Heavenly delights white truffles and Barolo wine

That I’m a fan of the Nebbiolo grape is clear by now I think? For the last few posts I’ve been talking to you about the Valtellina variant. This time however  I’ll be talking about its more famous brother from the neighboring region Piemonte  (Alba/Asti). I know it seemed that I don’t like Alba/Asti  or Barolo variant, but I do without any doubt like them. It is just that as my roots are in Vatellina it has a special place in my heart… but I wouldn’t call drinking a Barolo a big sacrifice 😉 It is just like Luciano Taliano (owner of the Montaribaldi vineyard) said during the meal we had a couple of days ago at Spiga d’oro:  he is fan of all his wines, but the Barbaresco is the apple of his eye… why? Because his family roots are in Barbaresco….

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The older a Nebbiolo wine get the “easier” it gets to recognize them, because as they age the wines take on a ‘brick-orange’ shade at the rim of the glass. I know it might sound strange but you should just try it once putting an older Nebbiolo wine next to for example an older Sangiovese wine… The difference in color couldn’t be bigger. Next to its ‘characteristic’ color the Nebbiolo wine comes with fragrances of violets, tar, wild herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles and tobacco. The most ideal location is at an elevation between 150 and 300 meter. What is special about the nebbiolo grape is that it usually only gets harvested in October, sometimes even at towards the end of the month. This is ‘special’ if you know most grapes in other regions get picked at the end of august or the latest at the end of September… then again the climate and hours of sun during the year obviously decides this … I know the Nebbiolo grape might seem like an easy grape to grow, but it isn’t as it does not adapt particularly well to various vineyard soil types. It prefers soils with high concentration of calcareous marl.

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Just like in many other regions there are multiple approaches on making wine, a ‘traditional’ way and a ‘modern’ way. Both have their pro’s and contra’s. A contra of the traditional way or at least how it used to be done many years ago was the ‘lack’ of taking hygiene in consideration that would lead to the a bacterial infection and in the end development of off flavors and potential wine faults that would require at least 24 hours decanting to alleviate . Nowadays winemaking for both traditionalists and modernists include strict hygiene controls and the use of some modern winemaking equipment… so if you no worries anymore 🙂

The most famous wines from Piemonte made with the Nebbiolo grape are without doubt Barolo and Barbaresco. The way to distinguish the 2 wines was very well described by Giorgia Tontodonati from the Montaribaldi vineyard. Barbaresco is the ‘queen’ elegant, ‘softer’ and aromatic, Barolo is the ‘King’ very complex and strong.

I’ve already had the pleasure to have travelled many times to Piemonte to discover the many wonderful things this region has to offer. Next to their wonderful wines they  also have a very refined cuisine with evergreens like ravioli del plin, Tajarin al sugo, vitel tonné (vitello tonnato), Agnolotti, carne cruda alla piemontese, etc… BUT the other world famous trademark product of the of Piemonte is the one and only white truffle! Earlier this week all these wonderful things got combined at one of my preferred Italian restaurants in Belgium Spiga d’oro by my dear friend Franco Di Taranto… As tip of the iceberg he had invited Luciano Taliano from the Montaribaldi winery and trifolau Ezio who brought white truffles he had found the day before… only when in Alba itself you’ll get them on the day itself 🙂 To describe the evening in 1 word “Mythical”!! As I’m not really the man who sticks to one word (sorry for that)  I’ll tell you more about this wonderful evening that made me feel in Piemonte all over again!!

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Montaribaldi is a quite young vineyard as the brothers Roberto and Luciano Taliano only opened it around 1994. Technically speaking the vineyard already existed earlier, but in 1994 as after he acquired the vineyards from his father Guiseppe aka ‘Pino’ who had founded it in 1968. The vineyard was named Montaribaldi after the old Roman roads that link the winery to the vineyards. Luciano’s goal was and still is to create a diverse selection of holdings that highlights the different wines of the region.

