coercing cool weather with chinato.

denver restaurants, Italian Wine, Wine Blog

Ah, it has started…the subtle shift of the sun’s intensity. The almost imperceptible drop in degrees in the early morning hours. The beginning of Fall.

I was born for Autumn. I savor it from these first few sips all the way past Christmas, when I am told to put away the earth-toned apparel and welcome the drab gray tones of dreariness. Homemade peach pies are yummy, don’t get me wrong, but they only really serve as practice for my pumpkin and apple pies coming up.

I believe I finally know why I am so fascinated with this season. I am utterly addicted to sensual saturation. From the collage of colors, the rich smells of harvest, the layers of textured clothing to the flavors of warm spiced food and the marching of holidays, one after the other. I am in love with this nostalgic, sensually gluttonous season. It truly speaks to my choice career which allows me to revel in precisely that.

So when last week I was teased for pulling out the Christmasy Chinato too early, I couldn’t care less. I sensed a hint of harvest ‘round the corner, and I was ready to start sippin’ it up!

Chinato (pronounced Key-Nah-Toe) is one of my favorite post-dinner digestifs. But it was not always so. In fact, it was only about two years ago that I was introduced to this herbal concoction. At the time, even knowledge that the base was Barolo couldn’t convince me of its allure. My palate was only beginning to categorize ‘light wines’—basically your standard red, white and bubbles. Aperitifs, digestifs, liqueurs, cordials, spirits and fortifieds were in another category altogether. It was rather hit or miss. Admittedly, more the latter than the former. Everyone kept saying I would eventually develop the ‘taste’ for sipping wines. But for now, this fine crafted wine just seemed to be a Jagermeister imposter.

I am still a far cry from peaty Laphroag Scotch Whisky… but I am coming around slowly but surely.

I was at Colt & Gray a couple weeks ago when the bartender encouraged me to give it another shot. This time, it didn’t taste like Jager whatsoever. Rather, the Roagna was incredibly layered, complex and elegant. I was instantly hooked and had another glass at Frasca the following week after work by the producer Borgogno. I am anxiously awaiting the Cappellano’s arrival as the season progresses, for not only was that my first introduction to this sensational styled wine (or, at least, that’s what I think NOW), but it was the world’s as well.

Possibly more interesting than Chinato itself is its history.

What is now considered a fine fortified wine, was once the product of local alchemists in Serralunga d’Alba. Back in the early 1800’s, Dr. Giuseppe Cappallano, a chemist by trade and a wine lover by nighttime, was determined to unveil wine’s therapeutic qualities, for he felt them to be real. Before he became a pharmacist, he was a foodie. Combined with his natural interest in chemistry, he was fascinated in learning the effect various ingredients had on the body. Wine, he knew to have incredible health benefits in and of itself (in moderation of course). So his focus was to pull these three passions together and create a medicinal digestif.

Cappallano set about taking the best wine of the region, Barolo, and infusing quinine bark, cloves, wormwood, cinnamon as well as various other alpine and oriental herbs, whilst fortifying it with a local neutral spirit. Before long, it was a household cabinet item, as it cured stomach aches, common colds, headaches, flu and promoted healthy digestion post-dinner. It became appropriate as an aperitif on the rocks as well as a common token of regional hospitality when hosting a guest.


Unfortunately, the sheer cost of Barolo has made this digestif harder (and more expensive) to find. Few producers even bottle this for market anymore. But the several that do, really rock it. You need to go out and get a bottle. Now. Throw a chill on it, I don’t care. But join me in this effort to appreciate a rare art of wine production.

Here are the ones I can whole heartedly recommend:

Cappallano Barolo Chinato—Because you should always give credit where credit is due. Still Frasca’s all time favorite on the market. I am anxiously awaiting its arrival, as I know I will truly appreciate it this time around!

Roagna Barolo Chinato—A brighter style, most suitable for summer if you are going to be like me and just go for it. A blend of 33 herbs infuse these amber-hued sips of loveliness.

Borgogno Barolo Chinato—A bit warmer on the palate, the exotic spices really pop! The spices are actually divided into 3 categories and infused separately so as to not overpower one another and rather sing in unison once bottled. A blend of 39 different herbs.


what to pair with marathon training?

food pairing, Italian Wine, Marathon Running, NYC, Wine Blog

As some of you know, I am nearing the end of training for the New York Marathon on November 7th.  This week marks the last gruelish of runs (21 miles)—three weeks from the big day.

