Category Archives: Wine Pairings

Frittata Primavera – Recommended Wine Pairing

Cantina Terlano, Alto Adige Terlano Sauvignon "Quarz" DOCWell, it has been quite a while since our last food pairing post, so time to catch up on things…

Today we will pair Francesca’s frittata primavera with a proper wine.

As we did in the past, we will base our choice on the ISA wine paring criteria: should you have missed my post about them, you may refer to it to get a better idea of what these are.

We will therefore start by identifying the main qualities of the food we want to pair a wine with, which in the case of the frittata are: latent sweetness, fatness, some greasiness and latent acidity due to the use of tomatoes; also, we can classify Francesca’s frittata as a dish with medium structure.

St. Michael Eppan, Alto Adige Sauvignon "Sanct Valentin" DOCAs we know, using the ISA wine pairing criteria, these qualities are going to dictate the corresponding characteristics that we want our wine to possess, which are (in the same orider as above): good acidity, tastiness/minerality, decent ABV and smoothness, plus the wine we seek should be medium-bodied or thereabouts.

In light of these desired characteristics, our choice has fallen on a Sauvignon Blanc. In an effort to spread the knowledge that Italy also produces quality wines from international varieties, we will focus our recommendations on a few Italian 100% Sauvignon Blancs that are definitely worth trying out, if you have a chance:

Cantina Terlano, Alto Adige Terlano Sauvignon “Quarz” DOC, a delicious wine that ages for 9 months on its lees (partly in steel vats and partly in wood barrels) and boasts a pleasing bouquet of citrus, Granny Smith apple, exotic fruit, herbs and minerals

Vie di Romans, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Sauvignon "Piere" DOCSt. Michael Eppan, Alto Adige Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin” DOC, a very good wine from the winery’s flagship “Sanct Valentin” line, that ages for 6 months on its lees (88% in steel vats and 12% in wood barrels) and has fine aromas of citrus, grapefruit, white flowers, herbs and iodine notes

Vie di Romans, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Sauvignon “Piere” DOC, a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc made of grapes harvested from a vineyard with an excellent density of 6,000 vines/HA that ages for 7 months on its lees in steel vats and seduces the senses with a captivating bouquet of lemon, tangerine, sage, almond and minerals

Manincor, Alto Adige Sauvignon “Lieben Aich” DOC, a very interesting wine that undergoes spontaneous fermentation through the use of natural yeasts, ages on its lees for ten months in oak barrels and has elegant aromas of citrus, exotic fruit, herbs, white flowers and minerals

Manincor, Alto Adige Sauvignon "Lieben Aich" DOCVilla Russiz, Collio Sauvignon “De La Tour” DOC, an elegant wine that ages for 7 months on its lees in steel vats and possesses a complex bouquet of apple, kiwi, white flowers, citrus, herbs and iodine notes.

Enjoy, and as always, if you happen to try out any of these wines,  let me know how you like them!

Sea Scallops with Olives and Potatoes – Recommended Wine Pairing

Les Crêtes, VdA Chardonnay Cuvée Bois DOCI am still slowly catching up with my overdue wine pairings… Today we will suggest a wine that pairs well with Francesca’s delicious recipe of sea scallops with olives and potatoes.

Based on the ingredients and preparation of Francesca’s sea scallop dish, its main features from a sensory perspective are latent sweetness, latent sourness, tastiness, flavor and a slight greasiness in a fairly structured dish. In light of the ISA wine pairing criteria (in case you forgot or missed my post about them and are interested in knowing more about them, you may want to go back or anyway refer to it), the wine to complement such dish will need to possess good acidity, smoothness, intensity of nose-mouth flavors, good ABV and a decent body/structure.

St. Michael-Eppan, A.A. Chardonnay Sanct Valentin DOCBased on those characteristics, I would go for a structured Chardonnay with some oak-aging and good acidity.

As I mentioned previously on Flora’s Table, it is worth mentioning that in Italy you can drink very good Chardonnay pretty much across the entire Italian territory, literally from Valle d’Aosta to Sicily. This is because, thanks to the great versatility and adaptability of this international grape variety, Chardonnay has been very successfully grown in very different terroirs in North, Central and even Southern Italy.