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What I think is the reason for success of Montaribaldi wines is the accurate selection of grapes (the wine gets made on the land) and careful vinification. They also are very fortunate to have vines located in between the ones from their renowned neighbor Angelo Gaja. After having tasted their wines I can only come to the following conclusion their balance, length, intensity and concentration of flavors are all right how they supposed to be! Combine these wines with a meal by Franco and you have a feast… We were served the following menu with paired wines:

my-table

A secret celery and truffle salad ‘Arte e Querce’ prepared by Ezio’s wife Clelia. The salad got served with a 2015 Roero Arneis (white). I never saw a man so proud!! You could really tell truffles are Ezio’s passion as he was flaking it so proudly… very endearing to see 🙂

Celery truffle saladRoero Arneis

ezio

Vitel Tonné & Carne cruda a l’Albese con tartufo bianco paired with a 2012 Barbera

Barbera Vitel tonné

Robbilo tre latte with blac truffle, leek from Cervere, pears, beetroot and cugnamust from Nebbiolo. This dish got paired with a refreshing 2010 Langhe

RobbioloLanghe

“Cocotte” (cheese fondu) from Fontina cheese with fennel sausage and white truffle flakes. Served with 2 Barbaresco’s from different pieces of land aka Palazzina and Sori. Both wines were from 2011.

Barbaresco Cocotte

The main course of the evening was venison with a Barolo reduction with white truffle that got paired with the wine everybody was looking forward to drink the 2012 Barolo.

Main course SVI

Barolo

To end our meal we got served a chocolate dessert together with a Moscato d’asti. We did also get some white truffle flakes on our chocolate dessert, I didn’t refuse it but if it wouldn’t have been there the dessert would have equally been good 🙂

dessert

For me when you prepare a dish with truffles, it should be the truffles playing the main role!! Here again the key word ‘simplicity’ is important to make sure the truffle gets the justice it supposed to get. That’s exactly what my dear friend Franco did. My first words after my meal (and you can check with the people at my table) were “I feel like going to Piemonte now”!! So I guess a trip to Piemonte won’t be far off 😉 😉

I’m not sure why I always have to say which wine I prefer as I like all of them and I don’t want you guys to think that because I prefer one over the other it means the other wines were bad… as they weren’t  🙂  But just to keep everybody happy I admit that the Barbaresco’s charmed me most with on the first place the Sori. On the nose sweet and penetrating notes of licorice and chocolate, firmer and more sustained on the palate but with the roundness and solidity of a high quality extraction. Maybe the fact Luciano talked with so much love about it had an influence ooooooooor that Giorgia compared it with a queen 😉 😉 who knows?! One thing is for sure once again I’ll need to expand my wine cellar and definitely have another winetrip to Piemonte 🙂

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Many thanks to Franco,  Aline, Toni, Luciano, Giorgia, Ezio and his wife for making this an unforgettable evening (and of course also my table guests 🙂 )

For more info on Montaribaldi wines in Belgium please contact SVI.

Time to put the finalists for Best Sommelier of Belgium 2016 in the spotlight: Gianluca Di Taranto

Now we know who the  finalists for the title of Best Sommelier of Belgium are  it is time to get to know them better and have a sneak peak in their life as sommelier. The second semi finalist I want to put in the spotlight is my dear friend Gianluca Di Taranto. I met Gianluca a few years (I think about 5 years) ago during Apéro Vintage Leuven an event from Bordeaux wines and we’ve had lots of meals together ever since 🙂 :-).
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At that time Gianluca still worked at his dad’s restaurant. Which I think that  was one of the reasons (next to our love for good food and wine and the fact that we’re both Italian 😉 ) why it connected between us…my dad also used to have a restaurant where I worked every weekend. After having gotten a good base at his dad’s restaurant (Spiga d’oro aka one of my preferred Italian restaurants in Belgium) for a few years it was time for a new challenge . This new challenge brought Gianluca to the 2 Michelin starred ‘t Zilte where under the leading hand of Sepideh Sedaghatnia that knowledge he gained at his dad’s restaurant was taken up to the next level. I personally think that ‘t Zilte brought lots of great opportunities to Gianluca (visits to great wineries, new styles of food, etc…)
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Nowadays Gianluca is the head-sommelier of Sergio Herman’s Antwerp 2Michelin starred restaurant The Jane. Something I admire about Gianluca is motivation and dedication of wanting to achieve the maximum by giving the maximum. While other people go on holiday, Gianluca has done internships at top restaurants like Piazza Duomo ***,  Osteria Francescana *** or visit vineyards or give wine courses at his dad’s restaurant… basically everything is related to his work with maybe sometimes 1 or 2 days to rest…. then again if you do something with passion I’m sure it doesn’t always feel like work.
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I wish Gianluca (just like all other 2 contestants) the best of luck on 16/10/2016 during the finals.
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Let’s see what Gianluca answered at the 10 questions:
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
 