Training has been rough.  I still haven’t found the right shoes, since my favorite kind no longer exists.  I have been fighting with allergies and asthma for the first time in my life (thank you Albuterol and my chiropractic brother’s magic pill supplements—if you live around the twin cities, check him out: Chaska Lakes Chiropractic).  And finally, I just can’t stand thinking about my ‘self’ so damn much.  Every cough, ache and bout of fatigue has me worried every day that I won’t do well on my long run, and then what?  Knowing full well I am far from competitive material, a marathon brings out your most competitive self, even if directed at no one but you.  Goals suddenly manifest, whether the intent was to keep it light and fun or not.  The closer you get to the start line, the more invested you become.  The more every sniffle and sneeze worries you.

Some things you cannot control, like the weather on race day.  Other things, you can, such as nutrition, hydration and recovery.

Personally, one of my favorite parts throughout this whole process has been the pre-run dinner.  I have learned that the best way to prep for these never-ending runs (and they are… I may never stop to walk, but I give new meaning to ‘casual stride’) is to make a delicious, simple meal paired with the perfect wine (oh, hell yes…I still have a healthy glass the night before my long runs—isn’t it actually sacrilege to eat pasta without the accompaniment of wine?).

This year, I have created a little tradition to make a clean, pure pomodoro sauce on the eve of runs over 10 miles long.  Not to get too symbolic here, but there was a little more logic beyond the mere carb-load aspect of this dish.  Pomodoro may be the simplest preparation of tomatoes in sauce form.  I love uncomplicated, unadorned recipes like that.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the occasional duck three ways as well.  But simplicity—minimalism—has its own appeal to me.  I discovered this interest in high school, drawn to Mark Rothko and Piet Mondrian paintings.  I find I am compelled to the same purity in winemaking.  Growers who take it back to traditional methods—who try to get by without machines, pesticides and gadgets.  Finally, to get to the point already, it is for this reason—simplicity—that I am so into running.  I love all kinds of sports from rock climbing to kayaks, cycling to volleyball.  Running, however, only requires shoes, mental endurance and perhaps an ipod shuffle.  You can run anywhere, anytime, and any season.

And so, with purpose, I eat pomodoro.

First, I grab fresh pasta, a head of garlic, a bunch of basil and the highest grade imported chopped tomatoes (San Marzano or Pomi, for example).  Note: Chopped. Not crushed or diced.  If no chopped option, buy the best whole tomatoes you can and clumsily chop them yourself).  I also like to carb it up a step further and bathe some fresh sliced boule in a layer of butter and garlic for the side.  Just throw it in a preheated oven at 375 for about 10 minutes.

To make a classic pomodoro, cover a heated pan with good olive oil over medium heat.  Add 3-4 cloves of finely sliced (not chopped) garlic to the oil until they become quite soft (maybe 5 minutes).  Try not to brown them, unless you are a fan of ‘fire-roasted’ flavors in your sauce.  After the garlic is softened, add the tomatoes, a liberal dose of red crushed pepper and some salt (you can add more later to taste once the sauce is more evolved.  Let it simmer for a good 20 minutes before you add anything else.

After it’s had some time to become, add some chopped basil (I don’t know—a couple tablespoons?).  Add salt, pepper and more red crushed to taste.  Let simmer a few minutes longer while you boil up the pasta and bake the garlic toast.  Serve with some fresh sliced basil.

Oh yes, and for the wine.  It is my humble opinion that a simple, rustic Italian dish be paired with a traditional Italian wine.  Sure, you could revel in Brunello and Barolo, but remember, if this is for training, you shouldn’t have too much vino the night before an important run.  That’s why I reach for the Chianti.  Not only is it considerably less expensive than some other Italian options, but it truly is a perfect match in acidity, weight and fruit to tomato sauce.  Particularly, I find that younger Chiantis that show a bit more fruit and a little less oak tend to shine when singing a duet with spaghetti.

It’s not the most imaginative pairing, but my God it is good.