My recommendations below of most of my all-time favorite Italian Chardonnays will prove the point that I just made, as you will notice that they actually take you on a virtual tour of Italy:

Elena Walch, A.A. Beyond the Clouds DOCLes Crêtes, Valle d’Aosta Chardonnay “Cuvée Bois” DOC from Valle d’Aosta (100% Chardonnay; in my view a phenomenal wine with a wonderful bouquet of wildflowers, jasmine, pineapple and butter – hats off to the producer who invested the energy and resources necessary to achieve a density of 7,500 vines/HA in the vineyard used to create this magnificent wine – the only problem is the absurd price this wine generally retails for in the US, which, at around $80, is about twice as much as what you would pay for it at a wine store in Italy)

St Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Chardonnay “Sanct Valentin” DOC from Alto Adige (100% Chardonnay; with scents of Mirabelle plum, butter, vanilla and almond)

Elena Walch, Alto Adige “Beyond the Clouds” DOC from Alto Adige (“predominantly” Chardonnay blended with other white grape varieties based on a proprietary recipe; with scents of peach, pineapple, almond, butter and vanilla)

Castello della Sala, Bramito del Cervo Umbria IGTJermann, “W? Dreams” Venezia Giulia IGT from Friuli Venezia Giulia (97% Chardonnay, 3% other grape varieties kept it a secret by the winery; with aromas of Mirabelle plum, citrus, vanilla and a smoky hint – a special note of merit to the producer who achieved a density of almost 8,000 vines/HA in the vineyards used to create this excellent wine)

Tenute Folonari, “La Pietra” Tenute del Cabreo Toscana IGT from Toscana (100% Chardonnay; with scents of peach, butter, honey, hazelnut and flint)

Castello della Sala“Cervaro della Sala” Umbria IGT from Umbria (a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto aged in barrique casks for 6 months; with fine aromas of citrus, pineapple, butter, honey and hazelnut)

Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGTCastello della Sala, “Bramito del Cervo” Umbria IGT also from Umbria (100% Chardonnay, the “little brother” of the Cervaro della Sala; with fine aromas of wildflowers, pineapple, Mirabelle plum, butter, vanilla and hazelnut – a quality Chardonnay with a good QPR)

Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT from Sicily (100% Chardonnay; with complex and elegant scents of wisteria, peach, apple, honey, butter, vanilla, hazelnut and chalk)

Tasca d’Almerita, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT also from Sicily (100% Chardonnay; with fine aromas of broom, peach, pineapple, banana, herbs, vanilla and a toasty hint)

Enjoy, and as always, if you happened to try out any of these wines,  let me know how you liked them!

Sicilian-Style Stracotto – Recommended Wine Pairing

Donnafugata, "Tancredi" Sicilia IGTA while back Francesca posted the mouth-watering recipe for a Sicilian-style stracotto: it is finally time to find a good wine pairing for her dish. Based on its ingredients and preparation, we can identify the main organoleptic qualities of this dish as latent sweetness, latent sourness and juiciness; it is also a structured dish.

In light of the ISA wine pairing criteria that we have discussed on a previous post, we can therefore conclude that the wine we should pick to complement Francesca’s dish should have good acidity, smoothness, well defined (but not aggressive) tannins and/or good ABV, and should be a full-bodied wine.

Based on the above characteristics and the geography of Francesca’s dish, I would pair the stracotto with a good Nero d’Avola. Before we get to the actual recommendations, however, let’s just take a quick look about this grape variety.

Planeta, Noto Nero d'Avola "Santa Cecilia" DOCNero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries (the first official descriptions date back to the end of the XVII century) and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

Nero d’Avola makes wines that are generally deeply colored, full-bodied, distinctly tannic and with good aging potential. The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation of Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations, where it can be used to make varietal wines or in the context of blends. However, many of the best Nero d’Avola wines around are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit. (Information on the grape variety, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012)

Morgante, "Don Antonio" Sicilia IGTIn terms of specific recommendations, in my view these are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios:

Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with aromas of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out)

Donnafugata, Contessa Entellina “Mille e Una Notte” DOC (a wonderful blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, which can be considered the “bigger brother” of the Tancredi – it is more expensive but delightful, with a bouquet of plum, blackberry, black cherry, pepper, cocoa, vanilla, tobacco and cinnamon; a great wine)

Cusumano, "Noa" Sicilia IGTPlaneta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA)

Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals)

Cusumano, “Noa’” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate – even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA)

Feudo Maccari, "Saia" Sicilia IGTFeudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – once again, a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA)

Tasca d’Almerita, Contea di Sclafani “Rosso del Conte” DOC (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Perricone and other permitted varieties, with aromas of violets, blackberry, plum jam, black pepper, tobacco and licorice)

That’s all for today: have you tried any of the above wines? If so, did you enjoy what you drank?

