Showing posts with label wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wine. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Tasting of Italian Wines in Century City

The 2018 Vini d'Italia tour was an invitation-only gathering to sample wines from some of Italy's best small-production wineries. After Philadelphia and Austin, the last stop was Terra, Eataly's rooftop dining room in the revitalized Century City Mall.


Marilyn Krieger works for the Winebow Group which organized the tour.  She said that the event was an opportunity to enjoy premium Italian wines distributed by Leonardo LoCascio Selections (LLS) and to talk with the winemakers. The wines we would taste that afternoon would evoke the location of their cultivation and the winemaker whose palate guided the creation of that year's bottling. Each wine was unique. Each winemaker had a story to tell.


I understood completely what Krieger meant. I love visiting vineyards and enjoy meeting winemakers, like Shawna Miller at Luna Vineyards in the Napa Valley and Mélanie Weber in her vineyard overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland.


The wines served at the afternoon event traversed Italy.


Four rows of tables stretched the length of the large dining room and outside on the covered patio where winemakers and representatives of vineyards from all over Italy poured their vintages and talked about their wines.

To stimulate the palate, a table was set with fine cuts of charcuterie, rough-hew chunks of aged Parmesan, small plates of calamari fritti in a spicy marinara sauce, crusted mashed fingerling potatoes heavily seasoned with flake salt, pasta with fennel sausage and spring salads with burrata, English peas and fava beans.


Some of the wines poured that afternoon were not yet available. Those would be shipped in the fall, available for the holiday season. And, many were so prized, their small productions would sell out before their release dates.

For me, the best adventure as a travel and food writer is to visit wineries as I did in Napa and Switzerland, to spend time with winemakers, explore the area around the vineyards and enjoy the fruit of the vines.


At the Vini d'Italia event I did the next best thing. I traveled from table to table, criss-crossing Italy from north to south and along the way tasted a Brunello, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Barbera, Chianti, Barolo and a Soave Classico. Every wine was unique. Every winemaker had a story to tell.

I wish you could have been at the event. At the very least, look at the website and check with your local wine shop. Maybe you will find one of the wines we tasted. I hope so.


I look forward to enjoying the wines in a restaurant and seeing them in wine stores and I look forward to visiting the wineries in Italy to complete the experience.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Cornalin, a Swiss Grape With Big Ambitions

Which Swiss wines do you love? Hands? Anybody? Nobody? Know why? Only 2% of Switzerland’s wine production is exported. All the rest, 98%, is consumed domestically. The best way -- actually, the only way -- to sample Swiss wines is to visit Switzerland. That’s what I did.

The Valais’ Microclimate

Having grown up with images of Switzerland as a land of snow-covered mountains, when I visited the Valais, a wine-growing, French-speaking canton east of Geneva, I expected cold weather. But the climate was better suited to shorts and T-shirts than to parkas.
Neatly trellised vineyards climb up steep hills taking advantage of a hot, dry microclimate. With 300 days of sun a year, the Valais feels like Napa and Sonoma except for the Matterhorn looming in the distance.

In Switzerland, family-owned vineyards and wineries (called vignerons-encaveurs) are the rule. Even if unprofitable, they stay in the family. During a hosted trip we met one wine maker whose family was regarded as a newcomer. They had only worked the vineyard for three generations, while the neighboring farm had been owned by one family for seven generations. Neither winery was self-sustaining. Everyone had a day job.

We tasted dozens of varietals from local vineyards, some with such a small output, customers who lived in the neighborhood consumed their entire production.
The wine most closely associated with the Valais is Fendant a white wine made with the Chasselas grape. But it is a red wine not a white that is making news these days.

Cornalin, the new kid on the block

Twenty-five years ago the Swiss government encouraged farmers to plant improved strains of grapes that were indigenous to Switzerland and to pursue new blends with distinctive qualities. The goal was to expand the export market for Swiss wines.

In the Valais, that led to the improvement of Cornalin, a grape that has been cultivated since the time of the Roman Empire. Used primarily in blends to make inexpensive table reds, the wine was often bottled without appellation or date of production.

Rouge du Pays

Frequently confused with an Italian grape with a similar name, the Swiss variety (Rouge du Pays or Cornalin du Valais) is genetically distinct. In the 1990s the Agroscope Changins-Wädenswi, a federal agricultural agency, funded research to cultivate promising local strains to improve the quality of the grapes and the survivability of the vines. A group of young vintners adopting the appellation Le Coteaux de Sierre planted the new vines. Over time, the acreage in the Valais devoted to Cornalin has expanded.

The wines have a low-tannin, fruity flavor and a dark cherry red color. Helping market wines made with 100% Cornalin grapes, the wineries of the area have enlisted an unlikely champion.

Antoine Bailly is an internationally respected academic and a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Geography, 2012). A native of Switzerland,  Bailly travels the world as a lecturer. These days his passion project is Cornalin.

