Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Vintages, the Mole and More: Being the 156th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! I didn't get to this last week because I was at the Central Tuscan Vintage presentations, which I will discuss shortly. But first, the latest on the Italian Wine Review is a look at the latest vintage of Amarone, the 2005. The latest things of consequence on Italian food are instead three collections of favorite recipes: Involtini (rollups), chicken breasts, and pork chops, all of which can be reached via the favorite recipe collections page. Since collections are popular, I'm planning to add bread soups, cabbage, crucifere (cauliflower, broccoli and so on) and steak in the near future.

Vernaccia, Chianti Classico, Nobile, Brunello: The Vintages
Returning to Cosa Bolle, the major Central Tuscan red appellations presented their new vintages last week, with San Gimignano taking advantage of the opportunity -- as it has for a few years now -- to invite people to sample Vernaccia on Monday, before the main events got started. Carlo Macchi has rated the events in terms of organization, logistics, quality of the tasting, and food served, and if you're curious you'll find his impressions here.

Given that I pretty much agree with his assessments, I may as well start with Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which does things a bit differently than the other appellations: Since they feel, probably correctly, I'm sorry to say, that many of the journalists who travel thousands of miles to taste reds will not be interested in their white (the comments on it in some wine texts are decidedly dismissive), they arrange comparisons with great whites from elsewhere, and this time the elsewhere was the northern Rhone Valley, with its Saint-Péray, Fleur de Crussol and Hermitage, the last defined "the first wine in the world without a single exception" by Tomas Jefferson in 1791.

The ploy worked and the hall was packed; we tasted 8 pairs of wines, comparing the unoaked Saint-Péray and Fleur de Cussol with unoaked Vernaccia, and Hermitage (which is always oaked) with oaked vintages of Vernaccia, and I thought that the Vernaccia held its own, showing quite well. After lunch the Vernaccia producers presented their current vintages -- 2007, which has been on the market for a while, and 2008, which some brave souls have already bottled, while others presented barrel samples. Unfortunately the tasting was a standup affair, with no place to take notes, but I was favorably impressed by the 2007 Vernaccia's depth and intensity; it's a fine vintage and though one can certainly enjoy it already, it just as certainly has the capacity to age well for 3-5 years, and in the case of some producers for much longer. I will taste the 2008 vintage later this year, when it has some bottle age under its belt.

Chianti Classico: From 2001 Forward
Chianti Classico once again held its presentation in Florence's Stazione Leopolda, the old train station between Porta al Prato and the Parco delle Cascine (just outside the city walls), whose construction was begun in the 1841, and which is named after Grand Duke Leopoldo -- it was discarded (as a train station) in 1860, and was thereafter put to many uses, ranging from site of the Espozizione Nazionale (National Fair) opened by King Vittorio Emanuele in 1861 to munitions plant in WWI. The bombing it suffered in WWII destroyed the roof; a makeshift roof held up by iron pipes was applied, and the complex used as a railway warehouse until 1993, when it was transformed into an extraordinarily beautiful exposition area, which now hosts all sorts of things, from fashion shows to wine tastings. As Carlo Macchi points out, the lighting's beautiful, the temperature is just right, there's all the space one could want, and it's also quiet. In short perfect, and I began with the Riserve, starting with the one Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 being presented. It was, alas, tired.

The 2004 Chianti Classico Riservas, of which there were about 20, were instead for the most part quite good, showing depth, vigor, and the onset of maturity; it is a fine vintage and should you come across bottles of either Chianti Classico Riserva or Chianti Classico D'Annata you should definitely consider them.

I continued with the 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva, which was, I thought, weaker -- 2005 was a cooler, wetter vintage. As a result the grapes didn't ripen as well; the wines have less richness of fruit, and wood steps in to carry more than I might have hoped. There are (as always) exceptions to this dreary picture, but on the whole, when buying Chianti Classico 2005, be it Riserva or Vino D'Annata (some producers were presenting it too), one has to choose with considerable care.

