Monthly Archives: May 2013

If I said fennel salad, what would you say?

Fennel and walnut salad2 Servings

Believe it or not my refrigerator is empty most of the time. The reason is twofold.

Firstly, my conversion to a culinary life is relatively recent. Five years ago, I could not care less about cooking, so my trips to the grocery stores were a matter of mere survival. Nowadays, my life in the kitchen is quite different than the way it used to be, but I’m still not capable to buy food for more than two days in a row. The result? Oftentimes I can hear the echo of my own voice inside the refrigerator… ūüėČ

Secondly, I do not like to cook for myself. I do love to cook for other people, though. Stefano travels a lot because of his job and when he is away from home, unless I’m hosting or trying out new recipes, a huge strike sign is on and I live on very basic and, most of the time, uncooked food.

This fennel salad is the perfect example of what I eat when I’m all by myself. It’s light, low on calories and, most importantly, it takes five minutes to make and leaves the kitchen spotless, which is a nice plus for me.

After all, are you always in the mood of spending hours in the kitchen and cleaning up afterwards? If you are, hat’s off to you but I’m just a mere mortal ūüėČ

Ingredients:

1 big fennel
3 Tbsp, balsamic vinegar
5 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
A handful of walnuts
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Rinse the bulb of the fennel with water, dry it and, on a chopping board, cut the stalks and fronds off the bulb. Discard the outer layer. Cut the bulb in half from top to bottom, slice the flat side of
each half thinly and evenly with a mandolin and place the slices on the salad plates.

In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar and the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) and keep whisking for one minute.

Spread the walnuts on the fennel slices and pour the dressing on the salad, spreading it out evenly.

Ta-dah: les jeux sont faits! ūüėČ

The End of the Quest for Authentic Italian Food: Arthur Avenue

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxA few Saturdays ago, Francesca and I finally went to check out a place that had been on our minds for a while: famed Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, NY.

Arthur Avenue is first and foremost an Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx (near the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden) that was named after President Chester A. Arthur (the 21st President of the United States) in the XIX century.

Around that time, many Italian immigrants settled in the Belmont area and started forming a growing community that endured mostly unchanged¬†to this day. This earned Arthur Avenue the nickname of “the real Little Italy of New York“.

On the Avenue itself as well as on the blocks immediately adjacent to it thrives a host of stores, delis and restaurants all selling scores of authentic Italian food, produce and dishes – everything from great meats and sausages, fresh fish and seafood, delicious cheese (including the best imported mozzarella I have had in the States so far), freshly baked bread, focaccia, biscotti and sweet treats, all kinds of pasta, mouthwatering pizza, you name it…

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxUSA, New York 
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

The whole experience is really unique, as many of the store owners or employees still speak Italian and take pride in establishing some kind of personal relationship with their customers. It brings back memories of what happens in the stores of most Italian small towns.

Beside the actual stores that line Arthur Avenue and its cross Streets, the area is also home to the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, an indoor market that was opened in 1940 by New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and that hosts stalls and counters of various butchers, bakers, produce vendors, cheese and cured meat sellers, a souvenir T-shirt store and so on.

The market is also home to an amazing cigar place with a couple of employees who hand roll them right in front of you so you can watch the entire process, from tobacco leaf to the finished product: trust me, even if you are like me and don’t smoke, it is something that is definitely worth watching!

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxAnd last but not least, a small beer joint has recently opened inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market: it is called The Bronx Beer Hall and, in a sign-of-the-time melting pot spirit, it is run by two brothers of Puerto Rican heritage who serve beer made by microbreweries from the Bronx and elsewhere in New York State.

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxUSA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxDespite the strong Italian roots of the place, Arthur Avenue shows a few signs of a growing multi-ethnic footprint, as shown by murals and the mere observation of the ethnic mix of the residents.

So, if you live in or near The Big Apple or if you happen to visit and you enjoy authentic Italian food in a characteristic environment, consider stopping by Arthur Avenue and doing some food shopping or dining there!

Below you can find a few additional images from our outing in the Bronx.

PS: Happy Memorial Day, everyone! ūüôā

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York‚Ä® Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

Wine Review: Casa Sola, Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer, who also happens to be a friend of mine! My review of the wine has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the opinion I am going to share on the wine is my own.

