The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

It’s National Artichoke Heart Day!

What should you use to toast your artichoke?











artichokes_bkgrdIt’s National Artichoke Heart Day. A member of the thistle family, artichokes are delicious, if sometimes prickly. I’m a big fan of their mealy, rubbery, fibrous texture, and their slightly sweet, herbaceous flesh that’s reminiscent of fennel. Rarely have I encountered an artichoke I haven’t enjoyed eating. I like them small and fried, big and steamed, chilled with hollandaise, hearted and pickled. I like them mashed into tapenade, stuffed with breadcrumbs, barbecued in the Spanish style, even turned into liqueur, as they are in Cynar, an aperitif made by Campari.

I love artichokes, but they are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. For one thing, artichokes contain cynarin, a compound that makes food taste sweet, and putting them with red wine makes the wine taste weirdly metallic. Like green beans and asparagus, artichokes can be the death of wines. But, as the adage goes, what grows together goes together, and from Rome to Sicilia, artichokes are a mainstay of Italian cooking.

I turned the question over to IWM’s authorities to see how they handle the thorny issue of pairing artichokes and wines.

Francesco Vigorito:

Sardinia is big into artichokes, so maybe a Vermentio di Galura for white, or you could also go for a Punica if you’re looking for a red. If you do floured fried baby artichokes with a squeeze of lemon, then a sparkler to cut through the fry would be nice. Maybe something with a good fruitiness to it like the Barone Pizzini’s Rose Franciacorta, the slight sweetness in the wine should cut the artichoke quite nicely.

 

Crystal Edgar:

As a rule of thumb with wine and food pairings, the stronger the acid in the food, the more challenging the pairing. Vegetables like artichokes, asparagus spinach and other bitter greens are rather acidic but can be tamed by adding sweetness and/or richness, which helps to mute the acidity. Without going to sweet on the spectrum, I would recommend Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon, Friulano from Italy, Grüner Veltliner from Austria or another weighty white with some residual sweetness.

Garrett Kowalsky:

Pairing artichokes with wine is always a difficult task. Many times I opt for other beverages, but that is not always an option for my clients. My suggestion is to pick a high acid white with little to no oak. A bottle like that will be less likely to be thrown off by the strong flavors in the food. Think Sauvignon Blanc, or if you really prefer Chardonnay, then lean towards the wines from Chablis. Finally, don’t forget some of the delightful bottlings from Italy like Verdicchio and Vermentino.

John Camacho Vidal:

I have played around with different wines to pair with artichokes and have found that a very dry, high acid wine or a Fino Sherry with floral notes always does well. I’m also a big fan of orange wines, and I think they pair great with artichokes. I suggest clients they try their favorite artichoke dish with Gravner anfora white. Gravner’s oxidative quality mixed with the wine’s fruit will really bring the flavors together.

 

Italian White Wine Grapes A-Z: Sauvignon Blanc to Trebbiano Toscana

The fifth in our multi-part series on Italian white wine grapes











Each Monday for the next few weeks, we’ll be detailing the white wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian white wines. First, we looked at grapes beginning with A, B and C, or Albana to Cortese, and then we continued with Drupeggio to GrilloInzolia to Nuragus, and Pagadebit to Riesling Romano. Today, is the fourth installment, Pagadebit to Riesling Renano!

Ripening Sauvignon Blanc grapes

Ripening Sauvignon Blanc grapes

Sauvignon Blanc (soh-vee-N’YAHN blahnk)

Sauvignon Blanc may be indigenous to France, and it may be central to many of this country’s finest appellations, but Sauvignon Blanc is also cultivated across the northeast of Italy, especially in Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige. Winemakers around the globe choose Sauvignon Blanc for its ability to produce fresh, crisp, light, herbaceous wines laced with a pleasant citrus quality. Italian winemakers are no different, and the Italian versions of Sauvignon Blanc tend to enhance the grape’s naturally acidic and grassy bents to make wines that are even cleaner, purer and more aromatic than their French counterparts.