There were quite a few 2006 Chianti Classico Riservas, and they provided a very welcome change after the 2005s, with much richer fruit and much more grace and elegance. It was a better vintage, and the greater ripeness of the grapes translated into nimble, wines with a nice balance between fruit and structure, for both the 2006 Riserva and the 2006 Chianti D'Annata. As is always the case, one must choose with care, taking into account one's personal preferences and the style of the winery, but the 2006 vintage is a much, much surer bet than the 2005.

The 2007?
There were some 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva barrel samples, but I decided to wait on them, and taste through some of the 2007 Vini D'Annata. I found the vintage more high-strung than the 2006; though the fruit was nice, the tannins were on average brasher and more aggressive than those of the 2006 wines were last year (when they were the same age as the 2007 wines are now). This, coupled with lively acidities many of the wines display, means that they will likely be long-lived, but at present are more aggressive. As a result, at least for now they're not as much wines to drink by the glass far from the table as wines to be enjoyed with foods.

The 2006 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Of the three major Central Tuscan appellations, Vino Nobile is the least consistent, and though I say this every year, it continues to be true. Not so much for the quality of the vintage, which was quite good, as stylistically; as a fellow taster said, the wines were all over the map. And within this spread there seem to be three major directions.

One that is simply old-style -- not traditional in the sense of large wood and harvesting top quality grapes before they are really overripe, but rather the sorts of rather tired wines that used to be much more common than they are now.

Then there is a very overripe, extracted style, with fruit that is jammy tending towards prune, with low acidities (with increasing ripeness acidity drops), and tannins that tend to be ample and very smooth. I confess this is a style I don't particularly care for, because though one can drink it by the glass far from the table, I don't see it as being a very good accompaniment to foods -- the combination of low acidity and soft tannins simply won't work with the hearty pasta dishes and soups or stews, roasts, and grilled meats that are the hallmark of Tuscan cooking -- the foods overshadow the wine.

And finally, there is what I would call traditional, made from fruit that is carefully grown but not allowed to ripen quite as much, fermented so as to obtain less extraction, and aged in large oak casks that surrender little to the wine; the wines are more acidic, brighter, and have richer tannins with considerably more backbone that provide (I think) a much more effective counterpoint to Tuscan foods.

The trick is to pick a wine of the style you like, and having done so the 2006 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano will give considerable satisfaction and enjoyment. The winemakers also presented the 2005 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, which followed the same path as the Chianti Classico 2005 Riserva, with relatively weaker wines that depended to a much greater degree on oak for their structure and body. They should be approached with caution.

The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino
I had high hopes for the 2004 Brunello, coming as it did on the heels of the two worst vintages in many, many years. And they were at least partially met, though the vintage isn't the sure-fire proposition that those who rate vintages thought it would be. Some of the wines are excellent, displaying rich fruit, vibrant tannins and bracing acidity that have much to say now, will be superb with rich dishes, especially succulent meats, and will age well over a period of many years. Others are also good, albeit in a style that I have more trouble understanding, with richer, much riper fruit and sweeter, softer tannins; a fellow taster said they reminded him of Central Californian reds, and while they will be nice by the glass if you like the style, I don't see them working as well with foods, nor do I think that they will age as well.

And then there are weaker wines, in both of these styles. In other words, the vintage is what Italians call a chiazze di leopardo, like a leopard's spots, i.e. uneven, and therefore requires a that one select the wines with care, keeping in mind both style and quality.

Truth be told, the situation isn't as negative as it sounds, because, as Gianfranco Soldera pointed out in the course of a dinner a few weeks ago, vintages that look perfect on paper (for example 1997 or 1982) rarely reach the heights that were expected of them at the time of the harvest. More difficult vintages (and a number of people did tell me that the 2004 was) require that the winemaker work more in vineyard and cellar, and as a result have facets and qualities the easier vintages simply lack, and develop more fully with time. Casting PC aside, one might consider the difference between a person whose beauty is natural, and one who obtained beauty with the aid of a surgeon -- the natural might not be perfect, and indeed the imperfections contribute, whereas what is surgical may be spectacular, but is ultimately less interesting and with less character.

