Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spotlight on: Agricola Punica

Last September I published a piece called “The Wild Wines of Sardinia,” which was inspired by a number of producers and wines that had impressed me from the region. Fast-forward, a year later, and one of those producers has become a staple of the Italian section of my cellar; Agricola Punica.

Carignano grapes on the vine
Agricola Punica is a collaboration of Giacomo Tachis, Tenuta San Guido and Sardinian producer Cantina di Santadi, producing Carignano-based wines in the Sulcis region of Southern Sardinia. Sardinia is an island located 125 miles off the east coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a region of Italy that has a very unique climate. In the southwest corner of the Island, it is a perfect environment for the Carignano vine. The winter is mild and wet while the summers are hot and dry, with the scirocco (African winds) blowing across the Sardinian Sea. This mixed with the baking sun allows Carignano to achieve the necessary level of ripeness.

 However, it’s not just the ripe concentration that makes these wines so exciting; instead it’s the amazing balance of concentration and acidity, combined with expert winemaking, which creates wines of elegance and style with a true Italian flair. Both wines are exciting and, sometimes, downright sexy. 

The unique and very affordable Montessu continues to amaze me for the price compared to what’s in the bottle. In the $20 - $25 range, this is a bottle that should be in every Italian wine lover’s cellar. However, it’s the Barrua that has continued to turn my head at each tasting. The Barrua is a single vineyard bottle that’s 85% Carignano with a mix of Cabernet and Merlot. It’s rich, yet spicy, elegant and balanced, with a structure that begs for 3 - 5 years in the cellar.

On to the notes:

2008 Agricola Punica Barrua – The nose showed deep, dark red and blue fruits with hints of herbs. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with great concentration balanced by zesty acidity with red currant and spice. The tannins were present but beautifully integrated with its core of ripe fruit. The finish was long and staining to the palate, as blue and black berry flavors slowly faded away. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!


2008 Agricola Punica Montessu – The nose showed intense ripe berries, sweet spices and field herbs. On the palate, it was velvety smooth with mouthwatering acidity and dark brambly fruits. The finish was long yet refreshing. This wine would make a great accompaniment to braised meats and heavy meat sauces. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!




Reference tools:
The official website of Agricola Punica
Agricola Punica at Kobrand Wine and Spirits

Friday, September 23, 2011

Restaurant Spotlight: Simon Pearce

Over twelve years ago, my wife and I fell in love with Vermont. It's not just the rolling green hills, fresh air and breathtaking sights. It's the people and the lifestyles that they lead. There's a sense of detachment from the modern world in Vermont. Good luck finding a McDonalds or Wal-Mart, and you're lucky if your cell phone gets a signal. However, you can find a cozy café, farm stands, fresh-made pies, maple syrup and cheddar cheese around every corner. For me, as a city dweller, that's what a vacation is all about, returning to nature without an itinerary or the modern world texting, tweeting or e-mailing my name. Over the last decade, I have made a point of revisiting Vermont on a regular basis.

Views of the river, falls and
covered bridge
Among all of this serenity and relaxation, one place that I must visit on every trip, is Simon Pearce Restaurant. Simon Pearce is located in Quechee, VT, and it overlooks one of the most beautiful Vermont landscapes that you can possibly imagine. However, even with all of the tourist appeal of the surrounding towns and the priceless view from their enclosed veranda, Simon Pearce does not rely on these attributes to bring in customers. What they do rely on is their ability to repeatedly deliver one of the best dinning experiences in Vermont and possibly even in the Northeast.

Seats with a waterfall view
The menu, created by Chef Joshua Duda, is all about simple rustic country-style foods with a global influence, made with the freshest ingredients and perfectly prepared by a deft hand in the kitchen. The service is impeccable, and in my experience, on par with the finest dinning establishments I've had the joy of visiting. This is all capped off by a smartly prepared, award-winning wine list that touches on regions from around the world. When you take the menu, service and scenery into consideration, I'm hard-pressed to think of a single restaurant that I'd rather be at. Simon Pearce excels at creating a unique dinning experience of the highest level.

Sullivan Harbor Smoked Salmon
There is one sad afterthought to all of this.  Simon Pearce and the scenic-covered bridge that spans the Ottauquechee River were seriously damaged during the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. However, after a 20 day hiatus and what must have been a massive undertaking, the restaurant is now open for service again.

Ginger Seared Yellowfin Tuna
I can think of no better way to repay my appreciation for over a decade of wonderful dining experiences than by sharing this with my readers and urging you to visit. Vacationing in Vermont is a must. You owe it to yourself to experience this magical landscape and the people who call it home; and when you go there, Simon Pearce should be at the top of your list.

I'll be back there soon myself, and I hope to see you there too. Simon Pearce Restaurant
Did I mention that the sun sets over the river?  It's amazing!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Chile Revelation

Loving and collecting wine is like anything else in the world; something started you on the path. Maybe it was that ’96 Barolo after an intense Saturday dinner service, a special wine that a friend poured for you at an event, or a vacation you took in a wine region. No matter what the reason is, it left a mark on you and part of the reason you keep going is to try and recapture that moment. However, like anything else, those special moments don’t happen too often. In the end, you can find yourself going months without being surprised by a new wine or years without being impressed with a different region. 

