Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Independent, Various Musings and More: Being the 154th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! I'm sorry to be late with this, but summer is a difficult period for me -- like many parents I count down the days remaining before school resumes, and this year has been worse than the last, because now there are two sets of homeworks to get done. We've got less than a month to go!

I have managed to get a fair amount done on the Italian Wine Review and Italian Food, however: The most recent additions to the IWR are a rundown of Carpenè Malvolti, a look at the single vineyard wines from Castello di Querceto, and a rundown of Frascati, a white from the Alban Hills that can be quite good. I've also added a link to an article on the situation in Brunello that Monty Waldin wrote for Jancis Robinson, and which she allowed Franco Ziliani to repost on Vino al Vino (in English, and he has translated it into Italian). Monty's article is both distressing and frightening, and to be honest brings to mind a photo I saw a while back of a guy face-down in a urinal, with the caption: "When you hit bottom you'll know."

I hope I haven't offended anyone, but the situation has reached a level between sickening and grotesque, and is likely going to spread: A friend and colleague tells me the prosecutor who is carrying out the investigation has had the police pay visits to all the major figures involved -- cellar masters, agronomists, winery owners, consulting enologists and so on -- and examine the hard disks of their computers. Since many of these people, especially the consulting enologists, also work elsewhere, those elsewhere are nervously looking over their shoulders. And there's more: My friend also tells me the scope of the investigation has expanded beyond winemaking, to cover all sorts of other things including land use, hiring, and accounting practices. It could take a long time for the dust to settle.

You'll find Monty Waldin's article here -- scroll down past Franco's introduction.

The most recent additions to Italian Food are a bit simpler: First, we went to the coast for Ferragosto (the major Italian summer holiday, on August 15), and since it was cloudy the day we arrived I took the dog blackberry picking. Came home with pounds of blackberries, and Elisabetta put most of them into a blackberry crostata that should have served many more than it did. You'll find it here. Looking a little further back, the most recent article is on watermelon.

The Independent: Tourists Beware - Right or Wrong?
Moving in a very different direction, Mr. Berlusconi's center-right coalition has by now been in power for several months, and I had planned to write some about what they have done and are up to, but The Independent beat me to it (sort of) with a piece entitled "Tourists beware: if it's fun, Italy has a law against it." In it they say that Mr. Berlusconi set out to address a "security emergency" and in doing so allowed town and city mayors to enact all sorts of strange regulations, which, if broken by uninformed tourists, can result in hefty fines. And then they cherry pick among the regulations enacted by mayors (who do have a great deal of latitude within their city limits), some of which do sound strange.

But first, let's backtrack, because as is often the case in Italy, things aren't quite as linear as non-Italians try to make out. Despite Mr. Berlusconi's "we will increase security" electoral platform the first thing he did upon taking office was to try to block the magistrates who have been trying to convict him of tax evasion, corruption and influence peddling for years and years. Since he couldn't simply order them to suspend the trials (the PM's power does have limits) he started out by proposing legislation that would suspend all trials for relatively lesser crimes (those with sentences less than 10 years, which include housebreaking, rape and kidnapping) for a year to allow the serious cases, of which Italy has many, to proceed. Among the hundreds of thousands of trials that would be blocked were, strangely enough, Mr. Berlusconi's.

As one might expect, there was a great hue and cry, and commentators pointed out that the definition of "serious crime" was such that many perversions of justice would occur. For example the trial of a teen who shared his hashish with a friend would go on (sharing drugs is considered drug dealing), while the trial of a drunk who raped a girl at a bus stop would not. The heat proved too much and Mr. Berlusconi's coalition backed down.

Only to talk about reinstating parliamentary immunity, and this invites a brief aside. Because Mussolini disposed of his rivals in Parliament by having them convicted on trumped up charges and sent into exile, after the war the Italian constitution granted all MPs full immunity -- an MP couldn't be charged unless parliament first voted to rescind his immunity. As one might guess, this proved an invitation to corruption, because MPs across the spectrum covered each others' backs, and soon nothing happened without a bribe. Until 1992, when a divorced woman went to a magistrate, Antonio Di Pietro, to complain that her husband -- a Socialist -- wasn't paying alimony. He claimed to be broke, so she produced the numbers of the Swiss bank accounts where he deposited his graft; the thread Di Pietro followed grew into a thick rope that launched Mani Pulite (the Clean Hands scandal), and brought down the entire political system -- after public outcry caused the repeal of Parliamentary immunity.

There was outcry about the reinstatement of Parliamentary immunity too, and in the end the Government proposed that the four highest offices of the land (President, Prime Minister, and Presidents of House and Senate) be granted immunity to protect them from the actions of magistrates with political axes to grind. This measure passed, and having seen to his security, Mr. Berlusconi turned his attention to the rest of us. One of the first things the Minister of the Interior proposed was to fingerprint all gypsy children, to make it easier to identify them now and in the future. This was deemed racist by the Opposition (and some segments of the EEU), so the proposal was withdrawn, and the Minister announced that all IDs issued after 2010 will include fingerprints. In other words, since singling out gypsies is racist, they're going to open up files on all of us.

And security? The latest budget included plans to reduce the police force, which didn't make anyone happy. So the Ministers got together and decided to deploy several thousand troops in the major Italian cities, where they will be patrolling with the police forces. I'm not sure this is what we need, but it is what we're getting.

And this brings us back to the Independent's rather sarcastic article. In Genova, they say, it's illegal to wander about with an open bottle of wine or beer. A friend of mine got arrested for doing the same thing in Upstate NY years ago, so I don't see anything wrong with Genova's wanting to keep people from drinking in the streets (and dropping the bottles when they're empty, as drinkers are want to do).

The Independent approves of the fact that in Rome one can drink in the streets, but seems surprised that one can be fined for sitting down on the Spanish Steps to have lunch and perhaps take a nap. Would London object to tourists using the gates of Buckingham Palace as a backrest? I rather think so.

Olbia, they say, fines those who smoke on the beaches. However, if you've seen how pristine Olbia's beaches are, you'd understand why the locals would be upset if people smoked on them -- without ashtrays. After all, where do you suppose the cigarette butts go?

They also poke fun at the Minister of Health's banning massages (mostly given by Chinese) on the beaches. We'll ignore the fact that the masseurs don't wash their hands as they go from one sweaty body to the next, and ask a more serious question: Who trained them? An MD colleague of wife Elisabetta's suffered mild whiplash in an auto accident last year and went to a licensed chiropractor because his neck was sore. The guy made a mistake -- they think he compressed the arteries for too long -- and the resultant ischemic episode paralyzed Elisabetta's colleague from the neck down. She has heard of similar things happening after beach massages, and I therefore wouldn't let anyone touch me.

Another thing I couldn't help noticing is their disapproval of Italian attempts to limit panhandling in tourist areas. "And in Florence," they say, "it is now illegal to clean the windscreens of cars waiting at traffic lights." One can almost hear the disdainful sniff. One wonders how often the authors drove through Florence before the ban went into effect. Every long traffic light had several washers -- always the same ones at each light, so they were divvying up the territory -- and if you were driving you felt like you were running a gauntlet. At least I did, and I'm a fairly big guy, big enough that they moved on with a scowl when I said no. Cars with single women, or women with children got a much rougher treatment however, with the washers (especially the north Africans) trying to threaten the women into paying them. It got so Elisabetta planned her routes to avoid some traffic lights, especially in the evening, and I know other woman friends of ours did too. That's not how things are supposed to be, and nobody -- with the exception of a few idealistically inclined young communists (mostly male) who said the windscreen washers were being deprived of their jobs -- objected when the ban was imposed. Quite the contrary, we were glad to have our streets back.

Well, I've gone on longer about this than I intended. And there have been Italian reactions to the article, which was mentioned in the news. "At least we're allowed to stand up in soccer (football?) stadiums," one commentator observed.

Pasta Con Le Sarde Grigliate - Pasta with Grilled Sardines
Winding down, though you might not think to grill sardines -- there are many much more glamorous fish out there that look much more impressive when served off the grill -- they are extremely tasty, and if you do grill them you'll discover that they go very fast, and people will want more. In addition to serving them grilled, you can make them into a tasty pasta sauce. To serve 4:
  • 1 2/3 pounds (700 g) fresh sardines, cleaned
  • 2/3 pound (300 g) penne or ziti, smooth sided or not as you prefer
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • A small hot pepper, crumbled
  • 2 heaping tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped oregano
  • Salt to taste
Remove the heads from the sardines and also their spines, being careful not to split them -- you want them to open like so many books. Gently rinse them and pat them dry.

Heat the olive oil over a gentle flame and slowly brown the garlic, taking care not to let it burn. When the oil is flavored, remove and discard the garlic. Next, turn the flame up and brown the breadcrumbs over a brisk flame, stirring in the pepper too. As soon as the bread crumbs are browned remove the pan from the fire. If you are perchance using dried oregano (just 1/4 teaspoon) add it now.

Set pasta water to boil, and while it is heating arrange the sardines on a grill and brush them with some of the bread crumb mixture.

Cook the pasta, and while it is cooking grill the sardines for about 8 minutes.

Drain the pasta, season it with the flavored oil and the fresh oregano, if that's what you have,, carefully incorporate the grilled sardines, and serve at once.

A wine? I might be tempted by a Frascati, and I'd follow the pasta with a more glamorous grilled fish.

