After Piemonte, now time for some Nebbiolo delle Alpi at Mamete Prevostini

A few weeks ago it was time for my yearly trip to my beloved Valtellina (to see my Nonna), with this year a little detour via Trieste (to visit my dear zia Livia) and a pitstop in Franciacorta (near Brescia).  As I got accompanied by my dad and stepbrother, this year’s trip was a more gastronomical version 🙂 . Nevertheless with whom I’m travelling, a yearly returning event is me visiting a new vineyard in Valtellina. With new I don’t necessarily mean one that doesn’t exist very long… but rather just one I haven’t been at before. This year I finally managed to visit the winery of Mamete Prevostini. I say finally, because unlike all the other wineries in Valtellina that are located between Tirano and Sondrio (roughly spoken), their winery is quit outside of the Sondrio area near the very charming little village of Chiavenna and not too far from the Como lake.  The area still falls under Sondrio jurisdiction and it technically speaking just at the other side of the mountain (in a matter of speaking), but is just quit the drive to get there.

The fact it was so ‘far’ from the others intrigued me for a long time… Maybe it was also the trigger for wanting to visit them… that, and the fact they make extrodinary wines. During previous trips it wasn’t easy to fit a visit in my trip, so this year I build my trip around the visit and make everything fit around it 🙂 .

An interesting finding (but then again that is the reason why one visits a winery :-)) was to find out that it all actually started with their restaurant and next to that they were making  a small wine production for own use to  eventually become major winemaker in Valtellina.  This story immediately made me think about the one I heard a few months ago at Gaja (funny enough also producers of Nebbiolo wines) where they also started with an ‘osteria’ that eventually grew into a major winery (and even around the same period in time). The only difference being that Gaja’s guests were mostly people wanting to cross the river, at Mamete is was to cross a mountain 🙂 .

If you are ever in the neighborhood I do recommend  you stopping at Mamete Prevostini!! For their wines obviously, but also for their restaurant Crotasc (located next to the winery).  The meal we had there was without doubt and exaggerating AMAZING. Dishes made with top quality ingredients (prepared how they should be),  very friendly and competent staff and a very nice wine selection (Next to their own wines they also have a very nice selection of both top wines from their colleague winemakers in Valtellina, but also from the rest of Italy).  Combine all of the above mentioned with a cozy authentic location (old and new interior design styles combined) and you have a winner (or at least for me)!! Maybe I should plan my next trip to Valtellina around a stop at this restaurant 😉 . The dishes on the pictures below might seem regular, but I can say for a fact I could have licked my plates clean. All accompanied by a very nice 2015 Sommarovina (Valtellina Superiore) with on the nose herb/balsamic aromas combined with a firm palate of dried black cherry and I might even say mocha.

Techically speaking the history of Mamete Prevostini started around the 1960’s, but it wasn’t until the moment Mamete took over the torch in the late 1980’s from his father that the way of winemaking started to change. It must be said that this was the case in many wineries in Valtellina, as before they opted quantity over quality… luckily thanks to people like Mamete (and some of his colleagues) they started understanding ‘Quality’ was the way to go 🙂 .

Mamete’s arrival brought many innovations both in the cultivation of vineyards and in winemaking. With a very recent highlight or better latest innovation, in 2013,  their CasaClima Wine Cellar. CasaClima basically stands for sustainability and eco-friendly . At Mamete Prevositi they see it as their responsibility towards the future and it’s new generations to treat nature with respect and try to pollute as little as possible.

The CasaClima is not open for public, so you can only visit their historical cellar… but is also very charming to visit, especially if you have the lovely Daniela showing you around 🙂

Mamete’s vineyards are spread over 2 area’s (or that’s how you could see it). The first and smaller area is close to their historic winery in Mese or better in Piuro. At this vineyard they cultivate the Gewurztraminer and Riesling grapes for their Passito. All the other grapes are cultivated in vineyards spread between Sondrio/ Montagna In Valtellina and Tirano. This is also why they decided to build their new wine cellar closer to where all the grapes are, to avoid stressing the grapes but also to pollute less by avoiding use of all trucks driving for the vineyard to the historical winery.  Which all fits in their vision of trying to be very ecological.  95% of grapes they grow are obviously Nebbiolo (or Chiavennasca as they call it in Valtellina), the remaining 5 procent are Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Rieseling, Traminer, Pinot Bianco and Incrocio Manzoni for the few white wines they make.

Something I cannot say enough (and I repeat myself) is that next time you drink, buy or want to drink or buy a wine from Valtellina and are wondering why they have a ‘higher’ price… you must actually ‘Google’ the words ‘Valtellina vineyards’ and take a look at the pictures that are presented. Unlike in many other wine producing areas, for winegrowers in Valtellina it’s not possible to use machines to do the grape picking for them… ALL IS DONE MANUALLY  ( for the whole 6000ha of land in Valtellina where grapes are grown). And all of this is even before all of the work in the cellar has to get done. Respect!!  In case Googling is not your thing, feast your eyes on below pictures.

The wines Mamete Prevostini produces all have a very distinct and unique character . I would say a mix of elegance, finesse, power, for a great interpretation of Nebbiolo in Valtellina.  Lucky us for beeing able to try them all 🙂 🙂 under the  expert guidance of Daniela. FYI Daniela has only recently joined the Mamete team, after finishing her studies (not in wine). Although she has only been working here a short period of time (and even in wine in general), I must say she sounds like a real pro who has been in wine for many years (but I guess that’s what happens when you do something with passion).

