Tag Archives: Italy

Wine not tasting good enough? Salt it.

26 Nov

If you haven’t been to Harvard’s Science and Cooking lectures, it’s your free opportunity to geek out with Ferran Adrià, David Chang, Wylie Dufresne– basically, people you wouldn’t mind hiring to cater your death row meal. They come into town to give a lecture, and the food science faculty takes them out for ice cream. In a dorm. Yeah, that’s way po-mo hipster brainy cute, no?

Anyhow, last night’s lecture was from Nathan Myhrvold, mad polymathic genius behind Modernist Cuisine, the gifting of which automatically makes me Girlfriend of the Year (or so I keep telling Gin Savant) for the next six of them.

So after an hour of really cool videos in which the audience oohed and aahed at food changing phases, and you know, SCIENCE bitches, he drops in this coy little takeaway: if your wine isn’t savory enough for your liking, put a teensy pinch of fine-ground salt in it. Red or white. Myhrvold said he did it right in front of Gina Gallo with one of her Cabs, the cheeky imp. This is also the guy who thinks running wine through a blender is a thing. Myhrvold said that we salt food to bring balance and amplification to flavors and food, so why not do it with wine?

Some wines do indeed already have a marked, pleasing taste of salinity–also called sapidity in certain sommelier circles, which makes me think “stupidity” or “vapidity.” A lot of times these wines are made in areas near the sea, as you might expect: reds from Apulia in southern Italy, assyrtikos from Santorini, Greece. Oceanfront access is not a requirement, either, as you’ll find it in wines from vineyards along the Murray River in New South Wales and Victoria, and in the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Muscadets from the Loire tend to be salty (and perhaps one of the reasons they go so well with oysters).

I tried it with the Aglianico del Vulture in my fridge that was probably open a day too late, and it only magnified the metallic taste you get with a wine that’s been overly oxidized. Then I tried it with a newly opened Basque red and that threw everything out of balance. My suspicion is that it might work really well with a northern Italian red from one of the mountainous regions like Alto Adige–I’ve long been a fan of their acidic whites, but found their reds, due to the cold, less than thrilling. If you try it, report back in the comments and I’ll do the same.











Random wine tasting notes

24 Jan

I’m running a tasting later this week for one of my side editorial projects. Here’s my take on some of what we’re having. They’re all available locally, and all are in the $10-$15 range.

Domaine Lafage Cote Est
A blend of grenache blanc, chardonnay and marsanne.
Located in southwest France, Roussillon borders both the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees Mountains separating it from Spain. As the sunniest part of France, it’s able to produce very juicy wines. You’ll notice aromas of honeysuckle, cantaloupe, iris, lime and cilantro, and flavors of ripe lime, guava, watercress, apricot, peach, tangerine rind, sea salt and white flowers. Even though this is 13% alcohol by volume, which puts it almost in full-bodied wine territory, it can work with many salads and lighter fare. For best results, pair it with rustic French or Spanish dishes, cod, grilled bruschetta, or ratatouille.

And if you close your eyes and imagine that you’re sipping this on the rue d’Antibes on the Cote d’Azur, we wouldn’t blame you.

Susana Balbos Crios Torrontes
100% Torrontes

Though it’s a white, this is the little black dress of wines: versatile, ideal for any occasion, and dang sexy (well, it is made by an Argentinian woman).

This wine is widely considered to be the epitome of Torrontes, a native Argentinean variety. It’s, simply, an irresistible tease: dry and acidic like Sauvignon Blanc, yet full-bodied, fruity and floral, with lushly perfumed aromas of peach, white pear, flowers, and orange. Rather beguiling.

Pair this baby with smoked meats, mild to medium cheeses, seafood (particularly crab and sushi). Or drink it our favorite way—by itself. Once you taste it, you’ll want to make this your house wine.

Li Veli Primonero
50% primitivo, 50% negroamaro

If this Puglia wine brings back memories of your post-college trip to Italy and a certain local attraction named Stefano, we certainly won’t tell.

Negroamaro is earthy; primitivo (depending on who you talk to, either an ancestor or twin of zinfandel) is more refined. Combining the two balance out the rougher and softer edges into a wine you can take a lot of places.

Dark, intense and plummy, with hints of black cherry, licorice, pepper and mocha, the tannins are softer than you’d expect and the nose is more floral. This is a wine that lingers nicely. It’s great for your heavier winter meals, or even for grilled foods in the summer.

Ciao, Apulia: Or a very nice evening with Puglian wines

18 May

Puglia (aka Apulia to the paisans) is basically the southeast heel of the Capezio boot that is italy, running for more than 200 miles along the Adriatic Sea, and mostly known for negroamaro and primitivo, and in the 1970s, crappy vermouth. It’s a region that quite frankly gets overlooked: southern Italy is poorer than the more glamorous north in general–and when you add all the super-powered wine regions up there, it’s hard to blame consumers who never drink past Umbria on the map.

You can find Puglian wines around here, but you have to look (start with Wine Bottega and Vinodivino for starters). The few I’ve had were quite enjoyable, but if you don’t think to look for them you don’t think to ask for them.

Masseria Celentano, Casaltrinita, Cantine Teanum, Botromagno

Some of the Apulian fabulosity.

Well, a passel of winemakers there are aiming to change that. Every single email I got over the past week seemed to have some event in town for the Puglia posse. These guys were booking it all over town, meeting the industry and the well-heeled likely consumer, culminating at a dual tasting at the WGBH studios for consumers and then for the Red White Boston Tasting Crew.

