more suited viticulturally to vine-friendly spots in the new world that have no native grapes, is the “sensible smorgasbord” model: produce blends from varieties that grow well in your region and that compliment each other without regard for the varieties place of origin – a Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Negroamaro blend produced in Texas, let’s say…

In essence what I’m stumping for here is either a strict adherence to tradition or a unwavering pursuit of innovation, and the avoidance at all costs of making some other region’s traditional wine in some random place. Without putting too fine a point on it, what is the ultimate meaning of a classic Bordeaux blend from Chile?

And though the “fantasy blend” model is more useful in the new world, there’s a place for them in the old world as well, and that’s just what we’ve got up on the bench this evening.

This wine hails from the viticultural paradise that is the ultra-vinophilic black volcanic soils of Sicily’s Mount Etna, and in essence it splits the difference between the poles of the ultra-traditional model and the free-flowing, no rules innovative one. This “middle path” if you will is effected by blending 60% Nerello Mascalese, an elegant, lightish, and pretty variety that is as native to Etna as the lava that flows from its crater, with 30% Cesanese, a fairly obscure grape that is native to and is grown almost exclusively in several regions south of Rome in the Lazio region, with the remaining 10% of the blend rounded out by Petite Verdot, a minor but very fine, old Bordeaux variety known for its deep, dark, and chewy character. And to allow these three “strangers” to harmonize while still emphasizing Etna’s superb terroir, the wine is aged for just 10 months in large-sized oak casks.

The bottom line here is that this is a wine birthed from a highly considered approach combining tradition, innovation, good “casting” (in the form of three disparate varieties that despite their differences in geographical origins and divergent natures, nonetheless make beautiful music together). This sort of combination of courageous modernism allowed to play out in such a unique terroir is all too rare, so it’s worth going a little out of your way to put your hands on a bottle of this wine and see what oenological “new wave” really tastes like.

I matched this very elegant but still muscular Sicilian red with a first course of rigatoni with mixed mushrooms, peas, potatoes, garlic and mint followed by a main course of quickly sautéed monkfish medallions that I finished with a gentle braise with red peppers, onions, raisins, pine nuts, oregano, tomato paste and Marsala.

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Passopisciaro “Scinniri” I.G.T. Rosso Sicilia 2012

Deeply saturated blackish crimson color. Complex and modern nose of plum jam, blackberry, blueberry, sweet brown spices, sandalwood, herbs, juniper, toasted hazelnut, coal smoke and black tea. In the mouth the wine is full-bodied, deep and balanced by a softly dry tannic structure and a bright and tart acidity that frames clean flavors of black currant, cranberry blackberry, raw beef, black pepper, and  vanilla bean. The finish is very long and spiked with flavors of bittersweet chocolate.

Posted by: tomciocco | November 5, 2014

A VERY FINE WHITE COTES-DU-RHONE

Let’s face facts, most Cotes-du Rhone wines, whether red or white, are pretty dull things indeed. The Rhone valley is a veritable paradise for viticulture in terms of terroir and there’s plenty of land to farm which means that most growers and/or producers have lots of easily arable, flat land to produce easy, early drinking wines that go a long way to help to pay the bills and allow for the all the extra work necessary to produce the big gun wines like Chateauneuf-du-Pape. And while it’s natural for producers to have some qualitative space between their everyday wines the special occasion/collectible bottlings, for far too many of them, this gap looks more like a chasm.

Well, none of these issues apply to this little beauty, and would it were the case with more of its ilk. This particular cuvee` is made from 45% Viognier, 45% Roussanne and 10% Clairette. And while this complement of grapes in these percentages is not a clear heresy, most white Cotes-du Rhone are dominated by Grenache Blanc, which when grown on the right sites, with the cooperation of the vintage conditions, and handled well in the cellar, can make very fine wines, but Grenache’s propensity to flabbiness and high levels of alcohol can often make for flat and often “hot” wines that are too big to sip alone, but too unstructured to match well with most foods.