And now for the elephant in the room. What, you wonder, has become of the scandal that roared through the Brunello appellation last spring, with many wineries being accused of vineyard irregularities of one sort or another (overproduction or illegal varietals)? Nobody was talking about it, and since the accusations have not yet (and may never) become convictions, I didn't see much point in bringing it up. People said it was a sad and messy situation last year, and the opinion will not have changed.

But I did notice a significant change in the color of the wines: there was much more garnet than there has been in years past.

What am I talking about? All wines change color as they age. Most reds start with deep purple hues, and Sangiovese, the grape that is used to make Brunello, is no exception. However, after 4-5 years, which is the time Brunello ages for, Sangiovese is usually a pleasing, not too dark almandine garnet, and may have garnet to orange in the rim. And this is what I found in just about every glass of Brunello I tasted this time. Not so in the past, however, when colors ranged from the garnet one expects of Sangiovese to considerably darker hues that did raise doubts.

Something has happened, and while I am certain that some of the suspiciously dark wines of yore got their color from the "taglio migliorativo" provision of the Brunello Disciplinare, which allows producers can add up to 15% of a different (usually younger and darker) vintage to perk up their Brunello if they find it wanting, the across the board nature of the color shift this year suggests that other forces may also have been at work. It is quite possible that those who in the past bent the rules, adding other things to make their Brunello more appealing to the international markets before bottling it (while some people do blend wines made from several varietals at the outset, many prefer to keep the varietals separate until bottling, because doing so allows them more control over the wine) decided to forego the practice, and I cannot but view this development favorably, as I think that a well-made Sangiovese has no need of crutches. I also think it is sad that it took the concrete threat of criminal investigation to deter the practice, and can only hope that garnet will continue to be as prevalent in future vintages as it was in this one.

Bottom line: for the first time in a number of years all of the major central Tuscan red appellations presented successful vintages and there are many nice wines, either to be enjoyed now or to be set aside to bring happiness in the future. I'll be posting tasting notes shortly.

La Mole Antonelliana
Moving in a very different direction, this January we took advantage of the kids' being on vacation to go to Torino for a few days, primarily because Daughter Clelia has been bitten by the Egyptian Bug and wanted to see things Egyptian; since Torino's Museo Egizio is one of the world's finest the trip seemed logical. And I will write about it, but today I wanted to say something about Torino's most prominent landmark, the Mole Antonelliana, a slender quadrilateral cupola whose immensely long spire seems to puncture the sky.

It wasn't planned like that, however: After the government of the newly unified Italian State relaxed the strictures on non-Catholic religious buildings in the early 1860s, the city's Jewish community asked Alessandro Antonelli to design a Synagogue for them. Construction began in 1863, but proceeded with difficulty because the he raised the cupola from the planned 47 meters to 113. Technical difficulties and cost overruns led the Community to halt construction in 1869 and apply a temporary roof to what they had.

In 1873 the City negotiated an exchange, giving the Jewish community a different area to build their synagogue, and dedicating the Cupola to King Vittorio Emanuele II. Construction resumed, with the cupola and its spire eventually reaching 167.5 meters, or about 545 feet, and thus becoming the tallest masonry structure in Europe. Alas, though Antonelli continued to work on the structure until he was past 90, using an observation basket that dangled from the center of the dome to check the work, he didn't live to see it finished. Rather, his son Costanzo completed the cupola in the early 1900s, while the decoration of the dome's interior was handled by Annibale Rigotti between 1905 and 1908.

Unfortunately, the weight of the considerably increased upper section proved more than the foundations were capable of standing (the fact that the cupola was built over a section of city walls Napoleon had demolished probably exacerbated the instability), and after a tornado ripped off 47 meters of the spire in 1953 architects wove a reinforced concrete skeleton into the structure to provide additional support.

