Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sparkling Wines: Charmat vs. Metodo Classico Method

It's Memorial Day weekend and is a perfect time to celebrate the warm weather that is upon us or if you're me you're less than 5 weeks to delivering your first born. All perfect reasons to celebrate with some sparkling wine (like we need one!)

If you're a lover of Italian sparkling wine you may or may not be familiar with the differences in some of the different varieties of sparkling wines produced throughout Italy. We're going to learn today why some of these differences exist. It's mainly because there are two styles of producing sparkling Italian wines: the charmat method and the metodo classico.
Sparkling wines of Italy
Photo by Bill Masson
The Charmat Method
The charmat method was created back in 1895 by a gentleman, Federico Martinotti, an enologist from the town of Asti in Piedmont, Italy. It was then adjusted in 1907 by Eugene Charmat, hence the Charmat method. With the Charmat method the secondary fermentation that is normally done in the bottle is done in large stainless steel tanks. This allows for higher production quantity and is a cheaper style of sparkling wine production. The charmat method produces sparkling wines that are more aromatic.

Examples of Charmat wines
Examples of sparkling wines produced in Italy with the charmat method are lambrusco of emilia romagna, prosecco of the Veneto, and Asti of Piedmont.

Metodo Classico
The sparkling wines made from the champenoise method are typically more complex. During this process the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle as mentioned earlier with additional yeasts and sugar added. Those yeasts take the sugar and convert them over to acohol and carbon dioxide, the bubbles! Following that the wine will age on the dead yeast cells known as the lees for 24 months.
Charmat vs Classic method sparkling wines
Examples of Metodo Classico
Some examples of Italian sparkling wines made in Italy with the metodo classico are from the Franciacorta D.O.C.G and those of the Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico D.O.C.G and Oltrepo Pavese Pinot Nero Metodo Classico D.O.C.G from Lombardia Lastly, the sparkling wines from the Trento D.O.C in the Trentino Alto Adige region also produce the metodo classico. Most of these wines are made with variations of chardonnay, pinot nero and pinot bianco.

One of the biggest differences, other than the taste and complexity of these two methods, is the consistency of the bubbles, or bollicini. Since the process of a classic method takes a long time you tend to get smaller, more consistent bubbles where those of the charmat method are bigger bubbles.

What are some of your Italian sparkling favorites? 


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Passion thru Food & Wine of Puglia with Silvestro Silvestori

It’s amazing the amount of folks that you mean blogging and networking around the world.  That is one of the reasons why I love what I do and part of what keeps me going.  It’s time to introduce one of those folks I “met”, in a virtual sense, awhile back.  Silvestro Silvestori  currently lives in Puglia and runs a food and wine school called the Awaiting Table.   He is a food aficionado and Italian sommelier that lives to share his passion with the students that visit him and others around the world through his contributions for Wine & Spirits Magazine and others.  His passion screams out through this interview and if this doesn’t make you consider southern Italy when it comes to the food and wine I don’t know what will.

Here’s my interview with Silvestro.  I hope you enjoy it!
Wine and food pairing classes in Puglia

Have you always lived in Puglia?  If not, what drove you to settle down in Puglia?

I lived about 16 years in the US, 15 years in other parts of Italy including Sicilia, Emilia Romagna, Umbria, Trentino, etc and now a little over 15 years in Puglia. My mother's side is from Puglia, so moving here was only really a change of address, from Northern Italy to here.  I've always felt more pugliese than Italian. 

When did The Awaiting Table open and why did you choose to open the school? 

We opened The Awaiting Table in 2003, in the historic centre of Lecce, and later in 2008 started our courses at our castle location. I had visited a few friends with food and wine schools in various cities of Italy, and while all wonderful people, I was surprised how rudimentary their courses were. They taught pan-Italian food and they didn't have any formal wine training. Their kitchens were also isolated out in the countryside, so, their students would be 14 Americans, or 17 Australians, etc, standing around trying to have an Italian experience. That's why 100 % of our staff is local, we are always located in the historic centres of cities and we work with students from so many different countries. 

the Awaiting Table in Puglia: food & wine class

What is the focus of The Awaiting Table?  It seems you primarily teach culinary classes, but can you tell me about your wines classes you teach?

