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As it name suggests the organisers of this wine tasting event set this tasting apart from the others in London. By calling it The Real Wine Fair they stirred the interest and some rhetorical questioning of not only of the local journalists but also of most of the attendants of this fair, which was accessible to both the trade and public. Many of them either privately in their own heads or in a heated conversation with each other asked: what is real wine?

The Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock in London

The Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock in London

Well, the answer is not entirely clear. Shall the rest of the wines, not present at the fair be called unreal or even more scandalously surreal? I do not think so and I do not think that is what the organisers tried to communicate. I must admit though, that if one overdoses oneself with wine it might seem surreal, as in the fog of intoxication one can see and hear surreal things. Nevertheless, while the winemakers present on the Real Wine Fair might at some points in their life experience the surreal effects of their wine, they also share other ideas such as making wine as naturally as they can. That means using as little additives, chemicals and human manipulation as they can to make wines reflecting the soil and climate. They do not need to be all “Organic certified”, although they do practice organic farming and in some cases they are in the line with the bio-dynamic philosophy, they just refuse to pay certain organisation for the label “Organic” etc. making simply wines as they ancestors did.

“Natural” location

The location of the Real Wine Fair this year was much closer to expressing this common nature-emphasising philosophy than last year. The barn-like structure, plenty of natural light (despite rainy day) and space of the former Tobacco Doc in the London’s industrial Wapping area were perfect for such an event.

On the fair, there were producers from France, Italy, Spain, Georgia and even some from Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, the USA and South Africa.

One of the genuinely friendly wine producers at the Real Wine Fair

One of the genuinely friendly wine producers from Trentino at the Real Wine Fair

Last year I tasted memorable wines from Emilia-Romagna. I was impressed by the producer of Fondo San Giuseppe in Brisighella Stefano Bariani, who is makes bio-dynamic wines, picked by hand as he aims for “understanding the land rather than abusing it”.  His winemaking is close to the natural wine movement tangible in his philosophy to“recognise wine as the spontaneous fruit of the land”.

I had to taste his wines again and confirm that “Fiorile” was my favourite. It is made from the native grape from the Romagna part of the region – Albana. The deeply coloured white wine had a lovely balance and warmth with apricot aromas and, like the first sun rays of the spring with their resurgent energy, it displayed itself with vibrant minerality (limestone soil) and tannins from the skins on the palate. Named after “Floréal” – the eighth month of the French Republican Calendar, starting on 20 April and ending on 19 May the wine accurately chronicled this period of nature’s awakening.

Moscato d"Asti

Moscato d”Asti

While last year I focused on the amphora-made wines from Georgia, this year my eye was caught by the indigenous grapes of Italy so I have tasted as many as I could. There are thousands of grape varietals in Italy itself, so I could not manage them all in one tasting (plus they could not all be present at one event London).

The other wines that I’ve enjoyed the most at the fair were:

  • The aromatic, sweet and slightly fizzy Moscato d’Asti from Ca’D’Gal in Piemonte.
  • The salty mineral, citrusy fresh, yet full from stirring the lees Manzoni Bianco (cross of Riesling and Pint Blanc) from Giuseppe&Alessandro Fanti in Trentino.
  • The dark fruit dominated powerful yet refreshing Nebiolos from Sandro Fay in Lombardia.
  • The white blends and pinkish (from the skins) Pinot Grigio with aromas of roses, young cherry blossom and fresh cherries from Dario Princic in Friuli.
  • The Primitivo from Puglia which was once brought to Italy from Greece – the powerful candied fruit on the nose and slightly meaty and concentrated fruit character on the palate from the first producer (in 1987) who bottled 100% Primitivo in Italy – Fatalone.
Pure Primitivo wine from Fatalone in Puglia

Pure Primitivo wine from Fatalone in Puglia

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Cuisine: Italian, Piedmontese.

Visit: November 2012

Price: High (but for the quality it is a good value for money).

