Wednesday, February 28, 2007

La Collezione Contini Bonacossi, Wine Messaging & Carnevale: Being the 129th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! To begin with the sites, the latest important thing on Italian Cuisine is a quick look at Wedding Soup in Italian and English: Though it's a mainstay of festive Italian American meals, it's much less common in Italy now than it once was; see . On the Italian Wine Review, to gear up for the Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile and Brunello vintage presentations that start tomorrow, I've posted a vertical of Ciacci Piccolomini D'Aragona's Pianrosso Brunello di Montalcino. Very nice in a traditional key.

To think it began with a stamp...
Returning to Cosa Bolle in Pentola, if you don't keep an artistic ear close to the ground, you may not have heard that the Collezione Contini Bonacossi, by far the most important addition to Florence's Galleria Degli Uffizi in several centuries, is finally open to the public, albeit on a limited basis: Free guided tours are held Thursdays at 2:45 PM and Saturdays at 11:30 AM, and you should contact the folks at the museum to let them know you'd like to take the tour; see the site for contact information and directions (the collection is adjacent to the Uffizi gallery).

The collection was assembled in the early part of the last century by Conte Ugo Contini Bonacossi's grandfather Alessandro, a man of many interests including stamp collecting. In particular, he was interested in Spanish Colonial issues (he was living in Spain at the time), and did so well with them that he was able to begin to buy paintings, and, after returning with his family to Italy, began regular visits to art galleries all over Europe.

Not alone, of course; his wife Vittoria accompanied him, and though neither had formal artistic training, Count Ugo says they both were blessed with excellent eyes, and told a story about a time the couple were visiting a gallery in (I think) London, and Alessandro saw a pair of impressionist works he liked. The gallery's owner asked for a ridiculous sum, and Alessandro was walking out when Vittoria drew him aside. So he went back, haggled some more, and finally agreed on something close to the original sum provided the owner sweeten the deal by throwing in a dirty old painting Vittoria had found in a back room. The dealer agreed, and the couple walked out -- with two impressionist paintings and a Cimabue.

Following Alessandro's death his children negotiated the donation of the heart of the collection to the Galleria Degli Uffizi; rather than take pieces piecemeal, the museum's curators picked 144 pieces to fill voids in their existing coverage, and, per the family's wishes, have kept the Contini Bonacossi collection together rather than scatter it throughout the museum. The result is astounding; the hall with the afore-mentioned Cimabue also has Sassetta's Madonna della Neve, a painting from the 1420s that combines Sienese Gothic detail with Renaissance Florentine figure rendition to commemorate the Virgin's appearing in Rome, on August 3 352 AD, to tell Pope Liberio and Patrician Giovanni to build a church following the snowy outline they would find on the Colle Esquilino -- find it they did, and built the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome's four Basilicas (Saint Francis, who is kneeling in the foreground, indicates a platter of snow -- now blackened with age -- with his thumb, while an angel is packing some snow to make a snowball).

This painting also has a story with it; a few years ago an old farmer knocked and asked to see it, because his family, who had worked the lands of the town of Chiusdino's Parish Priest, had kept it in their hayloft near during the War -- he said the Germans weren't interested in it, but the Brits who drove them out were, and many came to see it. The curator asked the farmer if he knew how Conte Alessandro had gotten the painting, and the farmer said the priest had sold it to get money to repair the church roof. At least you fixed the roof, the curator said, but the farmer shook his head: "Al prete interessavano piú le tette che i tetti -- the priest was more interested in tits than roofs."

At least we can see it, and also many other things, including Mary Magdalene as she turns to look west towards the tomb (the dawn is behind her), and is lit by the light of Christ Arisen -- a painting by Savoldo, who taught Caravaggio. Then there's a fresco of the Madonna and child Andrea del Castagno did in 1445, taken from the Castello del Trebbio, Pazzi family's stronghold -- it has portraits of a pair of children, Pazzi family twins, in the foreground, and one cannot help but wonder what happened to them after the failure of the Congiura dei Pazzi in 1478, when Pazzi assassins killed Giuliano De'Medici, but not Lorenzo, who extracted swift and terrible revenge.

