Friday, October 10, 2014

Molino Grassi, Europe's Leading Brand of Organic Flour, Arrives in U.S.

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

 Dwdight Casimere with Silvio Grassi, found and owner of Molino Grassi

 Master Chef Ezzio Rocchi prepares his mouth-watering focaccia bread

Organic flour from Molina Grassi and an assortment of delectable breads made from it

The elegant design showrooms of Urban Homes in New York's chic Chelsea design center was the setting for a food festival-styled presentation for the "First Time In New York!" presentation of Grano Del Miracolo by Molino Grassi.  Mionetto Prosecco was poured as Master Baker Ezzio Rocchi created a panoply of mouth watering pastry and bread treats from this newly discovered ancient Italian grain. Molino Grassi Grano del Miracolo is Europe's leading brand of organic flour. Expect a roll out across the United States when it will soon be available at a specialty grocer near you! 

The message is simple and clear. There's a new grain in town! Grano Del Miracolo by Molino Grassi is new to the United States. It creates a a unique line of flours for baking fesh bread, pizza dough, and focaccia that is different than anything currently available. The flavor and texture are beyond compare.  Officials from Molino Grassi recently arrived in the United States to hold a tasting event, complete with Mionetto Prosecco and a renowned chef to create delicacies, accompanied by Proscuitto Toscano (DOP) ham. 

The grain gets it name from its enormous height, which can reach more than 6 feet tall. It is one of the most popular grains in the Italian regions of Sicily and Molise, dating back to the 19th century. It was abandoned in favor of more standard-processed modern wheat. Enter Silvio Grassi, founder and owner of Molino Grassi, and his vision of creating a grain rich in phosphorus and iron, yet with a gluten that is more digestible, compared with modern wheat gluten now used in most bread, pizza and pastry production.

"People who may have been avoiding food products with gluten in them, may find breads made with Molino Grassi, more agreeable," said Area Manager Giacomo Baldi.

"We don't follow any of the standardized agricultural practices in growing Grano Del Miracolo," said Area Manager for North America and Chef Consultant Giacomo Baldi.
"The grain gets its name from its sheer size and superior quality. It is truly a "miracle grain" as the name implies. Grano del Miracolo is grown without pesticides in the hills surrounding Parma, Italy. Its grown in perfect soil  conditions and then processed by Molino Grassi. This type of grain sharply contrast with other modern varieties of genetically modified wheat, which is commonly used in most bakery products here in the U.S."

Besides the story of the creation of the grain, the story of Molino Grassi is also one of family. The company has grown through three successive generations, to create a continuing cycle of growth, development and innovation that the Grassi's are now willing to share with the world. Their forward-looking innovations and techniques have made Molino Grassi a grain product that improves year after year.

Agricultural diversity is the key to the superiority of Grano Del Miracolo. "We're helping to save the environment and the land, using less invasive farming techniques," Baldi said, "By preserving and rediscovering traditional grain varieties,like Grano del Miracolo that had been lost for years, we're working to improve the environment and provide our customers with a unique experience that provides breads, pizza doughs and even Kosher baked products  that are healthy and taste absolutely fantastic!"

 Master Chef Ezzio Rocchi and his marvelous focaccia bread

 Proscuitto Toscano (DOP) is sliced by hand
 Breads made from Organic Molino Grassi flour
 Area Manager for North America and Chef Consultant Giacomo Baldi leads an informal tasting session at Urban Homes design studios in Chelsea, New York City

Below: Mionetto Prosecco DOC

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wine of the Week-BDP (Baglio di Planetto) Nero D'Avola 2012-$14

Wine reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Sicilian vineyard photos by Dwight Casimere

Baglio di Planetto 2012 Nero D'Avola ($14), is a wine that speaks to the history and culture of  Sicily. A unique island paradise in the middle of the Mediterranean and Italy's most southern outreach, it is a world unto itself, with a winemaking tradition that predates the arrival of the greeks in 750 B.C.  For years, Sicily was known as a producer of fortified Marsala and inexpensive bulk wines. Enter the 1990s and a new breed of forward-thinking winemakers who started a Sicilian Renaissance in winemaking. 

