Mirafiore Barolo 2007

Tobacco hangs in the curing barns now. Great fields of corn have been cut down to brown stalks returning an expansive feel to the local landscape. Thousands of jack-o’-lantern-orange orbs peek out from among the pumpkin vines.

mirafiore-barolo-2007Fall is rolling into my neck of New England. Today, the world outside seems composed in shades of brown accompanied by a sleepy, rainy day’s soundtrack. But inside, overhead lighting and the sizzling sound of shitake, portobello, porcini mushrooms and shallots hitting the pan turn the kitchen into a lively space. We’ll simmer these in a cream sauce and serve over fettuccine, washing it all down with a bottle of Barolo.

There are professional wine critics who loved Mirafiore’s Barolo 2007. And there are non-professional, but informed palates that have spread the word otherwise. The wine didn’t flex much muscle, frankly, and seemed somewhat contrived at times. Impressions of dried leaves and faded roses for which nebbiolo is famous lacked volume in comparison to other Baroli at similar price points. Nonetheless, the wine was lovely with dinner, showing a gentle firmness of structure and an alluringly soft texture that worked well enough with the mushrooms and cream.


Feeling Optimistic

I am feeling… optimistic.

In a recent post I wrote of tech savvy Italian wine producers and their empowering use of social Internet to connect directly with lovers of Italian wine .

And I look on with great enthusiasm as the social wine and food network called VINIX continues to launch producers, merchants, bloggers, journalists, and appassionati into conversational orbit around wine and food.

Does it get much better?

Being already in a “social” state of mind, I dared to wonder how…if…wine’s merchant community might similarly be using Internet to reach out to potential customers in a way that could positively influence sales of Italian wine while serving to educate the consumer and delivering an improved buying experience.

Guess what? It does get better 😉

When I saw the Tesco Wine by the Case app for iPhone my eyes opened W I D E.

Wine Lovers: behold the world’s first interactive visual search / discovery application for wine:

Words that come to mind ? How about: Anytime. Anywhere. Everywhere.

Talk about reaching out to customers !!!

Wine lovers, the gauntlet has been laid down:

tech savvy producers of Italian wine who educate and mentor the consumer; a social wine and food network connecting us to an international community of passionate wine and food lovers; an interactive, merchant-driven innovation enabling discovery of wine online, access to wine’s background information and shopping…via iPhone !?!?!

I’m afraid the challenge is clear. We wine lovers, too, must improve our breed 😉
We, too, must do more to reach out…to Learn, to Share, to Communicate about wine.

Guess what?

I am still optimistic. Very.

The New Breed: Italy’s Tech Savvy Wine Producers

Through a beautiful constellation of a million words and image uploads, I’ve lately been observing a new breed of wine producer.

But, we should try to discuss it without giving creating a name for them. I wouldn’t want to marginalize the phenomenon with a label.

Let me tell you what I see:

a-new-breed-of-producerThis new breed of wine producer understands the spectacular moment in technological history that enables artisan producers and consumers to communicate directly and immediately via the social Internet.

And they understand the importance of that opportunity.

Via the social Internet, they become educators. They become coaches. They are our mentors and partners in a conversation about wine and food that reaches beyond geographical boundaries. They encourage us to understand their labor, the land’s character, their source of passion, the local traditions, how the wine is born.

The social Internet behaviors of this new breed of wine producer is helping to shape markets and to create a more intelligent, selective consumer capable of making better decisions at the wine shop.

Some especially honest, brave producers tell us how their wine is made and what is in their bottles. Bravo.

Fast becoming an online center of gravity for this new breed of producer is the wine and food social network called Vinix, www.vinix.it, where a large community of artisan producers, bloggers, journalists, merchants, and wine / food lovers come to meet, connect, and share.

I am prepared to offer fine examples 🙂

Luca Ferraro, of Bele Casel, who educates us about Colfòndo and how Prosecco is made, and brings us with him into the vineyard to prune Prosecco vines. (Vinix: Bele Casel)

Paolo Ghislandi of Cascina I Carpini, who passionately explains his “Vini d’Arte” or art wines, coaches us about the “symptoms and cures of Plonk”, and leads us into the bottling room for a look at that process. (Vinix: Cascina I Carpini)

There are many more like them.

And, like Luca and Paolo, many Italian wine producers are being social in both Italian and English languages. Vinix, too, offers English and Italian versions.

Are you ready?

Place your hands, please, on the computer keyboard. Launch browser and navigate. I encourage you to seek out such wine producers. Join the conversation. Be social. It’s a super opportunity to learn and to deepen your perspective about wine.

PS: You can find me, too, on Vinix 🙂 (Vinix: Joel Mack)

A Bad Day, Noodles and Aglianico

The commute sucked, the rain was relentless, and the work day had its way with me.