Tocai Friulano (toh-KAH-ee free-oo-LAH-noh)

Tocai Friulano is another example of how complicated the names of wine varietals can be. As its name suggests, Tocai Friulano is cultivated primarily in the Friuli region of Italy, but it also grows in the Veneto and, to a lesser extant, Lombardia. However, Tocai Friulano isn’t at all related to the famous wines of Hungary, the Tocaji, nor is it related to Tokay d’Alsace, which is actually Pinot Grigio and which often is cultivated in the same vineyards as Tocai Friulano. In actuality, Tocai Friulano is Sauvignon Vert, a clone of Sauvignon Blanc. To make matters yet more confusing, in 1995 Hungary launched a formal complaint at the European Union claiming that Tocai Friulano impinged on the status of their Tocaji wines, which the EU settled in favor of Hungary. As of April 2007, Tocai Friulano can no longer be called Tocai Friulano on any labels of bottles to be sold outside of Italy (those bottled before the ruling may still be labeled Tocai Friulano). Although Italian winemakers aren’t happy about it, they will now be labeling their bottles simply “Friulano.”

That said, Friulano, while similar to genetic relative Sauvignon Blanc, has more subtle notes of wildflower, a saline nose and finish and an often creamy texture and flavor. Depending on producer and terroir, Tai’s wines can range from crisp to creamy and from smoky to peppery. Friulano’s pale gold wine is intended to be drunk young.

Torbato (tor-BAH-toh)

Although this grape varietal most likely originated in Spain, in Italy Torbato is grown exclusively in Sardegna, especially around Alghero. Its small, white berries make a dry white wine that can be either still or Spumante. In recent years due to high-quality winemaking, Torbato has been gaining a stellar reputation.

Traminer in a canopy of leaves

Traminer in a canopy of leaves

Traminer (trah-MEEN-nehr)

This varietal, which is parent to the clone Gewurztraminer, Gewürztraminer, originates in Tramin, or Termeno, a town in Trentino-Alto Adige (in this bilingual region, everything is named in both Italian and German; however, Traminer is not genetically identical to the Gewurztraminer grown in Austria and Germany. Italy’s Traminer tends to be more subdued than its northern relative, whispering rather than screaming the grape’s trademark lichee bouquet, offering more subdued spice undertones, and tending toward the golden hued rather than toward the copper.

Trebbiano (trehb-bee-AH-noh, treb-BYAH-noh)

One thing you can say about Trebbiano is that there is a lot of it. Whether that volume is a good thing, however, depends a lot on your point of view. Trebbiano, an Italian indigenous grape, is known as Ugni Blanc in France, and between the two countries’ cultivation, Trebbiano is the world’s most grown grape (in weight–other grapes exceed it in acreage). Trebbiano is a lot like tribbles; it has ridiculously high production. It also has an advantageously high acidity and, when cultivated for quantity, negligible aroma and flavor, and medium alcohol.

All of these qualities make the grape a perfect candidate as a component in a blended wine. Trebbiano is part of about 80 DOC appellations, more than any other grape. Indeed, until recently, Trebbiano was a required component in DOC Chianti, whereby it much lowered the quality of the wine; now it is an optional ingredient. Trebbiano also appears in Orvieto, Frascati, Soave and Verdicchio, as well as Vin Santo, just to give an idea of its omnipresence. Trebbiano grows in just about every wine district but the far north, and because of this ubiquity as well as its indigenousness, there are multiple clones. Two of the more important ones are Trebbiano Toscana and Trebbiano Romano, though other so-called Trebbianos like Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano di Lugana and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo aren’t really Trebbianos at all (the two former are Verdicchio and the latter is Bombino Bianca). Like most high-yield grapes, when it’s cultivated by a diligent winemaker who limits production, Trebbiano can make a very nice wine. In general, wines made from Trebbiano are characterized by having a straw color, a scent of wildflowers, and a flavor of peaches and almonds.