 Count Paolo Marzotto moved to the rustic hills and valleys of Sicily, forgoing the financial and familial comfort zone of the Veneto to undertake a new winemaking venture. Armed with a firm desire to create a "Sicilian Chateau" wine which retained the character of the island's indigenous grapes, he used  used winemaking techniques that combined tradition with forward-thinking ideas. Chief among them was developing protocols to preserve the environment while protecting the grapes and the integrity of the wine. The result was a product that rivals anything in the premium wine cellars of Europe, yet, it is uniquely Sicilian.

Nero D'Avola i the poster child for indigenous grapes. Often compared to Syrah, it has a unique capability to display a ripe, dark fruit character while maintaining a nice balance of acidity that makes it a delightful accompaniment to Sicily's local cuisine of tuna, swordfish, fresh herbs, capers, couscous, olives and eggplant.  It is truly a wine that goes best with the "Mediterranean Diet." There's a marvelous dish of stewed eggplant, onions and olives called Caponata, that just cries for this wine. 

Google it. I'm sure you'll find a terrific authentic recipe. Every place I had it in Sicily was different, yet its ubiquitous throughout the region. You can't go anywhere and not have it served. It sort of like gumbo in my family's native New Orleans. Everyone makes it, but no two are exactly the same. 
BDP Nero D'Avola 2012 is a wine with a fresh, fruity taste that is destined to be paired with food. It is rich with the flavors of jammy dark fruit and a hint of freshly  baked blackberry pie. The longer it stays in the glass or breathes in the bottle, the better it tastes. Nero D'Avola is a hardy, local grape. Handled properly, especially if it is fermented in temperature-controlled cold vats, it maintains a balanced acidity which is marked by very smooth tannins. In the hands of the Marzottos and their skilled team of winemakers, the resulting  wine is a magic carpet ride. Even though its not a prized vintage wine, it should be treated as such. Try decanting it and serving it in your best Riedel glassware, and you'd be amazed at the flavor results.  There's a lot of palate appeal in this wine. I had it with my own Sicilian version of Pasta Carbonara, in which I substituted a very mild fresh plum tomato sauce for the usual Parmesan cream sauce and added native Sicilian oregano, olive oil and capers that I brought back from the island of Pantelleria. The flavor pairing was stunning! Abbondanza!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Heroic Winemaking" in Windswept Pantelleria, Sicily, Home to Ancient Passito Wine

The wine known as "the liquid of the gods" is steeped in history, myth and the land

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

Pantelleria, Sicily--The flight into Pantelleria's mountaintop airport was urged on by the powerful winds that give this tiny island just north of Tunisia on the North African coast, its name. Upon check-in at the gate at Rome airport, the boarding agent breathlessly announced that the day's single flight to this island paradise would be departing as scheduled, a tentative proposition owing to frequent cancellations caused by the island's windy conditions.

The view was breathtaking as the plane, which doubles as a mail plane for the local postal service, made its forceful landing on the airport's single landing strip. The most striking visual element; the lack of sandy beaches on the coastline ringed with aqua-marine waters that sparkle as if sprinkled with diamonds. The coastline's outcroppings of black rock and boulders look more like the surface of the moon than the topography of a tropical island.

Pantellaria is steeped in myth and ancient history. The Greeks settled here, as did the Spanish, the Romans, the Turks and the Byzantines. The Greeks set many of their myths in the swind-swept setting of Pantelleria. It is here that Odysseus faced some of his greatest obstacles and where, according to legend, the goddess Tanit won Apollo's love by offering him a glass of Passito, the local wine. In later years, the legendary lover, Giacomo Casanova lured his romantic prey into his Venetian lair by offering them a glass of the intensely sweet potion.

