I have, in the window of my store, some bottles from different vintages of Ridge Montebello. I call the window my cemetery, because it is where the bottles I've killed find their final repose. The Montebello is fantastic wine - I'm a big fan of it, and I drink it whenever I have excuse to do so. And then sometimes when I don't.
A few days ago Matt was browsing through the graveyard, perusing the evidence of exploits past. For those that don't know Matt, he is a young but skilled connoisseur that helps me in the store and has edited many of the posts on this blog for me, including this one. While he was browsing the Montebello corpses, he noticed a big difference in the wine's alcohol content, lighter in older bottles and higher on more recent vintages. In 1977, for instance, the percentage by volume was 11.7, and 12.9% in 1988. It climbed to 13% in 1999 and 13.2% in 2003. He mentioned global warming as explanation for the constant alcohol escalation, which does play a big part, in light of the direct proportion between sugar and alcohol. In fact, through the fermentation process the sugars are transformed directly into alcohol with the help of enzymes contained in the yeast. But is it just that... or there is more?
I remembered a conversation I had with a winemaker a while ago, regarding the help that science has contributed with grape clone selection, making more information available to agronomists, in order to select the best clones for the area of production. This information variably increases the quality and the health of the grapes. A big breakthrough happened along these lines in Montalcino, where it has been discovered that Sangiovese Grosso wasn't the best clone for Montalcino conditions and soils. In the past 30 years, the weather has gotten warmer but the grapes got healthier, the grains got smaller, and the vines got older, losing some vigor but gaining concentration and potency. Concentration of the grape from water distress coupled with better and older vines result in a higher content of polyphenols, which is a good thing for a wine. It also results in higher sugars and lower acidity levels which is not so good (distressingly high alcohol levels, and wines with shorter aging potential). Today I think we are in a sweet spot where the climate is more temperate. In Piedmont, for instance, we had a stretch of 6 good to excellent vintages from 1996 and 2001. The level of technology gave the winemakers more information than ever, including the latest creation of the grape's genome map. If this is like drinking a wine at its peak, let's hope we are still far from descending.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Sometimes a normal, unassuming evening can turn into a time warp experience: it happened to me on Saturday night.
First I have to provide you with an introduction to my first experience with Luciano Madii aka Il Frasca. I met him over ten years ago in Montevarchi with my brother in law, amidst our self-proclaimed crusade to the Prada outlet. Our journey fulfilled, we unassumingly asked the Carabinieri at the autostrada tollbooth where we could eat a good lunch before the outlet opened. The two of them, almost in unison said "Il Frasca. Make a right, then a left after the bridge and then follow the signs." That is exactly how we unassumingly got to "Il Frasca sull'Ambra."
The restaurant was filled with Prada managers and designers (the factory is few minutes away from the restaurant) and every table was taken, so we waited unassumingly by the bar.
Meanwhile another Prada manager who looked very hurried stepped in after us, hoping for a table. I told Frasca that we were not in hurry, and that we had to wait for the outlet to open anyway, so we could wait for the next one if he wanted to give it to the gentleman after us. That is how we unassumingly became friends, and we spent the whole day with him, only to be invited for dinner at his other restaurant "La Valle dell'Inferno".
A word about the man himself - Il Frasca is an excellent chef with over 30 years of experience. He now owns two restaurants in the Valdarno, La Valle dell'Inferno with his residence connected and la Fiaschetteria where his nephews Riccardo and Daniele run the show. He also owns an establishment in Coconut Groove in Miami. Since that first fateful day, I have eaten at La Valle dell' Inferno and the Fiaschetteria numerous times and always had the best meals. Luciano was in NY last week and stayed with us for couple of days including the unassuming Saturday, the evening that he turned into a great and memorable experience, through a warm, comforting and soothing Ribollita.
La Ribollita, literally meaning "reboiled" because of its second passage in the pan to finish the dish, is sort of a bread soup made with kale, beans, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, herbs and extra virgin olive oil. It is a pretty simple dish, a reminder of the poor roots of the classic Italian cuisine. But trust me, when Robollita is done right, it's like a symphony of flavors in the mouth.
If you go to Tuscany, every little town and every person in the town will keep the secret of how to make the a perfect Ribollita. Some put more vegetables than others, some create a little crust when reboiling, etc, etc. I'm sure one could write an entire book with all the variations and the variations on the variations of Ribollita. The Tuscans, perhaps by nature, have a very efficient networking system, but do not allow it to mar their pride for their own specific creations. As Fabio Giannotti of La Fornace, winery in Montalcino once told me: "my Brunello is the best, but I talk with other winemakers about lots of things, especially when a "friend" has a problem and need information in how to deal with it." The same unassuming networking principle also works with recipes:" my Ribollita is the best but tell me one thing - how do you get the crust so crispy like that..."
So, that Saturday I came home from the shop, and Frasca, Luciano's friend Il Pimpi (in Tuscany more than anywhere else they use nicknames religiously) and my sister were waiting for me to eat a big pot of Ribollita. Luciano took few big spoons put in a pan and started to reboil it, then put it in four plates, landed some thin slices of onions over the top and drizzled some olive oil on it. I poured some Tenuta Vitalonga Elcione for everybody then we all sat, ate and started to travel through time and space, following the hands that made those simply delicious flavors throughout the centuries.
Buona Bevuta e Mangiata a Tutti
Posted by De Vino at 10:04 AM
Sunday, December 02, 2007
It took me a little while, a year and a half, to finally go and pay my respect to Joey Campanaro, Chef/Owner of the Little Owl in the West Village. I met Joey several years ago when he was working at The Harrison, a restaurant right below my apartment in Tribeca. As I said I was long due to go there and savor the delicatessen Joey is capable to prepare, so Last Wednesday I'd decide to finally go and check it out. The place is fairly small but very welcoming, the kitchen is enclosed by glasses where Joey can check the dining room, there was a very inviting and enticing scent of home cooked food which in my opinion is always a good sign.
I was welcomed with a nice glass of Prosecco by Chris while Joey was waiving from behind the glass in kitchen, and after few minutes he sat us in a spacious and comfortable table, kind of amazing considering the size of the place. The menu is short but tempting I had hard time to choose from few succulent appetizer like the white risotto with egg yolk and truffles (my partner in crime choose that), the lobster soup (which was my choice), the duck breast with cranberry sauce, endive and walnut pesto or the crispy artichoke so popular that by 9 they already were out of it. The risotto was cooked to perfection (al dente) with enough white truffle on to make it a luscious plate, the lobster was flavorful with big chunks of tail in a little spicy broth. As entrees we both got the Lamb Chop; succulent, juicy, tender and flavorful. Once again the meat was perfectly cooked, served with cheese gnocchi, that almost melted in my mouth, and watercress onions salad.
To go with that I choose a nice bottle of Bordeaux Chateau de Lavaud 2004 full bodied and more new world style with some noticeable flavors of vanilla and strong fruits blending pretty well with the lamb. I must say that the Little Owl is a great little jewel hidden in the heart of the west village fairly priced that makes you feel like at home; I will soon be back to discover more from the menu.
I suggest you to make a reservation ahead of time being the space very limited; ideal for romantic dinners or small groups.
Sorry for the bad quality of the pictures I did took those with my phone...
Buona Bevuta a Tutti
Posted by De Vino at 5:15 PM