Starting with the young wines, to the classics, through the cru’s and reserves to finish with an apotheosis aka their Sfurzat wines!! What a tasting 🙂  Even when you taste their young wines you feel the potential they have… so you can imagine how it was to taste the big guns. If I would have to pick a favort I would go for the ‘Valtellina Superiore Riserva’ that in my opinion had everything I like in a red wine: well balanced palate alongside fine-grained tannins and bright acidity!! Real beauty.

I would be a big liar if I would say the Sforzat wines (Corte di Cama and Albareda) didn’t do me anything as they are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. I was astonished  by the freshness they still have in them. I mean it are wines that have been ‘aging’ for almost 3 years.  Very delicate aromas and concentrated palate. But if you really want to know if I’m right or not… only 1 thing to do… or maybe 2:  to either traval to Valtellina or find out where they sell these beautiful wines close to where you are living and by it 🙂 🙂

I could keep talking, but one has to stop somewhere…

Cheers!!

 

A morning with Gaia Gaja

The second winery I visited during my summer holiday in Piemonte was as legendary as the first, but just in a different period in history. I was fortunate enough to visit the Gaja winery in Barbaresco and even had Gaia Gaja herself as host for the morning. I was also very happy to be able to visit this winery as normally they don’t open their doors to easily for visits… but if they do open them it is the family itself who shows you around the winery.

For my readers who wouldn’t know Gaja, Gaja is a vineyard that bottle it first wines for sales in the late 1930’s,  the winery itself got found in 1859. But at that time their main focus was on the tavern they had and they wines they produced were served at their own tavern. Their tavern used to be very popular with people who had to cross the Tànaro river . While they were waiting for the boat they all stopped at the Gaja family’s tavern. At this time, with all the money the Gaja family made, they bought pieces of land around their tavern and slowly their focus started to switch to wine making. Someone who understood at quite an early stage they should invest in quality and not quantity (as most wineries at that time would focus on quantity) was Giovanni Gaja ‘s mother. She was also the person to suggest to set high prices to manifest the prestige of the product.

It wasn’t until the arrival of Angelo Gaja (son of Giovanni Gaja) that the winery would write history and lots of vineyards in Italy that would follow him. Angelo Gaja, who besides this Enological degrees (that he obtained at the Institute in Alba and at the University of Montpellier in France), also holds a degree in economics . At his arrival at the family vineyard it wouldn’t take long before the first disputes between Angelo and his father would rise up… basically because Giovanni wanted to stick to traditions and wanted to keep making wines how they used to, Angelo saw it different and wanted to experiment (with respect for tradition) and try new things.  Lucky for us Angelo didn’t care too much about his father’s opinion and continued experimenting 🙂 . A few of the revolutions under Angelo Gaja were the ‘green harvest’ (removal of immature grape bunches, while they are still green induces the vine to put all its energy into developing the remaining grapes), single vineyard production,  introducing malolactic fermentation, use of French barriques, bringing in thermo-controllable fermentation equipment and French grape varieties (carbernet-sauvignon, chardonnay; sauvignon blanc), and eventually grand cru prices.  Angelo was at that time a modernist in a traditional region. In the beginning he got lots of critiques for his ways of working, but soon those critiques would have to take back their words and many other wineries  (even many famous wineries across Italy) would start following Angelo’s way of working, because of the exceptional results. The awards Angelo got with his winery from Wine Spectator and Decanter (to name a few) only made his status become greater!! Their 1985 Barbaresco’s were and are still seen as one of the finest wines of Italy. Next to the Piemonte vineyards they also have vineyards in Tuscany and since recently in Sicily.

Although Angelo is still alive and kicking, today it are his 2 daughters (Gaia and Rossana) and son (Giovanni – he joined last year) that are leading the company. Technically he is retired (he never officalised it 🙂 ), but you’ll still find him almost every day at one of their wineries from early in the morning until late in the evening (I can imagine it is very difficult to leave your baby eventhough you know it is in good hands).  So it is now up to them to continue writing history… after my morning with Gaia I’m sure they have a clear view on the future and know where they are headed 🙂 .

Before I continue I must also say that I find it remarkable that Gaja is probably one of the only wineries I know that doesn’t have a website and that even though they don’t advertise in any way their wine is always almost sold out 🙂 . incredible!

During my visit of the winery I also found out (and I honestly didn’t know it before) a big difference between ‘regions’  Langhe and Roero. From the window at Gaja I saw the two regions get split  the ‘Tànaro’ river. Gaja is at the Langhe side.  At the Langhe side wineries will only cultivate grapes and hazelnuts (that they sell mostly to their neighbor Ferrero). At the other side of the river  (Roero) they cultivate everything, because the soils allows to grow more. I found that fascinating (or maybe I’m just impressed quickly 😉 🙂 )

I must also admit that Gaja has a very beautiful/stylish winery!!

I could lie, but I know you won’t believe me anyway. Eventhough it seemed a bit early to already start tasting wine, one never says no to a tasting of top level wines 🙂 especially in company of a very interesting person like Gaia Gaja.

The lineup for my tasting:  2015 Barbaresco; 2014 Sperss; 1999 Sorì San Lorenzo and a 2010 Alteni di Brassica.

The first wine, the Barbaresco, is the wine it all started with a few generations ago and therefore also very important of the Gaja family. The stress in making this wine for the Gaja family lays in the fact that grapes come from 14 different partials of land that differ in types of soil, etc..  I found the wine extremely complex and refined at the same time… I was told that in 2015 (but I honestly can’t remember it myself after a mild winter temperatures rose in July and August. The vines responded well and that results in an incredible wine full of intense aromas and lovely energetic fruit with hinds crunchy red cherry. On the palate, there is power with a great depth, concentration and density of fruit, with many layers of red cherry, blueberry, red plum and piquant, chalky natural grape tannins (those last ones were only found with a little help 🙂 )

I remember me at some point asking Gaia (not sure if it was with this wine) if their wines are intended to be drunk immediately or if they are best to wrest for a while (because they are known for their ageing potential). She told me that the wines are ready to drunk and do not necessarily need to age. As the moment they decide to bottle their wines and sell them means the wines (according to them) are ready to be drunk..; and when you immediately drink it you taste the wine how the winemakers made the wine and want him to be for you. She did tell me that it does sound like and other marketing trick, but it isn’t. But if one wants to age their wines, no problem… they can age a long long time.