Chicken and Sausage Paella – Recommended Wine Pairing

StefanoA few days ago, Suzanne over at apuginthekitchen (a great food and cooking blog that you should definitely check out if you have not done so already) has been kind enough to ask me to partner with her by contributing a wine pairing that would go well with her delicious chicken and sausage paella recipe that she recently published in her blog: needless to say, I have been excited about Suzanne’s idea and took her up on her offer.

So, here are my wine pairing recommendations for Suzanne’s delicious paella, that you can also find on Suzanne’s blog: the wines that we are going to pick need to have good acidity, a good extent of smoothness, quite intense nose-mouth flavors and decent structure, as in a medium to full bodied wine. The reason why these characteristics (and not others) are desirable to achieve a pleasant food-wine pairing is the result of the application of the wine pairing criteria codified by the Italian Sommellier Association, which I have discussed in a previous post.

Based on the above guidelines, I am going to recommend two wines that I have recently tasted at the Vinitaly/Slow Wine trade fair in New York: they both possess the desired characteristics to be good companions to Suzanne’s paella and they both have particularly impressed me when I tasted them.

Clearly, these two wines are by no means the only ones that go well with Suzanne’s paella! However, on the one hand their descriptions, coupled with the general guidelines provided above, should point you in the right direction should you wish to consider different alternatives and, on the other hand, if you are going to give either or both of these wines a try, they might introduce some of you to two Italian wines that are maybe not so “mainstream” or widely known in the US market and that yet are excellent and showcase the treasure chest of indigenous grape varieties that constitute the backbone of centuries of Italy’s wine culture.

So, let’s now take a look at my tasting notes for the two recommended wines that you may choose to enjoy with Suzanne’s delicious paella dish.

Option 1: Soave Classico, from the Veneto region

Pieropan, Soave Classico “Calvarino” 2010 DOC: a very good Soave made of a blend of 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave grapes which literally hits you in the nose with an exhuberant minerality and aromas of apple, citrus and white flowers; in the mouth a lively acidity and distinct minerality are balanced by a good extent of smoothness – long finish. ABV: 12.5% VOL. If interested, here is the winery’s technical sheet for this wine. Retails in the US for about $28.

Grape varieties’ quick facts: Garganega is a grape variety that is indigenous to the Veneto region, where it has been cultivated since at least the XIII century. Wines made of Garganega grapes are generally acidic and spicy. For more information about the Trebbiano di Soave grape variety, please scroll down to the quick facts about Verdicchio in option 2 below.

Option 2: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, from the Marche region

Marotti Campi, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico “Salmariano” Riserva 2009 DOC: a very good varietal wine made of 100% Verdicchio grapes, with a nice bouquet of white flowers, peach, citrus and minerals; good acidity and a long finish. ABV: 14% VOL. If interested, here is the winery’s technical sheet for this wine. Retails in the US for about $20.

Grape variety’s quick facts: Verdicchio grapes are also known as Verdicchio Bianco, a grape variety which, although it has been cultivated in the Marche region since the XVI century, was said to originate from Veneto. It is interesting to notice that DNA profiling has confirmed this theory, indicating that Verdicchio as a grape variety is identical to Trebbiano di Soave, a grape variety that is widely planted in Veneto and that we have just come across describing the wine in option 1. Verdicchio wines tend to have marked acidity and good structure.

(Note: information on the grape varieties, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012).

As always, if you get to try either one of the above wines, let me know how you liked them!

An Overview of the ISA Wine Pairing Criteria

StefanoAs promised a while ago to Suzanne, the gracious author of food and cooking blog apuginthekitchen, in this post I will briefly go through the core foundations of food-wine pairing, providing an overview of the main criteria conceived and recommended by the Italian Sommelier Association (ISA). This should hopefully offer readers a few guidelines that they may consider trying out the next time they will need to pair a wine with food.

Our discussion about wine pairing will utilize certain of the concepts and terminology that we have gone through in the context of our overview of the ISA wine tasting protocol: if you are not familiar with it, consider reading that post before continuing on with this one.