Immediately a difficult question! The answer really depends on my “mood” and on the season. My favorite region could very well be Piedmont (for both emotional and qualitative reasons) but I find it really, really harsh to not mention the incredible versatility of the Loire (my fav. region of the moment), the thirst-quenching whites of the Mosel, the fragrant reds of Beaujolais or the complexity of Burgundy..
 
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
 
A combination of passion, knowledge and understanding the guest you’re serving. The way you communicate and “feel” your guests is nothing to be underestimated, especially today. On the other hand, the financial side of our job and managing the stock in a successful way is no less important.
 
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
 
Perhaps it used to be but I think times have changed, or at least they are changing. The sommelier-scene in the USA is on fire (thanks to Somm the movie) and sommeliers are becoming as important as chefs and rock stars over there. We’re still some way from that here in Europe but I clearly feel sommeliers are being appreciated more and more since a few years. 
 
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
 
My father is a sommelier and he’s the one who took me to several wine regions and winery visits since I was little. He’s the one who pushed me to the studies of sommelier when I was 19, albeit involuntary back then.
gianluca-franco
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
Obviously a very special mention goes to my father. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Nationally I have a whole lot of respect for Steven Wullaert, one of the most talented people in our scenery here in Belgium. Internationally I’ve been following Arvid Rosengren both on Twitter and on his blog since 2012 now, even before he became the Best Sommelier of Europe in 2013. His talent is unparalleled and even while he’s on top of the world, he’s still very humble. I’d love to see him at work on the floor one day!
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
I don’t like making things too complicated. Usually the most traditional combo’s are unbeatable. When people have been serving a certain wine with a certain product in a certain region for decades, there must be a certain logic behind that.. But besides that I try to work without blinders and to be open to everything. Going wild and contrasting can be fun at times but I still prefer the old-school way of harmonizing wine and food. Or food and wine!
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Piedmont, in autumn. A myriad of colors, vineyards and hills combined with countless aromas which prickle your senses. You have to experience at least once. Unforgettable.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
The 1982 Monfortino from Giacomo Conterno. The Barolo which put Barolo on the world wine map.
1982-monfortino
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?
Hotel management school? Which hotel management school? 🙂
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
The Etna. It’s a mysterious and dramatic place with a landscape which resembles to the moon. Even though it used to be a very important wine region in the 19th century it is now reinventing itself. We are witnessing a rebirth. Think of a cross à la Piedmont x Burgundy with a dash of the New California! The viticulturists/oenologist are only now starting to discover the huge potential all the different Contrada have to offer. Tons of vineyards which are more than 120 years old combined with uncountable different soil compositions and structures. It’s a region buzzing with life. Visit it now while it’s still “underground” and practically undiscovered. 20 years from now you’ll tell your friends that you knew that exciting DOC long before them..

The night with a Bolgheri Pearl

Italy has – just like France – some iconic wine estates. In Piemonte for example they have Gaja. In Tuscany they have even 3 of these iconic wine estates, Sassicaia (technically speaking this is Tenuta San Guido), Tignanello and Ornellaia. Today I will will give you some background about Ornellaia. The reason I mention the other 2 estates is that together they are better known as ‘Super Tuscans’. What makes them special is that they were the first vineyards in Italy to produce wines ‘bordeaux’ style by using French grapes in combination with the Tuscan ‘sangiovese’ grape… which basically results in very beautiful Italians wines with a French flare. A few nights ago I joined one these 3 estates, namely the Ornellaia estate, for a dinner at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Belgium Spiga d’oro.

Ornellaia

Before I continue I do want to mention that I’m not going to mingle myself in the discussion if wines like the top Ornellaia wines are not worth their price, as  I think that it depends of your financial resources if you find those wines expensive or not. It also depends if wish to spend your money on wines like this.. But I agree to say that without any doubt they are very good wines and I wouldn’t mind to have to drink them again 🙂 and that is what it is all about, right?