Umberto: the owner of Vintage 1998 shaving truffles for you

Umberto: the owner of Vintage 1998 shaving truffles for you

Atmosphere: It feels much more informal than at most of Michelin stared restaurants. Colourful walls, very friendly and upbeat staff including its owner Umberto and the dress code is also much more relaxed. The tables are elegant yet cosy and Umberto makes everyone feel like at home. I would call his approach a grandmother’s style – serving you generous portions and adding more and more tasty dishes than you would imagine ordering. But they are so good and he knows what is best on that day so trust him and forget about a light meal.

Vintage 1997

Vintage 1997

Food: Hearty, generous and superb quality of ingredients. We came still in truffle season so everything one can imagine was or could be enhanced by tremendous truffles from Alba. Impolitely staring at other diners’ plates I spotted amazingly looking Beef tartare served with white truffles, so I had to try it. The starter had not disappointed. I have never had before (yet two courses later it was repeated) such a generous hat of truffles on any dish. Even a thought back about this dish makes me salivating!

Beef tartare with white truffles

Beef tartare with white truffles

My friends from Turin are regulars at Vintage 1997 so I listened not only to Umberto’s suggestions but also to theirs. Their choice of a crispy Artichoke with egg and melting parmesan was exquisite. Again not a very light dish, but full of flavours and calling for some wine to lighten it up a bit.

Artichoke with egg and parmesan

Artichoke with egg and parmesan

The home-made pasta here are like from a grandmother – no eggs were spared. The Agnolotti egg pasta are one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. I got them simple with butter sauce and another generous shaving of white truffles. If one is very hungry this plate will satisfy immediately, but it can be a shock for some cholesterol-minding customers.

Agnolotti egg pasta with white truffles

Agnolotti egg pasta with white truffles

From the desserts the homemade Tiramisu is perhaps the most popular but the chocolate aficionados also find plenty of sweets prepared with chocolate. Turin is famous for high-quality chocolate and the tradition spans across centuries, so you much give it a try.

Drinks: The wine list is spectacular with high- as well as low-priced Italian wines, but also some French treasures. What I appreciated was that Umberto selected to me a lesser known wine for a very reasonable price which tasted marvellous! What more to wish for a serious and even a less serious but price-conscious wine drinker. A bottle of a red Merlot from La Morra Langhe DOC 2006 made without any chemical fertilisers and from low-yielding vines by Fontanazza-Pissotta was surprisingly fresh and deep for a Merlot. Not a very Italian grape, but this wine proved that Merlot can thrive in Northern Italy.

Contact: Tel: +(39) 0115136722; email: info@vintage1997.com

Opening hours: Lunch: 12:30-14:30; Dinner: 20:00-23:00; closed for lunch on Saturday and on Sunday.

Address: Piazza Solferino 16h, 10121 Torino, Italy.

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Cuisine: Authentic Italian, specialised in fish and seafood.

Visit: September 2012

Price: Medium (for foreigners) to high (for many locals).

Aromi inside

Aromi had been crowning the Italian dining kingdom in Prague for many years. In 2005, the year of its opening, it was recognised as “The best new restaurant in the Czech Republic” by  Condé Nast Traveler magazine. What is even more striking is that it also got into “The Top 10 new restaurants in the world” as it proudly claims on its website. No wonder then that Aromi was my favourite Italian spot to eat at in Prague during the years I lived there (2006-2007). Today, the situation is different though. There have been so many new restaurants openings bringing new rivals and my move to the Mediterranean made me a harsher critic of fish, so for me Aromi is not the best any more. It still remains though a great place to go when you want something authentic and for a Central European city you can get a pretty good fish here.

Atmosphere: Rustic, casual and welcoming. An attentive service makes the experience very enjoyable. They all know their stuff well and advice you on anything. Whether you agree later with their recommendation or not they seem to try their best. Wooden furniture, a cheese table in the middle of the restaurant and wines lined up on the shelves along the back wall create a very casual and accommodating environment. The  newly designed cubism-inspired long bar is a great spot to have a glass of wine or one of the 100 or so grappas (Italian brandy). Wear anything from jeans to a jacket, yet go for a more casual attire. After all, you are in Prague and this cobbled city is not fluffy and too concerned about its inhabitants’ dressing manners.

