Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Wines of Carignano Del Sulcis, Ancient Vines Give Food-Friendly Wines

Sardinia wines pair with a variety of recipes as demonstrated by Eataly's chefs

Relative newcomers to the U.S. wine scene are the wines of Carignano del Sulcis, from the island of Sardinia in Italy. Sulcis is an area in southwestern Sardinia, an island best known for its spectacular beaches, moreso than its wine. Yet, within that breathtaking landscape, swept by wind and sand, lie the hearty, ancient vines from which grow the Carignano grape, which has its roots in antiquity. Thought to have been originated in Carinena, Aragon, this red wine grape is widely planted through France and Spain. At its inception, it was transplanted to Sardinia, Algeria, and much of the New World, where it quickly gained acceptance. In the mid-twentieth century, it was the driving force in jug wine production in California's Central Valley and figured prominently in the French Algerian War. Upon Algeria's independence in 1962, the French were cut off from their supply of Carignan wine and growers in Southern France were forcerd to plant their own vines for wine production. At its high point in 1988, Carignan was France's most widely planted grape variety.

Forged by Sardinia's relentless winds and cosseted by the islands' sandy soils, the Carignano grapes are cultivated through the use of the ancient "alberrllo latino," or Latin vine training system, which allow the vines, many of which are 65-70 years old, to thrive in the extreme climatic conditions of the territory. As a result of the rigors of the growing environment, the grapes accumulate an abundance of  sugars and secondary compounds that stimulate  tannins that give the grapes and the resulting wines a striking smoothness and complexity of flavor.

Tom Hyland, Italian wine enthusiast and author of the book "Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy's Most Distinctive Wines," presented an authoritative luncheon and seminar, showcasing five wines from the region, with two  winemakers from the Consorzio Carignano Del Sulcis, Marco Sartarelli of Santidi and Dino Dini of Sardus Pater,  present to assist in the presentation. The culinary team at Eataly's Baffo restaurant prepared a stunning menu that shed new light on the expansive pairing possibilities of these highly versatile red wines. Most retail in the $35-$45 range-a bit on the high end, but considering their food-friendly character and exotic beauty, they are well worth the price and will guarantee much lively conversation at the celebratory table.

Salumi Misti, a selection of house cured hams and pepper encrusted mortadella provided the first course along with a rather light, uncomplicated wine, Calasetta Tupei 2011. Made from 100 per cent Carignano grapes from the Island of Sant'Antioco, the wine is an intense garnet color with flavor to match. At once intense, and ethereal, it has warm notes of the Mediterranean breezes that nurtured it. There are hints of vanilla and an aftertaste of bright, red pomegranate juice that drips from the corners of your mouth and a touch of wild, black raspberries and a whiff of cardamom and allspice, from 6 months of aging in durmast barriques. This is an exotic beauty that, unfortunately, has yet to reach our shores. But, be on the lookout for its presence soon. It will be sure to excite your palate.

Mesa, Buio Buio 2010 ($45), pronounced Boo-yo, Boo-yo, is guaranteed to get the gourmet party started. With its simplistic, but distinctive label, which emulates the patterns of ancient Mediterranean rugs, the wine is dark and intense, A product of sand, clay and sub-alkaline rocky soils, this medium-bodied wine has a lush texture and beautiful balance. Hints of red berry and crushed violet blossoms mingle with balsamic vinegar and just an aftertaste of Mediterranean sea salt and garam marsala spices that lend a distinctive aftertaste on the palate. Farfalle (blow tie) pasta, combined with Rock Shrimp, set off with chili flakes and salty pancetta (Italian bacon) and tomato were the perfect accompaniments. All of the wines seemed to have a salty undercurrent to them, so dishes seasoned with ham or utilizing some type of seafood or tomatoes, which are inherently salted, all seemed to work best with the wines.

