Archive for the ‘food and wine’ Category

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The best mozzarella. In Asti, yes, in Asti…

March 13, 2010

Mozzarella di Bufala (buffalo-milk mozzarella) DOP from Tramonti last night at Pizzeria Francese in Asti. So unbelievably good.

Schiacciata with prosciutto.

Need we say more? Pair with a Barbera d’Asti “vivace” (slightly sparkling).

Ristorante Pizzeria Francese
Via dei Cappellai, 15
14100 Asti, Italy
tel. 0141 592 321‎

—Do Bianchi

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Monday night… a grand event

March 13, 2010

The grand day and evening of Monday….

Monday was an eventful day…and now I will relate to you what happened after Monday morning’s wine tasting.

The group of buyers, winebloggers and journalists traveled via bus to visit three vineyards who produce Barbera d’Asti wine. These were, Marchesi Alfieri, Tenuto Il Falchetto, and Tenuta La Pergola—all were wonderful hosts offering their wines for tasting, accompanied by delicious assortments of locally produced breads, salamis and cheeses.

Villa Basinetto, just on the outskirts of Asti city, was the venue for an elegant wine tasting event and a grand dinner where the producers, buyers, journalists and winebloggers came together at the end of a long wine tasting day. The producers who displayed their wine offerings in the evening event, were the same producers who offered the wines we tasted in the morning session in Asti. Exciting for me is to know who is producing what. Here we see the face of the producer behind the bottle so to speak—up close and personal. I had the opportunity to taste the best Barbera d’Asti wines, of all constitutions and character, and to discuss at length with the producers themselves the intimate nature and technicalities of their wines. Of course, the technicalities of marketing were discussed as well. I met so many winemakers—these are relationships to cultivate and cherish. Since I live in Piedmont, I consider myself as one of the lucky ones partaking in the journalist, buyer group—it makes it that much more personal.

Several winemakers caught my attention. Especially worthy of note are both the Barbera d’Asti Monferrato and Barbera d’Asti Superiore from Tenuta I Quaranta, owned by Annalisa Battuello. Another favorite are the Barbera d’Asti Superiore offerings from Castello di Razanno. The most exciting Ruchè I ever drank is definitely from Franco Cavallero’s Cantine Sant’Agata. And, Guido Damilano’s Barolo wine is the most soul warming. But there are tons more wine to taste and enjoy and I definitely have more favorites.

The grand dinner event, yes, that is the way to paint the picture. I was so impressed by the Piedmontese hospitality and the food served. We all sat at large round tables where we had active dialogue with each other. I dined with two wine producers Dogliotti of Castagnole Lanze (AT) and Mr. Carlo Sacchetto of Bric Cenciurio. I also had the pleasure of speaking with journalist Ivo Kozarcanin of Croatia. Our dinner table had the richest and most interesting conversations of everything that had to do with wine, truffles, Piedmontese food, and much more. Pearls to cultivate from moments of a grand evening.

I love the way the Piedmontese present their food, as I have much experience at this. In Piedmont thye aim to present nouvelle cusisine, but with a definite Piedmontese nature: the ingredients consist of food elements things typical to the region. Our four course dinner began with an appetizer consisting of a beautiful plate of mille feuille of beef tongue and foie gras together with small cubes of porto gelatin. This was followed by a delicious potatoe, borlotti bean and maltagliati pasta soup. I noticed around the room that many people were craving second servings of the soup—it was very stomach warming. Absolutely exquisite was the main dish which followed: old vintage Barbera d’Asti stewed beef with polenta (cornmeal porridge). This meat dish was out of this world. I have always been a fan of Piedmontese stewed meat, but this was sooo delicious the way it was cooked in the sauce containing Barbera d’Asti wine. In Piedmont there exist many recipes where various meats are stewed for long periods, using different types of wine. And, finally, our dessert was a pasticcio of hazelnut sweets—these were special hazelnuts however—coming from the Langhe region. Hazelnuts are king in Piedmont as far as nuts go, and usually everytime I eat a dessert in a Piedmontese restaurant, hazelnuts are always present. Then of course as we waited between servings we all entertained ourselves by conversing and drinking an assortment of Piedmontese wines form Moscato to Dolcetto to Barolo, etc. etc.

