Category: Italy

#HOTGV: On Sciacchetrà with Terra di Bargòn

For the third episode of Heard on the Grape Vine podcast, I travelled to Liguria, in northern Italy, to learn more about Sciacchetrà, a passito wine unique to the Cinque Terre.

View out to sea from Terra di Bargòn, Cinque Terre

You’ve probably seen the word passito on bottles of sweet wine from all around Italy so let me begin by explaining what that is. Passito is the Italian name for a type of sweet wine made from the juice of grapes that have been allowed to dry before being pressed. The drying process concentrates the sugar in the grapes so that sweet wines can be produced. The residual sugar, left at the end of the fermentation process, is what you can taste on your palate.

In the Cinque Terre, a special type of passito is produced and it goes by the name of Sciacchetrà. It is made by fermenting the juice of the raisined grapes with the must (grape skin, pips and all) to produce a concentrated, tannic sweet wine.

In Riomaggiore, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre, I met Roberto Bonfiglio and Alessandra De Cugis. They are the husband and wife team behind Terra di Bargòn, a cantina which produces only Sciacchetrà. Alessandra and Roberto welcomed me to their home somewhere half way up the Ligurian hills. Surrounding it were gnarly vines of some 25 years, trained in a high pergola. There, looking out over the Cinque Terre, they talked about their Sciacchetrà.

Roberto Bonfiglio and Alessandra de Cugis at Terra di Bargòn, Cinque Terre

For me, it was incredibly awe-inspiring to learn that the couple, now in their 60s, are producing this passito wine which the younger generation has abandoned because they deemed it too hard. But I’ll let them explain their own wine.

The wine we tasted was the Terra di Bargòn Reserva 2009, a concentrated wine with notes of bruised apple, prune, dried apricots and a nutty tang. It’s far from the lusciousness typical of passito so if you’re not a big fan of sugar, this could be the sweet wine for you.

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Chianti Classico and Gran Selezione tastings 2014, Florence

This time last year I was in Florence for the launch of the new Chianti Classico classification, the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. It was part of the Anteprima di Toscana where several other appellations were also celebrated. As the wines are becoming more widely available, and indeed starting to be ready to drink (albeit only a small handful), I thought I would put down a few thoughts.

Black rooster, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

A short note on Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is a Tuscan appellation situated within the wider region of Chianti. It’s worth clarifying that all Chianti Classico wines can also be classified as Chianti (though the former generally commands a higher price) but not all Chianti wines are Chianti Classico. There are also other Chianti sub-regions, falling under Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli, and Rùfina, which are separate and distinct from Chianti Classico.

 

Until last year, there were two Chianti Classico appellations – Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, both requiring at least 80% Sangiovese grapes and a maximum of 20% Canaiolo grapes in the final blend. It’s only since 1995 that 100% Sangiovese-based wines could be classed as Chianti Classico. And in the interest of quality, and style, Chianti Classico wines cannot be released until the 1st of October of the year following the harvest, while Chianti Classico Riserva must be aged for at least 24 months, including at least three months in bottle, prior to release.

The (newish) Gran Selezione

On 17th of February 2014, a new tier in the Chianti Classico appellation was announced – the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

Gran Selezione press conference, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

This new appellation builds on the Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva appellations but with additional quality requirements. In particular, the grapes used for the wines must come from the estate and ageing must be at least 30 months, with three of those in bottle. In 2014, 34 wines were unveiled in Florence, some with availability of just a few hundred bottles and others with hundreds of thousands.

An even better Chianti Classico?

Needless to say, the wines unveiled at the launch last year came from some of the region’s best wineries though whether they are better wines for it is another question.

Unveiling Gran Selezione, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

At the time, a few of the producers I spoke to weren’t overly enthusiastic about the new appellation. Applying for Gran Selezione and marketing it would cost more money but the potential gains were yet to be seen. That said, many did welcome the additional recognition for quality and some of the producers were already making wines under the requirements prior to its introduction. Of course, you can be sure that the Gran Selezione will come with a higher price tag.

For consumers, there’s always the worry that, while trying to achieve a defined terroir style, the wines are being funnelled down the same route to produce basically the same wines. The result might be very “correct” wines but, potentially, ultimately uninteresting. Meanwhile, the results remains to be seen.

Comestible interlude at Chianti Classico tasting:

Franciacorta: A different perspective on our favourite bubbles

When you think about sparkling wines and Italy, Prosecco will no doubt be the first thing which comes to mind. But for fine Italian bubbles, you should really look to Franciacorta.

Franciacorta, a wine region in Lombardy just south of Lake Iseo, is a place whose still wines have been noted in history by the likes of Virgil and Pliny the Elder for its exceptional quality. But in recent times, it is their sparkling wines which have brought the region back in vogue.

Wines of the region were only denominated as Franciacorta in 1957, when winemaker Guido Berlucchi released a still white wine called Pinot di Franciacorta. Then in 1961, with the help of Franco Ziliani, Berlucchi produced a sample 3,000 bottles of sparkling wines. The wines, produced via metodo classico (the same method as champagne), gained instant popularity and flew out of the Berlucchi cellars. The following year, production was increased to some 20,000 and has been steadily increasing since.

