Saturday, March 25, 2017

Prepping for Pasqua in Italy

Next week on Saturday April 1st, our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group is celebrating Easter a little bit early. Get ready to prep your thoughts for some wonderful wines and dishes to consider for your Easter meal this year. Easter, known as Pasqua in Italian, is a big holiday celebrated throughout all of Italy with each region and towns honoring their own traditions. The Monday following Pasqua is also a public holiday known as la Pasquetta.

Easter in Italy is a little different than the United States. In Italy there is more seriousness behind the holiday where I feel like the United States definitely capitalizes on yet another holiday. You won't find the Easter bunny hopping around nor children scattering to search for the hidden eggs filled with candy. Although children still have large chocolate eggs filled with surprises and toys. Throughout Italy, church masses and processions are held where statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus are paraded through towns or displayed in the town center.

Easter celebrations in Italy
Chocolate Easter eggs of Italy by Maurizio
Here's a preview of our upcoming blogs coming this Saturday:
Jen from Vino Travels features Easter Celebrations in Puglia
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla features Il Verdetto di Pasqua + Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Riserva Carignano
Susannah of Avvinare features Easter Traditions in Rome
Jill of L'Occasion features 5 Italian Easter Dishes and Wine Pairings
Gwendolyn of Art Predator features Easter Bread and other Italian Traditions Paired with Wine
Mike of Undiscovered Italy features Colomba di Pasqua
Li of The Wining Hour features A Quaint and Peaceful Pasqua in Pienza

What are your family's Easter traditions and how do you typically celebrate this joyous holiday? I'd love to hear how you celebrate. Leave a comment and come join our live Twitter chat next Saturday April 1st @ 11am EST at hashtag #ItalianFWT. Ci vediamo! See you soon!


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Wine dinner with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

A couple weeks ago I was invited by Balzac Communications to attend a wine tasting featuring Vino Nobile di Montepulciano followed by a wine dinner with representatives from a number of wineries. Those wineries included:
  • Salcheto
  • Montemercurio
  • Poliziano
  • Le Berne
  • Boscarelli
  • Carpineto
  • Fattoria La Braccesca Antinori Family
  • La Ciarliana
  • Dei
Unfortunately, due to work commitments I couldn’t attend the tasting, but jumped on the opportunity to have a dinner paired with these “noble wines” of Montepulciano. The dinner was held in Boston’s historic Italian section of Boston known as the North End at Ristorante Lucia. We were swimming in wines to say the least, so I wish I had attended the tasting so I could have given more focus to each one as the table was lined with close to 20 bottles and food was being passed around. Below is a preview into the food of our evening:

Appetizers: Sauteed Mussels & Antipasto Della Casa
Pasta: Pasta al Forno, Risotto con Porcini
Entrée: Sogliola Margherita, Pollo Arrabiata, Vitello Marsala
Dessert: Cookies, Italian pastries or Cannoli
vino nobile di montepulciano wine pairings

Representatives spoke briefly about some of their wines and the wineries they represented, which I will highlight in upcoming blogs when I share with you 1-2 of my favorite wineries of the night, Montemercurio and Le Berne. I've visited Poliziano before as you can see from my previous article and I've done a full tasting of Carpineto wines as well and really enjoy both wineries, but these 2 wineries were new to me and I enjoyed what they had to offer. I'll dig more into it all next time, but wanted to share information about this wonderful wine region since I've been there a couple times now as well as what exactly vino nobile wines.

Visiting Montepulciano
The town of Montepulciano is located within the region of Tuscany, about 70 miles southwest of Florence. I had briefly visited this Tuscan Renaissance town years ago and more thoroughly the day after our wedding back in October 2013. Bring your walking shoes because it's a steep uphill climb to the top on via di gracciano, but take your time as it's lined with plenty of shops and cafes to stop and take a break at. My favorite are the quiet, picturesque alleys that break off from the main street before arriving at the top to Piazza Grande. I attended a wine tasting in Piazza Grande at Cantina Contucci and still have yet to open that bottle, but look forward to it!
visiting montepulciano tuscany
Piazza Grande Montepulciano
Piazza Grande
Wine has been documented to be growing in this area since 790 AD when vineyards were donated to a local church. In 1966 this area gained D.O.C status (denominazione di origine controllata) and in 1980 became one of the first D.O.C.G (denominazione di origine controllata garantita) designations. The Consorzio just celebrated their 50th year in 2016.

