Friday, July 31, 2009

Barolo And Barbaresco Vintage Considerations, a Vegetable Gallery, School's Out & More: Being the 162nd issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! The month following Alba Wines was quite hectic, and then Wife Elisabetta managed to free herself from work (it's not easy for Italian MDs, who have to arrange substitutes), so we went to France for a couple of weeks and I fell even further behind.

To begin with, the most recent things on the Italian Wine Review are looks at Montenidoli, which presented some fine older reds and whites at Vinitaly, in addition to excellent current releases of Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Chianti Colli Senesi, Cà Lojera, whose Lugana continues to be spot on year after year, and Carpené Malvolti, whose Prosecco is always pleasant, and whose specialty wines can be very good.

On Italian food I'm still working on the fruit and vegetables gallery -- 64 photos by now. And have begun to assemble an Italian-English glossary, and done a few recipes, notably Panissa, which I knew to be a frugal Ligurian chickpea flour farinata, but have now discovered is a pork-laden rice and beans from the Vercellese region of Piemonte as well.

Murlo: A Restrospective Show
Returning to vintage considerations, I drove up to Alba in the evening, arriving at about 3 AM, and though the trip in and of itself is of little interest, the reason for my leaving so late might be: I was at the opening of a show.

My father was an archaeologist, and after working for several summers excavating Etruscan tombs in Roselle, southwest of Siena, asked Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, one of the great Italian archaeologists, where he would dig for Etruscans in that area. Armed with the list he spend some of the summer of 1965 scouting locations, and in 1966 began excavating Poggio Civitate, a hill overlooking the town of Murlo, about 15 km south of Siena. He hoped to find something other than tombs, and was richly rewarded: On the first day of digging a thick wall emerged from the dirt, and I remember jumping over it. The wall proved to be part of a large structure, and the excavation quickly became one of the most important Etruscan sites in Italy (I have written an itinerary).

Dad hired local workmen to do the actual digging (an this is why a very Communist town welcomed Americans with open arms at the height of the Cold War), while having graduate students manage the trenches and analyze the finds. The students came from all over, and among them was Göran Söderberg, who was the excavation photographer for three years. As such, he spent most of his time snapping pictures of pots and other objects. But he also has a keen eye and an excellent sense of timing, and took a great many candid shots of Dad, fellow students, the workmen, and the residents of Murlo. Shots that he, Professor Ingrid Edlund (who worked at Murlo as a student), and Emilia Muzzi, director of Murlo's Museum, went through, identifying the people, and selecting the best for a small show in the Circolo ARCI (which was once the Communist bar) in Vescovado, the neighboring town that hosts the Comune of Murlo's Town Hall.

The Circolo was packed for the opening, with Armida Ferri, who cooked for the students in the early years, looking very well (she'll be a hundred this year), and a great many others who are much grayer now than they were then. And there were the photos, of those still with us and those who no longer are, and of Murlo as it was, and in some cases still is. I'm glad I went, and glad my children saw it. Göran, who is now an architect, has a nice page dedicated to the show on his site.

2006 Roero & Barbaresco, and 2005 Barolo: Vintage Considerations

The next morning, at Alba, we began with the 2006 Roero, and I confess that I continue to have the same impression of the wine that I have in the past: That Roero has yet to decide what it really wants to be. Because of the sandier nature of Roero's terrains, the Nebbiolo grown there tends to yield wines with richer, more delicate bouquets, but less power than those from Barolo or Barbaresco.

Of course, the grape is only half the equasion. There is also the winemaker, and because of the characteristics of the Nebbiolo, their stylistic preferences -- grace and finesse on the one hand, or power and structure on the other -- are more apparent than they are in either Barolo or Barbaresco. 2006 was a fine vintage, giving those of both schools considerable material to work with, and there are good wines across the spectrum. But one does have to select with care to match one's palate with the winemaker's. Most of the Roero we tasted -- 15 wines -- were 2005. There were also a few bottles of 2005 Roero Riserva, which were considerably weaker, and this is attributable to the weakness of the 2005 vintage.

After Roero, we tasted the 2006 Barbaresco, and here I confess to being much happier. It is a fine vintage, and though the wines are still very young they display a suppleness and power that I found quite invigorating, coupled with fairly rich, fairly tart (in many cases) fruit, and brisk acidities. In short, I think that the 2006 Barbaresco displays considerable aging potential, and while you will have to select a winemaker whose tastes match yours, you will find many fine wines to choose from.

Also tasted a few 2003 Barbaresco Riserva wines, which were a mixed lot. Some displayed the ravages brought by the heat of the summer, but a couple pleasantly surprised me, showing more fruit and depth than I expected to find.

We finished the week with Barolo: the 2005 vintage, and here things were more difficult. As was true in much of the rest of central/northern Italy, the 2005 summer was cool and damp in Piemonte too, and as a result the grapes didn't ripen as well as they might have given more sun and less damp; the problem was compounded by a 10 days of rain during the harvest, from October 3 to 13th, and several producers told me that what they managed to harvest before the 3rd became Barolo, while what they harvested after either became Nebbiolo d'Alba or went to the bottlers. Others smiled as they said that upon hearing the weather report, they went out, started to pick, and didn't stop until it was all in.

