Thursday, January 30, 2014

Italy's Best-Kept Secrets; Marche and the wines of Il Pollenza


By Dwight Casimere

TOLENTINO, Italy—Rising amidst the gorgeous landscape of the Macerata hills, is the gorgeous 16th century building that is the centerpiece of the estate of Il Pollenza winery, producers of exquisite and elegant wines in Italy’s Marche region.

The history of the estate goes back to the time of Napoleon and beyond. Spread over splendidly picturesque hills in the Marche, the centerpiece is a beautifully restored 16th century building designed by Sangallo.

The site of the winery was the battlefield for the famous Battle of Tolentino, fought in May, 1815 with the Neapolitan army, led by His Royal Highness King Joachim Murat pitted against Austrian troops led by Baron Federico Bianchi. The clash resulted in the demise of the Napoleonic era and the repression of the struggle to establish the great Italian Risorgimento. The land was lost and re-conquered many times over the course of history.

What remains in Tolentino are the gloriously restored buildings of the Il Pollenza estate and its state of the art winery.  Il Pollenza exudes a sincere passion for the land and a commitment to the best cultivation techniques, resulting in wines that reflect the highest in quality and flavor. The real beauty of these wines is that they are not only rich and delicious, but, for most, they also have an average price of $17!

Il Pollenza estate was purchased by Count Brachetti-Peretti more than twenty years ago from the house of Antici Mattei and its principality.  The exceptional wines offered for sampling covered the spectrum, among them a white wine,  Brianello Bianco 2012 , Marche IGT. It is a blend of the native Trebbiano grape combined with the international varietals Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It is a crisp, clean wine, aged in stainless steel to preserve its full fruit flavor. This was my choice with pheasant, roasted with fresh truffles and a hint of fresh sage. Fennel salad with a lemon vinaigrette dressing was the first course.  The meal was followed by Mango sorbet with fresh strawberries. It was truly a delightful lunch that brought out the best in this well structured, evenly balanced wine.

Balance is the name of the game with the 90 points plus rated Il Pollenza-Cosmino Marche Rosso IGT 2008 $30. The wine is silky smooth with black cherries and blackberries literally dripping from the corners of your mouth. There’s a distinctive back note of licorice and dark Belgian chocolate with undercurrents of the rich, black mineral soil from whence the grapes came. This is still a young wine, with plenty of room for aging. However, gluttony ruled the day, and I wound up consuming this one in a single sitting with a pound and a half Prime Aged Cowboy Steak with Morel mushrooms and a dark brown sauce made with a splash of the wine.

Il Pollenza DiDi Marche IGT, also $17, proved to be one of the most interesting wines of the sampling collection. A blend of red grapes normally associated with the Burgundy and Rhone regions of France, Pinot Noir and Syrah respectively, it has a delightfully bright pink color and a tantalizing, seductive flavor to match. You wouldn’t expect such a vibrant color from the decidedly heavy, tannic and spicy grapes involved, but, according to the winery, the practice of blending the two grapes has been around for some time.  Prior to the 1920s, when France began to codify its byzantine rules on wine labeling, it was commonplace for producers in Burgundy to strengthen their Pinot wines with a touch of wine from the Rhone Valley. The Syrah was used to deepen the color of the resulting wine and bolster its alcohol content, thus camouflaging a weak vintage.  This is a terrific all purpose wine, great with salads, fruit, cheese and particularly with shellfish. Lobster was my choice, drenched in a white wine sauce infused with a reduction of some of the cooking liquid from the poached lobster and a bit of the wine. Served with a side of linguine topped with chopped sage, a few grinds of Sicilian sea salt and a dollop of olive oil or melted clarified butter, the results were terrific!

Porpora-Marche Rosso IGT 2012 $17 is another full-bodied red with silky tannins. It has a distinctive flavor of dried rose petals, blueberries and a backbone of dark minerals. There’s a hint of Godiva chocolate that gives it a seductive finish. Veal piccata or sautéed Skate with capers, or Dover Sole in lemon and brown butter sauce are my flavor matches with this lovely, violet-colored wine.

 A brief note on the Marche. This is one of the great undiscovered (to those of us here in the US) wine producing regions of Italy. Located on the eastern side of central Italy, it isadjacent to its better- known neighbors Emilia-Romagna and Abruzzo and separated from Umbria by only the Apennines mountains. It is ideally situated between the mountains on the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east, which accounts for its exceptional growing conditions for all types of grapes, from the indigenous (and ubiquitous) Trebbiano and Verdicchio grapes to many international varietals. Besides producing spectacular, fruit forward still wines, the region is also becoming known for its delightful sparkling DOCG sparkling wine, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.