We teach several subjects. First off, we teach about the food and wine of the Salento or Southern Puglia, which is arguable some of the best food and wine in all of Italy. What isn't arguable, is that it's the healthiest. The diet here is actually protected by UNESCO. It's Italy's soul food. It's also helpful to remember that Puglia is Italy's number one domestic travel destination. If you want to know where the crazy foodies go to eat, the answer is here. It's Italy's best kept secret. 

I also close the school for two months each year to bicycle Southern Italian wine country, visiting wineries and cooking with every older woman that doesn't shoo me out of the kitchen. Our wine course teaches about the wine (and some of the food) of all of Southern Italy, Sicilia, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia. This also happens to be the same ground I cover for Wine & Spirits magazine (all wine content, photographs and recipes for the same 4 regions). 

We also have an olive oil course and our tomato sauce course, which obviously corresponds with those seasons. (We have videos on our youtube channel for how to make both). Last year we launched our Bici / Cucina / Vino course at the castle, which divides up the week with bicycling, cooking, eating, drinking and learning. And this year, we've started a food photography course as well. 

Wines and food of Puglia

Are all the dishes Puglian based as well as the wines or southern Italy in general?

All of the wine at our Salento- based courses comes from within 50 kilometres of the school and have originated here as grape varietals for at least 300 years. We don't serve wines where the wine producers have sourced the fruit elsewhere. Our Southern Italian wine-based courses feature wines from the 4 southern Italian regions, all autochthonous as well. The sourcing mirrors my annual bicycle trip (for the last 9 years in a row). 

What are your favorites when it comes to the wines of Puglia and why? 

This is Europe so 95% of wine consumed is local.  I do favor the grape negroamaro, which probably won't surprise anyone. But the local investment in metodo classico rosato based on negroamaro has been impressive and I'd challenge any rosè champagne to give you a better return on your Euro spent. The Salento is the cradle of Italian rosè and I drink 3 or 4 times more pink than white. And while primitivo remains strong outside of Italy- as the great, break away hit- it's negroamaro that is really the foundation. I drink it professionally and never tire of it. 

Are you a lover of wines outside of Puglia?  If so, which ones and why? 

I don't hide this: Southern Italy is the most compelling and dynamic wine region of Italy today, and maybe even the world. What's happening in Cirò is 2,500 years in the making and I'm startled each time I visit there. Etna and Vulture remain my absolute favorite wine regions, for both the volcanic effect on the soil and because both have extraordinary transparent, autochthonous varietals (carricante, nerello mascalese and aglianico). I've also recently developed a new crush on the whites that used to make up what the world calls 'Marsala'. Salty, minerally, it's like you skip the glass and start licking the rocks directly. Castel del Monte in Central Puglia also deserves a lot more attention. Those producers have been staying up nights as well. Anyone that doesn't agree with me about the dynamism of Southern Italian wine right now hasn't likely visited. It's my life's study. 

Where do most of your students come from around the world?

We have had students from 48 different countries. Many come from Northern Europe. About 60% are native English speakers. We also have students from Australia, Canada, USA and  New Zealand. Scandinavia has been increasing in record numbers. Recently, also, Uruguay and the Philippines. Northern Italy comes down mostly in the summer. Our students tend to be very well-travelled, highly educated and prefer to relax while doing. 
food and wine classes of Puglia
What would be your word of advice to folks that are afraid to explore an unknown region including culinary experiences or wines? 

We aren't all motivated in the same way.  I don't think it's so much that 'fear' is the brakes for many, but that 'adventure' isn't their primary motivator. 

It's helpful to remember that those that spend their holiday /vacation on cruise ships love them. There is no shame in that. Nor in California chardonnay, etc. Consume what you love.  Our goal as a school has never been trying to talk anyone out of going where all the other tourists go, but rather to offer something stellar to those that seek something else. Same thing with wine. Wine isn't a recipe, like, say, as beer is. It can't be replicated the same way, year and year. It reflects the climate (which is weather multiplied by time), the soil, the local culture, etc. When you start to see wine as a vessel that represents all of these things, maybe, say, the way a sailboat represents man AND nature working together, it seems one of the most immediate and fascinating subjects on earth. If that appeals, we have a school to help you go deeper. If not, we hope you have a great trip and that you really enjoy your next bottle of wine, no matter what it is. 