Other things that caught my eye? I could go on at length, but will limit myself to a pair of portraits of Giuseppe da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza. One is official, by Tintoretto, and frankly reserved. The other is informal, by Paolo Veronese, and shows Giuseppe with his son Adriano, who holds his father's arm with a happy expression, and one has the impression this was a rare moment for him. And to Bernini's San Lorenzo, an early (some say his first) sculpture; Lorenzo is lying on the grill with the flames licking up (he's the patron saint of meat grillers), about to tell his tormentors he's done on one side and it's time to turn him over, and Bernini, who was a teenager at the time, is said to have burned himself to get an idea of how the Saint felt.
In short, if you visit Florence, plan your stay to include a Thursday or a Friday, and arrange to see the Collezione Contini Bonacossi. It will be a highpoint of your trip.

After the showing, Count Ugo invited us to the Ristorante Beccofino -- across the river from the Uffizi in Piazza degli Scarlatti, where there used to be a mosque. I won't bore you with the menu, which was quite nice, but will touch upon the wines, from the Contini Bonacossi family's Capezzana estate in Carmignano. In particular, we had the 2004 and 1990 Villa Capezzana Carmignano, and the 2000 and 1979 Trefiano Carmignano (reds all).

The younger wines, which were both made after the arrival of Stefano Chioccioli as consulting enologist, are rich and fruit driven, displaying considerable balance in an extremely appealing and approachable key. They're both good introductions to Central Tuscan wines, and though some might sniff because they do contain Cabernet, which is generally a recent addition in Tuscany, in Carmignano it was introduced by Cosimo III De'Medici in the early 1700s and has had lots of time to adapt to its surroundings.

The older wines are cut from a very different cloth; whereas the wines Stefano advised on are built around fruit, both the 1990 Villa Capezzana and the 1979 Treffiano (their first vintage) owe much of their energy and backbone to lively acidity that keeps them very much on their toes; though there is sour berry fruit, it's the acidity that makes things interesting, and as such the wines are considerably less approachable than their younger siblings. If you like the style, they have a great deal to say, but you do have to like the style.

Why the differences? In part time; fruit does fade, and as it does other things, in particular acidity, can emerge. But more importantly improvements in viticultural technique have resulted in riper, better quality grapes, and the improvements are reflected in the wines.

Send an SMS to find out about the Bottle
Fraud strikes everything, including wine, and a few years ago the papers were full of stories about someone who was caught selling fake Sassicaia -- the label looked good, but the wine was a far cry from what it was supposed to be. Brunello is also vulnerable to this sort of thing, and the Consorzio is introducing a holographic band called a CertiLogo, which is affixed to the neck like the paper fascetta with the Brunello seal. The CertiLogo bands are made by a Milanese company and are difficult to falsify; they also have a code on them that you can call in, together with the code on the fascetta via a cellphone SMS or a web form, and get back information about the wine -- what it is, accompaniments, serving temperature, and so on.

Ciacci Piccolomini D'Aragona is the first winery to adopt the system, and when a colleague tried sending in an SMS message, the reply was instantaneous. I expect we'll see more of these CertiLogo bands in the future.

Winding down, Tuesday the 20th is Carnevale, also known as Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday. It's a final occasion for fun and levity before the onset of Lent, and it's custom to celebrate with tasty treats. I've mentioned others in the past, and here are a couple more:

These are fritters sprinkled with honey; you'll need:
  • 4 cups (400g) flour
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • Powdered sugar
  • The grated zest of a lemon
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • An egg, lightly beaten
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt
  • Honey
Combine the flour with the wine, 4 olive oil, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, and a pinch of salt. Work the mixture until it is smooth and elastic, cover it, and let it rest for a half hour.