Ornellaia wine

It was actually my friend Bram who asked me to join the Ornelaia dinner and I’m glad he did as I had never tried the Ornellaia wines before with exception for the ‘Le Volte’ I got as a Christmas present a few years ago (which I liked). The fact that the diner was taking place at Spiga d’oro was a bonus 🙂 Franco makes every dish a refined Italian celebration and pleasure for one’s taste buds 🙂

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It is more than obvious that you cannot start your dinner with the best wine, you have to build up crescendo and end with the best… this way you’ll remember that best for always and crave for more :-). I think I must rephrase that sentence, as I’m sure it is every winemakers aim to make every wine his best wine!! Maybe I should have said you should end with the wine that got even more attention, care and patience from the winemaker:-). The purpose of an ‘entry’ level wine is getting to know a vineyard or estate. This wine will also be the wine with which 90% of the people will have the first contact with you estate, so you would want it to be an ‘everybody’s’ friend. I think that the winemakers of the Ornellaia estate succeeded in this purpose with ‘Le Volte’! During the dinner it was indeed the second time I tasted it and although this time it was the 2013 vintage and the one I had before the 2008 vintage, it tasted as youthfully fresh and left the same fruit-forward mouth feel as I remembered it. This time with a bit more tones of red cherry, sweet spice and I even want to say chocolate.

Le volte

Le Volte’s freshness worked really nice with subtlety of the Veal involtino with fennel salami, ragú of chianina and a Fiorentina spinachsauce  we were served as a 1st course. As well as with the chickenliver crostini or short raised calzone with pecorino Toscano we were served as appetizers  (that were heavenly btw)… I’m a pizza fan, but not such a fan of pecorino cheese, but Franco showed me with this ‘simple’ dish that it’s all about how one prepares it…

Crostini with chickenlivers

Short raised calzone with pecorino Toscano

Veal involtino, fennel salami, ragú of chianina and a Fiorentina spinachsauce

What was about to follow was an absolute winner for me from the moment I saw it on the menu, Papardell di Grano Duro with fresh truffle sausage from Panzano (made by a top butcher aka Cecchini). God, I so love sausage (I wanted to say Italian sausage, but ALL men reading it would take it in a wrong way 😉 pervs (I know, it takes one to know one ;-)). Now it was time to start exploring new unknown wines (for me) of the Ornellaia estate and go 1 step higher with the 2012 ‘Le Serre Nuove’ that with his fuller body can work against the ‘fattiness’ of the sausage and harmonize with its walnut and red fruity (because of the Merlot) aftertaste (although I think if you age this wine a bit more you have an even more sparkling star)

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Papardell di Grano Duro with fresh truffle sausage from Panzano

What was about to follow was in some ways an unexpected surprise as they only make 2000, yes 2000 bottles of this wine!! Resulting in only having around 60 bottles available in Belgium. I’m talking about the Ornellaia Bianco. I know it seems strange to have a white wine after 2 reds, but its strong enough to handle it. In this wine you’ll find a blend of Sauvignon and Viognier… a strange combo, but it works! That’s all I can say… the only down side, as they only make 2000 bottles buying one isn’t an option (for both budget and availability reasons 🙂 ).

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I don’t want to suck up to Franco or so, but with the marinated chianina tartare with cantuccini breaded goose liver, Cetara anchovy and beetroot dish he showed me again that it’s all about the preparation. Just like pecorino (or Goat cheese), I’m not a too big fan of goose liver, the taste just doesn’t float my boat (Although I am a big pâté fan)… so I’m not sure what Franco did, maybe it was my favorite cookie crust around it that made it different, but I liked 🙂

Marinated chianina tartare with cantuccini breaded goose liver, Cetara anchovy and beetroot