Food: The chef and owner Riccardo Lucque remains true to his Italian roots as he cares about the ingredients. His direct relationship with Italian producers and farmers ensures the authenticity of the products from mozzarella to seafood. Starting with a Sword fish carpaccio, red oranges with chunks of creamy burrata sprinkled with green radish leafs and olive oil I knew the ingredients are of a high quality here. It was a refreshing dish with lots of matching flavours like a mosaic creating a colourful yet fitting concept on a plate. The fish was light, but cutting it in thicker pieces added on volume matching thus the juicy and slightly sweet oranges while not contrasting with the creamy burrata too much so it all reminded in harmony.

White fish carpaccio

Another tasty appetizer in which the classic recipe of  Tomatoes with mozzarella gets a facelift in the form of Burrata with parma ham and tomatoes is not only innovative but also very good. Burrata is a type of mozzarella made from a buffalo milk, it is more creamy, rich and for most of the people it is more tasty than its more firm sister made of cows milk (mozzarella). Using the green zesty tomatoes with this creamy cheese balanced the fatness of the burrata and the ham added depth and salty touch so you do not need to add much seasoning.

From the main courses I preferred a Grilled Octopus and vegetables lasagna to a Grilled fish of the day. The octopus had a meaty texture, crisp skin and was full of flavour. The fish was quiet disappointing as for my palate it did not taste as if it was just caught in the morning. But, it is a very demanding request for a restaurant located far from any salt water source. I believe, that if I lived in Prague I would have appreciated this fish more.

Burrata with parma ham and tomatoes

Drinks: There are many wines from all over Italy. You can choose either from a wine list or pick a bottle from the shelves along the fall. A wine waiter will be eager to assist you. We were not lucky with his selection though. Asking for a more elegant and lighter red wine he recommended us a Barolo and a Dolcetto. It did not sound right to me, but I have not tried these wines from the producers he offered and they were both an older vintage so I decided to trust him. What a mistake! With the first sip I knew it was a bit stronger than we wanted with the food we selected, yet the waiter assured me that it will open up and mellow later. Unfortunately, right the opposite happened! The wine was showing its strength more with the time so it absolutely did not match any of our dishes. Next time, we will rather choose the wine ourselves. With such a great wine list it was a shame to go wrong.

The restaurant has also a wide selection of grappa so if you feel like something stronger to drink then go for it, yet not this month as the Czech Republic was stricken with an alcoholic beverages prohibition, when all alcohol with 20% and more cannot be sold anywhere. The reason for this was serious enough, so I agree with the Czech government reaching to such a stringent solution. When over 20 people die and many get blind from consumption of methanol-tinged alcoholic beverages, then any government has to step in and protect its citizens.

Opening hours: Mon-Sat: 12:00 – 23:00; Sun: 12:00 – 22:00

Address: Mánesova 1442/78, Prague 2 – Vinohrady, 120 00, Czech Republic

Contact: Tel: +420 222 713 222; email: info@aromi.cz

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Cuisine: traditional Italian

Visit: July 2012

Price: Medium high (see the menu board bellow).

Eating in a garden in St Tropez might be a dream of many travelers. At Casa Cri the dream comes true and it is not too fancy as in other similar establishments in St Tropez.

The menu board at Casa Cri

Atmosphere: Friendly, energetic and casual. The service is like your uncle handing you a plate of great food cooked by your grand mother, it feels very homey and friendly. Sitting under the giant old trees in the garden brings the right tunes to your holidays. Relaxed, enjoyable and

Food: Authentic, unpretentious and based on high quality ingredients.

From the appetizers if one wants go for something fresh and light the Carpaccio di carciofi (Artichoke carpaccio) would be the right option. It is served with a refreshing and slightly bitter green rocket, parmesan and olive oil adding a bit of mild texture. If you do not like raw artichoke with its harsh texture then this carpaccio is not for you though.

Bresaola carpaccio with rocket and parmesan

Try a meat version of the Bresaola carpaccio also covered with rocket and parmesan shavings. This one I liked much more. The delicate and soft bresaola is so lean and savory, that I could have a plate of it twice. An excellent starter with an elegant red wine.