Finally home, crazy hungry, I fall onto the sofa and snap on an episode of THE OFFICE just as a plate of noodles with sweet and sour pork arrives to the rescue.

What’s to drink, I wonder. A half bottle of previously opened Aglianico del Vulture stares me down, as if reading my mind.

[ thinking ] … Is that a dare?

At first, uncertainty, trepidation. And then… chilled out calm factor pervades:

No fear.

noodles-sweet-sour-sauce-bisceglia-aglianic-del-vulture-2006The wine’s dark fruit and spice gave compliment to the Asian sweet and sour sauce, bringing “bottom” and depth of flavor to the pairing. Good structure and minerality checked sweet / sour components from smearing, and soft tannins in just the right measure left balance of the sauce undisturbed. The wine’s remarkable freshness – apparent even though previously opened – was nicely suited to the dish.

I search for an allegorical moral to the story:

Bad days end with relaxing about the tasting experience.

Knowing what tastes good in your own mouth is as natural as breathing. Taste wines you like or have interest in. Put them with foods that you like and or have interest in. What’s to worry, you can’t be wrong… it’s your palate and you’re the expert on that 😉

Bisceglia Aglianico del Vulture Terra di Vulcano 2006, $

1 part white vinegar, 2 parts cooking wine, 3 parts sugar, 4 parts light soy sauce, 5 parts water. Simmer all in sauce pan and add corn starch to thicken and red pepper flakes for spiciness to taste. Use with chicken, pork, or shrimp served with rice or noodles.

Verdicchio Meets Chun Juan

No, it’s not an Italian–Chinese love story. Well, not exactly 😉

Chinese chun juan or spring rolls – thin dough skins spread with finely minced vegetables, meat, shrimp or oysters and rolled into, well…a roll…evoke an emotional response of home and family for my Chinese wife. Since her parents are currently visiting us, a special request for home town chun juan was speedily attended.

Now, you may think all chun juan are the same…nein! Like pasta in Italy, local interpretation is the rule with chun juan and they can be served either fresh or fried. My in-law’s version is from their local area in southeast China and is known thereabouts as bou bian.

egg-roll-1aLike the Earl of Sandwich who first placed meat between two slices of bread when too busy to eat otherwise, it was an ambitious Chinese too busy with study to eat a proper meal who needed convenient and fast food: vegetables and whatever else was available were rolled up in a thin dough wrapper and, voilà, chun juan!

The fresh wrappers for rolling chun juan are best purchased at your local Asian grocery as there is no good way to make them at home. Finely shredded vegetables – cabbage, carrots, bamboo shoots, leeks, snow peas, water chestnuts – are heated in a large pot with some oil and cooked until sauté tender. Finely minced pork, tofu and / or shrimp or oysters are cooked and then combined with vegetables, all mixed well, and salted to taste.

egg-roll-3ajpgThe fun part: a fresh spring roll wrapper is spread out on a plate with some of the vegetable / meat mixture placed in the middle. A pinch or two of each of your preferred condiments is added. Recommended, but optional condiments include chopped fresh parsley, very finely shredded seaweed, sweet peanut crumb, hot sauce. The wrapper sides are folded in just a bit toward the middle, then, rolled from the bottom up, forming a shape reminiscent of a sandwich wrap or egg roll.

TIP: To avoid tearing, don’t allow any juices that may have collected in the vegetable / meat mixture’s bowl onto the wrapper.

Thank you for your attention to this point; I haven’t forgotten about the Verdicchio.

Verdicchio’s clean, bright, fragrant character and lively acidity create a wildly attractive pairing to the fresh and subtlely-exotic texture and flavors of chun juan. And its full body, dryness and good structure are well suited to the delicate, but savory nature of chuan juan’s fundamental ingredients. We chose a delicious and inexpensive Verdicchio Classico from the Castelli di Jesi zone in Italy’s Marche, made by producer Sartarelli, which worked blissfully well.

Verdicchio and chun juan: Enticing. Even romantic. Different. Just plain good.

If you have some time on your hands, more time than had the Earl of Sandwich, make fresh spring rolls at home. Otherwise, order them at the restaurant or do a take-out. Pick up a bottle of good Verdicchio. Get in the mood for a love story…well, kind of 😉

Prosecco and White Chocolate: Mad Love

Mad Love. Forever. That’s your likely reward for showing up on Valentine’s Day with Prosecco and white chocolate in hand.

prosecco-and-white-chocolateProsecco’s playful, mischievous character combined with the decadent attitude of white chocolate sets a mood that’s…uhmmm…appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

White chocolate truffles will up the pleasure ante: their round shape indulges sweet shared nibbling, lip to Prosecco-wet lip, while the smooth truffle filling is sheer bliss against Prosecco’s bubble.

