Garganega Nights: The ballad of pesto and Soave

Summer time is finally here which means the high temps and beautiful sunny skies are now in vogue. You’ve probably already had the grill fired up for many weeks now, which means there is no shortage of smoked game and roasted vegetables at the dinner table. Occasionally though, the beautiful weather relinquishes to the inevitable summer shower that can really put a damper on the night’s dinner plan. Fear not, leave it to us here at Amanti to provide you with a saleable dining alternative.

So you’re looking for something that can be prepared within the friendly confines of your home and you’re interested in trying a wine that you may not be quite as familiar with, but is sure to deliver a slam dunk….no scratch that, break the backboard. Or if you’re not a sports fan, make you reenact that famous scene from Harry Met Sally. And if you don’t like movies… well then I’ve got nothing. But you get the idea.

You know you’re going to crave a hearty meal to help you weather the storm and sometimes nothing can play that role quite like rich pasta lathered in pesto. Throw in some bruschetta covered in vine-ripened tomatoes, Parmigianino Reggiano and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and…. Voila! Now you’re feeling rather Soave, which is great, because that conveniently happens to be the name of the wine that’s quite the perfect pairing for this dish. Soave is made from the Garganega grape grown on the finest slopes in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy. The ingredients used in the preparation of pesto (garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and basil) have a sublime affinity with Soave making it quite the stunning pairing.

Soave Classcio happens to be the finest example of Garganega and fortunately for you, we have one of the most traditional producers of Soave Classico in the world! The 2010 Gini Soave Classico encapsulates all of the qualities one would look for in a well made Soave. The wine is rich and balanced with a freesia and jasmine florality combined with notes of lemon, white peach, and a slight hint of fresh ginger.

2010 Gini Soave Classico   $15.99

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When your wine talks, listen.

The late, great pianist Bill Evans was once asked to give advice on how to study music. His thoughts, in paraphrase, were this: “all you need to know can be learned through careful listening.”  This is of course, a simplification and Evans did have the distinct advantage of being a musical genius, but the lesson still applies to the mere mortal:  the ear, if trained to listen properly, will give access to the key aspects of the art-form.  Seems obvious, right?  Well, this approach applies to learning about wine — the key points about any wine are waiting in the bottle, and can be appreciated and identified through careful tasting by an informed palate. Note the word “informed.”

Luckily, our palates are already equipped to taste the nuances of wine–we need only train them to focus and identify. Most of us have the requisite number of taste buds, and olfactory receptors–all that is needed to ‘listen’ to what our glass is saying. Our tongues, noses and sensory memories –needed to recall and identify –may, however, need a bit of tuning and practice.

The key is, of course, practice –which in wine terms simply means consciously tasting wine on a regular basis. Arduous business, I know, but do try to bear with it. That first recognition of grape varietal, or characteristic flavor note (here’s where some book knowledge applies) can be an  ”Aha!” experience, an epiphany that fuels deeper observations and starts a life-long oenological journey.

Knowledge of iconic styles and varietals can inform expectations — -e.g.  “Is the wine in keeping with the style or a deviation? Did you get a cassis note from that text-book example of Cabernet Sauvignon,  taste tart cherries in that Sangiovese, or smell the tar and roses in that outstanding Barolo? ” Knowing and looking for classic flavor profiles can focus the palate.

Familiarity with regional wine making laws/practices and techniques can frame the inquiry-e.g. type of barrel, French, American oak, new or used?  Carbonic maceration, barrel fermentation, filtered, malolactic? etc.

Even a flawed wine can be instructive. e.g. “Is that Brett, oxidation, volatile acidity?”

Finally, a bit of study can help unravel those seemingly mysterious Old World wine labels, and knowledge of styles and flaws can increase confidence at restaurants and shops.

Classes at all levels of expertise are available at Amanti to expand your knowledge of wine’s language, and guide you on your journey- if you so desire.  So taste regularly and listen to your wine. Odds are you’ll like what its saying.

— Thaddeus Kawecki

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Q & A with Luca Roagna

Our very own Chris Dunaway had a quick Q & A session with famed wine maker, Luca Roagna (Roagna of Barbaresco/Barolo fame) and discussed all things Piedmont, Bourbon and futbol! Luca just headlined a tasting event here at Amanti Vino and everyone found him humble, generous and refreshingly genuine.