This time's proverb is Roman: Beato quell'arbero che se pô ricoprì cco' le su' foje - Blessed is the tree that can cover itself with its own leaves.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.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 recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sardegna: Being the 153rd issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! Got back from spending a week in Sardegna a few days ago, and am still mulling over the trip. But to start off with, the latest on the Italian Wine Review is a quick rundown of some of the wines produced by the Gruppo Italiano Vini and before then I celebrated the birth of Alberto Alessandria with a writeup of the wines his dad Fabio and grandmother Marina Burlotto make at Commendator Burlotto. Superb wines, and I hope they set some aside for when he's a little older. On About I have instead put together a quick collection of recipes with fresh plums and prunes -- desserts and jams, but also some savory dishes.

Returning to Sardegna, it's one of Italy's two major islands (the other is Sicily), extending north-south in the Tyrrhenian Sea below Corsica. For some reason -- perhaps because it sits well out to sea and consequently looks much more distant from continental Italy on maps -- people don't seem to think about it as much as they do about Sicily. Their loss, because it's spectacular.

One can fly, but one must then rent a car, so we drove to Livorno and boarded a night ferry for Golfo degli Aranci, a small port just above Olbia. The passage was uneventful, save for the wakeup call at 5 AM, and after disembarking we slowly drove down the eastern coast of the island towards the Baia Sas Linnas Siccas, a few km north of Orosei. The name may strike you as Spanish and you'd be right; Sardinia was run by the Spaniards for centuries, and though the local argot in many areas predates Spanish (one exception is Alghero, in the Northwest -- the Spanish took it from the Genovesi in 1353, and when the locals, a mixture of Sardinians and Genovesi, tried to rebel in 1354, replaced them with Catalani, whose tongue is still spoken in the area now) many words do reveal influences dating to the period of Spanish rule.

Returning to our trip, we were staying at a place called Alba Dorata, a small resort village that had several things going for it: A large pool, which Daughter Clelia took up residence in (she was already tan and got progressively browner as the week went on), air conditioning, a lifesaver because daytime temperatures climbed up into the 40s (100 plus F), and a beautiful shoreline consisting of rocky points separated by fine sandy beaches, with transparent, crystalline blue water of the sort one generally associates with the tropics.

Our two coves were easily accessible from land, which was good because we only brought sandals, but the Golfo di Orosei is one cove after another for a hundred km, and while they can all be reached from the sea (one can take an excursion, or rent a boat) many are only accessible from land via long hikes on steep, dusty trails. This might strike you as much more effort than one should undertake during a vacation, but the rewards are well worth it: the landscapes are hauntingly beautiful, bringing to mind arid regions of the American Southwest, and once one gets down to the water the diving is fantastic. Indeed, many people simply used the village we were staying at as a base, packing up and driving off (some with masks and fins, and some with tanks too) each morning.

Drawbacks? None with the village, though the sun's intensity was more than we were ready for, and Elisabetta and I both burned. So one morning we drove to Dorgali, the farming village inland that was once the area's major population center, and this offers space for a digression -- Sardinians traditionally viewed the sea with distrust, as it was a source of invaders, and therefore preferred to settle inland and devote themselves to sheepherding. As a result the coastlines were virtually deserted, save for outposts built by non-Sardinians (e.g. Alghero, established by Genova and captured by the Spanish, or Cagliari, established by the Phoenicians in pre-Roman time, and dominated by foreign powers through most of its long history), and until quite recently coastal lands were considered less valuable, and therefore went to the younger heirs (many of whom are now quite rich).

In any case, Dorgali is a one-street town whose houses are made of dark volcanic rock, and look to be quite old. Pretty, and though very touristy -- one crafts shop after another, with nice things -- and we enjoyed visiting it. Unfortunately, a morning out of the sun wasn't enough, so a couple of days later we crossed Sardegna to visit Bosa, a town on near the mouth of the Temo river, about half way between Oristano and Alghero. A beautiful drive, though countryside that became steadily drier and more desolate as we climbed into the inland highlands, where -- if you keep your eyes peeled -- you will see nuraghi, squat round drywall towers built from carefully fitted blocks of stone thousands of years ago. Some are in ruins, while others are still standing, and they confer a sense of haunting otherworldly distance to the landscape.

Bosa boasts a truly ancient and quite beautiful Romanesque cathedral dedicated to Saint Peter, a ways out of town (where one would never think to look, were there not signs), but like much else along the coast the town proper was founded by outsiders who wanted to take advantage of the navigability of the river to build a port: In this case members of the Malaspina family, who built a fortress overlooking the village that gave townspeople a place to withdraw to in time of need. The medieval town flourished, but in 1528 Bosa's leaders dammed the river to keep a French fleet from landing. The ploy worked, but the river mouth rapidly became a malaria-infested swamp, and the fact that the surviving inhabitants of the once-prosperous town fled rather than clear the river mouth again underscores the ambivalence Sardianians felt for the sea. The situation only improved with the arrival of the House of Savoy in the 1700s; the new rulers had the river mouth cleared and set up tanneries on the bank facing the town that are no longer operative, but offer a beautiful example of 18th century industrial architecture. The town itself is quite pretty too, and very enjoyable to walk about.

It took us almost an hour to find a place where we could enjoy the picnic lunch the folks at the hotel had packed for us -- Sardinians don't seem to go for public parks -- and then drove up to Alghero; the coast is still rocky, but by comparison with the coast around Orosei is greener and therefore seems gentler. Alghero is bustling and has a delightful Spanish feel to it, and we might have stayed longer, but the kids were wilting, so we drove home, enjoying the stark beauty of the landscape, and the colors, which gradually shifted towards purple as the sun set.

Bottom line: Italy is one of the most visited destinations in the world, but there are parts of the country one might never think to see. Sardinia, for example, but if you do go you'll find yourself eager to return again. I know we are.

Winding down with our trip, the day-to-day meals we had at our hotel were good -- the fish was very good -- but for the most part continental, with entrees one could just as easily have found in other parts of Italy. However, one night we had Porceddu, the roast piglet that is one of the mainstays of Sardinian festive cuisine.

It is, quite simply, a roast sucking piglet, but the roasting technique is masterful enough that it is one of the finest ways to cook pork one could imagine. It does require experience with fire building, and also quite a bit of wood, as the coals must burn for several hours. In terms of wood kinds, Sardinians tend to use aromatic woods along the lines of juniper or olive, though one could make do with hardwood if one had to. They also wrap the cooked piglet in myrtle, which grows wild throughout much of the island.

To make a Porceddu you will need:

  • A suckling piglet weighing about 13 pounds (6 k), cleaned
  • Salt
  • 1 pound (500 g) lard
  • Fresh myrtle boughs
  • A spit and spit turner

Light your fire.

While coals are accumulating, wash the piglet well, pat it dry, and salt it well inside and out. Spit the piglet -- Sardinians say a wooden stick is best, but a steel spit will also work -- and set it about 3 feet (a meter) in front of the fire.

Set the spit to turning very slowly, and cook the piglet for an hour. Baste the meat occasionally with liquid fat obtained by heating the lard over the flames, and when the piglet begins to drip bring it closer to the fire, -- about 20 inches (50 cm) from the heat. Continue roasting and basting for another two and a half hours; the meat will be done when a knife inserted into thigh emerges hot and unblooded.

At this point salt the piglet to taste for a second time, wrap it tightly in myrtle boughs, and let it rest for 20 minutes. And then carve it, skin and all, and enjoy it with a well-aged Canonau.

As is the case with popular dishes there are many variations.
Another recipe I read says to split the piglet lengthwise, spit both halves, and cook them vertically (starting at a meter and bringing the halves closer after an hour), while another says to keep the whole piglet further from the flames and cook it longer. And yet another recipe says to remove the spit from the rotisserie when the meat is done, fill a braiser with coals, and turn the piglet over it to brown it to perfection.

In other words, doing a Porceddu requires some experience in hearth cooking, and offers a fair amount of leeway in terms of technique. But the results are superb, and you can also roast a whole lamb or kid this way.

I had intended to discuss the latest (interesting though predictable) developments of Italian politics, but they will have to wait until next time.

This time's proverb is Sardinian: Mezus bastonadas de amigu chi non lusingas de inimigu - Better a beating from a friend than flattery from an enemy.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.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 recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sangiovese di Romagna: An Unexpected Delight, Revisited: Being the 151st issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! I am sorry this is late, and also that this is as long as it is -- it's a sort of a shaggy dog tale that grows out of a weekend spent driving around Romagna this winter -- but given its length we had best get started:

A few years ago I visited the annual presentation of Sangiovese di Romagna held in Im322ola's imposing XIII century Rocca Sforzesca, and it was an eye opening experience that led to a fairly long article dedicated to Sangiovese di Romagna. Very briefly, though the wine does share some characteristics with Tuscan Sangiovese, but is also quite distinct from its southern cousin, and since you may not have seen what I wrote then it follows below:

Mention Sangiovese and most wine enthusiasts will likely think of Tuscany's great red wines, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and so on. This is only half the picture: There's also Sangiovese di Romagna, which is produced in a broad swath of the Romagnan foothills of the Apennines that extends southeast from the province of Bologna on down to the coast.

"But that's jug wine produced by the cooperatives," some will say, and the objection is at least partly true. Historically Emilia Romagna has always been a hotbed of labor organization and this extends to farmers; understanding the strength of numbers many of those who grew grapes formed coops to make the wine, most of which was plonk -- one has to remember a couple of things, however. First, the coops paid the farmers by weight, and the farmers therefore jacked up yields, with a consequent loss in concentration. Second, the official policy of the Italian ministry of Agriculture was, until not too long ago, to aim for quantity -- every day wines to go on the table -- while leaving quality to the French. So the farmers were producing what was expected of them.

