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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Cooking Class in Umbria -- La Madonna del Piatto

cooking class Alla Madonna del PiattoNational Geographic's list of the Top Ten Cookery Schools in Italy describes the schools this way: "The locations are glorious, and the cuisine is exceptionally rich and varied. Up and down the Italian peninsula, schools teach you how to cook traditional dishes the authentic local way."  [From Food Journey of a Lifetime 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe.] It's not surprising that Alla Madonna del Piatto is on this list, nor that the charming bed & breakfast was discovered by the press long ago. Umbria is being discovered by Americans who love Italian regional cuisine, as Tuscany was when Frances Mayes published her bestseller about Tuscan life and cooking.

view from Alla Madonna del PiattoGlorious location--check! Alla Madonna del Piatto rests in an enormous meadow, verdant green in springtime and edged with flowers, with a panoramic view of Assisi's towers, churches and the valley floor below. Rich and varied cuisine--check! Proprietor Letizia Mattiacci selects the freshest seasonal produce to create luscious dishes fragrant from garlic, artisanal cheeses and extra virgin olive oil.  Schools teach you how to cook--check! Surprisingly, it was the men in our group who were the first to roll up their sleeves and try their hand at rolling pasta and finishing the plating. Authentic, local--check! Letizia is a native Umbrian who returned with her husband Ruurd to renovate the farmhouse and create their welcoming retreat after careers as entomologists. The saga of their endeavor to wade through Italy's infamous bureaucracy is a fascinating read on her blog.

I'm on my own food and wine journey of a lifetime, starting with VinItaly in Verona at the beginning of March, through my stay in Montepulciano studying Italian and sampling Tuscan cuisine, through this stay at Alla Madonna del Piatto, through a visit with my Italian friend Luciana--an amazing cook, to going on the Touring & Tasting cruise to Greece and Turkey aboard Celebrity, with the fabulous on-board cuisine.

Assisi churchOur class began in the village of Santa Maria degli Angeli dominated by a Basilica of the same name. In a store of local food products, we tasted olive oils, cheeses, prosciutto, wild boar sausage, truffle pesto, sweets, and liqueur made from olive leaves. Letizia was a storehouse of information, beginning with one of the staples of Italian cooking. At the food pavilion of VinItaly, I discovered that olive oil comes in a wide range of tastes from simply buttery to piquant, depending on the varietal of the tree. Letizia had us try a grassy, mild oil and a more peppery one. However, these were made from the same variety of tree, but 25 km apart, proving that, like wine, olive oil is terroir-driven as well as varietally distinct. She cautioned us to always buy extra virgin or virgin olive oil since it is "cold-pressed". Regular olive oil is extracted from the leftovers from the first pressing, using hot water in the best case, and using strong solvents like hexane in most cases.

Italian olive oil tastingI didn't realize that olive oil in Italy has a printed expiration date on the label. If properly stored, you can still use it for five years but the flavor and the green color present from chlorophyll will have disappeared after 18 months. Use this oil for cooking and use your best, fresh oil for "finishing" by drizzling a bit on pasta, bruschetta, and vegetables right before serving.  Check for the DOP certification on the labels of the best Italian olive oils, which ensures producers have followed strict production regulations to guarantee the quality of the oil. I thought vineyards require patience, since it takes several years after planting for vines to produce wine quality grapes. Olive trees take 30 years, so the trees Letizia and her husband are planting on their land are for their daughter to enjoy.

balsalmic vinegar tastingWe sampled balsamic vinegar, aged 10 and 12 years . Commercial balsamic is made by adding caramel and possibly chemicals to regular vinegar; true balsalmic is made by fermenting grape juice (must) and aging it in a succession of barrels made from different woods such as oak, juniper, ash , and maple. If you see anything in the ingredients list other than  must, it is not authentic balsamic. I bought a bottle of 30-year-old balsamic that is thick, syrupy and dense with flavor. Try top quality balsamic vinegar drizzled on grilled salmon.

