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Italy 2011: the Fall

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Italy 2011: the Fall

by Filippo Bartolotta

So what’s little girl have to do with a gourmet blog?

Well for a start, she ain’t just a little girl: she is my lil girl. Then this is her first day of grammar school, so an important day for her and of course for me.

Usually though in Italy the beginning of the school year matches the arrival of Porcini mushrooms. the harvest, the opening of the truffle hunting season. In a few words my favorite gourmet season!

So this is what happened to a wine and food critic this past month.

This is my first White Truffle of the Season, which I officially had it after the 15th of Sept in one of the 5 greatest places in the world to have such a classic -fried egg with white truffles- at La Ciau del Tornavento with Maurilio cooking it for me! Yeah!!!!

What did I drink with it? But of course a glass of Diet Coke.

Agnolotti del Plin
Agnolotti del Plin
truffle taglierini
truffle taglierini

So we really didn’t have a diet coke.

First wine: Prunotto Barbaresco 1989.

Classic garnet aged Nebbiolo  color with a super intense licorice and sweet medicinal herbs aromas which would take anyone into the right fall mood with a gentle caress on the palate. If you have a bottle home drink it sooner rather then later as the wine is reaching its pick!

Second wine: Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva 1999

Well if you do have some of this wine home my suggestion is not to open it for another few years. I might have stumbled into a window of silence, but the wine was nonetheless showing its true potential with a powerful mineral tension which cuts through without noise like a Japanese sword!  By the end of our lunch Monfortino started to be a little more civilized giving some small red berry juice action and a tar/truffle finish. This is a very fine vintage for one of the most long leaving wines in the world, coming from the ancient Pliocene compacted yellow clay/sands soil and nursed by a very talented young Roberto Conterno who likes to age his wine in the traditional big Slavonian Oak casks.

Third wine: Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio 1999

Opposite to Monfortino for many reasons. Here is why. The wine is very forward, dense, with a lot of dark prunes, tobacco a very leathery earthiness with a dense sweet coffee palate. It doesn’t come by surprise. Cerequio is one of the most important crus of La Morra, known for a younger – five million years- and smoother type of soil when compared to Serralunga. Here we are in the blue Marne of Saint Agata and the wine making technique followed by the proudly LaMorra born Voerzio focus on a very low yield philosophy -3oo/400 gr/plant(!) and a fining process which till a couple of years ago used to be all in new french small barriques.

Fourth wine, the intruder!: Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1996

What is maybe Tuscan most famous wine doing here? Well a lot of people know that I was born in Florence-Tuscany, but my gourmet heart bits a lot in Langhe. Well so I was asked to see how would a Super Tuscan cope in front of three delicious Nebbiolo. Although I belong to that group of people who still love Sassicaia, my initial gut feeling was that a Cab Sauv. based wine wouldn’t have made it in the Barolo land with Barolo food. Well…I was wrong. This ’96 proven to be a very fine wine packed with delicious subtle eucaliptus notes, blue berries and very Tuscan elegant smooth earthy persistence.

Well shall we say that this lunch didn’t suck!

Some of Italy's most sought after wines
BAROLO by Brezza's Winery
BAROLO by Brezza's Winery

It is right on this terrace that I had one of the greatest vintage produced by Brezza Barolo Sarmassa 1999.

Well we also had a thiner and more spiritual 1989 Brezza Barolo and the four current 2007 super clean and minerally salty  crus:

If you like to drink great wines and meet wonderful people well Brezza father and son are your scene.

I love wine, I love great wine, but I love even better nice wine producers! There’s nothing like sharing some time and learning from these people. Wine needs this. If we didn’t had this people behind the labels my life would be half the fun.

Mr. Brezza comes around the tasting table with his smiling eyes. I offered him a glass, he says: not now thanks. Then I say: it is your glorious ’89. Well, then I’ll have a taste, he responds happily, this is a secret to a long life!

After all this perfect wines I go pay a visit to the Cavallotto winery in Castiglione Falletto. Here it is possible to see where the 11 million years old Elvetian yellow soil of Serralunga and Monforte separate from the blue clays of Barolo and La Morra. I can’t think of an other place in the world where the correspondence from earth to glass is so evident. Alfio and Giuseppe are running the winery with their parents. It is great to see a great winery and family business where the new generation is taking over with such confidence. We taste the monumental and austere Cavallotto Riserva Bricco Boschis 2004 and 2005 and I understand that this wine needs a good ten years to start releasing its full power. I ask Giuseppe what he thinks of the 2011 vintage. We go to the vineyard and he shows me some Nebbiolo still on the vine: look, he says showing me a cluster of half raisined grapes, this is what is happening. The long draught -three months of practically no rain-the hot days, but above all the hot nights have compromised a good part of the crop.

But on the other hand, while most producers have already harvested everything their Nebbiolo is still on the vine. It’s because a lot of it still needs ripening and it hasn’t been affected as much by the draught.

