Posts tagged ‘primitivo’
Learning how to pair distinctive Italian wine and food with a chef and wine director at Vivere, Chicago
I’ve moderated numerous seminars and taught many classes on Italian wines over the past decade and one question that always comes to the forefront is “what foods should I pair with this wine?.” It’s a great question, not only given the relationship of food and wine in general, but especially given the nature of Italian wine and its link to a specific sense of place and the local foods that pair effortlessly with these wines.
It’s a subject that has many right answers (and very few wrong ones) and it’s one that I never tire of studying. Given that there are hundreds of indigenous varieties used throughout Italy, which are used to produce thousands of wines, well you can just imagine the endless array of flavors – as well as textures and acidity levels – in these wines. A medium-bodied red such as Dolcetto with its fruit forward nature is going to need an entirely different food than a Barolo with its firm tannins. And these are two wines that are often produced from vineyards only a few miles apart in Piemonte! Now think about the red wines from southern Italy, such as Puglia or Campania and you have a whole new set of variables. As I said, this is an endless journey; but it’s also one that brings a great deal of pleasure into one’s life.
Ian Louisignau, Wine Director, The Italian Village, Chicago (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
So to learn more about the subject of pairing Italian wines and food, I went to see my friend Ian Louisignau, wine director at The Italian Village Restaurants in the heart of the Loop in downtown Chicago. Ian took over this job last year and has continued the stellar tradition of an exceptional wine program at this long-time family owned restaurant.
So I brought four Italian wines – two whites and two reds – that were not sold at the restaurant and asked him to pair them with something off the menu at Vivere, the upscale dining room at The Italian Village (there are also two less formal dining rooms at The Italian Village: La Cantina and The Village.) I thought that by bringing in wines Ian had not tasted, he would have to come up with an original pairing – this wouldn’t be a wine and food match that he makes all the time. I loved doing this and I believe Ian did as well, so here are his thoughts on what to match with each wine.
2011 Le Caniette Passerina “Lucrezia” (the label of this wine is pictured at the beginning of this post) – I thought this would be a great, slightly offbeat way to begin, by tasting out this relatively rare white indigenous variety from southern Marche. This is an excellent example of this wine; medium-full with aromas of dried pear, orange blossom and biscuit, this has lovely texture and a rich finish with a note of honey. Aged only in steel tanks, this has very good acidity and offers a great deal of character for its moderate pricing (about $12 retail, a steal!).
Ian (and his chef Robert Reynaud, who was with us for a few minutes), suggested the Spiedino di Capesante, rosemary skewered scallops with lime braised fennel, crisp romaine and yellow tomato purée (my mouth waters even as I write about this!). As the Passerina is not a big wine, scallops are ideal for a dry white such as this and certainly the aromatics of the wine are nicely complemented by the lime braised fennel. A nice start and an intriguing match!
2010 Villa Raiano Fiano di Avellino “Alimata” – Here is one of two cru offerings of Fiano di Avellino from this excellent Irpinian producer; this wine was awarded the coveted Tre Bicchieri ranking from Gambero Rosso in their 2012 guide. This is a very impressive Fiano with flavors of lemon and Bosc pear and a very, very long, satisfying finish with notes of honey and minerality; it is drinking beautifully now and will be enjoyable for another 3-5 years. To pair with this wine, Ian selected Granchio e Astice Freddo - jumbo lump crabmeat and Maine lobster with a tarragon emulsion, toasted brioche and micro arugula. I think this is a great pairing, as not only are the flavors of the crab and lobster ideally suited for Fiano, but you also have the slight earthiness of the wine’s finish that is picked up by the bitterness of the arugula.
2005 Falalone Primitivo Riserva – This wine from the Gioia del Colle zone, one of the great growing areas for the Primitivo grape in Puglia is a robust (15% alcohol) red with plenty of character as well as a slight rustic edge. It’s a big, gutsy wine, but it’s elegant with subtle wood and balanced tannins. For this wine, Ian suggested two different options. The first was Pappardelle with wild boar ragu; the second, Cannelloni di Vitello, crepes filled with braised veal breast, fava beans and pickled red onions. Two excellent choices here, given the power of this wine as well as its hearty character; the wild boar is a natural for the assertive flavors of Primitivo.
2006 Batasiolo Barolo “Vigneto Boscareto” – The final wine was a cru Barolo from the commune of Serralunga d’Alba from Batasiolo, a consistent producer with an impressive track record for single vineyard Barolo. This is from the classic 2006 vintage, a year that resulted in very rich Barolos that are tightly wrapped and need several years to reveal greater complexity. This Boscareto from Batasiolo is not as intense as some 2006s, but it is a big wine with plum, cherry, myrtle and tar flavors with medium-weight tannins; while it will be at its best in another 12-15 years, it is balanced enough to pair now with the proper foods.