Given the climatic situation, the results are what one might expect: Most of the 2005 Barolos are weaker than the 2004s poured last year, and within this framework there are also wines made from grapes picked after the rains began. I'm not saying to avoid them; quite the contrary, because I very much enjoyed some of the wines, which are graceful and elegant in a cool weather key. But it is a vintage that should be approached with care, and when purchasing the wines you should keep in mind that it probably will not be a long-lived vintage.

One important general observation I would like to make is that the pendulum continues to swing back towards the traditionalist (for want of a better term) camp; new French oak continues to be less apparent than it once was, both in the 2006 wines, and in the 2005 Barolo, some of which would have been extremely oaky had it been made a few years ago, because producers would have added wood to compensate for Nature's stinginess. Now, they seem to have decided to leave well enough alone, and I commend them for it; the wines, while not as powerful, are better balanced, more graceful, and more pleasant to drink.

Last thing: In addition to pouring the current vintage, the producers poured (later in the afternoons) bottles of their 1999 vitnages, and these were quite interesting; I am going over my tasting notes now and will also post the notes of the older wines that impressed me the most.

Winding down, a few refreshing dishes that will help keep the heat at bay.

Bruschetta Coi Peperoni, Bruschetta with Bell Peppers

Bruschetta at its simplest is toasted bread (ideally toasted over the coals) rubbed with garlic, drizzled with extravirgin olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. But there are richer options, including tomato bruschetta and bruschetta with canellini (white) beans, and Bell pepper Bruschetta will make a welcome addition to a bruschetta patter on a hot summer day. To serve 4:

  • 4 slices crusty day-old bread
  • 2 bell peppers, of the colors you prefer (yellow and red, for example)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 canned anchovy fillets, rinsed
  • 4 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil

Stem, rib, and seed the peppers. Cut them into strips lengthwise and broil them, skin side up, until the skins are blackened and blistered. Scrape away the skins, running the strips under cool water if need be, and dice the strips. Put them in a bowl.

Peel the garlic, slice it finely, and lay the slices over the peppers. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the peppers, cover, and chill for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Come time to prepare the bruschetta, toast the bread, either over the coals or in a toaster.

Chop the anchovy fillets and distribute them evenly over the slices. Remove and discard the garlic, spoon the peppers over the toast, sprinkle with the remaining oli, and serve, with a white wine, for example a Sauvignon.

Note: If you like garlic, rather than discarding the garlic, mix the slices into the peppers before marinating them.

Riso al Latte e Limone, Rice with Milk and Lemon

If you visit an Italian supermarket, you're sure to find small containers of fiocchi di latte -- cottage cheese -- in the dairy section. It is primarily consumed by those on diets, and is generally eaten along side salads. But there are other options, including this summery rice dish. To serve 4:

1 2/3 cups (320 g) short grained rice, along the lines of Ribe
1/2 pound (200 g) fine curd cottage cheese
The juice of half a lemon, and some of its zest, julienned
1 clove garlic
The leaves of a sprig of mint
1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring equal volumes of lightly salted water and milk to a boil in a pot and cook the rice until it reaches the proper al dente consistency.

Wash the lemon and squeeze half of it, filtering the juice. Using a paring knife or potato peeler, trim several strips of zest (just the yellow part) and julienne them. Peel and mince the garlic clove.

Wash the mint leaves, pat them dry, and shred them.

In a bowl, combine the cottage cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, half of the lemon zest, garlic, and half of the mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix well.

Drain the rice, turn it into a serving dish, and stir the cottage cheese mixture into it. Garnish with the remaining lemon zest and mint, and serve at once.

The wine? Something light and zesty, for example a Prosecco.

Mele agli Agrumi, Apples with Citrus Fruit

I confess I'm not a great fan of sweets in the summer months. It's simply too hot. Fresh fruit, on the other hand, is quite nice, and here's a nice change of pace with respect to the standard summer peach. To serve 4:

  • 4 golden delicious apples
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • An organically grown lime
  • An organically grown orange
  • A packet of vanilla-laced powdered sugar
  • A sprig of mint
  • A pinch of salt

Squeeze the lime and the orange, and combine the juices. Add half the brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and mix well.

Peel and core the apples, then slice them crosswise into thin rounds and put them on a serving dish.

Sprinkle them with the remaining brown sugar, and the citrus juices. Set the dish in the refrigerator, and let it chill for 2 hours.

In the meantime, wash the mint and pat the leaves dry. Remove the zest from the lime and the orange using a paring knife or a potato peeler, and julienne it.

Come time to serve the fruit, dust it with the powdered sugar and garnich it with the zest and the mint leaves.


There are new developments in the Brunello Scandal, and I will discuss them in the next issue. In the meantime, a Calabrian proverb: I dinàri tiègninu i scilli, Money has wings

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
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