Up to the Barolo aka Sperss (it was noon somewhere in the world). Gaia told me that 2014 was a very wet year and they had a late harvest. She said that at the end of august the grapes weren’t ripe yet. And yet this is one of Gaia’s favorite wines. The reason it is, is because it has great tannins, beautiful color and very rich wine.. all thanks to the Indian summer  after the wet summer. It is a full bodied wine with amazing structure and softness. I mean with that you would think this wine would be much more ‘aggressive’, but it wasn’t. Again the beautiful fruity elements and minerals.

My personal favorite of the wines I tasted was the Langhe Nebbiolo or better their famous Sorì San Lorenzo. At the nose I noticed a woody scent (like when you put out a fireplace) . Like most Gaja wines, the  San Lorenzo is a dark ruby. Deep, powerful, and structured that Finishes with very fine, sweet tannins and outstanding persistence. A wine that only gets better when getting more air. Although it is already a quit older wine, it still has lots of youth in it.

Last but not least the 2010 Sauvignon-Blanc. On the nose (and even the palate) you get an immediate exotic vibe… lots of exotic fruits. A very rich wine. For my personal taste maybe a bit too exotic, but I’m sure if paired well the wine will come out fabulous.

It was very nice to have the opportunity and privilege to visit this vineyard and on top of that meet the lovely Gaia.  Up to the next wine trip 🙂

Barolo of Barolo in Barolo made by the Marchesi di Barolo … it won’t get more Barolo than this

When I left home this morning I felt the summer was over (no doubt about that). So being able to write about my summer holiday (that seems soooo long ago) does bring a bit of sunshine back inside the home and an instant feeling of happiness.  This summer it was the first summer we had to take during the school holidays . “Nothing special’ you might think, but it seems that if you don’t start booking your holiday a year in advance, finding free rooms is a true quest. So I decided to look for regions that are less touristy, but that still match with everything I have on my checklist. A region like this is Piemonte. The region is as beautiful as Tuscany, is a gastronomical Walhalla (with it truffles, wines, etc…), has many beautiful cities and villages to visit and you can get around in this region without the lots of traffic you that you would find in Tuscany or the South of France.  It is not my first visit to the region, but every time I come here I fall in love with it again… especially when you drive through Alba and you can smell when they are roasting the hazelnuts (mixed with chocolate smells) at the Ferrero factory (yes, where the Nutella is made (amongst other things)).

The accommodation we stayed at is definitely a tip I want to share with you. We stayed at  QB apartments in Montelupo Albese (just outside of Alba). Apartments/studios with an incredible view over the hills of Langhe and its beautiful vineyards and all the comfort one needs designed by host  himself who also happens to be an architect. On top of that you get the peace and quiet (maybe when my children were there a bit less 🙂 ).  We chose an apartment as we liked to have the possibility to be able to cook ourselves as with small children it isn’t always ideal  going to restaurants. Not that we didn’t go out for eating, but having the choice was very practical.

Going on holiday with small children does change a thing or two in things you can do (which is logical and I don’t mind adapting myself)… but when you are in one of THE most famous wine regions in the world, NOT visiting a vineyard is not an option. Luckily I have a wonderful wife who understands all of this (and I do all the holiday planning 😉 ) and I was able to visit 2 vineyards during our holidays in Piemonte. As I could only visit 2 I wanted to make sure the once I would visit were very good ones. And so they were as I was fortunate enough to visit Marchesi di Barolo and the one and only Gaja. Both very well-known wineries, but both with a different view (and price range).

At Marchesi di Barolo it was the lovely Lucrenzia who showed me around this historical winery. The cellars of Marchesi di Barolo are located in the heart of the village of Barolo, with views over the beautiful castle of Marquis Falletti. The world-famous wine Barolo is not only a ‘symbol’ of this region, but of the entire wine country of Italy. The Nebbiolo grapes for the Barolo Tradizione come exclusively from the best vineyards of Barolo, Monforte, Castiglion Falletto and La Morra. These vineyards are all located on the hills south of the city of Alba.

Me personally I know Marchesi di Barolo from the time my dad had his restaurant, as back then he used to sell (one of my favorite MdB wines) the Cannubi by Marchesi di Barolo.

I don’t know if you guys are history lovers? I am one for sure!! I really enjoyed listening to Lucrenzia (who was telling it to me with that much passion I started thinking it was her winery) who took me on a magical path through history.  I was surprised that they still had so many old wines, including a bottle of 1895!! I was also surprised to hear that (Just like I had heard at Bouchard a few years ago) at Marchesi di Barolo, every 20years they check all the old wines and see if they are still drinkable. If they are they get a new cork and can wrest some more. I was also told that sometimes for very special occasions they still open some of those old bottles for the public. I was however disappointed to find out my visit wasn’t one of those special occasions 🙂 🙂 (just kidding).

Something very charming to see was the special flip book they made to explain the history of Marchesi.