focaccia makingBack at Alla Madonna del Piatto, Letizia showed us how to make the focaccia and the regional pasta called strangozzi in Assisi and pici in Montepulciano. She marinated the broiled asparagus in olive oil and pressed garlic, then let us roll and cut the pasta. After pressing the focaccia into the pan and adding rosemary and caramelized onion, she set on top of the stove to rise. Meanwhile, we made zabaglione and macerated fresh berries in Vin Santo for the tiramisù. The pasta was boiled for only a minute in heavily salted water. Letizia instructed us that "it should taste like the sea"--about 1 teaspoon salt per quart. The marinated asparagus was cut into bite-sized pieces and stirred in a saucepan with about 2 cups of freshly made ricotta. The pasta was quickly strained without rinsing and dumped into the saucepan along with a couple cups of grated Parmesan and three ladles of the pasta cooking water. The cheese melted into a creamy sauce--no cream added--with a enticing seasoning and aroma of garlic.

pasta with puttanesca sauceThe pasta with puttanesca sauce was made in a similar way, with whole black olives, capers, Italian red chile peppers and chopped tomatoes. Letizia admonished that the noodles should always be combined with the sauce in the pan, then plated and drizzled with olive oil. "If someone serves you sauce ladled over the top of the pasta, get up right away and go out of there because that is not the way pasta is served." The warm, juicy olives were sensational in the spicy sauce.

tiramisu at Alla Madonna del PiattoAfter our cooking, we sat down to a convivial meal that started with local antipasti of green olives, homemade bread, Parmesan and prosciutto with local red and white wine, followed by both pastas, the focaccia and the delicious dessert, made with layers of Savoiardi cookies, zabaglione custard and the macerated fruit. When Letizia makes the traditional coffee tiramisù, she dips the cookies in expresso before assembling the dessert, letting it sit for a few hours for the Vin Santo to infuse into the cookies.

Alla Madonna del Piatto roomAlla Madonna del Piatto has five lovely guest rooms with handmade linens and radiant heat floors. The property is green, with solar water and electricity, plus a furnace to contribute to the heating of the water. Surrounded by fields on the hill above Assisi, you will find tranquility and friendliness. As Letizia says, "if my guests are not happy, then I'm not happy." Cooking classes are twice a week, on weekdays and dishes change with the seasonal local produce. If you picture yourself on their veranda, under grape arbor, sipping wine and soaking up the view, visit / for more information.

Try one of Letizia's recipes:

Alla Madonna del Piatto Duck Breast in a Rosemary, Balsamic and Citrus Marinade
"Duck breast is virtually boneless, but it’s intensely flavorful and surprisingly easy to make. This is my foolproof recipe based on a classic French sweet and sour marinade. I have twisted it with Italian ingredients and herbs and I must say it is rather lovely."--Letizia

Ingredients For the Marinade:
Juice of 1/2 lemon or of 1 orange
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon red wine
1 tablespoon raw honey
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients for the Duck Breast:
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 pound duck breast with skin
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a bowl large enough to fit the breast snugly, mix the marinade ingredients, add the garlic cloves and whole rosemary sprigs. Place the duck breast in the marinade, skin side up, cover and marinade in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove the duck breast from the marinade, pat dry and transfer, skin side down, into a heavy pan, better if cast iron. Reserve the marinade. Cook the breast on low heat for at least 5 minutes. Be patient as the duck fat renders out slowly, melting onto the bottom of the pan. This is the most important phase of the cooking by which you get lovely crispy skin. If the skin burns too soon, the breast will taste fatty and rubbery. When the skin turns golden, remove the breast, quickly drip away the fat and wipe the pan with paper towels. Now you need to be fast: bring the heat to high, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sear the skinless side of the breast all over, until slightly brown, about 2 minutes. Pour the marinade in the pan and reduce it, this takes less than 1/2 minute.