Now things are changing throughout Italy, and though it has taken longer for the changes to happen in Romagna than elsewhere they are becoming apparent; as one might expect it's the smaller, family run wineries rather than the coops that are leading the way, though everyone is participating. First of all, there has been a tremendous amount of replanting, and the low-density Fiat vineyards, planted with high-yielding clones in widely spaced rows that allow comfortable tractor access, are vanishing, to be replaced by high-density vineyards planted with clones that yield quality rather than quantity. The per-plant yield goes down, resulting in significantly greater concentration, while the vineyard yield remains high enough to allow for a good return.

Cellar techniques are also changing; fermentation is no longer empiric (as it once was), wood use is being reevaluated and corrected, and new talent is arriving, both in the form of consultants who either advise the vintners or buy wineries and start working for themselves (or both), and in the form of members of the younger generation who go to enological school, and then return home to apply what they've learned, sticking with the coops in some cases, and pulling out in others.

In addition to replanting and otherwise modernizing, the wineries are showing much greater concern for aesthetics; whereas in the past if they needed a new building they put up a shed, now the new addition is designed to blend in with the existing structures, which they also are restoring if need be. In short, they are working to attract tourism and offer hospitality as well as wine. Since Romagnans are known for their hospitality, this means that a trip to the area could be an exciting and unusual getaway. On the one hand there are beautiful, relatively off-the-beaten-track art towns, for example Ravenna with its Byzantine mosaics, or Faenza with its ceramics. And on the other, there's the coast, which is packed with amusements and nightlife, especially the area from Rimini (which also has Roman and Renaissance buildings and artworks) to Riccione, which draws people from all over Europe and offers things for every pocket and taste.

To return to the wines, Imola hosts an annual Sangiovese show in late fall; I attended it a few years ago and tasted through the region with the help of one of the Sommeliers; I told him I wanted an overview and he selected wineries from the various towns, after telling me that as a general rule the wines produced inland, near Imola (the production area begins in the township of Castel San Pietro Terme, Province of Bologna) tend to be a little lighter and more delicate, what he calls vini da merenda, in other words picnic wines that are best drunk young. Going more towards the coast, where it becomes drier and better ventilated, in other words towards Predappio and Bertinoro, he said, the wines become more substantial and age better.

My general impression, a few years ago, was that though they are making strides, from an enological standpoint the Sangiovese di Romagna area still lags behind central Tuscany, and as a result there's more variability from vintage to vintage, with the great vintage being head and shoulders above the rest, whereas in Tuscany improvements in cellar technique and vineyard management allow producers to draw more when Nature is stingy with her gifts.

This said, I liked most of the wines very much, and especially the vini d'annata, which are for the most part fairly light and delightfully fresh, with a richness of flowers and berry fruit in the bouquet, and fresh youthful fruit supported by tannins that provide backbone without impinging overmuch on the palate. In short, spontaneous wines that go very well with food and are just the thing to open with pasta dishes, creamy soups or minestroni, or lighter meat-based entrees. The Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore wines also generally follow this pattern. With the Riserve things are a bit spottier; some of the wineries manage to maintain the freshness and spontaneity of their younger wines while adding more depth, but others instead are obviously trying to make an Important Wine, and in many cases these flag, settling and taking on weight, and bring to mind, at least to me, humdrum Chianti.

I sincerely hope that those who are working in this direction take a step back and rethink their path, because it's the spontaneity of Sangiovese di Romagna that makes it such a delight to drink. There are lots of good serious wines, but good fun wines can be harder to come by -- much of what is light is just that, but here they achieve depth and complexity as well. As such they occupy an important niche in the market that they should exploit, rather than cast it aside in an attempt to become something else.

In terms of specifics, the Sangiovese di Romagna production area extends over 5900 hectares, which yield about 150,000 hectoliters (19,500,000 bottles).

The composition must be at least 85% Sangiovese, with the remainder being red grapes authorized by the DOC commission; most of the producers I talked to said they use 100% Sangiovese. The maximum allowed yield per hectare (from hillside, foothill, or flat-lying vineyards, the latter planted on well drained sandy to sandy-clayey soils) is 110 quintals, which is frankly high, though it has come down from what it was in the past. Most of the quality producers have considerably lower yields; many harvest between 50 and 60 quintals per hectare, and some less. Once the harvest is in, the yield of grapes into wine is 65%.

The vino d'annata has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5%. The Superiore instead has a minimum alcohol content of 12% and is released in the April following the harvest. The Riserva is again 12% alcohol, but is released in the second January following the harvest. Many of the young wines are fermented in steel and held there until bottling time; this generally makes for freshness. The Superiore and the Riserva instead generally also go into wood, which varies from producer to producer. Some favor the large traditional oaken casks, which are primarily storage devices that allow microoxygenation while not ceding much to the wines, whereas others prefer to use barriques, which add notes of vanilla and spice, and contribute oak tannins to the wine as well.

The vino d'annata and to a lesser degree the Superiore are best drunk within 2-3 years of the harvest.

The Riserve as a rule can age longer, up to 5-8 years depending upon the vintage and the producer.

Thus ended my article: I very much liked the wines, and was quite pleased to accept an invitation this winter from Roy Berardi, who works with an organization called Romagna Terra del Sangiovese, which promotes Sangiovese di Romagna from all the Communes where the wine is produced, (and also local foodstuffs and tourism).

It was a very nice weekend -- Roy's quite personable and an excellent guide -- during which we tasted quite a number of wines, and my general impressions mirrored those I had a few years ago -- namely that Sangiovese di Romagna gives its best when made to be drunk young, while it all too easily comes across as settled when made in a more substantial key.

We began with a visit to Umberto Cesari, in Castel San Pietro Terme, and over the course of the next two days worked our way to Predappio, where we finished Sunday morning with a non-enological visit to Mussolini's tomb (one of the other journalists wanted to see it).

The wines, and our meanderings.

Umberto Cesari
Via Stanzano, 1120 - Loc. Gallo Bolognese
40050 Castel San Pietro Terme (BO)

Umberto Cesari's vineyards are in the most western-lying part of the Sangiovese di Romagna production area, almost within sight of Bologna. It's one of Romagna's larger privately held (as opposed to cooperative) wineries, and is quite pretty to visit -- we watched dusk steal over the hills, and then retired to the tasting room.

Malise IGT Emilia 2006
Pignoletto is one of the classic Bolognese white varietals, and indeed this wine, which is a blend of Pignoletto and Chardonnay, identifies with Emilia rather than Romagna. It's pale brassy gold with greenish highlights and has a rich bouquet with bright honeysuckle mingled with sage and herbal accents. Inviting in an up-front sort of way. On the palate it's pleasantly round and fairly full, with clean bitter accents and sweet tropical fruit -- the former from the Pignoletto, and the latter from the Chardonnay -- supported by deft acidity that flows into a long bitter finish. Direct, but pleasant, and will drink well as an aperitif or with cold cuts and antipasti, especially cheese or egg based ones, and will also be nice with simple meats or fish.
2 stars

MOMA IGT Rubicone 2006
This is a new addition to Cesari's line, and is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot, and is dedicated to the Museum of Modern Art in NY, with the label a work by Morandi. It's deep black cherry ruby with brick reflections, and has a fairly rich bouquet with red berry fruit supported by moderate spice black currant fruit, and some herbal accents. Very approachable in a distinctly international key. On the palate it's smooth and very soft with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by cedary bitter accents and some graphite shavings, with the tannins being very smooth, and it flows into a clean rather bitter finish. It is more a wine to drink by the glass far from the table than a food wine because of its low acidity and softness. Within this context it displays pleasing finesse and will drink very well, but it won't work for you if you prefer the scrappy acidity of a more traditional Sangiovese.
2 stars

Laurento Sangiovese di Romagna DOC Riserva 2004
This is 90% Sangiovese and 10%. It's deep brick ruby with some garnet in the rim, and has a fairly rich bouquet with cherry fruit and some prunes supported by tangy vegetal acidity and some greenish accents, underlain by cedar and some spice. On the palate it's medium bodied, with bright red berry fruit supported by cedar-laced tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish. It's very young, and needs another few months to come together, but will drink well with grilled meats or stews -- more red meats than white. It's good, but you have to like decidedly oaky wines, and though the oak will fold in with time it will always be present.
2 stars

Liano IGT Rubicone 2004
This is a 70-30 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, and is inky black with garnet rim, and has a powerful bouquet with red berry fruit supported by cedar and hints of spice. Nice balance in an international key, and gives an impression of softness. On the palate it's full, smooth, and soft, with bright berry fruit supported by clean smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean cedar-laced bitter finish. Quite a bit of oak, well used, and the Italian word that comes to mind is "ammiccante," which means enticing in a "come hither" sort of way, and indeed the wine is quite approachable and will drink well by the glass with simple meats or light stews; it has a pleasing directness and is quite up front, and also particular -- if you like more acidity in a wine it won't work for you. In other words, it's not for traditionalists, but if you like a smoother, softer style you will like it very much.
2 stars

As a group, Cesari's wines have acidities that are held firmly in check, and are clearly aimed at a more North American/Northern European than traditionally Italian palate. One would expect as much considering that they export 80% of their production.

