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Bordeaux is Expensive, Right?
Many wine drinkers know that top Bordeaux wines are expensive. In 1855 Napoleon asked wine regions to classify their top wines. Bordeaux selected their Grand Cru Classé wines, with 5 wineries named to Premier Grand Cru Classé. These were the most famous and expensive wines of their day. Château Lafite Rothschild was one of those five wineries. You can purchase a bottle of the current vintage (2015) Château Lafite Rothschild, you’ll just need to bring about $750 in your wallet. For one 750ml bottle, not a magnum, just a normal bottle. Too much for a Saturday night steak? Yeah, me too.

(click on any photo for full size slide show, hit escape to return to the post)

Luckily for us normal wine drinkers, Château Lafite Rothschild makes more that just their top wine. They draw from young vines, from lesser sections of their vineyards, and also from some local grape growers in the district to make a series of much more affordable wines. Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Légende Collection is that affordable collection of wines. These wines don’t receive 100% of the treatment the flagship wine, but they also don’t need years of aging to be approachable. They’re made for immediate enjoyment.

Disclosure: I received these wines as samples. No other compensation was provided, all opinions expressed are mine.

The grapes for the Légende Pauillac come from the same community as Château Lafite Rothschild’s flagship wine.

Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Pauillac AOC “Legende” 2015 (sample, $50 SRP or online here)
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot. Part estate and part purchased grapes from the village of Pauillac. 40% of the wine is aged 6-9 months in oak.
Eye: Very slightly hazy, medium ruby with a cool ruby edge. Barely stained legs.
Nose: Clean, medium+ intensity. Blackberries and cassis, vanilla, caramel, violets and a bit of musk.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ intensity flavor. Medium+ acidity, medium tannins, though they are fine grained already. Medium body, medium alcohol and nice medium-soft texture. Friendly and ready to drink now, although it will hold for several years. Not really meant for aging, this wine is ready to go.

From the winery:

Légende Pauillac 2015 – $49.99 – Pair Cuddling!
Varieties: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot
A major appellation in the Médoc, Pauillac benefits from exceptional terroir characterized by gravelly hilltops on a clay subsoil which ensures natural drainage and encourages the vines to develop deep roots – these are the perfect conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon. Pauillac is partly made from grapes grown in Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite)’s own vineyards and the wines are made with the same attention to detail as the Grand Vin. Their structure is less concentrated than their prestigious elders, allowing them to age quickly, and after just a few months in bottle; they offer an original, unique style, with the fullness and complexity for which the appellation is renowned. A powerful, structured wine, with well-integrated tannins and a long aromatic black pepper, licorice finish.

Even More Affordable: Légende Médoc
If $50 is above your “affordable” price point, don’t despair. By going outside Pauillac, to the surrounding Médoc region, still on the Left Bank in Bordeaux, you can still get a Château Lafite Rothschild collection wine.

The Médoc wine comes from grapes in the region around, but not in the community of Pauillac.

Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Médoc AOC “Légende” 2016 (sample, $25 SRP or online here)
65% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Merlot 13.5% abv
Eye: Clear, deep ruby with a cool ruby edge. Lightly stained legs.
Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Blackberries, tobacco and leather.
Mouth: Dry, medium intensity flavors. Medium acidity, medium tannins. Medium body, medium alcohol. Flavors of ripe but fresh blackberries, a bit of earth and a nice medium length finish. Very enjoyable, and excellent with some small farm cheddar from Iowa. The most noticeable difference between the Médoc and the Pauillac was a bit less oak influence in the Médoc wine.  I appreciate a light hand with oak, so I thought the Médoc..

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Hidden treasure map to Cariñena wine is courtesy of https://wineregiontowatch.com/

In Cariñena, Value is Hidden
Here’s some excellent advice in wine: look where others are not looking. Undiscovered regions are often filled with delicious wines that are superb values. You could do some research to find out the Cariñena region in Spain is located in the larger region of Aragon.  But that would be of little help. Digging deeper you could find out that Cariñena received a DO designation (designated origin, a quality designation similar to AOC in France and DOC in Italy) back in 1932. It was the second area in Spain to achieve DO status. Recently, the region has started to promote itself as a great value source of Garnacha (Grenache), which is true, and the wines are offered at good value.  You need to look past the Garnacha to see the hidden gem, namesake of the region: Cariñena, also known as Carignan.  In most places, Carignan is thought of as a blending grape and is rarely bottled on its’ own. But here, it merits its’ own bottle and is well worth discovering!

