Thursday, October 31, 2013

Eccoci: Drinking in The Carbon Footprint

By: Eric Guido

I think by now we've all heard of the carbon footprint. Each and every one of us creates a quantifiable amount of harm to our atmosphere, or planet in general, every day of our lives. We all take, in some way shape or form, and it's through this constant abuse (multiplied by 7 billion people) that our planet is slowly declining into toxicity. It's difficult to see how a single person can make a difference against these staggering numbers. Yet, to do nothing is to simply be another cog in the machine that's polluting us all. It's a pretty grim thought, but the fact is that the idea of a zero carbon footprint is catching on. It's pretty simple really; if you can estimate how much a person or business takes from the earth--then you can estimate how much they can give back in exchange to make up for it.

So what prompted my tree hugging sermon today? Believe it or not, it was a winery: Eccociwine. By now, all of my readers know that I'm a big fan of natural, sustainable, organic and bio-dynamic wines. I'm certainly not someone who would shun any winery for not following these principles, but it is a noble cause--and in my opinion, it shows in the finished product. That's where Eccociwine comes in.

Eccociwine is located in the province of Girona, Spain, about two hours north of Barcelona, at the foot of an inactive volcano and surrounded by a natural park preserve. It's a winery that is built on the principle of restoring an equilibrium with nature while creating wines of inspiring quality and focus. Wines that reflect the land, from soil that has never been treated with chemicals or subjected to industrial abuse. Call it virgin terroir, if you will. From what I've tasted, and considering that the vines were only planted in 2004, there will be great things coming from Eccociwine in the years to come.

At Eccociwine, the grape varieties are French, not Spanish. This was a decision made after completing an analysis of the soils and climate. What's more, the vineyards are planted facing north, in an attempt counteract the change in climate resulting from global warming, as well as the naturally high temperatures in Spain during the summer months. With a mixture of vineyards, some with volcanic and others, alluvial soils, plus a Mediterranean climate with continental influences, the wines at Eccoci are unique, intense, juicy and unquestionably balanced with just enough oak influence to excite the senses.

They are all fruity, yet structured with a soil and mineral core. The tinto premium is sexy and forward, looking for a party. While the Super Premium is dark, mysterious and beautifully backward, it is enjoyable now, but demanding of some time in the cellar to show off its true potential. And as for the Estate White, it’s class in a glass—floral, spicy, soft, yet tense and balanced. This is a winery to watch.

On to the Tasting Notes:

2011 Eccociwine Estate White - The nose showed lemon and lime with sweet white floral tones, spice and moist minerals. It was fresh with weighty textures on the palate and flavors of sweet apple, spice and inner floral notes which lasted into the refreshing finish. (90 points)

2008 Eccociwine Empordà Red Wine Premium Girona - The nose was lush with ripe black cherry, hints of dark wood, black earth, herbs and dark chocolate. It splashed onto the palate with sweet blackberry, juicy yet medium-bodied, showing citrus, apple and mineral tones. This was remarkably fresh and clean throughout while remaining concentrated and intense with a beautiful "drink me" personality. The mouthwatering finish begged me to take another sip. Well done. (91 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Eccociwine Empordà Eccomi Tinto Super Premium Girona - The nose showed intense, savory cherry, a dusting of sweet spice and cocoa with grounding notes of dark earth and minerals. On the palate, it entered firm, yet opened beautifully with masses of concentrated red and black fruits enveloping the senses along with dark chocolate, a note of cherry syrup and black licorice, which lasted throughout the long, dark finish. This was an intense wine, with a refined structure that promises future development. It can easily be enjoyed now but will likely benefit from another year or two in the cellar. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pumpkin Risotto: Perfect Autumn Comfort Food

A Recipe & Pairing by: Eric Guido

What is it about pumpkin and how each time I serve it, it makes people swoon? Nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a powerful tool in the chef’s arsenal. It’s a direct line to the hearts and minds of your guests. It's that smell from mama’s kitchen. It's that flavor, which will always remind you of home. Or that memory of togetherness around a family table, the food you ate and the happy memories you shared. Would it surprise you to know that nostalgia is a topic taught in culinary school? Well it is, and for very good reason because with nostalgia you can create a dish that will not only taste divine, but also speaks to the diner’s soul. That’s how pumpkin risotto ended up on my menu.

Pumpkin risotto is an extremely versatile dish that combines sweet earthy flavors with rich, creamy textures and a salty, spicy snap at the end of each bite. The pumpkin adds a weight to the palate that takes this from being just another rice dish to becoming a centerpiece of the meal. It’s warming and speaks to that part of us that loves home cooking, yet it easily translates well into fine dining.

