The grape Barbera not only makes a great value wine, and not only has this grape been growing in Italy for centuries, but also it’s a hearty grape, the sixth most planted Italian varietal, and a very adaptable vine. Considered in the past to be the wine of the bourgeois or commoner, Barbera has long been an everyday wine or Vino di Tavola, table wine.
Barbera is at the heart of Italian winemaking and it complements all types of classic Italian cuisine. Barbera is known for its strong, sprightly acidity and intense aromas that are deep and balanced, but the tannins are softer when compared to the traditional Barolos or Barbarescos that grow nearby. Known for good yields at harvest, Barbera sits at the core of the D.O.C Alba and represents the history of Piedmontese viticulture. Barbera d’Alba wines are robust and have good aging potential, and the best Barolos grow in this Piemonte region.
One of my favorite wines from Alba is San Giuliano Barbera Fiore di Marcorino 2011. San Giuliano is a family-owned vineyard known for its viticultural expertise, and this wine is delicious! Barbera has a strength that comes naturally from the Barbera grapes’ high acidity and alcohol volume. I love to grill all summer; this wines pairs perfectly with steaks, focaccia, smoked meats, and the soft cheeses I love. The nose is earthy and dense, and the wine’s flavors are expressive, fruity, and elegant with warm plump cherry and spice tones that the estate elicits with its use of stainless steel for fermentation and oak barrels for aging. The earthy notes and sharpness come from the terrior of Alba, offering a great taste of wines from this region.
Once called the “People’s Wine,” Barbera is now considered a noble vine that has a presence and structure to compete with Piemontese cult wines. Whatever you call it, I call it my queen; this wine has style and grace and it drinks in a class of its own. Pick up a bottle of the San Giuliano Barbera Fiore di Marcorino 2011, under $21 and absolutely delicious. I know that you’ll fall in love with this wine too.
We are reaching the halfway point of the summer, and with the heat high and the sun strong, I have two fabulous picks to cool you off and keep you refreshed: Gilbert Picq Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2011 and Billecart-Salmon Brut Resérve NV.
The domaine of Gilbert Picq et Ses Fils is located in the southeast portion of Chablis in the village of Chichée. For his family-run operation, Gilbert Picq has handed the winemaking, farming, and business details to his two sons, Didier and Pascal, and his daughter, Marilyn. The Picqs are known for their classic style, drawing their Chardonnay grapes from low yield parcels of vines to make wines typified by a strong demonstration of minerality, lively acidity, and robust expressions of terroir. Picq ferments and ages its Chablis in stainless steel vats to maintain its terrior and purity of fruit.
Truly one of the great Champagne houses, Billecart-Salmon is a medium-sized family-owned property, founded in 1818 by Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon, in the village of Mareuil-sur-Ay. The Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve famously stands tall among all the non-vintage cuvées of the most famous Champagne houses. Billecart-Salmon has earned its reputation as perfectionist, demanding nothing short of excellence, shrouded with a bit of mystery as it approaches the firm’s 200th celebration. The house style, whether non-vintage, vintage, rosé or deluxe cuvee, has been a perennial favorite among sommeliers and those in the wine trade.
The Picqs with their philosophy of making wines from low yield vineyards make a Vieilles Vignes, or old vine, bottling coming from vines aged fifty-plus-years in their village Chablis AOC property, which sits on a high plateau. Under one acre, this parcel’s clay and limestone (Kimmeridgian) soils forces the roots of its vines to goes deep into the ancient soils. The wine has a straw yellow color with aromas of citrus, ripe green apples and a waft of flowers. Its palate shows a delicious broad fruit flavor, with invigorating acidity, and concentrated intensity. This wine is nothing short of top premier cru quality with the ability to age for fifteen to twenty-five years. Under $30, this Chablis has a remarkable price for a wine that has so much staying power.
The harmonious and super well-balanced Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve is a blend of 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir, and 30% Chardonnay sourced from the Champagne region’s finest vineyards. It has a straw yellow color, tiny bubbles, and beautiful mousse with continual effervescence. The bouquet is floral and fresh, offering ripe fruitiness with notes of pear, apple, white peach, citrus, and hints of ginger and biscuit. Its refreshingly clean palate offers a profusion of ripe fruit flavors with apricot, pineapple, ripe pear, and Meyer lemon. This tangy, nicely acidic Champagne has excellent precision, depth and energy. This is a great Champagne for all occasions, and it will pair perfectly with a multitude of food dishes.
You rate olive oil according to coughs. At least, that’s how you rate olive oil if it’s really excellent olive oil and if you’re an olive oil aficionado. I learned this fact from Silvano, who served as my guide when I visited Fontodi, the venerable Chianti estate. If there’s a man who should know olive oil, it’s Silvano.
Olive oil is as ubiquitous, essential and telling as wine or bread in Italy. I imagine that the same holds true in other prized olive oil capitals of the world—Spain, for instance—but I speak from experience in Italy. Just about every winemaker also makes olive oil. It’s a painstaking process that requires a lot of manual labor and no small amount of finesse. Makers of olive oil take great pride in how long it takes for the olive to go from tree to press; the longer the time, the more bitter the oil. Il Palazzone prides itself on getting the olives from tree to pressed oil in a matter of hours. A look at the estate’s webpage on its olive oil gives you a fairly comprehensive idea of precisely how exacting the creation of olive oil is.