However, once in a blue moon, those moments happen; and last night, I had one with the wines of Chile.

I’d say the most amazing part of this revelation was when I looked at the cost of my highest scoring bottles, which were both under $20. To have wine this good, at this price point; I think I’m in love.

One is a Cabernet of exceptional character and quality that can be enjoyed now, yet still has the ability to age. The other is made from Carmenere. “Carmen-what,” you say? Carmenere was once nothing more than a blending grape for Bordeaux that many believe had seen its last days; however, today it has found a new home in Chile and is thriving. The Terra Noble Carmenere Gran Reserva was like a Ballerina; all muscle and intensity, yet it glided effortlessly across the dance floor… err… palate.

On to the notes:
2009 Terra Noble Carmenere Gran Reserva – This wine was a showstopper as its expressive nose showed a balanced mix of red and black berries, pretty floral notes with a bit of stemy funk, and mocha and oak, which followed close behind. On the palate, it showed great balance as its rich body gave way to juicy blue and red berry fruit with cinnamon and black pepper. The finish was long, showing a mix of ripe berries. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!
2008 Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva de Familia – The nose showed intense, spicy blackberry jam, animal musk and coffee notes. On the palate, it was smooth and velvety, yet balanced with wild berries, dark chocolate, and subtle cinnamon. The finish was long and saturating with intense dark chocolate-covered dried cranberry. The tannins slowly melted away on the finish and showed great potential for the future of this wine. (92 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Casa Silva Carménère Reserva - On the nose, I found blackberry, chalk dust, green bell pepper and manure. On the palate, it was big yet balanced, showing wild berries, more green-pepper leading to a cough syrup like finish. Looking back on my notes, I feel as if these descriptors fail to do this wine justice. The fact is, it was highly enjoyable in a gripping and earthy way and the complete opposite of the Terra Noble. (92 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!
2010 Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc Estate - The nose showed lemon with fresh cut grass, minerals and a bit of nuttiness. On the palate, this was mouth-filling with sour grapefruit, lime, minerals, and green apple. The finish was long with sour patch citrus fruits. Awesome value too. (90 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The evolution of a bottle

The evolution of a bottle of wine is something that we must sometimes wait decades for. There is this way of thinking, that if you want to watch a bottle evolve, you should buy a case and check in on it every few years. It's a very affluent way of thinking. I know that I can't afford to buy a case of every wine I'd like to keep in my cellar. And so, I usually end up with three or four bottles. This is one of the reasons why the tasting notes of other trusted collectors are so important to me, so that I can read about their experiences and try to properly plan for each of my own bottles to be opened.

Honestly, this may be more effort than the average wine lover is willing expel.

However, there is a way to cheat a little, and that's to open a bottle early in the day and check in on it throughout the day. Why? Because wine ages through the slow exposure to oxygen. Basically, what I'm doing is speeding up the clock, but not as fast as a decanter would do it. By opening a bottle and simply pouring a small glass each hour, you are given a glimpse into the wine's possible evolution.

This weekend, I decided to open a 2000 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici Riserva. A bottle with 11 years of age on it, and yet when I looked at other tasting notes, I see that many are still calling it young. I thought this was a perfect bottle to follow throughout the day.

Taurasi zone in Campania, Italy
For those that don’t know, Taurasi is made mostly from Aglianico, an ancient varietal that was cultivated as early as Roman times and was used in Falernian wine. Today, it produces big wines with a capability to age, often referred to as the “Barolo of the south.”

On to the notes:

2000 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici Riserva

At 12pm – On the nose, this wine showed bright strawberry and floral notes with a hint of moist earth. The palate was strict with acid and drying tannin, yet showed black fruits and a chewy, rustic sweetness. The finish was dry with blackberry fruit lingering to the close.

At 3pm - The nose showed beautifully with ripe strawberry and potpourri; yet as the wine sat in the glass, it turned darker and fuller with notes of candle wax, earth, mushrooms and moist fall leaves. On the palate, this wine was eloquent and soft at first but turned more tannic into the finish. The senses were wrapped with penetrating black fruit, followed by minerals and a taste of older wood, which gave it a bit of a rustic feel. The finish was laden with intense cranberry fruit, giving it a really nice sendoff. This wine is just starting to show its age, yet still has many more years to go before its structure truly softens.

At 6pm - The aromas remained very much the same, which certainly isn't a bad thing. However, by this time, the palate really came together. The tannins in the wine softened to reveal richer fruit with dark chocolate accents. The older wood note seemed more like herbal tea and woodland than before, as well as, less rustic. It came across now as a glimpse into this wine’s maturity at peak, with a gorgeous opulence and beautiful balance. This is what I love about Italian wine; I only paid a little over $50 for this bottle.

