Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The sweetness of Friuli Venezia Giulia

Friuli Venezia Giulia is a little gem in Italian wine production. This small region of the extreme North East of Italy makes high quality wines, especially whites (either from traditional and international varieties) thanks to a well draining limestone soil. But the two most prestigious appellations (DOCG) of the area are actually two sweet wines: Ramandolo and Picolit. Both from indigenous grapes, both small but ancient productions. Ramandolo, was the first of the two to achieve the DOCG qualification in 2001. It takes its name from a small village in the hills north of Udine. It is made with Verduzzo Friulano grape,as a "passito", by drying the grapes on racks or by late harvesting . It normally has a shimmering golden colour, sometimes almost orange. It is characterised by flavours of dried apricot and figs, stewed pears, honey and caramel. It is intensely sweet and has a creamy textured palate. A couple of producers are really remarkable: Coos and Roncat (especially the Uve Decembrine). It would amazingly pair a plate of San Daniele ham and figs, a strudel and as well some aged cheeses.

Once said all this, I have to admit that honestly my favourite is the second one: the Picolit. First of all for its name, that is also the grape's name and derives from the the dialectal word for "small" and indicates the size of the berries. Because this varietal is quite fragile and affected by poor pollination rate and natural  floral abortion, causing small sparsely-berried bunches and of course low yields. Especially in the 18th century, during the philloxera period, its survival was really in danger. It finally  managed to resist mainly thanks to the work and researches of the Perusini family that tried to reproduce harder clones to reduce the failure rate. The second reason for my preference is that this wine stands for character and elegance.No surprise that was know and loved in most European courts since the 17th century. It is a firm noble wine. It has aromas of delicate white flowers, acacia but also candied peel, fruit in syrup, caramel, honey and apricot jam. It is balanced and harmonious, aromatic and persistent. It works magically with foie gras and strong blue cheeses but most of all it is a meditation wine.
I know you could think "how is it possible I've never heard about it if it's so good?".....Well if you haven't (and it would be a shame), probably it is due to the limited production and diffusion. Also the low yields and the fragility of the grape make this wine quite expensive. But even if not cheap, trust me: you would not blame yourself for spending some money on this delicious nectar.
Couple of outstanding examples are the ones from Livio Felluga and Ronchi di Cialla and both can be found in!!!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Grapes and Foxes from Apulia

One of the things I liked most about this wine is the label.I know it could sound not such a serious or professional approach to wine but that fox recalling to my mind Aesop's tale is just lovely. But this grape is not sour at all as the tale originally says.

Verdeca is a local grape even if probably native from Dalmatia. It has spread over centuries and has become very popular all over the region. Unfortunately only recently the varietal has revealed its potentiality. Earlier too often it was massively produced and just blended or used for vermouth distillation. But now few winemakers  have rediscovered it and they are trying to get the best from it. One of these is Filippo Baccalaro, the man who is making the wine for Masseria Pietrosa, an estate part of the San Marzano coop.
The wine is a delicious, fresh aperitif. It has an yellow-going-towards-gold lovely colour. At the nose there is apple, dry flowers and a hint of honey. In the mouth I tasted more citrusy flavours, but with an almost off dry finish. It has thirst-quenching personality and an interesting medium texture.
The only fault I found was just the service temperature. When I drunk it, it was slightly too warm, but being the office Friday drink I couldn't really complain!
I really enjoyed it and not only because it was at the end of an intense work week! It is an unusual wine, with a fair price and finally I just would say that if you want to try something from Apulia you shouldn't miss it!

(find it @ Nickolls & Perks , Slurp or Lockett Bros)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Terrano & Vitovska

There is a main difference between these two wines.It's easy: one is red and the other white.
But they have got lot in common. They are both quite unusual and not well known. They are produced from indigenous grapes and both under the Carso DOC appellation.

Terrano is also named Kras blood. The reason for that is the high concentration of Iron in the soil that gives the wine a deep, intense dark ruby colour. It is made from Refosco d'Istria (a mutant clone of main Refosco grape variety) and produced only in this area of Friuli Venezia Giulia, the most North-Eastern region of Italy. 
At the nose normally this wine is rich in fruity aromas such as raspberries, blueberries and black currant. 
In the mouth it is characterized by a very typical and intense acidity, sometimes even going towards harshness but always balanced with medium body and light but young tannins.
It's a pleasant wine, with a good personality but that doesn't age very well.

On the other side the Vitovska is a very particular grape probably originally from Slovenia. For long time it has been used only in blends especially with Malvasia. But more recently a bunch of brave winemakers have started to focus more on its charactestics and use unusual techniques such as long fermentation on skins and aging in terracotta amphoraes. The result is usually an intense orange coloured wine with mixed complex flavours of fruit like apricot or cooked apple, notes of nuttiness and flowers. In the mouth it's fresh, with a good texture and some minerality especially if passed in terracotta. Normally it has a quite long finish and it can age well.

To be honest, unfortunately it is not that easy to find them in UK. I have never seen them in any shop, and even if you can easily find them online (see links below) only one producer (even if  very good one) is distributed on the market. Easier for Americans, more producers and more distributors. 
But if you happen to be in the region do not miss the chance to try one of these producers: Kante, Skerk, Vodopivec.
Terrano in UK
Vitovska in UK

Monday, 18 April 2011

Looking forward to Springtime...