We had dinner in a little restaurant in Imola called Il Parlaminte (Parliament, or Congresspeople in Imolese; Via Goffredo Mameli, 33, 40026 Imola (BO), Tel: 054 230144). It was quite nice -- I started out with passatelli in brood, a very traditional thick sort of noodle (for want of a better term) in broth, and don't recall what followed it. But I do recall the wines:

Castelluccio Ronco dei Cigliegi 2003
This wine is made by Claudio Fiore, Vittorio Fiore's son, and tasting it leads one to believe in genetics. It's deep almandine ruby with cherry rim, and has rich bouquet with delicate red berry and cherry fruit deftly supported by cedar that stays firmly in the background. Beautiful balance and great depth. On the palate it's deft, with lively cherry fruit that gains depth from prunes and is supported by clean cherry acidity that flows into a clean berry fruit finish. A beautiful wine that seems simple; if you want to, you'll find all sorts of things to think about, though it has an easy seductive grace to it that will have you wondering where it went and wanting a second bottle.

We followed Claudio's Sangiovese with Thea, a Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore made by Tre Monti, which is going to merit a brief aside. My tasting note from the dinner:

Tre Monti Thea Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore 2005
Deep pigeon blood ruby with garnet rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, and tart, with bright deft cherry fruit laced with cedar and some minerality that adds a degree of airiness, and underlying hardwood ash. On the palate it's medium bodied, with bright berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and clean fairly rich mineral acidity that flows into a clean bright finish with underlying bitter underbrush. Pleasant and deft; it is still young, and will drink well with red sauced pasta dishes, hearty soups, and grilled meats. Expect it to go quickly.
2 stars

The Aside: I also tasted this wine about a month later at home, in a flight of Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, and had a somewhat different impression:

Tre Monti Thea Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2005
Lot 02/70
Deep cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, with elegant red berry fruit supported by clean cedar that has a haunting air to it, supported by some graphite and some underbrush. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich berry fruit supported by considerable cedary bitterness from oak, and indeed the tannins have an oaky feel to them, and flow into a clean cedar-laced bitter finish. It's more studied, than the Campo di Mezzo, and has more depth, but also comes across as trying too hard; 2005 was a wet summer and I have a feeling that there was less fruit than there was in a richer year, say 2004. Therefore wood steps in to fill the void, and the wine thus seems more alcoholic and less rich.
2 stars

Clearly, I liked it less the second time, and as I said, this invites reflection.

First of all, the two bottles could have been different, because though the wine of a single-lot bottling (which this was, I think) is all the same in the tank, after bottling every bottle follows its own path, and they can diverge faster than one might expect.

Second is the setting: when one is drinking a wine with foods they affect one's judgment of the wine, negatively if the pairing is off, or positively if the wine and food work well together. These did, and the dry oakiness that bothered me when tasting the wine as part of a flight interacted positively with the richness of the passatelli in broth, and also with the stew that followed them.

And this simply underscores a point I have made many times, namely that context and setting do have an impact upon wine tasting. Going flight by flight may be more objective, because there are no food-related distractions but even then what came before has an influence on what follows: A concentrated fruit bomb will seem much more so if the preceding wine was tart and brambly, while a tart brambly wine on the heels of a voluptuous fruit bomb will seem that much thinner. I do keep this in mind when I taste, but the effect is there.

Tre Monti also makes a slightly less charged Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, which I tasted when I retasted the Thea:

Tre Monti Campo di Mezzo Sangiovese Superiore DOC 2006
Lot 2307
Lively almandine ruby with almandine rim. The bouquet is bright, and young, with a pleasant mixture of irises and violets supported by lively cherry fruit and some greenish brambly undertones. Invigorating. On the palate it's medium bodied, with bright cherry fruit supported by clean brambly bitterness and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean slightly sour cherry finish. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well with foods, everything from hearty pasta dishes through richly flavored grilled meats, including sausages and ribs, and on to fried meats and vegetables. Expect the bottle to go quickly, and you may well want another. Worth seeking out.
2 stars

Returning to our trip, the next day we visited Dozza, a pretty walled medieval town in the foothills overlooking Imola. The hulking Rocca Sforzesca now hosts Emilia Romagna's Enoteca Regionale, and I could have spent a day (or more) tasting the wines, had we had the time. Alas, we didn't, but did try a few things:

Tre Re Albana di Romagna Secco DOCG 2006
Albana is one of the classic varietals of the area around Bologna -- it is said to be Roman in origin -- and is also the first Italian white wine to obtain DOCG status, in 1987. Though most of the attention Albana receives is directed towards the sweeter incarnations (Albana Passito), we had a dry wine. It's pale brassy yellow with brassy reflections and has a fairly intense bouquet with considerable vegetal bitterness at the outset that opens to reveal sea salt and white plums as well, supported by considerable green apricot acidity. On the palate it's fairly rich, with pleasant white plum fruit supported by bracing bitterness that flows into a clean white plum finish with citron. Pleasant, and will drink quite well with cold cuts, cheeses, and white meats, especially with creamy sauces. For that matter, Welsh rabbit and cheese fondue come to mind.
2 stars

We next tasted a Pignoletto, from the Azienda Agricola Vallona, in Castello di Serravalle (BO). Pignoletto is an autochthonous white varietal thought to be distantly related to Grechetto, which is grown primarily in the area around Bologna. Much is sparkling, as was our bottle:

Vallona Pignoletto 2006
Fairly deep brassy gold with fine white sparkle that settles into nothing. The bouquet is mineral, with some bitter almonds mingled with almond blossoms, while the palate is bright, with lively acidity and minerality that flows into a clean bitter almond finish. Quite pleasant, and will drink well with antipasti or delicate fish, and will be nice with broth (with passatelli, even); the fullness and life also flow from the petillance. Expect the bottle to go quickly.
2 stars

We finished with another autochthonous varietal, Bourson, which was traditionally used in Romagna as an uva complementare, or blending grape, to add depth to other wines. People have begin to make it In Purezza (by itself) of late, and are also aging it. This was made with late-harvested grapes and was aged in wood:

Tenuta Uccellina Bursôn Ravenna Rosso IGT 2003
This is a flatland wine, and is deep pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim that has a slight orange cast to it. The bouquet is powerful and vinous with green leather and considerable cherry plum fruit supported by berry fruit jam and cedar, with some India ink bitterness mingled with minerality and iodine. Quite a bit going on and quite concentrated, which isn't too surprising considering how hot the 2003 summer was. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful cherry plum fruit supported by ample tannins that have an underlying India ink bitterness to them and flow into a clean jammy berry fruit finish that gains depth from underlying bitterness. It's powerful, and though it does reveal the summer heat in the jammy cast of the fruit and the relative lack of acidity, it's not heat struck, and will drink well with a rich roast or hearty stew. Quite interesting, and a pleasant discovery. I'd expect it to age well for another 3-5 years at least.
2 stars

As we left Dozza, heading east into Romagna, Roy told us that in Romagnolo the word Bé means both "to drink" and wine, a fact that gives an idea of how important wine was for Romagnoli in the past, and also ties in nicely with what a guy in Rimini once told me, namely that you know you've left Romagna and entered Emilia when you ask for a drink and get a glass of water, rather than a glass of wine.

Following our visit to Dozza we went to La Sabbiona (see http://www.lasabbiona.it/), a winery not far from Faenza, to taste their wines and enjoy a traditional Pranzo Romagnolo. I've already written about Centesimino, their Sauvignon Rosso, which greatly impressed me. But not about the meal.

I began with a tour of the cellars (the other journalists were less enological), during which I tasted a tank sample of a white wine from an autochthonous white varietal called Famos -- or in Italian Famoso, famous, which is still being evaluated. It's quite interesting, with honeysuckle and loquat mingling with heather and gunflint on the nose, and a pleasingly rich palate with powerful greenish apricot fruit supported by considerable structure and tannins (from the grapes) and bracing acidity that lead into a long bitter finish. I found it rather seductive, in a briskly athletic sort of way, and think it will be something to keep an eye out for when they release it officially.

Lunch began with (if I remember right) mixed cold cuts and formaggio di fossa, of which I have already written, accompanied by a La Sabbiona Bianco della Torre, a Trebbiano/Late-Harvested Malvasia blend that gains pleasing aromatic richness from the Malvasia and Backbone from the Trebbiano. The antipasti were followed by curzol (a handmade pasta shape that resembles shoe laces, curzol in Romagnolo) served with a scallion sauce, and strozzapreti, priest-chokers, with a sausage and wine sauce, and both are worth words of explanation.

First, Scallions: Though we now think of them as a relative of the onion, in Romagna they were one of the staples of poor farmhands, who would eat them for breakfast, washing them down with wine and chewing on a slice of prosciutto if they were lucky enough to have it. Because of this close association with poverty scallions were largely abandoned during the great economic boom of the 1960s and almost disappeared from Romagna. Their rediscovery and rehabilitation began in the 1990s, and they are by now welcomed on Romagnan tables, though not, I would venture, for breakfast.

Next, Strozzapreti, or Priest-chokers: though one might think the word to be a blatant example of the anticlericalism Romagna is known for (their being ruled by the Vatican, as part of the Papal States, certainly contributed to this sentiment), the dig is a little more subtle: Strozzapreti are poor people's pasta, made with just flour and water, but none of the eggs richer folk added to their pasta dough, and are therefore coarser. Being coarser, they don't go down as well, and this posed a serious problem for priests used to the genteel pasta made with eggs.