Disclosure: I received these bottles of Cariñena as promotional samples. No other compensation was provided, and all opinions are mine.

We put these wines through their paces with three separate meals. The wines showed their great flexibility in pairing with foods, each one was a delicious partner at the dinner table, capable of pairing with chicken, lamb and smoked pot roast. Looking for quality wines at bargain prices? Think Cariñena; the region and the grape!

Grandes Vinos
Grandes Vinos is a cooperative of over 700 family winegrowers in the Cariñena region who have partnered for many years to produce wines. They thoughtfully provide youtube video cameo’s of several of their growers, a very nice way to put individual faces on the people who are farming the grapes!

Grandes Vinos Y Vinedos 3C Cariñena DOP (sample, $15 SRP)
Eye: Clear, medium intensity ruby with a cool, purple edge. Legs with very light staining
Nose: Clean, medium+ intensity. First impression is a bit of vanilla from oak. Red fruits, ripe cranberry, red cherry, with a bit of earth behind.
Mouth: Dry, medium intensity flavors. Red fruits, peppery. Medium acidity, medium- tannins. Red fruits, a bit of earth. Medium body, medium texture. Nice medium+ lingering finish of the red fruits with a bit of earth. Delicious with the peppery Chicken Chilindron.

Chicken Chilindron from Cariñena
Chicken Chilindron is a dish typical to the region, and it was delicious with the 3C Cariñena. It’s an easy dish to make, so double-up the recipe and freeze some for another dinner.  The Cariñena website has the recipe posted  here.

Bodegas Paniza
Another cooperative, Bodegas Paniza was formed in 1953 from winegrowers in the Paniza community. They have a very nice overview of the Carignan grape on their website, available here.

Bodegas Paniza Carinena DOP 2016 (sample, $15 SRP)
Eye: Clear, medium ruby with a cool toned edge. Legs,but no visible staining
Nose: Clean, medium+ intensity ripe red fruit: strawberry candy, hints of pepper and chocolate. A touch of leather in the background, but predominantly ripe candied fruit on the nose.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ flavor intensity. Ripe red fruit is up front. Medium+ acidity, medium- tannins. Medium body and medium alcohol. Nice medium length plush fruit and cooking spices, cinnamon linger in the finish. Good quality wine, with plush flavors that stand up to the grilled lamb chops nicely. This was the most modern, international style wine of the three, so if that’s your preference, look to Bodegas Paniza first.

Bodegas San Valero
Here’s some nice background from the Bodegas San Valero website:

“A leading winery since 1944, Bodegas San Valero (Grupo BSV) has the longest history in Cariñena and has benefitted from access to some of the most prominent vineyards in the region for over 70 years.

Vineyards – San Valero manages 700 grape growers cultivating over 8,600 acres of vineyard as active members of the cooperative. 100% of the vineyards surround the winery facility near the village of Cariñena (with many qualifying for a single vineyard designation); the region’s day-to-night temperature variations, high winds, and notable elevation all support consistent ripening with minimal treatments.

San Valero focuses on indigenous varieties which account for 70% of plantings, including 25% dedicated to Garnacha. A long history in the region brings key advantages – some 20% of their Garnacha is classified as “old vines”, ranging from 30 to 100 years of age and situated at extreme altitudes in..

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Umbria countryside near Montefalco, olive trees, grapes and a host of other agricultural products abound

Italian Food, Wine and Travel Writers Explore More Sustainable Viticulture
This month, our Italian Wine, Food and Travel group is researching sustainable approaches to winemaking in Italy. Our investigation started as a look into biodynamics, but it turns out that can be a bit problematic. Why? Because certification isn’t right in every situation. The real key is to understand the grower’s approach, their challenges and how they surmount them. Our group is sure to have some interesting insights, jump to the bottom of this post to see the contributions of my fellow Italian wine enthusiast friends!