What struck me most was that many of the wines, both red and white, had a marked salt water taste. At first, you’d think this would be kind of nasty–I mean, salt water is what you drink when you really really really need to throw up after a night of epic alcohol consumption when you’re 16 and need to leave the slumber party and go home to your parents. (Or so I’ve heard. And don’t try this at home, kids. But I digress.)

But Puglia’s location, on the ocean, in a warm-weather region, means that the grapes have a pretty nice life and conditions to grow and ripen and all that stuff that could lead to decadence and wonderfully luxurious, unctuous fruit flavors. The salinity reins all that potential excess in so that wines end up being crisp and palate-teasing, with a good balance between fruit and acid.

Two of the standout grapes (Italy’s got something like 3,000 native varieties; you’re forgiven for not remembering these, LOL) were new to me:

Caseltrinita nero di troia

Caseltrinita's nero di troia

Nero di Troia: one of the unusual features about this red grape is that it ripens late in the fall. In Italy, it’s been grown for volume, to be a “filler” grape. The stuff we had tonight tasted a lot more developed for only being a couple of years old–the tannins weren’t causing me to scrape my teeth down with barbed wire like a lot of young Italian reds do. And, again, the salinity was present. To be honest, Italy has a lot of cock-of-the-walk badass reds, so nero di troia might be a hard sell to most people who love their nebbiolo, unless a winery could appeal to the budget-conscious types. These would be a pretty kickass bargain.

Greco: To be specific, greco bianco, imported from Greece nearly 3,000 years ago. No less an authority than Oz Clarke calls Botromagno one of the finer producers of it, even if he isn’t particularly effusive about it, calling its peachy briskness “often rather good in a neutral sort of way.” The 60/40 Greco/white malvasia blend was crisp like a Torrontes from Argentina–but it comes from Gravina, a small DOC–so small in fact, Botromagno is the only grower there.

One of the biggest, most pleasant surprises of the evening was Aglianico: Get it young, and it’s a brat of a wine: tannic and overbearing, especially if you don’t pair it with big overbearing protein-packed food. The two served last night were both pretty well-behaved. Cantine Teanum’s Otre Aglianico was a big hit for me: super brandied cherries and strawberries, rhubarb and pencil shavings (hey, that kid who ate paste in your second grade class was on to something) were held nicely in check by the saline quality of the wine. Botromagno’s Pier delle Vigne was a 60-40 Aglianico-Montepulciano blend; this one had more of a grainy “chaff” taste to it, like barley or hay, and a sulfurish “matchsticky” bite. Interesting in its own way.

Puglian white wine moscato sauvignon blanc

One of the WGBH Apulian stanadouts

Masseria Celentano’s La Preta deserves to be a cult wine someday—another example of excess and restraint. It had a luxurious nose of honeysuckle, floral and pollen, orange blossom, dry melon and mango—and counterbalanced with tobacco (which is often said about reds) and that saline taste. It’s a blend of 70% moscato and 30% sauvignon blanc. I would have preferred maybe 25-28% sauvignon blanc to make it a little less dry, but hell, I’ll take it if I can ever find it again.

Gravisano Malvasia Passita was another big win for Apulia—it was the kind of dessert wine that would make Jerez shake in their soleras in fear, or, as my pal Jason Phelps at Ancient Fire Wine thought, Canadian icewine makers. Sweet without being cloying or diabetes-inducing. Believe me, when we got to take home the leftovers, I yoinked that one forthwith.

More Puglians from the evening

As is typical of Puritan over-regulated Massachusetts, the kicker is that these wines aren’t available here yet, so bookmark this page and check back, or print it out and take it to your local wine outfitter and tell them to tell their distributors to get on the stick. Or find a sympathetic friend in another state to front for you.

So what about you? Any good experiences–travel, gustatory or otherwise–from Puglia?

Underrated wine region #1: Alto-Adige

1 Jul

First, it’s pronounced Ah-DEE-zhay.

Because it’s a far north in Italy as you can get–think Alps– before bumping up against Switzerland’s dupa, you also see Sudtirol on the label, which is also a legacy of being part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So they speak a lot of German up there. Sometimes it’s Trentino-Alto-Adige on the label; Trentino is a neighboring province of Italia.

Despite the alpine location, the summer gets pretty warm there, which means they grow a fair amount of red grapes too, a few of which are local varieties like Vernatsch (a.k.a. Schiava), Lagrein, Goldmuscateller (seek this out if you can–sweetness without cloyingness), and Kerner (quality varies, IMHO). And the wines are crisp without making you feel like you’re drinking thumbtacks, and have just the right amount of juicy flavor that keeps you quaffing.

Another interesting thing is that if you’re interested in trying Swiss wines, which are notoriously hard to find in the US because so much is kept over there to drink, this could be the next best thing.

Winemaker to seek out Alois Lageder. For me, he is Alto-Adige. I serve his rose all the time with anything and people love the hell out of it. It’s a gorgeous deep pink color that looks like candy but tastes smooth and dry.

And he’s pretty reasonable: you can find his Lagrein Rose, regular Lagrein, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Grauversnatsch (bless you), and more for anywhere from $13 if you know where to shop (cough Wine Nation, Millbury, cough) to $21.

Winestone and Martignetti’s carry him too. Central Bottle In Cambridge has the higher end chi-chi biodynamic lines where he plays Mozart to the grapes to help them grow better, but that culture don’t come cheap ($20 to $50). I have one or two but I’m kinda saving them for when I cook a big dinner thang.

Other producers you’ll find around Boston: Colterenzio, Hofstatter, Santa Margherita.