Un pranzo magnifico!

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Fagottino con cicoria e caciocavallo con cream di ceci al profumo rosmarino

Puff pastry with chicory and caciocavallo cheese with cream of chickpeas, rosemary fragrance (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Be it a humble trattoria or a celebrated ristorante, I’ve experienced many great meals in Italy, but few were as memorable as the magnificent lunch I enjoyed at Il Posto delle Rose Selvatiche during my most recent visit to Campania.

The restaurant is part of a small resort in the town of Summonte about a 25-minute drive outside the town of Avellino in the inland province of Irpinia. This locale is somewhat isolated, as you drive up a gravel road, finally reaching your destination 1000 meters above sea level. This is a lovely retreat from everyday life, as there are a few apartments for guests as well as a handsome equestrian center.

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Chef Antonella Iandolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I was invited to lunch by my friend Antonella Iandolo, whom I first met two years ago when I enjoyed her cooking at a restaurant in nearby Avellino. Sadly, that restaurant closed, but she is staying busy consulting and teaching and is now perfecting her craft at this lovely resort. (Two things to note about my friendship with Antonella: first, she wrote a brief essay about pairing Campanian wine and food for my upcoming book on Italy’s most distinctive wines; second, I am in love with this woman!).

While Italian wine is my primary focus, I’ve learned a great deal about the country’s foods as well, as one enjoys great wines with equally great foods throughout the country. The starting puff pastry course (pictured above) was excellent, as all the flavors combined perfectly; the cream sauce was quite delicate, allowing the chickpea flavors to shine; this was a very flavorful, subtle, delicious dish.

The wine paired with this opening dish was the 2010 Guido Marsella Falanghina (Benevento), which was a lovely match, as this medium-bodied white with its lime and kiwi flavors backed by very healthy acidity, had enough weight and character to support, but not overwhelm the cream and chickpeas. Marsella, whose winery is located very close to the restaurant, is a little-known producer outside this immediate district, which is a shame, given the extremely high quality of his wines.

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“Hamburger” con gorgonzola e noci al profumo di aneto

Hamburger with Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts, dill fragrance (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Two other courses were highlights of this meal. The secondi was a sensational dish that combined pumpkin, pepperoni, potatoes and a “hamburger” with Gorgonzola and walnuts. This was one of the most original dishes I’ve ever tasted, quite rich, yet also quite harmonious, with the gorgonzola providing quite a contrast to the pepperoni. The 2010 Guido Marsella Fiano di Avellino stood up to all the various flavors here and was an ideal match, especially with the vibrant acidity and distinct earthiness in the finish.

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Piccola torta con uva sultanina arance e cioccolato con crema calda all vaniglia

Torte with egg, orange and chocolate with warm vanilla cream (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Finally, as I’m not one to turn down dessert, no matter how full I am (especially in Italy!), I adored the dolce that Antonella prepared, a chocolate panettone with vanilla cream sauce. The complementary flavors were sublime and the torte itself was as light as a feather – what a superb way to finish an amazing meal!

After the meal, Antonella asked me what I thought of her cooking as compared to what I had experienced two years ago (as if I would have anything but the nicest things to say!). I told her how much I enjoyed everything, summing up my thoughts by stating that her cooking had become “more refined.” She was quite pleased to hear that! Antonella Iandolo is quite a chef, with great talent and creativity and I think she will handle any challenge that comes her way in the kitchen .

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Aldo Genovese, proprietor, Il Posto delle Rose Selvatiche (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A big thank you and complimenti to Aldo Genovese, owner of Il Posto delle Rose Selvatiche for hosting this lunch and creating such a warm atmosphere at his dining room. He is a very wise man for hiring Antonella Iandolo as his chef!

December 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm 1 comment

A Sublime Barolo

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I’m in the final stages of tasting out some of the highly regarded examples of 2008 Barolo. They say it’s not work if you enjoy it, so this has most definitively NOT been work, as I love these wines! 2008 was a cooler year than 2007 and several other recent vintages in the Barolo zone, meaning the wines from 2008 are more classically styled Barolos with very good acidity and structure; these wines also have marvelous aromatics. Thus 2008 is a more Piemontese style of Barolo as opposed to the more international stylings of the wines from 2007, for example.

The Barolos from 2008 are not the most powerful wines – examples from 2006 are much weightier on the palate – but these are among the most beautifully balanced Barolos in some time; I think of the lovely qualities of the 1998 Barolos – not overly big, but seductive, attractive wines of great typicity, wines that offer a distinct sense of place.