The third course, handmade pappardelle (free form wide, flat noodles) with a traditional meat sauce (ragu') from Bologna, was the logical companion for AgiPunica, Barrua 2011 ($35), an elegant, sophisticated wine made with 85 per cent Carignano and 15 per cent other varities for smoothness and balance. The typical brown soils, consisting of sand mixed with clay and limestone, give the wine its complex character, structure and body. Heavily laden with ripe, red fruit, its flavor can almost be discerned from its intense ruby-red color. There are layers of spices and fragrant herbs, such as sage or rosemary. There's even a hint of capers, which are also indigenous to the region.  This wine puts you in mind of the Holidays, because it surely captures the aromatic essence of frankincense and myrrh, the Original Gifts of Christmas. This is a wine that should be served a little bit chilled to gain its full expression. It's a big wine, with 14.5% alchohol content and a persistent flavor of red fruit and pepper that manages an harmonious finish in spite of its strength. Red meat and red sauces are best with this rich, red Mediterranean beauty.

"As you can see by my photographs, the vines of the Carignano grape are like no others," Hyland explained in his exceptional presentation. "These vines are all on the average of 70 years old, but, as you can see, the grapes seem to thrive in the stress of the high winds of well-drained soil. The fact that there's such intense sun during the day, combined with the cool winds and dense morning fog, lend the grapes their complex sugars and refined tannins."

Sardus Pater, Is Arenas 2009 ($45) was the centerpiece, with a show-stopping presentation of grilled lamb chops, presented on the long bone, covered in a balsamic glaze with an underpinning of eggplant and sprinkled all over with pine nuts, which further enhanced the salty undertone of the wine. This was a spectacular presentation, with flavor to match. It set the wine off as winemaker Dino Dini described the mistral winds of Sardinia. "The strong winds are as much a part of the wine as is the soil," he emphasized.

A final course of various local cheeses, marmalade and toasted almonds accompanied Santadi, Terre Brune Carignano Del Sulcis Superiore DOC 2010($55), gave free rein to this full-bodied wine. Grown from Old vines and made with 95% Carignano and 5% Bovaleddu, another local grape, this is a deep, ruby red wine with hints of garnet on the rim, an indicator of its high alcohol content. Complex flavors of deep purple, ripe plums, blueberries and hints of juniper and a handful of cinnamon bark and freshly shaved nutmeg dominate the nose and palate. There's also a distinct finish of dark chocolate and tobacco that makes one think of the library of a men's club with deep, red leather chairs trimmed with brass hobnails. Intense, yet elegant, this wine was aged 16-18 months in new, fine-grained French oak barrels. It is extremely cellar worthy and can age another 7-8 years. At 15% alcohol, the flavor is long-lasting and pleasant. this is a perfect way to end an evening. This wine almost doesn't need any accompaniment. It's a terrific meditation wine, best enjoyed by a roaring fire.

Vineyard photos courtesy Tom Hyland (c)
The Carignano grape in its natural habitat of sandy, rocky soil under intense sun

A modern production facility in the Carignano Del Sulcis
The wines of the Carignano Del Sulcis
Author Tom Hyland giving the presentation
Winemakers Marco Sarterelli of Santadi (l) and Diuno Dini of Sardus Pater (r)

Isabelle Bailet, Export Consultant with the Consorzio
Farfalle (bow tie) pasta with Rock Shrimp (below)  is paired with Mesa, Buio Buio 2010 (above)
Below: Some of the outstanding wines of the Carignano Del Sulcis

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Prosecco: The Leading Sparkling Beverage in the U.S. Debuts New Vintage for the Holidays

 Vineyard Photos: by Dwight Casimere
 Above: The Glera grape from which Prosecco sparkling wine is made

TREVISO, Italy--Holidays are perfect for Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine that is taking the U.S. by storm. Made from the Glera grape, which dates back to Roman times, Prosecco is considered by many to be the budget-priced alternative to French Champagne. There are some refined Proseccos that carry vintage years and a heftier price tag, but those are the purvey of connoisseurs. Most of us will be experiencing the myriad varieties from dry to sweet and semi-sweet that are popping up like wildflowers in wine shops and on restaurant wine lists throughout New York and Chicago, thanks to the debut arrival of the new vintages by the United Wines of Veneto and the Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC. which sent its consortium presidents on a promotional tour of these two major cities where Prosecco is now king.  The ensuing posts are focused on the idea of wine and food pairings with Prosecco DOC, with input from the culinary teams of Eataly and Levy restaurants in New York and Chicago, where Prosecco DOC and the Wines of Veneto will be featured over the next few weeks.
 Glera grapes are planted on more than 50,000 acres in northeastern Italy