After the restoration was completed the Mole Antonelliana was used to host temporary shows, and to showcase Torino, as it were: The observation basket Alessandro used was transformed into a glass elevator that rises quickly through the cupola, like a spider whizzing up a thread to stop at the base of the spire, where there is an ample observation deck offers an absolutely stunning view of the city.

Which, with just the occasional show, wasn't enough to draw people. So the city had an inspired idea, and transformed the cupola into the national Cinema Museum: the entrance leads directly to the elevator, where one waits about a half hour (at least, we did) and then whoosh up to the observation post; as you enter the elevator try to take a place by the glass wall, unless you are very afraid of heights, because the view as you rise through the air is delightful.

Depending upon the temperature you'll spend anywhere from 5 to a lot more minutes on the observation deck before returning to the elevator and descending to the museum, which begins with a large, fascinating section dedicated to pre-cinema animation techniques (shadow puppets, animations, dime-store viewers and so on) followed by a floor dedicated to cinematographic techniques with all sorts of cinematic keepsakes, including a black lace bustier belonging to MM, which is (from a male perspective) most impressive.

There's a ramp around the drum of the cupola with a great many poster boards and film posters, and down on the floor of the cupola are pieces of sets, including one designed by Gabriele D'Annunzio, more mementos including a set piece from Alien, and two viewing areas equipped with couches and continuous feeds; if you get tired of watching what's on the screen you simply look up at the cupola, whose lighting changes regularly, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, and sometimes with images projected over it. Always interesting.

To be honest, though I paid the admission because I wanted to enjoy the view, I'd happily go back and spend more hours simply enjoying the Mole Antonelliana's interior. It's one of the most interesting museums (and buildings) I've been in in many years. For more information on the Museo del Cinema, see their site.

Winding down, this year, rather than hold a large gala dinner the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino held several smaller dinners in restaurants in Montalcino, and I drew the Grappolo Blu (Scale di Via Moglio, 1, not far from the Town Hall; Phone: 0577.847.150; closed Fridays), which was quite nice, with (among other things) an inspired chestnut flour tagliatelle served with wild mushrooms and sausages, beef jowl braised in Brunello wine, and a tasty wild boar stew with polenta. Highly recommended, though you will have to make reservations if you visit during the turisty part of the year.

I had planned to close with a couple of recipes, but this is already quite long enough. This time's proverb is Tuscan:
Un sol gusto non determina sapore, a single flavor does not define a taste.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
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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,, and older ones at

Friday, February 06, 2009

Carema: A Historic Town and Truly Heroic Winemaking, Lucca's Fast Food Ban and More: Being the 155th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

To begin, an apology on bended knees for being so slow in updating Cosa Bolle. And now, to the task at hand:

Carema: A Historic Town, and Truly Heroic Winemaking

If you're planning to visit Piemonte with tourism in mind, you may well think of Torino, whose graceful elegance has become quite beautiful thanks to the massive facelift it received in occasion of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Or you may think of the Langhe, land of spectacular castles and gorgeous vineyards. Or you may decide to head high into the Alps, to either ski or hike or both. You probably wouldn't think of the Dora Baltea's valley, except as a means to reach the Valle D'Aosta. At least I wouldn't have, until Serafina Romano and Elena Di Bella, of the Provincia di Torino, took me on a day trip to see the Balmetti and Carema.

I have already written about the Balmetti, which are cellars built into the Dora Baltea Valley's lateral moraines at Borgofranco D'Ivrea, over openings amidst the rocks that emit a steady stream of cool air year-round.

But I hadn't written about Carema, in part because it is a wine appellation in addition to being a town, and I wanted to get a feel for the wines before I said anything about the town.

As is often the case, wine and history are intertwined and make for a fascinating picture. Carema is now the last town before the border between Piemonte and the Valle D'Aosta, and it has always been a border town: In Roman times it was the final outpost before the land of the Gauls, and in addition to hosting a customs house (some think that the name Carema derives from Cameram, i.e. duty, and note that the duty charged on goods passing through the town was 2.5%), also housed a military garrison. And there were already vineyards, because the Consul Terenzio Varrone's Legionaries, who defeated the Salassi in 23 BC, celebrated by breaking into the wine cellars.