Sustainable Agriculture and Viticulture for the Future
Organic, biodynamic, sustainable how do we know what’s best for the vines, the environment, the workers, the winery business? Figuring out that challenge is a tall order, but I think Roberto di Filippo is on to something with his approach at Cantina di Filippo in Montefalco, Umbria. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Roberto on my recent trip to Montefalco, Umbria. Organic viticulture avoids modern chemical and systemic products, but even some organic approved products raise concern, copper sulfate being the chief culprit. The climate and indigenous grapes in this region put harvest at risk for organic growers. Sagrantino is a late ripening variety and is very susceptible to downy mildew, for which the only approved control is copper sulfate. But there are limits to how much can be used in a year. In 2014 and 2018, many growers could only harvest a fraction of their Sagrantino (most valuable crop) due to downy mildew.

As Roberto explains in the video clip below, he is not dogmatic in his approach. He is searching for the best, most truly sustainable approach. Right now, that includes organic and biodynamic viticulture.  However, if better methods are developed, he’ll switch.

Roberto di Filippo - YouTube

Biodynamic Certification Challenges
As we toured, I could see the commitment to biodynamic methods in the vineyard. Roberto shared that he has submitted for Demeter certification but has had challenges. While some wineries with no animals on-site can achieve certification, he has not yet succeeded. He accepts the challenges and soldiers on.  I could see this is a vineyard and winery deserving attention!

Roberto and his team (including a total of 9 horses + hundreds of geese and chickens) manage a total of 30 hectares of vineyards. The plot we saw is 4 hectares, managed entirely by horse, goose and chicken.  A total of 20 hectares are managed by horse, and they are working constantly to expand their approach to their entire farm. Respecting the work of Masanobu Fukuoka, Roberto makes a wine from the 4 hectare plot with the “one goose revolution” motto.

Disclosure: I attended Anteprima Sagrantino as a press member and my trip was sponsored by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco. All opinions expressed are my own.

Cantina di Filippo Farming - YouTube

Tasting the Wines
Organic and biodynamic viticulture is all well and good, but do the wines taste good?  Careful and mindful winemaking is still required. Roberto di Filippo and his crew show they are up to the task. Their standard wines are made with little intervention, but they are able to fully conform to IGT, DOC and DOCG standards.  Plus, they are delicious!  In addition, a couple of their wines are made in the no-sulfites-added natural realm and they are perfectly clean and delicious. Well done!  They have limited distribution in the US, you may be able to find them in your market or online here. (click on any photo below for a full size slide show, hit “escape” to return to the post)

Other Italian Food Wine & Travel Writers Thoughts on Viticulture in Italy
If you see this post soon enough, please join our conversation on Twitter at #ItalianFWT on Saturday March 2 at 10am CST. We love visitors to join in the chat!

You Can Visit
Do you have plans for a trip to Tuscany? Consider spending a few days in Tuscany’s quieter, friendly neighbor, Umbria.  Cantina di Filippo welcomes visitors, you can tour the farm just as I did, and taste their wines first hand.  I know I’ll be returning!

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FoodWineClick by Foodwineclick - 3w ago

Or: How I tasted 45 of the Most Tannic Wines and Lived to Tell the Tale
After hosting our recent Italian Food, Wine & Travel group’s foray into Sagrantino, I received a surprise invitation to attend Anteprima Sagrantino. This annual press event celebrates the release of young Montefalco Sagrantino wines in Montefalco, Umbria. The local Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco hosts a number of contests for celebratory artwork, wine pairing, and sommelier excellence.  And of course, the opportunity for the press to taste and evaluate the new wines.

Disclosure: I attended Anteprima Sagrantino as a press member and my trip was sponsored by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco. All opinions expressed are my own.

Montefalco Sagrantino is a DOCG red wine made from the Sagrantino grape, a native of this region of Umbria in Italy.