When it comes to a wine pairing, you could go with an earthy Italian white with brisk acidity or a Barbera, but I wanted something a little different and I’m glad I chose the route of exploration. Ever since I first developed this recipe, I've been looking for an opportunity to pair it with a Zinfandel.  Let's just say, I was not disappointed.  The Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel, accentuated the sweet spice in this dish, while taming the heat from the pumpkin seeds.  Add to that, a slightly firm structure and pop of acidity that cut through the pumpkin stock and rich butter--and you have a match made in heaven.

2010 Ridge Zinfandel Paso Robles - The nose on the 2010 Paso Robles Zinfandel is like a basket of mixed berries baked in a tartlet shell with sweet holiday spices and a hint of mocha. On the palate, it’s fruity and vibrant with intense concentration that is made fresh by brisk acidity. The wine literally coats the entire palate and then slowly melts away to reveal a hint of dry tannin. The finish is fresh, yet long, showing dried red fruits. It’s immediately enjoyable and hard not to keep drinking. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $31)

Pumpkin Risotto (with peas and spicy pumpkin seeds)
Serves 4

5 oz. unsalted butter
1⁄4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 quart of chicken stock
1 cup of water
1⁄4 cup white wine
1 shallot (chopped fine)
15 oz. pumpkin puree
1 1/3 cups risotto rice
3/4 cup English peas (can use frozen green peas)
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese grated fine
3 Tbls. Pumpkin seeds
Salt and pepper
Fresh sage (garnish)

To cook the peas, prepare an ice bath and pour the chicken stock and one cup of water into a pot and bring to a simmer. Pour the peas into the simmering chicken stock and allow them to heat through for four minutes. Then remove them from the pot and place into the ice bath for two minutes before removing them to reserve for later use. Lastly, whisk (10 oz.) of the pumpkin puree into the warm stock and set aside for when you are ready to cook the risotto.

In a sauté pan over a medium-­‐low flame, melt two ounces of butter. Once the butter has melted and come up to temperature, add the pumpkin seeds, cayenne pepper and a hefty pinch of salt. Raise the flame to medium and toss the pumpkin seeds in the butter and pepper mixture. Once the seeds have toasted, pour them into a bowl and keep them in a warm location until ready to use.

When you are ready to make the risotto, place a medium size pan over a medium-­‐ low flame. Add two ounces of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the shallots, a pinch of salt and allow the shallots to sweat. When the shallots have sweated and begun to turn translucent, add the rice and stir to coat the rice in butter (if the mixture looks too dry, you can add a little more butter before adding the rice). Raise the flame to medium and continue to stir vigorously for about one to two minutes. However, do not allow the rice or shallots to take on any color. Add the wine and stir it into the rice until it cooks off. Return the flame to medium-­‐low and add the last half (5 oz.) of pumpkin puree, the cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir to combine completely and add your first ladle full of stock.

At this time, the risotto should take anywhere between 17 and 19 minutes to finish, and throughout that time you should be stirring regularly. After adding the ladle of the stock and pumpkin mixture, stir the rice slowly but regularly. Be careful with heat management with this recipe, because the pumpkin puree can burn if not stirred regularly up from the bottom of the pan. As soon as the first ladle of stock has absorbed or evaporated, add another ladle full. Continue like this for 10 – 12 minutes and add a good pinch of salt to the rice. Add more stock and continue to stir. As you approach 16 minutes of cooking time, taste the rice to test the degree of doneness, all the while continuing with the process of adding stock and stirring. At 17 minutes, add the peas, stir in completely and taste again for doneness.

When the rice is done (al dente), add the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and the last of the butter. Stir to combine completely and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed. (Seasoning is what really brings out the pumpkin flavor in this recipe. Without it, it will seem bland.) If the rice seems too thick, add a little more stock to loosen it up.

Plate the risotto into warmed bowls and top with the toasted pumpkin seeds and a rough chop of sage leaves. Serve.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Morellino: The Drink Me Now Sangiovese

Sangiovese comes in many different forms, the most well--known being Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile, and Brunello. These wines all have a number of things in common and each have their own virtues. Chianti Classico walks the line between tart to ripe fruit and earthy wood tones, with tannins and acidity that usually need a little time to balance out. Vino Nobile adds a dollop of violet floral notes, slightly less acidity and a broader structure. Brunello is all about structure and restrained power, and because of this, requires patience. However, there’s one thing that all of these wines are usually missing, and that is early accessibility. Allow me introduce you to Morellino di Scansano.