The current wines being launched onto the market are the 2014 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G., the 2013 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva D.O.C.G and the 2015 Rosso di Montepulciano DOC. A preview of the 2016 vintage was rated 4 out of 5 stars by oenologist Emiliano Falsini. According to the consorzio, the harvest year was highly favorable for the quality grapes that were selected for production. The wines are demonstrating intense colors and elegance.
wine tasting in Piazza Grande Montepulciano
There are about 2,000 hectacres (4,950 acres) of vineyards making up 16% of the total acreage of land with about 250 wine growers in total. The vineyards of Montepulciano are situated at about 250-600 meters. The recent annual production of the area totaled about 7 million bottles of Vino Nobile and 2.5 million bottles of Rosso di Montepulciano.
vineyards of Montepulciano
The vineyards here have been highly invested in totaling 8 million dollars in order for the wineries to practice sustainability. About 70% of the total wineries in Montepulciano are practicing sustainability. Biodiversity and organic winemaking is increasing as well with about 40% of the current vino nobile vineyards practicing. The Vino Nobile DOCG is also undergoing a project that will allow zero impact on the environment and will be the first winegrowing area within Italy that will have all bottles to be certified to show this impact of neutralizing the gas emissions once complete.

What makes up a Vino Nobile? The wine must be at least 70% prugnolo gentile, which you're probably familiar with as sangiovese. There is also allowance of up to 30% of other red Tuscan grapes. The wines can be released on the market after 2 years of aging and for riservas the wines must be aged for 3 years with 6 months in the bottle for a riserva. The consorzio describes vino nobile wines characterists as ruby red in color changing to garnet with age. They have an intense and ethereal aroma. On the palate they're dry, balanced and persistent with spicy notes from the oak aging.
prugnolo gentile grapes
It always surprises me how much of the wine produced within Italy is exported outside. Especially in regions such as Tuscany that produce highly recognizable and valued wines in other countries compared to some of the lesser known, smaller wine producing regions. Vino Nobile exports about 78% of their production with the US ranking at the top of the charts of importation at 21% second to Germany at a whopping 46%.

Have you been to this region and what are you favorite wineries or wines that you've tried?

Source of information and some pictures provided by the Consorzio del VinoNobile di Montepulciano

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Baked Sausage Rigatoni with Vignevecchia Chianti Classico Riserva #WinePW

Have you ever asked yourself when you should open that special bottle you've been holding onto? Maybe you're like the average wine consumer that goes to the wine store and drinks that night when you just purchased. Well if you need an excuse or push to open a bottle of wine that you've been sitting on waiting for a special occasion “open that bottle night” is the perfect excuse to do so. Make an average night into an exciting one. The perfect excuse to put your wine pairing hat on to and get cooking in the kitchen.

What is open that bottle night? It began in 1999 and was started by Wall Street Journal wine columnists, John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter. It's held the last Saturday of every February. The wine you choose doesn't have to be an expensive wine. It could be a bottle you brought back from a memorable vacation or maybe you purchased it at a wine event where you met the winemaker. I love opening wines that bring me back to a place in time that created wonderful memories in my mind. That's why I chose to open one of my bottles that I brought back from my wedding in Italy for our Wine Pairing Weekend group's feature of open that bottle night (#otbn). 
Fattoria Vignavecchia Radda in Chianti
wine tasting in Radda in Chianti

Fattoria Vignavecchia
While touring Tuscany we spent a day touring the vineyards stopping in at random vineyards and one of our stops was VignaVecchia in Radda in Chianti. You can read more about my visit to Vignavecchia that I've written previously about. For open that bottle night I opened the 2009 VignaVecchia Vigneto Odoardo Beccari Chianti Classico Riserva D.O.C.G, a blend of 90% sangiovese and 10% canaiolo. The wine is named after Odoardo Beccari, an orphan from Florence, Italy that traveled the world studying plants and botanical gardens. His botanical collection is found in Florence at the Museo di Storia Naturale di Firenze. Upon tasting this wine again since 2013 it was a wonderful wine as I remembered it. Deep ruby red in color in the glass. Full bodied with ripe cherries, a hint of tobacco backed with mouthwatering acidity, moderate tannins then finishing with great length. 
2012 Vignavecchia Odoardo Beccari Chianti Classico Riserva
When deciding what to pair with it I opened my Under the Tuscan Sun cookbook, another memory of when I met Frances Mayes at a book signing, and browsed many of the Tuscan dishes. I chose to pair it with a baked sausage rigatoni. A little different preparation than I normally would do with this dish as it wasn't made with a pasta sauce, but rather a soffritto. What is a soffritto? It stems from the Italian word for soffrigere meaning to brown or slightly fry. It's a mixture of diced carrots, celery and onions with herbs sauteed in olive oil. 
how to make a soffritto
To prepare the baked sausage rigatoni I started first with the sausage by browning it in a saute pan.  I then prepared the soffritto and added chopped whole tomatoes. In the meantime the pasta water was prepped to boil for making the rigatoni. In a separate bowl ricotta was mixed with fontina and mozzarella. Once the pasta was finished,  I added the ricotta mix and soffritto into a baking dish topped with bread crumbs and parmigiano.  Finally it was baked in the oven at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.


