The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Trip Through Italy, the Food Edition

What Garrett ate in Italy

Back in May I shared my first account of my 2015 Italian adventure with my family; focusing on a visit to the legendary Poderi Aldo Conterno. A month or so ago, I followed up with a focus on the coastal region of Cinque Terre. Today I explore the regions I visited–Piemonte, Cinque Terre in Liguria, and Toscana–through the cuisine I enjoyed along the way. Italy  is a fraction of the geographic size of the United States; however, within its borders lies an infinite number of regional differences, whether culturally, linguistically or gastronomically.

I can find the romance in almost anything, and I tend to believe that I am capable of using pen and paper to convey that romance with my friends, colleagues and, of course, you. That being said, sometimes a picture is truly worth a thousand words and that saying may never be more accurate than when speaking about food. So please, grab your napkins and prepare to dab the corners of your mouth; here is a little of what I tasted.

Piemonte Onion PastaPiemonte Onion Pasta – Sometimes the simplest things in life are by far the most enjoyable. Take this pasta, for instance. Handmade, of course, but topped with onions, root vegetables and peasant bread that was allowed to soak for hours and condense flavors and texture.

Piemonte Stuffed OnionPiemonte Stuffed Onion – This dish was a part of a tasting menu at the legendary Trattoria della Posta, which sits in an old farmhouse on a windy hill overlooking the some of the vineyards of Barolo. I suppose it’s no wonder that stuffing an onion with dense cheese would provide for a decadent and delicious bite.

Cinque Terre ShrimpCinque Terre Shrimp – Featured in my last blog, this dish is indicative of the region. If you live in the country, you eat beef because it’s what you raise. When you live on the coast, you make simple dishes using the bounty of the sea.

Tuscany Wild Boar PastaTuscany Wild Boar Pasta – Known locally as Cinghiale, wild boar can be found throughout Tuscany and across Tuscan cuisine, often in some kind of Ragu and Pasta combo. It’s not “haute cuisine,” but it is welcoming and satisfies the soul in a way that’s indescribable. The 2010 Cerbaiona Brunello makes a cameo here in this pic.

Florence Steak 1Florence Steak 1 – Arguably the most famous dish in the region is Florentine T-Bone. Here we see it finished table side.

Florence Steak 2Florence Steak 2 – The steak is done to perfection (in my eyes) and is accompanied by roasted potatos and grilled vegetables. The quality of the individual ingredients truly makes the dish.

Florence Steak 3Florence Steak 3 – You can see the bare bone remains behind the two bottles chosen for dinner that evening.

Florence Panna CottaFlorence Panna Cotto – When we were in France in 2013, it became a running joke that everywhere my mother went she had crème brulee. In Italy I found myself doing the same with Panna Cotta, which offers just enough sweetness to end a meal without overdoing it. Here we see it finished with a Coulis of fresh berries.

A Trip to Cinque Terre

A pictorial trip through enchanted Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre - BeerBack in May, I shared a sliver of my family’s adventure to Italy from earlier this year. I focused on Barolo and my visit to one of the legendary estates in the region, Poderi Aldo Conterno. Today I offer you a glimpse into the more relaxing aspects of visiting Italy, its gorgeous coastline. Welcome to Cinque Terre.

Tucked away in Liguria on the Italian Riviera and just northwest of the city of La Spezia lies Cinque Terre (the Five Lands), so named because of the five villages that comprise the region, all of which is located inside a national park. This location can make Cinque Terre very difficult to access. We didn’t do our homework, so we entered the park from the north and found that the main road has been closed for four years due to landslides. While we did find an alternate road, it was essentially a goat trail that wound its way along the rugged and terraced landscape, slowly descending to the sea—there was a lot of breath holding and white knuckles for sure. The easier route is to enter via car from the south through La Spezia, but it’s even easier is to park in La Spezia and pay just a few Euro to take the subway/train, which makes stops in each of these unique villages. Once you have reached the villages, you also have the option of hiking between them or taking a boat that leaves every 30 minutes or so.

I struggle to find the words to properly describe the beauty I encountered in my two days along the Ligurian sea. I think what I found most remarkable is that the region feels trapped in time. Sure, there is a lot of tourism to the villages, but because of the limitations provided by the geography, there is little that people can do to modernize. There will never be a brand new Hyatt or a luxury residential building. The buildings of Cinque Terre will forever be made of stone and stucco. The Internet is still spotty even at the most luxurious of accommodations, and that’s almost a blessing because if only for a couple days you have to remove yourself from the “real” world and allow yourself to soak everything in. Below is a taste of what I experienced.

Cinque Terre - OverlookOverlook – Entering Cinque Terre national park we witnessed a few brave souls paragliding along to coast.

Cinque Terre - WalkingWalking – The streets all but one of these villages are steep, so be in good physical condition or bring an inhaler.

Cinque Terre - RiomaggioreRiomaggiore – One the boat that hops from village to village, a view of Riomaggiore where I stayed.

Cinque Terre - ShrimpShrimp – Of course being on the coast you have to sample the local cuisine.

Cinque Terre - Vernazza OverlookVernazza Overlook – The view is always worth the climb.

Cinque Terre - Vernazza HillsideVernazza Hillside – Here’s is a peek at those terraced hillsides where intrepid farmers grow vines, olives and other foodstuffs.

Cinque Terre - PickerPicker – Here is my brother on an olive/grape picker. This cart rides a rail up the hillside allowing the farmers to collect their bounty.

Cinque Terre - BeachBeach – Last but not least, you can never forget the beach. Here is a view of the sand in North Monterosso.