Standards of Franciacorta have always been maintained though. And in 1995, Franciacorta was awarded the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status as an indication of its superior quality.

Charcuterie and Franciacorta wine glass at Dego, London

These days, a handful of Franciacorta producers lay claim to an output of around 13 million bottles – only a tiny fraction compared to Champagne. But just like Champagne, it is the only Italian wine which doesn’t need to declare its appellation on the label.

The pedigree all looks very good on paper but what does it taste like?

In conversations and tastings with the sommeliers at the very Italian Amaranto and Degò, the feedback has always been very positive. The little known sparkling wine, hidden like an Italian secret, has quality that’s comparable to that of Champagne but at a snip of the price. And elsewhere, including in the likes of award winning journal The World of Fine Wine, the consensus is in agreement – Franciacorta is a more than worthy contender on the platform of sparkling wines.

I invited Tom Harrow of WineChap to Vini Italiani, a South Kensington wine shop specialising in Italian wines, for a tasting of Franciacorta. One of the owners, Matteo Berlucchi, is in fact a member of the Franciacorta making family Fratelli Berlucchi so bubbles were certainly in their veins.

Harrow, already familiar with Franciacorta, was immediately happy to declare 2012 as the year for it. I was inclined to agree.

Franciacorta at Vini Italiani

We tasted the Brut 25 NV Fratelli Berlucchi, Brut NV Il Mosnel, Prima Cuvee Brut NV Monte Rossa, Brut Rose Millesimato 2007 Fratelli Berlucchi, Pas Dose Riserva “QDE” 2004 Il Mosnel and Dosage Zero 2006 Ca’ del Bosco. Each had its distinct characteristic, minerality and a rich butteriness that the average Prosecco simply cannot comprehend. And fruit too, was surprisingly prominent.

Harrow, I think, was rather captured by their structure. The Dosage Zero 2006 Ca’ del Bosco, he says, would happily rest for a few more years before maturity. Generally finding pink to be a deterrent, I actually quite fancied the Brut Rose Millesimato 2007 Fratelli Berlucchi for drinking right now (Valentine’s Day in particular). All in all, a rather tasty afternoon’s work.

Of course that is not to say that this relatively young wine is comparable to the finest Champagnes, which by its very nature is in a superior category. But as Harrow rightly said, to compare Franciacorta with anything else simply doesn’t do it justice – it is unlike anything else on the market. And for something which has only been in production for a relatively short time, Franciacorta is already very good and has great potential to grow. Besides, a different interpretation of our favourite drink is never a bad thing

(First seen on BespokeRSVP)

Desserts and wines with Nancy Gilchrist MW

dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

Leiths School of Food and Wine, famed for training professional and amateur chefs alike, has recently launched a new series of evening tasting classes. I went to its West London kitchen classroom to try some food and wine matches.

The class was fairly informal and led by Nancy Gilchrist MW – author, journalist and Master of Wine. For any worshipper of desserts, the evening promises to be enjoyable, entertaining and educational. Unfortunately the class took place when London was in the grips of icy wintry weather.

Having braved the snow and ice with a questionable choice of footwear, which got me cursing every two steps, I was very well rewarded. We were welcomed into the class with a glass of Zonin Brut Prosecco, which given the warm embrace of the classroom, was like an injection of summer. As guests slowly trailed in, the hubbub in the class grew.

Nancy Gilchrist at dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

Nancy introduced the format of the evening – there were six dessert wines to try with six matched desserts. There was brioche to cleanse the palate, water for rinsing and we could request a personal spittoon, if we wanted to. We also had a course booklet with notes on all the wines and recipes for all the desserts. It was a case of “you can take it as seriously as you like”, or just enjoy.

First up was a delightfully summery Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2009. At only 5% alcohol, it was the least alcoholic of the wines and also my favourite. It was matched with pomegranate meringues, pomegranate and strawberry compote and sweetened whipped double cream. Nancy suggested tasting the wine in four stages – on its own, with just the meringue, with the meringue and the compote and finally with everything. It was interesting to find that the perceived flavour profile of the wine was changing according to what it was paired with.

Nivole Moscato d'Asti with brioche, dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

The wine was very pleasant to drink to begin with and pairing with just the meringue seemed to make little difference. With the compote the contrast was a lot sharper and the wine, although not unpleasant, didn’t taste nearly as nice. When the cream was added though, the natural taste of the wine returned but with a new-found richness.

The second wine was Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes 2006 from Waitrose paired with crème brûlée and raspberry coulis. There was a hint of marzipan in the wine which worked particularly well with the caramelised sugar of the crème brûlée. This sweet wine is produced via a very labour intensive process as it’s made from grapes affected by noble rot. The grapes are infected by a special strain of Botrytis which causes them to dry out like raisins. They must be harvested at a particular stage of the infestation to produce the required characteristics in the wine, which means that each vine must be harvested several times by hand. Nancy tells us that this soft and mellow wine would also work well with foie gras or blue cheese.