Remove the pan from heat but leave it on the stove, cover with a lid and 1 or 2 folded kitchen towels. You want to keep the pan as warm as possible. The breast will finish to cook with the indirect heat of the pan and will keep wonderfully moist. Wait for 5- 10 minutes, then slice thinly and serve.

Serves 4.
Pair with a Sangiovese or Sagrantino.

Alla Madonna del Piatto Spaghetti with Salmon and Brandy

"I still remember the arrival of cream in my life. My mum did not use cream, she was Sicilian. By her law, a sauce is red and must be made with tomato and olive oil. A stick of butter lasted easily a couple of months in our fridge as she had no use for it…Then the 70′s and ’80s exploded with all sorts of sophistication. Tortellini with cream and ham, crepes rolled with Bechamel and champignons, tiramisu, pannacotta…Please note the quality of the ingredients and the modest amounts of condiments which are necessary to achieve balance."--Letizia

1 small onion, diced very finely
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing
white wine, optional
10 ounces canned diced tomato (or fresh, in season)
3 ounces smoked wild salmon, diced
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 pound good quality spaghetti (possibly bronze drawn)
1 fresh red chili pepper, sliced (optional)
2-3 tablespoon brandy
2 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Start heating your water to cook the pasta according to package directions. Using a shallow pan – a frying pan with high sides is ideal – sauté the garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil over very low heat. If the onion starts browning, deglaze with a little white wine. Add the diced tomato, cover and simmer until a little thicker, about 5 minutes. Add the salmon and cream, bring back to simmering temperature and switch off. You don’t want to cook the flavor of the salmon away. The whole preparation should take no more than 7-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until al dente. When the pasta is cooked, turn the heat under the saucepan to high. Drain the pasta and transfer into the saucepan.  Add the chili pepper now, if using.

Stir the pasta quickly into the sauce as explained here. Add some pasta water – up to one tablespoon per person – and stir some more until the excess liquid is absorbed. Add a generous dash of brandy  and stir again to incorporate. Sprinkle with parsley . Serve on warm plates with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 2-3

Pair with Sangiovese or rose´.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Avignonesi Winery in Tuscany

Avignonesi wineryA Renaissance is occurring in the Avignonesi winery in Montepulciano. A Renaissance that began when Virginie Saverys purchased the winery in 2009. Just as the cultural Renaissance of the 14th century witnessed the flowering of art and literature based on the classics, so the modernization of Avignonesi is based on its history--one of the longest of any winery in Italy.

Virginie Saverys of Avignonesi wineryVirginie Saverys has always had a commitment to organic products and homeopathic medicine, shunning pesticides and chemicals as being unhealthy for her family and the earth. Naturally, she envisioned organic and biodynamic techniques in the vineyards and winery of this august estate. The word renaissance means "re-birth" and suggests a revisiting of tradition, sparking innovation and artistry.  Her belief in respecting the land and expressing the terroir in the glass reflects  the time before industrial farming when farmers tended their crops by hand and lived in harmony with the rhythms of nature. In the current age, these practices are enhanced by scientific insight concerning geology, hydrology and soil composition. Biodynamics are used in all Avignonesi's 200 acres and they are undergoing the long conversion to being organically certified. The original estate vineyards of Le Capezzine, I Poggetti, La Selva and La Lombarda will have completed their conversion next year, whereas the recent acquisitions of Lodola, Greppo and Matracchio are towards the beginning of the process.

Avignonesi vineyardVirginie brought in a new staff of young people, many women, to implement her vision.  Winemaker, Ashleigh Seymour, is from Australia. While obtaining her Enology degree, she worked in the Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills before moving on to Condrieu in Northern Rhone, then to Avignonesi. Tamara Marini gave us a tour of the vineyards, pointing out the mustard, arugula and fava beans growing around the vines. Nitrogen fixers, they provide natural fertilizers when plowed into the fields. The air buzzed with bees and insects since no pesticides are used. She noted that organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard are more labor intensive, but, "If you want to make good products that reflect the terroir, you have to start in the soil." Yields are kept low--only 3-4 bunches of grapes per vine--to produce juice with concentrated flavor.