The first step in the wine pairing process is to assess the food you intend to pair a wine with: in so doing, you should consider (and ideally write down) which of the following characteristics are present to a noticeable extent in your food:

  • Latent sweetness (this is that sweetish feel that you perceive eating such foods as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, carrots, certain seafood such as shrimps or prawns, most ham, bacon, etc. – note, this is NOT the full-blown sweetness of a dessert)
  • Fatness (this refers to the presence of solid greases, such as in most cheeses, salame, hard-boiled egg yolk, etc.)
  • Tastiness (it is given by the presence of salt in a food, such as for instance in most cured meats, salame or cheeses)
  • Latent bitterness (it can be found in such foods as artichokes, raw spinach, radicchio, liver, grilled food, etc.)
  • Latent sourness (it is generally found in tomatoes, seafood marinated in lemon juice, salads with vinegar-based dressings, etc.)
  • Sweetness (typical of a dessert, honey or most fruits)
  • Aftertaste (meaning, whenever the flavor of the food tends to linger in your mouth after swallowing it – for instance, venison meat generally has a longer afterstate than veal meat)
  • Spiciness (this merely indicates the moderate use of spices in the preparation of the food, it does NOT indicate a “hot” food – examples are the use of saffron, curry, pepper, vanilla, etc. in foods like cured meats, risotto, desserts…)
  • Flavor (this indicates a noticeable, distinct flavor that is typical of a certain food or ingredient, such as in the case of blue cheese or goat cheese, salame, foods complemented by herbs, such as pesto sauce or butter and sage ravioli, coffee, cocoa…)
  • Juiciness (there are three types: (i) inherent, which is that of foods that have noticeable quantities of liquids in them, such as a fresh buffalo mozzarella or a meat cut cooked rare; (ii) due to the addition of liquids, such as a beef stew to which some kind of gravy or sauce was added, a brasato, etc.; and (iii) induced, which is that of salty or relatively dry foods, which cause abundant production of saliva in the mouth, such as in the case of a bit of aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese)
  • Greasiness (caused by the presence of oil or other liquefied greases that is still noticeable in the mouth at the end of the preparation of the food, such as in a bruschetta, seafood salad, grilled sausage, etc.)
  • Structure (this depends on the complexity or the extent of elaboration of a food – for instance, a cracker with cheese or a bowl of white rice shall clearly be considered foods with little structure, while a dish of goulash or a Sacher torte shall be considered foods with significant structure)

Now, the core of the wine-food pairing criteria preached by the Italian Sommelier Association is that certain of the aforesaid qualities of a food (to the extent of course they are detectable to a noticeable extent in the food you want to identify a good wine pairing for) shall be paired by contrast with certain qualities of a wine (see below), while certain others of such food qualities shall instead be paired by association with the corresponding qualities in a wine.

Having said that, let’s now move on the second step and see specifically which qualities in a wine relate to the food qualities that we have listed above and how:

Food Quality   Wine Quality
(A) Pairings by Contrast
Latent sweetness ==> Acidity
     
Fatness ==> Effervescence or Minerality
     
Tastiness    
Latent bitterness ==> Smoothness
Latent sourness    
     
Juiciness / Greasiness ==> ABV or Tannicity (by contrast)
(B) Pairings by Association
Sweetness ==> Sweetness
     
Spiciness / Flavor ==> Intensity of nose/mouth flavor
     
Aftertaste ==> Aftertaste or Finish

Wherever per the above guidelines a food quality presents an alternative in the choice of the related wine quality, structure of the food can often dictate which of the alternative wine qualities should be picked. So, for instance, in the case of the greasiness of a delicate seafood salad whose dressing is olive oil-based, the choice in the related wine quality should fall on a white wine with good ABV over a red wine with noticeable tannins, which would have a structure that would overwhelm the much simpler, more delicate structure of the seafood salad dish.

A few side notes on some “special situations“:

  • Very spicy (as in “hot”) food is very difficult to successfully pair: the best thing one can do is to pick a wine with plenty of smoothness and intensity in an effort to compensate, but if the food is too spicy, it will always overwhelm the wine
  • Particularly sour dishes are another challenge, such as in the case of salads with significant vinegar- or lemon-based dressings
  • Ice cream, gelato and sorbet are also tough pairings, because their cold nature makes taste buds even more susceptible to wine acidity, tannins or minerality – sometimes, the best bet is to pair them with a spirit (such as in the case of Granny Smith apple sorbet with Calvados or lemon sorbet with Vodka)

One last comment: the above guidelines are just that, guidelines that should offer you some pointers as to “which way to go” in your choices of which wines to pair with a certain food, but they are certainly not carved in stone, nor are they not meant to be breached now and then if you think there is good reason for it: ultimately, the bottom line is that whatever wine pairing you choose ends up being a pleasant one for your and your guests’ mouths!