One of the most intriguing old bottles I have seen during my visit , were the ones hidden in a book cover from during WWII (1943).  I don’t know if you can see it well on the picture below, but the bottles were actually flat. The fact they were flat was also a big reason why the bottles are still there today and survived the war… otherwise the Nazi’s would have drunk them 🙂

Although the history lesson I received was very interesting, the moment we all wait for is the tasting of the wines (but we’ll never admit that 😉 . It  is always a privilege to be able to taste wines where they are produced. Especially in such a bright room (with signatures on all the walls of everybody who visited )as at Machesi (and in good company)

First wine on the list was the Gavi di Gavi. Gavi an Italian dry white wine produced from the Cortese (a variety known for its high acidity and its ability to maintain good freshness even if produced in a very warm environment) grape that is cultivated in the restricted area of the Province of Alessandria. Gavi is a wine crafted from grapes sourced from rocky marl soils and has more weight and presence than perhaps typical for the area, but not at the cost of the delicately framed floral and mineral notes that characterize this style. Bright and tangy fruit with lemon/lime notes and I might say a snap of grapefruit. I would call this wine an ‘all man’s friend’, as I cannot imagine anybody not liking this wine 🙂

As a little in-between I was served a ‘cocktail’ made with Moscati d’ Asti, lime, mint and ice cubes. I can honestly say it was a very refreshing cocktail  with a ‘mojito’ vibe to it. It has also already found its way to my home in Belgium 🙂

Now some serious business, the red’s. Although the region has some very nice white’s, the reds are the reason we come 😉 The first red to taste was a 2016 Barbera d’Alba ‘Peiragal’. From a commercially point of view Barbera today is one of the most import grape varieties in the area, however, the variety is not as old as some other varieties from Piemonte … Barbera has for a longtime been seen as a “less important” wine in comparison with the Barolo. BUT it now found its rightful place at the top. In terms of taste, you type Barbera the easiest in comparison with Nebbiolo. Barbera always has a rather deep color, very high acidity and moderate tannin, while Nebbiolo is just the opposite on these three levels.  The “typical” style of Barbera has, however, been changed considerably in recent years by some producers by using certain wine making techniques. Often it is said the Barbera is female and Barolo Male 🙂 Not sure why that is actually, maybe because of its tempting fruitiness acidity?  (it is also said it is the Merlot of Italy). As for the Peiragal (I sometimes get carried away) for me it is a warm, robust and full, ruby red wine with aromas of berries, hazelnut and hints of vanilla (not too much of the last).

Up to the 2013 Barbaresco  ‘Serragrilli’ that was one of my favorites of the tasting (if I can be picky, because the other ones were also fabulous). Probably because of the fact the Barbaresco is made 100% out of Nebbiolo grapes it is often compared with its nearby brother ‘Barolo’. But they both have different soils, different history and different rules of making the wine (in many ways also due to the difference in soil they grow on).   So basically they share the same grape and that’s it 😉 but in case you are very curious, this link might help to clarify a thing or two 🙂  BTW, the best way to actually know the difference is just tasting both next to each other (like I did at Marchesi). A solid, to the point wine, that opens with aromas ‘new leather’ (I know, but it really did), black cherry and a hint of oak-driven spice. On the palate I noticed dried black cherry, anise and a slightly bitter note. But what made it a winner for me was silky tannins, characterized by a long and fresh finish. A warm and full-bodied feeling in the mouth . Beauty!!

Now time for the Barolo di Barolo 🙂 😉 Not an official term, but hey, I’m drinking Barolo of Barolo in Barolo made by the Marchesi di Barolo … it won’t get more Barolo than this!

I tasted 3 of Marchesi’s 2013 Barolo’s:  Barolo (Classic), Sarmassa and my beloved Cannubi.  3 wines made with the same grape, in ways similar but yet so different. Putting these 3 next to each other is the best example of when wines are cultivated in the same ways and produced in the same ways that the fact they come from a different soil makes them completely different!! Incredible.

It already starts at the nose with the Cannubi being tight and focused with aromas of wild berry, red rose. Whereas the Sarmassa gives more black-skinned fruit, coffee/toasty, dark spice and  even balsamic notes and the “Barolo Tradizione” that is somehow ‘softer’ with the red-fruits but still the hints of coffee. All 3 with an incredible finish, but maybe all 3 might need some extra time …but nevertheless very drinkable now and a pleasure for the taste buds and the palate.

Thank you very much Lucrenzia for this fantastic visit!!

 

Franciacorta is not the same as prosecco or spumante

Often when people talk about Franciacorta wines they never talk about Franciacorta, but about spumante or prosecco… but I would advise you to never say that to a wine producer in Franciacorta as they can’t stand it 🙂  Franciacorta bubbled wines are DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata) meaning that the wine can only be made in a specific geographical location. And therefore the sparkling wine is called Franciacorta (nothing else). The geographical location of Franciacorta is on the hills between the southern shore of Lake Iseo and the city of Brescia. A few weeks ago I noticed the Franciacorta/spumante/prosecco topic was a very sensitive topic during a lunch I had with Maurizio Zanella founder of Franciacorta winery Ca’ del bosco. I know it might seem ridiculous for most people, but if only you knew what efforts Mr. Zanella and his colleagues had to do to get this status you would definitely understand their frustration.  But also if you taste all 3 types you’ll definitely notice that the taste and experience of all 3 is very different. With Franciacorta being my personal favorite (not only because it comes from my Dad’s region… but it helps 😉 ) Not that I’m saying you can’t find good bubbles in the other 2 types, but they are different in many ways 🙂

Another very interesting fact I found out during my lunch was that not Champagne ( as everybody thinks) ‘invented’ the sparkling wine, but according to ancient literature it was many years before that a pharmacist from the Brescia/Franciacorta region already discovered it… the only difference beeing that in comparison with our friend Dom Pérignon, nobody continued making sparkling wines after the  pharmacist’s dead. resulting in the wine dissapearing for some years.