La Stella Vineyard at AvignonesiI found the most interesting of the four experimental vineyards at the main Le Capezzine estate to be La Stella where the vines are bush trained and planted in a “settonce” system. Each vine is at the corner of a triangle, creating a hexagonal pattern of five plants with one in between. So, instead of rows of leaves that create a "wall" that blocks ventilation, air circulates between each plant. When the canes grow, each plant has theirs tied together above the vine, which maximizes sun exposure on the canopy.

Avignonesi tasting roomWe tasted 9 of the 13 wines Avignonesi produces. When Virginie purchased Avignonesi, she also acquired two vineyards in the adjacent wine region of Cortona, which experience a warmer climate than the Montepulciano vineyards. This allows cultivation of the French varietals of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Syrah. The Avignonesi Vignola Toscana Sauvignon Blanc has pleasing grapefruit, lemon and passion fruit flavors, with a long finish. The Il Marzocco Chardonnay Cortona DOC is made from 100% Chardonnay picked at night to preserve acidity, and is round in the mouth with a fresh taste.

Avignonesi Riserva Grande AnnateTheir Rosso di Montepulciano DOCG is a very pleasing 100% Sangiovese with a fresh fruity taste that I think would pair beautifully with tomato and Parmesan cheese crostini. I enjoyed their balanced and structured 100% Sangiovese Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the premium reserve version called the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Riserva Grande Annate made with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; both would pair well with grilled steak and meat dishes. We can look forward to a new 100% Sangiovese, single vineyard Riserva when the 2011 vintage is released.

Avignonesi 50-50 wineTheir super-tuscan Grifi Toscana IGT is made from 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from vines from 8-39 years old. The Desiderio Merlot Cortona DOC is 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and shows the more fruit-forward side of this elegant blend of traditional and new varietals.  50&50 Toscana IGT was born at a dinner between friends--the former owner of Avignonesi and the former owner of Capannelle in Chianti Classico. Drinking Avignonesi Merlot and Capannelle Chianti, they mixed their wines in one glass and a new wine was born. Multi-faceted and elegant, the wine must be labeled IGT since it does not comply with the DOC and DOCG appellation regulations.

Avignonesi Vin SantoMost Montepulciano wineries make Vin Santo, but the Avignonesi Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC is in a class by itself. It takes 12 years to make this precious liquid. Hand-selected grape bunches are layered on straw mats from floor to ceiling where they dry from September to January under carefully controlled conditions so no mold is formed. After they have lost about 70% of their volume, the raisinated grapes are gently pressed and the juice poured into Slavonian oak "caratelli" that contain last year's  "madre" mother yeast. Some room is left in the barrel  for air. The caratelli are always stored on the top floor with open windows so the temperature can vary during the year. The wine remains in the caratelli for 10 years.
Passito grapes at AvignonesiDuring the warm summer months, the yeast is actively fermenting, in cold winter, it is dormant and the wine remains on the lees. After 10 years, about 60% of the original volume is lost, part from evaporation and part from having to discard some wine that is not up to standard. The wine is blended, bottled, then aged another 6 - 10 months in bottle. Their Vin Santo is as thick as syrup, a dark amber color and has layers and layers and layers of flavors from dried fig and plum to marzipan, honey and vanilla.

Avignonesi organic kitchen gardenAvignonesi's "green" philosophy extends to the kitchen of their restaurant, where all the ingredients are organic. The cooking classes are a terrific way to learn how to make regional specialties while providing optimal nourishment. In the cooking classes, participants go out to the garden with the chef to pick fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit for hands-on preparation of a meal that includes handmade pasta, sauce, side dishes and dessert. To make a reservation for a cooking class, to taste the delicious Avignonesi wines,  or enjoy a meal in their lovely glass dining room surrounded by the rolling hills of Tuscany, visit their website at:

Wine Tasting in Tuscany - Fattoria del Cerro

Fattoria del Cerro in Tuscany
After a brutal spring without sun--a March with the most rain in 50 years--last week the clouds finally parted over Aquaviva di Montepulciano and the Tuscan sun woke up the land. Soaked with water, the fertile land responded by pushing forth a resplendent carpet of green, making the famous views of La Bella Toscana (beautiful Tuscany) even more breathtaking. In the middle of rolling hills and dazzling fields of yellow flowers, vineyards and olive trees is the Relais Villa Grazianella of the Fattoria del Cerro winery of Italy.