Now have fun and experiment!  🙂

Saffron "Milanese" Risotto – Recommended Wine Pairing (and a bit of trivia re Tocai)

Blason, Friuli Isonzo Friulano "Casa in Bruma" DOCSo, yeah, I’m still in catch-up mode with my wine pairing recommendations… Sorry if it took me a while, but here we go: these are my suggestions in terms of what to pair with Francesca’s wonderful Saffron Milanese Risotto (which, incidentally, is one of my favorite risotto’s!)

To complement this luscious dish, you should pick a wine with good acidity, fairly intense aromas and flavor, noticeable minerality and decent structure, as in a medium-bodied wine.

Based on the above, I am going to recommend a Friulano wine, from the Italian Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Before we go to the actual recommendations, however, let’s just say a few words about this wine, including a bit of trivia 🙂

Friulano is the relatively new name for the grape variety that used to be known as Tocai. The change in name was due to the outcome of a dispute before the European Court of Justice that in 2005 prohibited Italian winemakers, starting March 2007, from using the word Tocai to identify their wines or grape varieties, on the grounds that the use of the word “Tocai” by the Italians could be confusing with the very famous (and delicious!) Hungarian sweet botrytized wineTokaji“, which is a word that started being used to identify such wine before anyone else used any similar term, including Tocai in the Friuli and Veneto regions of Italy. Incidentally, note that in Hungary “Tokaji” is only the name of the wine, not that of the prevalent grape variety it is made of, which instead is called Furmint.

Ronco del Gelso, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Friulano "Toc Bas" DOCAs a result of the aforesaid European Court of Justice decision (and despite, let me note, Italian Tocai being a dry white wine and therefore completely different from Hungaian Tokaji, which is a sweet wine), Italian authorities and Tocai producers from the two affected regions (Friuli and Veneto) needed to come up with a different name to call their own grapes and the wine made out of them.

In one of the best examples of Italian bureaucracy at its finest, a decision was made to call the same grape variety in two different ways: “Friulano” in the region of Friuli and “Tai” in the region of Veneto. As if being required to drop the Tocai designation altogether had not brought enough confusion in the market… 🙁

Regarding Friulano (or Tocai) as a grape variety, DNA profiling has shown that it is identical to Sauvignonasse, an old white-berried grape variety that originated in the Gironde region of France and that (despite what the name would make you think) is not related to Sauvignon. Sauvignonasse vines were brought to the North-Eastern Italian region of Friuli in the XIX century where it was given the name Tokai, which later on muted into Tocai, in the first quarter of the XX century (information on the grape varieties, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012).

Vigne di Zamò, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano "Vigne Cinquant'anni" DOCLet’s now focus on a few recommendations of quality Friulano wines that you may consider pairing with a saffron Milanese risotto (all of the options below are varietal wines, made of 100% Friulano grapes):

  • Blason, Friuli Isonzo Friulano “Casa in Bruma” DOC, with aromas of peach, almond and minerals
  • Livio Felluga, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano DOC, with a bouquet of citrus, almond, herbs and minerals
  • La Tunella, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano DOC, with aromas of white flowers, pear, almond and mineral hints
  • Le Vigne di Zamò, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano “Vigne Cinquant’anni” DOC, with a wonderful bouquet of apple, citrus, tropical fruit and minerals
  • Ronco del Gelso, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Friulano “Toc Bas” DOC, with aromas of white flowers, peach, apricot, almond, hazelnut and mineral hints.

As usual, if you get to try out any of these wines, let us all know how you liked it by dropping a comment below!

Cheers!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Recommended Wine Pairing

Les Crêtes, VdA Chardonnay Cuvée Bois DOCThis wine pairing post for Francesca’s mouth-watering Spaghetti alla Carbonara has been long overdue – apologies if it took me so long, but my Italian spumante series in view of the end-of-year festivities kind of got in the way 🙂

Without further ado, let’s now get to it: picking up where we left off in response to a prophetic question from Chiara (the gracious and posh image consultant who authors the “effortless style” blog Kiarastyle) in the comment section of Francesca’s recipe post, my suggestions are to either pair it with a structured Chardonnay with some oak-aging, good acidity and minerality or go for a red wine with good acidity, gentle tannins and ideally some minerality, such as a Pinot Noir from the North-Eastern region of Alto Adige.