The previous wine was without any doubt the headline of the night, but the wine I’m sure everybody came for was the one and only Ornellaia Superiore!! This wine needs something strong with it, so it got served with a Tagliata from grilled Chianina (red meat) with chianti salt, braised spinach with truffle pecorino, fried Porcini and chickpea crème. Both winners I’d say (wine and dish). The dish makes me happy because of its rich flavors (I love gravy and butter!!!) … and I can only say the same for the wine. I like my wines full bodied, strong and yet this wine is all about elegance with a long finish and interesting flavors of blueberries (some said tobacco, never tasted tobacco, so no idea how it tastes :-))

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Tagliata from grilled Chianina with chianti salt, braised spinach with truffle pecorino, fried Porcini and chickpea crème

My wife was sooo jealous when she saw what Franco had prepared for us as dessert, a Vahlrona chocolate Baba in a vanilla soup with a blueberry basil coulis (My wife is a chocoholic).With the dessert we were served Ornus from Ornellaia (which comes from Fraxinus Ornus”, the Latin name for the Manna-Tree or Flowering Ash (in Italian, Orniello). To my opinion it was a bit too sweet . I don’t like to be ‘negative’ but it wasn’t 100% my taste, a little bit more acidity would have made it perfect. So it is not that they had force me to drink it, as it was nice, but not as much as I had hoped 🙂 (but that’s my taste)

Vahlrona chocolate Baba in a vanilla soup with a blueberry basil coulis

Nevertheless, I had a wonderful evening full of wonderful experiences and I am glad I could be part of this unique event to try these unique wines!! (in unique company 🙂 )

In case you would want to purchase or  more information about the Ornellaia wines in Belgium I would advice you to contact Young Charly (for other countries check website  Ornellaia).

Another level of Italian food

Normally I’m not really into going to an Italian restaurant outside of Italy, but from time to time I make an exception. This time it brought me to Franco di Taranto’s restaurant Spiga d’oro. No regular pizza or pasta dishes like in other Italian restaurants, but real refined Italian gastronomical dishes that get served with some of Italy’s best wines (which fyi doesn’t always mean expensive). Spiga d’oro stands for quality the whole way! There were actually 2 reasons that convinced me to try this restaurant, firstly because a while ago I met and had dinner (quit a few bottles of wine passed the review that evening) with Gianluca and Anne-Sophie (Franco’s son (sommelier) and his future daughter in law (not putting any pressure ;-)) and I really liked them. Secondly because Spiga d’oro has already for a few years a score of 14/20 in the Gault Millau guide.

To open our taste buds, they served us a pumpkin soup with some kind of pancetta in it (if my memory remembers it right). This got followed by some Bio “Aquarello” risotto with pumpkin and red mullet that got finished off with some very special and delicate Laudemio olive oil. Our main course for the night was indescribable good and some of the best pieces of meat I have ever eaten, we had the Tagliata di Bovina, mosto di vincotto, andiva con miele di tartuffo. This piece of meat melted like butter on your tongue. Finally I finished my dinner with a piece of lemon meringue.

My compliments to Franco and his team as they bring Italian food to another level!

Of course we also drank some wine with our dinner. I have to be honest that the thing I like about Italian wines, is that I know more about them than about French wines 🙂 But it is a fact that in a restaurant you always fall back on the wines you know and usually pick the “safe” wine.  If it were not for Gianluca, I would have chosen a Gewürztraminer or a Vermentino. Gianluca then suggested me to try a white wine from Lazio ( a region not really known for its wines), a 2011 Donnaluce made by Poggio le Volpi .I’m really glad we took Gianluca’s advice! This wine had it all, the great smell, fruity taste with a lovely aftertaste that felt like a party in your mouth 🙂 (me and my friends who joined me for dinner liked the wine so much we are buying some bottles this weekend). With our heavenly meat we drank a 2007 red wine from Trentino, Moratel made by Cesconi.

After this meal it is really clear to me why this restaurant has received such a good score in the Gault Millau guide year after year.  The whole Spiga d’oro team really does their best to make your dinner a very nice experience and a rememberable evening by combining their knowhow with good quality products.

Before I leave you, I have to share a picture of my partners in crime to try Spiga d’oro, you guys are the best!

I can only advice you to try Spiga d’oro.

Restaurant Spiga d’oro

Website: http://www.spigadoro.be

Address: Leuvensesteenweg 43, 3191 Hever-Boortmeerbeek  Belgium

Phon n°: +32 ( 0)15 520 535