Roll the dough out into a thin (2 mm, or 1/16 of an inch) sheet, and use a serrated pastry wheel to cut strips about a half-inch (1 cm) high. Roll the strips up to make cartedatte about an inch (2.5 cm) across, using a little beaten egg to stick down the outer end of each, and fry the cartedatte in hot oil.

Drain the cartedatte well on absorbent paper, brush them with honey, and serve at once.

These sound more difficult than they are to do, though they do require a pastry bag. You'll need:

  • 2 1/2 cups (250 g) flour
  • A vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • The grated zest of a lemon
  • A pinch of salt
  • Oil for frying
Begin by bringing 1 1/5 cups (300 ml) of water to a boil with the butter, sugar, seeds from the vanilla bean, and salt. Add the flour and cook the resulting polenta, stirring constantly, until it peels away from the sides of the pot.

Let the mixture cool, and then incorporate the beaten eggs and the lemon zest. In the meantime, heat oil for frying.

The batter will be squeezable; use it to fill a pastry bag with a fairly large nozzle, and squeeze it out into the hot oil while moving the bag as if you were drawing with it. Remove the girandole when they are golden, drain them on absorbent paper, and serve.

This time's proverb is Neapolitan: È meglio a tené na mala spina ca nu malo vicino -- It's better to have a thorn in your flesh than to have a bad neighbor.

That's it, and Happy Carnevale! A presto,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at

PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find them on the IWR site, through Access to the online archives is via subscription -- in other words there's a yearly charge that helps us to offset our costs -- and includes extras of various kinds, including illustrations and links to other resources. IWR subscribers automatically have access to the Cosa Bolle archives.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

San Valentino & Olio: Being the 128th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola


To begin with the sites, the latest important thing on Italian Cuisine is another illustrated recipe -- I got Leonardo Romanelli to show me how he makes pasta e ceci -- pasta with chickpeas, pasta e fagioli's close cousin. On the Italian Wine Review, I'm still adding to the overview of Francacorta, but in the meantime have posted my impressions of the current releases of Carmignano's wines, and of Velours, an unusual, very nice Cabernet-Barbera blend of a sort I'd be happy to see more of.

Returning to Cosa Bolle in Pentola, I've decided to make it shorter and do it more often; as things stood entirely too much time was passing between when I started an issue and when I sent it out. I plan to aim for weekly, though we shall see.

We'll begin this time with Centolio, a new olive oil format the Consorzio Chianti Classico is aiming at the restaurant trade.

If you're in Italy and ask for a salad, it will probably come as a side dish to accompany your main course. And it will (at least in Tuscany) probably come undressed, with the waiter bringing cruets of olive oil and vinegar so you can dress it to taste.

While a cruet may be picturesque, and even charming, as a means of serving olive oil it leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, even if there is a stopper, it's not going to be airtight, and the air coming in and out will oxidize the oil in the bottle, especially if the bottle is only half full. Perhaps not much if it's a busy restaurant where they refill the bottles daily, but if the cruet has been sitting out for a day or two the effect will be noticeable.

Next, what's in the bottle? Cruets are generally sold empty, which means the restaurateur fills them. If they guy is honest and conscientious, with good extravirgin olive oil from a container that doesn't sit half-empty (remember oxidization?) for days out back. But if he's a little less scrupulous, or more worried about his costs, he may be cutting the good oil with something out of a commercially pressed 5-gallon can, or even drawing directly from the can. Unless you go into the back room and look, you don't know.

And this is what's so nice about the Centolio format the Chianti Classico Consorzio is now promoting: When you sit down at your table you find a 100 ml (a little more than 1/3 cup) bottle of olive oil, which is sealed, and labeled, just like any other bottle of oil. Since it's sealed, you know exactly what's in it, and also that it's fresh. A third of a cup might sound like a lot, but if there are four of you, it will be about right for your salads, or for drizzling over hearty winter soups such as the above mentioned pasta e ceci, ribollita, or (in summer) pappa al pomodoro. And if some is left over, the restaurant patron can take it home, and has a label handy if he or she decides she wants to buy more of the same.