I’ll include my tastings notes in my Guide to Italian Wines (Winter issue) soon *; for now I want to let you know about one of the finest wines of this vintage. It’s from the renowned producer Massolino in Serralunga d’Alba. I’ve loved the wines of Franco and Roberto Massolino for some time now, especially as they are traditional producers, maturing their wines in large Slavonian oak casks. I prefer Barolo made in this fashion, as it better allows the local terroir to emerge in the wines.

Almost all of their production is from vineyards in the commune of Serralunga; this includes cru bottlings of Parafada, Margheria and the sensational Vigna Rionda Riserva. Recently, the family purhased a small parcel of the Parussi vineyard in nearby Castiglione Falletto, another superb Barolo locale. The 2007 was the first release of this wine for Massolino and it too was aged in the traditional large casks. I rated that wine as my favorite of the 2007 Barolos from Massolino, noting its lovely perfumes, ideal balance, lengthy finish and precise acidity.

The newly released 2008 Parussi is even more impressive with gorgeous aromatics of currant, morel cherry, tar, dried roses and a hint of licorice; offering notable depth of fruit, this has excellent persistence, ideal acidity, beautifully integrated wood notes along with sensations of balsamic and coffee. The tannins are quite silky and the overall balance of this wine is impeccable! Again, this speaks beautifully to its source – this is not as powerful a wine as the Parafada from Massolino, which is from Serralunga – so it will peak a bit sooner, say 12-15 years instead of 15-20 for the latter, but it is as accomplished and as harmonious a Barolo as Massolino produced in 2008 or from 2007, for that matter! This is an outstanding Barolo!

* – For information on a paid subscription to my Guide to Italian Wines, a quarterly publication, email me at thomas2022@comcast.net

December 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm Leave a comment

Why I Love Italy – and the Italians!

The Story of a Great Day in Alto Adige

Text and Photos ©Tom Hyland

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Sundial at J. Hofstatter Winery, Tramin 

I’m fortunate enough to travel to Italy three or four times per year; thankfully, I never tire of it. Thus every day in la bella Italia, even if it’s cold and/or rainy, is a special one. In fact, I can recall virtually every day I’ve spent in Italy over the past twelve years and almost every one has been pretty special. Then there was one great Friday I recently spent in Alto Adige.

The day started with my host Martin Foradori Hofstatter driving me to his winery in Tramin for a special tasting of Alto Adige Pinot Nero from three vintages. The tasting was organized by the editors of Fine magazine in Germany; Martin mentioned the tasting and asked if I would like to attend, as I was in the area. I appreciate his hospitality as well as the kindness of the magazine editors for allowing me to sit in on the tasting. (Before the tasting, by the way, I stopped at a local bar for a croissant and apple juice – believe me, there is no better place in Italy – or perhaps all of Europe – for apple juice!).

The tasting featured wines from the 2009, 2005 and 2002 vintages, each of them excellent. The 2005s were arguably the best performing wines in terms of balance and structure, although 2002 was not far behind, while the 2009s were a bit fleshier, though no less accomplished. Producers included Girlan, Abbazia di Novacella, Colterenzio (Schreckbichl), St. Michael-Eppan and of course, J. Hofstatter; winemakers from several of those estates also took present in this tasting. While Pinot Nero is not one of the varieties most people associate with Italy, these examples displayed impressive complexity and were first-rate evidence of the foundation this grape has in the cool climes of Alto Adige.

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Martin Foradori Hofstatter 

After a brief lunch at the Barthenau estate of Hofstatter, it was off to my appointment at Abbazia di Novacella, northeast of Bolzano, not far from the Austrian border. Accompanying me as driver and interested spectator was Hannes Waldmüller, who recently became director for the Alto Adige consorzio. Waldmüller is a fountain of information on seemingly every business in the region, from wine to apples and just about anything else and that knowledge combined with his passion for the region makes him a great spokesperson for Südtirol.

I had tried wines from Abbazia on several occasions in the past and had always been delighted with the high quality and the impressive varietal focus of their wines, especially with varieties such as Kerner, Sylvaner and Pinot Nero. So here was a chance to try the new releases as well as tour the facility. Actually the word facility is not an apt descriptor here, as this is an amazing location that is part winery and a bigger part, an abbey with an stunning church (one of the most beautiful I have ever visited), an amazing library that contained hand-drawn manuscripts from the resident monks of the 14th century as well as a school for middle grades. This is quite an experience and one that should be part of your required itinerary on your next visit to Alto Adige.

