The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-to-Wine Tuesday

Frecciarossa 2009 Riesling Gli Orti

What do you think of when you hear “Riesling”? I think of a cold winter’s day in the Alps. I think Alsace and Mosel and of a wine that is floral, with stone fruit undertones and a hint of sweetness. But Riesling comes in many forms, I’ve discovered. What a pleasant surprise it was for me when I came across the Frecciarossa 2009 Riesling Gli Orti, from the Oltrepò Pavese sub-region in the Province of Pavia, Northwestern Lombardy.  I found there was more to this grape then just its peachy floral reputation.

The Oltrepò Pavese DOC is one of the largest regions of wine production in Italy that supplies wines, in particular, for the Milanese metropolis, and at its heart sits Frecciarossa, the estate that made the Riesling that opened my eyes. Dr. Mario Odero acquired the Frecciarossa estate after World War I. Frecciaross grows the grapes for its Gli Orti Riesling at an altitude between 460 and 660 feet in lime and clay soil.  As such, the Gli Orti was definitely a change from what I am used to seeing in a Riesling.

I found this wine unique when compared to its Alsatian and German counterparts.  While definitely floral and aromatic on the nose, the palate expresses almost earthy, vegetal and herbaceous qualities that play off of the pleasant acidity while finishing with bitter almond-like sharpness. Once again, I have found an Italian wine that showcases a grape not native to Italy—and does it beautifully. At $22 per bottle, I’d say this wine makes for a fantastic mid-week selection, in celebration of winter and a hint to what awaits us in spring.

Praising the Unappreciated Wines

Choosing the delicious obscurity

The "obscure" Riesling

After reading Jane’s recent blog post about the wine bar Terroir and its new location in trendy Tribeca, I was eager to give it a try. Not only am I obsessed with Terroir in its original East Village location, but when I heard there was another, even bigger Terroir only minutes down the 4-5-6, I was ecstatic.  Terroir’s “Summer of Riesling,” wherein it’s offering only Riesling for its by-the-glass whites, exemplifies how committed the bar’s owner is to being an advocate for this misinterpreted variety. Riesling is my most favorite white wine of all, but try telling someone who drinks oaky Chardonnay from Napa that they have to order a glass of that “ultra-sweet, boring” white from Germany, and you will see a striking response.

The Rieslings my friends and I tried at Terroir were diverse, unusual and enthralling. Enjoying glasses of the oft maligned Riesling got me thinking about some of the lonely white, Italian grape varieties that get overlooked in the face of their showier cousins. Take Pigato, for example. Grown on terraced vineyards and boasting notes of flowers and a salty minerality, Pigato—one of my favorite obscure varietals—is indigenous to Liguria and is a relative of the more popular Vermentino variety.  Hardly anyone has heard of it, and it’s yummy.

Malvasia, also known as Malvoisie and Malmsey in France and Britain, originates from ancient Greece and produces wines high in alcohol with some residual sugar. Most Malvasia is meant to be drunk within one to five years, although the Prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, of Fiorano fame, managed to create some superb and shockingly well-aging Malvasia wines. There’s also the late ripening, very vigorous Garganega, which grows in the Soave Classico region and is known for its light aromatics of lemon, almond, spice and appears mostly in blends. Paolo Bea’s Santa Chiara is a great place to try a complex blend, including 20 percent of the Garganega grape.

It’s easy to step into the known. It’s easy to drink that oaky Chardonnay, and there are times that call for the known quantity. However, drinking Terroir’s Rieslings, reflecting on the unsung Italian varietals, delighting in the less appreciated, I also see the beauty in the obscure. They’re new, they’re different and they’re just, well, so cool.

Rocking it Artisanal Style

An adventure in cheese and wine

Our fondue starter.

My work friends and I decided to go to Artisanal Bistro in midtown for a wine and cheese extravaganza after work this past Wednesday night. We started out sharing the Gouda and Stout fondue served with pieces of bread, potatoes, green apples and kielbasa. The cheese was incredibly creamy and smooth, and the Stout provided the right amount of kick to enhance the flavor. It was the perfect beginning to our evening and kept us hungry enough for the main event of the night: our wine and cheese pairings. Artisanal has a separate menu for their wine and cheese pairings with twelve different choices, all with different themes. There were four of us in total, and we each ordered a different pairing. Just to give you an idea of how many wines and cheese we tried, the full list from our dinner is below (I had the Sinful Experience):

SINFUL EXPERIENCE

Cheese:

Délice de Bourgogne (Cow, France)

Robiola a Due Latti (Cow/Sheep, Italy)

Langres (Cow, France)

Wine

Bourgogne Aligoté Olivier Leflaive ‘07

Riesling ‘Vom Schloss’ Graf Hardegg Austria ‘08

Fréderic Lornet Crémant du Jura Arbois France NV

FEISTY REDHEADS

Cheese:

Taleggio (Cow, Italy*)

Prima Donna (Cow, Holland)

Bleu d’Auvergne (Cow, France*)

Wine

Pinot Noir Walnut City Willamette ‘08

Garnacha ‘Old Vines’ Atteca Catalyud ‘08

Cab Sauv./Merlot/Syrah ‘Claret’ Newton Napa ‘07

FROMAGER’S SELECTION

Cheese:

Pierre Robert (Cow, France)

Monte Enebro (Goat, Spain)

Époisses (Cow, France)

Wine

Domaine Chandon Blanc des Noirs California NV

Graves Chateau Haut Selve ‘06

Jurançon ‘Cuvée Jean’ Chateau Jolys ‘04

AROMATIC CHEESES

Cheese:

Affidélice (Cow, France)