Fattoria del cerro lodgingAt the top of a long driveway lined with cedar trees and surrounded by the Fattoria del Cerro vineyards, the Relais Villa Grazianella houses 11 junior suites, restaurant, store, swimming pool, jacuzzi and conference room. Their location is ideal to enjoy the magic of this area as it is a short drive away from many historic fortress towns, including the "ideal city" of Pienza (a UNESCCO World Heritage Site) built by Pope Pio II; Montepulciano which boasts an excellent Italian language school for foreigners, Il Sasso; Cortona, with a notable museum of Etruscan antiquities; and one of Italy's most popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Siena, famous for hosting the Palio horse race.

Vino Nobile Fattoria del CerroIf this is not enough enticement to visit, you can also enjoy tasting the fine wines made in the adjacent state-of-the-art Fattoria del Cerro winery, including the aptly named Vino Nobile and Vin Santo.  The winery is one of 6 estates in the Saiagricola collection whose portfolio encompasses Brunello, Grappa, Sagrantino di Montefalco, Barbera,  Moscadello di Montalcino, and more, from Tuscany, Umbria and Piedmont. The wines and olive oil produced at all the Saiagricola estates are farmed with environmentally compatible methods. Care is taken to preserve woodlands and wildlife. Fattoria del Cerro was instrumental in bringing Vino Nobile into the modern age and in establishing the DOC appellations of Montepulciano in 1980. Several times it has been awarded Italy's top honor of Gambero Rosso's Tre Bicchieri.

Fattoria del Cerro barrelsEnologist Riccardo Cotarella is the head winemaker for Saiagricola, with enologist Raffaele Pistucchia working directly under him overseeing all the wineries, each of which has its own winemaker for the day-to-day operations. Raffaele conducted the tasting for us, pouring us a selection of 5 Fattoria del Cerro wines out of the 25 wines produced by Saiagricola. Fattoria del Cerro is the largest private estate producing Vino Nobile, with a total farm area of 601 hectares (about 1,485 acres). The vineyards are managed using environmentally-friendly energy and methods. The majority of their planting is to Sangiovese (called Prugnolo Gentile in Tuscany), followed by Colorino, Mammolo, and Merlot, which are blended in small amounts into some of the red wines, plus the white grapes Trebbiano and Chardonnay.

Fattoria del Cerro Vino NobileChardonnay is a recent introduction to Fattoria del Cerro, comprising 100% of La Grazianella, an easy drinking sparkling wine made with the Charmat method. Their Rosso di Montepulciano DOC is a young, approachable wine with a brilliant ruby color and a nose of violets, cherry and vanilla, made with 90% Sangiovese and 10% Mammolo. Their flagship wine, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, is made with 90% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino and 5% Mammolo. It is a DOCG wine, as is the Riserva version, both with a gorgeous jewel-like color and delicious aroma and flavors. I complimented the color of their Vino Nobile and winemaker Coterella humbly answered that "it is because of the grape Sangiovese", but in fact, I had many Vino Nobile wines in restaurants that were dull in comparison, without the sparkling clarity that is one measure of the quality of the winemaking. Their Riserva is more complex and long in the mouth and can be cellared for at least 15 years. Great care in taken in the vineyard and winery to maintain the integrity of the varietal. As Raffaele said, "when you taste the wine, we want you to taste the Sangiovese, not something that was done in the winery."