All pictures compliments of Silvestro Silvestori.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Labor of Love: The Wine Families of Piedmont

As an Italian wine blogger you meet many people around the world and is one of the greatest parts of what we do.  It's all about the connections you make and great people you meet.  I wanted to share with you an interview with Suzanne Hoffman, whose website, Wine Families, shares stories of wine families and their regions around the world. 

As a recent published author myself I wanted to talk about Suzanne's new book, Labor of Love,  and give you a background on why this book was created.  Winemakers have wonderful stories to tell and this showcases the wine families of Piedmont.  Unfortunately I've yet to meet Suzanne face-to-face, but hopefully one day we'll have the opportunity.
Labor of Love Wine Families of Piedmont
Suzanne Hoffman and her dog, Arneis

What got you started as a wine, food and travel writer?

I’m an attorney and I spent most of my career in Switzerland where I worked for a large financial services company in Zurich and I also ran an aviation start-up project. After moving back to America to a small, resort community in 2007, I couldn’t adjust to solo practice. Too “solo” I suppose. I was restless. My passion for food, wine, and travel and all the incredible experiences I had in Europe over more than 20 years needed an outlet. In January 2012, I began writing a weekly behind the scenes experiential column in the Vail Daily. I worked – not merely observed – for some of Vail Valley’s and Denver’s best restaurants and then wrote about the experiences. Oddly enough, my first assignment was with Chef David Walford for a charity wine dinner in Beaver Creek with Andy Schweiger of Schweiger Vineyards of St. Helena, CA. Perhaps since my first story was about a wine family I was destined to become a wine family expert.

I know you lived most of your life in Switzerland, now that you've moved back to the United States how often do you get to venture back to Italy?

Not nearly enough. About once a year for a month or so at a time while I was researching Labor of Love. It didn’t give me much of a chance to explore more of Italy, but Piemonte is such a big region – second in size only to Sicily – so I never tired of my adventures there. Of course, my heart is still strongly connected to my former home canton, Valais, in south central Switzerland just north across the mountains from Piemonte. That will endure.

Is Piedmont your favorite region to travel to?  If so, why and what attracts you to this region?

I began traveling to Piemonte frequently in the early 2000s because it was only four hours away from our home in Switzerland. What started as easy-to-access long weekend adventures to an under discovered region soon blossomed into a love affair with Piemonte that I describe in my book’s introduction, “Falling in Love.” I’ll leave it to readers to discover in my book how that love affair developed. Let’s just say the wine families were like emotional magnets. I couldn’t resist.

Where did the vision of writing a "Labor of Love" come from?  Tell me a little about the book. 

When I first heard the stories about Beatrice Rizzolio and the challenges women of her generation faced during the Nazi occupation from her granddaughter Giovanna, owner of Cascina delle Rose in Barbaresco, I asked her if anyone had ever written about these women. Giovanna said, “No.” As I began to ask questions of more wine families, I realized that no one was chronicling these stories and those of other women whose names are not on wine bottle labels, but who had played important, mostly unseen roles in their families’ successes. In August 2012, while sitting with my husband, Dani, in my kitchen in Colorado, I said to him, “I want to write a book about the women of the wine families in Piemonte.” Dani said, “Ok.” And off I went in March 2013 search of more stories. I never looked back.

What was the best part about writing this book?

Having the opportunity to be the scribe of some of the most endearing, humble people I know. To be entrusted with the task of telling the world about the unknown women behind the labels of some of Piemonte’s most famous wines was a great honor. The most delightful experiences were watching young family members’ reactions to stories they had never heard before, or were hearing for the umpteenth time, but were still captivated. For example, the memory of the loving expressions of young Isabella Boffa Oddero as she listened to her iconic grandfather Giacomo Oddero recount the lives of his grandmother, mother, and wife, and their contributions to the estate’s patrimony still brings tears to my eyes. Quite touching to see her deep, abiding love and admiration for her nonno Giacomo and those three women beam on her face.

Why did you select these particular wine families to write about and why Piedmont? 

On my first research trip in March 2013, I started with the 10 families I knew well, some for 14 years at that time. Then, at the end of that trip, came the serendipitous moment when I met Chiara Boschis. To say that meeting her was seismic event in my life is not an overstatement. She tends to have the affect on most people. From there, serendipity took over and soon I had 22 families. I left so many wonderful families behind since I was only able to include 22 and that was hard squeezing into 320 pages! I don’t know if I should tell more Piemontese wine family stories before I take my “Labor of Love” series to another region such as Friuli or Sicily (where my relatives from my maternal grandparents’ side of the family are from). Perhaps my readers will give me some guidance on where I should go next.