Chief among the reds are the Sangiovese-Montepulciano blends. Other widely planted white grapes include Pinot Bianco, Malvasia Toscana, Pecorino and Bianchello. There’s no end to the blending possibilities and to the exceptional wines from the Marche, one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.

1. Il Pollenza estate in the Marche
2-5. The wines of Il Pollenza
6. The winemaking team at Il Pollenza:
 Reference oenologist: Dr. Carlo Ferrini
Internal company oenologist: Dr. Giovanni Campodonico
Agronomist: Dr. Valerio Barbieri
Laboratory Director: Dr. Mauro Giacomini

Friday, January 17, 2014

Slow Wine 2014 USA Tour Hits 3 Major Cities with New Slow Wine Guide, Even Newer Bi-monthly Newsletter


Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

SLOW WINE embarks on the third edition of its USA tour with a new twist. Not only will it premiere a new and updated 2014 edition of its Slow Wine Guide, it will also introduce their new bi-monthly newsletter, which will be available for a free trial download in the month of February.

Slow Wine is the guide to Italian wineries which are approved as good, clean and fair by Slow Food. Slow Wine has had a major impact on the wine industry through its focus on environmental sensitivity and ecologically sustainable viticultural practices. The newsletter seeks to be a valuable instrument for wine lovers and professionals searching for a new perspective on wine valuation and criticism. The newsletter is also a gateway for the upcoming stars of the Italian wine scene to reach a larger base of wine lovers.

Slow Wine 2014 unfolds in three U.S. cities, each with its own unique focus. In San Francisco, the 2014 Slow Wine tour will take place Monday, January 27 at the renowned Terra Gallery at 511 Harrison Street, on Rincon Hill in that city’s chic SOMA district (South of Market Street) in the heart of San Francisco’s arts and culture area. Terra Gallery is the city’s most unique, elegant and versatile multi-level event space, located just minutes away from that city’s top hotels, restaurants and picturesque sights and attractions.  More than 50 Italian winemakers from 15 regions will be in San Francisco to personally pour their wine creations accompanied by a delectable selection of light Italian-inspired bites in Terra’s dynamic atmosphere.

The tour continues in Chicago on Wednesday, January 29 at the famed Spiaggia restaurant at 980 N. Michigan in the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.  Chef Tony Mantuano, one of the Champions from Season Two of Bravo Tv’s “Top Master Chefs” and a 2005 James Beard Foundation Award winner is Chef/Partner at Spiaggia,  Chicago’s only four-star Italian restaurant. A favorite of Presidents and foreign dignitaries, Spiaggia has become the mecca for modern interpretations of the regional cuisines of Italy. Spiaggia’s private dining rooms, overlooking Chicago’s vibrant Michigan Avenue, with its elegant boutiques and designer showrooms near the historic Water Tower, provides the showcase for wines from 60 producers representing 15 regions of Italy.

Slow Wine 2014 concludes in New York’s lively Chelsea area, Monday Feb. 3 on the eve of New York Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.  This vibrant area is home, along with neighboring Tribeca, of the world-famous Tribeca Film Festival, co-founded by actor Robert De Niro, and the site of some of the most glamorous designer shows held during New York’s upcoming Fashion Week (Feb. 6-13).  Wines from over 70 selected producers from 15 Italian regions will be presented at The Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W. 18th Street. A news conference prior to the event on February 3 will describe the 2014 US tour’s collaboration with Vinitaly International and the introduction of their bimonthly newsletter, which will also be available for a free trial download in the month of February.

In a pre-tour interview, Giancarlo Gariglio, Editor, Slow Wine Guide, discussed the new guide, the newsletter and their impact on wine appreciation, production and consumption.

“Our guide is still very young and therefore, I do not pretend that Slow Wine has profoundly changed the way America is drinking wine. I hope that a wine guide like ours can help consumers ask the right questions and that consumers start drinking more consciously.”

Regarding the uniqueness of the Slow Wine Guide as compared to other, more traditional publications, Gariglio posited that “the Slow Wine Guide is the only guide that, besides tasting all the wines reviewed, has decided to visit all the producers personally. We think that telling the stories of producers, who talk about their work and about the terroir and where their wines come from is the most important thing. Slow Wine also provides a lot of very useful information that other guides don’t, such as the type of fertilizers, yeasts, or whether herbicides and/or pesticides are used. Unlike other publications, we do not give numerical scores, but nonetheless provide precise suggestions on what consumers should buy.”

Another positive attribute of the Slow Wine Guide, Gariglio offered, is its emphasis on the importance of the relationship between quality and the price of the wines. “The consumer should not expect to spend too much money to drink good, clean and fair wine. Italy has the fortune to be able to offer lots of great value wines, even among those made with sustainable agriculture.”