In spite of the many footprints that have trod these rocky slopes, it is that of the Arabs, that has made the most lasting  imprint. Their influence can be seen everywhere, from the names of local towns, Mueggen, Gadir, Bukkuram and Khamma, home to Donnafugata winery the subject of the day's visit to the local cuisine, underscored with its use of couscous and aromatic and savory spices. The journey over narrow winding roads led to the town of Khamma, home to Donnafugata winery,  to observe the Zibbibo grape harvest and the drying process known as "Passito," from which the name of the local wine is derived. The Arab influence is  seen everywhere, but most strikingly in a subsequent architectural tour of the island's many stone buildings, known as "dommus"  built by Arab and Byzantine architects and artisans.

Unlike Sarah Palin's bogus claims of being able to "see Alaska from my kitchen window (sic)." you really can see Tunisia and the coast of North Africa from Pantelleria. The continent is only 37 miles away and is entirely visible on a clear day.

It follows that the wine industry in Pantelleria is firmly rooted in the cultural history of North Africa. The Zibbibo grape, from which it's famous Passito wine is made, was the favored grape of Egypt and was said to have been brought here by the ancient Phoenicians. The grape is uniquely suited to thrive in the island's volcanic soil and high winds; shielding itself by growing close to the ground, nearly burrowing itself into the sandy clay soil. This ancient grape, also known as Muscat of Alexandria (Muscat d'Alexandrie) is one of the oldest genetically unmodified vines still in existence.

The grapes are all hand harvesed. It's back-breaking work, with workers carefully examining each bunch and discarding the spoiled fruit and meticulously removing the stems  by hand. Winds whipping across the vineyards, stirring up mouthfuls of dust, (of which I swallowed more than my fair share) make the work that much more arduous.

Donnafugata winery has been making Passito since its inception. It's award-winning wine is called Ben Rye (pronounced ben ree-ay). The name means "born of the wind."

The wine is produced using a centuries-old process, involving drying the grapes on mats in a long shed in the open air and under the hot sun to create a wine that is concentrated with intense flavors and aromas and a high level of sugar. Even though Donnafugata is a thoroughly modern facility in every way, the method in which it makes its Ben Rye is derived from its pre-industrial past.

Standing amidst 120 year old vines, winemaker and technical director Antonio Rallo describes the labor-intensive process. "We're trying to create a flavor and aroma that is completely different from that of fresh grapes. We're not trying to preserve aromas of the fresh grape, but to find new aromas from the dried grape. We get this completely new flavor and aroma from the sun and the wind that is unique to this place."

Walking through the football-field lengths of drying sheds, one can see the grapes at various stages of the passito process, from fresh, plump, fleshy grapes, to dried fruit that almost look like raisins. But, instead of having a tart, mouth-puckering flavor, these dried grapes are ultra-sweet.

Later that evening, after swallowing a mouthful of dust and developing several charley horses on the back of my calves from the day's strenuous trek through the vineyards, it was time to celebrate back at the winery "Big House" in Khamma. Passito wine flowed like water as tray up tray of the island's prized "Gambero Rosso," the Ruby-red shrimp that feed on the island's coral reefs, were served. A sideboard of local cheeses and platters of olives and the popular dish, caponata, featuring the island's native capers begged further inspection. Meanwhile,  mounds of sugary sweet pastries, with their mouth crunchy layers of flaky, delicate layered pastry and marzipan covered cakes, jokingly called "the virgin's breast," were quaffed down with the heavenly golden Passito wine. This was truly a Feast for the Gods in a place they call "The Land of Liquid Prayers."
The windswept coastline and azure Mediterranean Sea of Pantelleria
Drying sheds for Passito grapes dot the landscape
The golden hue of Passito wines
Donnofugata Owner and CEO Jose Rallo and Dwight Casimere with a rack of Passito grapes