There are many main courses like Veal Milanese or Branzino (Sea bass) whetting ones appetite at Casa Cri, yet the pasta is the reason to come here. Their pastas are simply perfect. I wish I could cook pasta like the Italians do, it is something about doing it XX times so one masters it so well that it is perfect almost always. Cooked al dente (not too soft texture) and tossed with the sea shells, sea food, juicy tomatoes and aromatic fresh herbs, I devoured the linguini in a matter of a minute or two, how great they were. The red chianti we ordered was my helpful guide aiding my metabolism.

Linguine di frutti di mare – Seafood linguini

The desserts are very popular at Casa Cri. Just looking at your neighbor’s table and you hardly resist. From tiramisu, panna cotta and chilling and refreshing sorbetto served in fruit shells you can also get fresh fruits like pineapple or strawberries.

Drinks: I rarely have Italian food with other wine than from Italy. The Italian wines are made for their food as the curvy Florence was made for magnificent hillside pallazos. My brain and my palate desired a chianti, so Castello di Ama won me over. What a great wine! With my bresaola carpaccio as well as with the Seafood linguini it worked marvels. The rich tomato sauce in the pasta made them suitable for this deep yet elegant red wine. The perfect balance of flavors is what the Italians have mastered over the centuries of their love affair with food.

Opening hours: From April till October from 7:30 pm, except July and August, closed on Mondays

Contact: Tél. + 33 (0)4 94 97 42 52

Address: 12 Rue Étienne Berny 83990 Saint-Tropez, France ( It is a tiny street so do not miss it.)

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That Italians have passion, are masters of style and are proud of their traditional handcraft is worn truth for most of us, but that they infuse their wines with this enviable attitude ‘a la dolce vita’, may be revealing for some.

In particular, if you haven’t spent enough time debating with winemakers, the endangered species in today’s Italy, where drinking wine is increasingly frowned upon. Strangely to me, most of my Italian friends would rather sip a cocktail than a glass or two of wine.

The winemakers though still have it as I was recently reassured at a wine tasting event Passione Vino held at London’s St. James. They often engaged in an all-expressing discourse of a blend of musical Italian speech with amicable body language, that I dared to skip my afternoon psychology lecture and enjoyed savouring their words in glasses full of their liquid passion.

The Italian fashion-embracing style is recognised across the world as are their spaghetti. They get creative not only with bottles [no need to be a fashion designer-even though Roberto Cavalli crafted a stunning piece for his brother’s estate in Tuscany] but also with their brochures. From fingerprints, through drawings and even poems your artistic soul will be elevated.

White 'queen' of the day

Art is subjective, but I have to admit I admired drawings of Eugenio Rosi either on his labels and wine leaflets. He and his wife Tamara live and breath wine and you can taste it on your palate. The wine of the day was his white “Anisos” Vallagarina IGT, 2007. An organic blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Nosiola (a local variety reminding a more known Ribolla). I found myself on a short trip to Burgundy for a minute as the wine swirled through my mouth. Although not a 100% Chardonnay as Burgundies a delightful creaminess and dried fruits came through in this wine. Hay and straw nose made me wonder who is the main culprit in this masterpiece. Is it Chardonnay or to me mysterious Nosiola? Perhaps the oak casks were imported from Burgundy. Who knows – the winemaker though for sure knows the secret- for me it means contemplating a visit of Volano in Northern Italian Trentino region where Rosi has vineyards.

Back to my three points and straight to the last one – the traditional craft of Italian hands. Yes, there are many mass producers in Italy these days and this sometimes, sadly, cost for example Amarone its reputation. The Amarones have changed their style dramatically over the years. Today we drink them sweet, sometimes too much though. Not all producers took the road of market-driven winemaking though. There are still those keeping the production small and all their effort and focus into each bottle they produce, piece by piece. Moreover, many like to experiment and trust their taste buds. Dott. Umberto Ceratti is one of them and he likes it sweet in low and flat & round bottles. From a recommendation for consumption on his web site you get an idea how much time he has devoted exploring the best way to enjoy it at its best.