Bottom line: I think the customers will appreciate getting fresh oil, and this should make the format interesting to restaurant owners, . Though the initiative was undertaken by the Consorzio Chianti Classico, I see no reason olive oil producers elsewhere, say California, shouldn't also be interested. After all, they have to worry about their product being put into cruets too.

Next, Tanti Auguri per San Valentino!
His day is rapidly approaching, but you may not know much about him. He was, according to legend, a Christian priest who was consigned to a Roman noble by the Emperor Claudius. He cured the noble's daughter's blindness, at which point the family converted and Claudius had them all executed. Valentino first, and on the eve of his execution he wrote the girl a letter, signing it "from your Valentine." After his death a pink almond tree, symbol of abiding love, blossomed near his grave.
It's only fitting that we should celebrate his day now.
You likely have already planned out a menu, but if you haven't here are a couple of risotti that will be perfect for the occasion:

Risotto con Gamberi al Profumo di Arancia: Orange-Scented Shrimp Risotto

To serve 4:
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) Carnaroli or other short-grained rice
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) peeled shrimp (thawed will be fine)
  • 1 quart (1 liter) simmering vegetable broth (unsalted vegetable bouillon will work)
  • 3 oranges
  • 2 tablespoons onion in a single piece
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • A splash of dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Squeeze two of the oranges. Remove the zest from the third, being careful to get only the orange part, julienne it, and blanch the strips. Carefully break the orange into sections, and clean them up, removing all the white membranes from them.

Heat the oil and sauté the onion piece until it has colored and imparted some flavor to the oil. Add half the butter and the rice and continue sautéing, stirring lest the rice stick, for another 3-5 minutes. Add the peeled shrimp, a splash of white wine, and continue cooking until the wine has evaporated. Fish out and discard the onion.

Next, begin adding vegetable broth, together with the juice of the two oranges. When the rice reaches the al dente stage carefully stir in the julienned strips, the cleaned sections, and the remaining butter. Cover and let the rice rest for a minute, and then serve.

If you have the bad fortune to be allergic to shrimp (like me) this recipe will obviously not work. How about:

Risotto con Agnello e Melanzane: Risotto with Lamb and Eggplant

To serve 4 you'll need:

  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) Carnaroli or other short-grained rice
  • A rack of lamb (the ribs), weighing 2 pounds (900 g)
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) eggplant, diced
  • A shallot, minced
  • A bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 quarts (1.5 liters) simmering broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme
  • !/3 cup olive oil
Trim the rack of lamb, removing the 8 nicest chops, and set them aside. Boil the remaining meat to make the broth.

Sauté the minced shallot with the bay leaf in half the oil, and then it is golden add the rice. Continue to cook, stirring, until the rice is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes, and then add the diced eggplant. Check seasoning, and after another minute begin adding broth, a ladle at a time.
While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a skillet large enough for the chops to lie flat, and season the oil with half the thyme. Add the chops and cook them to taste, turning them several times and seasoning them with salt and pepper. An Italian will cook them fairly well done -- my father-in-law recoils from rare lamb -- and I suggest you follow their lead, though you are free to cook less if you want.

When the rice has reached the al dente stage, season it with the remaining thyme, stir in the remaining butter and the cheese check seasoning, and cover the pot for a minute.

Serve the risotto with the chops.

What do drink with these recipes?

Franciacorta is obviously an option, as is Proesecco, though the results will be different, because the average Franciacorta is considerably more substantial than most Prosecchi.

Another option, if you want bubbly, is Ubaldo Rosi, Colonnara's Metodo Classico Brut Riserva. This is a sparkling Verdicchio made by one of the larger cooperative wineries of the Marche, which I had occasion to taste at a presentation of Colonnara's wines held for Tuscan wine lovers and the Trade.

