Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vin santo

I have been working on a vin santo (ish) trial project for a while now. In 2010, savagnin fruit from our 2006 plantings at Quarry Hill were allowed to ripen a little further than for a crisp, dry table wine. The grapes, still with sound skins and good acid, were transferred to wooden drying racks, which were then stacked into wheeled towers. Half a ton of fruit made two drying stacks.

The fruit took a couple of months to dry, with regular checks, rack by rack, to remove any grapes that looked dodgy (an especial eye for sour rots). Drying rates were checked against a series of tagged sample bunches, weighed periodically through the drying.

The final dried weight of the fruit had dropped by around 45%, which is probably a bit too far. I would try 30%-35% next time (as I did in my 2007 trial of drying sagrantino). The dried fruit was then crushed by feet before being bucketed into the tiny manual basket press above. The acid, honey and raisined juice was given some time to settle before being racked to ferment.

So far, much of the techniques used were as common to French vin de paille wines as they are to Italian vin santo. The next step was to both ferment and age the thick juice (27 baume) in an oxidative environment. Lacking the small, cigar-shaped caratelli barrels used for much vin santo, I used two small plastic fermenters and then into glass demi-john for conditioning - both vessels with significant headspace, as with vin santo.

The wine took about 10 months to slowly tick through a ferment in ambient conditions, no heating or cooling. It has been racked twice, some off-spec juice discarded, and all remaining 44 litres of it now need a final tidying up before bottle.

So does it taste like vin santo, or a French vin de paille, or something else entirely? Tasting it earlier this month, I'd have to say bits of all three. Depending on how it negotiates the last steps to bottle, there could be half bottles of something distinctive to sell, or even give away. This has certainly whetted my appetite for looking deeper into Italian vin santo, as well as helping appreciate the work involved in taking half a ton of fresh grapes into 40-odd litres of finished wine.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Clafoutis, slow-cooked quince, scorched hazelnuts

Adapting a David Herbert recipe, via a tip from Bryan Martin, plus a bit more.

Take a couple of quinces, peel, core and quarter. Make a light sugar syrup, add a splash of vanilla, white wine vinegar and then the quinces (include the peels & cores). Put a round of baking paper over, then a lid, and bake at 120 degrees C for at least three hours until the quinces have developed full colour. Overnight at a lower temperature is also fine.

Cut the purple/red, cooled quince into pieces of about 3cm. Scatter in the base of a buttered pie dish, dot with a little butter and sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of brandy or liqueur. I used some cumquat brandy I've had on the go for a couple of years.

Now the batter. Take 250ml of milk, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of self-raising flour, a teaspoon of vanilla, two eggs and another tablespoon of brandy and add to a food processor. Process to a smooth batter then pour over the fruit and bake at 180c for 30 minutes or so until set and showing a little colour on top.

While the clafoutis is cooking, shell a couple of handfuls of fresh hazelnuts, scatter on a baking tray and the roast off briefly in the oven when the clafoutis has come out. Let them scorch just a little, then rub some of those scorched skins off in a towel. Serve wedges of the clafoutis warm or hot, with cream and the scorched hazels. A dessert wine with some age and cumquat marmalade characters goes well, such as a botrytised semillon sauvignon blanc, or try a Moscato d'Asti.

Cherry and prunes are two traditional clafoutis fruits. If using fresh cherries, roast them off in the buttered pie plate with a little butter, sugar and brandy (or kirsch) at 200 C for 5-8 minutes before turning the oven down, adding the batter and finishing the cooking as above. With prunes, try reconstituting them in some dry marsala before adding the batter.

To make cumquat brandy, take a good, solid and clean glass jar. Pick or buy enough good quality cumquats (not calamondins), give them a wash, flick off any stems, pack into the jar and add a decent amount of sugar. Fill the jar with brandy and seal. Keep in a cool, dark place, giving it a turn or two every couple of days over the first few weeks until the sugar has dissolved. Leave for a further three months then start to draw off the brandy or fruits. Will keep for years.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2006

Riserva chianti can sometimes be a story of same fruit but more oak, age and cost, not always to the benefit of wine or drinker. But there are good values around in riserva chianti. This wine, from Castello di Gabbiano, from a chianti vintage I like, can be found between $30 and $35 at retail and shows that sometimes riserva chianti can show good sangiovese character without excessive oak. A good foil to salt & rosemary foccaccia from a wood-fired oven, it also went well with bresaola and then a beef tagliata with rocket, horseradish and lemon. Purple fruits more so than red, it shows more fruit stuffing than many entry level chianti, as well as some attractive grainy tannins. Worth a look.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Made a batch of ricotta at home last night, for baking into a cake with quinces & hazelnuts today. Which would then be good with a bottle of Italian sweet wine, perhaps a passito from Pantelleria, or vin santo. Or a botrytised semillion.

Here's a simple method for making ricotta (recipe thanks to Bryan Martin):
- take 2 litres of whole milk and bring it up to 90 degrees, stirring so it doesn't catch (a jam or candy thermometer is useful here)
- when it gets to 90 degrees, add salt and the juice of a lemon, reducing the heat
- give it 10 minutes on lowish heat for the curds to form, gently scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid catching (but try to avoid stirring the curd too much)
- ladle the curds and whey through two layers of cheesecloth or muslin in a colander over a large bowl
- drain the curds for at least 20 minutes (overnight is also fine), pressing if you want a tighter cheese.

Eat the cheese, or cook with it, over the next couple of days. If you want a creamier cheese, add some cream to the starting milk. Vinegar or citric acid can also be used to curdle the mix.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Brown Brothers NV Prosecco (King Valley)

I have never had a wine that tasted so much of lemon sherbet. This is fairly simple and straightforward charmat-style prosecco, but none the worse for that. The wine has a final alcohol of 11% and stays bright and crisp from nose through palate and finish. The lemon sherbet flavours and characters (the pressure-tank fizz) do repay some attention. There is a fresh lemon aspect, a touch of candied lemon, and also a kind of 'chemical lemon' commercial confectionary note (much better than it sounds) all working together. Perhaps fruit of different ripeness and multiple picks from the Banksdale vineyard in the King Valley? While I'm unsure a cork closure rather than crown seal makes sense for this wine, it does the business as a $20 a bottle aperitif prosecco. Which is more than I can say for the Flash-dependent Brown Brothers website.

Update - Brown Brothers are certainly on the ball. They've advised me they are part way through removing Flash from their website, aiming to have the whole site iphone compliant. Nice work and great to have feedback from the winery at such pace.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Trio Italian

Three simple things, Italian and local, coming together well:

- fresh hazelnuts, picked myself from a planting close to the vineyard, including a couple of Italian varieties that have reddish skins or are flattened out and pointed, rather than round.

- fresh figs, from the coppiced tree at my back steps.

- nocello (or nocino), an aromatic liqueur I made from green walnuts picked two suburbs over, steeped in neutral alcohol with spices, lemon zest & balanced out with some sugar.

Makes a simple, local, Italian and good dessert. Bite of ripe fig, a hazel or two, then a sip of nocello.