Monday, June 28, 2010

Australian Nebbiolo - 2004 Di Lusso Nebbiolo, Mudgee

I'm starting to come around to thinking that nebbiolo is not a one nighter kind of grape. Over the past two nights, I've had a bottle of the 2004 Di Lusso Nebbiolo open. At 13.6% alcohol, seeing only old oak, and having a splash of barbera for a bit more fruit, on the first night this looked like something that should have been had two years ago. While still a serviceable match for a lasagna of lamb and mushrooms, the wine lacked interesting nebbiolo fruit, presenting a dry palate of slightly blocky tannins and considerable acid. It had a good decant, but clearly not enough.

Night two, this time with a roast chicken, red pepper, celery and pea pasta, the wine was completely different. Engaging fruit had come up out of nowhere, the tannins and acids settling back into a well structured and refreshing drink. The second half of the bottle went quickly. I have a couple more of these from a cellar door visit a few years ago, and will have another next year and maybe hold the last for 2014. Sealed under cork.

Carpineto Vino di Nobile Montepulciano 2003

For foreign drinkers, the heart of montepulciano has a confusion between name of grape and name of place. The montepulciano grape makes Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines in the Abruzzo part of Italy. Away from Abruzzo, a separate wine is made near the village of Montepulciano, in southern Tuscany, mostly from sangiovese.

This wine, the 2003 release Vino di Nobile Montepulciano, is made by Carpineto. It is 90% sangiovese and 10% canaiolo nero. I am not aware of anyone growing canaiolo grapes in Australia, but from what I understand it played a softening, extending and preserving aromatics role similar to blending trebbiano into chianti.

The 2003 vintage was difficult in and around Montepulciano - hot, dry and fast for many producers. This wine doesn't quite have the expressive elegance I look for in good examples of sangiovese from Montepulciano. There is an inky character accompanying the aged fruit and still somewhat unresolved tannins. The wine looked like it may have brettanomyces issues on the first night, but this backed off on night two to produce a decent accompaniment to a slow beef casserole and braised fennel.

Still, when the sangiovese wines from Montepulciano are on song, they can offer much of the pleasure of good brunello for quite a lot less money.

Kyle Phillips has an excellent overview of the impact of the hot 2003 vintage for the Vino di Nobile Montepulciano:

Tasting group dinner - Italian wines at Italian & Sons

I'm in a tasting group that meets once a month for dinner and a brace of wines. We take it in turns, with a different person each month choosing the venue and providing the wines. It's a good way to try a range of wines from some very different cellars. May was my turn, so I decided to do an all-Italian lineup at Italian & Sons.

The food and wines:

Bellavista NV cuvee
- I think this is my favourite Italian white bubbles from the French varieties. Liked the balance of development and acid on this. Good with the antipasto.
Antipasto: focaccia; cured salumi plate; assorted olives with sage, chilli and rosemary
- Excellent quality smallgoods here. The bubbles went best with the salt and rosemary focaccia just from the wood oven.

Bracket of two whites with the next two dishes:

Benanti Pietramarina Etna Bianco 2005
- Stunning, mesmeric white wine for me. Constantly shifting and evolving (had been decanted for three hours). Sometimes fresh lemon, sometimes candied lemon peel. Some development, but still freshness and intensity. Maddening smells that would come and go - fennel bulb, fennel seed, fenugreek, hay. Made from carricante vines, goblet-pruned and grown on the slopes of Mt Etna. Had a 2003 of this a few weeks ago and this was a whole order of better. Having an elderly Italian wine waiter who grew up 20 minutes from Benanti's vineyards was a magic touch.

Corte Sant Alda Soave 2009
- Very much a contrast to the Benanti! Good fresh characters, including a little pear juice, and attractive acid. Handled the soused sardines very well. Nice example of soave.

'Sarde in Saor' sardine fillets, pinenuts, currants and chardonnay vinegar
Tortellini di zucca, filled with roast pumpkin, ricotta and leek, with a burnt butter and sage sauce
- My pick of these was the sardine dish. Lovely balance of sweet and sour. Even tempted two of the group who had sardine issues... though they did also have some deep fried salt cod puffs.