Bombino bianco bunch

Bombino bianco bunch

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (trehb-bee-AH-noh dah-BROOTS-soh)

Despite its name, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo probably isn’t a Trebbiano clone at all; it’s likely what Bombino Bianco is called in Abruzzo, but enologists are still nailing the genetic history of the grape.

Trebbiano di Lugana (trehb-bee-AH-noh dee loo-GAH-nah)

This name is a misnomer. Trebbiano di Lugana isn’t a Trebbiano clone; rather, it’s what chio is called in Lombardia.

Trebbiano di Soave (trehb-bee-AH-noh dee soh-AH-veh)

This varietal is not really a Trebbiano. Instead, Trebbiano di Soave is what Verdicchio is called in the Veneto.

Trebbiano growing in Le Marche

Trebbiano (or possibly something called “Trebbiano”) growing in Le Marche

Trebbiano Toscana (trehb-bee-AH-noh tos-KAH-nah)

This grape is one of the many Trebbiano clones. A toponym, this Trebbiano is cultivated in Toscana, where it is often blended with Malvasia to produce Vin Santo. Outside of Toscana, Trebbiano Toscana grows in Umbria to form the basis of many of the region’s white wines, and it also joins with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (which is not a Trebbiano at all, but really Bombino Bianco) to make the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC. This final appellation might be the best expression of Trebbiano. Vinified with ageability and heft in mind, this wine is often aged in wood to provide an oaky balance.

How Should You Toast Your Artichoke?

Tackling the thorny issue of drinking wine with artichokes











artichokes_bkgrdIt’s National Artichoke Heart Day. A member of the thistle family, artichokes are delicious, if sometimes prickly. I’m a big fan of their mealy, rubbery, fibrous texture, and their slightly sweet, herbaceous flesh that’s reminiscent of fennel. Rarely have I encountered an artichoke I haven’t enjoyed eating. I like them small and fried, big and steamed, chilled with hollandaise, hearted and pickled. I like them mashed into tapenade, stuffed with breadcrumbs, barbecued in the Spanish style, even turned into liqueur, as they are in Cynar, an aperitif made by Campari.

I love artichokes, but they are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. For one thing, artichokes contain cynarin, a compound that makes food taste sweet, and putting them with red wine makes the wine taste weirdly metallic. Like green beans and asparagus, artichokes can be the death of wines. But, as the adage goes, what grows together goes together, and, from Rome to Sicilia, artichokes are a mainstay of Italian cooking.

I turned the question over to IWM’s authorities to see how they handle the thorny issue of pairing artichokes and wines.

Francesco Vigorito:

Sardinia is big into artichokes, so maybe a Vermentio di Galura for white, or you could also go for a Punica if you’re looking for a red. If you do floured fried baby artichokes with a squeeze of lemon, then a sparkler to cut through the fry would be nice. Maybe something with a good fruitiness to it like the De Conciliis Selim—the slight sweetness in the wine should cut the artichoke quite nicely.

David Gwo:

​Veggies are tough to pair because bitter notes can be present and fruit-driven wines can accentuate that bitterness. Grüner Veltliner works well with vegetables and vegetarian dishes because the wines inherently possess “grassy” notes that blend with green veggies like artichokes. In addition, the wine’s minerality and cracked white pepper notes add an extra dimension of complexity to the pairing. Other options could include less fruit-driven rosés, but, typically, reds aren’t going to work and neither are very fruit-driven whites.

Crystal Edgar:

As a rule of thumb with wine and food pairings, the stronger the acid in the food, the more challenging the pairing. Vegetables like artichokes, asparagus spinach and other bitter greens are rather acidic but can be tamed by adding sweetness and/or richness, which helps to mute the acidity. Without going to sweet on the spectrum, I would recommend Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon, Friulano from Italy, Grüner Veltliner from Austria or another weighty white with some residual sweetness.

Garrett Kowalsky:

Pairing artichokes with wine is always a difficult task. Many times I opt for other beverages, but that is not always an option for my clients. My suggestion is to pick a high acid white with little to no oak. A bottle like that will be less likely to be thrown off by the strong flavors in the food. Think Sauvignon Blanc, or if you really prefer Chardonnay, then lean towards the wines from Chablis. Finally, don’t forget some of the delightful bottlings from Italy like Verdicchio and Vermentino.