The ancient method of Passito leaves grapes drying in the open air under the intense sun
Donnafugata Hospitality Director Mimma Zingale and Dwight The Wine Doctor at the celebration
Native couscous is prepared in the traditional manner by hand
Zibbibo grapes grow in abundance everywhere on Pantelleria
Just another one of the field hands!
Zibbibo grapes are carefully sorted before the crush to ensure that only the best and ripest are used
Each grape bunch is carefully inspected and pruned by hand in the field
Donnafugata Owner and CEO Jose Rallo proudly presides over the Zibbibo harvest

Zibbibo grapes ready to be taken to the winery for the crush
A traditional Caponata
Donnafugata Technical Director and Winemaker Antonio Rallo is also President of the DOC Sicilia Consortium
Hand pruning and de-stemming in the field is back-breaking work
Zibbibo grapes drying "in passito" in the drying sheds at Donnafugata
Sunset over the Pantelleria harbor outside Castello Barbacane
The crushing facility and conveyor belt at Donnafugata's Pantelleria facility
The award-winning Ben Rye of Donnafugata

Capers grow wild across the island. Here, they are cultivated by farmers on terraced slopes
An ancient Bizantine stone house known as Pantelleria Dammuso
Below: Sunset over the island of Pantelleria

From August 31 to September 4, the Island of Pantelleria hosted the first edition of the festival Passitaly 2014, dedicated to the naturally sweet wines of the Mediterranean. Organized tastings, tours of wineries, a talk show, a musical and cultural tours highlighted this five day discovery of the wonders of the island.  Pantelleria's Regional Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development an Mediterranean Fisheries,  Ezichia Paolo Reale pointed to the island's importance as a "symbol of the civilization of the vine throughout the Mediterranean area and the nomination of the Zibbibo training system-Pantelleria alberello-in order that is protected and included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of
Humanity List."  The Mayor of Pantelleria, Salvatore Gabriele described the island and its agricultural and viticultural heritage as "one of the finest and most delicate territories in the Mediterranean." With regards to the impetus behind Passitaly 2014, Gabriele said, "We want to affirm the value of an heoic viticulture based on the work of the Pantellerian farmer and their ability to manage the environment and nature in harmony and balance."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Meet The Dal Bianco family and learn of their passion for Prosecco at Masottina winery

Masottina is one of the finest wineries in the Prosecco zone

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

Conegliano, Italy-Masottina winery is a commanding presence located atop one of the hills  surrounding this ancient city, known as the "Pearl of the Veneto." Founded in 1946, the winery is an expression of the Dal Bianco family's passion for wine and their love for the land and its history.  Their wines and their winery reflect both the deep traditions of the region and their commitment to the best agronomic practices. Visually and philosophically, Masottina is a profound representation of how a reverence for history can be successfully combined with a progressive view toward the future, all while producing great wine.

Owners Adriano and Franca Dal Bianco, along with their sons Federico and Filippo are the unified team executing the ambitious Prosecco program of Masottina. The winery, which began as a negotiant, drastically changed directions to become one of the largest and most respected Prosecco producers in the area. Located in the Piave area, in Gorgo al Monticano, north of Treviso, the family has established a new, state-of-the-art underground winery facility, which uses cutting-edge techonologies for vinification.

 All the while, the family utilizes best practices to ensure that the winery has a low environmental impact. The new winery was built in such a way that the structure conforms to the landscape. Energy is supplied from renewable sources.

The winery, and its operations, not only enhance the surroundings, but produce wines of incomparable quality. Just 30 miles north of Venice, the lush green hills leading up to the winery are covered with rows of grapevines caressing the steep slopes. The scenic route, known as La Strada di Prosecco, is commonly called the Prosecco Road. This is the home of the yellowish green Glera grape which flourishes here and becomes the straw-colored sparkling wine Prosecco; Italy's answer to champagne. The region is famous for wine and art. In fact, the famous painter Titian lived here. Looking out over the lavish expanse, one can experience the source of his inspiration.

Federico Dal Bianco stands waiting on a windswept hillside on the Masottina estate near the village of Ogliano.  Steps away on either side of him are on the right, rows of grapes that will soon be turned into   wine. On the right, the sloping roof of the subterranean winery where this year's harvest will be processed. Just in front is an ancient monastery that will be transformed into a conference and cultural center in the near future.