Casa Sola, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCGToday I will review a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva that I received as a¬†sample from the producer, who happens to be a former schoolmate of mine and a friend. The wine that I am going to review is Casa Sola,¬†Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG (\sim \!\,¬†$35).¬†As I said in my disclaimer, my review will not be tainted by my personal relationship with the producer and will be as objective as a wine review can be. ūüôā

The Bottom Line

Overall, I found Casa Sola’s Chianti Classico Riserva to be a very pleasant Chianti, which could nicely complement a juicy steak or game dish.

Rating:¬†Good to¬†Very Good¬†and¬†Recommended¬†Good to Very Good¬†–¬†$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Let’s now¬†say a few words about¬†Chianti in general.

About the Appellations

Chianti wine may be produced under two different Tuscan appellations: Chianti Classico DOCG or Chianti DOCG.

The Chianti Classico appellation encompasses that stretch of Tuscan territory where the grapes for making Chianti have traditionally been grown for centuries (the first document referring to Chianti dates back to 1398!): this means an area surrounding the cities of Florence and Siena, including such landmark towns as Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti and Gaiole in Chianti.

The¬†Chianti Classico regulations¬†require that the wine be made from 80% or more Sangiovese grapes, while the remaining maximum 20% may come from other permitted black-berried grapes (these include Canaiolo, Colorino or international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot). The minimum aging required is (i) 12 months for the base version of “Chianti Classico” and (ii) 24 months, at least 3 of which must be in bottle, for “Chianti Classico Riserva“. Every bottle of Chianti Classico wine must bear the “black rooster” ¬†logo on its neckband. Plenty of additional information may be found on the¬†Website of the¬†Chianti Classico Wine Consortium.

The¬†Chianti¬†appellation encompasses a significantly larger territory in the surroundings of the Tuscan towns of Arezzo, Firenze, Pistoia, Pisa, Prato and Siena. The Chianti regulations require that the wine be made from 70% or more Sangiovese grapes, while the remaining maximum 30% may come from other permitted grapes, provided that (a) the use of permitted white-berried grapes may not exceed 10% and (b) the use of Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc grapes may not exceed 15%.¬†The minimum aging required is (i) 6 months for the base version of “Chianti“; (ii) 12 months for the “Chianti Superiore” version, and (iii) 24 months for “Chianti Riserva“.

About the Grapes

Regarding¬†Sangiovese, Chianti’s main grape variety, it is a variety that is indigenous to Central Italy and was first mentioned in writing in 1600 under the name¬†Sangiogheto¬†(which begs the question: if the first documented use of the word Chianti to identify the wine dates back to 1398, what did they call the wine’s main grape for those 200 and change years???). ¬†In 2004, DNA parentage analysis showed that Sangiovese originated as a cross between¬†Ciliegiolo¬†(a Tuscan grape variety) and¬†Calabrese di Montenuovo¬†(a quite obscure variety from Calabria).¬†Sangiovese is a vigorous and late ripening variety that is one of the most widely cultivated in Italy, especially in the regions of Toscana, Umbria and Emilia Romagna. Some is also grown in California and Washington State.¬†(Note: information on the grape variety taken from¬†Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz,¬†Allen Lane¬†2012)

Sangiovese is¬†one of the most renowned Italian grape varieties¬†and is utilized for making several signature Italian wines, including (beside Chianti) Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Morellino di Scansano.¬†Varietal wines made out of Sangiovese grapes tend to have fairly aggressive tannins when they are still ‚Äúyoung‚ÄĚ and are generally best enjoyed after a few years of aging, when time takes care of taming them. Given the massive quantities of Sangiovese that are produced, quality levels of the wines made out of such grape variety tend to be inconsistent and knowledge of the various appellations that allow its use and of the specific wineries is important to avoid unsatisfactory experiences.

Our Detailed Review

Now, on to the actual review of the wine I tasted, Casa Sola, Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG.

This Chianti Classico is a¬†blend of 90% Sangiovese, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot¬†grapes grown in the winery’s vineyards near the town of Barberino Val d’Elsa, in proximity to Florence. The wine has a muscular 14.5% ABV and was aged for 18 months in a mix of larger oak barrels and barrique casks plus 8 months of additional in-bottle aging. The Riserva retails in the US for about $35.

As usual, I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine poured ruby red and thick.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, quite complex and fine with aromas of cherry, strawberry, sweet tobacco, licorice and vanilla.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, warm, smooth; fresh, tannic and quite tasty. It was a full-bodied, balanced wine and its mouth flavors were intense and fine, revolving mostly around fruity notes of cherry and strawberry. Its tannins were gentle and offered a pleasant counterpoint to the wine’s smoothness. It had a quite long finish and its evolutionary state was ready, meaning definitely enjoyable now but a few more years of in-bottle aging could make it evolve even more and add additional complexity.