The current vintage is the 1998, which spent 5 years on it lees before being disgorged in fall 2005. It's pale brassy gold with brassy highlights and moderately fine intense perlage. The bouquet has quite a bit to say, most about the lees, with bread crumbs and greenish accents mingled with minerality and some underlying gunflint and bitterness. Nice balance, and tightly controlled. On the palate it's full, with the fullness coming more from the grapes than the sparkle, which is softer than I had expected, with deft mineral accents mingled with pronounced bitterness -- the lees are again quite evident, but in a positive away, and it flows into a clean bitter finish. I liked it, though I found it to be fairly direct -- there's nothing hidden, quite the contrary, but what it puts on display is pleasant and will complement the occasion, though you do have to prefer a fairly bitter, almost oaky style of sparkling wines. I found it growing on me as I sipped.
2 stars

Want to know more? Colonnara's URL is

This time's proverb is Tuscan -- Amore non si compra e non si vende, ma in premio d'Amor Amor si rende: Love can neither be bought nor sold, but when Love is given Love is returned.

That's it, and Happy Valentine's Day!

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle at cosabolle dot com

PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find them on the IWR site, through Access to the online archives is via subscription -- in other words there's a yearly charge that helps us to offset our costs -- and includes extras of various kinds, including illustrations and links to other resources. IWR subscribers automatically have access to the Cosa Bolle archives.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Adulthood, Chips, and More: Being the 127th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola, your things Italian newsletter

Greetings, and a very belated happiest of holiday seasons! To begin with the sites, the latest on Italian Cuisine is an illustrated recipe, Michela's Gnocchetti Cimbri with a leek-and-cauliflower sauce; unlike the more common gnocchi di patata (potato gnocchi), gnocchetti cimbri are made from a flour-based batter that's dribbled into boiling water. They're easy to make and quite satisfying; see . The latest on the Italian Wine Review is a broad overview of Francacorta, to which I'm still adding. Next week I'll also taste through a couple of wineries.

Adulthood in Italy?
Turning to Cosa Bolle, if you look at demographics, Italy is one of the oldest countries in the world -- life expectancy is 83 years for women and 77 for men, while the average woman can expect to have 1.3 children. In other words, the population is aging (and would age even faster without immigration); at present 14% of Italians are under 14, 66% are in the 15-65 year bracket, and 19% are over 65, while by 2050 the relative percentages will be 12, 53 and 34. As you might expect, if you ask an aging population where the cutoff is for old, you'll be given a high age -- people don't like to consider themselves elderly.

What's interesting is the age at which people think adulthood begins; La Repubblica recently published a study according to which the average Italian considers adulthood to begin at 35 (!). Teens, predictably, think that adulthood starts sooner, at 26. However, those in their twenties tend to define themselves as post-adolescent -- giovane, or young, in Italian, while close to 40% of those in the 35-44 age bracket also define themselves as giovane (60% instead see themselves as adult), and close to 13% of those in the 45-54 age bracket define themselves as giovane (78% adult). At the other end of the scale, 40% of those 65 and over still consider themselves to be adult, while only 53% see themselves as elderly.

A country in denial, one might say, and to a degree it is, though the criteria for entering adulthood also speak volumes about contemporary Italian society. 11% of those polled say you are adult when you have finished your studies, 25% when you have found a steady job, 12% when you are living on your own, 20% when you are cohabiting or married, and 31% when you have children. All milestones that get steadily pushed back in a country where studies drag out and good, well-paying first jobs are scarce, and, given the employment and housing situations, people continue to live with their parents (especially the men) and marry later -- in 2006 the average age for grooms in was 33.7, and for brides 30.6 -- and have children later.

I find it sad that a significant fraction of the Italian population my age still considers itself less than adult, and am also saddened by the words those participating in the study used to describe these post-adolescent giovani: 30% said spensierati, or "without a care," while another 14% describe them as without responsibilities. In other words, perched on the bank, watching the river of life, with its challenges, responsibilities, and rewards flow by. What a terrible position to be in, when you're pushing 40!