St. Michael-Eppan, A.A. Chardonnay Sanct Valentin DOCThere is not much to say that is not already widely known about the two grape varieties that I picked, since they are both international varieties (as opposed to grapes indigenous to Italy). However, something worth mentioning is that in regards to Chardonnay you will notice that my recommendations span pretty much across the entire Italian territory, literally from Valle d’Aosta to Sicily, while my Pinot Noir choices focus on one specific region, Alto Adige. This is because, while Chardonnay has been very successfully grown in different terroirs in North, Central and even Southern Italy, the same is not true for Pinot Noir, whose best results are attained in the region of Alto Adige first and foremost, and then in Lombardia and Valle d’Aosta. This is hardly a surprise considering how finicky a grape variety Pinot Noir is compared to the great versatility and adaptability of Chardonnay grapes.

Elena Walch, A.A. Beyond the Clouds DOCWith that said, let’s get down to the recommendations, starting from our mini-tour of Italy showcasing some of my all-time favorite Italian Chardonnays:

  • Les Crêtes, Valle d’Aosta Chardonnay Cuvée Bois DOC from Valle d’Aosta (100% Chardonnay; in my view a phenomenal wine with a wonderful bouquet of wildflowers, jasmine, pineapple and butter – hats off to the producer who invested the energy and resources necessary to achieve a density of 7,500 vines/HA in the vineyard used to create this magnificent wine)
    *
  • St Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Chardonnay Sanct Valentin DOC from Alto Adige (100% Chardonnay; with scents of Mirabelle plum, butter, vanilla and almond)
    *
    Castello della Sala, Bramito del Cervo Umbria IGT
  • Elena Walch, Alto Adige Beyond the Clouds DOC from Alto Adige (“predominantly” Chardonnay blended with other white grape varieties based on a proprietary recipe; with scents of peach, pineapple, almond, butter and vanilla)
    *
  • Jermann, W? Dreams Venezia Giulia IGT from Friuli Venezia Giulia (97% Chardonnay, 3% other grape varieties kept it a secret by the winery; with aromas of Mirabelle plum, citrus, vanilla and a smoky hint – a special note of merit to the producer who achieved a density of almost 8,000 vines/HA in the vineyards used to create this excellent wine)
    *
  • Tenute Folonari, La Pietra Tenute del Cabreo Toscana IGT from Toscana (100% Chardonnay; with scents of peach, butter, honey, hazelnut and flint)
    *
    Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT
  • Castello della Sala, Bramito del Cervo Umbria IGT from Umbria (100% Chardonnay; with fine aromas of wildflowers, pineapple, Mirabelle plum, butter, vanilla and hazelnut)
    *
  • Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT from Sicily (100% Chardonnay; with complex and elegant scents of wisteria, peach, apple, honey, butter, vanilla, hazelnut and chalk)

Finally, these are some of my favorite Italian Pinot Noirs for their quality to price ratio (note that all of the wines below are 100% Pinot Noir):

  • Elena Walch, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Ludwig DOC (with scents of rose, wild strawberry and plum)
    *
    Elena Walch, A.A. Pinot Noir Ludwig DOC
  • St Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Riserva DOC (with aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry and soil)
    *
  • Manincor, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Mason DOC (with scents of wild strawberry, raspberry and cranberry)
    *
  • Hofstätter, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Mazon Riserva DOC (with aromas of wild strawberry, cherry and cranberry)
    *
  • Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Blauburgunder Abtei Muri Riserva DOC (with scents of wild strawberry, cranberry and plum)

That’s all for now – enjoy some good wine and as always let me know if you get to try any of these wines!

Muri Gries, A.A. Blauburgunder Abtei Muri Riserva DOC

Merry Christmas!

Shrimp CocktailHere we go! Christmas Eve… for my family, it is even more important than Christmas Day. We have been talking about this night for weeks. We have invited friends, my mom and I have decided the table setting and selected the dishes and Stefano has chosen the bubbly and the still wines for tonight.

My parents brought delicious treats from Rome and Stefano brought traditional sweets from Milan and Genoa.

To make you understand how much work and planning went into the preparations for this magical night and to give you a flavor of an Italian Christmas Eve, we decided we would share with you the pictures of some of the food that will be served. We follow the Catholic tradition, so you won’t see any meat around!