In the Middle Ages Carema was at the border between the Kingdom of Burgundy and the Italian lands, which were assigned by Imperial decree to the Bishop of Ivrea, who in turn granted Carema to the Ugoni family, whose members, in addition to collecting the tolls their feudal rights allowed them to collect, quickly gained a reputation for stripping pilgrims and merchants of everything they had. In 1171 the Marchesi del Monferrato managed to extend their sway to Carema, despite the objections of the Bishop, and ruled until 1313, when the House of Savoy took control of the region; the Bishop accepted the situation in 1357, granting Amedeo VI Savoia perpetual rights over the lands and castles of the Dora Baltea Valley, including Carema. In the centuries that followed the House of Savoy assigned the administration of the town to a succession of families, until Carlo Emanuele IV abolished the feudal system in 1797. With the unification of Italy, Carema became the last town in Piemonte, overlooking the border with the Valle D'Aosta. And there it stands today.

It's a pretty town, of small-windowed slate-roofed gray stone houses and narrow lanes, built on the flank of the mountain, surrounded by terraced vineyards planted primarily to Picutener, which is the local name for Nebbiolo (it's also the name used in the nearby Valle D'Aosta). The vineyards, which extend far above the town, are frankly heroic, made by building drywall terraces and filling the space behind them with material the vines can sink their roots into, while support comes from trellises about 6 feet above the ground called topie in the local dialect, which are supported by stone pylons called pilun that absorb warmth from the sun during the day and release it at night, thus helping the grapes to ripen.

It's a system that took thousands of years to construct -- remember the Romans raiding the cellars -- and in the 1597 the wine was classified as "among the finest" by Andrea Bacci, in his "De Natural Vinorum Historia." And the wine continued to be valued; in the 19th century there were more than 350 hectares of terraced vineyards (by way of comparison, the current total area of Barbaresco's vineyards is about 700 hectares). Alas, the phylloxera bug that swept Europe a century ago hit the region especially hard, and there are now only 30 hectares under vine, with half the grapes going to the Cantina Produttori di Nebbiolo di Carema, the local cooperative winery, and the other being vinified by small producers.

To help visitors get a feel for their town, the folks at Carema have set up a visitor's walk that's about 4 km long, and winds through and around the town, touching upon the major sights and extending a ways into the vineyards. Elena and Serafina took us through the part in town (due to time constraints we were unable to walk the entire thing), ducking into a couple of wine cellars, which are called Crote in the local argot; in particular the cellar of Alma Vairetto (you'll have to ask for directions), which is no longer active but has spectacular botti with carved fronts, including a bust of Garibaldi, and of Oreste Vairetto Piccolo, who continues to make wine very, very traditionally: when we entered his cellar, he was standing on a ladder by an open tank, pressing the cap down into the fermenting must. A cap that was grapes and stems; he doesn't destem because he thinks that the stems contribute tannins that help the wine age better.

And this brings up an important point: if you taste a Nebbiolo from the Alto Piemonte, don't expect it to resemble a Barolo or anything else that comes from Langa. The conditions are very different, with (I think) cooler temperatures, perhaps less sun as there are mountains to cast shadows, and different day-night temperature excursions too; the end result is that the wines (even without the contribution of the stems) are much greener, and considerably more aggressive than the Nebbiolo-based wines of the Alba area. Indeed, one of the first I tasted had the vegetal grilled bell pepper notes I associate with rustic Cabernet. But it was Nebbiolo, and tasting through a vertical of the wine showed me that it ages like Nebbiolo di Langa, in other words very well. But it is a different animal.