Tarte tatin, dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

Wine number three was the Royal Tokaji 5 puttonyos 2005, which was paired with tarte tatin and Calvados crème anglais. Made with hand picked Aszu berries, the production of this wine is also highly labour intensive. The 5 puttonyos indicates the amount of berries added to the wine and therefore the level of sweetness. As the scale is between 3 and 6, this wine is very sweet.

Next up was an intensely sweet Henriques & Henriques Single Harvest Malmsey Madeira 1998 matched with stollen. Sweetness is definitely a defining characteristic of dessert wines but this one was particularly so. It was very interesting to learn about how Madeira’s distinctive flavour was first discovered as a result of some wines being carried aboard merchant vessels making long journeys across the world. These days, instead of making that long journey, the wine is heated to around 50°C and maintained for some three months. Madeira is a fortified wine which continues to improve with age, is relatively insusceptible to oxidation and will therefore last for a long time.

Fig frangipane tart, dessert and wine matching at Leiths School of Food and Wine

After that large dose of sugar, it was on to a slightly less sweet wine – the Les Vignerons de Maury, NV Solera 1928 Maury. This is another fortified wine but produced using a Solera process, where new wines are blended with older wines in rotating barrels, which began in 1928. It is a non-vintage wine as, in order for a wine to be deemed a vintage, at least 85% of the bottle must be wine produced from that vintage year. (Port and champagne must be 100%.) The dessert paired to this non-vintage was fig and frangipane tart to match the hint of fig and tobacco in the wine.

Last but not least we had the Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal 1999 paired with a chocolate and mocha layered cheesecake to pick up on the hints of coffee.

The evening wound down in the same relaxed manner as it began – guests were able to explore the different combinations of desserts and wines with Nancy on hand to answer any additional questions. For me though, it was a matter of stomping through the snow in an attempt to get home. After all, I now had renewed energy from all the sugar consumed to make the best of my impaired balance.

(First seen on Foodepedia)

Dining with Bisol Prosecco at Le Café Anglais

Bisol Dinner

When Harrods officially opened the doors to the new Wine Shop on the 16th of November, Bisol threw a little celebratory dinner party. You see, Bisol now has a rather nice display amongst Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, Taittinger and Pommery in the new Wine Shop’s champagne section.

Readers familiar with Bisol will know that it is a very highly regarded Italian prosecco producer. First established in 1542, Bisol remains a family run business focusing on producing quality prosecco. As the largest vineyard owner in the Valdobbiadene region, Bisol produces the smallest yield of prosecco. Restricting the amount of grapes produced means that the characteristics of the grapes can be carefully controlled and therefore shaping the wines produced from the grapes.

And those familiar with wines will know that prosecco is not the same as champagne. Champagne must be sparkling wine produced within the Champagne region of France. Prosecco, while primarily Italian, is also produced elsewhere in the world using only glera (prosecco) grapes. The production method is different too. Champagnes go through secondary fermentation in the bottle while for proseccos, the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks.

The placement of Bisol proseccos amongst champagne heavy-weights can only signify the quality of Bisol prosecco and the increasing popularity of proseccos in general among the British public.

The dinner took place in the private room at Le Café Anglais, the French inspired restaurant of FT columnist and chef Rowley Leigh.

To start there was a nice little introduction to Bisol at the bar with the Jeio Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Spumante as an aperitif, served with small bar snacks. It was light, refreshing and rather fruity, a perfect facilitator for meeting and mingling.

Once the entire party has arrived, a mix of Italian and British media, we moved into the Private Dining Room of Le Café Anglais. The President of Bisol Wines, Gianluca Bisol, was on hand to introduce the evening and also a little bit about each of the Bisol proseccos we were enjoying.

The first course was a wild duck pâté en croute served with a dandelion and orange salad, matched with Bisol Cartizze Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. 2009 Spumante Dry. It is usually served as a dessert wine or aperitif and it’s actually quite sweet in taste despite being labelled dry thanks to the natural sweetness of the grapes. You are probably also beginning to wonder whether all Bisol wines have such long names. In most cases they do and it’s all down to the careful classification of the wines in the region to define variety and quality. This one is produced from grapes harvested from the hills of Cartizze, a location so prime that a hectare is estimated to be worth over $1million. That is, if there were any willing sellers.

The second course was roast partridge with radicchio, cobnuts and fondant potatoes matched with Jeio Rosé Spumante Brut. This wine contrasts sharply with the last one – it is a lot drier and almost tastes a little bitter. As I prefer sweeter wines, it wasn’t for me although it did pair very well with the gamey partridge.

For the final course, we had the bitter chocolate tart with Bisol Duca di Dolle Prosecco Vino Passito. There was also a cheese course available for those more savoury minded. The bitter chocolate tart was truly delicious. It was a rich melting delight of dark chocolate on a very thin crust. I was pleased to find that the wine was back to sweet and this one was super sweet with a sugar content of 100g per litre. It’s also considered a rare wine, as production is limited to a few thousand a year. This was certainly one to be savoured as we wound down the evening. But not before Rowley Leigh enters to meet his happy diners and offer us teas and coffees.

(First seen on Foodepedia)

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