A few I love to sell:

-2007 Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti


-2006 San Felice Chianti Classico


-2007 Poggerino Chianti Classico


-2007 Cavallina Chianti Classico


-2007 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico


-2005 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico.

So wish me luck.  After this Sunday, it’s a lot of rest, a lot of recovery… and a bit of wine for my spirit.

Refosco: rosé with a little funk.

cycling, food pairing, Italian Wine, Wine Travel

As many of you know, I am sucker for interesting rosé.  Well, rosé of all kind, really… but the ones that cause a pause—that demonstrate considerable complexity—really steal my heart.

One such wine found itself in my glass last night at Napa & Co. in Samford Connecticut—a brief overnight away from New York City.  The rosé was a 2008 Bastianich from Friuli, Italy.  Though I often reserve the terms ‘pretty’, ‘elegant’ and ‘fun’ for rosé, this was quite another animal altogether.  It was made entirely of the Refosco varietal–a grape that finds itself in northeastern Italy, Slovenia, and Istria.  Rather than delicate, such as traditional rosés from Provence for example, this hearty rosé had guile—a presentation of earthy fungi, minerality and briny bitterness on the finish.

In short, she had some funk.


This rosé called for food.  Seafood.  Perhaps lobster, seared scallops or king crab.   I was struck by its almost orange-tinted, deep rose-colored hue.  It was not a fragile creature to pass by the sun-kissed hours of summer.  This muscular wine was built to last for years in the bottle.  In fact, a little research about this wine revealed that four to ten years or so allows this wine to come into a very floral expression.  A curious rosé this one was…

I am having difficulty finding out if I can get it in Colorado.  The importer: Dark Star Imports, out of New York, doesn’t seem to make it so far west.  But we’ll see… In the meantime, now, if I ever see Refosco rosé on a menu again, I know what I’ll be getting into…gladly.

all ambience, with a side of nostalgia.

california wine, food pairing, Italian Wine, Wine Travel

Contrary to my last entry, I went with my family to a restaurant in Milwaukee when I was home for the holidays that was very much about ambience, and though the food and wine was not by any means gourmet Michelin star-rated, it was wholesome, tasty, and served Midwest-style (meaning, you had to roll yourself through the suddenly narrower door by the end of the meal).  The place?  The one and only Pizza Man on North and Oakland on the quaint and quirky eastside, where the streets are lined with independent grocers, used bookshops, and coffee houses.

Scrolling their wine list, it was clear that they favored California.  I do believe there was not one Italian wine on the menu, though there may have been a couple that escaped my eye.  Always craving the perfect pairing, slightly disappointed I couldn’t find a Chianti or similar high-acid Italian to pair with the dominantly marinara-based entrees, I was forced to go domestic.

Ahhh, but what was this?  A 2006 Palmina Dolcetto from Santa Barbara County (note: this wine was under Sangiovese Selections—Wisconsin is still a little ways from becoming the center of the gastronomical universe, but it’s getting there).

Well, I was thrilled.  I had the chance to meet the winemaker of Palmina, Chrystal Clifton (yes, the wife of Steve Clifton of Brewer-Clifton Winery), last year in Colorado Springs during the 18th Annual Wine Festival.  Their theme, “Women in Wine,” included such women as Diana Snowden (SnowdenVineyards, co-winemaker and wife of Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac), Whitney Fisher (Fisher Vineyards), Lynn Penner-Ash (Penner-Ash Vineyards), Joy Sterling (Iron Horse Vineyards), and Chrystal Clifton.  Needless to say, it was a phenomenal event and a great opportunity to get to know these winemakers in a much more intimate way.  I was able to get a sense of their hopes, fears, ambitions, struggles, and triumphs with the vine.

For Chrystal, her captivation with rosé and turbulent love affair with Nebbiolo seemed to set her apart.  I had never met a winemaker as genuinely enthusiastic as she.  Chrystal was a natural storyteller, a master of the senses, a purveyor of passion.  Her rosé sales go to benefit research in Breast Cancer, whilst her Nebbiolo stands as a personal nemesis.  No other grape gets under her skin or has the potential to deliver such redemption as this thick-skinned little devil in disguise.  No other grape requires so much patience, coercion, science, prayer, and outright physicality.  To date, she cultivates the finest American Nebbiolo wine, in my  humble opinion.