The evening is one I will always remember and again I thank our hosts and hostesses for this wonderful dinner event.

—Piemontèis Life

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Veal tongue and foie gras mille-feuille with Port gelatin

March 9, 2010

Last night’s gala dinner was catered by Il Cascinale Nuovo (Isola d’Asti) at the Villa Basinetto.

Cascinale Nuovo

Veal tongue and foie gras mille-feuille with Port gelatin.

The amuse-bouche.

Stand-out wines at my table were 2007 Barbera d’Asti by Dario Cocito and a gorgeous Moscato d’Asti by Caudrina.

—Do Bianchi

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Barbera blogger team unites in Asti

March 7, 2010

Brunellos Have More Fun, Worcester Sauce, and Bigger Than Your Head enjoyed pizza tonight at Pizzeria Francese in Asti tonight (highly recommended).

Bigger Than Your Head, Worcester Sauce, oenologic, and Jaynes at Hard Café, locals only bar (also highly recommended, especially for the free Sunday happy-hour nosh).

—Do Bianchi

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Worcester Sauce: Lazing on Sunday afternoon… in Asti

March 7, 2010

This morning (7 March) I had a painfully early start to catch a 7am flight from Stansted to Turin. But there are some things that are worth getting up early for…

I am in Asti this week to attend the Barbera Meeting 2010. Such an early arrival meant that I had a few hours to kill before meeting up with my fellow bloggers this evening. I was told that there was probably only one restaurant open in Asti today, so off I went to Ristorante Aldo di Castiglione in Via Giobert.

Aldo is hidden behind an innocuous door that also leads to several private apartments. One has to press the buzzer to obtain entry – quite daunting on a cold Sunday afternoon in Asti! A brusque “si?” preceded a more welcoming entry into the restaurant.

I was seated by the delightful Franca Masoero, who with her husband and sister (or was it daughter?) runs this quintessentially Italian restaurant. Did I want antipasti? No thank you. A warm starter, then? Yes please. Signora Masoero brought me a plate of gnocchi with a salso di pomodoro e basilico. The gnocchi was beautifully soft, just the way I like it, and the sauce wonderfully fresh – especially for March.

My primo piatto was guancio di vitello in a red wine sauce (Barbera, I think), accompanied with mashed potato. It was tender, not too fatty, really tasty and as simple and unadorned as the restaurant’s bare brickwork and unostentatious lighting. With this I drank a half-bottle of 2008 Coppo Barbera d’Asti l’Avvocato – supple, medium-bodied, bright Barbera fruit and a tickle of VA, but to criticise it for that would be to miss the point. It was perfect with the vitello and surprisingly good with the dessert of bonèt, a Piemontese speciality of eggs, sugar, chocolate and amaretti. It was not all that sweet so was an effective abbinamento with the Barbera.

An espresso braced me for the walk back to the hotel. Offers of grappa or more wine were declined in the knowledge that Tom Hyland had organised a pizza evening for us tonight!

—Worcester Sauce

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Barbera wines are like old friends

March 5, 2010

Photo by Asti photographer Giulio Morra.

Here’s what official Barbera blogger Brunellos Have More Fun had to say about her upcoming trip to Barbera Meeting 2010 and her long-standing love affair with Barbera:

To me, barbera wines are like old friends. The ones that you can be around 24 hours a day and never tire of. The ones, whom after 2 years of not seeing each other, conversations can flow forth effortlessly as if no time had passed at all. Without getting into acidity and tannins, fruit and body…I hope my simile makes some kind of sense. Barbera makes fun wine, drinkable wine, food friendly wine. Although by this time next week, I am sure I will have a whole lot more to say about it than that.

Click here to read the entire post…

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Barbera, and…?

March 3, 2010

Back when I first started writing about wine, mumble years ago, I – like almost every newly-minted writer, wrote with the absolute conviction that the generalizations I had learned were true.

Like anyone who’s stepped off home plate in their own personal wine quest, it didn’t take long to realize how wrong I was. It’s one of the many, many reasons I can’t really bear to read my oldest work. It’s not just that it’s wrong, it’s that it’s so breathlessly naïve. Oh, well. Nothing to do about it now except to continue learning how much I didn’t, and don’t, know.