Ciacci Brunello 2004
- This was really on song. All the power of good brunello - waves of nutty tanins (almost like tasting the skins of roast hazelnuts), attractive dried herb characters, restrained cherry fruit, even more restrained oak. Lovely. My wine of the night, I think, as stunning as the Benanti was. Everything I like in sangiovese.

Wood roasted fillet of beef 'Stracio' with lemon rucola and horseradish maionese
- This was the best dish of the night, for me. Very simply presented, slices of rested beef from a fillet cooked off briefly in the wood oven, salted and arranged on lemon-dressed rocket. A dollop of hot horseradish mayonnaise gave a contrasting sweetness and spice. Blissful, quality, simple Italian cooking, and just about perfect for matching the brunello.

Borgogno Riserva 1999 (Barolo)
- Always a pleasure to try a Barolo with more than ten years on it. This looked a little older than a 1999, having moved through much of the secondary fruit spectrum and showed plenty of leathery development. An interesting tannin contrast to the Brunello - here less about waves of tannin, more like a lake. Good to drink, and excellent to accompany the roast suckling pig and cheeses later, but shaded by the Brunello for me as red of the night.

Roasted suckling pig on the bone 'Sardinian style' with baked apple and sage, cavalo nero, pan juices
- Pat and co at Italian & Sons source small pigs (3-5kg) and roast them whole in the wood-fired oven, before breaking down the meat and crackling. Especially liked the large, fluffy pieces of baked apple and the excellent crackling here.

Braida Brachetto
- I really enjoy brachetto. All about fresh, sweet, red fruits (strawberries and raspberries), attractive bubbles and not too sweet. Very easy to drink, especially with desserts. Better a match with the fruit and panna cotta than the cheeses though. A different part of the sparkling red spectrum to what we tend to see in Australia.

Formaggi - selection of Italian cheeses served with crisp bread and dried muscatels
- Good cheese mix, though hazy memory of exact details. I do remember two of the party sneaking in a couple of panna cotta.

A good espresso to finish and all done for another month. Great night, with lots of laughter. Always a good sign.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Winter in the vineyard - young grenache

In 2009 we started converting the struggling upper pinot block to varieties for a red Rhone blend. The photograph is of a 2009-planted BVRC38 clone grenache vine being taken back to two buds. Gro-guards are reapplied after cutting the vines back, checking the mulch isn't touching the trunk, weeding if needed and giving them a bit of fertiliser. These vines will come away strongly in Spring, pushing up the guards and to the cordon wire. Later this year, the conversion of the block will continue with grafting of some roussanne and the planting of more vines.

The intention for the blend is to have something like:
  • grenache, 33%
  • shiraz, 28% (different clones to the other Quarry Hill shiraz)
  • mataro, 23%
  • cinsault, 10%
  • roussanne, 6%.

Something to look out for in 2012, perhaps? Or after. These things take a while.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Da Vinci Chianti Classico 2006, Tuscany

Not obtrusive fruit, but rich colour for a chianti. I have enjoyed much of the 2006 chianti vintage, and this is a wine with lightish tannins but not over-fruited. Showing a bit of lightness at the rim, the intensity of flavour dips through the finish, ending with an almost sultana-like oxidative note. A decent by the glass option with pasta or lighter meat dishes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Italian whites tasting

Throughout the year, the Canberra District Vigneron's Association puts on tastings for members after meetings. Tonight the theme was Italian white wines, mainly from central and southern Italy. The dozen wines, served in two brackets of six wines, had been sourced by Alex McKay from Melbourne importer Enoteca Sileno. I'll write the wines up over the next couple of weeks, but a couple of initial notes:

- for me, trying to pick Italian white grape varieties in a blind tasting is well-nigh impossible. I did pick that the first bracket contained a vermentino and a falanghina, but not the wines I thought were these varieties
- the temptation to focus on fruit description before looking at texture, astringency/bitterness, skin contact, phenolics and oxidation can get these wines back to front
- three of the twelve wines, including the Benanti Pietramarina 2003 (made from carricante), were let down by cork
- lots of genuine interest across the wines, yet not things that would go well in the Australian wine show system (mercaptans and VA especially), which probably says more about the show focus than it does about overall wine quality.