That said, Viognier, like Grenache Blanc, is also quite acidity challenged, but unlike Grenache Blanc, Viognier is highly scented – almost aromatically so – and with a deep and rich mouthfeel that Grenache Blanc cannot match. So to bolster the wine’s structure, enter Rousanne, which is very characterful in its own right (with lots of earthily green aromas) and has plenty of fresh acidity, and the splash of Clairette which is cripser yet, and with a directly honest stoniness that serves as sort of rudder for the big personalities of the two main varieties. Further, this cuvee` is vinfied in old-school cement vats, which natrually micro-oxygenates the wine and imparts a subtle and charming rusticity, and in following the same philosophy, the wine sees no wood whatsoever, with which all of that Viognier, could make the wine too rich and heavy.

So to allow this forthright but still very pretty wine to shine, I chose some simple dishes to put next to it: a cabbage soup with yellow tomatoes and rice et al. and the bistro classic croque madame with oven-roasted potatoes.

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Domaine Les Aphillanthes Clementia Blanc Cotes du Rhone 2013

Coppery medium golden color. Expressive, clean and elegant nose of apricot nectar, sliced peach, lemon zest, lilies, merengue and hay. The palate is full and lightly unctuous with a balancing softly fresh acidity that reveals well-delineated “sweet” flavors of yellow cherry, key lime, pineapple, jasmine tea, crushed pine nuts, nutmeg and tonic water. The wine finishes good length and flavors of tonic water and bitter almond.

It’s not such an unusual phenomenon that people from Tokyo to Texas visit such attractions as the Riviera or Cinque Terre – the Ligurian coast (and the entroterra (“inland”) as well) offers verdant mountains running down to azure seas, impossibly charming towns and a cuisine that is arguably the greatest in Italy, especially for seafood lovers. Liguria makes a fair bit of really idiosyncratic and high quality wine, but a trip to any but the best wine shops outside of the region will likely turn up precisely zero examples of its viticultural produce. The obvious question is “Why?” Well, here’s why…

The first major reason is related to the robustness of Liguria’s tourist trade. Due to the great demand for wine at the countless restaurants dotting Liguria’s extensive coast, most Ligurian winemakers can sell most if not all of their products by simply picking up their respective telephones and jingling the cells of their friends Giovanni or Emma or Ugo that are more or less neighbors and whom they and their fathers and granfathers have been dealing with for decades. An afternoon’s work at their desks, and the sales aspect of the business is put to bed for the season. Why bother with overseas importers, shipping issues, getting payment from customers residing halfway around the world when all this can be taken care of over a plate of pasta and a grilled fish with Giovanni or Emma or Ugo, with a likely payment in full, in cash?

The second major factor for the relative rarity of Ligurian wines outside of Liguria lies with the nature of Liguria as a place. For all its beauty, the terrain is steep and rocky and indeed precisely because of all of this natural pulchritude, land is very expensive. These two factors wind up making almost all Ligurian wine concerns little more than cottage industries. Most Ligurian winemakers just don’t have a lot of wine to sell, and the opportunities to acquire more land are scarce indeed, so why create a worldwide taste for your products if you can only dribble out to 5 or 10 cases to any given client?

So on to the brass tacks of this evening’s wine, which is made entirely of a grape called Pigato. This is a variety that for a very long time that has been held up as the signature white grape variety in a region that produces mostly white wines. So when recent genetic testing revealed that Pigato is more or less identical to Pigato’s frequent vinyard-mate Vermentino (they may be “brothers from another mother” in that they descend from different clonal lines) there was a bit of disappointment. But even with this information, most winos (this one included) note some consistent differences in the bottle between these two grapes, with Pigato tending to be a bit softer, bigger and deeper than the more sprightly Vermentino; mind over matter? Perhaps, but the perception remains.

This evening’s example of this very Ligurian wine comes from a producer who exports very little of its small production, and which is universally considered to be one of top few producers of Pigato, full stop. As a grape, Pigato has a very round and amiable nature; it’s pliant, but it knows just as well how to draw lines in the sand with even the most imposing dishes and not be overwhelmed by them, so it makes the perfect match with oh-so-Ligurian dishes like Pesto alla Genovese, and since I’ve got a few pots of basil that I’ve got to get to before the cold weather does, this became the first course. For the main, I made pan-fried battered chicken cutlets with a tangy lemon, butter, wine and parsley sauce and side of baby peas with pancetta and sage.

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Azienda Agricola Bruna Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente “Maje`” 2013

Slightly green-tinted, pale “white gold” color. Pretty, almost perfumed nose of white peach, lemon curd, fresh pineapple, almond milk, shiitake mushroom, hay, broom, and a touch of vanilla egg custard. The palate is medium in body with an intense, soft and supple texture that is balanced by a briny minerality and a freshly elegant acidity that push forward flavors of yellow cherry, Anjou pear, white currants, sliced celery and fresh ginger. Long, bitterish finish. A paradigm for the grape.