Finally, beyond producing wine and olive oil, Casa Sola also offers guided tours of the vineyards and winery culminating in a wine tasting experience, cooking classes and in-house accommodation in 11 rustically-furnished apartments: for more information, please refer to¬†Casa Sola’s Website.

A special wine tasting: Marchese Villadoria, Barbaresco Riserva Speciale 1969 DOC… and some cool facts about Nebbiolo

StefanoA few days ago we had a special night, with a few wine-aficionado friends coming over to our house for dinner, including fellow wine blogger Anatoli who authors the excellent blog Talk-A-Vino. Needless to say, several great bottles of wine were opened, some coming from our cellar and some that were graciously brought by our guests.

Today I would like to focus on a bottle that we opened that night and really was quite special: a 1969 Barbaresco! That’s right, as in 44 years old! More specifically, it was a bottle of¬†Marchese Villadoria,¬†Barbaresco Riserva Speciale 1969 DOC ($22 for current vintages).

The bottle had been given to me a while ago by my father, who had forgotten all about it and recently “re-discovered” it in his own cellar. Clearly, with all those years of aging, much could have gone wrong, like the cork could have gone bad (which would mean an oxidized wine) or simply it could have been corked. But still… worth a shot, right?

The Bottom Line

Overall, I very much enjoyed tasting such an evolved Barbaresco: it has been the longest-aged wine I have ever had and¬†it has been a pleasure to the eye, the nose and the mouth. Regarding the quality of the wine itself, I cannot vouch for the contemporary vintages of Villadoria’s Barbaresco, as this was the first bottle I had from such producer, who is a little bit out of the limelight. But there is no doubt that that 1969 Barbaresco held his own: sure, the bouquet could ideally have been a little more complex, but hey – today you can buy¬†a bottle¬†for $22 (granted, I am not sure how much it went for back then): what more do you want for that kind of money? ūüėČ

Rating: Very Good, considering the excellent QPR Very Good Р$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

If you are interested, let’s now briefly talk about Barbaresco and the grape Barbaresco is made from, which is Nebbiolo.

About the Appellation

Barbaresco is a wine that is made in the northern Italian region of Piemonte in an appellation that earned DOC status in 1966 and was then “upgraded” to the top DOCG status in 1980. The appellation encompasses a small area in the vicinities of the town of Cuneo comprising three smaller towns (Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso) and a village named San Rocco Senodelvio. The regulations applicable to the¬† appellation require that Barbaresco be exclusively made from Nebbiolo grapes grown in that area and that the wine:

(i) be barrel-aged for a minimum of 26 months (at least 9 of which in wood barrels) plus an additional 10 months in bottle for “plain” Barbaresco wines; or

(ii) be barrel-aged for a minimum of 50 months (at least 9 of which in wood barrels) plus an additional 10 months in bottle for Barbaresco Riserva wines.

About the Grape

A few notions about Nebbiolo, without a doubt Piemonte’s most world-famous grape variety. Researchers have recently been able to trace back the origins of (or at least the first documented reference to) Nebbiolo to 1266, at which time the grape was called Nibiol. This makes Nebbiolo one of the oldest grape varieties in Piemonte. While Nebbiolo is definitely an Italian indigenous variety, doubts still remain as to whether it originated from Piemonte or Valtellina (a mountainous district in the neighboring region of Lombardia, where Nebbiolo is still grown nowadays and locally known as Chiavennasca).

The name Nebbiolo comes from the Italian word “nebbia” (fog) – some say because of the fog that in late Fall generally enshrines Piemonte’s hills where Nebbiolo is grown. Nowadays, three main different Nebbiolo clones have been identified: (i) Nebbiolo Lampia; (ii) Nebbiolo Michet; and (iii) Nebbiolo Rose’. Interestingly enough, however, DNA profiling has shown that, while Lampia and Michet have identical DNA profiles, Rose’ does not share the same profile, which has recently led to consider Nebbiolo Rose’ a different grape variety altogether rather than a clone of Nebbiolo.