Here is the interview in its entirety.

Chris: There’s all this talk about modern v.s. traditional style with Barolo production. Could you briefly explain where your philosophy falls along that spectrum?

Luca: At our center we are extremely traditional, but there’s more to it than just extreme tradition as people think from a vinification perspective. In my opinion it is more about the purity of expression of the nebbiolo grape. Some people will talk about “new style” and “old style”, but really its just about the pure expression of the grape.

Chris: I frequently buy your lower end bottles due to my just-out-of-college budget and I’m really a big fan of the ’04 Langhe Rosso. If there’s one thing you could pair with that wine, what would it be?

Luca: It’s possible to pair every food that is similar to what you would use for the Barolo and Barbaresco. Usually if you have a good antipasto with meat or a main course with fatty meat, that is what’s best.

Chris: There’s an old saying we have out west that in order to make a lot of good wine, it takes a lot of good beer. Other than wine, what is one of your favorite beverages to enjoy after a long day in the vineyard?

Luca: I like a lot of different beers. I was in Manhattan yesterday with some friends and I got a chance to meet the brewmaster from Brooklynn Brewery. Last night I got to try a beer that they only release once a year that’s really small production and that was really good. Beer is a similar idea to wine, you know, there are many large factories that produce it, but there are also some that are artisanal and bring out great expression. When it comes to cocktails though, I like the Negroni.

Chris: Growing up in Piedmont I’m sure was an extraordinary experience. What is a cultural tradition that the people of Piedmont take the most pride in?

Luca: Our tradition that is most important is respect for family and each other. If everybody has respect for each other then it’s a good life.

Chris: Vinitaly is right around the corner so I’m sure you’re going to be pretty busy showing your portfolio. Are there many other wine events where you show your wines?

Luca: Well we do the same kind of thing we do in the U.S. as we do at Vinitaly in terms of showing our wines.  Of course we have a small production so it’s impossible to show the wines at every major event, but sometimes we’ll show wines in New York or maybe one week back in Italy or France and even in Japan.  At the same time, a couple thousand bottles production is very small so we can’t show it everywhere, but when we do show it we show it with the same energy and enthusiasm for every person in the world that gets a chance to experience our portfolio and we always seem to have a great time doing it and enjoy the company of those at each location.

Chris: The crichet paje is considered the pinnacle of your porfolio and is only produced in the best vintages. Is there one specific weather pattern that leads to a great vintage or are there different ways to end up with a great growing season?

Luca: The decision to make the crichet paje is not at harvest, but only after the aging.  For example, the last release of the crichet paje was in 2002.  You know, Piedmont in 2002 was really not the best vintage, but after the aging process it was really,really good.  So it is really only after the aging that we’ll have a good idea of what will become crichet paje.  It is the top quality from the Paje vineyard.  If the wine is really unique and expressive we will use the name crichet paje, but if the wine is of good quality, but not quite enough we will only use the name Paje. It is possible to have 1-4 years in a row that we produce crichet paje and then not have another for 5 years. But ultimately it just all depends on how well the aging process turns out.

Chris: I noticed that you also make grappa.  At what point in the night do you pour that, or are there any special occasions that call for a grappa toast?

Luca: We need a group of friends, if it’s a whole bottle of grappa, we need a big group of friends, but it’s usually for after lunch, after dinner for a relaxer. But a good group of friends with a good glass of grappa always makes for a good time.

Chris: And while we’re on the topic of spirits, I grew up in Kentucky and bourbon is a staple among our cultural traditions. Are you much of a bourbon fan?

Luca: I like bourbon, yes it’s great! I have some good friends in New York that when we fly in maybe once or twice a year we’ll do a tasting with them and then afterwards sit down and enjoy some nice bourbon or some Manhattans.

Chris: Any favorite style?

Luca: Well my friends, we’ll taste through several, but I prefer those with more of a purity of flavor like rye, a cleaner taste of the grain.

Chris: When you’re not tending the vines and making wine, what is one of your favorite hobbies to partake in?

Luca: I like sports, I like to run, ride bikes, and I like to travel. I don’t have a lot of time for vacationing, but when I travel for work I take some days off for visiting like for example today we went to the Metropolitan Museum. We like the art, but I am a farmer and don’t really recognize a lot of the art, but it’s still great. Good stuff.

Chris: One more question. Favorite futbol team?