Returning to Carema the town, following our visit with Oreste we continued down the street, past Palazzo degli Ugoni, where the feudal lords who despoiled travelers once lived, to a fortified medieval house at the outskirts of town called the Gran Masun, which is frankly imposing. There's more to see: chapels, springs, and (of course) vineyards; the walk is very pleasant, and a beautiful introduction to a part of Piemonte that is little known. And, as an added bonus, Carema is quite accessible; to reach the town take the A-5 Motorway north from Torino, exit at Quincinetto, and go north for a few km on SS26.

All of the producers whose Carema I tasted at Vinitaly also make Erbaluce, which is both an autochthonous white varietal and the white wine made from it. It is quite versatile -- there are sparkling, still, and passito versions -- and can be quite nice.

Santa Clelia
Santa Clelia Carema 2003
This is 100% Nebbiolo, aged in large wood. It's bright almandine ruby with ruby reflections and hints of almandine in the rim. Pleasant bouquet, with clean berry fruit supported by greenish heather and spice, with a fair amount of alcohol. Nice balance in a hot vintage key, and there are also some hints of berry fruit jam. On the palate it's ample and very smooth, with moderately intense fairly bitter berry fruit that is supported by moderate acidity and sweet smooth tannins that flow into a long warm finish with heather and berry fruit accents and a tannic underpinning. It's a nice expression of a hot vintage, and will drink well with succulent roasts or stews.
2 stars

Santa Clelia Rigore Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante Metodo Classico Brut DOC 2005
Pale greenish gold with brilliant green reflections and fine perlage. The bouquet is fairly rich, with breadcrumbs and tart concord grape aromas supported by deft acidity. On the palate it's full, and fresh, with clean minerality that gains depth from some bitterness and is supported by sparkle too, and flows into a clean long savory finish with some lemony acidity. Pleasant, and will drink nicely as an aperitif, or with shellfish (including oysters), fish, or white meats.
2 stars

Santa Clelia Erbaluce di Caluso Ypa 2007 DOC
According to legend, a nymph used to visit a lake near the Santa Clelia estate every day. Until one day, when Queen Ypa diverted the stream that fed the lake to irrigate the land: When the nymph saw the stony lakebed she shed a tear, from which sprouted an Erbaluce vine. A pretty tale, but Queen Ypa did exist, and lived in Mazzé, where the winery is located.
The wine is pale brassy gold with greenish highlights, and has a clean, savory bouquet with considerable minerality but not much in the way of floral accents. On the palate it's clean and full, with bright minerality supported by lemony acidity that flows into a clean citric mineral finish. Pleasant in a fairly direct key, and will drink nicely as an aperitif or with simple fish, white meat, or cheese-based dishes. Expect the bottle to go quickly.
1 stars

Passito is an important wine for Santa Clelia. They harvest the grapes for it a week before everything else, set the bunches on mats, and dry them until February, by which time botrytis has set in. They ferment to 14% alcohol, interrupt the fermentation, and age the wine for 4 years.
Santa Clelia Erbaluce di Caluso Passito DOC 2002
The volume of this vintage was significantly lower than usual, because they had to find the right bunches. But once they had them the vinification proceeded normally. The wine is deep gold with gold reflections and pale rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with dates and dried figs mingled with some alcohol and walnut skins. On the palate it's full and languid, with fairly rich dried fruit supported more by savory accents than acidity, and it flows into a clean nut-laced finish with hints of dried apricot. Pleasant, and a refreshing change of pace.
2 stars
Ferrando Carema Etichetta Bianca DOC 2004 Pale almandine brick with almandine rim. The bouquet is rich, with clean leathery accents mingled with rosa canina and pleasing savory notes. Graceful, and quite a bit going on. On the palate it's bright, with clean deft sour berry fruit supported by warm slightly splintery tannins and clean tart brambly acidity that flow into a long warm finish. Considerable grace and elegance in a very young key; it brings to mind a gangly tomboy who will obviously grow to be beautiful. This said, one could drink it now with a succulent stew, but it will richly reward those blessed with patience.