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Detail of ceiling of the church at Abbazia di Novacella

The tasting itself, conducted by Costanza Maag, who recently joined the winery, was excellent. Every wine tasted out beautifully, especially the Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner and Sauvignon as well as all the “Praepositus” releases (these are the selezioni of the winery; the term Praepositus means “the chosen” or “elevated” – a perfect descriptor). I have included the Praepositus Kerner and Pinot Nero in my upcoming book on Italy’s most distinctive wines; if I had room, I’d include a few more, including the Praepositus Sauvignon (wonderful aromas of yellow apples and green tea!), Sylvaner (the 2011 is outstanding) and the Gewurztraminer, with its gorgeous lychee, grapefruit and lanolin aromas. What marvelous wines and while I also love the Pinot Nero, this is a winery – as with dozens of others in the region – that shows the world how routinely great – and occasionally brilliant – the white wines of Alto Adige are, year in and year out!

After our lengthy visit, it was dark outside and we were headed to one more appointment. Hannes made his way to Weingut Niklas in Kaltern, about an hour’s south; he pointed out as we entered the autostrada that if we headed north, we would be in Innsbruck, Austria, sooner than our next winery visit. It was a tempting proposal, but we proceeded to our business at hand.

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Dieter Sölva, proprietor, Weingut Niklas

Our visit to Weingut Niklas was an impromptu one, as two other producers not far from Abbazia that I wanted to visit were out of town. I mentioned to Hannes that I knew the importer of Niklas in America (Oliver McCrum in the Bay Area) and that I had enjoyed the wines. Hannes called Dieter Sölva at the winery, who agreed to meet us. Unfortunately, his winery is in a small town, hidden behind a number of small streets, so Hannes had to get on his cel phone and have Dieter walk him through this. It was quite dark and rather cool and we were getting a bit tired by this time (around 7:30), but we managed to finally locate this small winery.

Dieter is a charming man, someone who gives you his attention and is open and direct – there’s no hidden agenda with him. That’s great, because I could relax around him and be honest about my opinions of his wines; not that he had anything to worry about, as I loved both his 2011 Kerner and especially his 2011 Sauvignon with enticing yellow pepper and elderberry aromas; here was a lovely Sauvignon with plenty of fruit, yet only a trace of the assertive herbal notes that often dominate other examples of this variety in cool climates. The wine has lively acidity and beautiful structure and is one of my favorite examples of Sauvignon from Italy – highly recommended!

Finally, it was off to a quick dinner and some pizza and pasta. We found a comfortable place with excellent food and by this time, a beer was in order – an Austrian beer, as Hannes said that’s what he recommended, so I went with it. But I just can’t help myself when I’m in a restaurant in wine country – I have to see the wine list. I noticed that the Peter Sölva Gewurztraminer was on the list, so I ordered a glass. Now I didn’t have pizza, as I opted for pasta and I can’t say that the wine was an ideal partner for my food, but at this point, it certainly tasted great. I love Alto Adige Gewurztraminer and this one was excellent, especially as this had proper structure to back up the lovely aromatics. A great way to finish my wine tasting that Friday!

Hannes then drove me back to my guesthouse, promising me another day of touring wine estates the next time I’m in Alto Adige. This is why I love the Italian people – after all this man did for me that afternoon and evening, he was making sure I knew that he would be happy to show me around his region again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the Italians are among – perhaps the – most gracious people in the world!

P.S. I can tell you that many residents of Alto Adige, still clinging to their Austrian/German heritage (Südtirol was part of the Austrian empire until the end of the First World War), don’t believe they are Italians. On more than one occasion lately, there have been discussions about the Südtirol becoming an autonomous state, separate from Italy. In fact, many of the local residents talk of Alto Adige and then refer to Italy as being “down there.” True enough, but for this post and for the sake of argument, I’m including these wonderful denizens as Italian – their graciousness certainly fits the part!

December 11, 2012 at 10:07 am 4 comments

Franciacorta Images

Post-Harvest images from Franciacorta

(all photos ©Tom Hyland)

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Pinot Nero leaves

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December 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Campania’s Vibrant Whites

Villa Raiano Cork

Cork of Villa Raiano, one of Campania’s finest wine estates (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I love the white wines of Campania, so it was a great pleasure to be invited to Bianchirpinia 2012, which was held in Avellino recently. This event, centered around anteprima tastings of the new releases of the 2011 vintage of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, along with producers visits and dinners, showed both the quality and variety of these lovely wines and reaffirmed in my mind that these are among Italy’s finest whites.