A Cornalin Museum: Château de Vaas, La Maison des Cornalins
When I toured the under-renovation Château de Vaas, La Maison des Cornalins in the village of Flanthey (Chemin du Tsaretton 46, 3978 Flanthey),  Bailly pointed out details of the building, parts of which were built in the 13th and 16th centuries. Restored at great expense, the building is unique in the area for its history and architectural details. Opened to the public in late August 2014, a photographic tour of the museum is available on a French language web site.
In the tasting room, products from the local wineries can be sampled, along with cheeses and charcuterie from local purveyors. To visualize where the grape is grown,  Bailly created an interactive map with the locations of the Cornalin vineyards in the Valais. Another interactive display with video screens illustrates the cultivation of the grape.

A Temperamental Grape

In the tasting room, with  Bailly leading an animated discussion accompanied with appetizers of local cheeses and slices of beef sausage from Boucherie La Lienne in the village of Lens, we sampled several of the 100% Cornalin wines. Each of us had our favorite. Mine was the Bagnoud Cornalin, Coteaux de Sierra (2012) Rouge du Valais.

Bailly described the grape as difficult to grow and unstable. Slight variations in heat or rainfall can ruin the harvest. Through trial and error, the local vintners have learned how to get the best out of the grape.
So why bother with such a temperamental grape? The answer was pretty direct. The vintners like the wine they’re making with Cornalin. For them, the extra effort and increased risk are worth the result.

Cornalin needs three years in the bottle to mature. With the vintages currently offered for sale, these wines will be at their best just about the time the museum opens.  Bailly invited us all to come back then. In the meantime, we bought bottles of our favorites to bring home. We had become little agents of export for Swiss wines.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Get Ready for Summer with Sangria Fruit Salad

When I was served a glass of sangria in a bar in San Sebastián, a small resort town on the coast of Northern Spain, I loved the way fresh fruit added flavor to the wine. Fortified with brandy and  sugar, sangria goes well with small sandwiches, salads and snacks.

Visit Spain and you'll see sangria pitchers wide at the base and pinched at the spout so when poured, the wine not the fruit fills the glass.

The result is a wine beverage that carries memories of the fruit but not the fruit itself. Sitting in that small bar, enjoying a relaxed afternoon, I wondered at this exclusion. Why keep the fruit out of the glass?
When peaches, apples, limes and oranges go into a sangria, they are sliced but not peeled. The thought that played around in my head was why not peel the fruit and cut everything into spoon sized pieces? Doing that would allow the wine and fruit to be served together. 

Place a dozen on a tray, with an espresso spoon in each glass and your guests will enjoy an appetizer and cocktail in one.

Sangria Fruit Salad

Using a bottle of quality wine to make sangria is a waste. The same goes for the brandy. Because so many of the flavors will come from other sources, select a drinkable, inexpensive red wine and brandy. Supermarkets and Trader Joe's sell good wines and brandies at a low price that work well. For the wine, I like Merlot, but the choice is entirely up to you. If you prefer white wine, fumé blanc and chardonnay are good. 
Use firm and ripe fruit that is in season. Stone fruit like cherries, peaches and nectarines, grapes, oranges, limes, strawberries, Fuji apples and pears work well. 

Cut up and add the fruits just before serving so they don't become soggy by absorbing too much wine.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 750 ml bottle red wine
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
Juice of one lemon or lime
3 oranges, preferably Valencia
2 Fuji apples, washed, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes
2 white nectarines, washed, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes
6 large strawberries, washed, stems removed

Directions

In a large pitcher, mix together the wine, brandy, sugar and lemon juice. Chill in the refrigerator. 

Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all the peel together with the rind. Hold the peeled oranges over a bowl to catch all the juice. Cut the orange sections free from the membrane. When all the sections have been removed, squeeze the membrane to capture the last bit of delicious juice.

Just before serving, add the orange sections, orange juice and cut up strawberries, apples and nectarines. Stir well.

Use a ladle to fill glasses with a good amount of the fruit. Top off with the sangria. Place an espresso spoon in each glass.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ice Cold Sangria Fruit Salad Keeps Everyone Cool and Happy

When summer temperatures go up, my appetite goes down. I want less to eat and more to drink.

Homemade lemonade with mint is a great favorite. Iced tea in a tall glass filled with cracked ice is a great way to cool down. On a recent trip to Spain, I rediscovered sangria, which might be the best remedy for double and triple digit heat waves.
In the summer, the Iberia Peninsula bakes under an unforgiving sun. Spaniards long ago learned that the best way to beat back the effects of hot weather is to eat small plates ("tapas") and drink wine flavored with fresh fruit.

When I was served a glass of sangria in a bar in San Sebastián, a small resort town on the coast of Northern Spain, I loved the way fresh fruit added flavor to the wine. Fortified with brandy and  sugar, sangria goes well with small sandwiches, salads and snacks. 

Visit Spain and you'll see sangria pitchers. Wide at the base, the large pitchers have a spout pinched at the end. When the pitcher is made, the potter narrows the opening, allowing the wine but not the fruit into the glass.