Ferrando Carema Etichetta Nera DOC 2003 This is only produced in better years. It's almandine with orange in the rim, and has a rich bouquet with clean leathery berry fruit supported by rosa canina and spice with a fair amount of underlying alcohol. Quite nice in a warmer vintage key. On the palate it's ample, with clean rich berry fruit supported by ample splintery tannins and a fair amount of warmth that flow into a clean spicy tannic finish. Pleasant in a hot weather key and quite young. It will drink well with roasts or stews.
2 stars

Ferrando La Torrazza Erbaluce di Caluso DOC 2007 Pale greenish gold with greenish reflections. The bouquet is savory, with clean minerality and intense spicy accents. On the palate it's full, and languid, with rich minerality that gains depth from bitter accents and flows into a clean savory finish. Pleasant and will be a nice aperitif, or drink well with flavorful fish or white meats.
2 stars

Ferrando Erbaluce di Caluso Vigneto Cariola DOC 2007 This has about 7% barrel fermented wine added to it; it's brassy gold with brassy reflections, and has a fairly rich bouquet with minerality and some wood smoke with a savory underpinning. It's more immediate than the Torrazza. On the palate it's ample and smooth with clean savory lemon fruit supported by clean acidity. It's pleasant and approachable, but I found it to be less interesting.
2 stars

Ferrando Vigneto Cariola Caluso Passito DOC 2002 Lively old gold with golden reflections. The bouquet is fairly rich, with dried fruit mingled with walnuts and some brown sugar, and underlying savory accents too. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful brown sugar sweetness laced with dried apricots and nutmeats that flow into a clean sweet brown sugar-laced finish. It's pleasant, though just a tad settled, and will drink well as an aperitif or with cheeses.

Orsolani La Rustìa Erbaluce di Caluso DOC 2007 This is a selection; the name comes from the fact that Erbaluce bunches exposed to the sun turn rustì -- roasted, or burned. They select the colored grapes, which have higher concentrations of odor-producing compounds. The wine is pale brassy gold with greenish reflections, and has a fairly intense bouquet with strong minerality and slightly pungent heather mingled with some sage. Pleasant. On the palate it's ample and bright, with rich minerality supported by clean gunflint-laced acidity that flows into a savory citric mineral finish. It's quite approachable, and though I found myself missing the austere savoriness of some Erbaluce, I do have to say that the selection of the best grapes gives greater richness and depth, more than making up for the loss. Quite enjoyable.
2 stars

Orsolani Vignot S.Antonio Caluso DOC 2006 This is a cru of Erbaluce: low yields, no wood, to be aged. Pale brassy green with brassy reflections and some greenish highlights. The bouquet is fairly rich, with clean minerality supported by white pepper and clean lemon acidity that gains in intensity with swishing, shifting towards pineapple. On the palate it's bright, with full rich lemony fruit supported by clean minerality that flows into a clean fairly bitter citric finish. Pleasant and will work well as an aperitif, or with risotti -- mushroom risotto comes to mind -- meatless pasta dishes, and white meats. Worth seeking out, and it will do nice things as it ages.
2 stars

Orsolani Cuvée Tradizione Metodo Classico Brut Caluso Spumante DOC 2004 Pale brassy gold with pale yellow reflections and very fine perlage. The bouquet is rich, with clean minerality and some sea salt, mingled with deft bread crumbs. Bracing. On the palate it's bright and clean, with lively savory lemon fruit supported by both sparkle and acidity, which flows into a clean savory finish with peppery notes from sparkle. Quite pleasant, and will work well as an aperitif or with foods. Refreshment in a glass and the varietal acquits itself very well; the absence of wood contributes nicely to the feel of the wine. A pity to pour it out and move to the next.
2 stars