Be Careful about what you drink...
People do more than think about aging, however: the other day the papers were full of a story about a woman, who, feeling ignored by her husband, followed her best friend's advice and crumbled a tablet of Viagra into his wine. A big mistake: the terrible pains he developed in his left arm and chest turned out to be a heart attack, induced by the little blue pill.
She was (understandably) in tears, but he forgave her, announcing from his hospital bed that he had been ignoring her because of job-related stress, not family problems, and had seen the error of his ways: Less overtime, and more family time -- without Viagra, which he said he doesn't need -- in the future. Quiet family time, alas, because the doctors told him to take it easy until this summer.

Chips in your wine?
Moving to wine, it's difficult to underestimate the importance of wood in winemaking. Wood use seems to have begun with the Celts, who are known to have used barrels to transport the wine they bought from the Romans and Greeks overland -- someone must have soon realized that, in addition to being less likely to break, wood offers another advantage over terracotta: Wines put in barrels or casks mature with time, gaining elegance and depth.

And because of this, if you visit just about any winery in the world today you'll find wood barrels: Generally oak, and though the most common size is 225 liters (about 50 gallons), what the French call a barrique, you can find everything from tiny casks to huge vats containing thousands of gallons. The larger casks are essentially containers, which allow micro oxygenation of the wine by oxygen that slowly filters through the pores in the staves, but don't have much direct impact upon the wines they contain. Smaller barrels, in particular barriques, have a much more pronounced impact because the ratio between the internal surface area of the barrel and the volume of the wine is greater -- there's more wood to interact with the wine.

A wine that spends several months in small wood emerges transformed, with the aromas enriched, tannins softened, acidity tamed, and more, and since a great many people like the transformations, well-oaked wines are in considerable demand. Problem is, whereas a large oak cask that acts as a container will work well for years, or even decades if properly maintained, a barrique has a working life of 3, or at the most 4 years, after which the staves are spent and it can no longer contribute to the wine. So the winemaker who has a hundred barriques in his cellar knows he will have to purchase 34 new ones every year.

This is, first of all, expensive -- a new barrique costs close to a thousand Euros -- and also embodies an element of risk, because even if a winemaker has established a good working relationship with the coopers he buys from, the possibility of getting a bad barrel is quite real. So real that some large wineries purchase wood directly, age it, and then send it to the cooper. And this brings up another point: The supply of oak for making barrels is finite. It's almost all from several forests in the French highlands, and though Italians do use Slavonioan wood to make larger casks, winemakers I have talked with have expressed dissatisfaction with wood from forests in other parts of Eastern Europe and North America: Either the flavors are off, or they're too charged.

Given the situation, devising a way to oak a wine without using a barrel would seem quite obvious, and indeed New World winemakers have, putting the wine in steel tanks and adding oak chips, whose vastly increased surface area (with respect to that of a stave) means much more intense wood-wine interaction, and using a micro-oxygenator to compensate for the lack of oxygen filtering through the staves. The result, if done properly, is a well-made wine that closely resembles what comes from a barrique at a fraction of the cost.

Americans North and South have adopted the technology, as have Australians and South Africans, and last summer European Union accepted the situation, decreeing that European winemakers could do likewise. Are the Italians happy? Not hardly. The ministry of Agriculture has been deluged with requests that Italy prohibit the use of chips in DOC and DOCG wines, saying that to admit them would be the ruination of Italian enology. Politicians made speeches, and a number of mayors have gone as far as to say the use of chips is a menace to the health of their constituents and therefore banned within the town limits.

In towns where wine is the major industry this is a serious thing, and fellow journalist Gerardo Antelio wrote a note to Franco Ziliani, telling him that the Mayor of Torrecuso, in Campania, had come out against "Vini Pinocchio," and that because of his edicts the sales of the local wineries, none of which use wood chips -- they're banned -- had increased substantially. Populism, Gerardo says, designed to convince local consumers to support local industry, and I'm certain he's right.