But, Dolcetto, well that’s a bit more forgiving.  The Cliftons even explain, “’Dolcetto’ translates to ‘sweet little one’—not because it is a sweet wine (it is perfectly dry)—because it is a friendly and easygoing grape to work with and so pleasurable in the glass.”  Soft, sensuous spices along with agreeable tannins made it a true table wine, in that everyone at the table benefited from its accessible, well-communicated personality.  Black fruit and plummy goodness were generous on both the nose and palate.  Most distinctive, though, was its old world acknowledgment.  This wine didn’t flex California muscles or new world volume.  It was a bit mellower, a bit more down to earth in both taste and temperament.

At $20 retail, this bottle selling for $28 on the list was an absolute steal.  It didn’t break the bank for a table of six, everyone loved it, and I was able to sate my old world hunger.

Not to mention, I had a Ratatouille moment.  Remember that scene in the movie when the curmudgeon of a critic places the rustic ratatouille in his mouth, transporting him back to a time when he wasn’t such a jerk?  A time when this peasant dish was on par with Per Se?

Well, I had my meeting with nostalgia that night as well with a Marsala-bathed Portabella Ravioli dish.  It wasn’t until I constructed the perfect bite, including the Parmesan toasted crustini, that it hit me.  I fell silent.  I almost cried (trust me, it was intensely metaphysical).  For whatever reason, I was six years old again at this little restaurant called Froehlich’s in the middle of the forest in northern Wisconsin.

Talk about a paradox.  Froehlich’s was nearly impossible to locate, but once you did find it buried deep in the dense northwoods, among only black bear and lumberjacks, you crossed the threshold and stumbled upon fine dining (at least, I remember it being the fanciest place ever, though it probably was not).  I used to always get a petite filet mignon with red-wine mushroom sauce on a little crustini (I was a pretty picky eater, but this managed to make the cut…There is a reason we went here only about once a year…).  Whatever the combination of flavors, I have never been so close to my culinary past as I was that night.  Star-eyed and stuffed, I finished every last bite and rolled myself home.

from the land of lambrusco: emilia-romagna wine.

Italian Wine

Last week, I was showing some wines at an event in Cherry Creek for the launch of a new clothing line at Lawrence Covell, whose designer—Raffele Caruso—is from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Emilia-Romagna has a long, fascinating history that unfortunately escapes even the most astute wine connoisseurs. Its diverse range of wine production and capacity for thought provoking, complexly structured wines is certainly not a given, particularly since the rise of Reunite Lambrusco in the ‘70’s— a sweet, cloying sparkling red that is simple and quaffable, but by no means contemplative. The fact that this was (and often still is) representative of wine from Emilia-Romagna, has led to the misunderstanding and undervaluing of this region as a whole.

All the wines that I poured, of course, represented the fruits of the land: a Lini 1910 Lambrusca Bianco, a more traditional red lambrusco from Tenuta Pederzana (their Grapparossa), and finally the extremely well-received 2003 Fattoria Paradiso Barbarossa red.

Fattoria Paradiso is a production that stands above many others in Emilia-Romagna. Its leading proponent, Mario Pezzi, has demonstrated faith in Emilia-Romagna’s potential for world-class, ageworthy wine of quality. As such, he has been instrumental in delivering a range of styles, both red and white, from sparkling and still in both dry and sweet variations.

Fattoria Paradiso is also one of the few sources of production for the Barbarossa variety (possibly the only exported example of its kind in the states). In fact, Pezzi brought not only this grape, but also the Cagnina and Pagadebit varietals back from obscurity. When discovered, Barbarossa had been growing amongst Sangiovese vines. Extracted and cultivated alone, this grape sings a most intriguing melody. It is rather serious and capable of moderate ageing up to about 10 years. This 2003 is drinking just about perfectly right now. Before it was even released, it saw 18 months in casks, 6 months in barrique barrels, followed by further maturation and refinement in the bottle for 12 months.

The 2003 Barbarossa boasts a symphony of aromas and flavors, allowing you to return to the rim repeatedly only to find more attributes. You will likely find notes of black cherry and plum preserves, raspberries, licorice, dried violets and roses, cocoa poweder, dusty earth, a touch of leather, vanilla, and baking spices. It’s loaded and lovely. A fabulous representation of dry Emilia-Romagna red!