This I have understood it’s true everywhere in the country. Gianfranco Soldera just told me: that it has been a very difficult harvest, we had to select a lot, but the fruit we took home looks good. I had recently his Case Basse Soldera 1995 which was tasting like truffles, mediterranean herbs, broom, anchovies and sweetly decadent tobacco leaf. So rich in flavor. I know the wine is still young as many of his 1980’s always prove to be so fresh and packed with delicious natural sweet juiciness.

soldera 1995
soldera 1995

It’s amazing the resemblance of some great Sangiovese to great Barolo. Talking of which I decided to go talk to Maria Teresa Mascarello to hear how her harvest is doing. I meet her in Barolo town, where the winery is located. Maria Teresa is another awesome example of how the new generation has taken over with a superlative twist. From her first “alone” vintage 2005 she has been making three great Barolo. She asks me first what I have seen around and I told her that I have seen a lot of raisins. She says: I have cut down maybe 40-50% of my crop to get home healthy grapes. The fermentation is starting very slowly, I have never seen anything like this! She looked worried, but also she had confidence about getting a result. I love this kind of humble and yet focused producers. Her Bartolo Mascarello 2005, Bartolo Mascarello 2006, Bartolo Mascarello 2007 are three examples of pure Nebbiolo fruit with a delicate touch, subtle aromas, intense and pleasant lengthy finish. This wines can be drunk today with great pleasure and last forever, like the many 1961, 1967, 1989 I have tasted (I should have said: that I have drunk:) have honorably shown. Wines still retaining the great red fruit, the crystalline purity and the luscious smooth palate.

A quick stop in Barbaresco to see how they are doing over there. Tenute Cisa Asinari-Marchesi di Gresy is one of the oldest producers. Their vineyards look like a botanical garden, but the 2011 has hit them too, with a lot of their Nebbiolo looking a little bashed. This wasn’t the case with the past few years of Cisa Asinari Barbaresco Martinega; Barbaresco Gajun and Barbaresco Camp Gros. These are very polished wines with perfumes, character and aging potential.

Now is time for me to hit the read back to Tuscany, I must be on time to take Milo to Violetta, his lazy horse!

Winter seems to be finally getting around the corner with a bit of a stormy weather. But this was a week ago. Today I am writing this article outside, it is 7 p.m. and I am only wearing a t-shirt here in Chianti.

Different weather conditions in Naples where I went for a quick tasting: sticky hot and messy, but I have a trick when I go there in such a hurry.

Baba and sfogliatella in one of the historical places like Scaturchio, a cup of proper espresso and a little walk in Piazza del Popolo towards quite Castel dell’Uovo.

Then Pizza, the authentic Napolitan. I had one at Sorbillo but I am afraid to report that it was way below my expectations! I didn’t really have time to go for two pizzas so I am stuck with my last memories of the best pizza in Brooklyn at DiFara’s! Can you believe it?

PS: this is Benedetta eating Pizza. As you might recall with DiFara, she is now the standard tester for proper Pizza:)))
PS: this is Benedetta eating Pizza. As you might recall with DiFara, she is now the standard tester for proper Pizza:)))

So once Napoli is done I catch a train to Florence, as a group of U.S. journalists are joining me for a master Class on Vernaccia di SanGimiganano and Chianti Colli Senesi.

I am a little worried as I must spend five days with these people, but it turns out to be a young group of very professional journalists who also like to have fun! So it is. We drove them around Siena and the surrounding hills finding new avenues and sometimes also getting a little lost.

I guess if this is how we handle our road signs, no wonder we are experiencing certain difficult economical times! Italy 2011: the Fall.

Are we going to make it? Yes I think we are, but we are definitely getting a little to close to a disaster.

With what is happening I feel really lucky and I am very thankful for the job I have and the life I am leading. I have no time indeed for people in our business who complain about the fact that this is a job like any other job…bla, bla! I mean there can be some tough moments and little sleep and some over storage of calories to burn. Yes there can be a feeling of dizziness to be too much on the road, but no complaints are accepted here and friends are always out there to look after me.

Talking about friends. Do you wanna know who’s hand’s shake is this? Un believable. Two of my favorite Tuscan Chefs: Benedetta Vitali and Luciano Zazzeri! Yes, they had never met and I made it happen!

Where did it happen to the grandiose presentation of Coevo 2007 by Cecchi at the Cecchi winery with Enoteca Pinchiorri cooking in the cellar for over 200 pax! What a lunch with the impeccable service of Mr Pinchiorri himself, the great Annie Feolde and Coevo 2006 and 2007. Coevo is a new Super Tuscan made with Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, Cabernet, Merlot and Petite Verdot from Maremma. I liked the 2006 for its brighter fruit and refreshing steel character to the denser and maybe smoother 2007. This is a wine with some good aging potential if one tastes the Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva 1988 today still young and fresh, a really delicious Sangiovese from a stunning vintage.

The afternoon went by quickly I had to go get the kids to my mum’s in Florence and as hard it is to believe, go out for dinner with Vanessa!

I went to one of my home close restaurants La Trattoria del Pesce where I had a superlative black pepper, salt and rhubarb nose with a clove and cranberry nose  Arpepe 2001 Riserva Buonconsiglio. This is a pure nebbiolo from Valtellina, in the Lombardy Alps.

A wine which is better to serve a little cooler then normal like a 16°C rather then 18-20°C. The palate is crunchy rich with pure juicy and the level of drinkability is beyond imagination. I am sure you are questioning if a red wine went well with fish. Well it did. I knew it would have but not the magical way it did it: oysters, raw clams and shrimps, horse radish action with wild raw salmon and it did it all! When great natural elements meet…there’s magic happening. I know the picture is a little 1972, but trust me the inner light of that food and that wine was much denser.

Can I go to bed now? Sure only a few hours before the kids wake up.

Today I am going to visit Castello della Paneretta, one of Tuscany most beautiful fairy tale Castle and now also great wines are coming out of it, like the simple cherry driven smooth Chianti Classico Castello della Paneretta  2008 and the more intense, licorice and leather dense darker fruit Chianti Classico Riserva Torre a Destra 2006.

Above the original Frescos by Bernardino Poccetti inside the castle, below the original smile of tow monkeys asking for a special treatment in the morning!

The full moon these evening on my daily run back home.

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