And the sausage-and-wine sauce? Very simple; we were told it was made by peeling fresh link sausages, crumbling them into a pan, adding wine to barely cover, and simmering gently until the wine had evaporated, leaving sausages and pan drippings behind. They went very well with the strozzapreti.

To be honest, the food was good, and I talked rather than take notes during the rest of the meal, but before we left I did taste one more wine:

La Sabbione Rosso della torre Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOCG 2006
It's fermented and aged in steel, and is lively ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is bright, and fairly tart, with cherry fruit supported by heathery floral accents and some lemony acidity. Scrappy, and light on its feet, bringing a tomboy to mind. On the palate it's medium bodied and deft, with bright sour cherry fruit supported by lively cherry acidity and clean slightly splintery tannins that flow into a clean tart cherry finish. Pleasant, in a rather aggressive way, and will drink quite well with grilled or fried meats, and also with light stews. It's one of those bottles that may not stand out at a tasting, but that will drink very well with the food that follows.
2 stars

Following our meal we worked our way towards Castrocaro Terme - Terre del Sole, which owes its present form to its having been the Capital of Romagna Toscana, the section of Romagna extending down to the flatlands that Tuscany's Medici Dukes annexed to guarantee access to the Adriatic trade routes. In addition to building an imposing fortress, the Medici had their architects lay out an ideal town, and it's quite pretty, though the shadows were lengthening by the time we arrived, and we simply drove about town (an interesting history, in Italian, alas http://www.proloco-castrocaro.it/storia.php) before heading back up into the hills to the Tenuta Pennita, where Gianluca Tumidei is attracting considerable attention with his olive oil.

The Tenuta has been in the family for a while -- his father Edmeo bought it in 1980 -- but he really got involved in 1998, and began making olive oil in 2002, which was a more serious undertaking than one might think, because cultivation of olive trees had lapsed in the Forlì-Cesena area in the 50s due to a lack of good olive presses. His trees are a mixture of cultivars from around Rimini and elsewhere, he says, adding that the oldest resemble trees from around the town of Brisighella. In other words, mostly Romagnan stock that has had time to adapt to the land, and the oils they yield are very low in acidity. Also very good; he set six different oils in front of us, and I found myself wishing I were competent to say something meaningful about them. "They're good" doesn't quite do them justice.

Fortunately, though Gianluca says he derives his greatest satisfaction from olive oil, he does also make wine.

Tenuta Pinneta Sangiovese di Romagna DOC Superiore 2006
Deep cherry ruby with violet in the rim. The bouquet is fairly bright, with lively cherry fruit supported by brisk sour cherry acidity and brambly accents, with heather as well. Deft. On the palate it's equally deft, and medium bodied, with fairly rich berry fruit supported by slightly greenish acidity and smooth sweet tannins that have a slight splintery burr and flow into a clean bitter finish. Expect it to go quickly when paired with hearty meat-based pasta dishes or risotti, or grilled meats.
2 stars

Tenuta Pinneta Terra del Sol Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva 2004
Deep cherry ruby with lively cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, with cherry fruit supported by fairly intense cedar and some graphite shavings. It's aged in large wood, but is heavily influenced by it. On the palate it's full and rich with bright red berry fruit supported by lively sour cherry acidity and tannins that have a warm splintery burr and flow into a clean tannic finish. It's very young, and needs another few months to get its bearings; by comparison with the vino base it lumbers some and is more settled. However, the cedar faded some as the wine opened, and I think it will work well with succulent grilled meats.
2 stars

Tenuta Pinneta Edmeo Forlì IGT Rosso 2003
This is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder Merlot Gianluca named after his father; it's inky ruby with cherry rim, and has a powerful bouquet with cherry and prune fruit supported by intense vegetal accents and some graphite shavings. The heat of the summer is evident, and it's also fairly direct. On the palate it's ample, and smooth, with moderately rich cherry and berry fruit laced with plums and supported by ample splintery tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish. It's a bit heat-struck and doesn't have the richness nor the definition of the Sangioves, both of which are from better vintages.
1 star

Gianluca changed enologists with the 2006 vintage, and there is a difference: the 2006 is scrappier and has more depth than the 2005, though it's clearly a Superiore as opposed to a Riserva.

By the time we finished tasting Gianluca's wines and oil it was quite dark out, and a chill wind had sprung up.

We worked our way back over hill and dale to Predappio, the town now known for being Mussolini's birthplace.

Actually, he wasn't born in Predappio proper, but rather in a farmhouse halfway down the hill, and in 1923, after taking power, he ordered that what had been Romagna Toscana be reassigned to the Region of Emilia Romagna, perhaps because he felt closer ties to Romagna than Tuscany. He also decided to rebuild Predappio below his house, summoning the finest Fascist architects to lay out an ideal Fascist town (the parallel with nearby Castrocaro is obvious) with a long avenue which had the major civic buildings, including the church -- Sant'Antonio da Padova -- the town hall, and the Casa del Fascio, or Fascist Party Seat (which has been closed since the war), and more. There's an ample porticoed square directly below Mussolini's home, and, just beyond the town, San Cassiano, the Romanesque church by the cemetery. San Cassiano was closed by the time we arrived, so we drove up to Predappio Alta (though Mussolini expected people to abandon it in favor of the new town few did).

Predappio Alta is a pretty hilltop town whose houses are built through and around thick steeply inclined sandstone beds locally called Spungone, and we ate in a restaurant called La Vëcia Cantêna D'la Prè that's on the main square. It was in the past a wine cellar, and below the restaurant there are several floors of casks, each with the nickname of the person who owned the wine in it. Now, of course, it's a restaurant, ably run by Barbara and Riccardo -- she cooks and he serves. We ate very well, though I confess that I neglected to write down what we ate. But not what we drank:

Fattoria Cassetto dei Mandorli Nicolucci Tre Rocche Sangiovese di Romagna DOC Superiore 2006
Deep pigeon blood ruby with ruby rim. Deft bouquet, with cherry fruit supported by some brambles and heather, and, as it opens, acidity too. On the palate it's clean, with bright red berry fruit supported by clean bright acidity and tannins that have a brisk splintery burr that flows into a bright clean sour berry fruit finish. Quite drinkable, and will go well with meat based pasta dishes, legumes, and also with quickly grilled meats.
2 stars

Fattoria Cassetto dei Mandorli Nicolucci Predappio di Predappio Vigna del Generale Riserva 2001
Impenetrable pyrope with pyrope rim -- poured ink. The bouquet is fairly rich, with violets and red berry fruit supported by underlying prune and pleasant spicy aromas, especially nutmeg and cinnamon. On the palate it's fairly full and quite smooth, with moderately intense plum berry fruit supported by tannins that have savory accents and flow into a clean finish. To be honest, it tries too hard to be a big wine, and as a result comes up short; I found myself preferring the Rocche.
2 stars

When we emerged, there was a dusting of snow on the ground, which made the drive to the Fattoria Trere (http://www.trere.com/ita/menu.html) quite pretty. At Trere I was greeted by a beautiful room, with delightful antiques, and the next morning we wandered about the Tenuta, crossing paths with a number of peacocks. It's quite nice, and if you visit the area would be a fine base.

After breakfast we returned to Predappio, driving though Predappio Nuova to reach San Cassiano, which was open. Though the outside is Romanesque the inside was thoroughly restored between the wars and has a great many Fascist symbols that somehow survived the period of architectural "cleansing" that followed the War. The cemetery behind the church was remarkably peaceful -- the dusting of snow and the early hour contributed to the atmosphere -- though I expect it is often much busier, because Mussolini's family tomb is part way down one of the lanes.

There's a flight of stairs lined with nostalgic plaques leading to a chamber with Mussolini's tomb under a massive bust of Il Duce. A number of other relatives are also buried around him, and before you leave you can sign the guest book, or simply browse through what others have written. Some of which makes for interesting reading indeed. The stairs leading back up have more plaques, and then you're back into the light.

It was by now almost noon, and since more snow was forecasted, I slowly made my way home, where I had a number of other wines to taste, which were kindly sent by an organization called Convito di Romagna, a group of seven top Sangiovese di Romagna producers who have decided to pool their resources when it comes to promoting their wines. The wines:

Azienda Agricola Stefano Ferrucci
Via Casolana 3045/2 - Castel Bolognese (RA)

Ferrucci Centurione Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2005
Lot 7163
Deep cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly bright, in a brambly way, with sour cherry fruit supported by greenish herbal notes and underbrush, with hints of dried porcini mushrooms and saddle leather. On the palate it's medium bodied, with moderately intense sour cherry fruit that's supported by sour berry fruit acidity, and by smooth, sweet, slightly greenish tannins that flwo into a clean slightly greenish finish that has an unusual bitter sweetness to it, a combination of (I think) alcohol and bitter accents from wood. It's direct, but pleasant, and will drink well with grilled meats that aren't too fatty, or with light stews and drier meats, for example a pot roast.
2 stars

Ferrucci Domus Caia Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Lot 6/209
Deep pigeon blood ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. Elegant. The bouquet is powerful, with cherry and forest berry fruit supported by savory accents and hints of dried mushrooms that add depth, and by nose thingling spice as well. Harmonious. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful fairly sweet cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins, while there is some bright raspberry acidity to provide direction, and it all flows into a clean fairly sweet berry fruit finish with bitter accents balanced by acidity. It's pleasant, in a rather voluptuous key, and to be frank brings to mind a 50s Vargas girl, full of cheeky promise. Because of its richness it will work well with flavorful meats that aren't too fatty, for example a thick slab of roast beef cooked medium, or roast poultry served with a creamy gravy. If you like the smoother, more international style you will like it very much, and it is in any case quite approachable. It will also age nicely for 3-5 years, though I might drink it now to enjoy its freshness.
2 stars

