The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Taking Respite in Pescetarian Fancies and Good Wine

Pan-Seared Scallops and Carrot Risotto, a recipe

After counting bottles of wine sold, adding up numbers, and dealing with the ins-and-outs of managing financial and operational enterprises, I find solace and indulgence in the evening’s respite.  Luckily, my better half is a foodie and I get to tag along for the ride.  She loves taking the two of us on savory excursions to wind down when we’ve both had long weeks at the office.  My contribution is always the wine, and I try to find that special bottle to do her creations justice.

Last night, we had a tasty recipe that will satisfy any pescetarian’s craving, and I have the pleasure of sharing it with you.  We try to use fresh herbs from our balcony garden and veggies from our CSA when possible.


3 Tbsp olive oil

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

3 cups finely diced carrots

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

5 cups vegetable broth

1/3 cup minced onion

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine (use a good cooking wine)

1/2 cup freshly shredded pecorino Romano cheese

1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 lb dry sea scallops (if stored in liquid, rinse and pat dry)

1/2 tsp sea salt

1.Heat 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter over medium heat in a medium sized heavy-bottomed pot; add carrots and stir until the carrots are coated with the butter and oil. Add 1/2 cup water, salt, and the sugar; cover and cook 5 minutes, or until tender. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown, about five minutes. Reserve half of the carrots; in a blender, purée other half with 3/4 cup of hot water.

2. Heat remaining oil and butter over medium heat in same (unwashed) pot used for carrots. Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil. Add wine and cook, stirring, until wine evaporates. Add carrot purée and cook, stirring, until mixture absorbs most of the liquid.

3. Add about 1/2 cup of the broth, stirring often, until rice absorbs most of the liquid. Repeat process, adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time and stirring often till each addition is absorbed before adding the next, until rice is al dente (about 20 minutes; at least 1 cup broth will remain).

4. Fold in reserved carrots, Pecorino Romano cheese, parsley, and thyme. Add up to 1 cup of broth (1/4 cup at a time) to loosen the risotto. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

5. Sprinkle sea salt on the scallops. Heat 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter over medium-high heat in a pan until almost smoking. Place the scallops in the pan, and do not move them for two minutes. Turn to cook the other side for one minute. Serve 5 scallops on each serving’s bed of carrot risotto.

As I take the elevator down from our corporate headquarters, I usually stop on our new sales floor (which, by the way, you should definitely check out if you have not) and visit our sales operations. They are not only extremely hard working, but they help me make these most important everyday drinking decisions.

For this meal, they suggested the Hofstatter Bianco Barthenau Vigna S. Michele 2006.  When my wife and I sat down to dinner, the nose of the wine threw us off, as we sensed whiffs of honey and a mineral-saline quality.  I thought it would be much stronger on the palate, but it was actually quite mild in flavor with a light fruitiness that complimented the saltiness of the cheeses in the carrot risotto very well.  It’s a viscous full-bodied white, almost straw yellow, making it look like a Chardonnay to me.  The subtle lingering of the wine and ambrosial decadence of the scallops definitely put my weary mind at ease.  It’s good to be home.


Memories of Liguria

A lesson in terroir

When I hear “Liguria,” I have a few images pop to mind: Pesto Genovese, Pigato, Cinque Terre and just-off-the-boat seafood. But what really comes to mind is the inextricable nature of all these images. With its beautiful landscapes, interesting wines and super-fresh cuisine, Liguria, a crescent-shaped coastal region in the northwest of Italy, demonstrates the epitome of the word “terroir.”

During my one-year stay in Italy, I learned about the wines of Liguria.  I’d heard that Cinque Terre was a scenic place on the coast of Liguria, and I made it a point to go see the land, drink the wine, eat the food and talk with the people.  Cinque Terre means “Five Lands,” and indeed there are five villages that make up the region: Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  Cinque Terre, the epicenter of Liguria, is best known by its coastal mountainous trail that can be several hundreds of meters high, and when walking, you’ve nothing but some wires to prevent you from falling to the rocky ocean bottom. This is why you must leave the wine drinking until after the hike.

Many vineyards in Liguria are literally chiseled out of the coastal mountains and rest precariously on terraces.  Heat radiates off the rocks and adds extra ripeness to the grapes, something that would not normally be achievable in these higher climes. Not only are these vineyards on steep slopes that allow for good drainage, but they also benefit from cool sea breezes that provide air circulation, which keeps the grapes dry and prevents molds and other forms of rot from developing. The refreshing, cool nights near the coast help the grapes retain their natural acidity, and the proximity to the sea can impart a savory quality to the wines. The region’s dominant white grape varieties, Pigato and Vermentino, thrive in these conditions, and while they’re often considered the same variety, they do portray different flavor profiles.

July is a pretty hot time of year in Italy, and it was exceptionally hot when we decided to go to Liguria. The sun’s rays reflect off the rocks and radiate outward. The heat is good for the grapes, but it’s not that good for me.  All I could think about was getting to the next town to sample some of the local food and wine.  Thankfully, some clouds came rolling through and showered us with rejuvenating rain. This, however, made the rocky walking surface slippery and slightly more fun.  I made it safely from the southernmost town, Riomaggiore, past the second town of Manarola and then into Corniglia.  This is not as simple as it sounds as there were close to 400 hundred zigzagging steps needed to get into Corneglia. Still, I made it safely.

After the climb, it was definitely time for food and wine. I found a restaurant with a good view and a nice wine list.  I ordered some crudo that consisted of raw local fishes.  I don’t remember the types of fish, but they were awesome with the house white. The light, refreshing and crisp character of the wine was a perfect complement to the delicate flavors of the crudo. Next I had Pesto Genovese; Genova is the Capital of Liguria and this basil infused dish is everywhere.  I paired this dish with a Pigato from one of the local producers.  The wine’s savory, fresh character and aromatic profile played up both the freshness and the aromas of the pesto. This Pigato also paired well with the main course, an assortment of seafood that included mussels, clams, calamari and prawns lightly poached in a simple garlic and parsley broth.

After a white-wine-and-seafood fest I needed something sweet. Fortunately, Liguria makes a dessert wine that is unheard of—unless you’ve been to Liguria and have tasted it. This beloved artisanal wine is called Sciacchetrà, and it’s both rare and expensive. This sweet wine from Cinque Terre is composed of several indigenous white varieties that include Bosco, Vermentino and Albaroa. The grapes are hand-harvested and left to dry in cool ventilated area until the proper dehydration level is reached. Then, the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed. The must is fermented until the wine contains about 14 percent alcohol, leaving residual sugar and a refreshing vein of acidity. Not cloying sweet like many dessert wines, this wine retains its acidic backbone due to the region’s bracing terroir.

After walking three towns and eating a big dinner, I decided that the best route out of Cinque Terre and back to Florence was by train.  I didn’t have the energy to hike another two towns, but my mission was accomplished, and I was more than satisfied. Visiting the region, I learned that the wines, the food, and the land of Liguria are not to be missed. The heat, the light, the ocean breezes all converge to create Liguria, and my memory of the place remains tied to the region’s exceptional wines.