I am a wine hippie. Well actually I can say I am a hippie in all life matters. I definitely am. Or at least most of my friends see me like that. But...would a hippie buy not seasonal fruit? Don't think so. Well I did. Recently I am being a sad hippie on diet and when I saw Spanish, well ripe, nice smelling conservatory strawberries I really couldn't resist. I thought I deserved a touch of sweetness. Then carrying on with this thoughts I checked online for a cake recipe (yes I know I am on diet, but I like to give myself some tasty concessions at weekends) and I worked out on a personal version. The result was ( and my use of a past tense is not casual) a fresh, delicious, smooth and not too rich dessert that I paired with a sparkling sweet rose from Australia.

Here is what you need...
400 gr ricotta cheese
150 gr sugar
200 gr flour
1 lemon
250 gr strawberries
50/80 gr white chocolate
2 table spoons rum or vermouth
And if you want to dress it with a (not strictly needed!!) strawberries coulis...
150 gr strawberries
2 table spoons sugar
2 table spoons sugar

Easy to prepare: mix ricotta and sugar to make a smooth cream. Add eggs, flour and strawberries in pieces,then lemon zest, lemon zest and juice rum and at last small pieces of white chocolate. Into the oven for around 40 min at 160 degrees.The texture should be similar to a cheese cake so do not overcook. When done you can either scatter some icing sugar on top or prepare your strawberries coulis by putting half a glass of water and the sugar on the stove till the sugar is melted. Then add the strawberries in pieces and keep it on low fire for 2-3 minutes, blend everything and add the alcohol (rum or vermouth).

My wine choice with it was something that is a fresh reminder of roses and strawberries, crispy, delicate and sweet but not overpowered. I found the right intensity of elegant flavors in a bottle of Innocent Bystander Pink Muscat (unfortunately a half bottle!!).This sparkling Australian wine is such a  lovely refreshing drink by itself but matched perfectly with my springtime recalling dessert.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Carrots & Co

The web is full of good carrot cake recipes and I have to say I tried a lot of them. I justified myself with the excuse that carrots are really healthy but what I really was looking for was the best, the most amazing carrot cake recipe. And I honestly think that the following one is the one. I started from the recipe I found on Good Food BBC website and I changed it following my taste and baking experience. Then I added a side from another recipe….and finally I ate my amazing dessert sipping a glass of nice Australian sweet wine.Ok let's start. You need the ingredients listed below:

2 eggs
175 gr sugar (better if half/half caster/brown)
75 ml vegetal oil
half bag of baking powder
175 gr flour (better if half/half plain/wholegrain)
3 medium big carrots
1 orange (zest and juice)
some cinnamon and nutmeg
3 tablespoons of Rhum (if the children are not having it!!)

You can simply mix the ingredients following the order. But use only half of the orange juice…and leave the rest for the frosting that you will easily prepare adding some icing sugar to the juice. Wait couple of minutes before spreading it on top of the cake to let it get thicker.
One of the most interesting part is actually the dressing on the side that you can make just mixing some mascarpone cheese, some rhum and icing sugar. This will match perfectly either with the cake and with the sweet wine.

The one I chose is produced with the classic method of cutting the grapes and letting them air dry on racks under the sun of Western Australia. This wine is very rich and round, almost decadent in its sweetness. There’s a strong flavour of honey and cooked apple and, in my opinion, not enough acidity to be balanced.
Unfortunately it didn’t work too well either with my cake or my palate....but I guess this is not the reason why Plantagenet is not producing it anymore.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Everyone knows that Rome is one of the most beautiful cities all over the world. That its streets are full of history and art. That the Roman empire was huge and ancient Romans were expanding all over Europe and Northern Africa. Very often when traveling it happens to see ancient Roman ruins such as aqueducts, walls, roads. And Britain as well is full of them: from the Hadrian's wall  of York till the southern city of Bath with its temples and thermal pools.
What is not well known instead is Roman cuisine. What English people knows is probably just the Carbonara, and after attentively reading the most visited recipes online I can say for sure, that there is no one right!
I guess that the fact that I was born and lived in Rome for 32 years gives me a little bit of authority in talking about some Romans traditional recipes. Also, my father does the best Spaghetti alla Carbonara ever, and it has always been my favourite pasta.
Coming to the real Carbonara, this is one of the simplest recipe you could deal with. The key factors are the right ingredients and perfect timing! There's no more than 6 ingredients:
Guanciale (difficult to find here in London, but not impossible, a lot of delicatessen have it.Last time I bought it in Borough Market)
Pecorino (possibly the Roman type, in this case you can even find it in Sainsbury)
Pasta, Olive oil & Black Pepper

Just a note before starting, the cream is not missing by mistake. There is no cream in this recipe....NO CREAM!!
Now, cook the pasta al dente, and while doing this make cubes of your guanciale (usually around one slice per person) and fry it for few minutes. Then whisk the eggs (normally you should alternate one whole egg and one only yolk per person) adding abundant black pepper. When pasta is cooked, drain it well. Then return it over the eggs, pour the bacon and quickly mix. Cover the bowl with a lid or a plate and wait for a couple of minutes. The heat is going to cook the eggs. So now you only have to sprinkle your pecorino and some more pepper if needed. Just in case it got too dry you can add a tablespoon of the pasta cooking water.
Time to eat now!! last thing: the best wine match is going to be a white (as tannins don't work well with eggs) fresh,but not too acidic and with a medium body. Possibly a wine from the area like a Frascati Superiore (try Poggio le Volpi, Pallavicini or Fontana Candida Terre dei Grifi).
Enjoy it!

PS: Picture is courtesy of friend and wine mentor Sor Alessio G.!