While there were also a few other wines – such as Coda di Volpe and a few examples of Falanghina – tasted those days, Greco and Fiano were the primary focus. These two wines, produced from vines that are comprised of mixed soils – including volcanic deposits – are wines that beautifully display a sense of place. As most producers opt not to mature these wines in wood, the aromatic profiles of each stand out, with Greco delivering more lemon and pear aromatics (along with a pleasing note of almond in the nose and the finish), while Fiano is more identified (for me, at least) by more exotic fruits such as kiwi and mango along with lime and ripe pear (these notes of tropical fruit were more common in a warmer year such as 2011).

Another difference is with aging potential, as Greco tends to drink best within five years of the vintage date, while that increases to seven or more with Fiano. Indeed Fiano is a bit fatter on the palate with a more lush finish, while Greco tends to be more reserved with slightly higher acidity (in some cases) as well as having a bit more minerality. These estimates about aging are general of course and it’s always a treat to learn about a Greco or Fiano that shows well more than a decade out, such as the time earlier this year when I tasted the 1994 Greco di Tufo with owner Raffaelle Troisi at Vadiaperti at his cellars in Montefredane. Light yellow in appearance, here was a beautifully balanced wine with great freshness – I thought I was drinking a five year old wine, not one that was eighteen years old!

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As for the particular qualities of the 2011s, this is a successful vintage with expressive fruit and very good concentration. If there is a criticism one can make of this vintage, it’s that the wines as a rule don’t have the acidity of the best vintages, such as 2010, 2009 or 2008. Sabino Loffredo, proprietor/winemaker at Pietracupa in Montefredane, explained to me that there wasn’t the usual rain in September in 2011, so grapes ripened more quickly. 2011 also has the misfortune of following 2010 which in Loffredo’s words, “is one of the finest vintages for Greco and Fiano of the last twenty years.”

So while I couldn’t give 2011 a 5-star rating, it is a solid 4-star (excellent) vintage for the best producers. Here is a short list of my favorite examples of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from 2011:

Greco di Tufo

  • Benito Ferrara
  • Terrredora “Loggia della Serra”
  • Pietracupa
  • Bambinuto “Picoli”
  • Mastroberardino “Nova Serra”
  • Villa Raiano “Contrada Marotta” (5 stars – ottimo!)
  • Sella delle Spine
  • Vadiaperti
  • Feudi di San Gregorio “Cutizzi”

Fiano di Avellino

  • Pietracupa
  • Terredora “Terre di Dora”
  • Villa Raiano “Ventidue”

Generally, I was more impressed with the examples of Greco di Tufo from 2011 than the versions of Fiano di Avellino, but perhaps the Fianos will show much better with another year or two in the bottle.

A few examples of Fiano from 2010 and 2009 were also tasted out; these wines showed beautifully, especially the 2010 Urciuolo (enticing aromas of peony, chamomile and lemon rind) and the Villa Diamante “Vigna della Congregazione”, which has been among my top two or three examples of Fiano every year, as this is routinely a great wine, with a lush, oily feel and outstanding persistence.

Also from 2009, the Joaquin “Vino della Stella” displayed excellent ripeness with aromatics of apricot, papaya, golden apple and saffron, while the Mastroberardino “More Maiorum” matured in wood, is a superb wine, with intriguing beeswax, lemon oil and bosc pear aromas backed by excellent persistence and ideal structure.

Regarding the recent 2012 harvest, Sabino Loffredo told me that while the year started off on a question mark, things improved during the growing season; in his words, 2012 could be quite a pleasant surprise. If Sabino says so, you know it’s true, so I’m excited about trying this new vintage when the wines are released in 2013.

It is vitally important for an event such as Bianchirpinia to continue, as it is an excellent showcase for Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, which in my mind are most certainly among the upper ranks of Italy’s finest white wines. Given that more artisan producers have started to make these wines over the past decade, the overall quality has never been higher. Great news for lovers of Italian white wine!

Thank you to Diana Cataldo of Miriade and Partners for the invitation to this event and for organizing an excellent two days in Irpinia.

December 3, 2012 at 10:31 am 2 comments

The Best Dessert Wine You’ve Never Tasted

I love the endless challenge that the Italian wine scene presents. There are always new varieties, wine districts or producers to be discovered. How can you not love the opportunity to constantly taste new wines?

Kerner is a variety that is a specialty of one small zone, that of the Valle d’Isarco in northeastern Alto Adige, not far from the Austrian border. The best known producer is probably Abbazia di Novacella, as they craft two lovely dry versions as well as a passito bottling. I tasted these wines during a recent visit to the winery and then for my next appointment that day, I stopped at Weingut Niklas, where Dieter Sölva renders a delicious example with bright fruit and lively acidity. I’ve also tasted a very nice example from Strasserhof, also from Valle d’Isarco.