For this wine, Ian opted for Maiale con Speck, pork tenderloin wrapped in speck, potato carrot purée, brussel spout leaves and a balsamic glaze. This is a lovely match, a dish that has the richness of the pork tenderloin to stand up to the fullness of this wine along with the earthiness of the carrots and brussel sprouts that pick up on the tannins and render them more elegant (carrots and turnips are great to serve with a young, tannic red as they make the wine seem less tannic- this, a tip I picked up from a winery chef years ago).
So there you go, class dismissed. I hope you learned a few things about pairing particular Italian wines with Italian foods. If you’re ever in Chicago, dine at The Italian Village and you’ll have a wonderful experience learning about this subject. Hopefully Ian will be there to answer your questions – you’ll learn a lot!
Given that all twenty regions in Italy are wine-producing areas, it stands to reason that some of these regions get overlooked when it comes to the quality of their products. You just don’t hear that much about the red wines from Puglia, so I thought I’d address that in this post.
Puglia is the region in the far southeastern reaches of Italy that everyone recognizes as the “heel of the boot.” The fact that more people know that piece of trivia as compared to its wines is a bit sad, but the overall quality of Apulian reds is quite good and improving all the time. Historically, this has been a region of large production, meaning much bulk wine, but thankfully that reality is changing.
The most famous red from Puglia – at least in the United States – is Salice Salentino. This is produced in the southern part of the region in a district north of the town of Lecce and southwest of the major city of Brindisi. Named for the eponymous commune, Salice Salentino is made primarily from a local variety known as Negroamaro, which literally means “black bitter.” The variety has deep color and offers aromas of black cherry and other black fruits; the acidity levels are not too high and the tannins are lightly bitter, but usually not overly aggressive. Salice Salentino must have a minimum of 80% Negroamaro, with the remaining blend often contaning another local variety, Malvasia Nera, which adds acidity and fragrance to the finished wine.
Most examples of Negroamaro are meant to be consumed within 3-7 years of the vintage. Some lighter, fresher examples are priced very reasonably ($12-$14), while the richer, more complex examples that can age for close to a decade are often priced around $25. Among the best examples of a complex, ageworthy Salice Salentino are the “Donna Lisa” bottling from Leone de Castris, the “Armecolo” from Castel di Salve and the “Selvarossa” Riserva offering from Cantine due Palme.
Here is a short list of the best producers of Salice Salentino:
- Agricole Vallone
- Cantine de Falco
- Castel di Salve
- Castello Monaci
- Conti Zecca
- Feudi di Guagnano
- Feudi di San Marzano
- Leone de Castris
- Li Veli
- Tenute al Bano Carrisi
Another well-known red variety in Puglia is Primitivo, used throughout the region, but primarily in the south (many producers that make a Salice Salentino also bottle a Primitivo). Most researchers believe that from DNA evidence, Primitivo is a genetic parent of Zinfandel, the famed red variety of California. Primitivo offers rich spice, zesty tannins, deep color and ripe black fruit flavors (black raspberry, black cherry, black plum).
Most examples of Primitivo focus on the ripeness of the variety and its fruit-forward nature. Generally, most bottlings of Primitivo do not offer the complexity or graceful qualities of a Salice Salentino, but there are examples that are excellent, especially the DOC wines of Primitivo di Manduria. Among those are the “Sessantanni” from Feudi di San Marzano (named for the average age of the vines – 60 years), the “Papale” and “Chicca” bottlings from Vigne e Vini and the “Feudo del Conte” from Antiche Terre del Salento.
CASTEL DEL MONTE
Another excellent wine district is Castel del Monte, in north-central Puglia, located a bit west of Bari, the region’s capital. The primary grape here is Nero di Troia, also known as Uva di Troia. While this has ripe black cherry flavors, there is very good acidity with medium-weight tannins, meaning a well-made wine made from this variety has a nice degree of finesse and elegance to go with its richness.
Other varieties used in a Castel del Monte DOC red (the wine is named for a famous castle in the area) include Montepulciano and Aglianico. There are monovarietal Castel del Monte reds as well; these include Pinot Nero and Bombino Rosso (there are also bottlings of Castel del Monte whites – Bombino Bianco is the principal variety here – and lovely rosés as well, often made from Nero di Troia or Aglianico).
Here is a short list of the best producers of Castel del Monte rosso:
- Tenuta Cocevola
- Torre Vento
One note on a special Castel del Monte red. The “Bocca di Lupo” from Tormaresca is a gorgeous 100% Aglianico with layers of fruit, rich tannins and beautiful complexity. This is reminiscent of some of the finest bottlings of Aglianico from the nearby Basilicata region. Given its seductive black cherry fruit and notes of chocolate, this is so tempting upon release, but this is a wine that is at is best some 7-12 years after the vintage.
