Italian Wine Geek

Drink More Wine. Especially Italian

Category: Restaurants (page 1 of 6)

I left my heart in Toscana… #CastellodiVerrazzano

Castello di Verrazzano RossoEvery time I taste a new Chianti I am reminded how much I love Sangiovese.  It’s a heart-warming grape, full of everything wine-lovers crave in red wine.  Tannin, acidity, fruit.  You can age it.  You can drink it on release.  And Sangiovese is a wonderful platform to showcase terroir- dusty tannins become apparent.  Red soil reads through in iron-laced minerality.  The hot Tuscan sun warms the fruit from red to black. Castello di Verrazzano’s beautiful wines are no exception.  I had the pleasure of meeting Luigi and Silvia Cappellini at Newport Beach’s Mozza for dinner recently, where we tasted their wines with the simplest and most delicious dinner of pizza and salumi.  The wines were gorgeous and the company was  absolutely brilliant. Continue reading

Peace, Love & Pizza @OGSgtPepperoni #BYO #NebbioloNight

Decisions, decisions...I am super proud to be part of the hospitality industry.  Supplying Italian wine to restaurants and shops has become an amazingly satisfying career for me- I love our community!  Recently we started a monthly “Industry Night” in Orange County, California, where we get together to network, to relax, to get to know each other, and to taste wine.  What better way to start our BYO evenings than with our first theme… Nebbiolo! Continue reading

“Champagne Wishes and Country Fried Dreams” @faithandflower

Hooper and Hoagland

Wine Director Jared Hooper and Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland

My passion in life is Italian wine, but a close second-place might be Champagne.  Cold, cutting acidity and lively bubbles.  Refreshing, yet serious at the same time.  Aromatically superior to any other category of sparkling wine.  Equally ready to lay down and develop for years in your cellar, or to be chilled immediately and enjoyed.

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Grandma Lorraine will teach you a lot about wine.

Mugsy-1I am Italian by ethnicity on my father’s side of the family.  Grandma Lorraine is his mother, my Calabrese nonna.  She’ll remind you she’s Calabrese too- anytime it’s convenient.  Mostly when she’s being stubborn about something and she’s using her cultural heritage to remind you she won’t change her mind about something. “I’m Calabrese,” she says as she raps her fist on the table.  “You know what they say about the Calabrese.  Hard-headed.” Continue reading

On Spaghetti Westerns and Brunello. @michaelnemcik

Col dÓrcia 1997-1

Thanks to Michael Young of Palm Bay Imports, I had a chance to enjoy this bottle of Brunello the other night at Union restaurant in Pasadena.  (if you haven’t tried this place yet, do yourself a favor and get over there. Seriously.)

Col d’ Orcia’s 1997 Brunello di Montalcino was the perfect wine to compliment Chef Bruce Kalman’s hearty, local-Italian cuisine.  Especially his toothsome Spaghetti alla ChitarraContinue reading

Kings of the Carso. @winestories

Benjamin Zidarich and his Vitovska

Friends of mine are going to the Carso soon.  I am ecstatic for them because, even as this is a place I have not yet seen in person, I feel like I know it already.  There will be a stiff breeze from the Adriatic and an electric, razor-sharp quality to the sunlight here.  There will be lots of wine, cured pork, lovely cheeses.  Bright red soil crunching under your feet.  A salty brine- electricity in the air.  

The wines from the Carso are authentic.  There’s no other word for them.  They are stone and sweat and dirt and rainwater.  They’re not orange wines because it’s hip to make orange wine.  Skin-contact is a necessary tool for ensuring native fermentation- not a political statement.  Color is secondary to the very nature of the wine. Stick your nose in a glass of Vitovska and you won’t care about the color anyway- it’s beguiling and smells of jasmine and tea leaves and sea-spray.  There’s acidity like a lightening bolt and a lingering umami that clings forever on your palate. The Carso is calling you!

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Take me where I can see the Mountains. #valdossola #prünent

View of valleyA view of Val d’Ossola in Piemonte.