He noted that Slow Wine has already had a profound impact on the industry, even if some of the larger producers are only paying homage to it with lip service. “It is true that sustainability is also turning into a fad and a marketing tool. I believe that consumers need to pay close attention to this. Slow Wine visits all the wineries personally and then discovers when sustainability is practiced for solely marketing purposes and when it instead originates from ethical values. When you go and see the vineyards, producers can no longer tell you lies as they can when you just ask for samples. I believe, however, that environmental sustainability is an important and fundamental value that more and more will define the quality of a wine.”

As they say in the industry, the proof is in the bottle. Visit the Slow Wine 2014 USA tour when it comes to a city near you. As they say in Italy, “la verita’ del vino e’ nel bicchiere.” The truth of the wine is in the glass.
For ticket information, visit one of the following links:

Photos by Dwight Casimere

#1-3 Dwight The Wine Doctor with participants at the Slow Wine Guide 2013 preview at The Metropolitan Pavilion, New York City

 James Beard Award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano at "home" in his kitchens at Spiaggia, Magnificent Mile, Chicago

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Prosecco: the perfect sparkling wine for Valentine's Day

A crisp, fruity alternative to Champagne from Italy’s Conegliano  Valdobbiadene DOCG

By Dwight Casimere

VENICE, ITALY—Prosecco has outpaced Champagne as the most popular sparkling wine in the world. This year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s expected that more toasts will be raised, and love’s ephemeral contract sealed with glasses of this bright, distinctive Italian bubbly.

Prosecco was conceived in the lush green hills of the Veneto region, between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, just a short distance from Venice. The cascading hillside vineyards are in the shadow of the majestic, snow-capped Dolomite mountains. I've flown over the mountains and vineyards many times on the way to either Venice or Verona. It is a breath-taking sight indeed.

Prosecco is a marvelous alternative to Champagne. It is decidedly different in flavor and character, in that it is often lighter and a touch sweeter, two characteristics that make it more acceptable to a growing number of fans around the globe. Typically made with 100% of the Glera grape, a native varietal, formerly called the Prosecco grape, it renowned for its beautiful light straw color and bright taste. In addition to its delightful taste, which is characteristically light and fruity, with just a touch of sweetness, it is very easy on the pocketbook.

All of the Proseccos I tasted were in the very comfortable $15-$20 range and delivered a lot of flavor bang for the buck. Here are a few of my favorites:

Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico $15.99
This is a lively, food-friendly prosecco that literally “jumps in your mouth” with firm bubbles and crisp acidity. The first thing that hits you is the smell of fresh bananas and the taste of fresh pears. This is a great wine to have with crab salad or shrimp tossed with watercress, avocado and a light lemon vinaigrette. This will quickly become your favorite brunch beverage. Rustico is perfect for making the Bellini Cocktail, made famous by the author Ernest Hemingway at Harry’s Bar in Venice. Pour an ounce and a half of Rustico in a tulip glass and add an equal amount of pear juice or pear nectar. I add a touch of triple sec just to brighten the taste, but you can omit it. It’s terrific with Eggs Benedict or Eggs Florentine. Substitute a small filet of salmon or a slice of Nova Scotia for the Canadian Bacon and you’ve got a match made in heaven.

Villa Sandi Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG $15 - I had the opportunity to taste this lovely rendition of Prosecco Superiore with the owner of the Villa, Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, at last spring’s Vinitaly in Verona. The wine comes from the family’s 1622 Palladian-style Villa on their luxurious estate tucked away in the hills in the heart of the Veneto near the town of Valdobbiadene, about 40 miles north of Venice. This is a very intense wine with a beautiful pale straw color and fine, persistent bubbles. The first sensation is the smell of delicate, white acacia flowers with the crisp taste or ripe golden apples. There’s a yummy taste of slightly sweet mandarin oranges on the back of the tongue, all leading to an harmonious finish. This is a great wine to have with cheese and fruit, a Cobb Salad or a plate of Fettuccini Alfredo with a light cream or vodka/tomato sauce.

Canella Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano Valdobbiadene $16.
A youthful freshness characterizes this relatively low alcohol version of Prosecco. It has a crisp vitality that makes it ideal to sip and chat on a lazy afternoon. Grown on family-owned hillside vineyards around Conegliano, the estate owners, the Canellas, recommend that you enjoy this wine by pouring it in a “bollicine” glass, a unique Riedel crystal glass, designed especially for their portfolio of wines, in order to fully appreciate the wine’s delicate fragrance and aromas. Meyer lemon, Key Lime and Clementine orange give it a zingy acidity and a touch of sweetness. The rich, silky-smooth texture makes it a perfect match with Dover Sole, a caviar tower with capers, thinly sliced red onion, thin lemon wedges and chopped boiled egg trimmings or fresh cooked peel ‘n eat prawns, even a bit of smoked sturgeon.
The winemaker, Roberto Pivetta suggests that, even though the wine contains only 11% alcohol, it can be aged in the cellar and enjoyed for several years to come.