The first wine, from the Marches, was a sparkler made from the Yellow Passerina grape. Not something I'd ever had before, but distinctly different from prosecco. Strawberries, lemon juice, a little cream. Mouthfilling bubbles, some creamy texture, white peach and a little musk show late, plus something a little like a skin contact, slightly herbal character. Not sweet, some lingering flavours but not a wine about piercing acid length. Would be interesting quaffing fizz, a little like prosecco or cava can be. Recommended. Tenuta Cocci Grifoni, Gaudio Magno, Offida Passerina, 2006 is the name to look out for.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pio Cesare 2008 Il Nebbio and duck ragu

The wine writer Max Allen included a comparison of a few reasonably priced nebbiolo wines in his column in the Weekend Australian yesterday. One of these, stocked through Dan Murphy's, was the 2008 Pio Cesare Il Nebbio nebbiolo from Langhe. I'd already made a plan for duck ragu, and a fresh, bright nebbiolo sounded like a good match, so I ponied up the $35 (bit less in a 6, actually) to have a look at one.

The first thing I noticed was the poor quality of the cork. Shot through with creases and cracking, the wine had made it a third of the way through the length of the cork. That said, the wine was sound and as soon as it hit glass and decanter was expressive and perfumed. Layered red berries, sour cherries, a little strawberry - this is good to smell and taste. The acid is lip-smacking here, the tannins stretching across the length of the wine and building over time. A great accompaniment to a rich dish like duck ragu with fresh fettuccine.

And the ragu? A roast duck one, rather than a slow-cooked effort. Take a whole duck, season and stuff with half an orange, a handful of fresh thyme, two bay leaves and two sprigs of rosemary. Lay this on a bed of chopped onion, carrot and celery, large pieces of orange zest, and with more of the herbs stuffed into the bird. Give it 30 minutes at 170c to allow fat to render and be tipped off. Increase the temperature a little and give the bird another 30 minutes roast, with some stock in the tray to stop the vegetables burning. Baste the bird to get some skin colour. When it has had an hour, check the leg meat and see if you can give it ten or so minutes more at 250c to finish the skin.

Drain the duck into the roasting tray and set it aside for stripping the meat and skin when cooler. Add a cup or so of wine into the roasting tray and return it to the oven to mellow the wine. After at least ten minutes at 180c, the tray should have evaporated a bit and the contents can be strained into a jug. Let the jug settle out, and spoon or pour the rendered duck fat off the top.

While the sauce is coming along in the oven tray, infuse a couple of cloves of sliced garlic in olive oil in a low heat frying pan. When the oil tastes good, add some chopped fresh mushrooms (I used portabello this time), a little salt, some more fresh thyme, turn up the heat and get the mushrooms braising. When the mushrooms are done, add the strained sauce from the roasting tray, the chopped duck meat and skin, a little cream, a little fresh thyme and some pepper. Let this simmer while you roll out and cook the fresh pasta.

My basic pasta recipe is 100g flour and one egg per person, plus a little salt in the flour. This time I added an extra egg yolk as well, whizzed the dough together in the food processor and rested it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. As the ragu starts the final simmer, cut the dough into two pieces. On a well floured surface, work the halves flatter and then through the settings of your pasta machine until the desired thickness is reached. I find only a couple of steps down is best for this kind of ragu. Put the pasta through the fettuccine cutter, or hand cut for wider strips, then cook in a large pot of boiling salted water until almost done. Finish the cooking of the drained pasta back in a pan with the ragu to let the ribbons take up some of the sauce. It may need more salt at the end, so check the seasoning. Serve with a little fresh thyme and some grated cheese (I used grana padano) and glasses of nebbiolo. A salad of winter greens with simple dressing would be good after, if you need the virtue.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Salsiccia con lenticchie

Claudia Roden's 1989 The Food of Italy is one of my most used Italian cookbooks. From Norcia in Umbria (not that far from the home of sagrantino, in Montefalco), she transcribes a traditional sausage and lentil dish using the tiny brown lentils of Casteluccio. I do versions of this with Australian-grown puy lentils.