John Camacho Vidal:

I have played around with different wines to pair with artichokes and have found that a very dry, high acid wine or a Fino Sherry with floral notes always does well. I’m also a big fan of orange wines, and I think they pair great with artichokes. I suggest clients they try their favorite artichoke dish with Gravner anfora white. Gravner’s oxidative quality mixed with the wine’s fruit will really bring the flavors together.

Emery Long:

Emery Long offers a recipe along with his wine pairing.

Artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables to prepare and serve. They provide a wonderful combination of savory, bitter, and earthy flavors. The tender artichoke heart is a delicacy as each plant only produces a few buds per plant and takes a full season to bring to fruition. One of the tragedies in cooking them are that most cooks discard most of the plant and keep only the tender heart, yielding only half of a serving—and the prickly spines hurt for days after piercing hands and fingers.

In an effort to utilize the entire vegetable and make the pain worth it, I find it very rewarding to save the trimmings and soak them in acidulated water, then put the trim through a food processor. Take the pulped artichokes and place them in a pressure cooker and submerge them in cool water, then cook for about 35-40 minutes to produce a delicate artichoke broth. Strain this broth, and poach the artichoke hearts delicately in this broth both to impart more flavor to the artichoke heart and re-enforce the broth.

Now to put the vegetable to use. I would begin by gently sweating a handful of sliced onions in a pan on low heat. Once the onions are translucent, add the poached reserved artichoke hearts to give them a bit of color. Then add the broth to the pan and gently bring down to a low heat being careful to not overcook the artichoke. In a separate pan sear a trout filet skin side up, add a whole clove of garlic and a hearty sprig of thyme to the pan. When the skin begins to crisp, minding the garlic not burning, add a small amount of butter to the pan to release the skin of the fish. Take the seared fish and put the crispy skin facing up and the flesh down in the pan with onions, artichoke hearts, and artichoke broth. Gently simmer the fish in the broth until fully cooked through.

Gently place the cooked artichoke hearts and onions in the bottom of a shallow bowl, rest the trout on top of the artichokes and gently spoon the delicious artichoke broth over the fish and garnish with a piece of crispy prosciutto and finely minced parsley.

I would pair this spring dish with the unique Villa Sparina 2013 Gavi di Gavi. This delicious Piemontese wine has a beautiful balance of bright acidity and floral aromatics. The minerality in the wine will complement the savory artichoke hearts; the acidity will meld with the flavor and aroma of the broth; and the accent of the crispy prosciutto will enhance the texture of the crispy trout skin and contrast the fresh and dry finish of the wine. Villa Sparina has been producing the Cortese grape for centuries and I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t frequently enjoyed with the regal artichoke.

Expert Picks: La Roncaia and…La Roncaia!

Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar











Crystal 2014Italy boasts such a wide and diverse selection of wine that you can never really get bored tasting through the country’s exciting regions. I love the classic wines of Piedmont and Tuscany, of course, but I also have a special soft spot for wines off the beaten path, regions slightly off the radar and grape varieties that are considered anything but normal. Today, I choose to highlight wines from Friuli’s vastly underrated zone, Collio Orientali del Friuli.

La Roncaia, a boutique estate located on the rugged foothills of Friuli, is the result of the vision of the Fantinel family, and it produces some of the most interesting wine in the appellation, with only a tiny amount each year. Although the Fantinel family also owns a chain of prosciutto bars as well as a soccer team, wine is their first love. La Roncaia was created in partnership with Tibor Gal, who was instrumental in the creation of Ornellaia and Masseto before heading to Friuli for this venture. Working side by side with Marco Fantinel, these men aimed to elevate local grapes wines into the upper echelon of better-known Italian greats.

I enjoy opening these wines with clients because they always impress and bring to life a region of Italy that is often overlooked. Aside from offering great value, these wines offer incredible drinking pleasure with an element of surprise!