What are your favorite grapes of Piedmont and Italy in general?

Simple – I love the underdogs like Arneis, Nascetta, and Brachetto, especially still Brachetto from Matteo Correggia and Sottimano. If you force me to name one, my favorite white varietal is Arneis, particularly from Roero. I named my toy schnauzer after the grape because “Arneis” in Piemontese means “rascal.” My Arneis is just that. Also, I associate the grape with many wonderful wine family experiences. Red grape? Well, it’s the Nebbiolo grape, of course. I’m becoming quite fond of Alto Piemonte and Roero Nebbiolo expressions, but who doesn’t love Barolo and Barbaresco? I certainly do.

Suzanne Hoffman has a kickstarter campaign in order to support the launch of her wonderful book.  It's ending soon so make sure you help her reach her goal so the stories of these hardworking wine families can be brought to the world.  


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Chiavennasca of Lombardia vs. Nebbiolo of Piedmont

Today our Italian Food, Wine and Travel group (#ItalianFWT) rounds out 19th region of Italy with Lombardy.  I provided an overview of this Lombardia earlier in the week, but let's dig right in with today's topic, chiavennasca vs. nebbiolo.

When one talks about the great wines of Italy everyone always talks about nebbiolo, especially the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco topping the charts. What about the variations of nebbiolo that are hiding in the shadows behind those of Piedmont? For example, how familiar are you with chiavennasca? Would you be surprised if I told you this was also nebbiolo, but just produced in northern Lombardy, the neighboring region to Piedmont? To confuse you a little further if we venture to the region of the Valle d'Aosta, nebbiolo is now called picotendro and in northern Piedmont in the areas of Ghemme and Gattinara you can find the wines under the name of spanna. Plus, the biggest benefit, you can get these wines for a better value and as wine drinkers we're always looking for good values!
winemaking in the valtellina of Lombardy
Valley of Valtellina by Franco Folini
Winemaking in the Valtellina
Valtellina, tucked into northern Lombardy near the town of Sondrio and the Adda River, is the place to seek out chiavennasca. It also is bordering Switzerland as well so we're definitely talking northern Lombardy here. Harvesting here is definitely a feat for the winemakers and those picking grapes as the slopes are very steeply terraced so everything is hand harvested. It limits production and also increases the cost of production. I've even been told that some producers bring in helicopters to help with harvest. It has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well for it's antique vineyard structures.

The differences between nebbiolo & chiavennasca
The nebbiolo based wines of the Valtellina don't pack as much a punch of those from it's neighbor Piedmont due to the cooler temps and high elevations that restrict the grape from reaching optimum ripeness. The soil here is also rocky with little clay that also influence the more delicate character. You will find chiavennasca from Valtellina to be lighter bodied and in color and not as tannic in comparison to those of Piedmont, but it's still nebbiolo, a highly tannic grape. But the wines of Valtellina have an earthy, rustic quality and elegance to them, which make them very attractive to us nebbiolo lovers.
chiavennasca vs nebbiolo
Vineyards of Piedmont
Sub zones of Valtellina
The wines here are under the Valtellina Rosso DOC, which produce more of the basic style wines and then you have the Valtellina Superiore DOCG. Just as Barolo and Barbaresco have their own comunes in Piedmont that produce slightly different styles of nebbiolo, so does Lombardy in the Valtellina area under this Valtellina Superiore DOCG. The 5 areas within the Valtellina are:
  • Grumello – fruit driven wines, smooth, soft and aromatic
  • Inferno – The most powerful and auster. This area is the warmest and produces more concentrated wines
  • Sassella – complex, elegant and rich styles
  • Valgella – delicate and floral. The more simpler style.
  • Maroggia – Fruit styles and the more recent addition of the 5.
If one of these sub-zones are mentioned on the label the grapes come 100% from that area. If there is no mention it could be a blend of multiple zones.
subzones of Valtellina wine region
Steep vineyards in the Inferno ~ Valtellina by Craig Drollett
Don't stop here! There are plenty more wonderful stories of Lombardy to be explored. Join our Twitter chat Saturday May 7th at 11am EST @ #ItalianFWT to chat about Lombardia. Plus, don't miss next month as we feature our last region of Italy, Liguria.  This will complete our first full tour of ItalySee you June 4th!

