The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Pici Wonderland

The thicker side of pasta, and one reminiscent of place

I’ve often imagined rolling each strand of pasta by hand, one by one by one. My fingers might go numb, but I’d get to indulge in the fruits of my labor. In Italy, this artisanal endeavor is not uncommon. In fact, pasta is almost always hand-rolled all along the boot. Rare is the person who would fathom doing it any differently (though, of course, supermarket packaged pasta is always available for lazier cooks). And yet even in a land of handcrafted pasta there are some that rise above the madding handmade horde.  One such different breed is pici, the local pasta of the Montalcino and the rest of Toscana.

Pici, or pinci in Montalcino, are thicker, chewier and richer than your basic spaghetti strands—and it’s easy to make! Unlike most pasta, pici doesn’t require eggs. You just need two cups each of semolina and all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt and one cup of water. Mix everything in a large bowl, and then take tiny pieces and roll them between your hands. That’s it! If fresh, the pasta will cook in under 10 minutes and rise to the top of the pot. You can also freeze the pici for several months for later use. Once cooked, you can top pici with some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or serve it all’aglione (with garlic). A ragu of wild boar, lamb or a simpler one of basil, garlic or salami can also be added to the pasta.

The taste of fresh pasta makes it hard to go back to store-bought—just as tasting artisanal wines makes it hard to enjoy those that are mass-produced. This chunky pasta is a perfect match for the deep, structured wines of Montalcino. Any Brunello di Montalcino or Super Tuscan with a sturdy structure, full of spice and bright with tannin, complements the heartier sauces and pasta.

I haven’t cooked much lately, but I’m looking forward to spending some time around the stove soon. I see myself sipping a nice red, enjoying the moment— and rolling some pici for dinner.

Our Dinner with Marco Fantinel

A special evening with a special winemaker

This Saturday I had the pleasure of joining a winemaker dinner with Marco Fantinel hosted by IWM. It was definitely one of those nights that everyone who was there will be talking about for months to come. We had the opportunity to try wines from both the Fantinel estate as well as the boutique La Roncaia label, which were featured along with a traditional hearty Friulian five-course meal. Here is the entire menu:

Assorted Antipasti

Fantinel Prosecco Brut Extra Dry NV

Fantinel Sant’Helena Pinot Grigio 2009

La Roncaia Il Fusco 2003

Poached Egg with Polenta and Prosciutto

Fantinel Sant’Helena Sauvignon 2007

Fantinel Sant’Helena Ribolla 2009

Squash Gnocchi in Toasted Broth

La Roncaia Sauvignon Blanc Eclisse 2008

La Roncaia Friulano 2007

Braised Veal Cheek with Snails and Turnips

La Roncaia Refosco 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006

Cheese course

La Roncaia Picolit 2002

La Roncaia Ramandolo 2006

The wines progressed  beautifully, beginning with classics like Prosecco and Pinot Grigio, which are very common wines that are often just mindless quaffers, but these were excellent. Then we moved on to the indigenous whites Ribolla and Friulano, and these paired so well with the cuisine; however, so did the international grapes (though I have to admit my preference for the indigenous grapes). Some of the La Roncaia wines are made using partial appassimento, meaning that the estate dries the grapes before vinification. This reduces the amount of water in the grapes and allows for a much more concentrated flavor in the wines.

The main reds for the evening were a vintage vertical of the La Roncaia Refoscos including the ’01, ’03, ’05, and ’06 vintages; there were no ’02 and ’04, for La Roncaia only make the wine is only made in vintages they deem outstanding. Marco explained that if he isn’t satisfied with the ripening of the grapes, then that wine doesn’t get made that year. Being able to compare the back vintages with the new releases was really interesting and made for a great conversation piece with the guests. Even Marco couldn’t say what his favorite one was!

Last but not least, we had the dessert wines paired with cheese. The 2002 Picolit was the show-stopper of the night. It had turned a beautiful caramel golden brown color and smelled like honey, caramel and nuts. It paired perfectly with the gorgonzola. Marco sent over that vintage from his personal collection, so unfortunately we only have the current vintages available, but to see what happens to that wine surely makes it worth the wait.

If you’re interested in reading about what past winemaker dinners have been like, read this report on our time with Bodega Chacra’s Piero Incisa della Rocchetta. And if you’re interested in our upcoming dinner with La Musar’s Serge Hochar or other upcoming events, check here.

A Tasting with Burgundy’s Joseph Drouhin

How hard work makes for high quality

IWM sometimes offers wines from areas outside of Italy for our Cellar Selections and Investor Club clients. This post takes a look at one of the producers of a recent offering, Drouhin-Laroze from Burgundy. If you’re interested having access to these offerings, go here for more information.

Wednesday, we had the great fortune of meeting with a fantastic and historical producer from Burgundy, Domaine Joseph Drouhin. Laurent Drouhin, the founder’s great grandson, director of the US market, came to tell us a bit about their philosophy and to give us the opportunity taste some wines. I wanted to highlight a few key points that I think really differentiate this estate from others in the region. (Here’s a blog post from Francesco that looks at the region of Burgundy itself.)