La Roncaia Sauvignon Blanc Eclisse 2013 $37.99

A blend of primarily Sauvignon Blanc touched with a soupcon of barrique-aged Picolit, La Roncaia’s Eclisse throws enchanting aromas of Meyer lemon, zesty lime, peach and white floral notes. Exuberant, unusual and drinking superbly today.

La Roncaia Refosco 2011 $47.99

Refosco is the most celebrated red grape varietal in Friuli, and La Roncaia truly has taken Refosco to new levels, using an appassimento approach to this local grape. This ’11 Refosco is age-worthy, though it’s already drinking beautifully and perfectly paired with roasted and braised meat, cheese and other rich and satiating savory favorites. Deep purple in color with a vibrant nose of wild berries and a rich, smooth palate to match, the wine almost reminds me of Quintarelli’s Valpolicella in the aromas, texture and overall style.

Discovering Diverse, Delicious Friuli-Venezia Giulia

A look at Italy’s North–and it’s not just great whites!











Taken from Wikipedia

Taken from Wikipedia

Bordering Austria and Slovenia in the northeastern region of Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s culture offers an intriguing amalgam of cultural influences. Even the region’s name shows that cultural melange. “Friuli” recognizes the ancient Friulani who first settled the area, while “Venezia” refers to the people of the Venetian Republic. Like its name, Friuli-Venezia’s wine culture reflects its heritage, blending indigenous and international grapes, modern and ancient methods, and producing a dizzying array wines ranged along a wide stylistic spectrum.

Friuli is disposed to be a white varietal specialist: Many of its wine zones receive the benefit of a propitious interaction between mountain air and warm sea currents, and this moderate environment lets grapes realize rich fruit flavors while retaining their incisive acidity. The ideal terroir is considered to be the provenance of the zone’s premier regions, Collio and Colli Orientali, which feature soils comprised of limestone, marl, and sandstone, and vineyards situated at a high elevation.

The Friulian standard-bearer wine is a crisp, clean white, and while imitated throughout Italy, no other region possesses the breadth of Friuli’s white varietal canon, composed of both indigenous and international varietals. The principal members of the former category include Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla, and Picolit, while the latter is headlined by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Grigio.

Also from Wikipedia

Also from Wikipedia

While Friuli-Venezia Giulia is understandably known best for its white grapes, the region also possesses a healthy relationship with red varietals. Friulia has enjoyed particular success with the Bordeaux varietals, but its indigenous varietals—Refosco, Pignolo, and Schioppettino—are on the rise in the wine world’s radar. While many regard Refosco as the leader of the trio, all three have been making their way back into the Friulian landscape. Schioppettino, Ribolla Gialla’s black counterpart, may be translated into a powerful wine of black fruit and spice that reflects kinship with a Syrah from the Rhône.

Josko Gravner with his anfora

Josko Gravner with his anfora

Friuli-Venezia Giulia has a long, storied history of winemaking, one that encompasses modern wine protocol, but also one that has increasingly been hearkening back to winemaking’s roots. None lead the oxymoronic charge of “new” old winemaking more successfully than Josko Gravner, whose work with anfora has for all intents and purposes ignited a wine movement. Starting about fifteen years ago, Gravner began fermenting his wine in anfora, large clay pots buried in the ground, leaving his white grapes in extended contact with their skins. His method has caught on, and in part because of Gravner, Friuli is one of the pivotal centers of natural winemaking in Italy. Like Gravner, producers such as Marjan Simcic, Stanko Radikon, Miani’s Enzo Pontoni, Movia’s Ales Kristancic and others work to create unique interpretations of the region’s grapes using natural, often biodynamic methods.

While Friuli-Venezia Giulia might not have the name power of Toscana or Piemonte, there’s no doubt that this is a powerhouse of a winemaking region—especially when you’re talking about Italian whites. Of course, that’s no reason to sleep on the reds! Friuli is all about diversity, much of it undiscovered and most of it delicious.

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