Nebbiolo is a late-ripening, very finicky variety in terms of the terroir it requires to produce quality wine, which means that Nebbiolo successfully grows only in very few places on the entire earth –¬†Piemonte and Valtellina sure being two of them, along with certain of California’s AVA’s. Nebbiolo grapes generally have robust tannins and high acidity, which make it a variety that is very suitable for long-term aging. In Italy, Nebbiolo’s best expressions are in varietal wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco in Piemonte¬†or Valtellina Superiore and Sforzato della Valtellina in Lombardia’s Valtellina district (all of them being DOCG appellations).

(Note: information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

Our Detailed Review

Now on to the wine we had last week: it was a Marchese Villadoria, Barbaresco Riserva Speciale 1969 DOC (13.5% ABV). Current vintages of this wine retail in the US for about $22.

If you have read the preceding notions about the Barbaresco appellation, it will not come as a surprise to you that our bottle was designated “DOC” instead of the current DOCG designation which, back in 1969, did not exist yet.

Two peculiar features of our bottle (that I had never observed in any other bottle before) were that it came completely wrapped in coarse cloth to which one end of a string had been affixed using sealing wax while the other end had been stapled to the cork! The two snapshots to the right should give you an idea of what I am talking about. While I can only offer conjectures as to why the producer went through the hassle of doing all that, I would imagine that the idea behind the cloth wrap was to protect the wine from light exposure (and therefore harmful UV rays) while the string connecting the cork to the cloth was maybe an anti-tampering device of sort?

I opened the bottle and decanted it about two and a half hours before the time we would likely taste it, following a proper handling and decanting procedure codified by the Italian Sommelier Association (I may write a post about it at some point). Fortunately, it looked like the cork had held up well throughout all those years, so that was a promising sign. Thanks to proper cellaring and handling, the wine poured clear into the decanter up to almost the end of the bottle, when unsurprisingly some sediment showed up.

Fast forward two and a half hours (during which we managed to keep ourselves busy with appetizers, a pasta course and plenty of other wine) and the time had come to pour the Barbaresco into our glasses and taste it!

As usual, I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine was orange red in color, as expected after all those years of aging, and thick.

On the nose, it was intense, quite complex and fine, with aromas of spirited cherries, licorice, rose, vanilla and ethereal notes. The bouquet was not very broad, but it was elegant.

On the palate, our wine was dry, warm and smooth; quite fresh, quite tannic and quite tasty. If you are familiar with the ISA wine tasting protocol you might notice that¬†our wine¬†was a little shifted toward the “softness” side and therefore you might wonder whether it can still be classified as balanced. Well, considering that it is only natural that, after 44 years of aging, tannins and acidity recede a bit and that for a structured red wine being a little slanted toward the softness side is certainly not a “sin”, by all means I will go ahead and call it balanced. In terms of structure,¬†our wine¬†was between medium and full-bodied and its mouth-flavors were intense and fine, showing a pretty good correspondence with the wine bouquet: I picked up strawberries, cherries, vanilla and licorice. Finally, the finish of the wine was quite long and its evolutionary state was mature.

The artichoke quest and the marriage with saffron linguine

Saffron and artichoke linguine4 Servings

Artichokes are my favorite vegetables. I would eat them from breakfast to dinner (sort of…)! When I moved to our neck¬†of the woods, I started testing the quality of the local vegetables and I have to admit that the benevolence of the gods was not on my side in¬†my quest for my beloved veggies. All the artichokes that I tried tasted like soap (blah!!!) and the inside was so full of hairs that it was like eating a hairball (double blah!!!) After trying for over a year, I decided I was just wasting my time and my money, so I simply stopped buying artichokes. Sad.

However, as the saying goes, good things happen when you least expect it. Last week, Stefano took me to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Never been there? You do not know what you are missing if you are a lover of Italian food and authentic Italian products (we’ll talk more about Arthur Avenue in future posts). Anyway, while I was strolling about the market, the green beauties caught my eyes. Mindful of my past experience, I was about to pass, when the grocer called me. He was Italian and we started chatting in my mother tongue. He swore on his mother’s grave (Italian grocers do that!) that the artichokes were excellent and I would not be disappointed. I trusted him (after all, swearing on someone’s grave has got to mean something, right?!?) and that Italian grocer is the reason why I’m sharing this recipe today.

Just bear with me a few more seconds. When I made this dish I used an Italian heavy cream called “Panna Chef” by Parmalat. Panna Chef is much ticker than the heavy cream I buy locally. It is like a paste. So far, I have never seen Panna Chef on any shelf of any American grocery store or market I have been to. I usually have family and friends bring me some packs over when they come to visit. When I do not have any Panna Chef left, I buy a small pack of local heavy cream and I beat it the same way you beat egg white to make meringue. That’s the kind of thickness you want to achieve to make this dish.