 Below are scenes of vineyards planted in the hills along the famed "Prosecco Road" between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene near Treviso, north of Venice

Friday, December 5, 2014

Prosecco: The Leading Sparkling Beverage in the US

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--Eataly, the Italian food emporium, was the point of entry for the newest edition of Prosecco DOC, the most famous Italian sparkling wine in the world and the leading sparkling beverage in the United States. The introduction, presided over by Stefano Zanette, President of the Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC, was a Food and Wine Pairing Dinner with Prosecco DOC and cuisine prepared by the chefs at Eataly's Pizza and Pasta restaurant.

Proseeco is Italy's answer to French Champagne. There are, however, some distinct differences. While      top quality champagne is fermented and riddled in the bottle, and often identified by vintage year, Prosecco is a non-vintage sparkling wine that is made by use of the Charmat, or tank method. (Named for the Frenchman, Eugene Charmat, it was actually an Italian, Federico Martinotti, who first patented and perfected the idea of fermenting the sparkling wine in bulk in large stainless steel tanks, referred to as the 'Martinotti' or 'Italian' method).

The name of the wine derives from the Italian village of Prosecco near Trieste where the Glera grape, from which it is made, may have originated. Prosecco is produced in the hills north of Treviso, in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, traditionally around Cornegliano and Valdobbiadene. The fact that Prosecco is lighter in texture, slightly sweeter and less expensive than Champagne has contributed to its runaway popularity. Besides being a budget-wise alternative to Champagne, Prosecco is also terrific as an ingredient for mixed drinks, most notably the Bellini cocktail, made famous by the  writer Ernest Hemingway at Harry's Bar in Venice, and the latest craze, the Aperol, which is made with a sweet orange liqueur of the same name.

"Prosecco is not just the name of a wine, it is a place, a land," opined Stefano Zanette, President of the Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC, who hosted the Eatly New York wine and food pairing. "We have over 20,000 hectares (about 50,000 acres) under vineyards."

Prosecco is produced in the nine provinces of Northeastern Italy, one of the most beautiful areas in the Italian peninsula. Its made from the Glera grape, an ancient, indigenous variety that dates back to the Romans. The intense popularity of Prosecco can be attributed to a number of factors, the most obvious being that it is less expensive to produce and to buy than French champagne. But there are other factors, too.

"Women have been in large part responsible for the rise of Prosecco," Zanette declared through an interpreter. "The wine is less acidic and lower in alcohol than champagne, coming in at about 11 perr cent. It's also generally a bit sweeter and lighter on the palate, which makes it more approachable for many people." Another plus, Zanette noted, is that Prosecco goes with just about anything. It's especially terrific with appetizers or a light buffet. For the Holidays, its a perfect addition to any meal. Prosecco is a sparkling beverage that everyone can enjoy.

For the Eataly food and wine pairing dinner with Prosecco DOC, the culinary staff rolled out a delicious array of Antipasto, including Insalata Di Stagione (salad of the season), consisting of fresh Arugula with Shaved Fennel in a light vinegar and olive oil dressing, followed by an assortment of Salumi, fresh cheeses and assorted antipasti.  Villa Sandi "Il Fresco" non-vintage Brut ($13) was the first Italian sparkler to be poured. With its bright notes of golden apples, pears and jasmine flowers, it made for an excellent palate stimulant in preparation for the heavy artillery to follow.