I was told by a local producer that Nössing was a producer to search for if I wanted to taste an excellent version of Kerner. On my way back to my accommodations one night in Alto Adige, I stopped at a local enoteca and found the Nössing wine, but this was the vendemmia tardiva (late harvest) offering, not the dry one (vintage 2010). That was fine as I love dessert wines and was curious to see what this producer could do with this variety.

Am I glad I purchased this wine! Displaying a light, bright yellow color, the aromas of apricot, yellow peach, papaya and honey are haunting – face it, don’t you want to try a wine that smells like that? Medium-full with excellent concentration, this is ultra clean with lively acidity, excellent persistence, impeccable balance and just a hint of sweetness. It’s only 11% alcohol, so it is delicate in the finish and not overly sweet or lush. It’s absolutely delicious and the fruit flavors stay with you long after you’ve finished the wine. I tasted this with a producer of red wines in the Veneto who was absolutely blown away with the flavors and quality of this wine.

To the best of my knowledge, this is not imported in America. Given that Manni Nössing only produces a total of about 1800 cases of wine in total – divided up among this offering as well as a traditional dry Kerner, Sylvaner, Gruner Veltliner and Gewurztraminer – there just isn’t much of this wine to go around. But the next time you’re in Alto Adige and can find this in an enoteca (17.50 Euro for a 500 ml – well worth it), do yourself a favor and purchase a bottle so you can experience one of Italy’s least known yet finest dessert wines!

Manni Nössing, Bressanone (Brixen)

http://www.manni-noessing.com

November 27, 2012 at 8:56 am 3 comments

The Glory of Grappa

In keeping with the spirit (pun intended) of this blog, today’s post will be an educational one, but this will not be my thoughts about particular Italian wines, grapes or producers, but rather a review of the wonderful book Grappa: Italy Bottled written by Ove Boudin.

Boudin, a Swedish wine writer, does a terrific job informing as well as entertaining in this book; after reading this, you’d probably like to sit down and have a glass of beer – oops, I mean grappa – with him. He admits that when he started this project, he was curious about grappa, yet not really a devotee; “there was a time when grappa was a challenge that made me hesitate. Then the challenge aroused my curiousity.”

So Boudin decided to discover first-hand the wonders of grappa; he would head to Italy and drive to a good number of distilleries in the northern regions – these areas are home to the finest examples of grappa in the country  - and learn everything he could about production methods, from the type of alambicco – the still – to the various flavors imparted by each variety, from the aromatic Moscato and Gewurztraminer to the more powerful Nebbiolo or Barbera.

Before sharing his travels however, Boudin devotes a good section of his book to an A to Z look at grappa, not only telling us how it is made in great detail – we learn the details of continuous distillation versus non-continuous (the latter method yields much more complex products) – but also giving us a brief history of grappa as well as telling us what to expect when tasting a grappa, which is generally quite different than tasting wine.

After this opening section, Boudin shares his grappa adventures with us as he drives throughout regions such as Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli, Veneto and Piemonte in search of the finest offerings available. He shares an important thought with us at the beginning of this section; “Grappa does not come to you. You must come to the grappa.”  This is such an important notion to understand, as the author reminds us how unique this product is. He will dislike one example, but believes his reaction is probably due to his lack of experience tasting these products and that the grappa will taste better upon his return to Sweden. It’s this refreshing attitude, one in which the author does not take himself too seriously that makes this book such an entertaining read.

Along the way he takes us to some of the most famous grappa producers, such as Pojer & Sandri in Trentino, Nardini in the Veneto and Marolo in Piemonte, while also profiling such lesser-known excellent distillerie  as Pilzer in Trentino, Capovilla in the Veneto, Nannoni in Toscana and Portofino in Liguria. Of course, what would any study of grappa be without mention of the amazing products of Poli and Romano Levi, who are given thoughtful profiles by the author.

I truly admire the way that Boudin takes his time telling this story as this is more than a technical diatribe about grappa and it is certainly more than a check list of the best producers. His description of his travels throughout Italy – struggling with the language, missing turnoffs on the highway, et al – are quite charming. I particularly loved his section on Conegliano – Valdobbiadene and the simple pleasures he discovered during his brief time there.

I highly recommend Grappa: Italy Bottled for anyone who wants to learn more about this iconic product as well as those who simply want to read a nicely spun yarn about life in Italy.

 

October 31, 2012 at 9:43 am 2 comments

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