A moderate amount of oak is used to give structure to the Vino Nobile. An elegantly powerful wine, one should enjoy it with the local food to appreciate its perfection. Strongly flavored salami and prosciutto have similar pork fat that makes bacon so irresistible, Vino Nobile has the structure and acidity to cut the fat in the mouth. It also pairs well with wild game, black truffle sauces, the enormous Florentine steaks and pici (a local pasta specialty) with meat ragu´.

Fattoria del CerroThe pièce de résistance of the tasting was their "Sangallo" Vinsanto di Montepulciano DOC made using the traditional passito method. Instead of being dried in a commercial warehouse, Fattoria del Cerro dries the hand-selected grapes in the  old-fashioned way in a historic stone farmhouse designed for this job.  After about 5 months of drying, the raisin-like grapes are gently pressed, vinified and aged for 2 years in barrel and 1 year in bottle. Their Vin Santo glistens in the glass like a golden sapphire and has a viscous texture and dense flavor profile of honey, orange, toffee and raisins. Visit their website for information on accommodations and wine tasting:

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Personal Visit to Tedeschi Winery in the Valpolicella Region of Italy

Tedeschi winery family of ItalyThe Italian wine estate Tedeschi is older than the United States of America. The Tedeschi family has been making wine in the hilly Valpolicella region east of Lake Guarda since 1630. Currently three siblings manage the winery: Antonietta, who handles Italian sales and the winery administration, Sabrina, a food scientist, and Riccardo, an enologist who oversees the winemaking and foreign sales. They have taken over the day-to-day business of the winery from their father Lorenzo who was the first in the family line to bottle wine. The Tedeschi historically sold wine in demijohns to "osterie" or wine bars.

Tedeschi wines of ItalyLorenzo brought modern techniques and marketing to the winery, while keeping his family's long-standing traditions in place, and his children carry on the this marriage of the best of tradition with the most sophisticated modern technology. For example, when the family decided to expand their holding to include the Maternigo vineyard in the Valpolicella DOC region, they mapped their vineyards using infrared photography and underwent detailed analysis of the soil and vine canopy to insure each individual vine in the vineyard is planted to the best advantage. As the father, Lorenzo, says, "you have to pay attention to the smallest details, because that is how great wine is made".

Renzo TedeschiValpolicella is a favored wine throughout the world for the excellent wines made from its indigenous varietals, which include the most important grapes: Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella. Lorenzo's son,Riccardo, explains that the Corvina grape gives complexity and volume to the wine, Covinone gives structure and tannins and the Rondinella adds round, cherry flavors. The Tedeschi quest for quality is paramount. Their vineyards are carefully tended to produce small bunches of grapes with concentrated flavor. As Lorenzo says, "You need small bunches, it's with small bunches that you make great wine."

Finest Italian wines 100 great producersFor their award-winning Amarone, not only are the grapes hand-harvested, but only the grapes at the very top of each select grape cluster is used. The care and attention that the Tedeschi family lavishes on their wine has brought them high-ratings and the invitation this year to present their  2007 Tedeschi La Fabriseria Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC Classico at the prestigious opening to VinItaly: "Finest Italian Wines, 100 Great Producers" as chosen by Wine Spectator. This was the second year in a row they have had a wine included in this preeminent list.

Tedeschi vineyardsOne of the daughters, Sabrina, gave us a tour of their steep, hillside Le Pontare vineyard--one of their 4 vineyards--which produces the vineyard-designate "La Fabriseria" Amarone and Valpolicella wines. The calcareous outcropping in the photo displays one reason their wines have great minerality that adds to the complexity of the rich fruit flavors. The south-eastern exposure is perfect for sun exposure and the breezy hill location provides perfect ventilation. Only 3,000 bottles of Amarone are produced per year, but only when the vintage is just right. So, when the 2009 harvest was not up to the Tedeschi's exacting standards, no Amarone was made from this vineyard.