One of those iron-clad truisms of yore was about barbera: red-fruited, high-acid, great with tomato sauce. It had to be true, didn’t it? It certainly was the conventional wisdom, mindlessly repeated in just about every wine text of the time. It probably still is. And I suppose that I’d had barbera that tasted like that on which I could base this enthusiastically-expressed opinion. But even then, in the dark mists of mumble years ago, it was only barely true. Because the fetish for concentrated, lavishly wooded, and (it must be said) internationalized barbera was in already full swing.

Hey…why the sudden interest in barbera? It’s not – objects the imaginary interlocutor that I find so valuable when constructing an argument – like I often write essays on specific grapes or wines. OK, OK, my imaginary friend’s caught me. I’m going on a junket. To Asti. To taste a bunch of barbera. To learn where I have and haven’t been wrong all these years. And to increase my depleted store of barbera-related puns. (Is it bad of me that this latter reason fills me with as much joy as those that precede it?) Anyway, fear not: the barbera-infused coverage that follows – and there will be some – will be properly disclaimed, as promised. And I will, both on oenoLog and in longer form here, eventually report on every single wine I taste…good, bad, or indifferent.)

Anyway, back to the aforementioned fetish. It was probably a trend that made a lot more sense on the ground in Italy, where there was almost certainly a veritable ocean of overcropped, underripe barbera against which to rebel. It is, after all, one of the most widely-planted red grapes in Italy. (Did you know that, imaginary guy? I didn’t.) As with anything that everyone plants…merlot, cabernet, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, I’m looking at all of you with an eye full of jaundice…a lot of it is going to be bad, or at best indifferent. So the inclination to head in the opposite direction with the grape was certainly understandable. Still is.

The thing was, the wines made a little less sense on the American side of the pond. Fruitier wines? We’ve already got ‘em. Bigger wines? Oakier wines? Check, check. Wines that taste like they come from the New World? Hey, that’s us! More expensive wines in fancier packages? It’s like a birthright.

Also, there was this. We haven’t had much success with Italian grapes in this country, which is an oddity considering how much the historical California wine culture owes to Italian immigrants and their descendants. But the one grape that did seem to work here was…you guessed it, imaginary respondent…barbera. I recall, with great fondness, a Renwood Barbera from the Linsteadt Vineyard that was full-bodied, incredibly appealing, and (this is the important part) easily outdid the Italian taste-alikes at their own game. That producer has gone to industrial hell, and I’ve lost track of the vineyard (it continues to exist, though not in any wines I see on my local shelves), but I still remember the wine. There are current alternatives, some from the same region in the Sierra Foothills, that are almost as good, and I drink them with marginal regularity.

As for the mostly-Piedmontese variations on the same theme? For one thing, they didn’t wear their oak well. Part of it was the acidity, which couldn’t really be tamed; one of the keys to the international style is low acidity, and without de-acidifying this just wasn’t going to be possible in barbera’s historic soils. High acid and overt new wood rarely meld well, to my palate. And for another, the effort to concentrate the fruit was tangible; one could taste the purposeful striving, and not always in a good way.

And so, I mostly gave up on the grape. Oh, there’s be an occasional bottle or taste along the way. But if it wasn’t my Platonic ideal of a marinara wine, and the modernized alternatives weren’t the kind of wine I like to drink (which they rarely were), what was the point? I moved on to other enthusiasms, and even occasional forays back into the Piedmont for something other than nebbiolo yielded more freisa than they did barbera. Dolcetto I never abandoned, but barbera was off my radar.

Even after a 2007 visit to the region, I didn’t really change my view. Looking back, I’m not sure why. I tasted some spectacular barbera, at Brovia and elsewhere, that demonstrated a sophistication and confidence with the grape that hadn’t been there before. The oak (when present) was integrated, the fruit rounder but not overworked, the fundamental acidity unquestionably present but not dominant. I can only blame the ever-expanding world of options for my failure to start traipsing through those cherried fields again.

And now, there’s an opportunity to make up for that lack, and to fill the gaps in my education. To taste not just those barbera deemed fit for the U.S. market, nor just those pre-selected for my traditionalist enthusiasms, but to really dig into the modern state of the grape. It should be fun.

—oenologic