Morellino di Scansano fills a niche that was truly missing in the Tuscan lineup of Sangiovese-based wines. The average Morellino (which is the name or synonym for Sangiovese in the Maremma), is a young, ripe and rich Sangiovese with all the accessibility you could ever hope for. It’s not a wine that you have to be afraid of when opening a bottle at a party or for a group of wine neophytes.

What makes Morellino so different has a lot to do with location and aging requirements. The Maremma is located in the coastal hills of southern Tuscany, with a warm Mediterranean climate, which promotes easier ripening. What’s more, the maritime influences regulate the Maremma on hot summer days, so that the ever so important ying yang of warm days and cool nights, which is so important to the production of quality wine grapes, is ever-present.

However, growing perfectly ripe Sangiovese is only one part of the equation; it’s what the winemaker does with those grapes that makes or breaks the final wine, and that’s where Morellino is truly set apart. Without any required aging included in the DOCG regulations, Morellino can go from harvest to fermentation and then release by the March following harvest. This makes for an incredibly pure expression of ripe Sangiovese, which makes up at least 85% of the final blend for any Morellino. The wines are affordable and intended for early consumption, but that’s not to say that these are simple wines. Don’t confuse value and early accessibility with lack of character. In fact it’s quite the opposite, as many of these wines will continue to improve for three to five years in the cellar.

So I ask you to go out and find a bottle of Morellino di Scansano. It may be one of the most enjoyable and affordable Italian reds that you’ve had in a while. To get you started, I’ve included my tasting notes of some of my favorites, which are all available at retail. There is something for everyone.

On to the Wines:

2011 Fattoria Le Pupille (Elisabetta Geppetti) Morellino di Scansano – The nose was fresh with ripe strawberry fruit, hints of dusty spice and violets. A rich meatiness seemed to peak out from the background along with saline minerals. On the palate, it was juicy with black cherry fruit, a hint of citrus and blackberry. It was persistent with an excellent balance of acidity. Dark red fruit lingered on the finish with inner floral tones, leaving a refreshed sensation with a slight tug of tannin on the palate. This is a very enjoyable wine that is highly recommended. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $18)

2011 Poggio Morino Morellino di Scansano – The nose was showy and intense with concentrated red and blue berries, cocoa, dusty spice box, dark wood and minerals. On the palate, masses of ripe dark fruit washed across the senses with a balanced wave of acidity keeping it juicy and fresh. Hints of pepper and spice along with meaty-savory notes and a saline minerality were left in its wake. Dark fruits and black pepper remained on the finish with an unexpected mouthwatering quality. This is an excellent wine where the Syrah component really shines through in a positive way. Well done and a great value. (92 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $16)

2011 La Mozza Morellino di Scansano I Perazzi - The generous and fruity nose showed dusty tart cherry, sweet spice, tobacco, hints of pepper and mountain herbs. On the palate, it was lush and juicy with ripe dark fruit that turned spicy and brighter toward the close. The finish was slightly firm, yet in a very pleasurable manner as it offset the ripe, juicy personality of this wine. (90 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $14)

2010 Mocali Morellino di Scansano – The nose showed sweet cherry and strawberry, with wood spice, dark chocolate, cedar and saw dust. On the palate, it was silky smooth with ripe cherry and currant fruit on a medium bodied, juicy frame. The wine finished fresh, but it was a little short with tart red fruit, yet remained juicy throughout. With its mass appeal and easy-going structure, this would make for a great weeknight sipper. (88 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $14)

2011 Fattoria il Palagio Morellino di Scansano – The nose showed spiced cherry, pomegranate, dark wood tones and a hint of barnyard. On the palate, it was juicy with cherry fruit and rustic, herbal notes. The finish showed hints of tannin, which added character to the otherwise soft, fruity experience. (87 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $16)

2010 Tenute Le Preselle Morellino di Scansano – The nose showed ripe black cherry, minerals, dusty Tuscan spice and herbs with a rustic, yet fun personality. On the palate, it was juicy with soft textures, showing blackberry, cherry and a hint of cedar. The finish was clean and fresh, leaving only a hint of structure behind. This was easy-going and fun to drink, a great bridge wine for someone looking for a youthful introduction to Sangiovese. (86 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $15)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Autumn Craves Red: Ribera del Duero

With fall comes red wine, and I could not be happier. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Sauvignon Blanc, but red is where my heart is, and by the end of the summer, I feel like a thirsty man crawling out of the desert. However, you can't just jump right into big, rich Cabernet or robust Barolo; you need a bridge wine. A red that will be there for you on the moderately warm, early days of September, yet also appease on the nights when those cool breezes are blowing in through wide-open windows. I'll often turn to Sangiovese for such a wine. But this year, I've had to make room for another red in my heart—the red wines of the Ribera Del Duero.