It is harder to find, but if you can get your hands on some, I can honestly say I rarely have witnessed such unanimous (not to mention zealous) approval.  I would be happy to help search… and this is a simple task if you are local.  Great pick for the holidays, whether guest or host…

european scribbles, pt. deux, no. 3: I dream of… Freisa?

Italian Wine, Wine Education, Wine Travel

I have now been fortunate to travel throughout Europe twice in the past few months. Perhaps the universe is telling me I cannot have it all, for both times I have been struck with sickness greater than any other I have had in the past couple years.  Albeit, it is still just a horrible cold, but still, when you want to have a ton of energy and really take it all in…

To my fortune, however, I was largely still able to smell and taste, so not much was missed on this point, aside from a night or two perhaps.

As I slept my way through the rolling hills and vineyards of Piemonte, holding my stomache in the back seat of a sedan, I faded in and out of consciousness between stops. One such stop was a family run winery called Cantine Vajra in Barolo. What first struck me was that they were still harvesting grapes. Our guide, a descendent of the founder, explained that they were always one of the last to harvest in Barolo. It’s risky, but worth it to get the results they desire.

That day, October 16th, they were harvesting the very last of their grapes, a little known varietal called ‘freisa.’ This rare varietal is actually referred to as the ‘grandmother of nebbiolo.’ Vajra grows Freisa in extremely low yields. She explained that it was a rather uneconomical grape to cultivate, and therefore has nearly faded into obsolescence for the most part.

It sees 18 months in oak and a year in the bottle. It was noticeably different than anything we had tasted from their line, as they create fairly traditional, straightforward Nebbiolos, Barberas, and Dolcettos. But this—Freisa—stood out above the rest. It was pretty special. ‘Kye’ literally translates to ‘What is this person—this one?’ And it has that effect—a pause mid-sentence, a raising of the brows.

It paralleled the loveliness of a fine autumn day, as it displayed notes of dusty dried fruit, dried, cranberries, raisins, and spice. It had stubborn stiff tannins and sought a little more time to mature.

The young woman who lead us described Freisa as having a lost identity in Alba. She and her family were excited to preserve its presence in its native region… And so was I.

barbaresco…eh, it’s okay…

cycling, food pairing, Italian Wine, Wine Travel

The 1995 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Nieve was more than just okay.  It was riveting.

This might be the best wine I have tasted this year.  It was one of those wines that managed to make you a little emotional, stop your breath, drown out the sounds…

I was sipping this wine with five others at Barolo Grill in Denver on 6th, one of my favorite eateries in town.  We were enjoying a six-course meal, which incorporated the white truffle we brought back from Piemonte.  With the Giacosa, wewere first served an asparagus dish prepared with an egg sunny side up and cream sauce with a sprinkling of truffles on top.  Following, we had a pasta dish with fresh porcini mushrooms and truffles.

Ryan Fletter, the sommelier who poured this wine and organized such a lovely dinner, was visibly vibrating with excitement.  He had a preview of the Giacosa a few weeks back and was beside himself in anticipation of our reaction.  He reminded us all that over 80% of our taste was in the nose.  A good wine, you can pore over for minutes, even hours, before bringing it to your lips.

This was the perfect example.

Drawing that glass to my nose made my knees go weak (luckily, I was seated).  A complex arrangement of fungi, leather, minerals, and spice vied for primary attention.  Within minutes they all relented to collapse into one another, blending into a harmonious bouquet.  On the palate, all was confirmed, and the acid was incredibly balanced and pronounced.

For Piemonte, 1995 was not an incredible vintage.  But it was not disastrous either.  The lesser producers vary in quality, but top producers, like Giacosa, were more than able to make incredible wines.

Holding that last sip in my mouth, I resisted the final swallow.  Wines like these you don’t want to say goodbye to… wines like these may you feel lucky…wines like these reignite your passion for the vine.