The result is a wine beverage that carries memories of the fruit but not the fruit itself. Sitting in that small bar, enjoying a relaxed afternoon, I wondered at this exclusion. Why keep the fruit out of the glass?

When peaches, apples, limes and oranges go into a sangria, they are sliced but not peeled. The thought that played around in my head was why not peel the fruit and cut everything into spoon sized pieces? Doing that would allow the wine and fruit to be served together. 

Place a dozen on a tray, with an espresso spoon in each glass and your guests will enjoy an appetizer and cocktail in one.

Sangria Fruit Salad

Nothing is better than a great wine that has matured so that its best qualities delight the palate with layers of flavor and a multitude of notes. Using a bottle of quality wine to make sangria is a waste. The same goes for the brandy. Because so many of the flavors will come from other sources, select a drinkable, inexpensive red wine and brandy. Personally, I like Merlot, but the choice is entirely up to you. If you prefer white wine, fumé blanc and chardonnay work well . 
Use firm and ripe fruit that is in season. Stone fruit like cherries, peaches and nectarines, grapes, oranges, limes, strawberries, Fuji apples and pears work well. 

Cut up and add the fruits just before serving so they don't become soggy by absorbing too much wine.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 750 ml bottle red wine
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
Juice of one lemon or lime
3 oranges, preferably Valencia
2 Fuji apples, washed, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes
2 white nectarines, washed, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes
6 large strawberries, washed, stems removed

Directions

In a large pitcher, mix together the wine, brandy, sugar and lemon juice. Chill in the refrigerator. 

Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all the peel together with the rind. Hold the peeled oranges over a bowl to catch all the juice. Cut the orange sections free from the membrane. When all the sections have been removed, squeeze the membrane to capture the last bit of delicious juice.

Just before serving, add the orange sections, orange juice and cut up strawberries, apples and nectarines. Stir well.

Use a ladle to fill glasses with a good amount of the fruit. Top off with the sangria. Place an espresso spoon in each glass.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio

One of the things I like about Il Fornaio's monthly, regional menus is the chance to take an armchair journey to Italy. This month's region is Calabria.

Located on the toe of the Italian boot and extending into the Mediterranean, Calabria has developed dishes that feature seafood.

With a group of friends, we went to our neighborhood Il Fornaio in Santa Monica (1551 Ocean Avenue across from the Santa Monica Pier; 310/451-7800) and shared the dishes family style.

While we read through the menu, we ate baskets of Il Fornaio bread dipped in seasoned olive oil. The fresh bread is so delicious there's always the risk that we'll be full before we even begin the meal.

We started with bowls of the delicious three bean soup (Zuppa Millecuselle) which paired cannellini, borlotti, and garbanzo beans in a vegetarian broth, flavored with lentils, mushrooms, and cabbage and thickened with tomatoes. Adding the lentils was an especially nice touch because they grounded all the contrasting flavors.

We followed the soup with an inventive salad of organic greens (Insalata Monte Poro) with fried goat cheese balls, dressed with fresh strawberries and a strawberry-raspberry red wine vinaigrette. With these two dishes we had a Greco Bianco by Alberto and Antonio Statti (2007), a crisp, light white that complimented the soup and salad.

For our pasta course, we shared plates of spaghetti with shell fish (Spaghettata du Pescatori Calabrisi). Fresh black mussels, butter clams, calamari rings, and shrimp were tossed in a spicy tomato sauce with saltiness provided by capers and slices of giant green olives. We were still drinking the Greco but decided we should try the other wine from the region, a Gaglioppo also from the Satti brothers (2007).

For the main course we had a choice of chicken with mushrooms (Petto di Pollo alla Cacciatora), roasted boneless leg of lamb (Agnello Arrustutu), or a swordfish loin (Involtino di Spada). We decided on the swordfish because the menu said it was a favorite of the region.

Chef Bruno Amato, the Il Fornaio Chef-Partner, who designed the menu, prepared the fish in a manner I've never seen before. Instead of grilling the swordfish, he stuffed it with a mixture of shrimp, almonds, garlic, pecorino, and caciocavallo cheese. Topped with bread crumbs and drizzled with olive oil, the fish was a masterful combination of textures: crunchy, soft, and moist. Accompanying the fish were roasted potatoes, eggplant, and red and yellow peppers in a tomato sauce with a touch of heat. We had more of the Gaglioppo. It benefited from spending time in the glass. Its flavors had softened so it paired perfectly with the swordfish.

For dessert we had the ricotta pudding (Budino di Ricotta) which reminded me of ricotta cheese cakes I used to eat in Providence, Rhode Island. Not too sweet, a little on the dry side, and delightfully flavored with golden raisins, orange, and lemon zest

The regional menu is served until March 15th, so we have time to go back and try the ravioli stuffed with salami and ricotta (Ravioli ca 'Sopressata) and have another bowl of the delicious soup.

For more posts about Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale check out:
Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
A Tasting at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica--Trentino-Alto Adige
A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio--Calabria
Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale
Il Fornaio Heads North to Lombardia
Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica
Friuli-Venezia Giulia at Il Fornaio

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