Luca: They’re very small, but it’s definitely Torino!

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Spring ahead?

For me, the best thing about beer is the variety. There are beers for every mood, and certainly every season. I just wish I could enjoy them in the same season they claim to be representing.

The first day of the spring equinox is March 20th and even though it is still a week away, spring seasonal releases have already been made available. This has been a pet peeve of mine for quite some time. Beers that are supposed to express time or place should be consumed in that time period.  A spicy winter warmer will drink differently in the summer time. It might seem too rich and possibly cloying even in an air conditioned room. The same way a crisp pilsner might seem watery and insubstantial during a blizzard. Needless to say, the weather always has a major impact on what I decide to drink.

This issue has come into the spotlight when Chris Lohring, owner of Notch Brewing Co., wrote a blog entitled “The death of seasonal beers” (see link below). The blog caused an up-roar in the beer community. Many breweries were offering up explanations for why their seasonal releases seem to come out before their season. Most of them explain that the situation has much to do with the ever growing number of preorders for those seasonal offerings. This means they have to start brewing sooner to meet their quotas. This is why we have fresh, malty, spice-forward pumpkin ales in the dog days of summer.

Personally, I would like to drink a beer in its proper context, especially if I’m going to give a beer a fair evaluation.

http://www.notchbrewing.com/2012/02/24/the-death-of-seasonal-beers/

– Mike Kaminski

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“Do, do that voodoo that you do so well”

Biodynamic farming is viewed with so much skepticism for its outlandish m.o. that many times it is denounced for being a practice of borderline witchcraft.  Up until recently any designation such as Organic has been considered the “kiss of death,” a perception that has, prior to the past few years, been rooted in the lack of relevance by biodynamic  products on the global market. This trend, combined with the scrutiny associated with the practice, has many new to the scene hesitant to sport the “Scarlet B” of biodynamism; however it should be noted that more wines are produced through biodynamic farming than you may realize.

As the green movement is in full swing across the U.S. and abroad, a common misconception is that biodynamics is a recent innovation which implies that there is no historical significance to justify the higher price of production and thus a higher price per bottle. The concept is no rookie to the game but its presence as a buzzword throughout the industry is still relatively green.  Puns aside, there seems to be the need for a catalyst of sorts to compel consumers to buy biodynamic wine and presently the only reasonable candidate appears to be word of mouth.

I know, seems simple right?

The only problem is that the biggest voices are more inclined to stay hush, hush when it comes to sharing their opinion on the matter. In France, slapping a label of designation such as Organic or Biodynamic on a bottle is considered elitist by many.  You won’t find many practicing BD farmers talking about burying manure-filled horns of a lactating cow during their sales pitch (see my previous BD post).

Nevertheless, it is important to take note of those who are currently not only practicing biodynamic viticulture but also excelling at a marvelous clip. La Tache, a monopole of the well renowned Domaine la Romanee Conti, is nearly completely farmed biodynamically and is widely regarded as one of the finest plots of land world-wide for producing Pinot Noir. Domaine Leroy, which is much acclaimed for producing some of the most concentrated and terroir-driven wines of the Cote d’Or has been practicing biodynamic farming for decades.  Also 50% of the Grand Cru vineyards in Savenierres are farmed biodynamically (La Roche Aux Moines). And as mentioned before in the previous BD blog, there isn’t any empirical explanation to describe why biodynamic wine is so good, but it is just that.

It’s a long standing tradition around the world, but the movement is just in its youth in the U.S. and the only way to foster its growth is to start buying more BD wine.  Not only is it good for your satisfaction but it’s also a win for the big blue marble that we all love and share. Now you won’t catch me out hugging trees or occupying Wall Street anytime soon but when it comes to spending an extra 5 greenbacks to help support an admirable cause, I’m all in.