Azienda Agricola San Valentino
Fraz. San Martino in Venti - Via Tomasetta 11 - Rimini

San Valentino Scabi Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2006
Lot blurred
Elegant black cherry ruby with black reflections and ruby rim. The bouquet is fresh, and bracing, with fairly rich red berry fruit supported by savory accents and considerable brambly bitterness with underlying greenish notes. On the palate it's bright, with rich cherry fruit supported by clean bitter accents and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean slightly bitter finish. It's pleasant, and light on its feet in a very polished style; if you like scrappier traditional wines you may find it too polished, but it is quite approachable, and the bitterness of the tannins will nicely balance the richness of grilled meats, while the slight sweetness of the fruit will instead complement drier roasts, stews, or pot roasts. In short, it's versatile in a modern key.
2 stars

San Valentino Terra di Covignano Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Lot 08-07
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and some black almandine in the rim. The bouquet is intense, with cherry fruit mingled with bitter chocolate, cedar, and some mineral accents, and though it's quick to write it's also harmonious in an international key. On the palate it's ample and smooth, with fairly rich savory red berry fruit supported by clean sweet cedar-laced tannins that have some balsamic warmth to them, and flow into a clean warm savory berry fruit finish with underlying cedary bitterness. It's pleasant, in a decidedly modern oak-laced key, and if you like this style you will enjoy it. Drink it with succulent red meats that will balance the bitterness of the oak.
2 stars

Loc. Castiglione - Via Castel Leone 8 - 47100 Forlì

Calonga Ordeaffo Forlì Sangiovese IGT 2005
Lot Or06-8
An unusual, arresting label with an eye in green. The wine is deep pigeon blood ruby with hints of almandine in the rim. The bouquet is bright, and brambly, with lively cherry fruit supported by pronounced bitter acidity and slightly pungent underbrush with savory sea salt accents as well. As it opens, it becomes quite deft. On the palate it's equally deft, with brisk cherry fruit supported by clean bitter minerality and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish that leaves the palate squeaky clean. Pleasant, in a gangly way that brings a smiling tomboy to mind, and will drink quite well with grilled meats or light stews. Expect the bottle to go quickly.
2 stars

Calonga Michelangiòlo Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Lot SR/04
Deep pigeon blood ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is rich, with powerful berry fruit supported by intense cedar that has a haunting feel to it, and by bitter oakiness as well. Lots of wood here. On the palate it's full, with bright berry fruit supported by tannins that have bitter oak-derived cedar accents that flow into a clean bitter finish. It's powerful, and gives an impression of trying very hard, but the oak is, at least for me, overpowering with respect to the fruit. It is well made, and light on its feet notwithstanding, but you have to like heavily oaked wines to enjoy it. If you do, its richness will make it a good bet with a steak or thickly sliced rare roast beef.
2 stars

Tenuta La Palazza - Drei Donà
Via del Tesoro, 23 - FORLÍ

Drei Donà Notturno Forlì Sangiovese IGT 2006
Lot 3007N
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is rich and quite fresh, with youthful violets mingled with irises and lively berry fruit, which gains direction from some peppery spice and underlying brambles. Appealing, in a sunny youthful sort of way, though there are some dusky shadows as well. On the palate it's full, and bitterer than I expected, with fairly bright cherry fruit supported by tannins that lay an angular bitter wash over the tongue and flow into a decidedly bitter, almost abrasive tannic finish. It's not a wine I would be tempted to open far from the table, but this aggressive bitterness will make it work quite well with succulent meats off the grill, say ribs or chops, and it will also work well with mixed fried meats and vegetables (less artichokes). Particular, and not for those who like smoother softer reds, but in the proper setting it will work very well.
1 star

Poderi Morini
Via Gesuita 4/B - 48018
San Biagio Faenza (RA) Italy

Poderi Morini Beccafico Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2006
Lot BE6
Black cherry ruby with black reflections and black brick in the rim. The bouquet is fairly bright, with berry fruit supported by some greenish vegetal accents, and some underlying bramble that suggests acidity. On the palate it's bright, with fresh cherry fruit that gains direction from bitter mineral acidity, while the tannins have a slight greenish burr to them and flow into a clean sour berry fruit finish with tannic underpinning. It's pleasantly sassy, in a slightly lean key, like a kid in the midst of a growth spurt, and will drink quite well with rich meat-based pasta dishes, quickly cooked meats, either with red sauces or off the grill, and will also do nicely with fried meats or vegetables. In short, what Italians call a vino a tutto pasto, or wine to be drunk throughout the meal. Expect it to go quickly, and you will want a second bottle.
2 stars

Poderi Morini Nonno Rico Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2003
Lot N3
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and ruby rim. The bouquet is powerful, and fairly alcoholic, with jammy red berry fruit that's saved from being cloying by greenish vegetal accents with underlying cedar that agins in intensity with swishing; the overall impression is one of brooding power. On the palate it's full and quite smooth, with jammy cherry plum fruit supported by ample smooth tannins that have a slightly splintery cedary burr, and flow into a clean fairly bitter finish with some hints of sweetness as well. The wine clearly reveals the influence of the long hot 2003 summer in the plum cast of the fruit and the relative lack of acidity, which surrenders to tannic bitterness, but it wasn't completely overcome by the heat, and will drink nicely with flavorful, not too fatty roasts, including drier white meats, and will be nice with pot roasts as well..
1 star

Azienda Agricola San Patrignano
Via San Patrignano, 53 - Ospedaletto di Rimini (RN)

San Patrignano Aulente Sangiovese Rubicone IGT 2006
Lot 910.07 (? - Hard to read)
Impenetrable purple ruby with lively violet rim. Looks young. The bouquet is a little wilder than some, with bright berry fruit supported by wet stable straw and underlying bitterness. On the palate it's medium bodied, and quite smooth, with fairly rich cherry fruit that has a certain seductive languidity thanks to a relative lack of acidity, while the tannins are smooth and sweet, and flow into a clean fairly long bitter finish. It's pleasant, and very drinkable, though you have to like this slightly more rustic cast of aromas on the nose. If you do, you'll find the bottle going quite quickly with quickly cooked grilled meats or light stews.
2 stars

San Patrignano Avi Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Lot not apparent
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, in a rather brooding overripe key, with jammy berry fruit with plum overtones and some hints of balsam as well, mingled with mentholated spice and hints of grilled pepper. It comes across as trying very hard, but isn't as light on its feet as I might have liked. On the palate it's full and rich, with fairly bright cherry fruit that gains depth from slight plum, and is supported by tannins that carry with them a tremendous load of dusty cedar bitterness, which flows into a clean bitter finish. It's powerful, with has a detached bitter elegance that for some reason made me think of the dark hull of a ship sliding through a calm night time sea -- it seems to be drawing away. It comes across, to me, as trying very hard to be a Wine as opposed to a wine, and while the basic elements are nicely bound together it doesn't have the easy grace I associate with Sangiovese di Romagna. Rather, it advances, looking neither right nor left, and flows past us. I would drink it with a succulent roast because the bitterness is sufficient to balance meats along the lines of lamb, but I'd have liked more grace than I found.
1 star

Fattoria Zerbina
Via Vicchio, 11 - Marzeno - FAENZA (RA)

Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2006
Lot 7128
Lively cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is bright, with berry fruit supported by brambly acidity and some greenish vegetal accents; the effect is both bracing and inviting. On the palate it's bright, with rich cherry fruit that gains direction from lively cherry acidity, and is supported by sweet tannins that have a slight splintery burr, and flow into a clean bright berry fruit finish. Quite nice, in a youthful sassy key, and will drink very well with foods, ranging from pasta with meat sauces 8or lasagna tout court) through rich soups -- broth with Passatelli come to mind -- and on to grilled meats or light stews. It's what I expect of Sangiovese di Romagna, a deft lively wine you set out on the table and immediately have to replenish, because it drinks very well, but at the same time is a wine with a story to tell, if you care to listen -- it won't force itself on you. Worth seeking out, and you will want more after the first bottle.
2 stars

Fattoria Zerbina Pietramora Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Lot not apparent
Impenetrable pyrope with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, and nicely balanced, with slightly jammy berry fruit supported by spice with cedar overtones, while there is sufficient mineral spice to keep it from seeming brooding. On the palate it's full, rich, and quite smooth, with fairly intense cherry plum fruit supported by ample smooth tannins that have dusky cedar-laced bitterness with some warm savory balsamic overtones, that flow into a clean cedar-laced bitter finish, while there is (as with the nose) sufficient underlying mineral acidity to give the wine direction. It's obviously designed to be a Wine, as opposed to a wine, and is more successful in achieving this status than the other "important" Sangiovese di Romagna wines I tasted. But I found myself missing the easy grace of Ceregio. This said, it will drink nicely with succulent stews or roasts, and will age nicely for at least 5 years.
2 stars

Azienda Vitivinicola e Agrituristica Trerè
Via Casale 19 - 48018 Faenza (RA)