What’s Sagrantino?
The Sagrantino grape is indigenous to the Montefalco area in Umbria. Even with DNA testing, there haven’t been any close relative grapes found. Local winegrowers suspect Middle East origins, as the grape is slow ripening, requires lots of heat and is drought tolerant. One downside, the grape is very susceptible to diseases related to wet conditions, such as downy mildew. Sagrantino possesses a thick skin, produces high sugar levels and its’ tannins are the highest in the world of Vitis Vinifera. It is vinified into both dry and sweet versions.  The dry versions incorporate long aging (37 months minimum) to allow the bold tannins to integrate. The sweet versions concentrate the grape sugars by drying harvested grapes on wooden racks for 60 days after harvest before starting the winemaking process.

Typical Sagrantino Characteristics
As I tasted through 45 dry Sagrantino wines, I gathered the typical baseline for a young Montefalco Sagrantino. There certainly are lots of variations and different versions, however the following characteristics were common.

Montefalco Sagrantino (dry)
Eye: Clear, medium to deep ruby with a ruby edge, medium stain on the glass and legs.
Nose: Clean, medium intensity aroma with lots of blue fruit. Aromas of leather, white flowers, and orange peel.
Mouth: Dry with medium+ intensity flavors. Big bold dark fruit, full body and high alcohol (15% abv is common). Medium+ acidity and big, bold tannins. However, the tannins had a fine quality, not rough or gritty. Especially while young, Sagrantino is not a cocktail wine! However, with food containing proteins or fat, the wines are delicious and the tannins are tamed.

The young Sagrantino’s can be quite closed, hiding their best features. During the week, I had the opportunity to taste some older wines, and I found wines that were 7-8 years out from the vintage year had emerged as fully formed wines that were a real pleasure to drink.

Montefalco Sagrantino Passito (sweet)
Eye: Clear, deepest ruby, nearly opaque
Nose: Clean, very ripe blueberry, raisings, balsamic vinegar, clean earth
Mouth: Sweet with a luscious texture. Deep blueberry with sweetness balanced by surprising tannins.

(click on any photo for slideshow, hit escape to return to the post)

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Right now, A Year in Provence sounds pretty good!

French Winophiles Dream of Provence
Just the word “Provence” brings forth dreamy thoughts of bright sun, warm summer days, lavender fields and a laid back, relaxed life. And of course, delicious food and wine! This month, our French Winophiles group is conjuring up memories or aspirations of that Provencal landscape while we highlight foods and wines from the region. To add even more fun, our friends at Blue Vase Book Exchange have provided many of us with a copy of the classic “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle. It’s been years since I read this book, so I’m enjoying revisiting it. Take a look further down in this post for a whole list of links to my fellow Winophiles’ thoughts on Provence.  I’ll start with some photos from our last trip to the region in 2017.

Click to view slideshow.

Dreams of Provence on a Winter’s Day
Meanwhile, back in Minnesota we’re enjoying a recent series of storms leaving our landscape decidedly white. Even though there is no snow in Provence, they do have cool weather suitable for a warming winter dinner.

Mas de Gourgonnier
Mas de Gourgonnier is a long-time family farm of both grape vines and olive trees. The estate has always been farmed without any chemicals. They have held the organic Ecocert certification for over thirty years! They grow a variety of red wine grapes, and their wine is a blend which varies depending on the particular vintage. The blend will be some combination of grenache, syrah, cabernet-sauvignon, cinsault, carignan, and mourvèdre. The vinification is traditional with native yeasts. Little to no sulfur is used during vinification and only the minimum needed at bottling. The wine is unfined and unfiltered. Finally, they are members of the Vignerons Independant, an association of independent winegrowers in France.

Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence AOP 2016 13%abv ($20 at South Lyndale Liquors or online here)
Eye: Slightly hazy deep intensity ruby with a cool ruby edge. Medium stained legs.
Nose: Clean, medium- intensity. Fresh but ripe blueberries, blackberries. Stony, graphite elements behind the fruit.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ intensity flavors. Fresh, ripe blueberries. Medium acidity, Medium tannins, fine-grained. Medium body, medium alcohol. Nice medium+ finish dominated by the fruit. Wine is delicious now, but would benefit from 3-5 years of additional aging.