Posted by: tomciocco | October 24, 2014

MAY I TAKE YOUR COAT, SIGNOR AGLIANICO?

This is pretty common knowledge by now, but I’ll reiterate nevertheless – the juice of almost every red-skinned grape is as white as that which comes from Fiano or Chardonnay or Albarino. There are a few oddities like certain strains of Gamay and the Georgian variety Saperavi that are called tinturier varieties that have red juice, but they are very much the exception. The pigmentation that appears in almost all finished wines comes from a process called maceration whereby the skins are left to sit in the juice for a certain period of time, and during this process, the colorative compounds called anthocyanins leach into the juice, coloring it red. So with this understood, it becomes clear that it is possible to make white wine from red grapes by pressing red-skinned fruit and immediately separating the skins from the juice, and on occasion certain vitcultural iconoclasts decide to do just that, and that is precisely what we’ve got here.

And of all the candidates for doing this very atypical winemaking choice, the Italian powerhouse variety Aglianico might be at or near the bottom of almost anyone’s list. Aglianico is a very ancient variety that is native to southern Italy, but it’s found in its highest concentrations in Campania and in the northernmost area of Basilcata known as Vulture (VOOL-too-reh), and it is this latter area from whence this wine hails. Due to the deeply volcanic soils (the earth in many spots in Vulture approaches a nearly black color) and the high elevations in this region, the red Aglianico wines from this region are the most complex and elegant of all the regional styles, so it stands to reason that these terroir-driven traits would come through as prominently in an Aglianico wine made in bianco (the Italian language term for making white wine from red grapes) and indeed this wine bears out that supposition. And while I wouldn’t say that Aglianico vinified in bianco has even the remotest chance of supplanting the red stuff, or that it even should, this approach is undoubtedly a clever and fascinating way to showcase a truly noble variety in a really unconventional way.

I paired this lovely little oddball of a wine with a first course of pennoni pasta with a ricotta, pancetta, yellow pepper and broccoli rabe sauce, followed by a main course of flounder baked with bread crumbs, green olives, oregano and red onions and a side of deep-fried cauliflower.

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Madonna delle Grazie “Leuconoe” Basilicata Bianco 2013

Ever-so-slightly coppery-toned “white gold” color. Clean nose of pear, orange, yellow cherry, wildflowers, cinnamon and vanilla bean. The palate is medium-full and well structured and slightly buttery but with a balancing fresh acidity and minerally flavors of lemon juice and zest, peach pit, canteloupe, apricot nectar, ground ginger and a long bitter almond finish. Uncommon juice indeed.

Posted by: tomciocco | October 21, 2014

COSTE DELLA SESIA: ALTO PIEMONTE’S WINE OF THE PEOPLE

The tiny appellations of Bramaterra, Boca, Fara, and a few others are to this part of northern Piemont what Barolo and Barbaresco to are to The Langhe further south: the pinnacle (both in terms of quality and price) of wines made predominately from Nebbiolo. And though the prices stuck onto the bottles from these northerly areas almost never reach the high numbers that their cousins further south carry, they are made in such tiny quantities, and consequently so rare, that you could easily equalize the gap by wasting a lot of car or train fare out searching for them.

This is not to say that the wines from Coste della Sesia are as ubiquitous as Pinot Grigio or Chianti. The appellation (which means “Banks of the Sesia” which is river that runs through the region) is appreciably larger than any of the aforementioned Piemontese regions, and its production norms are a bit looser, so turning up a bottle or two shouldn’t wind up being a grail quest.

Coste della Sesia wines are typically red but a small amount of white wine is made there too. The reds are named by the primary grapes from which they are made (no less than 85% of a single grape variety) but the wines designated as rosso is always a blend, and in the case of this particular wine, a melange of 65% Nebbiolo, 25% Croatina and 15% Vespolina, and in my estimation quite a felicitous one too, with Nebbiolo providing structure and elegance, Croatina the flesh and color, and Vespolina a soft and easy-going fruit, ultimately making for a wine that is more than the sum of its parts.