Smoked Salmon CrostiniWe’ll start with a shrimp cocktail, some eggs au gratin, a broccoli quiche, a potato frittata, smoked salmon crostini, blue cheese puffs with fontina sauce and cauliflower au gratin. With these, Stefano is going to serve a Ferghettina, Franciacorta Brut DOCG S.A., a Classic Method Italian spumante aged 24 months on its lees.

We’ll continue with spaghetti with clams and a truffle risotto. Afterwards, we’ll serve branzino fillets with vegetables. The wines that Stefano paired with these main courses are an Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna Costamolino DOC 2011 and a Vigneti Massa, Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Derthona DOC 2009 for the truffle risotto.

Black TrufflesFor dessert, we’ll have some fruit (grapes and cherries) and lots and lots of sweets: panettone (a traditional Christmas sweet bread loaf originally from Milan), pandolce (a traditional Christmas cake from Genoa), dried figs, chocolate-coated torrone and chocolate torrone with hazelnuts that my mom bought in Vatican City, marrons glacés from Cova (one of the most famous patisseries in Milan), chocolate orangettes, marzipan fruits and chocolates, all hand-made, from Viganotti (one of the oldest and best chocolate stores in Genoa, who make all their chocolate and marzipan masterpieces in the workshop adjoining the store, using only the best, freshest ingredients: if you are ever going to be in Genoa make sure you pay them a visit – you will not regret it). With the dessert, Stefano is going to serve Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG, a Charmat-Martinotti Method spumante, and for the chocolate a Lustau, Pedro Ximenez Sherry San Emilio – Solera Reserva DO.

Collection of Christmas sweetsHopefully, after all this food and wine, we are still going to function!  😉

Chocolate-coated torrone, chocolate torrone with hazelnuts and marrons glacésAll of us at Flora’s Table wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas! May Santa make your dreams come true tonight!!!Milanese panettone with chocolate-dipped orange wedges

Veal Skewers – Recommended Wine Pairing

As a good pairing to Francesca’s tempting veal skewers, I suggest going for a full-bodied red wine with defined (but not aggressive) tannins, good acidity and smoothness – I would pick either a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a Nero d’Avola (the latter in homage to the Sicilian roots of Francesca’s recipe). Let’s take a closer look to each of them.

Montepulciano is a grape that is indigenous to Central Italy and that is extensively cultivated in several Central Italy regions, such as Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria and Lazio to name a few. The presence of Montepulciano vines in the Abruzzo region has been documented since the XVIII century and nowadays it accounts for almost 50% of the vines that are grown in Abruzzo (Montepulciano is also the fourth most cultivated grape variety in Italy). Due to the ample supply of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines that are made out of it unfortunately vary quite significantly (although it must be recognized that, in the last fifteen years or so, there has been a conscious effort on the part of most producers to raise the average quality of the wines made out of Montepulciano grapes), so buyer beware: you have to do your homework first and pick the best producers if you don’t want to be disappointed.

In Abruzzo, the use of Montepulciano grapes is permitted both in the only local DOCG appellation (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, which requires the use of 90% or more Montepulciano grapes, in addition to a maximum of 10% of Sangiovese grapes) and in all of the Abruzzo DOC appellation except only Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC which is reserved to white wines mostly made out of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (also known as Bombino Bianco) grapes. All of the wines which we are about to recommend fall within the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC appellation, which encompasses an area surrounding the towns of Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo and which requires the use of 85% or more Montepulciano grapes in the winemaking process.

Among the best Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with a solid quality/price ratio are Valle Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (with aromas of violet, plums, blueberries, blackberries licorice); Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “S. Martino Rosso Marina Cvetic” DOC (with scents of violet, rose, blackberries, cherries, cocoa, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg); Pietrantonj, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cerano” Riserva DOC (with aromas of cherries, wild berries, vanilla, tobacco, cocoa); Dino Illuminati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ilico” DOC (with scents of blackberries, cherries, tobacco, leather, licorice, soil, slightly oaky); Torre dei Beati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cocciapazza” DOC (with aromas of rose, violet, cherries, plums, blueberries, redcurrants, licorice, cocoa): unfortunately, Torre dei Beati does not have a Web site as at November 2012: as usual, should you be interested in reaching out to them, just drop me an email. All of the above wines are varietal, that is made out of 100% Montepulciano grapes.