Harvesting is now underway. It is the most exciting time of the year in the Prosecco zone. Every member of the Dal Bianco family dispatches themselves to strategic locations in and around the winery to ensure a successful harvest. Enologist Fillipo Dal Bianco and his father, Adriano, are hands-on with workers in the vineyards. Marketing Director Federico Dal Bianco, is their impassioned spokesperson, describing the progress of the harvest to a group of visiting international wine journalists.

"I want to show you something really important," he said breathlessly, as we were entering a row of newly harvested vines. "This is the new, coming out of the old," he said, while stooping to reveal an old root stock protruding from the ground and pointing to the new vine that was joined to it. "What you see here is the new vine that has been grafted onto an old root stock.  We get the richness of the soil combined with the bright, complex flavors of the fruit from the new vines. In this way we get the best of the old and the new together!"

After loading the truck with a new batch of hand-picked grapes in the field, its off to the new winery. Grapes are carefully placed in the conveyor, where they are then sorted by hand to remove leaves, twigs, overripe and spoiled fruit by hand before going to a de-stemmer . The grapes then go for a joy ride down a chute into a special crushing machine. If you are to believe Federico, the resulting action is more of a caress than a crushing. "This is a very special crushing machine," he emphasizes. "We have to be very gentle with the delicate glera grape. This machine is specially made to crush only the most perfectly ripe grapes, leaving the unripened ones almost untouched. With glera, the ripe grapes and the unripe grapes all hang from the same vine. So we need for the machine to sort them out and have the ability to treat each dfferently. With this new technology, it all works out."

Stainless steel tanks stand like sentinels near the crushers, awaiting  receipt of the grapes for fermentation under a constant cold temperature.

Everything about the new winemaking facility speaks to a passion for the grapes and a love for the land. "We must respect the grapes, first and foremost. We must also have respect for the land that produces them. " The first thing you see when you approach the facility are the solar paneled roofs.  This is where the freshly picked grapes are brought in.

The winery was designed by Toni Follina, a famous Venetian architect who is best known for the Italian Space Agency's Rome headquarters. "We designed this Ipogeo Project with an idea to have as little impact as possible on the local ecology," Federico pointed out.

Layers of landfill on top of the underground facility reduce carbon monoxide emissiones. The ground cover also helps to insulate the facility, maintaining temperature and humidity levels that keep the use of air conditioning at a minimum. Inside, thermo-refrigeration systems are powered with energy derived from vineyard waste. The result is a a virtual "closed system" that recycles waste into energy, thus dispensing with harmful emissions.

Later that night, over an elaborate dinner, the Dal Bianco's relaxed from the labors of the day with a wine-pairing dinner that showcased the local produce, meats and fishes of the region with a broad selection of their Proseccos and still wines. At the conclusion of the meal, a special treat from their private cellar that harkened back to the earliest days of the winery.

The visit with Dal Bianco's at their Masottina winery was a rare look at the beating heart and impassioned soul of the people behind art of winemaking and the magic of Prosecco
 The harvest is in full swing at Masotinna winery near Conegliano

 The Glera grape from which Prosecco is made
 Federica Dal Bianco points to a new vine grafted onto old root stock
 Adriano Dal Bianco oversees the workers placing newly picked grapes on conveyor belts

 The hillside winery of Masottina
 The Dal Bianco family relaxes after a hard day at harvest on a meal airing their Proseccos and still wines with local seafood

Fresh, raw Gambero (shrimp or prawns)
Baked fresh Turbot, a local specialty
Rizzardo wine is a perfect match with seafood
Adriano Dal Bianco relaxes at dinner after a hard day in the vineyard

Masottina makes some spectacular reds from both international and native grapes
 The vistas along the Prosecco Road
 Good times at a local Inn along the Prosecco Road
Below: lush views from the Prosecco Road