The grape of choice here is Tempranillo, and it shines beautifully through adversity, especially from these high altitude vineyards. But it’s not just altitude that makes these wines what they are; much of it has to do with the extreme climate of the region and its long growing season. The Ribera del Duero sees long, dry, hot summers, followed by hard winters during which temperatures may drop as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. You can imagine that a vine that survives these conditions would be full of character.

The resulting wines are juicy and fresh with incredible depth, showing perfectly ripe fruit, earth tones, great acidity and broad structures that add to the experience instead of drying you out. The expert use of oak is neither too little, nor too much, making the wines of Ribera del Duero appealing to a wide range of palates. What’s more, their vibrant acidity is appreciated at the dinner table, while their intense, fun-loving nature carries them well into the night.

This September, I had a chance to taste through a number of excellent wines from the region, some for a second time. They are all excellent and from every price point.

On to the Wines:

2009 Dominio de Atauta Ribera del Duero - The nose was initially closed up, but with time in the glass blossomed to reveal tart red berries and herbs with a beautiful floral component. On the palate, seductive dark fruit was met by floral tones of violet and lavender with a velvety mouthfeel and refined tannin that sneaks up on you toward the close. The wine turns juicier and brighter on the finish with a slightly bitter twang. It's a refined, pretty and truly unique wine. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $35)

2009 Bodegas AAlto Ribera del Duero AAlto - The nose was showy yet refined with ripe red and blue fruits, floral tones, brown sugar and spice. On the palate, it was tight yet displayed tart red fruits with an herbal note and inner floral tones, which lasted into the close. The finish was structured, yet it was nearly imperceptible, as the tannins were so well covered by the intense fruit that remained. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $46)

2009 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero Malleolus - The nose showed seductive dark red and blue fruits with a gram cracker crust, yet grounded by floral undergrowth and herbs. On the palate, intense ripe blackberry and tart cherry filled the senses, ushered in by velvety textures. Fine tannin tickled the senses throughout the long fruity finish. This was the second time I tasted this wine, and I found it to be very enjoyable. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $51)

2010 Bodegas Los Astrales Ribera del Duero Astrales - The nose showed slightly vegetal at first, yet quickly swayed to the ripe fruit spectrum with small ripe spiced berries and dark wood tones. It entered soft and velvety on the palate, but intensified as tart red and black fruit was accentuated by firm acidity and a backdrop of stony minerals. Mild tannin remained on the finish, along with concentrated dark fruits. This was the second time tasting this wine, and although I may have taken back a point, the experience was still quite enjoyable. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $29)

2011 Bodegas Vizcarra Ramos Ribera del Duero JC Vizcarra - A more modern effort, showing dark ripe fruit, a mix of plum and black cherry, followed by herbs and spice with a buttery crust. On the palate, it was velvety, filling all the senses with dark fruit and spice, backed by slightly gruff tannin. It finished juicy, pleasant, balanced--a truly enjoyable wine. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $29)

2010 Hermanos Pérez Pascuas Ribera del Duero Viña Pedrosa Crianza - At first showing as sweaty and closed in on itself, the Vina Pedrosa Crianza blossomed with time in the glass to reveal ripe red berry fruit, herbs and an earthy mineral component. On the palate, red fruits and saline minerals combined with meaty, savory notes to form a very complete and enjoyable experience. Dense, concentrated red fruit remained on the palate throughout the finish, along with a linger hint of cedar. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $18)

2008 Bodegas Alejandro Fernández Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva Pesquera - The nose showed sweet, spiced red fruits, a dusting of sugar with floral notes, cedar and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, brisk acidity paved the way for intense, tart red berry, notes of wild herbs and cedar. It finished fresh, yet structured and refined. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $N/A)

2009 Viña Sastre (Bodegas Hermanos Sastre) Ribera del Duero Crianza - The nose showed slightly restrained with red fruit, cacao, wood spice and a hint of apple cider. On the palate, it displayed soft textures with juicy red fruits and a hint of tannin that wrapped around the senses into the finish. It was a simple yet fun wine. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $35)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Vinous Evolution: 2010 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

By: Eric Guido

As we dig a little deeper into Tuscany and the many expressions of Sangiovese, we come to one of the most famous DOCGs in Tuscany: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. However, as famous as the name may be, and as far back as its origins may go (789), Vino Nobile has suffered over the last few decades. The reasons are various, but one that has always seemed to make the most sense is that, for a time, the producers lost focus and became idol, selling their wine on the value of its name alone. Those days are far behind us now, yet Vino Nobile still struggles to compete with consumer dollars against Chianti Classico and Brunello, and that is a shame. This became painfully apparent when shopping for these wines, which was not as easy as you would expect, living in one of the biggest cities in the world.