The Wining HourVines and Views of Valtellina Valley
Culinary Adventures of Camilla - Sbrisolana and Cantina Casteggio Barbera
Girls Gotta DrinkVisit Franciacorta Wine Region: Italian Sparkling Wine For the Win!
Enofylz Wine Blog- Franciacorta: The World Class Italian Sparkling Wine of Lombardy #ItalianFWT
Food Wine Click - Valtellina: Another Expression of Nebbiolo
Orna O'Reilly -   Sirmione: Pearl of Lake Garda
The Palladian Traveler - Spritz Campari: Milan's Passionate Red Cocktail
Cooking Chat - Grilled Halibut with Parsley Pesto and Wine from Lombardia
L'Occasion -  36 Hours in Lombardy
Vigneto Communications - Lombardia: A Wealth of Wine

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Italian Food, Wine & Travel group goes to Lombardia!

Later this week on Saturday our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group (#ItalianFWT) will be featuring our 19th region out of 20 in Italy with Lombardy or Lombardia. Located in central to northwestern Italy, Lombardy borders Switzerland to the north, Piedmont to the west, Emilia Romagna to the south, and the Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige to the east.

Lombardy is home to the capital of Milan and is a strong financial and industrial region of Italy. According to my Italian cookbook, Italy the Beautiful Cookbook, Lombardy “produces 60% of the nation's economy.” The landscapes provide everything from the Po Valley and beautiful villas around the northern Lakes of Italy (Lake Como, Lake Iseo, Lake Gardo and Lake Maggiore), to the alpine towns tucked in the mountains and valleys of the north around Valtellina and Valchiavenna.
Visiting Lake Como & Bellagio
My visit to Lake Como.  Views from Bellagio.
There is plenty to do for the outdoor enthusiasts and art lovers in Lombardy. I've written about the peninsula town of Sirmione I've visited in the past as well as Bergamo and day trips from each, but this is only a taste of what there is to experience. What are your favorite towns in Lombardia?
Visit Sirmione Rocca Scaligera
My visit to Sirmione. Views from the top of Rocca Scaligera
Wines of Lombardy
Located around Lake Iseo, Lago Iseo, you'll find the hills where Italy's esteemed sparkling wines arise, Franciacorta. There are plenty of other wines to also consider including bonarda and barbera from the province of Pavia, pinot noir of the Oltrepo Pavese, chiavennasca of the Valtellina and the whites of Lugana. We'll explore more of these in our group this week with recommendations and food pairings.
wine map of Lombardia
Wine map of Lombardia - Copyright of Federdoc
Foods of Lombardy
Who can't live without some of the cheeses of this region including gorgonzola and marscapone? Sometimes we fail to recognize where some of our favorite foods originate from. Rice, risotto, dominates many of the dish selections with additions including the addition of butter or the popular spice of the region, saffron. Maybe start with the zuppa pavia or the pastas including pumpkin tortelli and the special pizzoccheri of the valtellina area. When it comes to meat in Lombardy you'll find lots of veal and the most popular veal cutlets, cotoletta alla milanese. Who's hungry?

Here's a preview of what's to come. Don't miss all articles live this Saturday May 7th and join our Twitter chat at 11am EST @ #ItalianFWT. We can't wait to hear from you! 

Vino Travels -  Chiavennasca of Lombardia vs. Nebbiolo of Piedmont
The Wining Hour -  Vines and Views of Valtellina Valley
Culinary Adventures of Camilla - Sbrisolana and Cantina Casteggio Barbera
Girl's Gotta Drink -  Visit Franciacorta Wine Region: Italian Sparkling Wine For the Win!
Enofylz Wine Blog- Franciacorta: The World Class Italian Sparkling Wine of Lombardy #ItalianFWT
Food Wine Click - Valtellina: Another Expression of Nebbiolo
Orna O'Reilly -   Sirmione: Pearl of Lake Garda
The Palladian Traveler - Spritz Campari: Milan's Passionate Red Cocktail
Cooking Chat - Grilled Halibut with Parsley Pesto and Wine from Lombardia
L'Occasion -  36 Hours in Lombardy
Vigneto Communications - Lombardia: A Wealth of Wine