– Chris Dunaway

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High Wash

We at Amanti Vino like to stay on the cutting edge of the beverage world. So today I’d like to tell you about an exciting new trend in the world of craft spirits. Distilled Beer. Yeah, that’s right. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that what whiskey is?” Well, I’m glad you asked. My answer: Yes. BUT commercial beer is almost never used. A whiskey distillery will almost always ferment their own “beer” (called “low wash” or “distiller’s beer”) before distilling it into whiskey. The “beer” is never bottled or sold. (Also, they almost never use brewer’s yeast.) There’s a handful of breweries that have started putting their (commercially available) beer through the distillation process in order to create a new kind of spirit. So simple, yet so smart. These brewers-turned-distillers are on to something special. A few notables:

Kiuchi Brewery, known for its line of Hitachino Nest Beers, has been distilling it’s famed White Ale into a spirit. The label calls the product simply “grain alcohol distilled with hops, orange peel and coriander.” Unaged, this spirit is clear and makes a fantastic beer cocktail. – $19.99

G. Schneider & Sohn, a family owned brewery known for its award winning Hefe-Weizen, distilled its Aventinus, a wheat doppelbock, into a spirit called “Edelster Aventinus.” Also unaged and clear, this spirit boasts a malty, grainy flavor profile with an incredibly smooth texture. – $92.99

Schlenkerla, an historic Bavarian brewery and tavern, distilled its decorated Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. After coming off the still, the spirit is matured in Michel Couvreur barrels. But that’s not all! Freshly smoked barley is thrown in the barrel with the spirit to ensure that the barrel aging doesn’t overpower the smoke character that made the beer famous. Bold, rich and full-flavored, this unique spirit is choc-full of smokey, baconey goodness. – $121.99

The previous three spirits, although technically falling under the whiskey umbrella, don’t call themselves “whiskey” (or “whisky” for that matter). There is, however, at least one distillery that uses commercial beer AND calls their product “whiskey.” Charbay. Charbay Distillery is run by father and son distillers. They represent the 12th and 13th generations of a distilling lineage that began in Yugoslavia in the mid-18th century. These geniuses purchased 6,000 gallons of Bear Republic’s decorated Racer 5 IPA and distilled it into their upcoming “IPA Light Whiskey.” Like I said, Genius. (This stuff I haven’t seen yet, but be sure to keep checking back.)

As this new trend continues to develop, you can be sure that you’ll see more and more interesting incarnations of this fantastic new idea of turning beer into a distillate.

– Tim “The Schooner” Martone

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Stick a cork in it!

Just walked through the door, purse down, jacket off, time to unwind, no one’s home. A glass of wine maybe? But should I really open a full bottle?

If my roommate were home I wouldn’t feel so bad about opening one. But a glass would just be soooooo nice right now. And there just happens to be a few too many lying around the house for my “tasting and learning purposes” (insert muffled cough here). A glass of wine? No glass of wine? To be or not to be? I opt to flip a coin and let fate decide. Heads— I open the bottle, Tails…well you know how it works. Heads… oh boo hoo.

Once the pivotal moment of pulling the cork has taken place there’s no turning back.

After a glass or two (I once read that 3 oz pours work best), I’m right were I want to be. Comfortable. Relaxed. I even got a little dose of reality T.V. time in (a dirty little secret that is between me and the television. Not intended for the masses to know). The masses? Is anyone reading this? I can only hope. So, although I’ve been in the industry for several years, that doesn’t mean I can single handedly finish off a whole bottle.  And even if I could, I don’t think I could last the night. But that doesn’t mean the wine can’t.

There are many wines that can hold their own after being recorked, and some can get even better when revisited the next day.  It’s all contingent on a few key elements.  From what I’ve noticed over the last couple years, is that the wine’s age and structure are the most significant factors.  A young, fuller bodied red with solid tannins, good acidity and fruit, as well as relatively high alcohol, is the perfect candidate to open one day and save for the next.  White wine can also hold up as long as they have sufficient fruit, alcohol and are on the full bodied side. I look at it this way, opening a bottle with this criteria to enjoy and save for the following day is almost equivalent to decanting an entire bottle and finishing it that evening.  By either using a vacuum seal or re-corking the bottle, this relatively slow introduction of the wine to air won’t spoil it, but help it breathe a bit and come to life.  Once re-corking a bottle, it’s best to place it directly into a refrigerator.  At cooler temperatures, chemical reactions are slowed down and the wine will not fall off the cliff as quickly as it would if left out on the table.

Don’t believe me? Stick a cork in it and see for yourself.

Overnight wines:

Vallana Colline Novaresi Spanna 2008, $16.99

Alhambra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, $13.99

Giacomo Conterno Barbera 2009, $49.99

Martine Barraud Pouilly Fuisse La Roche 2008, $44.99

Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Bourdriotte 2008,$79.99

**No wines were harmed or damaged during the writing of this blog

– Amelia Lammann

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