Joseph Drouhin shows a commitment to showcasing the natural terroir of Burgundy and its appellations. In order to do this, they have been practicing organic viticulture and recently got certified as organic, making them the largest estate in Burgundy to be certified. They also use biodynamic growing methods in some of their vineyards. Laurent explained that by being “organic you’re feeding the soil, otherwise you’re feeding the roots.” The difference is that you want to make the soil rich so that the vines dig deep and search for the nutrients and get the essence of the land, whereas if you feed the roots directly they don’t have to try and develop less flavor.

Not only is Joseph Drouhin organic, but they are also family run. This makes a big difference, because they don’t have to make decisions based on making money for the shareholders. Laurent emphasized that the estate’s reputation was on the line in every single bottle that went out to the market because their family name is right on the label. A great example of this is how in 2004 they declassified their Clos de Mouches and mixed it with their Cote de Beaune because there was a hailstorm that rendered the grapes sub-par to the norm for Clos de Mouches. An estate with shareholders could feel pressure to make a different decision that privileges money over quality.

60% of the wines that Joseph Drouhin produces are either Premier or Grand Cru, and if you remove their Chablis wines from the total, that percentage rises to 90%. Consider those percentages with the knowledge that only 1.6% of wines produced in Burgundy are Grand Cru, and you’ll see an estate with a commitment to producing quality wines. Even further, this estate goes so far as to choose their own trees to find wood for their wine barrels and aging that wood for three years at their facility before giving it to a cooper to craft the barrels themselves.

The wines that we had speak for themselves; they were amazing. However, it’s important to remember the context of how Joseph Drouhin made them and the effort the estate put into creating them. It’s breathtaking to consider, and it’s reflected in the taste of these Burgundies. I’m happy that Joseph Drouhin do what they do, and I am excited to be able to share with you my experience and help you in finding wines I know you’ll love.

Leftover Champagne

Things to do before good bubbly goes bad

To celebrate the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I went to a BYOB sushi restaurant with some friends, and everyone was generous enough to bring several bottles of sparkling wines from different countries. It was interesting (and delicious) to compare Prosecco vs. Cava vs. Champagne, all paired with different kinds of sushi rolls.

The meal was fantastic, but I think we all over estimated the amount of food and wine that we could all consume, so we ended up bringing a lot back home. So the question becomes what to do with leftover Champagne? Champagne is such a special drink that you don’t want to waste it, but you also don’t want to turn it into something that’s any less glorious than in its pure form. So here is my idea for a glamorous after New Year’s Champagne meal.

To start, I am going to prepare a Champagne Risotto. Risotto needs a lot of liquid to soften and cook, so why not make part of that liquid Champagne? You can add some vegetables of your choice, but I think this recipe with asparagus and prosciutto from the Food Network sounds amazing. (Link embeded, but you can also click here.)

The main dish will be chicken with truffles and a Champagne sauce, which I found on Epicurious. This is definitely a way to transform what could be an average meal into something amazing. Depending on my budget after the holidays, I might have to leave out the truffles and substitue porcini, but I’m saving by re-using the Champagne! (Click here too.)

For dessert: Champagne truffles. There are several different methods and variations on how to make them, some easier than others; this one that I found on Free Recipes looks both manageable and yummy. You can make them in advance as well, and they will surely impress your dinner guests. It’s an example of an easy recipe that will be delicious no matter what. (Final spot to click.)

This meal will be a great way to start off my year, and hopefully set the precedent for how I will be dining in 2011. Do you have any culinary tricks or savory secrets in how you use your leftover bubbly?

Reflections on a Black Friday

Looking forward to Cyber Monday

This weekend I had a great time with family eating unnecessary amounts of food, making sandwiches from leftovers, and then eating them. So much time and effort was spent preparing and creating the meal, but we took only half an hour to gobble everything up. Even before Thanksgiving actually ended, everyone was thinking about the next upcoming holiday. Our desire to shop for gifts was reinforced by the crazy “Black Friday” deals being advertised on television. I saw that stores like Target and Wal-Mart were opening their doors in the wee hours of the morning to accommodate the rush. I didn’t by any means go that early, but I still wanted to make it to the mall to check it out.

It took close to an hour to even find a parking space once we got there. To say that it was crowded is an understatement. Walking up and down the aisles, we glanced into the stores to see the great deals like “40% off until 12pm,” but the lines inside were so long that by the time I’d get my chance at the register, it would’ve been teatime. It got me thinking about how I wanted to do my holiday shopping, and I made a mental note to order online. It’s so much easier for me to go shopping in the convenience of my own home and not have to carry all of my items as I go along.

To add to this ease of holiday shopping, IWM is also having a great Cyber Monday sale today on our website. It’s a great way to get holiday wine for yourself or for others as gifts. We rarely offer discounts, so this is a great opportunity to get some early shopping done! Or, you know, you can always just drive to the mall.

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