Just like in many other wine regions (especially the DOCG ones) regulations for the wine making process is very strict. Besides that the vineyards have to be location within specific borders, there are also regulations about the soil… there it is specified that it has to be mineral-rich, granular-sized, calcareous gravel and sandy morainal soils that cover a limestone bedrock. As for the permitted grape varieties , they are  Chardonnay, Pinot nero and  Pinot bianco.  As for the winemaking it self the rules are even ‘stricter’ than for Champagne. In Franciacorta the rules are as follows:

  • Non-vintage or let’s just call it regular Franciacorta 🙂 : may only be released after 25 months (after harvest), of which 18 months must be in contact with the yeast in the bottle (compared to 15 months in the case of Champagne)
  • Franciacorta Vintage or Millesimato: release not before  37 months after harvest, of which 30 months must be in contact with the yeast
  • Franciacorta Rosé: must contain at least 15% Pinot nero, and may be made by blending red wine
  • Franciacorta Satèn: can only contain with raisins (Chardonnay and/or Pinot bianco)… basically a blanc de blancs

About this last one, Franciacorta Satèn, I was wondering what the significance was… I always thought it had something to do with the silky feel of the wines … but it was Maurizio Zanella who revealed the true story.  Apparently for many years wine makers making bubbled wines had problems because of law changes (mostly because of our friends in champagne) that some names (Crémant, Cramant, etc..), indications, etc. couldn’t be used any more. As wineries Ca’ del bosco and Bellavista were sick of always having to change their labels(amongst other things) they decided to create and register their own ‘type’  and asked a copywriter to create one. This was the moment the Satèn was born. Initially only used by Ca’ del Bosco and Bellavista, but after a few years they released the name for the whole Franciacorta region to be able to use the nomination.  So in a few words Satèn was just an invention from a copywriter 🙂 🙂

Mister Zanella is a born story teller and I felt very privileged to be able to sit across of Mr Zanella during a lunch! I also discovered that Mr Zanella’s mother was born in the same village (Bormio) as my dad 🙂 making me an even bigger fan of their wines 🙂 . He found it important that before we would talk about specific wines, we would know more about the wine region and its history.

Ca’ del bosco is one of the 3  major Franciacorta producers together with Berlucchi and Bellavista.  Ca’del bosco that means ‘house in the forest’ in English, is exactly what it was when Maurizio Zanella’s Mother (Annamaria Clementi Zanella) bought the property early 1960’s. it was a hillside with two hectares of land, surrounded by a dense wood of oak.   It is with the help of farmer Antonio Gandossi that she started planting vines (initially for own use). It isn’t until in the late 1970’s that André Dubois would help Ca’ del bosco to lift the quality of their wines a few levels higher and it was a huge success…. From then on they only kept climbing higher.  I must say it is very impressive how a small winery grew that much in such a short period of time. I might even add the growth of a whole region, as because of all their hard work they have put a small region on the map.

As Maurzio loved and admired his mom a lot, he decided to create a special cuvee dedicated to his mother aka Cuvée Annamaria Clementi.

Of course during our lunch at the Michelin star awarded restaurant Senza Nome we also tasted some of the beauties from the Ca’ del bosco cellar.  A lovely meal I’d say 🙂 one I wouldn’t mind having again.

We started with their ‘entry’ level wine, although I find that term maybe a bit denigrating…anyhow their Cuvée prestige is wine they produce the most bottles of and according to Maurizio it is also the most difficult wine to make. Much more difficult than the other ones he makes. As for the other ones nature does most of the work.  The Cuvée prestige is  a beautiful sparkling wine with even more beautiful aromatic profile with spicy notes with tones of I would say melon. This Franciacorta (75% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco and 15% Pinot Nero) offers spicy and vibrant aromatic tones that you don’t find in its peers. A job to drink a high level wine… so we can only imagine how their more ‘matured’ wines taste like.

To me what makes the difference between a good and lesser sparkling wine in general is the type of bubbles. The best to explain it is with a piece of fruit: if you eat a piece of fruit let’s say a peach that isn’t ripe yet you can eat it, but it wouldn’t taste like  one that is perfectly ripe and juicy. With sparkling wine if it didn’t age long enough you can drink it but the bubbles will be more aggressive, if you let it age a bit longer they will soften and more pleasant to drink. The only disadvantage for me is that the ones that age longer are usually also more expensive 🙂 but better to drink less and have higher quality  than the other way around. Besides when I drink sparkling wines with aggressive bubbles I know I’ll be having an enormous headache  the next morning.

The next Franciacorta to be tasted was the Satèn. It was the first time I tasted it, but it was love at first sight. Very elegant sparkles that has aromas of yellow fruit and white flowers. On the palate creaminess and ripe yellow apple, crushed herb alongside a soft perlage. Now I know where the saying ‘like an angel peeing in your mouth’ comes from, as this sure felt like it.  This wine matched perfectly with the Tartare red Gambas aka Gamberrro rosso di Mazara e Caviale, patata morbida al’alceto di vino. Trust me, it tasted as good as it sounds

For the following course which was a pasta (home-made) with pesto raw marinated tomatoes (again all home-made) we were served a 2014 bottle of Chardonnay (Curtefranca Bianca DOC) that brought back lots of memories. I drank it the first time many years ago (I think early 2000’s) at an Italian restaurant in Frankfurt (I know out of all places). That’s also when I discovered Franciacorta also made great non sparkling wines. Maurizio’s idea behind this wines wasn’t to make a copy of Burgundy wines or any other famous wine as to his opinion if you want to drink a great Burgundy (of which he is big fan), you drink a wine from Burgundy… and that’s his philosophy with all the wines he makes. He does his own thing without watching too much to other and certainly not being a copycat. A very nice result for both this white as the red Sebino Rosso IGT (an elegant blend from Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc) we got served with the Filleto di Manzo with old Balsamic vinegar.