However difficult they were to find, in the end, they are worth the hunt. At a tasting some three years ago, I was fortunate enough to be treated to a tasting of vintage Vino Nobile. Most were from 2001, at the time with nine years of maturity under their belts. This tasting also included a large selection of Brunello and top shelf Chianti Classico Riservas. To say that Vino Nobile held its own would be an understatement--the wines were gorgeous, and I was suddenly a believer.

What separates Vino Nobile from other Tuscan reds starts with a unique clone of Sangiovese, named Prugnolo Gentile. Characteristically, it's often described as having a slightly lower level of acidity than your typical Sangio from Chianti and softer tannins than a Brunello. This along with the gentle, rolling slopes of Montepulciano (allowing more sunlight) and sandier, more alluvial soils, which benefits growth, helps the grapes to ripen easier (a constant issue with Sangiovese). This places Vino Nobile in a category all it's own, something of a happy middle ground.

The blending rules of Vino Nobile require a minimum of 70% Sangiovese, with up to 30% other varieties permitted. Many producers today have chosen to use traditional Tuscan grapes to fill out the blend, such as Mammolo (which lends a note of violet to the bouquet), Canaiolo Nero and Colorino. However, you will find a number of wines blended with other international varieties, such as Merlot. Two years of aging are required for Vino Nobile (three for Riservas), and producers have the choice to use large botti or small barrels. What is truly exciting to me is the current trend of adding more Sangiovese and aging less in new wood. The results are wines of beautiful varietal character and purity, which showcase the engaging structure and juicy acidity of these wines.

Over the last few years, I’ve delved more and more into Vino Nobile, but nowhere does the increase in quality and changes in winemaking styles show so dramatically than in the 2010 vintage. Typically, I enjoy Vino Nobile after a year or two following release, or four to five years post-vintage; yet in 2010, there’s an open-knit feel to the structure of these wines, which plays beautifully into the mix of lush fruit and vibrant acidity. They have a “drink me now” personality, but these wines will age. Don’t let their early appeal fool you; the structure is there, but what counts even more is the balance that these wines demonstrate. I will be adding a number of these to my cellar.

On to The Wines:

2010 Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - The nose was floral, strong yet graceful, with a bouquet of ripe cherry, strawberry, potpourri and a sweet Tuscan dustiness. It entered the palate focused with wonderful verve, as fresh red fruits were ushered in by juicy acidity. Notes of cinnamon spice, cedar and hints of mountain herbs formed toward the close and lasted into the finish. As its flavors tapered off, fine tannin remained behind, tugging at the senses. This was enjoyable now, with energy to spare, and should improve or years to come. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $29)

2010 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - The nose showed tart cherry and black currant, with mountain herbs, minerals, dark coca and the slightest hint oak. On the palate, it was angular at first, giving more with time in the glass as it resolved into a soft yet acid-driven and vibrant expression of Sangiovese. Flavors of tart berry, savory reduction sauce and stone laden minerals flowed into the finish, as fine tannins pulled at the senses, leaving hints of espresso and cherry. (91 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $29)

2010 Azienda Agricola Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - The nose was fruity and intense with tart cherry, cranberry, along with hints of citrus peel, herbs and cedar. On the palate, it was soft yet with enough juicy acidity to keep it engaging. Ripe red fruits with hints of cinnamon and dried herbs danced around the palate, even if a tad short; it left tart cherry and hints of spice on the finish. This wine truly dazzled me for its honest red fruits and juicy personality. It’s also a good value. (90 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $23)

2010 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - The nose was suave with masses of black cherry, dark chocolate, floral perfumes and a hint of rich strawberry jam. It entered like velvet on the palate, giving flavors of spiced cherry, cedar and mineral notes, all kept fresh by balanced acidity and a sheen of well-managed oak. The medium-long finish was dry with concentrated red fruit extracts, black licorice and a hint of dark coco. (89 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $26)

2010 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - The nose showed candied cherry, autumnal spices, floral violet tones, undergrowth and hints of wet minerals. On the palate it was lean yet juicy with ripe red berry, cedar and espresso. The balance leaned toward acidity, making this a great pairing at the dinner table but a little hard to comprehend on its own. The finish turned dry, leaving red berry soaked tannin coating the senses. (87 pointsFind it on Wine-Searcher! (avg. $19)

Related articles at The V.I.P. Table:
New found love for Vino Nobile
“The Italian Wine Masters,” Part 3 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Producer Spotlight: Crociani