The best thing about olive oil is that it, like pickling, makes olives palatable. I once picked and ate an olive off a tree. Later, I told Laura Gray, the Estate Manager at Il Palazzone, that I had.
“Did you regret it?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Immediately and for about a half hour thereafter.”
In their raw, unpressed, unfermented state, olives are rich in oleuropein, a phenolic compound that makes eating a raw olive not unlike stuffing your mouth with antiperspirant. It is disgusting. So disgusting, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine that something as delicious as olive oil could come from something that inherently repellent. Jonathan Swift famously said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” One could easily say the same about the first man who squished a bunch of olives in the hopes of making something palatable.
But what a luscious, pellucid, peppery, gorgeous thing a squished olive (or several thousand squished olives) can make. Like wine, olive oil is the product of both where its raw materials grow, and how its maker treats those raw materials. Unlike wine, olive oil is best very fresh. The fresher it is, the more aromatic. A fine olive oil glows an incandescent green. It seems like something that belongs at the bottom of the sea. It’s otherworldly and ethereal, as much as it’s earthy and visceral.
The visceral kick, or the cough, that accompanies olive oil comes from the TRPA1, a cluster of proteins at the back of your throat. NPR has an interesting piece on TRPA1, extra virgin olive oil (known, apparently, as EVOO, which looks to me like the name of a villainous organization from Get Smart or Austin Powers); scientists hypothesize that sitting at the back of your throat, TRPA1 is the last best place to alert you to breathing in noxious fumes. If you cough a lot, you’re going to get out of there. Last January, the New York Times ran a dubious piece on the spurious nature of Italian olive oil; they had to retract much of it. My rule is to buy Italian olive oil labeled “organic” or “bio”; this oil has undergone such stringent testing that it has to be what it says it is. Plus, you can’t argue with pesticide-free oil.
Interestingly, this irritation might also be the source of EVOO’s salubrious anti-inflammatory effects. In any case, it’s absolutely why Fontodi’s olive oil firmly sits in the three-cough camp. It’s a deeply peppery, profoundly bold, entirely full-throttle olive oil. It is not shy. It is not demure. It takes no prisoners. And you will love it.
Anytime I am with Sergio and we entertain IWM friends or clients, the first wine we open is always something that bubbles. Whether it’s Champagne, Prosecco or Spumante, nothing gets the party started like glorious sparkling wine. One of my favorites in IWM’s portfolio is the affordable and extremely versatile Brut Rosé of Fantinel, a wine that pairs with literally everything and absolutely does not break the bank. After the sparkling wine, Sergio and I inevitably move towards a red, and as a second favorite for today’s picks, I chose Montevertine’s Rosso. This lean and structured entry-level wine of is a powerhouse of fruit; this bottling is also sublime drinkable due to the warmth of 2011. Enjoy!
Fantinel Brut Rosé NV $19.80
Friuli – Pinot Nero, Chardonnay
A beautiful nose or dark berries is what will get you first; then comes the tickle of the bubbles on your nose as you bring the glass to your mouth. Minerality follows, and with it, great acidity and elegant structure. The restaurateur turned winemaking estate, Fantinel, hits the sparkling wine nail on the head with this Rosé. I would drink it at breakfast, lunch and dinner—it’s the perfect wine.
Montevertine Rosso 2011 $54.99
Toscana – Sangiovese, Colorino, Canaiolo
Montevertine’s dedication to traditional winemaking methods and unwavering loyalty to the Sangiovese grape has placed it in a high position in the Italian wine world—when we drink Montevertine, it’s that dedication that we seek and that quality of wine we are willing to pay for. If you’re a fan of Sangiovese and prefer the traditional method, this is the wine for you. Open this 2011, let it breathe for an hour, and enjoy it with Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico or a Straccetti con Rucola e Parmiggiano this summer, fall or winter.
This week was all about the people who grow the fruits and vegetables we put on our tables and in our glasses. We began with an exploration of Montepuliciano, the winemaking region in Toscana (not the grape), with a focus on the unsung Vino di Nobile Montepulciano. This week ended with a lovely, easy recipe for Fava Bean and Prosciutto Salad, a dish brought to David Bertot’s courtesy of the produce at the Union Square Green Market. In between, we read about Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium 2012, a thrilling skin-contact white that’s made by nuns and guided by Giampiero Bea, one of the leaders of the Italian natural wine movement. And perhaps most important, Jessica Catelli wrote about a Kickstarter project for affordable agricultural drone technology to help farmers farm more efficiently (thirteen days to go but only $8,165 raised, fingers remain crossed).
Will set the tone with his Monday’s Expert selection of a pair of Barone Pizzini Franciacorta wines–this producer was first in this Italian sparkling wine designation to go organic. Garrett Kowalsky explored the wonders of Piemontese wines with a delightful pair–a prime Dolcetto and a serious Barolo. David Gwo hunted for wine-buying deals in Rioja, and found two beautiful wines from La Rioja Alta that any enthusiast would enjoy. And Robin Kelley O’Connor selected a Prosecco and a Brunello from one of our favorite organic producers, Cupano.
Give a toast to those who tend the fields; their work keeps us happy, healthy and whole.
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