Non-Provençal weather, to be sure, but the wines didn’t seem to mind.

Cassis and Domaine de la Ferme Blanche
Cassis is a small AOP area east of Marseille. It’s located on limestone soils which extend right to cliffs over the Mediterranean sea. I wasn’t able to find out much about Domaine de la Ferme Blanche as their website is under construction. However, their wines are organically grown, and they are AB certified. The grapes are a blend of Bourboulenc (10%) / Clairette (20%) / Marsanne (40%) / Sauvignon (10%) / Ugniblanc (20%). I’m a fan of Cassis whites, as they have a nice balance of refreshing acidity with sufficient body and texture to stand up to hearty foods. A perfect white wine for winter.

Domaine Ferme Blanche Cassis AOC 2016 13%abv ($22 at South Lyndale Liquors or online here)
Eye: Clear, medium lemon. Slowly descending legs
Nose: Clean, medium+ intensity. Floral, white flowers, chalk, tart green apples. A bit of baking spice in the background.
Mouth: Dry, medium intensity. Medium+ acidity with full body with rich, waxy texture. Flavors of tart green apples, a touch of sea air, wet stones.The interplay of the rich texture with the abundant acidity is very nice. Medium alcohol.  Medium+ finish of almonds (a touch of bitterness). The body of this wine will let it stand up to bigger dishes.

Our meal starts with lamb shanks slowly smoked for 2 hours

Posts from Fellow French Winophiles
This month’s French Winophiles was sponsored by Blue Vase Book Exchange.  They provided some of our members with a copy of “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle.  You can find Blue Vase Book Exchange on Amazon and on Facebook.

Smoked Lamb Shanks Provencal - YouTube

Smoked & Braised Lamb Shanks Provencal
My go-to source for braising is Molly Stevens, I have her excellent “All About Braising” cookbook. When I have time, I like to modify the approach for use on my ceramic grill, so I can incorporate some low & slow smoky goodness.  So, if you are using your oven, please feel free to use this recipe directly.  If you’re a grilling enthusiast, you can simply add a 2 hour low temperature smoke of those lamb shanks, then proceed with the braise out on the grill. Note: if you don’t like lamb, you could use any slow cooking meat you like.  Beef short ribs would be delicious.  In truth, the sauce and polenta stole the show, utterly delicious. The meat is a much appreciated addition, to be sure.

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No matter where they’re grown, Tannat grapes produce an inky, dark wine.

Wine Pairing Weekend Group Imagines Uruguay
It’s February and our Wine Pairing Weekend blogging group is picturing what summer must be like down in Uruguay. Never heard of wine from Uruguay you say? I had heard, but had never tried one. Thanks to Amanda Barnes of Around the World in 80 Harvests and the South America Wine Guide and  Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura (INAVI), many of our group found wine samples on their snowy doorsteps in January, just in time to put together our imaginary trip. Take a look down farther in this post to see all the great suggestions for foods to go with Uruguayan wine. I think we’ll all be on the lookout now!

Wine From Uruguay?
As you can see in the map below, Uruguay is situated between the southern corner of Brazil and the eastern edge of Argentina. Unlike Argentina, the country is low and rolling and the climate is maritime, influenced by the southern Atlantic ocean. There is a strong culture of food and wine in the country, and vineyards have long been planted. Almost 80% of the grapes grown are for red wine, with Tannat being the dominant variety. The grape was brought from France in the 1870’s and has thrived in the climate of Uruguay. In France, Tannat based wines are powerfully tannic and benefit from years of aging. In Uruguay, the grape shows a little more reserve and polish, and can be ready to drink much sooner.

Uruguay wine map courtesy of maps-uruguay.com

El Capricho Winery
El Capricho
is a relatively young winery located in a new region of Durazno. The winery was founded in 2010, with 2015 being their first commercial vintage. All fruit is estate grown, and they maintain an approach of the highest quality at every step. They produce several wines including a Verdejo (white), Pinot Noir, Tannat, an Assemblage TTC blend, Tempranillo reserve, Tannat reserve, and their special reserve Tannat.