Eataly's pizzas, with their thin, light crust, made with the finest semolina flour and topped with the freshest of ingredients, were next to arrive steaming hot. The variety was dazzling; Margherita topped with Mozzarella, fresh Tomato Sauce, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and fresh Basil; Maseese, consisting of Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce, Neopolitan Spicy Salami, Fresh Basil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO) amd Chili Ventura tickled the taste buds, followed by Ventura, with Mozzarella, Parma Ham, Arugula and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Astoria Lounge Prosecco DOC Extra Dry NV ($17) in its distinctive bottle was next. The grapes are sourced in the rolling hills of Veneto just north of Venice directly from the Astoria estate. Its a beautiful straw color with a creamy, full taste that just caresses your mouth. With its generous flavor of Golden Delicious Apples, it was in perfect harmony with the myriad flavors of the pizzas, both savory and herbaceous.

Next came the pastas, the first of which was the most delightful I've ever experienced; Ravioli Di Zucca, an absolutely enchanting, light pillow of Housemade Ravioli filled with Roasted Butternut Squash and combined with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a unique ingredient, Almond Amaretti Cookies finished with Brown Butter sauce and topped with crispy Sage leaves. It was like having dessert and your favorite pasta dish all rolled into one! To say this was a masterpiece of flavor and texture is an understatement. The next dish, I called Basta Pasta, because it arrived in a gut-busting sized family-style plate with enough pasta to feed an army! The pasta, Spaghetti Con Pomodoro (Spaghetti with tomatoes) was a simple, straightforward combination of fresh Homemade Pasta and a tangy freshly made Tomato Sauce. No grated cheese or other adornment was needed. Cantina Colli del Soligo Prosseco DOC NV(also $17) from Treviso was next to arrive on the scene. It proved itself to be a robust, flavorful accompaniment to the pronounced flavors of the pastas.

The Cantina Colli del Soligo is a cooperative located strategically between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Established in 1957, its a cooperative that was created to meet the needs of prosecco producers in the Soligo area. Its membership has now reached 700 partners. Soligo Prosecco is distinctive. Its made in the Frizzante style, which means it has slightly less bubble concentration than standard Prosecco, with a light, refreshing interpretation of the Glera grape. Its notes of ripe peaches, pears and acacia blossoms on the nose accompanied by a delicate underlying minerality and a crisp finish, make it the perfect pairing with flavorful foods like hearty pizzas.

Dessert consisted of Eatly's signature housemade Gelato and Sorbet and a variety of Biscotti (Italian cookies). The grand finale was Val d' Oca Prosecco DOC Millesimato Blue 2013 ($10, YES $10!!!!).
First of all, I don't think you can find a better value in Prosecco. I discovered this one by accident a few weeks ago, when I stumbled into a wine shop that, inexplicably, had no other prosecco on the shelf. In fact, when I asked the proprietor for a recommendation he said "Huh?!!" Anyway, this is a surprisingly complex prosecco for the price. Aromatic, with a distinct floral perfume and hints of crushed roses and an underlying scent of freshly mown grass, it has a bright, clear flavor with just the right balance of acid and fruit. Harmonious, with a dry finish, it goes perfectly with fish, light appetizers, sushi and anything that comes out of a bakery, i.e. cookies. I could have stayed with this one all night. Kudos to Alessandro Boga of Colangelo public relations who organized the event and acted as its suave interpreter and speaker.

Below: An assortment of Eatly's signature pizzas

 Massese Pizza with Spicy Salami, Fresh Basil. EVO and Chili Ventura
Below: Margherita Pizza with Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano and Fresh Basil

 Villa Sandi "Il Fresco" Prosecco
 Assorted Antipasti
 Fresh Arugula Salad with Shaved Fennel
Below: Ravioli Di Zucca with Butternut Squash, Brown Butter, Almond Cookies and Sage

 Speaker and interpreter Alessandro Boga of Colangelo public relations

 Val d'Oca Blu Prosecco Millesimato Extra Dry 2013

 Pizza lovers dig in

 Basta Pasta!!
 Prosecco DOC Consortium President Stefano Zanette and speaker and interpreter Alessandro Boga confer over a glass of Cantina Coli del Soligo Prosecco (below)

 Dolce (dessert) of Housemade Gelato and Sorbet with assorted Biscotti (cookies), perfect with Prosecco
 Dwight Casimere with Prosecco DOC President Stefano Zanette
Below: The menu for Eataly's  Food and Wine Pairing Dinner with Prosecco DOC

A Veneto Wine Master Class as only Eataly Can Do It!