 

The stars of the lunch were without any doubt the bottles of wines, but with 1 exception. Giovanni Bruno’s revised Tiramisu, that gave a whole other dimension to tiramisu and lifted up the level.

The end of a perfect lunch with very interesting people and hunger to find out more about this wonderful wine region and winery

Austria meets South America

When I saw our friends from Young Charly were doing  a wine & dine evening with Salomon wines at a South American restaurant (A’sur), I must say I was intrigued to try it. Basically another excuse for a night out with friends 🙂 🙂 .  The Salomon Undhof winery is one the most famous names in Austria as they did many important contributions in the Austrian viticulture history. They were one of the first ones  to export Austrian wines to the EU and the USA (to give one example). The winery is situated along the Danube River around the twin medieval towns of Krems and Stein, the Kremstal region is right next to the Wachau and the same latitude as Burgundy in fact, Krems is a sister city to Beaune. Not that this is of high importance, but just a nice to know 🙂  Today it is already the 7th generation of the Salomon family who is running the winery and the next generation is ready to continue in their parents’ food steps as it was Fanny-Marie (daughter of current owner) who came to Belgium to present their wines.  What is also nice to know is that besides the vineyards in Austria, the family also has vineyards in Australia and New Zealand. The reason why they also have vineyards at the other side of the world, is because the current owner Dr. Bert Salomon had moved there with his family many years ago . But when taking over the reins of  the Austrian vineyard from his older brother the family decided to move back to Austria.  Although technically speaking they follow the sun as first they do the harvest in Austria and in January/February they do the harvest in Australia and they all move there to help 🙂  That maybe also explains Fanny-Marie’s sunny smile 😉

At the Salomon Undhof winery they only produce 2 types of wine (but of TOP level) Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. The famous Riesling of the estate groes on the top sites of Kögl and Pfaffenberg. The Grüner Veltliner Von Stein comes from the steep terraced hills behind the old town of Stein. The best “loess” soils provide the Lindberg and Wachtberg Grüner Veltliner. All the grapes are harvested traditionally by hand only… so you can imagine the time and effort it takes to produce the wines.  At the winery they only use stainless steel tanks, so no wooden barrels that results in intriguing, pure, honest and complex wines that can be drunk immediately.

We started our journey through the Salomon winery with ¨their Grüner Veltliners, the 2016 ‘Wieden’ and 2015 ‘Krems’ that got served with and appetizer with pork belly  followed by one of my favorite dishes ever a ceviche from gilt-head bream.  The 2016 had a nose of ripe yellow plum. The palate brings more Grüner Veltliner savoriness, with hints of yeast and a bit herby. It is dry in mouthfeel, it refreshes with a lovely herbal citrus tang on the finish.  The 2015 (that gets my preference) is juicier with a herbal touch reminiscent of fresh sage and a very savory finish. For the dish the 2016 seemed like a better fit (to me) as it added that extra bit of freshness. Basically wines that ask for sunny weather (just like today… so guess what I’ll be having tonight 😉 )

As a surprise Fanny-Marie had brought a 2009 Krems-Stein Grüner Veltliner. Personally it wasn’t 100% my taste, but for my table guest it was (so it was just me 🙂 ). It was a rich wine with a almost oily texture. In the mouth you notice the intense flavor of  ripe fruit with the yellow fruit flavors dominating acidity and peppery taste.  Nevertheless my personal opinion, it was a great pleasure to have tasted it. This wine was served with Brussels sprouts South American style 🙂 I didn’t see that one coming .

Now we change our path and move towards the Rieslings, the wines the winery is famous for:-)  here we were served the 2016 Riesling ‘Stein a. d. Donau’ and 2015  Pfaffenberg and here again Fanny-Marie had a 1996 Pfaffenberg as a surprise for us. The 2016 Citrus (orangy zest) with a touch of exotic (mango I think it was). Juicy, pleasant fruit sweetness with fine acidity and honey on the finish. With the smell of the 2015 you get an instant feel of happiness in the package 🙂 That and fresh lemon zest notes (aka spring). The palate is so precise, so much tension that you can almost feel the citrus flavors exploding in your mouth. A beautiful aromatic Riesling that can described with words like glorious, long, ripe and freshness.  For the 1996 it was more intense apple and mineral flavors that are accented of salt/ peppery notes. A powerful finish though.  Wines that went very nice with the seabass we were served.

As I’m not a big cheese fan I skipped the cheese, but got a lovely pineapple dessert to match one of my favorites, the Niepoort Colheita. There were some jealous people around me, I can tell you that 😉

A very nice introduction of wines I didn’t know too much about. Athough you notice that Austrian wines are finding their way more and more towards Belgium… both in restaurants and homes. I can’t wait to discover more of their wines or Austrian wines in general… I think a wine trip to Austria needs to be done!! And who new South America and Austria could walk hand in hand. Thank you to the A’sur team, Young Charly and Fanny-Marie for making this evening possible!!