Recommended pairings include:

Soft Music
Single red rose
Something from Victoria’s Secret

For those of you not familiar, Prosecco Conegliano – Valdobbiadene is an elegant, sparkling wine (there is a lesser known “still” version) with fine bubbly perlage, dry to lightly sweet, has a fruity / floral bouquet, and sometimes a hint of bread crust.

And it just so happens that Prosecco Conegliano – Valdobbiadene represents one of the best value-to-quality ratios in today’s Italian wine market.

DOCG status, a governance that guarantees authenticity, was recently awarded to Prosecco of the Conegliano – Valdobbiadene production zone in Italy’s Veneto. Prosecco Conegliano – Valdobbiadene joins a category of elite Italian wines which include the likes of Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino.

With food, Prosecco pairs well with lighter first courses, delicately flavored risotto or pasta dishes, sea food, baked fish, soups, white meat, and fresh, young cheeses.

Serve at 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Use chalice glasses if you have them – you’ll have a bit more fun with the bubble, but totally not necessary, regular wine glasses will do just fine.

Some producers to look for include: Bisol, Collalto, Mionetto, Zardetto

Best V-Day wishes…hearts and arrows.

Italian Wines and World Cuisines: Pairing Outside-the-Box

The wine world is recently abuzz with predictions about wine trends during the coming year.

I come terribly under-dressed to the party: I have only an observation to offer you.

italian-wine-international-foodThere are two reasons for this: somewhere along the way, I have concluded that prediction is the stuff of weathermen / women. And besides, my ideas about enjoying wine, life, and weather are too interconnected: today – in the only day we really have – live well, drink well, and don’t worry too much about guessing the weather for Friday.

Oh, right, the observation. This is the detail I wanted to get to:

Italian wines and unique world cuisines are moving toward one another as part of a mainstream dining experience. And, more and more, people I meet are searching out these new opportunities for inspired, exciting, outside-the-box pairings of Italy’s great food wines with foods they love from the international table.

Allow me to introduce the very ubiquitous Pinot Grigio paired with three great dinners from very unique food traditions:

Salmon Roe on Buttered Toast Points
White Borscht Soup
Pierogi with Cheese and Potato
Braised Red Cabbage with Bacon

Fried Bean Curd Skin Rolls with Shrimp or Pork
Fishball Soup
Fried Rice Noodles with Vegetables
Chinese Broccoli Shoots

Smoked Tomato & Goat Cheese with Warm Tortillas
Tortilla Soup
1/2 Roasted Chipotle Chicken with Fried Plantain Coconut Rice
Jicama, Arugula & Grapefruit Salad

Recommended Producers of Pinot Grigio include: Alois Lageder, H. Lun, Livio Felluga

Eat… Drink… Live well… Don’t worry too much about the weather 😉

Maculan Brentino 2005

Who inhabits the spaces we’ve lived in when we move on? Do they too scent the winter kitchen by tossing orange peels into the old iron stove? Have they looked with curiosity upon the egg shaped depression left in the window sill where we hammered open so many walnuts?

I am always nostalgic about such things.

maculan-brentinoSo, when I read that Fausto Maculan, owner of Maculan winery, when born, was delivered in the same room that is now his office – well, a sentimental detail, isn’t it?

Located in the village of Breganze in Italy’s Veneto, the quality-minded Maculan estate presides over approximately 15 hectares of estate owned vineyards, leases an additional 24 hectares, and works closely with other growers as well, managing production of another 50 or so hectares within the Breganze DOC.

“Vintage note”: the year 2007 saw Fausto’s daughters, Angela and Maria Vittoria, officially join the winery. Congratulazioni !

Maculan Brentino is made from Merlot 55% and Cabernet Sauvignon 45% and is aged, half for 12 months in barrique, half in stainless steel.

squash-risotto-orange-roasted-chicken1We enjoyed Maculan’s Brentino 2005 with butternut squash risotto, orange roasted chicken and vegetables.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

A gorgeous ruby color and an arousing perfume of red and black berries, cedar, and spice. It has a soft, voluptuous body – think of the figures painted by Flemish artist Peter Paul Reubens – on the palate, and warm feeling, round fruit, hints of cassis and cocoa, and good acidity balanced with incredible precision. The finish is long and persistent with seductively restrained notes of spice and vanilla.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

MEATS: Roasted meats, especially lamb; PASTA: hearty pasta dishes, for example, lasagne or pasta dressed with a tomato-based cream sauce; POLENTA: try soft polenta with gorgonzola, pancetta and porcini mushrooms!; RISOTTO: recommend you try risotto with butternut squash; CHEESES: Ripe cheeses