Tedeschi winery tasting roomTedeschi produces a portfolio of fine red wines, including Valpolicella Luchine, designed to drink young and fresh; powerful Amarone with concentrated fruit and a multi-faceted flavor profile--made with premium grapes dried before vinification for maximum intensity; and their dessert wine Recioto--a sensory delight for nose and palate. They also make intriguing white wines, like their Vin de la Fabriseria Vino Passito, made from Garganega and Saorin grapes. Visit their website to view their entire portfolio:, or even better, visit their winery when you are in visiting Verona. Tastings available by appointment only.

Sabrina had a few wine pairing suggestions; for the Amarone: pheasant braised in Amarone, risotto with mushrooms, game meats or Monte Veronese cheese, a raw cow milk cheese made in Lessini mountain.. For the Recioto: dark chocolate or veined cheese, like Roquefort.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

VinItaly--One of the Top 10 Winelover's Destinations

Rocca del Principe winesIf you love Italian wine and food, VinItaly is a dream come true. This expo, held in Verona each spring, provides the opportunity to taste thousands of Italian wines from the country's diverse regions, nibble on tasty samples of local produce, like black truffles and olive oil, and learn more about wine in seminars and focussed tastings. But, it is not just Italian products. More than 20 other countries are represented. In total, over 4,200 companies from around the world present their products in this massive 4-day event.

view of VinItalyThousands of people, over 140,000, pour into the VeronaFiere convention center, mostly stylishly dressed Italians--the men in chic black suit and tie, the women dressed to the nines--but also buyers from around the globe, importers and over 2,400 journalists.

VinItaly is organized by regions into 12 pavilions that cover over a million square feet--that's almost 18 football fields. As one might expect, the exhibition halls of Tuscany and Piemonte were the largest and most crowded.

Tuscan wine tower at VinItalyThe booths in all the pavilions were elegantly and creatively designed. There was the two story Tuscan tower, the walls adorned with dried grapevines, mini-wine bars and lavish construction of glass and steel.

The wine is in one word: amazing, both in quality and diversity. From crisp, fresh Prosecco from the Trentino hills, refined and powerful Amarone from the Valpolicella area of the Veneto, rich Tuscan Brunello, distinctive Nero d'Avola from Sicily, to wines made from indigenous grapes like Garganega, Rodinella, Greco di Tufo and Gaglioppo--vinified in Italy since the time of ancient Greece--they are all available to sniff, swirl and sip. I'll write more in detail about the tastings in further posts, but suffice to say now that if there was a list of the top 10 oenophile experiences in the world, VinItaly should be in that list. One could taste wine every day for each of the four days and not even sample a fraction of the fine wines being offered.

display of Lugana wines at VinItalyItaly has ideal terroir for grape growing with soils that range from the moraine deposits at the foot of the Alps to the north to the volcanic soil of Sicily, with a range of other soils in between. It is surrounded on three sides with the ocean, benefiting from the moderating influence a large body of water can have on a winemaking region. This may explain why Italy is now the #1 wine producing country in the world, according to VinItaly press material, surpassing France who saw her production drop 16.8% last year. Or perhaps it is because wine is such a part of everyday life here, with a glass of wine at lunch and dinner as part of a complete dining experience. Italians have mastered the art of "abbonimento": wine pairing, after centuries of producing and enjoying their wines with farm-fresh, local produce and cheeses, fresh-baked bread, hand-made pasta and healthy and delicious olive oil.

Trimarche artisanal spreads at VinItalyThis year, VinItaly had a pavilion for food products--a culinary bonus with sampling of regional artisanal products like eggplant spread, cherry tomato sauce, fried olives stuffed with meat and black truffle and olives oils from pale yellow to deep grassy green. I had the chance to ask some winemakers about pairing ideas for their wines, which I will put into future posts. In the meantime, "like" this post if you love Italian wine and food!


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Vicenza, First Look

First day in Italy--a street fair of Sardinian food and local artisanal products. Tried hard cheese soaked in wine, crispy cracker-like rye bread, salty and smelly smoked sardine.