Luckily this wine’s finish was much like a good high school love—the kind where you try to get off the phone and get some sleep, but it takes minutes on end… The initial goodbye is more a preparation than anything else.  It lingers and fades, allowing you to absorb its fullest expression… its unforgettable impression on the senses.

european scribbles, pt. deux, no. 2.: when in Piemonte… go Barolo.

Italian Wine, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

So there I was, dining at Guido da Castigliole, a restaurant in the wine cellar of Ralais San Maurizio Hotel del Monastero, a gorgeous monastery turned hotel I was staying in during my time in Piemonte, the northwestern wine region in Italy, famed for its white truffles, cheese, but mainly… its wine.  Given the honored, but always slightly nerve-wracking, duty of choosing the wine, I began to peruse their extensive selections of Barolos and Barbarescos.  Choosing a wine does not always make me so anxious, but to give you a better idea, I was one of three in a meeting with Jonathan Vaughters, director sportif of Garmin Slipstream procycling, and Angelo Zomegnan, director of the Giro d’Italia.  Not only that, but Mr. Zomegnan knew his country’s wine.  When I alluded to Barbaresco, he simply said, ‘Eh, it’s okay.’  Say no more.  That was code for ‘go Barolo’.  And so I did.

I decided on a wine my colleague and well-known Master Sommelier, Richard Betts, suggested I try if I had the chance by Serralunga producer Bruno Giacosa.  No time seemed better to heed that advice.  I decided upon a 1998 Giacosa Falletto Barolo, as this was a year that fell in between the famous six-year vintage stretch for the region (1996-2001).  I figured this would likely be starting to drink quite well.

My instincts we right.  This beauty was just beginning her life.

Nebbiolo, one of the most frustrating, fascinating varietals, really thrives in Piemonte.  The dense fog and temperature differentials make it a perfect climate for this late to ripen grape.  To me, Nebbiolo is that tough love mother of five boys.   She is a bit hard to get to know, rough around the edges at first, strong exterior, angular, stubborn, steadfast, and firm in her ways.  Her personality comes off a bit restrained.  She insists upon respect without using the words.  With age, however, she softens… her center loosens and at once a melodious string of notes can be heard.

With a little time in the bottle, this forceful, tannic ’98 Giacosa was able to soften up.  It was coming together and presenting a classic bouquet of dried rose petals and tar, the dead ringer characteristics of this noble grape.  The fruit was full, the spice lingered, and the finish would not fade well in to the third or fourth minute upon swallowing.  It has only begun its life of drinkability… only begun to share its song with the world.

All were more than pleased, so I was relieved… and utterly grateful for this rare opportunity to be in the heart of the region with a grape that has mine.


Italian Wine

What wine made you fall?

For most wine professionals and enthusiasts, the point of no return came down to one particular bottle.  One colleague once described to me that ’82 Latour,  another remembered following his father into a cold, dark cellar in the Rhone when he was sixteen and sharing what would be a life-changing bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, while still another recalled a sensational Sauternes sipped after Thanksgiving dinner.  Whatever the bottle, all seem to recount an exceptional, unforgettable wine experience.

So when people ask about the wine that brought me into the light, I choke.  Ummm.  Do I make one up?  No, that’s not right.  Do I admit that I knew it was over when, at fourteen, I decided over a stolen glass of sweet, succulent Sutter Home White Zin that beer and spirits were not for me?  Though that story does does always glean a few chuckles (of sympathy…or reluctant self-identification), it’s still not quite what people expect a serious wine lover to reveal.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have had some incredible wines over the years.  But none of them were the sole purpose for my vocation.  Not even white zin.  Rather, each individual sip seemed to build upon the next, prompting me to pour yet another region, history, and year into my glass.

The other night, however, one vintage was able to stand alone for a moment, untouched, and solidify my intent to remain faithful to this ensuing career of the senses.


Many vineyards were kissed that year.  It was a vintage that favored Champagne, Piedmont, Port, and even Napa.  The region that possibly felt the strongest rays from this shining year, though, was Tuscany.  Not the least of which, the ten square mile pocket of Montalcino, where Brunello—the ultimate expression of Sangiovese—is born.