Wines are emotional for me- some more than others.   Cantine Garrone makes some of the most potent wines I know- effectively pulling at my heartstrings anytime I taste them. This obscure winery is the result of winemaker and visionary Mario Garrone’s unflagging love for his land.

vineyard management

Mario Garrone and Diego Meraviglia in the vineyard.

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The New California Winemaker… #PenvilleProjects

Penville ProjectsI clearly have a passion for Italy and Italian wine, but as an American, I am pretty darn proud of our country too.  In all my years in the wine industry, one major theme with most European wine estates is History.  Established Chateaux. Royalty even.  It’s common to meet a winemaker whose family dates back hundreds of years, whose property and winery are family heirlooms and whose vineyards were inherited by multiple generations.  If you’re not born into this particular situation, it’s a lot more difficult to establish yourself in Europe as a winemaker- to be allowed to purchase the vineyards, to find the space or facility to make your wine.Grenache

This is one more reason to love the USA and it’s sense of Free Market Economy. You don’t need your own vines to make terroir-driven wine in California any more.  You don’t even need your own winery.  You can rent space in an “Urban Winery” in Lompoc.  You can buy grapes from stellar growers like Stolpman Vineyards.  And you can be proud of how you work, and which grapes you select, like Liquid Farm does on their website, happily listing “Vineyard Partners” as a seal of pedigree for their wines.  Long Live California and the USA.  Home of the Free and the Bravely-Making-Wine.  If you dream of making wine, this is the place to be.

I love finding new projects started by young winemakers in California who, as Jon Bonne put it in his book The New California, “… are rewriting the rules of contemporary winemaking [in] their quest to express the uniqueness of California terroir.”  People like my dear friends Patton Penhallegon and Michael Villas at Penville Projects.

These two  crazy kids met while working at Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach (about a 2 hour drive from Santa Barbara wine country).  They decided it was time make their dream a reality and they began researching grape growers, vinification methods, and concrete eggs.Egg Baby

Yes, Concrete Eggs.  Concrete can handle cold and heat.  It stabilizes temperature naturally.  It’s porous, so it allows for the transfer of oxygen like wood, but without the transfer of unwanted flavor or aroma.  It’s also highly re-useable and sustainable.

Patton and Michael chose the egg-shaped vessel because it harkens back to the ancient amphorae used to ferment wine thousands of years ago. With no corners, the wine is free to circulate naturally during fermentation.  You can actually watch the wine move during this process of constant self-stirring. The egg shape also forces more of the cap to remain submerged during fermentation, reducing exposure to oxygen and the need for “punch down”.Egg-cellent

I can’t wait to taste the first 2014 vintage of Penville Projects.  I understand this will be a Grenache Rose- bright and happy and a celebration of all things wine lovers adore, just in time for the Spring rose season of 2015.  Patton and Michael

If you want to support Patton and Michael (and why wouldn’t you, really?!), click on THIS LINK and vote for them to win a grant from Wells Fargo to help them buy more concrete eggs, or a little more fruit for future vintages.

Support the future of California Winemaking!

Finding Mount Etna in Denver, Colorado @theKitchen

FessinaTenuta Fessina’s “LaEneo” at The Kitchen in Denver, Colorado.

I remember the first time I tasted these wines.  My good friend Giampaolo Gravina sent me over to the Sicilian Pavillion at Vinitaly to find Federico Curtaz at the Tenuta Fessina booth.  I arrived with high hopes- Giampaolo has impeccable taste and a talent for sniffing out the best wines in the ocean of Italian wine.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The Fessina wines are the pure expressions of Mount Etna.  Silty and dusty with that grippy hint of volcanic ash- embossed into the wines by years of clinging to life on the edge of the world.  Rocky soil below, molten lava threatening to spill over and decimate from above, and the salty blue sea spread out like a looking glass all around.  I especially love Fessina’s “LaEneo“- 100% Nerello Cappuccio, and one of the only mono-bottlings of the varietal I have ever tasted (aside from Benanti’s bottlings, which are also superb).

Notes VinitalyImage from tasting with Federico Curtaz, Vinitaly 2012.

Nerello Cappuccio is the secondary grape in the Etna Rosso DOC blend.  It has a deeper flavor profile than Nerello Mascalese- less red cherries and more black fruits, warm spices, roasty depth.  A few years after this first fateful tasting I was thrilled to be reacquainted with the wine in the least suspecting of all places- Denver Colorado!ETNAA view of Etna.