Tre Rè Re Bianco Colli di Faenza DOC 2006
Lot 1517
A slight detour; this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc an Chardonnay. Pale brassy gold with greenish highlights. The bouquet is bright, with herbal cents and gooseberries mingled with some pineapple fruit and some floral accents, with underlying heather. On the palate it's pleasingly full, with fairly rich gooseberry fruit supported by spicy acidity that has hints of sage and underlying bitterness for depth, and flows into a clean almost peppery finish with underlying mineral acidity. Pleasant, and will drink quite well as either an aperitif or with fish, and while they're obvious I'd be tempted to serve it with cheese-filled pasta too. Expect the bottle to go quickly.
2 stars

Tre Rè Vigna del Monte Sangiovese di Romagna DOC 2006
Lot 22107
Lively black cherry ruby with ruby rim paling to white. The bouquet is bright and rather brambly, with cherry fruit supported by wet underbrush and some jammy accents. Inviting in a brash sort of way. On the palate it's light to medium bodied and deft, with fairly bright cherry fruit that gains direction from pleasant cherry-raspberry acidity, and is supported by brambly greenish tannins that have underlying bitterness, and flow into a clean fruit-laced finish with underlying tannic bitterness. Quite pleasant, in a light key, and it's one of those wines that will work very well with foods, supporting rather than taking the limelight. I would be quite happy to drink it day to day, though its best pairings will be pasta dishes -- red sauces, especially -- simple grilled meats, and light stews. Expect the bottle to go very fast. It's what I look for in Sangiovese di Romagna, a food wine free from pretension, and it's worth seeking out.
2 stars

Tre Rè Amarcord D'Un Ross Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva 2003
Lot 1436
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is intense, and warm, with jammy berry fruit supported by polished saddle leather and some balsamic notes; the wine is fairly mature. On the palate it's ample, and quite soft, with fairly intense cherry plum fruit supported by moderate acidity backed by a fair amount of alcohol, and by tannins that have an inky India ink bitterness to them, and flow into a clean soft berry fruit finish. It's very much a child of the 2003 vintage, with fruit that's not as rich or as full as it would be in a less hot vintage -- I have the impression that the grapes suffered the heat and didn't ripen as well as they normally do -- but pleasant within this context, and the alcohol and tannins carry well enough for it to work well with roasts that are flavorful but not too fatty, for example roast beef cooked medium rare, or perhaps roast chicken or turkey. I wouldn't hold it too long.
1 star

Campo del Sole
via Cellaimo, 121 - 47032 Bertinoro (FC)

Campo del Sole Palpedrigo Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2005
Lot 701
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with cedar mingled with jammy berry fruit, and the interaction is almost candied in tone, with hints of violet and underlying clover honey as well. A bit unusual, especially the honey. On the palate it's full and soft, with fairly rich cherry prune fruit supported by alcohol, moderate acidity, and smooth bitter tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish where the hints of honey again emerge. It doesn't have as much fullness of fruit as I would normally expect of a Sangiovese, and this is likely due to the cooler, damper character of the 2005 vintage; this relative lack in turn allows other things to emerge, especially the hints of honey, which may be sweetness from the barrel toast. I'll be curious to taste another vintage of the wine, which will in any case drink nicely with simple grilled meats or light stews.
1 star

Tre Monti (mentioned above)
Via Lola 3, Bergullo - 40026 Imola (BO)

Well, here you have it. I'm sorry it's so long and so meandering, but this is the way it came out.

This time's proverb is Romagnolo: I bajoc i' fa andè l'acqua d'in sô - Money even makes water flow uphill.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.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 recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hard Times, Peposo Revisited and More: Being the 151st issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! I've just added my tasting notes for the Chianti Classico Anteprima to the Italian wine review. On Italian food I have instead added a few recipes, but nothing major or noteworthy.

La Dolce Vita isn't So Dolce Now
Italians have been saying for a while that their purchasing power has been eroding, and the recent jump in gasoline and (to an even greater degree) diesel fuel certainly haven't helped matters at all. In case you were wondering, regular diesel fuel, which used to me significantly cheaper than gasoline, has now caught up -- they're both about 1.50 -- while high test diesel has surged to 1.55 or so. That's Euros/liter and at the present anemic exchange rate that comes out to about 9 Dollars and 60 cents per gallon (of which 70% is tax). It takes about 15 more Euros to fill the tank than it did a few months ago, and people are driving less, while those who must use fuel to work are getting hammered. Truckers, obviously, but also fishing fleets, many of which are wondering if it's worth even heading out of port. We haven't had any of the demonstrations of the sort the British have had (truckers tied up London the other day), but we may.

And faced with mounting energy costs -- Italian generators use a mixture of oil and gas, which is also going up -- there have been calls to overturn the ban on nuclear power that was enacted after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the government has announced it intends to start building new reactors within 5 years. To those who object that reactors aren't safe and Italians voted against them the Government replies that we're surrounded by them anyway, so we're already at risk.

A comedian said the other day (on a primetime news show with many politicians present) that it's true, other European countries do have reactors, but how can one expect a country that can't even manage its garbage -- look at what is happening in Naples and Campania, where the problems are getting worse, not better -- to manage nuclear power plants?

The guy has a point, but there are more serious reservations regarding nuclear power plants in Italy. First of all, where would one put one? Much of the country is an earthquake waiting to happen (Messina in 1908, Irpinia and Friuli Venezia Giulia in the 80s, Assisi and much of the rest of Umbria 5 years ago…), and putting a reactor near a major, active fault is not the textbook way. The second problem is, how does one cool the thing? Italy doesn't have much readily available water -- a couple of major rivers in the north, but even they are quite seasonal, with the flow slowing to a trickle in the summer, and their water is already fought over by agriculture, industry, and municipal water supplies. Adding nuclear plants to the existing plants would further strain the supplies at a time that rainfall is decreasing as climatic zones migrate north (at a rate of about 10 km/year). One could, I suppose, use sea water, but again one would have to find a coastal site that's stable. And finally, there's the problem of nuclear waste: a treatment facility, with storage areas and such, is not the sort of thing one can put on a mountain side, and since almost every flat-lying area of Italy is densely populated there will be ferocious protests no matter where they decide to treat the waste.

The Albanians have offered to host Italian nuclear reactors on their soil, and somehow that doesn't strike me as quite right either. We will see how this plays out.

And returning to La Dolce Vita, ISTAT, the Government statistics office, announced the other day that Italian salaries, which were once relatively high by European standards, have decreased by 13% with respect to the average in the EEU over the past 7 years.

The average salary in Italy is now 2300 Euros/month, while the median is lower, 1900. Considering that the purchasing power of a Euro is about the same as that of a Dollar, this means that lots of people are living on Not Very Much, and it comes as little surprise that ISTAT also announced that 60% (nationally, percentages vary regionally) of families say they're very careful about what they spend, another 20% of have a hard time making it to the end of the month, and another 15% say they run out before payday. In addition, 28% say they would be unable to weather an unexpected expense of 600 Euros, while 66% say they're not saving at all.
Difficult times, and we will see how they play out. The one remedy everyone is invoking is tax cuts, and considering that the Italian tax bite is more than 40%, it would be nice if they were to come down some. Especially since inflation has climbed to an official rate of 3.6%, the highest in 6 years, with food rising as much as energy.

Alessio's Peposo
Moving in a very different direction, a couple of years ago I watched Chef Cristoforo, of Impruneta's Albergo Ristorante Bellavista make peposo, the peppery beef stew the tile makers of Impruneta used to cook in their kilns, and that Brunelleschi, the architect who built the octagonal dome of Florence's Cathedral, fell in love with. Chef Cristoforo's peposo regularly wins Impruneta's peposo cookoff, and it is very good. However, his recipe is modern, with tomatoes Brunelleschi would not have encountered, as he lived before 1492.

Chef Alessio Pesucci, of the Locanda del Gallo in nearby Chiocchio chooses to follow the older traditions, with equally good though different results. He also uses a different meat, boned beef shank (what is ossobucco if it's cut crosswise with the bone, from a smaller animal), and cooks it for hours to allow the gristle to soften and produce a delightfully satiny texture. Finally, he uses considerably less ground pepper than Chef Cristoforo, 5 grams per kilo of meat (this is about 2 teaspoons per kilo, or a little less than a teaspoon per pound).

I watched Alessio make his peposo in the course of a cooking lesson, and his quantities are more substantial: in theory the recipe will serve 10, though if your diners are hearty the most it will feed is 5-6, because they will demand seconds. This recipe works best if made a day ahead and reheated come serving time, because the flavors have more time to meld.

  • 7 1/4 pounds (3.2 k) boned beef shank
  • 6 teaspoons (15 g) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ounce (about half a head) of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
  • 2 bottles Chianti (other tannic dry reds will work)
  • 6 bay leaves
  • Finely sliced Tuscan bread, toasted
Cube the meat into fairly large pieces, a couple of ounces each. Put them in a pot with the pepper, garlic, and salt, and heat over a medium flame, turning occasionally, until the meat has browned and almost all the water it gives off upon being heated has been reabsorbed -- for this volume of meat figure close to an hour. Add enough wine to submerge the meat by an inch (2.5 cm) or so; if the wine is not enough add warm water or broth -- Alessio used vegetable, but meat will work, as will unsalted bouillon. Add the bay leaves, cover, and simmer over a very gentle flame for at least 4 hours, giving the pot a stir every now and then.

When the time is up, let the meat cool and remove it to a bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot. Cover the meat and refrigerate both the meat and the liquid in the pot (you could put the liquid in a second bowl to save space if need be). The next morning a layer of congealed fat will have risen to cover the surface of the liquid. Remove it and discard it, and return both the liquid and the meat to the pot to reheat it before serving it.