Brunello’s Sangiovese grape, much like Barolo’s Nebbiolo, demands patience.  In these soils, unlike Chianti, Sangiovese can be so acidic and tannic in its early days they are hardly tangible.  Fortunately, the winemakers do some of the work for you, as each bottle must see at least two years in oak and are not released until at least fifty months after harvest (for riserva, a year longer still).  But to really appreciate the complexity and grand allure of Brunello di Montalcino, a solid ten years is essential, though longer is encouraged, especially with premier producers.

One such producer is Soldera.  What sets winemaker Gianfranco Soldera apart is a determination to translate Tuscany.  And he stops at nothing.  He came upon a feeble piece of Montalcino earth in the ‘70s that he knew was ideal for the Sangiovese grape.  He then proceeded to transform it into a thriving, unmatchable patch of paradise.

He says of his wine in the book Betwixt Nature and Passion: Montalcino and Gianfranco Soldera’s Brunello, “Striving for quality: that’s the point.  There was a time when great care was taken in the search for beauty and excellence.  Then the masses came to prefer the façade to what lies behind it[i].”

That night, sipping on a 1985 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino, I tasted the meaning of this statement.  It was Tuscany that I had in my glass.  The sun, the dirt, the chewy dried cherry fruit, anise, sweet plums, tobacco, and leathery saddle… it was all there in the nose, the tongue.  Brunellos are known best for their sturdy yet sophisticated structure.  The fierceness and finesse, their power and poise… all were there steadily keeping beat to a song that only could be felt, not heard.

If you are looking to try a Brunello, some other remarkable vintages include: ’82, ’88, ’90, ’97, and ’99.

At the end of the evening, I was allowed to choose from any dessert wine in the cellar.  It seemed I gravitated once more to 1985.   I reached for the ’85 Chateau Raymond-Lafon Sauternes, sometimes known as the ‘poor man’s d’Yquem’, though I like to say it is among the best values of the region.  It sits next door to the famous Chateau d’Yquem but costs half as much.  Unlike the 2004 that I wrote about last week, which was still in its first stages of life, the ’85 was much weightier and wiser.  It wore an orangish-yellow hue, reminiscent of autumn.  Honeyed apricots, peaches, and flowers were almost indistinguishably intertwined, revealing a most thoughtful bouquet.  The botrytis was pronounced with the persistence of petroleum.  Though it may not have been an exceptional vintage for Sauternes, this particular wine was indisputably divine.  Incredible.  There is something so special that happens when drinking a Sauternes.

So, what about you?  What’s the wine that made you fall?  Better yet, what wine have you tried recently that reinstated your unwavering devotion to fermented grapes?


white wine with marinara?

food pairing, Italian Wine

And so it was that tonight my lack of foresight greeted me.  I came home, exhausted from a long day at work, to find little else than cereal, milk, cheese, olives, and spaghetti for potential dinner options.  Having already had cereal once today, I opted for the pasta.

As the water boiled, I snacked on some goat cheddar and a parmesan/gouda blend with olives that I got at this little Italian market up the road (Spinelli’s) and sipped on some day-old 2008 Taburni Domus Falanghina from Sannio, a region that is tucked in the Appenines between Naples and Rome.  The grape here, if I lost you, is the savory Falanghina.  At first, I was delighted that this was the vin du jour, as it paired perfectly with the sharp, salty goat cheddar in particular and olives.  But I was dismayed to realize there was no acid-driven sangiovese to compliment my marinara meal.

I made no intention of combining the two, but since I had some white left in the glass when I sat down to eat, I thought, “What the hell.”  Actually, something in my  wine-pairing sub-conscious was even welcoming the challenge, somehow certain it had a chance.  And wouldn’t you know… that tough little white held up to the red sauce!  In fact, it was a pretty decent pairing, if I do say so myself.

This medium-bodied white showed notes of crisp apple, pears, mineral, and dried herbs in the nose.  The fruit was subdued, while the herbs seemed to cling to whatever it could in the sauce, forcing the background of both the wine and food forward.  It demonstrated well-tuned structure, acidity, and finesse.  I believe it may have seen some time on its lees, due to its musty, creamy texture and deep golden hue.   It reminded me of so many I have had from the Campagna region of Italy as well as even some Soaves to the north.  The key here, I believe, is weight, acid, minerality, and a savory (or saline) quality in the white wine.

So there you go.  Hot ice.  It may be hard to conceptualize…but it exists.