Those are my picks for Prosecco Superiore from Conegliano Valdobbiadene. You can take the money you saved by not buying Champagne and purchase a really nice bouquet of American Beauty Roses or a fancy exotic flower arrangement complete with rare Bird of Paradise flowers for your Loved One. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gioancarlo Moretti Polegato-owner of Villa Sandi

Below: Villa Sandi Estate

Saturday, January 11, 2014

For Valentine's Day, Castello di Amorosa wines, wines from the "Castle of Love"

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

Dwight The Wine Doctor with Dario Sattui, owner and designer of Castello di Amorosa
Views of Castello di Amorosa

CALISTOGA, CALIFORNIA--High atop a hill above St. Helena Highway in the Napa Valley is the imposing medieval castle that is Castello di Amorosa, the "Castle of Love." This Tuscan- styled, 13th-century fortress is not only an homage to Italian ancestry of its owner and designer, Dario Sattui, it is also one of the nation's primary producers of old-world Italian style wines. The wines can only be purchased at the winery or by mail order, by calling 707-967-6274 or online at

There's a special incentive to purchase these exceptional wines.  With Valentine's Day approaching,  there's no better time to drink wines from "the Castle of Love." My personal favorite is the Castello di Amorosa 2010 Napa Valley Sangiovese ($30).

Castello di Amorosa 2010 Napa Valley Sangiovese is a sterling example of the California incarnations of this classic Italian varietal. Sangiovese is the king of all grapes in Tuscany. Napa Valley's rich, volcanic soils are perfect for duplicating the lush, complex flavors of the Sangiovese grape which makes this wine an astounding value at $30.
During my recent trip to Rome, I attended the Gambero Rosso cooking school and participated in a cooking demonstration and dinner that involved a local favorite recipe for Pasta Carbonara. The dish included a special local cured bacon, made from the jowls of the pig called Guanciale (pig cheeks). If you happen upon Boar's Head brand Pancetta in your local supermarket, it is a close approximation.  Alternately, Trader Joe's and most supermarkets carry the Citterio brand of Pancetta. This is a Milano-owned company that manufactures its cured Italian-styled meats in Pennsylvania. Although a far-cry from the guanciale I had in Italy, the quality is still quite good. To accomplish the recipe, the bacon is slow cooked to release the fat juices which are then combined with whipped raw eggs, Parmesan cheese,  and fresh, homemade pasta. The hot oil and the heat of the pasta "cooks" the sauce, and the result is a creamy, mouth-pleasing dish of pasta that goes perfectly with this robust, yet elegant, fullbodied wine. You can make the dish more interesting by adding fresh or frozen peas, diced plum tomatoes and fresh, hand-torn Basil leaves to add both color and flavor.

The Sangiovese is from Castello di Amorosa's very own vineyards and its full of flavors of crushed red tea roses, cranberries, a hint of juniper berry and flecks of cardamom and sticks of dried cinnamon. There's just a hint of dried cedar or potpourri and pomegranate to give it that yummy mouth feel that you can only get from a rich, red wine. Combined with the rich creamy sauce, the peppery ham and the salty cheese, this is a flavor journey you won't want to end any time soon.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
from Gambero Rosso cooking school and Italian Food Network TV Channel in Rome

Ingredients (serves 4)
One package spaghetti (preferably fresh-made)
1 package pork cheek bacon or pancetta
4 eggs
4 Tbs grated Pecorino Romano cheese
black pepper to taste
(optional) 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Cut the cheek bacon into strips or place diced pancetta into a skillet over a low to medium flame and cook until crispy and the fat melts away from the meat, reserve warm bacon and melted fat in the pan for later use in the recipe

in a bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk, adding the grated cheese and black pepper and optional red pepper flakes to the mix until it all congeals
Cook the spaghetti in boiling water until just al dente. Be sure to reserve some of the pasta cooking water for later use.  Drain pasta  and place it in the pan with the crispy bacon meat and warm fat. Simmer over low flame.
Remove pasta from the heat and pour the spaghetti in the bowl with the eggs. Mix well, adding warm pasta water as needed to create a creamy sauce mixture.  Serve with
more fresh ground pepper and a healthy sprinkling of additional grated cheese. Decant wine for drinking. Abbondanza!

Wide World of Wine with Dwight the Wine Doctor