Journalists have also come out against wood chips for a different reason: Using them offers yet another opportunity for winemakers who want to take shortcuts to do so, and many feel that there are quite enough shortcuts already. In other words, they see chips as a gimmic, or a cellar technique on a par with must concentrators and other geegaws that allow winemakers, who should be doing their best to improve their grapes in their vineyards, to take other, easier paths.

And what do the winemakers say? Some have boarded the populist bandwagon, but many, including Angelo Gaja and Andrea Sartori, president of the Unione Italiana Vini, have pointed out that putting chips into wine rather than wine into barrels is a technique. Nothing more, nothing less, and they think that winemakers should be free to use it or not as they see fit. I agree with them; the blanket prohibition some are demanding will be observed by the honest winemakers, but won't do much to hinder those who prefer to bend the rules. My only caveat would be that I would hope the winemaker who does use chips will be honest enough to not put "barrel aged" on the label of the wine. After all, a small oak barrel costs considerably more than a handful of wood chips, and I like to think that the added cost of a wine whose label says "elevato in barrique" (barrel-aged) is justified.

A last thing: What does a wine made with chips taste like? To be honest, I don't know, because nobody in Italy is admitting to using them. However, I expect it would differ some with respect to a wine aged in barrel, simply because the rate of substance transfer, and the degree to which the wood gives up its essences, will be greater. So I would expect it to be quite fresh, and perhaps in some ways oakier. I'll know when the winemaker tells me what's in my glass was made with chips.

Want to know more? Franco Ziliani's article (in Italian, alas)

Auguri per San Valentino!
I had planned to discuss olive oil next, but one esoteric discussion per newsletter is enough. We're rapidly nearing San Valentino, and the magazines are all printing recipes, many with a note saying "Facilissima!" (Really Easy), which goes on to say "even he can cook this." Yes, for some reason Italian men tend to take to the stove on Valentine's Day, and many do need help.
One could make, for example:

Pasta Al Forno con Pere e Speck, Baked Pasta with Pears and Speck
The pears will add a pleasant sweetness and texture that will contrast nicely with the saltiness of the speck, and the creaminess of the cheese. To serve 2:
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) sheets fresh store-bought lasagna
  • 6 ounces (150 g) robiola, which is a fresh, creamy cheese. I might substitute a mixture of ricotta and cream cheese for it
  • Half a pear -- Williams will be fine -- peeled, cored and diced
  • 2 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/34 ounces (50 g) speck (in its absence use lean prosciutto), cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 2/3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Salt and pepper (white if possible) to taste
  • If you have one, a heart-shaped glass pasta/pie dish about 7 inches (17 cm) across.
Sauté the pear in the butter, with the speck and sage; when the speck has colored add the wine and cook a couple of minutes more, until it has evaporated. Turn off the heat.

Cut the sheets of lasagna to the shape of your pan -- a heart will be nice, but small round or square will also do. Boil the sheets briefly -- at the most a minute -- in lightly salted water, remove them with a strainer, and let them cool on a clean cloth.

In the meantime, combine the robiola cheese with the milk and the grated Parmigiano, and season the mix to taste with salt and pepper; remember that the speck is salty.

Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).

Lightly butter the pan, and put down a first layer of pasta. Cover it with some of the cheese mixture, some of the pear mixture, and repeat the sequence until all is used up. Bake the lasagna for 15 minutes and serve at once, with a crisp white wine. A Franciacorta Brut would be nice, and in keeping with the holiday.

This time's proverb is Sicilian:
L'acqua si ni va 'nta la pinnenza, l'amuri si ni va unni c'è spranza: Water flows downhill, and love to where there is hope.

A presto, and Tanti Auguri!

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle (at) cosabolle (dot) com