Italy's foremost wine producing region presents wines that pair with a wide variety of dishes from Salmon Tartare to Venetian-Style Meatballs (recipe to follow)

An Eataly Master Class presented by United Wines of Veneto paired a wide variety of Veneto wines with recipes prepared by Eataly's culinary staff. It showcased the diversity of Veneto wines and the strikingly different dishes that can be paired with them. The class was led by the heads of the various consortiums of the Unione Consorzi Vini Veneti D.O.C. and Eataly's Retail Wine, Beer and Spirits Manager Massimo Serradimigni and La Scuola Chef Adam Weisell.

The wines presented covered the gamut, from slighitly sweet sparkling Prosecco Spumante to dry Valpolicello Ripasso. The list was varied:

1. Villa Sandi Prosecco Spumante DOC Treviso Brut "Il Fresco" ($13) and Astoria Prosecco Superiore DOCG Spumante Extra Dry Millesimato 2012 ($12) which was paired with a stunning first course, Risotto al Radicchio (Risotto with Radicchio), recipe courtesy of Eataly partner Mario Batali from his book, Simple Italian Food (c) 1998, which was prepared from scratch by Eataly executive chef Adam Weisell as he lectured the Master Class. Its a blend of Carnaroli rice, stirred in a large, deep sauce pan, and combined with chicken stock, olive oil, shallots, Valpolicello red wine, pancetta (Italian bacon or ham) chopped radicchio (Italian  red-leafed chicory) and combined with grated Grana Padano cheese, unsalted butter and finished with salt and black pepper to taste. Its a slow-cooked dish, perfect for a winter lunch or  first course or a vegetarian dinner (minus the ham, mushrooms would be a nice substitute). It's absolutely great with any of the wines of Veneto, a dry sparkling Prosecco, a dry Soave Classico or even a Bardolino Classico.

The Frico con Crudo di Salmone (Salmon Tartare on a Parmesan Cheese crisp), nearly stole the show, not only because of its pristine presentation, but surprisingly complex levels of flavor and texture that seemed to gradually unfold with each bite and sip of wine. This deceptively simple dish is a cornucopia of gustatory experiences. "It's like peeling back the layers of an onion," chef  Weisell aptly described. "Each layer reveals another dimension of taste and a completely different feeling in your mouth. The salmon has both a slightly briney and off sweet taste that creates what the Japanese call umami, that creamy good taste sensation in your mouth. At the same time, the saltiness and the crunchy texture of the Parmesan cheese wafer gives that crispy crunchy texture that just really sets the whole dish off. This is a really simple appetizer to prepare that will really dazzle people for the Holidays."

Another simple dish that is sure to set guest's taste buds abuzzing is the Polpettine Veneziane (Venetian-Style Meatballs), which paired perfectly with both the Cantina Di Soave Soave Classico "Rocca Sveva" 2012 ($12) and the Vigneti Villabella Bardolino Classico "Vigna Morlongo" 2013 ($13).

"I was raised in Italy, so this is a dish that comes from my childhood. I actually found the recipe in an old cookbook from a Contessa. I think she was a widow and somehow that's tied into the story of the recipe.  I can't remember the story behind it, but I know it involves ground beef or veal combined with potatoes. I added some cured meat from our Eataly charcuterie, some pancetta and salumi, to give it some added body and flavor, and a few Yukon Gold potatoes. Of course, its all finished off with some lemon zest, and you can taste lemon in a lot of the white wines that have been served here today. There's also enough robustness in the meat, that it can stand up to a red wine too. It's really a great all-around dish for the Holidays for a first course or appetizer. The best thing about it, is that it's really easy to prepare. It's one recipe that's totally foolproof, " chef Weisell emphasized.  (see recipe below)

La Scuola chef Adam Weisell prepares Risotto with Radicchio-Recipe Courtesy Mario Batali