Livarot (Cow, France)

Shropshire Blue (Cow, England)

Wine

Riesling Kabinett Markus Molitor Mosel ‘07

Jacquère St. Boniface Apremont ‘08

Malbec/ Cab./ Syrah ‘Clos de Los Siete’ Mendoza ‘07

My first pairing was a direct testament to the adage “what grows together goes together,” for both my cheese and wine were both from Burgundy and they were sublime together. The cheese was very creamy and started to ooze on the plate as it warmed up. It was a little tangy, so it went very nicely with the smooth Aligote. Next I had the Robiola (one of my favorite Italian cheeses) paired with a Riesling from Austria. The Riesling was semi-dry, yet the wine’s natural apricot and peach aromas really accentuated the Robiola. Last but not least was the Langres, the stinkiest of the cheeses, placed in a small dish to contain the ooze and to ensure that I could salvage every last yummy bit. It was served with a Rosé from France from the Jura region between Burgundy and Switzerland. They produce some very interesting varietals there, and this Rosé was made of 95 percent Poulsard and 5 percent Pinot Noir. The acidity and bubbles of the sparkling wine helped cleanse my palate and cut through the bold flavors of the cheese.

Luckily, because my friends were so generous (or maybe because Artisanal gave us so much cheese) we all got to taste each other’s cheeses. I tried twelve cheeses that night, not including the beginning fondue. If the same group of us goes back two more times, we could potentially finish the entire tasting menu. Looks like I’ll be eating a lot more cheese in the foreseeable future, something I feel pretty good about.

A Tale of Two Sisters and Several Rieslings

when drinking well is (almost) better than being right

I come from a family of opinionated control freaks, and I mean that in the nicest of ways. I’d be putting it lightly if I described every one of them as stubborn and set in their ways, which often makes for spirited debates and passionate opinions that stay with us long after the arguments end.  The seven of us couldn’t have more varied wine preferences, so dinners out always result in at least one compromise in ordering wine, and it comes with gritted teeth and crossed arms. Because of our tendency to fight over wines, we’ve become great fans of wine bars, thanks to their ability to nullify the debate by giving each of us our own way. We order wines by the glass, no compromise needed.

Thus, our family celebrates our twenty-first birthdays by going to a wine bar and each ordering what we know we like, or should I say think we like. This past week, two of my sisters and I went to Terroir Tribeca for a belated twenty-first birthday celebration for one of them. It was a fairly warm August day, and I arrived to discover them both drinking red wine.

My sisters both shot me looks of irritation and disgust. One exclaimed, “You didn’t tell us they only have Riesling right now. I HATE Riesling,” while the other groaned, “Ugh, it’s like drinking Welch’s. How could you?” Terroir, I discovered, was serving only one kind of white wine–Riesling–but they were pouring many types of it. Clearly, my sisters needed to be stopped.

I assured them that they needed to listen to me, that in my professional opinion they did not hate Riesling, and that they were merely inexperienced. With a slightly haughty air, I asked the very knowledgeable bartender for the driest Riesling on offer, one with loads of minerality and aromatics. He poured two tastes of Alsatian Rieslings, and both were exactly what I was looking for.  I savored both tastes, and in describing the wines to my sisters, I was sure to lay it on thick. The more wine I enjoyed, I noticed that the longer their glances lingered on my cool, refreshing glass of Riesling. They finally caved, just as they emptied their glasses of red.

The wine guru behind the bar suggested they go with a moderately dry Riesling and maybe try a pair, a younger one next to one with a little more age, and one from Alsace with one from Germany. Knowing from years of experience that the less I urged them to love it the more likely they would, I kept my mouth shut as they sipped. Much to their surprise, and my delight, both stubborn young women developed a taste for Riesling that night. I enjoyed my Rieslings, but I enjoyed being right more.

Meat and Potatoes, Choucroute-Style

Good choucroute, like a favorite wine, comes down to what your tastes best on your palate.

Choucroute, you say it like this: “shoo-croot.” The word, meaning “sauerkraut” in French, is a typical dish throughout Germany. Essentially, choucroute is a mélange of meats—pork, sausages and cured meats—cooked with potatoes and covering a lavish foundation of sauerkraut. Since its inception in Germany when the first barrels of cabbage made their way into Magdeburg in the eighteenth century, the dish has slowly made its way into neighboring Alsace, France, into regions of Eastern Europe, as well as into Italy. It’s hearty, flexible, delicious and fairly healthy.

Today’s Alsace chefs make their choucroute garni of sauerkraut topped with meats, potatoes, and juniper berries. The French prepare it with goose or other gamey meats, while Hungarians add stuffed cabbage leaves to the dish. Regional chefs add their own interpretations to the dish and create a variety of different choucroute. In Italy and France, scallops, mussels, salmon, shrimp and other seafood make an appearance on top of the ever-present sauerkraut.

Regardless of where the chef resides, or what spin he or she puts on the dish, no choucroute is complete without white wine, the perfect pairing to this hearty dish—and an easy-to-find element in Germany, Alsace and throughout Italy. Try a rich, spicy Gewürztraminer or a fruity, steely Riesling, both of which can match the acidity and zestiness of the sauerkraut and balance the rich meats. Grab a glass of Zind Humbrecht or Joh. Jos. Prum or any other regional white when dining on this piquant dish. And if you have one open in the fridge, you can even use a touch of Riesling or Sylvaner to cook the sauerkraut.

The beauty of choucroute is that there are no rules. Choucroute doesn’t require any age-old recipe. There are no specific measurements or ingredients—other than the sauerkraut. In the end, good choucroute, like a favorite wine, comes down to what your tastes best on your palate.

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