Inside IWM, December 8-11, 2014: Wines that Gleam, Shine and Sparkle

A look back at the week that was

IMG_20140926_120556The holidays fast approach, and we’re in a festive mood. On Tuesday, Crystal gave a shout out to sparkling wines in general and to Franciacorta, Italy’s answer to Champagne, in specific. She writes about a lovely artisanal bottle from Barone Pizzini. On Wednesday, Francesco gave us a crash course in Champagne, with his basic approach: Champagne 101. And on Thursday, Camacho Vidal transported us to Cinque Terre, where he wrote of wines that gleam with the full beauty of the sea.

Our Experts are feeling the glimmer of the holidays too. Will Di Nunzio picked a pair of telling Italian wines, one from Raffaele Palma on the Amalfi Coast and Aldo Conterno’s collector classic Barolo Granbussia Riserva. Francesco was motivated by his love of Italian terroir to select two value beauties, Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico and Graci Etna Rosso. David Gwo loves Valdicava with a single-minded passion, opting for a Rosso and a Brunello di Montalcino from this extraordinary producer. And Robin Kelley O’Connor couldn’t deny the shine of white Burgundy, selecting two iconic bottles.

Here’s hoping your holiday season is in full swing, with everything shiny and bright!

Exploring Cinque Terre and Drinking Its Wines!

A look at the landscape and the winescape of Liguria’s most unique region

IMG_20140926_120806This past autumn, my girlfriend and I visited Cinque Terre. I had heard so much about the five villages that make up Cinque Terre; it’s one thing to see pictures and read about it, but it’s a true sight to see with your own eyes. The villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are perched high atop the rocky Mediterranean coastline and together they abut part of the Cinque Terre National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

DSCN6396We stayed in Manarola, the smallest of the villages. Cinque Terre’s villages are connected by paths, trains and ferryboats, which are great for moving from village to village and exploring the region. We woke early and decided we would take a ferry and visit the other villages and return by train. I was amazed not only at the beauty of the Mediterranean landscape but the way the vineyards were terraced on these steep cliffs. This is what gives these wines such a distinct terroir.

IMG_20140925_212053I love seafood and was excited to taste the local wine and see how it would pair with the local dishes. Each village is known for something special—for example the anchovies of Monterosso are a local specialty designated with a Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union. The wines of Cinque Terre are mostly white wines made from Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino. Most wines are produced by the local cooperative group, Agricoltura di Cinque Terre, with vineyards located along the steep slopes. These wines have a long, illustrious history that stretches back to Roman times.

Cinque Terre’s wines tend to be dry, showing a straw yellow color, and perfumed with a delicate aroma. The wines we tasted were full of ocean notes and citrus fruit with a delicate but hardy mouth-feel. They had an intense and persistent nose of Mediterranean vegetation and subtle hints of citrus and flowers. The mouth feel was rich, soft and full-bodied—easy and delicious, these wines were a joy to drink.

IMG_20140926_120556Needless to say the food was spectacular. The freshness of the fish and the briny notes of the shellfish matched perfectly with each wine creating perfect balance and harmony. It was nice to have some refreshing coastal wines before heading off the hills of Piemonte for some Barolo, but you’ll have to wait for a report on this region!

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Bisson Bianco Marea Cinque Terre 2009

Local really is best.  My wife and I were married this past May, and in the months previous to the wedding we said no to lots of events and happenings in order to save up for the wedding.  To treat ourselves post-wedding, we decided to spend the night about 35 miles due north along the Hudson and have dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where Dan Barber and his team of chefs have the unfair advantage of having their restaurant at the center of a meticulously kept and breathtakingly beautiful working farm. The quality of the ingredients and the techniques used to showcase them yielded an incredible meal, certainly one of the best I have ever had.  From the rotating pastures technique of the livestock to the scrupulous care the workers put into the vegetables, this place not only demonstrates how food is supposed to be grown, but it exemplifies how certain foods are supposed to taste. I find it incredible that most of the ingredients used have never been transported.

This food experience led to me thinking about regional Italian cuisines and the uncanny similarities between dining in Italy and my meal at Blue Hill. When you go to a good quality restaurant in Italy, it is highly unlikely that the food has travelled more than just a few miles.  When radicchio starts showing up in the Veneto markets in Northeast Italy, salads, soups, risottos, and pizzas start taking on a purple color and an elegant, slightly bitter taste from this delicious little chicory.  This is just one example of literally thousands of items that are used at the peak season throughout Italian regional cuisine.

My wife and I constantly buy what is freshest and best at the local green markets.  Yes, it does take a little extra planning (and walking) but it is well worth the effort to know where your food comes from and who is growing it.  This past Sunday I cooked with the vegetables that we purchased at Stone Barns on Saturday and I paired the meal with Bisson Bianco Marea Cinque Terre from the 2009 vintage.  Enoteca Bisson was born in 1978 when Pierluigi Lugano fell in love with the wines of the Ligurian coastline. It really does take a heroic effort to cultivate vines on these steep slopes perched high above the Mediterranean Sea in the heart of the breathtaking Cinque Terre region.

The Marea Cinque Terre is made from a blend of several traditional local grape varieties: Bosco, Vermentino, and Albarola. The result is a full-bodied, earthy wine of immense character, with a deeper golden tint to its color than is found in his other whites. This wine was an excellent choice as its deep, almost saline quality of the wine really gave the perfect vegetables a great boost in flavor; the wine cleansed the palate beautifully to make each bite taste great.  I urge you to not only try this wine, but eat locally and to know thy farmer.

keep looking »