Nazareno Vicenzi(far right)-spokesman for United Wines of Veneto (U. Vi. Ve.) with  consortium leaders, (right to left), Giulia Pussini-Consorzio Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Carlo Veronese-Consorzio per la Tutela Lugano DOC, Arturo Stocchetti-U. Vi. Ve. and Consorzio Soave, Stefano Zanette-Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC, Franco Cristoferetti-Cosorzio Tutela di Bardolino, far left, Christian Marchesini of Consorzio del Vini della Valpolicella DOC

Above: Villa Sandi Prosecco DOC
Below: Eataly Retail Wine, Beer and Spirits Manager, Massimo Serradimigni pours Soave Classico

Massimo pouring Ottella Lugana DOC La Creete

Salmon Tatare on a Parmesan Cheese Frico-Recipe Courtesy Enrico Rocca

Above: A local wine merchant from Skokie takes in the Master Class while savoring Bardolino
Below: Venetian-Style Meatballs-Recipe Courtesy of Eataly

 Franco Cristoferetti-Consorzio Tutela di Bardolino
 The various stages of cooking and wine pairings for Risotto with Radicchio from the cookbook Simple Italian Food by Mario Batali (c) 1998

The finished Risotto with wine pairings

 Massimo Serradimigni expounds on the citrus and pear flavors of Lugana DOC "La Creete" from Azienda Agricola Ottella
 La Scuola Chef Adam Weisell puts the finishing touches on Risotto with Radicchio

 The vast array of United Wines of Veneto

 Massimo Serradimigni of Eataly with 2012 Ottella Lugana La Creete-$13
 Above: Giulia Pussini of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore
 Below: The leaders of the United Wines of Veneto Consorzi

Polpettine Veneziane (Venetian-Style Meatballs-Recipe courtesy of Eataly

Yield: 6-8 servings

3/4 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 pound ground beef (or veal, or a combination of both)
1/4 pound mortadella, ground in a food processor
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 large eggs
1/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
1 cup plain bread crumbs, plus additional crumbs for breading
1/4 bunch parsley, picked, rinsed and minced
1 pinch nutmeg
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Canola oil, for frying

Place potatoes in a pot of water. Bring to a boil and season aggressively with salt. When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them and pass them through a food mill or ricer.

Place all of the ingredients from the riced potatoes through the salt and pepper in a bowl and mix them with your hands. Be careful not to overmix. Form into balls, about 1/4 inch across.

Place additional breadcrumbs in a wide, shallow dish and roll the meatballs in the bread crumbs, pressing lightly to coat evenly. Remove to a clean baking sheet.

Pour the canola oil into a deep skillet. Insert a deep-frying thermometer into the oil and heat the oil over medium heat to 300 degrees F.

Test the temperature of the oil by dipping one meatball in. (Editor's Note: The pan should  give off a lively, steady sizzle). If nothing happens, the oil isn't hot enough. (Editor's Note: wait a bit for it to heat up. If the oil around the bread crumb coating boils and sputters, the oil is too hot. Take it off the burner for a few seconds to let it cool a bit, then put it back on the burner to heat to the right temperature).  When the oil comes to the right temperature, carefully slip about 1/3 of the meatballs into the oil. Don't let them touch. They cook more evenly if they're spaced a bit apart. Fry the meatballs, turning as necessary with tongs or a slotted spoon, careful not to break them up, until they're golden brown and crisp on all sides, for about 8 minutes. Remove and place on a paper-towel lined baking sheet. Keep them in a warm oven if you like until all of the meatballs are cooked. The meatballs can be served either hot or at room temperature.

"I like to serve them over a little of my own fresh tomato sauce , sprinkled with a bit of the cheese on the plate," chef explained.  For another variation,  you could also make a light gravy with the pan drippings, deglazed with a little bit of the wine, for a different touch. You can also flavor it with a bit of fresh finely chopped oregano or crushed mint to give it a slightly exotic flavor note.  This is a dish you can put your individual stamp on that will thoroughly delight your guests and show off the versatility of the great wines of the Veneto.