Quality without compromise

A few days ago the time had finally arrived that I would have a meal at the 2 Michelin star restaurant De Pastorale. I had always figured the restaurant was quit far from my home, but it seemed it was only 3km from my home… oops 🙂 A few days ago I was here to discover the wines from organic &bio dynamic Tuscan winery Podere Forte.  Organic/bio dynamic wines don’t also float my boat many of them have a special taste in them that I just don’t like… luckily there are wineries like Podere Forte that could be used as a benchmark any day for how organic/bio dynamic wines should be like!! Podere forte was founded in 1997 as an act of love from Pasquale Forte. When Pasquale was visiting the area of Castiglione d’Orcia he fell hopelessly in love with it 🙂  and I can’t blame him as the area is breath taking! I visit the area 8 or 9  years ago with my wife where we stayed at the old San Simeone convent (that was transformed in B&B) that unfortunately closed its doors a while ago.

Pasquale Forte is a good example of a self-made man (that kept/keeps his feet on the ground). Pasquale was born in Calabria as youngest of 9 children. Pasquale already learned very early in life what hard working was on his parent’s farm. When his parents died, as tradition imposes it, the farm went to oldest son. Due to a gambling problem of Pasquale’s oldest brother the farm had to be sold and Pasquale set sail to the North of Italy to look for work.  In a garage in the small centre of Orsenigo, in Brianza area, not far from the Como lake  he started his own company (Eldor Corporation) specialized in consumer electronics, developing high tension transformers for radio and television sets.  Today 46 years the company has over 3000 employees, offices all over the world and is supplier of all big car companies. But still with all of this success Pasquale still had an interrupted dream…having a farm and making wine, olive oil, etc… I know many of you are thinking it is another fortunate/ famous person who just wants to have a vineyard in Tuscany,  but has no clue what he is doing with an end product basically ‘sucks’. Pasquale is exactly the opposite as he knows 100% what he is doing and he is doing it with the same love, drive for perfection, determination, and passion and philosophy like when he started Eldor ‘Quality without compromise’(in this case with full respect with nature).

Tuscany is known by everbody for its wonderful wine regions like Montalcino or the Chianti region, but instead of buying a property in one of these ‘famous’ regions Pasquale just followed his heart and chose an abandoned place between Montalcino and Montepluciano in the Orcia Valley (Unesco world heritage list) with a hundred-year history behind it and where wine making wasn’t done (or almost not done).  He saw it a bit as a challenge to put this place on the map as new wine region. On the 300ha of land Podere Forte owns only 21 are cultivated with vineyards, 23 are full of olive trees and the remaining part exists of forests, pastures, gardens and grazing areas for the Cinta Senese and Chianina cattle they have. The winery only produces 3 types of wine (technically 4 as they are been experimenting for 20 years to make the perfect white wine (a Greco di tufo), but they don’t want to sell it until it is perfect)  and next to that they have many other organic biodynamic products like honey, olive oil, flour, cured meats, etc…

At Podere Forte nothing is left to chance and everything contributes to create a self-sufficient, wholesome ecosystem. Biodynamic agriculture is a complex concept to explain, but basically it is creating products that are fundamentally balanced and respectful of every living creature in the course of its production cycle… Pasquale obviously doesn’t to this all by himself. As Pasquale is a perfectionist  who wants to do the best job possible he called in the help of “earth scientists” Lydia and Claude Bourguignon, world experts in the preparation of viticultural soil. Lydia and Claude analysed parcel by parcel (nothing happens at the estate without their blessing 🙂 ) to know which type of grapes would be best on which parcel!! Talking about a torough investigation.  The estate grows Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. You can take their philosophy ‘Quality without compromise’ almost literally as they spend over 1000 hours per hectare of land (which is enormous as most others spend around 300hours).

So after having heard all of this and much more interesting things about the vineyards I was very excited to try their wines !! Before I continue I must also add that the dishes Bart De Poorter and his team at De Pastorale made to match the wines were perfect!!! Incredible pairings!!

We started with their ‘entry level’ wine, their 2015 Petruccino that they also like to refer to as the ‘premier cru’ (85% sangiovese, 15% merlot). The wine has a ruby red color, in the nose floral notes of violets and fruity aromas of wild strawberry or maybe even cherry. When tasting you notice a lot of red ripe fruit, with a pleasant acidity, soft tannins and long-lasting elegant aftertaste. What did surprise me that the wine has a 15% alcohol percentage , you really don’t notice it as the wine is so elegant and went wonderfully with the chianina!! (the wine also already found its way to my own private cellar).

If I was already so impressed by the ‘entry level’ wine, god knows what their ‘grand cru’ Petrucci would be like. Just like with the Petruccino, in the Petrucci  you notice it is a strong wine, but in the end it still stays so elegant. From the Petrucci we were served 2 difference vintages, the 2008 and the 2013 (both 100% sangiovese).  The 2013 was brilliant ruby red, intense nose of cherries and raspberries, floral notes of violet and rosehip, on the palate cinnamon, vanilla and a hint of black pepper with a mineral finish. Now the 2008 was a bit stronger, but it had the same fresh/mineral finish like the 2013.  Basically it was the 2013 but with a bit (even more)body…

For the main dish we left the ‘Sangiovese’ for what it is and headed towards Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot blends that go under the name Guardiavigna. We were served 3 different vintages from the Guardiavigna the 2007, 2008 and 2013.  All 3 beautiful wines, but what was funny to discover was that from 2007 onwards the percentages of Merlot and Cabernet Franc replaced each other. The Merlot was initially the main grape, but in the most recent wines it is the Cabernet Franc that is on the main stage 🙂  . So they replaced the red fruitiness for the balance and elegance that Cabernet France brings to blends.  Add to that Petit verdot for tannins, extra colour and flavours and you have a winner 🙂  I’m more fan of Sangiovese wines like the Petrucci of Petruccino, but the Guardiavigna wasn’t at all punishment to drink 🙂 .  On the contrary, a true celebration to drink it!  It was interesting to taste this evolution from both they blends as the bottle type as that also changed during this period…

As our friends from Podere Forte don’t have a dessert wine yet, the sommelier came with a beauty he still had in his cellar to match the Jerusalem artichoke dessert (yes, you are reading it correctly, Jerusalem artichoke).  He surprised us with a 2004 Scheurebe by Koehler-Ruprecht.  Scheurebe is (as you probably know) a white-wine grape, one of Germany’s most successful new grape breeds. It is a cross between Riesling and Silvaner that are often aged to create sweet or dessert wines just like the wine we were served.  Very nice floral notes, rosted spice and candied orange slices.  Less sweet than expected on the palate, lots of citrus, without being lemony, more candied oranges, plus a hint of old oak, dried grasses and herbs, thanks to the moderate acidity keeps the gentle acidity against it and is harmonious, albeit a little quiet. Excellent as a companion for the Artichoke dessert.