As with other Italian regions, producers in Puglia are crafting some beautiful IGT reds. Among the best are the “Graticciaia” from Agricole Vallone, a wonderfully concentrated, beautifully structured 100% Negroamaro; “Duca di Aragona” from Candido, a blend of Negroamaro and Montepulciano that is a graceful blend of spice, tobacco and black cherry fruit; “Priante” from Castel di Salve, a 50/50 blend of Negroamaro and Montepulciano that is quite rich and ripe and shows a more modern approach with these varieties, yet is beautifully balanced and the “Torre Testa” from Tenute Rubino, a powerful offering made from the indigenous variety, Susumaniello.
Finally I have to mention one of the most enjoyable – and at the same time – most rarely seen DOC reds from Puglia. It’s Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera (pronounced kotch-ay meet-ay dee lew-chair-a) and it’s from a small zone near Foggia in the far northern reaches of the region. Only a handful of producers make this wine; the leading estate is Alberto Longo. This is a medium-weight red made at Longo from Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and Bombino Bianco. This is a delightful wine with moderate tannins and tasty red cherry fruit with distinct spice and earthiness – it has the fruitiness of a Dolcetto with the rustic qualities of a simple French Cotes-du-Rhone. It doesn’t cost much and it’s reminder of the simple charms of traditional Puglian red wine.
White variety from Abruzzo and Marche. Generally aged in stainless steel, though some vinters barrel age it, achieving a creaminess. Pear and apple aromas.
Lovely red variety of Campania, literally meaning “red feet,” a descriptor for the birds that sit on the vines when they eat the ripe berries. High acid, light tannins and charming fruit flavors of raspberry, cranberry and black cherry. Primarily used as a blending varietal; in small percentages (less than 15%), it cuts the aggressive tannic bite of Aglianico in the great Campanian red, Taurasi. It is also the primary variety in the medium-bodied Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso.
One of Liguria’s most important white varieties with flavors of pineapple and pear with notes of herbs (often rosemary).
Red variety of Friuli with big tannins and deep color and flavors of black fruits. Used only by a few producers and often in blends.
The most widely planted white variety in Alto Adige, this has flavors of apples with a touch of spice. Examples vary from light, crisp and refreshing to more serious bottlings with deep fruit concentration and distinct minerality (such as the top examples from producers such as Cantina Terlano, Cantina Tramin and Alois Lageder.)
Wildy popular white variety grown in several regions of Italy, with the finest bottlings coming from the cool northern regions of Alto Adige and Friuli. Flavors of apple, pear and dried flowers with most examples being quite light and simple. A few producers make single vineyard or special selection bottlings that are more complex. (Known as Pinot Gris in France and other countries.)
Known almost everwhere else in the world as Pinot Noir, this is a red variety with moderate tanins, cherry/strawberry fruit and high acidity. A few examples from Piemonte and Tuscany, but the best in Italy are from Alto Adige.
Red variety of Puglia, with deep color, black fruits and plenty of spice. Generally found in southern Pugila and often bottled on its own. DNA related to Zinfandel of California.
White variety from Veneto and Friuli used in the production of the sparkling wine of the same name. Flavors of white peach and lemon, aged in steel tanks.
The name for Sangiovese in the town of Montepulciano (used in the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.)
The complete name of this variety is Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso – or “Refosco with a red stalk.” Yields wines of big spice, red fruit and distinctive tannins.
Charming white variety of Friuli that produces light to medium-bodied wines with high acidity and flavors of pear, lemon, chamomile and dried flowers.
One of the major red varieties of the Valpolicella district with deep color and good fruit (red cherry) intensity and moderate tannins.
Rarely seen red variety grown near Asti in Piemonte that makes a lightly spicy, high acid red.
Red variety of Umbria, grown only in the Montefalco area. Known for its intense tannins, Sagrantino is even more tannic than Nebbiolo. Cherry fruit and distinct spiciness as well. Sagrantino is made in both a dry and sweet (passito) version.
One of Italy’s most famous and widely planted red varieties, this is best known for its use in three famous Tuscan reds: Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. High acid, garnet color and fresh red cherry fruit along with notes of cedar; today some modernists have tweaked Sangiovese to deepen the color and add spice and vanilla from small oak barrels. Sangiovese is also planted in Umbria, Marche and Emilia Romagna.
Known as Sauvignon Blanc throughout the rest of the world, this white variety is found most famously in Friuli and Alto Adige, where it produces assertive wines with bracing acidity and flavors of asparagus, pea and freshly mown hay. Also grown along the coasts of Tuscany.
Red variety from Friuli that produces lighter reds with cherry, currant fruit, high acidity and light tannins. Also known as Vernatsch.
Red variety of Friuli with big tannins and spice. Only a few producers work with this grape.
Red variety of Campania with lively acidity, dark berry fruit and moderate tannins. Usually a blending variety, but also used to make a lightly sparkling red wine.
Red variety of Puglia with deep purple color and big tannins. Usually part of a blend, but sometimes bottled on its own. Interestingly, the name of the grape is loosely transalted as “the back of a donkey,” perhaps because of its productivity in the vineyard.