Ingredients:

4 artichokes
1 lemon
1/3 cup & 1 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
1/2 cup, white wine
1 & 1/2 cup, beef stock
3 slices of bacon or pancetta, ¬ľ inch thick
1/3 cup, chopped onion
6 Tbsp, Panna Chef
2 sachets of powered saffron
14 oz linguine (a little less than a pack)
2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese (optional)
Salt
Ground black pepper

Saffron and artichoke linguineDirections:

Put some cold water into a large bowl. Squeeze a half lemon and put the juice and the half lemon itself into the bowl.

Break off the tough, outer leaves of the artichokes until you reach the tender, lighter-green inner leaves. With the help of a knife, cut off the top of the artichoke (between 1 and 1 1/2 inches), some of the stem (leaving about 3/4 of an inch) and then trim away the outer layer of the stem. With the other half lemon, rub all the cut surfaces (this will prevent them from browning).

Cut the artichoke halves into quarters and put them into the lemon water.

Cut up the bacon or the pancetta into bits. In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the bacon or the pancetta and fry for 2/3 minutes. Add the chopped onions and stir occasionally until the bacon or the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put 1/3 cup of olive oil and the garlic in a large non-stick skillet and brown the garlic. Add the artichokes, some salt and pepper (to taste), toss to coat and cook for a few minutes. Throw the garlic away and add the wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine completely evaporates. Add the beef stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until the stock completely evaporates.

Add the bacon or the pancetta and the onions into the skillet with the artichokes, toss to coat and set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the linguine and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the linguine are cooking, in a small pot, put the panna, 1 Tbs of the boiling water from the pot where you are cooking the pasta, and the saffron and cook until the mixture gets hot.

Drain the linguine, put them into the skillet with the artichokes and the bacon or pancetta and toss to coat. Add the hot saffron mixture and toss to coat again.

Put the linguine into the serving plates and, if you wish, dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon appetito!

WiNews: Elena Walch's Pinot Noir "Ludwig" 2010 Wins XII Italian Domestic Pinot Noir Competition

StefanoJust a quick flash to alert you about a piece of news that an Italian producer that I am fond of has been kind enough to share with me.

The 2010 vintage of the “Ludwig” Pinot Noir made by Elena Walch (the Alto Adige winery whose Riesling Castel Ringberg we have recently reviewed) is the fresh winner of the XII Italian Domestic Pinot Noir Competition, which is really exciting news as well as a tangible recognition for Walch’s commitment to quality production.

I hope I will be able to lay my hands on a bottle of the 2010 Ludwig soon so I can publish a full review!

An Overview of the 2011 Vintage Port Tour, NYC, and the Basics About Port

StefanoLast week I felt inspired by reading Anatoli’s wonderful accounts of his recent trip to Portugal on his excellent wine blog, Talk-A-Vino. Beside telling us all about the restaurants he dined at, he of course shared plenty of information about the wines he tasted over there, including of course Portugal’s world-famous fortified wine, Porto. And finally, today by total coincidence, he published a wonderful, extremely¬†thorough post on Port, with all you need to know about it – had I known in advance, I would have spared myself the work to research and write an overview of Port altogether (see below)! ūüôā¬†However, since by the time Anatoli published his post my Port write-up was all done already, I am going to publish it nonetheless, and then if you want to dig deeper into Port, please refer to Anatoli’s post of today!

Anyway, in order to remotely taste my own share of Portugal, I enthusiastically accepted the invitation to participate in the 2011 Vintage Port Tour that was held in New York City last week to offer to the press and the trade a preview tasting of Vintage Port’s latest production from the prestigious collection of brands belonging to the Symington Family.

Quoting directly from the literature that was handed to participants at check in, “the Symingtons, of Scottish, English and Portuguese descent, have been Port producers for five generations since 1882”. The Symingtons own four historic Port brands: Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Dow’s and Warre’s, plus the other three brands Quinta do Vesuvio, Smith Woodhouse and Quinta de Roriz. All such seven brands were represented at the 2011 Vintage Port Tour.