Consumption: “alone, in conversation or in meditation or as an aperitif, accompanied by spicy cheese biscuits or hard cheese or fresh fruit after a meal.”       source: http://www.agriturismoceratti.com

I can imagine meditating with ease after two glasses of this 13% + 3% Vol wine. Perhaps that is why he lets the precise percentage of alcohol in a safe + 3% zone – for some its after effects might be a small surprise. Enough polemics and now lets look at the facts. I’ve tasted one of his ‘Greek White” wines – the Greco Di Bianco DOC, 2006. It is produced in a ‘passito style’ where grapes are dried like raisins and then they are fermented. In Calabria the Greco Di Bianco grape gets plenty of sunshine necessary for this sweet wine. The most famous passito is Passito di Panteleria from the island half way between Sicily and Tunisia where sun is the main ingredient in viticulture. Calabria is still enough South and the producer Azienda Agricola Nereide Ceratti exploits its sunny potential fully. Caramelized soft honey and dried exotic fruits transfer you to a hot sandy beach of Calabria from cold and cloudy London in a nick of a second, and – it feels really good as it lasts with its long and warming aftertaste.

The Roman ancestors stirred the Italian passione vino as well as improved cheese making so we can today be grateful for their focus on development of taste experience inspiring a later creation of cheese icons.

Who has never heart of a crumbly parmiggiano? Beware, La Credenza, an Italian delicatessen supplier to the UK, won’t disappoint a real gourmets with their heavenly truffle pecorino or an intoxicating passito-infused blue cheese or Umbriaco matured in Amarone.

If you missed the tasting I have some good news at the end – La Credenza holds a tasting of a wide range of Italian Artisan delicacies on Wednesday 16th March, 2011 at The Chelsea Old Town Hall on London’s King’s Road. Email info@lacredenza.co.uk for more info and R.S.V.P. by 3rd March.

For information about Italian wines I find this website very useful:  http://www.gooditalianwine.com/

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The annual ‘Grande’ Italian wine tasting at the Landmark hotel in London organised by the prominent wine magazine Decanter today didn’t stay in a shade of its sister event held in November.

With 300 fine wines to taste it wasn’t a humble demonstration of the product beloved by many Italians who proudly share their passion for the liquid of gods – wine.

Decanter Italian Fine Wine Encounter 2010 ticket

From Piedmont to Sicily, you could meet 80 Italian top wine makers and compare their various wines.

Not always the best known enchanted your palate. Often even the producers themselves disclosed their personal affection for one of the lesser known wines.

For me as woman was encouraging to hear from some male wine connoisseurs as well as from the producers themselves the avowed ratings of Moscatos. Yes, I mean that delicious sweat wine made from muscat grapes with decently low levels of alcohol celebrated by many light drinkers.

Moscato is one of these wines which many people who aren’t keen on wine still relish. It isn’t punchy at all and with its floral honeyed taste it is not only refreshing but also a ‘healthier’ and lighter variety of a desert wine if not a dessert itself.

Moscatio d’Asti is perhaps a king, but there are many gripping moscatos in other Italian regions. You can go as far as to Sicily and appreciate the diversity of this sweat treat.

My favourite though still is Nivole, Moscato d’Asti DOCG from Michele Chiarlo which was recommended to me by by my friend from Asti. After tasting it again together with other competing moscatos I was assured that this one wok my heart. Moreover, it is easy to get in the UK. I usually get it at Whole Foods at High Street Kensigton. It is quite inexpensive – around  £7 per bottle.

There were many icons to taste but I must admit that I am quite biased towards Gavi. This area (also a town) in Piedmont produces the most enchanting white wines. To name just some producers with a lovely Gavi: Tenuta Carretta, Batasiolo, Antica Tenuta La Giustiniana, and others.

I visited Sicily last summer and fell in love with their (even sometimes quite high in alcohol) wines. Planeta is one of the newer producers, but no doubt one of the best ones with the nicest staff. I like most of their wines, but this time I tasted their  red Burdese Sicily IGT 2006 and was awestruck by its perfect balance while enjoying the black currants in the body.

I think I wrote too much about my personal indulgences on this year’s Italian Fine Wine Encounter. I wish you were there and tasted it on your own tongue and filled your mouth with the Italian vino bianco, rosso and perhaps some sparkling prosecco.

Don’t cry though. The Decanter organises three Fine Wine Encounters every year and you can at least have a read about each of them on their web site if my report wasn’t satisfying enough.

If you have any queries though, do not hesitate to write me. I am more than ready for your curious questions.

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