I was checking out the wine list at The Kitchen and there it was- staring me in the face like a long-lost friend you find in the most surprising place.  The wine was a gorgeous as I remembered, stunning in its simplicity and terroir.  Once you’ve stood in the vineyards along the hillsides and terraces of Mount Etna you will never forget the feel of the place.  The way it smells like wildflowers and asphalt and wet earth.  The way the unforgiving sun shines tirelessly and seems to warm you from the inside.  The vast expanse of vineyard that embraces every curve, right up to the edge of the road.  That’s what you’ll find in the glass.

When you meet Federico and talk to him about wine-making you’ll understand why these wines have such true expressions of place.  This quote from his website is a perfect example of the philosophy required to make such honest, truth-telling wines.Fessina MeetingMe and Federico Curtaz in 2012.  Happy Nerello-drinking people!

 

“I am a Humanist of wine. I have a firm belief that wine is a sign and expression of civilization, encompassing humanity’s memory and reflecting its complexity. Because behind the product, there is the soul of the place and the man who created the wine.”

What a beautiful surprise to find a little piece of Etna (and Federico!) in downtown Denver, Colorado.

How to Keep a Sailor Warm

Dan Bjugstad and Claudio Morelli

Dan Bjugstad of Pizzeria Locale in Boulder CO, with Claudio Morelli

I had the profound pleasure of escorting a Marchegiano gentleman, Claudio Morelli, around Colorado a few weeks ago.  We were there to teach people about his wines, all indigenous varieties from the Le Marche.  His vineyards are perched on the hills and terraces of Metauro, in some of the northern-most vineyards of the region near the seaport town of Fano.Claudio Loves Pizza

Claudio loves Pizzeria Locale.

I learned a lot about this obscure part of Le Marche during our time together.  I was surprised to understand how close some of Claudio’s vineyards in the Metauro DOC are to the Apennines.

marche_map Fano

The Morelli family has a single-vineyard wine made of the local Bianchello grape Claudio calls “Borgo del Torre” that literally comes from the hillsides that make up the foothills of this looming mountain range.   I have only been to Le Marche once, and it was further south near the Conero National Park, so my understanding of the geography here is very limited. (Note to self: must visit Le Marche again.  Soon!)

Conero

One of the many stunning vistas from Le Marche’s rugged beaches.

In addition to learning about the winery and Claudio’s wines, I also picked up a few local traditions.  This part of Italy is on the Adriatic Coast, and logically fishing is a big part of the indigenous culture.  There is a local hot cocktail of sorts that has been developed over many years as a way to keep the fishermen warm (and awake) while at sea.  Claudio explained to us that he remembers his Grandmother making this for the fishermen at the local Trattoria the family once owned.  It is called “La Moretta”.

Caffe La Moretta by: LaTavolaMarche.com

Image of the preparation for La Moretta by La Tavola Marche.

The La Moretta is a type of hot toddy which uses hot coffee (strong, Italian-style short coffee), combined with Anisette, Rum, Cognac and a little sugar- all poured over a piece of lemon rind.  Claudio’s face lit up when he described how his grandmother would make this little beverage.  He smiled softy and described how the lemon rind, which soaks in this warm aromatic brew, is the perfection of finishes to a great meal as it helps to “pulisce la bocca”- clean your mouth.

La Moretta di Fano al mare

A perfect Moretta in Fano.

The La Moretta is served layered like this now, but Claudio’s grandmother would have heated the whole thing together in a small double-boiler before pouring over the lemon rind.  It’s easy to see the connection between wine and terroir- grapevines and the bottle.  Yet sometimes we overlook the other comforts of home- flavors and aromas and other sensory traditions better not-forgotten.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between this little tipple and the way my grandfather used to enjoy his coffee- a splash of Sambuca and the requisite lemon rind.  I am pretty sure Papa John would have loved Claudio (and La Moretta).

Claudio and the Ladies

Claudio Morelli and the ladies of Marczyk’s Fine Foods.

 

 

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