According to the brochure we were provided, the brands controlled by the Symingtons account for over one third of all premium Port and, with 965 HA (2,385 acres) of vineyards, the family is the largest vineyard owner in the Douro Valley. Also, Dow’s 2007 Vintage Port is so far the only Port in the XXI century to have been awarded a perfect 100 point score by Wine Spectator.

Before getting to the chase and telling you which ones among the Ports that I tasted at the event impressed me most, let’s take a look at a few basic facts about Port.

As we said, Port is a fortified wine, which means a wine in which the regular alcoholic fermentation process gets interrupted about half way through the conversion of the grape sugars into alcohol, CO2 and heat by the addition of a neutral grape spirit (a grape brandy). Port is made from a blend of different grape varieties, that must be included in an official list of authorized grapes that was compiled by the Portuguese government in 1940.  The main grape varieties that are used in the making of red Port are: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão.

Although at some point I will publish a post that explains the wine production process more in detail, here suffice it to say that one of the inhibitors of the yeast fermenting action is the presence in the must of alcohol in excess of about 16/17% VOL, which is why adding a spirit to a fermenting must blocks the fermentation process. The result of this addition is two-fold: on the one hand, it quite obviously increases the ABV of the resulting wine (generally, to about 19% to 21% VOL; hence the name “fortified wine”); on the other hand, by interrupting the conversion of grape sugars into alcohol, it leaves a considerable amount of residual sugar in the wine, which therefore tastes sweeter.

After being fortified, Port is moved into steel vats and/or oak or other wood casks for aging: depending on the intended type of Port, the aging process can be relatively short or even extremely long, with some of the finest Ports aging up to a century! After aging in casks, the wine gets bottled for consumption or for more in-bottle aging.

There are many different styles of Port, including White Port that is made from different, white-berried varieties. However, speaking of “regular” Port made from black-berried grape varieties, there are three main styles that are worth mentioning:

(i) Ruby: this is the most basic, simple style – it is a blend of different vintages that have aged for a relatively short period of time (generally, 3 to 6 years) in steel vats and/or wood casks and are meant for immediate consumption;

(ii) Tawny: this is a more complex, developed style of Port – it gets to age in wood casks for a very long time (essentially, 4 years or longer, with some Tawnies called Age-Designated that bear on the label an indication of how long they aged, ranging from 10 to 40 years), thus acquiring complex tertiary aromas and turning tawny in color due to the oxidation process induced by the lengthy in-cask aging;

(iii) Vintage Port: this is the king of Ports, which is made exclusively from grapes from a single vintage and only in the best years. After a minimum aging of 2 years in steel vats and/or wood casks, they are bottled unfiltered (which means that they will likely develop sediment in the bottle) and are meant for decades of in-bottle aging before being enjoyed at their best.

With all of this said, let’s now talk about my experience at the 2011 Vintage Port Tour.

The event was compact and well organized, with one table for each brand and each brand (except only Quinta de Roriz, which only had the 2011 vintage) offering for tasting both their own 2011 Vintage Port and an older vintage for comparison. In the exclusive interest of adequately covering the event, I got to taste *all* of the exhibited Vintage Ports: I know, when the going gets tough, the tough get going! ūüėČ Broadly speaking,¬†all the Ports that were showcased at the event¬†were very good, although some of them had a different style than others, clearly also because of the different aging of the older vintages made available for tasting.

Here below I will point out those that were my own personal favorites (with their approximate retail prices in the US) among the 13 Vintage Ports that I tasted, along with my tasting notes for each of them:

(1) 2011 Vintage:

Quinta de Roriz (about $60): purple in color; intense and complex aromatic palette, with a bouquet of caramel, black cherry, rose, licorice, raspberry, black pepper and tobacco; sensuous in the mouth, with intense flavors of plum, raspberry, licorice, dark chocolate, fruit candy and vanilla; warm, smooth, well balanced and long. Rating: Spectacular, with Excellent QPR Spectacular

Graham’s (about $90): purple in color; fairly complex bouquet (it needs aging to develop) of blackberry, black cherry, licorice and tobacco; wonderful in the mouth: intense, with excellent flavor-scent correspondence, plus additional flavors of dark chocolate and vanilla; warm, smooth, well balanced and very long. Rating:¬†Outstanding¬†Outstanding

Dow’s (about $80): purple in color; fairly narrow aromatic palette (it needs aging to develop) with aromas of plum, blackberry and licorice; very good in the mouth, with flavors of licorice, dark chocolate and spirited black cherry; quite warm, super smooth, balanced and quite long. Rating: Good to Very Good¬†Good to Very Good