While your cup or more of lentils are soaking, fry off a bit of bacon or pancetta, then follow with onion, garlic, celery, salt and pepper. Sweat off until soft and a bit coloured, then add the drained lentils, cover with water and simmer until done. It should take 20-30 minutes, and you might need to top up the water. When nearly done, fry some Italian or other good pork sausage and serve the sausages on a bed of the lentils.

A good variation of this is to finish the lentils with an addition of chopped spinach or silverbeet and braise until done. Occasionally, when the sausages are cooked and resting, I'll transfer the lentils and juices into the sausage pan for deglazing and taking up flavours from the sausage fry. Not the healthy version, but tasty.

And wine? Sangiovese goes well with this, or older cabernet. You could also try a montepulciano from Abruzzo.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mushroom pasta, Italianate wine

Here's a simple mushroom pasta that works well with sangiovese or Hunter shiraz with some age on it.

Starting with a cold frying pan, turn heat on to the lowest setting, slice three cloves of garlic, cover the base of the pan with olive oil, scatter in the garlic. While the cold pan and the garlic are slowly warming, strip a handful of fresh thyme and scatter into the pan with the garlic. Without letting the garlic colour, let the flavours steep into the warming oil. Ten minutes or so is good.

Take a double handful of mushrooms and chop them into reasonable chunks. I used flat cultivated mushrooms, but a mix can work well (perhaps some king browns, chestnuts, or even a bit of porcini). When the oil infusion tastes good, hit it with some sea salt, then add the mushrooms and let them braise (a knob of butter can be good now as well). When the mushrooms are soft and their juices released, turn up the heat, add pepper and a glass of dry white wine. When the wine has reduced a little, add a little pure pouring cream and simmer the sauce while your pasta is cooked. I quite like this with spaghetti or fresh fettucine.

It's a minimalist dish that gets flavour from the oil and the mushrooms, and is a good foil for Italianate red wines such as those made with sangiovese, or as last night, a 1998 Tyrrell's Vat 9 Hunter Valley shiraz. After a bretty start (medicine cabinet, band aid, alfoil) the wine opened up and looked fantastic. Bright acid, some development and youth at the same time, savoury flavours and tannins - confirmed for me how Hunter shiraz can share so many of the characteristics I love in sangiovese.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fog lifting at Quarry Hill

Walked through the vineyard this morning with Mark Terrell and Shane Hackett. Shane was there to look at the fate of the grafting he did last Spring, and take new budwood for further grafting. It was a very foggy morning, with heavy dew. Though we are about to go into the second week of winter, the vineyard is not yet fully dormant. This is especially the case with the younger vines, such as the grenache rootlings planted in 2009, some of which still had active tip growth. Shane took budwood from the 2006 tempranillo plantings, and the grafted sangiovese and sagrantino. The photo is of the fog lifting, looking across sauvignon blanc (left front) down to savagnin, sangiovese and tempranillo. The block on the right starts with 1999 plantings of pinot right at the top, then shiraz, until some grafted tempranillo and sagrantino at the bottom.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Terredura Irpinia Falanghina 2008, Campania

Falanghina is not a grape variety I am familiar with, so when I saw it on the by the glass list at Italian and Sons in Braddon, I gave it a look.

Not quite brassy in colour or flavours, there are aspects of viognier to this wine (in a good way). Served with salt cod fritters (a good match), the colour is around the middle of the yellow spectrum. It had good texture and palate weight, shy of being viscous. The texture balanced well with some crisp acid to avoid any risk of being cloying. It finishes fairly short, but there are some nice, grippy phenolics to give the finish character.

Good to have had, and something to keep a lookout for if you are keen on an Italian white with some texture and palate weight.