Orsolani Cuvée Tradizionale Caluso Spumante Metodo Classico Brut 2003 Black label; this is berrel fermented and then referments in bottle. It's pale brassy gold with brassy greenish highlights and very fine perlage. The bouquet is fairly rich with lemony fruit laced with greenish honeydew melon and breadcrumbs, and underlying savory minerality. On the palate it's full and clean with powerful lemony fruit supported by clean savory accents that flow into a clean bitter finish. It's more approachable than the Tradizione Base -- not as mineral, nor as aggressive, and this is the vintage too -- but I found myself preferring the upfront individuality fo the former. This said, this is good, and will drink nicely as an aperitif or with foods.
2 stars

Orsolani Sulé Caluso Passito DOC 2003 The word Sulé is dialect for Solaio, the place where the grapes dry. Tawny amber with brilliant apricot reflections. The bouquet is fairly rich, with alcohol and drued mutmeats mingled with some dates and a fair amount of dark brown sugar. On the palate it's full, and rich, with nutmeats and dried dates supported by sweetness and moderate acidity that flows into a clean fairly bitter finish. Pleasant in a rich, rather exotic key that I found myself much enjoying.
2 stars

Orsolani Le Tabbie Carema DOC 2003 Pale almandine with black reflections. The bouquet is fairly rich, with warm very ripe berry fruit laced with green leather and rosa canina, and underlying spice, hints of menthol, and sandalwood. On the palate it's ample and soft, with clean rather bitter red berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean bitter savory finish. It's clearly a hot-vintage wine, and to be frank is weaker than I might have liked. They have done as well as could be expected given the vintage, but the tannins and minerality do have to step in to cover for the acidity that is more usually present in Carema.
1 star

And now a recipe, which will be perfect with Carema, and quite nice if your weather is anything like the cold, wet, and dreary weather we're having in Tuscany:

Costine e Cavoli, Spare Ribs and Cabbage By modern standards it's a simple and rather frugal recipe, though in the past, even them morsels of meat on a spare rib would have been a treat for the farmers and tradespeople living in the Alto Piemonte. To serve 4:

1 4/5 pound (800 g) spare ribs, cut into short pieces (have your butcher do this for you)
Half a head of Savoy cabbage, coarsely sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
A pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Broth or stock (unsalted bouillon will work if need be), as will vegetable broth

Heat the butter in a casserole (ideally, earthenware, but metal will work), and when it begins to crackle add the spare ribs and the garlic. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and shift the pieces around frequently to brown them on all sides. If they begin to stick, add a little broth, and in any case, when they are browned, add a brimming ladle of hot broth and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Add the sliced cabbage, cover, and simmer until the meat is quite tender, checking seasoning at some point.

Serve with polenta.

Lucca's Kebab Ban
Moving in a very different direction, the center-right government of the city of Lucca recently caused an uproar by deciding to prohibit the opening of new fast food joints in the historic heart of town (the 4 square km area within the 17th century city walls). The ban, which is specifically directed towards ethnic eateries, also says that restaurants should have at least one dish made from local ingredients according to tradition.

Rivers of ink have flowed, most condemning the ordinance as racist, xenophobic, or bigoted. My thoughts? I think many of the people from outside of Italy (and a certain segment of the Italian political spectrum) are either going into a cultural snit of their own making on this, i.e. applying their cultural standards to someone else, or using it to mount a crusade.

What Lucca is really objecting to is a plethora of fast food joints aimed at tourists in the heart of town, and while I think that it's in a way unfortunate that they tacked on a "you must have a local entree" provision for restaurants, I can see where they're coming from. The ban would also presumably extend to someone who wanted to open a burger joint or a place that sells pizza a taglio (slices of electric-oven cooked pizza).

In other words, in a clumsy way they are trying to keep the heart of their city, which is beautiful in all other respects, from becoming like Florence or Venice, where most everything is aimed at the tourists and one's chances of eating well without prior research, in other words simply by walking into an eatery, are minimal. So what we have is an attempt to keep a small section of a city from being overrun by low denominator fast food joints. They're not telling those already established to go away; they just don't want more. I don't object to that.

This time's proverb is Piemontese: Mangé da san e beive da malavi, Eat like a healthy man, and drink like a sick one.

Until next time,

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

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