Smith Woodhouse (about $55): purple in color; fairly narrow bouquet (it needs aging to develop) of fruit candy, licorice, ethereal notes; good corresponding mouth flavors; warm, smooth, balanced and long. Rating: Good Good

(2) Older Vintages:

Quinta do Vesuvio 1994 (about $90): garnet in color; with a not very broad and yet elegant aromatic palette of wild berries, wild strawberries, violet and chocolate; but the little bit that it lacked on the nose was more than compensated on the palate, with intense and outstanding mouth flavors of raspberry jam, licorice, tobacco and dark chocolate; warm, smooth, balanced and long. Rating: Outstanding Outstanding

Smith Woodhouse 2007 (about $55): purple in color; elegant and complex bouquet of black cherry, spirited wild cherry, raspberry, rose, tobacco, sandalwood and black pepper; wonderful in the mouth, with pleasing flavors of spirited wild cherry, dark chocolate, rhubarb, licorice and tobacco; warm, smooth and long. Rating: Outstanding, with Excellent QPR Outstanding

Dow’s 1985 (about $95): garnet in color; intense, unique and complex bouquet very focused on tertiary aromas with tobacco, gunpowder, black pepper, raisin and a hint of wild cherries; intense, luscious mouth flavors of spirited raspberry and wild cherry, Amarena Fabbri (if you guys know what I am talking about!), licorice and dark chocolate; warm, smooth, well balanced and long. Rating:¬†Outstanding¬†Outstanding

Graham’s 1980 (about $105): garnet in color with orange hints; to be honest, given its aging, I would have expected a broader aromatic palette: I picked up aromas of tobacco, black pepper, licorice, plum and wild cherry; very good and more expressive in the mouth, with flavors of raspberry candy, licorice, vanilla and spirited cherry; warm, smooth, balanced and long. Rating: Very Good¬†Very Good

Cockburn’s 2000 (about $70): ruby in color with garnet hints; intense nose with a fairly narrow bouquet of cherry, strawberry, plum and licorice; in the mouth, sweeter than the others, with pleasing flavors of licorice, vanilla, cherry jam, dark chocolate and tobacco; warm, smooth, balanced and quite long. Rating: Very Good¬†Very Good

That’s all for today. As always, let me know how you liked it in case you happened to enjoy one of the Ports that I reviewed!

Mother’s Day and a double gift: Coco and B!

Justine Picardie's "Coco Chanel - The Legend and the Life"I know what your are thinking. Where is the food? Sorry to disappoint you, but no special dish for this occasion! Mother’s Day is a holiday that I take very seriously, which means that my family knows that I will not even put the kettle on the stove. Plus, my mom is in Rome so there will be nobody in my home who¬†should be celebrated but me. It will be all about me! ūüėČ

I thought this would be an ideal occasion to share a book with you that can be a perfect gift for any mom who is into fashion and wants to know more about the most iconic female figure in fashion of all times. Of course, I’m talking about Coco Chanel and the book is “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life” by Justine Picardie.

I simply loved this book along with the pictures and the illustrations, but my review stops here. Why? Because I cannot take any credit for “discovering” it. I bought the book after reading a post by B¬†over at¬†Just Add Attitude (and here it is my second gift for you all ūüėČ ). If you want to know more about the book, just pay a visit to B’s blog and enjoy her lovely review as well as all her other posts about the fashion guru.

Stuff We Like!Back to B and her blog: I don’t know much about B… not even her full name ūüôā but you do not have to know someone’s life, death and miracles (as the Italian saying goes) to appreciate her or him.

B is one of the most gracious bloggers out there. When you read her posts and her comments, you have the impression that she is right there with you. By following her blog, you will be taken by hand to an amazing journey through her beloved Dublin and Ireland in general. She will unveil for your all the secrets of her country, from monuments, to exhibitions, museums, workshops, restaurants, cafes, stores and farmhouses. I wish I had known B years ago when I managed to spend a month in Dublin! It would have been great to be showed around by her.

But that’s not all. Through her blog and her impeccable taste, B will also share her thoughts with you about food, style, shopping, life in general as well as picks¬†from her two favorite cities (Paris and London – by the way, not too shabby a choice, B, if you ask me!).