The standard Tuscan way to serve peposo is with slices of toasted bread, and Alessio also adds pears simmered in white wine. For the above peposo you'll need:

  • 1 1/8 pounds firm pears, quartered and cored
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
Put the pears in a pot, sprinkle the wine and lemon juice over them, add a little warm water, and cook them over a medium flame for 5 minutes.

The contrast with the peposo is quite pleasant.

Another way to serve peposo would be with polenta.

A final note: Alessio says not to use more than a teaspoon of ground pepper per pound of meat. This yields a mild, flavorful peposo that my father-in-law would enjoy (he had a hard time with Cristoforo's). If you're more of a chilihead, feel free to increase the ground black pepper, though I would hesitate to more than triple it. And for another interesting effect, you could use a mixture of ground pepper and whole peppercorns, which have more spice and less heat.

This time's proverb is Sardinian: Prestu e bene no andant mai bene - "Quickly" and "well" never go well together.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.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 recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Italian Immigrant Cooking, Football (Soccer) and More: Being the 150th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings, and I'm sorry to (again) be late with this: last week I was in Alba for Alba Wines, the annual Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero presentation. Since it is news, a few quick thoughts about the vintages:

Roero was the 2005, and presented us with little to go on, because the appellation has just achieved DOCG status, and many producers have decided to hold off until next year when they can put fascette (the pink or green -- depending upon the color of the wine -- paper strips affixed to the necks of DOCG bottles) on their bottles. In all there were 11 Roero samples ranging in style from fairly traditional to decidedly modern. Some were good and others less so, but I'd want more samples before I tried to conclude much about the vintage because the variations could producer-related.

We had more than 50 2005 Barbareschi, and this is a sufficient number to draw some conclusions. I came away with the impression that 2005 in Piemonte was similar to 2005 in Tuscany: a chiazze di leopardo, in other words like a leopard's spots, with location having a much greater impact on quality than it does in some years.

In particular, though I did find some good wines from the Communes of Barbaresco and Neive, many were lacking in fruit and acidity, with oak stepping in to provide direction, fullness and structure in a way that wouldn't be necessary in a richer vintage, and I found myself wondering if the conditions had been as cool and wet in these two communes during the summer of 2005 as they were in my neck of Chianti. As is often the case under these sorts of conditions, producers who tried to make Important Wines (including many top producers who are usually quite dependable) were less successful than those who accepted the hand Nature dealt them and made wines in a lesser-vintage key.

Conditions were better, I think, in the Commune of Treiso. At least the wines were better, with richer fruit and more pleasant acidities that allowed the wood to settle back into the supporting rule that it should play. I confess to feeling quite relieved by the better quality of the Treiso wines, and several colleagues I talked with said the same thing.

Bottom line for the 2005 Barbaresco: It's a vintage to be approached with caution, and the provenance of the wine is much more important than it was, for example, in 2004.

2004 brings us to Barolo.
In one word, impressive, and I found wines worthy of note in all the Communes of the appellation. As was the case with Barbaresco, there were considerable differences from Commune to Commune. The wines of Barolo, which often stumble with respect to the others, were quite nice this time, with lively aggressive wines blessed with considerable acidity, and while they were very unsettled last week, they have the legs to age quite well and do very interesting things with time. I was also pleasantly impressed by the wines of both Verduno and Novello.

The wines of Castilgione Falletto were (I thought) a bit weaker, and there was less that really grabbed and held my interest, though we are to a degree picking nits here.

Monforte also showed less well, with wines that seemed somewhat unsettled, and while this may mean greater power that needs more time to come together, it could also mean that the weather wasn't quite as nice.

Serralunga was also a bit of a surprise for me; the Commune is known for producing the most powerful Barolo, but there were a fair number of wines that were softer, riper and less acidic than I might have expected of a young Barolo, and since 2004 wasn't a vintage plagued by overripening, I can only conclude that this soft ripeness is a conscious stylistic decision on the part of the winemakers. One that I don't agree with, because though the wines are approachable now, I wonder how long they will age and how they will develop given their softness and relatively low acidities.

Finally, La Morra showed very well, especially the wines from L'Annunziata, a vineyard-draped hollow below La Morra. Wines to think about, seek out, and set aside.

Bottom line: I don't often give 90 points at a vintage presentation, especially not to wines that are very young and not really ready yet (if I give a toddler 93 now, what do I give it when it has improved markedly, coming into glorious adulthood a few years from now -- 102?), but I found a number of 2004 Barolos worth 90 points or above already, and with time many of these wines will be spellbinding. A memorable vintage indeed, well worth seeking out, I think many of the wines will age well for decades.

Italian Immigrant Cooking Revisited: Chicken and Other Things

Moving in a very different direction, when I heard Francesco Nardi would be roasting a piglet in a wood-fired oven and that I could take pictures, I jumped at the opportunity, especially when he said they'd also be making focaccia (just posted a series of photos illustrating focaccia, while the piglet is here).

When I drove up to the villa, however, the first thing I saw was a 2-foot in diameter, shallow iron bowl (for want of a better term) sitting on what looked like the legs of a trivet, above a busily burning logwood fire.

"Not mine," Francesco said when I shot him an inquiring glance. "His," and he indicated George (I'm not sure how it's spelled), a Rumanian farmhand who helps Francesco tend to vineyards and olive groves, and lives on the estate with his family. "It's something farmers do in Romania."

Upon closer examination I realized one would have to be a farmer to cook this way, because the disk, which is about a half an inch thick and has serrated teeth, came from an old disk plow, and what looked like a trivet was actually three legs made by sawing up a half-inch thick iron rod and welding the pieces to the underside of the disk.

George had taken a large piece of fresh pork side (what becomes pancetta when cured) and scored it in one direction, making parallel cuts about a half-inch apart and almost all the way down to the rind. He then turned the pork side 90 degrees and cut ti into inch-wide strips, and set the strips on the hot disk, where they began to smoke and give off quite a bit of fat.

While they were rendering, his wife brought out a bowl filled with chicken pieces -- it looked like they had chopped up at least two birds -- that she had liberally seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika (and perhaps hot pepper -- there were red flakes) and then rolled in coarse corn meal so they would form a crisp crust.

George arranged the chicken pieces in a ring around the disk, leaving the middle free. He then took a cup of lard, dribbled it into the center of the disk, where it formed a pool of hot fat, and when he added a bowl of home-cut fries, I realized why the chicken pieces ringed the middle of the disk.

The coals continued to heat from below, and he used a pair of tongs to turn the pieces, and also to stir the fries around so they cooked evenly. At some point during this phase he removed the strips of pork side, which had curled some, and now resembled strips of zipper teeth, salted them, and set them aside, putting a large piece of turkey where they had been.

Another few minutes, turning the fries occasionally, and when they were done and removed, he shifted the pieces of meat down into the fat to finish up their cooking by frying them. By the time he removed the pieces, about 45 minutes after having set them on the disk, they were a pretty golden brown.

I had never seen anything remotely like this, and though Francesco's sister Francesca, who is a GP, shook her head in horror at the thought of how much cholesterol and fat the Romanian Sunday meal entailed, I found it fascinating, and a testament to human ingenuity: With the simplest of tools -- a fire, tongs, and a shallow steel bowl -- these people had cooked what looked to be a very tasty meal.

This is something most people could not eat every day -- it's a high energy meal that will take quite a bit of exercise to work off, and one's cholesterol count must be able to take a hard shot -- but it is a very interesting example of immigrant cooking, with the tables reversed: Rather than the Italians who traveled elsewhere bringing their recipes with them, here we have people coming to Italy to do things Italians are no longer willing to do, and bringing their dishes and techniques with them.

Want to try this? Unless you have access to old farm machinery and are handy with a welding torch or arc welder I doubt you will be able to duplicate the bowl Geroge cooked with. However, one could achieve something similar with a pair of trivets and two cast iron skillets, one for the pork side and initial chicken cooking, and the other for the lard and potatoes. Something decidedly alternative that will turn heads at your next cookout. And what did they drink with it? Beer.

Fragole al Marsala, o All'Aceto Balsamico
Artery-Hardening Chicken not your thing? We're also in strawberry season, and while Italians generally season (for want of a better term) bowls of strawberries with sugar and either white wine or lemon juice, one can use other things.

Marsala, for example:
1 1/8 pounds (500 g) strawberries, washed, drained, hulled, and quartered
1 1/2 cups (150 g) powdered sugar
1 cup (250 ml) dry Marsala
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Put the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle the vinegar over them, turn them to coat them well, cover the bowl, and chill it in the refrigerator for an hour.
In the meantime, combine the Marsala and the sugar, and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.

Sprinkle the Marsala over the strawberries, mix gently, and chill the strawberries for another hour before serving them. Will serve 4.

Or Aceto Balsamico:
1 1/8 pounds (500 g) strawberries, washed, drained, hulled, and quartered
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar

Put the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle the balsamic vinegar over them, mix gently, and chill them for 15 minutes. Gently mix the sugar into them and serve. Will serve 4.

Inter Campioni!
Winding down, the soccer season has come to a close, with Inter Milano winning the championship for the third year in a row, though this time they had to sweat it -- Roma trailed by a point at the beginning of the last game, and was actually Campione Virtuale for an hour, because they scored before Inter did during the last game.

This time's proverb is Neapolitan: A ppava' e a mmuri', quanno cchiù tarde è pussìbbele - Pay, and die, as late as possible.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.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 recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.