A wonderful and very interesting evening. I learned lots of new things about Biodynamic/organic winemaking. A new wine trip presents itself 🙂

The ultimate tram experience

Two weeks ago I finally got to try the Brussels Tram experience, something I already wanted to do since their first ride 🙂  but for some reason or the other I never made it happen. So I was very happy when the Raimat  asked if my wife and I wanted to join them.  The Brussels tram experience is basically an ‘old’ tram they remodeled into a trendy restaurant setting and that takes you through Brussels in a 2h ride while enjoying a refined meal with accompanied drinks.  For food it were dishes created by Lionel Rigolet (Comme chez Soi**) that we were served.

I must be completely honest that the dishes weren’t  100% like you would have them at Comme chez soi itself, but when you see the size of the kitchen in the tram  and take all the shaking and bouncing in consideration (as the tram is moving) you can only have respect for the chef preparing the dishes as I wouldn’t be able to do better 🙂 !  On the menu that night:  as appetizers an Eel and sorrel soup, garlic foam, veal cannelloni with foie gras and  scallops with ras el-hanout, biscuit and a light parmesan cream. Continued by Cod with spices, small crunchy vegetables, grey North Sea shrimp, light horseradish cream;  Pressed beef stew. As mean course we were served  Free range cock supreme, shellfish jus with crayfish and tarragon. And as desert a  chocolate crémeux made with Belcolade 71% cocoa Ecuadorian chocolate, exotic caramel, passion fruit, mascarpone and eau de Villée liqueur .

But the reason we were there were of course the wines from the Raimat winery. It was in 1914 that Manuel Raventós , son of  Josep Raventós  owner of  the Codorniu wineries (the first cava producers in Spain founded in the year 1515), bought 3500 ha of land in Raimat, Lleida (2 hour drive from Barcelona).  Nothing special you might think, but back in those days many people thought Manuel was gone crazy as it was a piece of desert and nobody thought he would succeed in his plan to grow vines. Now over 100 years later, millions of bottles of wine and many milestones (both for them as in Spanish wine making)  later like being the first to have a concrete building in Spain or  launching of the first to produce Albariño outside Galicia or being the first winery to classify their wine according to intensity did surprise me… and these are only 3 of the many milestones they’ve had!! He showed them 🙂 🙂 !!

I know that many amongst you, just like me, find it difficult when you are in a supermarket to find the perfect wine (especially if you weren’t able to taste it first)… in the end most people are no wine experts and in the end just go for something they have heard talking about and/or a label that looks nice. It is for this reason that Raimat started investigating how to make this process clearer and easier for regular consumers.  What they do it classify the wines according to their intensity going from 1 (very light) to 10 (very intense) and put these numbers on the bottles . The intensity of a wine depends first of all of the kind of grape, but also the wine making method that was used. It is the combination of Organoleptic  characteristics (like the freshness, color, taste and aroma), Body (Volume, depth) and Barrel (period in barrels). To help the consumers even more (if they have a smartphone that is) they added the intensity legend on every bottle as well as the body/tasting notes and for people who want to know even more they added a QR code, where when scanning it you will find all info on that particular wine.  So if you want to find out it was a good study they did go to the supermarket and find out for yourself (in Belgium Raimat can be found at the Delhaize supermarkets) . I already find it a clever solution 🙂

As a ‘test’ to see if what they say it true we were served 2 wines  with intensity 8  their  2016 Chardonnay aka Castell and a 2015 Tempranillo aka Pirinenc.

On the Castell bottle it was indicated that it was a full/intense bodied chardonnay that is very aromatic and tropical hints.  My personal finding was a  bright wine with intense aromas of a rich variety of fruits: peaches, grapefruit, lemons, limes, melons, and some flowery notes. In the mouth an overwhelming freshness, with an extended, pleasantly textured finish.  The acidity is smoothed out due to a part of the wine undergoes a malolactic fermentation and evens out the balance.  So I could definitely find myself in the description that is on the label. Of course what one tastes and smells can differ depending on what one knows from experience…

The same actually goes for the Pirinenc and the 12 months in oak barrels didn’t overdue it in the wine, but if I recall it well the winemaker told me that it wasn’t new oak they used… which would confirm that it wasn’t too present in the wine (what I prefer). Maybe they should indicate this on the bottle ‘old’ or ‘new’ oak, this way one knows how big the presence will be…

Both very nice wines. My wife and I even opened a bottle of Pirinenc  the day after so I think that proves home proves that I did really liked it 🙂 .  I will definitely try a few more of their wines to see the outcome or maybe just travel to Raimat (I could use some sun and warm weather 🙂 )

Now that I know what intensity 8 gives it will make it easier in the future when I see a bottle with a lower/higher intensity level to distinguish how ‘intense’ the wine(s) will be and I also think that’s the best approach if you are not a wine expert 🙂  .

Cheers