So make yourself a favor: as soon as you have a moment, check Just Add Attitude out. You can thank me later. ūüėČ

I wish you all a very happy Mother’s Day. As to me, someone in my family who is not too old and not very good at keeping secrets already told me that breakfast in bed seems to¬†be¬†in my cards for that day: yay!¬†ūüėČ

European Wine Wars: after Tocai, it is the time of Prosek… and Teran

StefanoThe international press,¬†Dr Vino¬†and several other sources all recently reported that, as a result of Croatia’s imminent accession to the European Union at the end of a 10-year long process, Croatian wineries will be required to¬†stop using the name “Prosek”¬†to identify a traditional local sweet raisin wine that has been made for centuries mainly in the Dalmatia region from local grape varieties such as BogdanuŇ°a, MaraŇ°tina,¬†Plavac mali and¬†PoŇ°ip.

The reason for the requirement is that, according to EU officials, the name of the Croatian wine is¬†too similar to Italy’s¬†Prosecco¬†and therefore it might be confusing to consumers. And this in spite of Prosek and Prosecco being two very different wines, made out of different grapes (Glera for Prosecco and the Croatian grape varieties mentioned above for Prosek) and in different styles (Prosecco is mostly sparkling and is not a sweet wine, while Prosek is a still, sweet raisin wine).

Unsurprisingly, the EU requirement has caused considerable commotion in the Croatian wine world and some producers indicated that the Croatian authorities are even considering initiating a legal dispute to challenge the EU requirement.

However, the chances that Croatia be allowed to retain its right to use the name “Prosek” for their wine after joining the EU are very slim, as the case is virtually identical to the one that a few years ago prevented Italian winemakers (mostly in Veneto and Friuli) from using the word “Tocai” to identify a local dry wine that had been made for centuries from the homonymous grape variety because the name was too similar to Hungary’s Tokaji, a famous local sweet raisin wine made from Furmint grapes (for more information about the¬†Tokaji/Tocai dispute, please refer to¬†my previous post¬†that dealt with it).

But, as the saying goes, bad news never comes alone, at least for Croatia, that is. Beside the Prosek debacle, Croatia has to face a claim made by neighboring Slovenia that¬†Croatia should also be prevented from using the word “Teran”¬†to identify a red wine that is made in Italy’s region of Friuli, in Slovenia and in Croatia from the grape variety known as Terrano or Teran in Croatia. Slovenia’s claim is based on the fact that the EU granted Slovenia a protected designation of origin for Terrano grapes grown in the Slovenian region of Kras. The European Commission very recently decided the Teran dispute in favor of Slovenia, with a decision that will likely also negatively affect Italian Terrano producers.

Even in this case, the decision gives rise to many doubts, as¬†Terrano is a very ancient variety¬†(the oldest references date back to 1340 in Slovenia) which originated from the Karst plateau, an area that is shared among Italy (Friuli), Slovenia and Croatia (Istria). DNA profiling has also proved that Terrano is identical to Refosco d’Istria (a Croatian variety) and Refosk in Slovenia (information on the Terrano grape variety, cit.¬†Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012).

Given the above, which side of the fray are you on?

An easy-peasy treat: vanilla cream berries

Vanilla cream berries2 Servings

If you have been following our blog, you know by now that I do not have a sweet tooth. Thank goodness for me and my dieting resolution, Stefano does not either. This means that, unless I’m hosting a dinner, we always finish our meals with fruit. However, every rule has an exception and our daughter is more than happy to offer us the occasion to break the routine.

Whenever she craves something sweet, I try to add a twist to her fruit. One of my “twists” is this vanilla cream that goes beautifully with any kind of berry. It takes only a few minutes to make, it’s very light (a detail not to be underestimated considering that the warm season is upon us) and when you are done gulping it down, there is hardly any sense of guilt left around… After all, you just had a bowl of fruit, right? ūüėČ

Ingredients:

1 cup, milk
A quarter of a vanilla bean
1 egg
2 Tbsp, sugar
2 Tbsp, flour
1 cup, diced strawberries
1/2 cup, blueberries

Directions:

In a small pot, pour the milk. Cut the quarter vanilla bean in half lengthwise. With the help of a knife, gently scrape the seeds out of the bean and add the seeds to the milk. Start warming the milk on a very low heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg and the sugar. Add the flour and whisk until you obtain a smooth mixture. When the milk is hot, add the egg mixture to the milk and keep whisking for 10/15 minutes.

Put the berries in two serving bowls or glasses, pour some of the cream on top of each one and serve while the cream is still warm.

Enjoy!