A beautiful pairing of Tuscan food & wine. Try it for yourself for a night in Tuscany. Buon appetito!
Baked sausage rigatoni with chianti classico riserva
On Saturday, March 11, the #winePW will be sharing about our Open That Bottle Night pairings. Below is a list of the posts that will be shared on Saturday, March 11:

No blog post about #OTBN, no worries! You can still join the conversation about Open That Bottle Night Pairings by joining our live Twitter Chat on Saturday, March 11. Simply tune into the #winePW hashtag on Twitter at 11 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. PT on 3/11 and join the conversation. Please also make plans to join us for the April Wine Pairing Weekend event, when Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm will be hosting on the topic of "My Old Standy" on April 8. You can get a list of all the past and upcoming #winePW events by visiting the Wine Pairing Weekend page.  


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sicilian Filet with Eggplant Caponata & Nero d'Avola

This month our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group (#ItalianFWT) is revisiting the island of Sicily. The last time we talked about this region I shared a wine based on the inzolia grape and an arancini dish (not paired together). This time around I'm featuring a Sicilian pairing of filet with an eggplant caponata (melanzane di caponata) and the Feudo Arancio Cantadoro wine. Oh, and I threw in a side dish of gnocchi with gorgonzola for the pasta lovers in the house. 

Sicily & it's offerings
Italy's largest island, Sicily, is a melting pot of cultural influences over thousands of years that is apparent in it's cuisine, wines and architecture as you travel throughout the island. Giuseppe Pitre describes the cuisine of Sicily as “dinners for the rich and food for the poor”. There was the basics of bread, cheeses, pasta and vegetables and more eleborate foods for the noble of the island. 

The wine scene in Italy has grown tremendously in the public eye and indigenous grapes including nero d'avola, grillo, nerello mascalese, inzolia have made their way to many a folks wine glasses. The nero d'avola grape is one of the most popular native grapes of the island said to have been introduced by the Greeks. It can be seen as a single varietal or some producers are blending it with international varieties like cabernet sauvignon as you'll see today. According to the site dedicated to nero d'avola, each part of the island producers different styles of the grape. “The Western area is marked by a higher concentration, harshness and toughness; the central area is denoted by a sharp taste of red fruits, and the eastern area provides a more refined taste, with an aftertaste of dried fruits.”

Feudo Arancio Cantodoro

2012 Feudo Arancio Cantodoro nero d'avolaI've written about Feudo Arancio on my site previously when I wrote about Stemmari and the 2012 Dalila blend. The two brands, Stemmari and Feudo Arancio, both are part of the conglomerate, Mezzacorona. I had received another sample at that time of my last blog, which I had yet to taste and what better opportunity than the present. This time I sampled the beautifully labeled 2012 Feudo Arancio Cantadoro made of 80% nero d'avola and 20% cabernet sauvignon. This wine demonstrated on the nose ripe berries (blackberries and raspberries) with a hint of licorice. On the palate it's a medium bodied wine displaying rich, expressive ripe berries backed by good acid and finishing with a hint of vanilla and black currants. This wine is aged 12 months in French oak (3 year old barrels). ABV 13.5%

Filet with Eggplant Caponata
The filet with eggplant caponata was an easy dish to prepare. I'm a fan of eggplant in many dishes and even though it served as an accompaniment to this dish you can also serve it over pasta. To prepare it I sauted some garlic and oil first and then added some sliced onions. Once the onions were rather translucent I added sliced red and yellow peppers and cubed eggplant. I cooked those for about 10-15 minutes until tender. I then added salt, oregano and chopped up whole tomatoes and cooked another 5 minutes. You can then add capers and black olives or even anchovies, but since my husband isn't a big fan I withdrew from the later ingredients. 
making eggplanta caponata
eggplant caponata

The Pairing
Overall the dish paired well with the wine. I expected a little more with the Cantadoro in terms of body and complexity with the oak aging and addition of cabernet sauvignon, but for the average retail of about $11 it's a rather good value.

Sicilian wine and food pairing with nero d'avola
Join our group for a live chat on Twitter 11am EST Saturday March 4th to discuss Sicilian food, wine and travel using the #ItalianFWT hashtag.  Here are my fellow Italian lovers journeys to Sicily. Make sure to check them out!
We hope to “see” you online Saturday, March 4th!