Nero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation of Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations, but many among the best products are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit.

These are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios: Feudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA); Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals); Cusumano, “Noa'” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate) or also very good “Sagana” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of wild cherry, anise, chocolate, leather, tobacco), even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA; Planeta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – once again, kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA); Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with scents of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out).

Enjoy, and as usual let us know by leaving a comment below if you happened to try out any of the wines mentioned above or should you wish to suggest a different pairing!

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana – Recommended Wine Pairing

To complement Francesca’s yummy spaghetti all’amatriciana, I suggest that you pick a medium-bodied red wine with good smoothness, acidity and tannins. My ideas are either a Rosso Piceno from Central Italy or a Lagrein from the North East of Italy. Let’s take a closer look at both.

Rosso Piceno is one of the 15 (as at November 2012) DOC appellations of the Marche region in Italy. The regulations of this DOC require that the wine be made out of 35-70% Montepulciano grapes and 30-50% Sangiovese grapes, provided that the use of other black-berried grapes is permitted up to a maximum of 15%. The regulations also prescribe that it be produced in an area surrounding the towns of Ascoli Piceno, Pesaro-Urbino and Ancona, while the territory for the variant “Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC” is a much smaller area near Ascoli Piceno.

As to the main black-berried grapes that make Rosso Piceno, Montepulciano is a grape that is indigenous to Central Italy and that is extensively cultivated in several Central Italy regions, such as Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria and Lazio to name a few. Due to the ample supply of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines that are made out of it unfortunately vary significantly, so buyer beware: you have to do your homework first and pick the best producers if you don’t want to be disappointed.

As to Sangiovese, well, everybody knows Sangiovese, right? It is one of the most renowned Italian grape varieties which is used in the making of several signature Italian wines, from Brunello di Montalcino to Chianti and from Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to Morellino di Scansano. It is also indigenous to Central Italy and is one of the most widely cultivated grape varieties in Italy, especially in the regions of Toscana, Umbria and Emilia Romagna. Varietal wines made out of Sangiovese grapes tend to have fairly aggressive tannins when they are still “young” and are generally best enjoyed after a few years of aging, when time takes care of taming them. Even in this case, 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.

Moving on to the actual recommendations, in my view these are some of the best Rosso Piceno out there in terms of price/quality ratio: Velenosi, Rosso Piceno Superiore “Brecciarolo Gold” DOC (70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese;  with aromas of wild berries, vanilla, pepper, tobacco and nutmeg – as we are used to doing, kudos to the owners of this estate who invested resources and energy to achieve a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA); De Angelis, Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC (70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese; with scents of cherries, blackberries, plums, blueberries, soil); Bucci, Rosso Piceno “Tenuta Pongelli” DOC (50% Montepulciano, 50% Sangiovese; with aromas of rose, blackberries, raspberries, plums, tobacco and minerals); Le Caniette, Rosso Piceno “Rosso Bello” DOC (45% Montepulciano, 45% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; with scents of blueberries, redcurrant and minerals – even in this case, we would like to praise the owners for a very good density of 4,500 vines/HA); and Cantine di Castignano, Rosso Piceno Superiore “Destriero” DOC (70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese;  with aromas of dried flowers, cherries and minerals).

Now, a few words about Lagrein: this is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the Trentino Alto Adige region of Northeastern Italy. Its use is permitted in several of the eight DOC appellations of the region, among which the appellation “Alto Adige DOC”, whose territory encompasses an area surrounding the town of Bolzano and which requires that Lagrein-based wines be made 85% or more out of Lagrein grapes.

Among the best Lagrein’s for their quality and price point are Manincor, Alto Adige Lagrein “Rubatsch” DOC (with scents of wild cherries, plums, licorice, slightly oaky); Erste + Neue, Alto Adige Lagrein “Puntay” Riserva DOC (with aromas of blueberries, cherries, coffee, slightly toasty); Cantina Bolzano, Alto Adige Lagrein “Perl” DOC (with scents of violets, wild berries, ink); Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Lagrein DOC (with aromas of violet, blackberries, blueberries, chocolate, ink); and Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro, Alto Adige Lagrein “Spigel” DOC (with scents of violets, blueberries, blackberries, wild cherries, cocoa). Note that all the above wines are made out of 100% Lagrein grapes.

As always, if you happen to try out any of these wines or would like to suggest a different pairing, feel free to share it with us by leaving a comment below!