This particular cuvee` is made from fruit sourced from 40 year old vines grown on a warm and sunny southwest-facing vineyard situated 1150 feet above sea level in high-acid yellow sand a terroir typical to the whole zone that serves to generally leaven the wines making them decidedly ethereal with a sophisticated fruitiness. In the cellar, this wine is vinified spontaneously with wild, native yeasts and then aged for a bit less than a year in once and twice-used French barriques – just enough exsposure to fine oak to refine and polish the wine without in any way obscuring its decidedly cool blend of grapes or the area’s rare terroir. Again, Coste della Sesia wines are not typically available at Big Bob’s Wine Dump or the like, but that said, they are well worth keeping your eyes peeled for if not calling or surfing around to find – for me, they are amongst the most most expressive wines that emanate from Piedmont, period, especially if price is a factor. Go forth.

I paired this very lovely little red with a first course of fettuccine dressed with a walnut, cheese and garlic sauce from Piemont called Aja (pronounced AH-ya) followed by breaded and fried escalopes of chicken dressed with traditional salsa piemontese, a piquant sauce made with hard-boiled egg yolk, capers, anchovies, red bell peppers, garlic et al. and carote in agrodolce – carrots made sweet and sour with honey and red wine vinegar.

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Colombera & Garella Coste della Sesia 2011

Translucent brownish ruby color. Sweetly spicy cherry, strawberry preserves and plum butter fruit notes beautifully backed by sophisticated notes of juniper, violet, dried herbs and wood-fire roasted chestnuts. The palate is nimbly medium-bodied with a fresh acidity, supple tannins, and very elegant flavors of red currants, blackberry, blueberry, cinnamon, and sweet mocha notes. Long complex finish. Great stuff indeed.

Posted by: tomciocco | October 17, 2014

ANSONICA PLAYS THE NAME GAME (IN ITALIAN OF COURSE)

The names of grape cultivars and their “true” identities are as often at odds as they are in step. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is also known as Cordisco. Grenache is also known as Alicante and Cannonau. There are a bevy of grapes that have “Trebbiano” in their names but which gentically turn out to be members of at least three completely unrelated families of vines. And so we arrive at Ansonica…or should we say Inzolia?

No matter what name this variety goes by (“Ansora” is another one), genetic testing has proved that all of the monikers point to the same vine. There is some controversy as to Ansonica’s origins, but most vivtcultural scholars agree that Ansonica’s home land is Sicily, specifically near the island’s biggest city Palermo, but there, and indeed all over Sicily, the vine is always known by the name “Inzolia” or very similarly, “Insolia”. The name Ansonica is the one that is most frequently used in the variety’s second home along the southern Tuscan coast and on the island of Elba. Small planting of this vine also exist in Lazio, Campania, Sardegna as well as the place of origin of this wine, Calabria. And despite Calabria’s proximity to the grape’s homeland in Sicily, the producer of this this wine eschews the Sicilian name for the Tuscan one. Dunno…

And if you thought if the confusion ended there, well, you’d be mistaken. In the course of trying to conclusively determine just what and who Inzolia/Ansonica was, it was discovered that there seem to be four quite distinct clonal “siblings” of the vine one of which most commonly carries the name “Inzolia” with the other three carrying completely different names that prior to this research, had been previously thought to be unrelated to Inzolia/Ansonica. Which one (or more) of the siblings made its way to Calabria and into this wine, I don’t know.

But, what I do know is that this is one hell of an Ansonica, with all of the luscious richness for which the grape is known and with plenty of balancing acidity that can be lacking in this variety if the cultivation sites are not optimal, the season is too wet, or the bunches are left to hang too long. This bottling most adroitly avoids any of these pitfalls, and to match its corpulent but still quite spunky character, I matched it with a first course of baked zucchini stuffed with scamorza and pecorino cheeses, with red pepper flakes, mint and oregano followed by hake braised with tomato, wine, onion, potatoes, peas basil and parsley.

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Cataldo Calabretta Ansonica 2013

Medium bright golden color. Big aromas of apricot, yellow cherry, cantaloupe, ground pinoli and almonds, intense yellow flower notes, and delicate honey scents. In the mouth the wine is full-bodied and rich but well balanced by clean elegant acids and flavors of mandarin orange, candied citron, pineapple, wet stones, and ground ginger. Long, bittersweet finish. Very nice stuff.

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