I'm happy to score this bottle 95 points. This bottle was sourced from: Grapes: The Wine Company

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Risotto del vino rosso

The greatest thing about risotto is how you can create an amazing dish that will impress the highest level of foodie with a simple set of ingredients. It’s funny how so many people fret the idea of making a risotto, but the fact is that once you understand the basic principals, the rest is easy.

Each risotto follows the same basic set of steps and ingredients. If you have rice, stock, onion (shallot), butter and cheese (Parmigiano or Grana Padano), then you have the makings of a cheese risotto. In my house, these ingredients are almost always on hand. A common fear people have is the making of the stock; however, when you make stock, you should always make a large quantity because it freezes well. If you choose to buy stock, then you can easily keep a good amount in your pantry.

At this point you can decide if you want to take it to the next level or not. If it will it be asparagus, then buy a bunch. When it’s time to make the risotto, give it a quick bath in the warm stock (5 minutes) and then place them into an ice bath to stabilize the color. Cut off the tips for garnish and chop the rest. Toss the chopped pieces in the risotto when it’s a minute or two away from completion. Douse the tips with some more warm stock before plating and place them on top of the risotto on the plate. If you want to give it more color, toss some toasted almond slivers on top. It’s really that easy.

Before you know it, you’ll be making up your own risotto recipes. This is very much the way I started out.

Recently I was testing a new line of cookware from Emile Henry and it gave me a really good reason to test out and improve some recipes. I found myself in a very similar situation, of wanting to make risotto but having nothing very special to dress it with. A quick tour of the kitchen gave me all the inspiration I needed. A bottle of red wine, a left over piece of pancetta, some carrots, and a bag of red grapes – Risotto del vino rosso (Red Wine Risotto).

Much of my inspiration came from the wine. Keep in mind that with this recipe, the wine pairing is obvious; simply pour the same wine that you used in the risotto and you have a match made in heaven. During a visit to a local shop, I was given a taste of a surprisingly affordable bottle of Merlot from Friuli Italy. For those who don’t know yet, Friuli is not only about white wine these days. In fact, Merlot from Friuli has been garnering some pretty high praise over the last decade, and now quality-minded producers are starting to turn out bottles that won’t break the bank.

2007 Tenuta di Blasig Merlot – On the nose, it showed a floral perfume with lush red and blue fruits; a bit rustic but only enough to be true to its Italian roots. On the palate, it showed sweet wild berries and spice, with vibrant acidity and an elegant, long finish. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

Did I mention that it only cost $12.99?



Red Wine Risotto with Roasted Red Grapes

This dish is all about exciting flavors that come together in perfect unity to please the senses. Sweet meets salty meets acidity on the palate and leaves you wanting for another bite. This is the crowd pleaser and the showstopper.

5 Tbls. butter
1-½ quarts of chicken stock
2 cups risotto rice (Arborio, Cannaroli or Vialone nano)
½ red onion (small dice)
1 ¼ cups Italian Red Wine (Don’t go with anything too modern (nothing heavily oaked).)
3 Tbls of pancetta or prosciutto (small dice)
1 carrot (fine dice)
1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Gana Padano
2 tsp fresh chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with roasted red seedless grapes

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spread out one cup of small, red seedless grapes. Place them in the oven and allow to roast for 1 ½ hours. When they are done, move to an area to cool completely.

Place the stock in a pot over a low flame and allow it to come to a simmer.

In a sauté pan, add 3 tbls of butter and place over a medium flame. Once the butter has melted, add the small dice of pancetta. Allow the pancetta to cook for five minutes, or until crispy, and then remove the pancetta and set on the side for later. Add the carrots and cook in the butter and reduced fat from the pancetta. After about two minutes, add the onions. Allow the mixture to sweat in the butter until the onions become translucent. Next, add the rice. Stir to assure that the rice is coated in the butter and allow it to toast slightly but do not allow it to take on any color.

Add the red wine to the pan and increase the flame to medium high. Set a timer for 19 minutes as a guide. Stirring constantly, allow the red wine to cook down until it has cooked down by half.

Next, reduce the heat back to medium and add a ladle of stock while constantly stirring. Each time the stock cooks down to the point where the rice begins to form trails in the pan as the spoon stirs it, add another ladle of stock. When there is about 10 minutes left on the timer, sprinkle a small pinch of salt into the risotto.

Continue stirring and adding stock as needed until the timer reads three minutes remaining. Add 2/3 of the pancetta back into the pan and stir to combine. It is at this time that you should taste for seasoning and doneness. A proper al dente should have a very slight crunch to it at its core. Be careful, at this time, that you don’t add too much stock, but also keep in mind that the 19-minute timer is only a guide and that it’s taste that will really tell you when it’s done.

When the risotto is al dente, remove it from the heat. Add the last two tbls. of butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a few cracks of fresh pepper, and stir to combine.

When you are ready to plate, if the rice is too thick, you can add a small ladle of stock, to liven it up. Plate the risotto into small heated bowls, sprinkle with parsley, the remaining pancetta, and spread out some of the roasted grapes on top. Serve.