Disclosure: The Uruguayan wine was provided as a sample by Lanciano Wine Company, the importer. No other compensation was involved. All opinions expressed are mine.

Inky dark, but polished. The Aguara Tannat Special Reserve balances new world polish with old world earthy elements

El Capricho Aguará Tannat “Special Reserve” 2015 ($37 SRP)
This Special Reserve wine was limited to 1100 bottles in total. Limited yields from their best plots, hand harvest, and 18 months of aging in new French oak barrels. I was expecting a wholly modern, internationally styled wine. This wine balances the polish and fruit of a new world approach with some nice earthy components, well done.

Eye: Clear, deep ruby in color with ruby edge. Ruby stained legs.
Nose: Clean, medium+ intensity. Smoky with red and black fruit: ripe strawberries and blackberries. A little earth and tobacco in the background.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ intensity flavors. Red fruits with earthy undertones. Fruit forward, with nice non-fruit components of leather, tobacco and gravel in the background. Medium acidity, medium+ fine tannins with a long fine grained resolved tannic finish. The wine benefited from several hours of air before enjoying at dinner.

Wine Pairing Weekend Bloggers Share
Take a look at some great posts below from our fellow Wine Pairing Weekend bloggers. You might find you need to search out some Uruguayan wine!  If you see this post early enough, please join our chat on Twitter, Saturday Feb. 9 at 10am CST. Look for the hashtag #winepw.

Guiso de Lentejas Paired with Aguará Tannat Special Reserve
In searching for recipes from Uruguay, I found a typical stew referred to as “guiso”. Apparently, it is a common dish all around South America, with the particular recipe I found coming from Uruguay. I’m a big fan of slow cooked braises and stews, and I love lentils, so this dish was a natural for me. While the ingredients are familiar, the flavor and texture were unique and a fun surprise. The earthy flavors of the stew were offset nicely by the polished but powerful Tannat.

Guiso de Lentejas (Lentil stew)

The original recipe for the Guiso de Lentejas recipe is here but it was missing several steps I consider important for any braised meat or stew-type dish, so I noted below my method for making the dish. In any case, it was delicious!

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups of dry lentils (I like French green lentils)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 strips of thick cut bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 1 lb. beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 4 oz. red wine (Tannat if you like, otherwise an inexpensive but drinkable red wine)
  • 8 oz. tomato sauce
  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small, bite sized pieces
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into small, bite sized pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 fresh basil leaves, minced
  • Salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • 8 oz. chicken broth (if needed)

Instructions

  • Cover the lentils with water, medium heat, low boil for about 30 minutes, taste to ensure they are still a bit firm, not too soft. Drain the water and set aside.
  • Heat a 4 quart dutch oven over a medium flame on the stove, adding 1 Tbsp of EVOO once the pan is hot.
  • Saute the onions and red pepper until the onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes. Remove from the pan.
  • Brown the bacon in the dutch oven, 5-8 minutes. Remove the bacon, leave the dripping in the pan.
  • Brown the beef cubes in the pan, being careful to not crowd them.  Split into two batches if needed. Brown all sides of the beef, then remove from the pan.
  • Pour off any remaining grease or oil from and pan and any burnt bits.  Leave the browned crusty bits in the pan.  Return the pan to the heat.
  • Deglaze the pan with the red wine, stirring up the cooked bits from the bottom.
  • Add the onions, red peppers, bacon, beef, tomato sauce, thyme, basil and oregano. Add salt to taste.
  • Bring to a barely bubbling simmer, cover the pot and simmer for up to two hours.  Add chicken stock if the sauce gets too thick.  The idea is to slow cook the beef to tenderness.
  • Add the potatoes, sweet potato, and carrot pieces. Add chicken stock if needed. Note: the stew should be a bit thick, not soupy. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes have softened.
  • Finally, add the lentils to the stew, continue to cook until heated through.  Serve with crusty bread and a colorful vegetable or salad.
  • Delicious with a Tannat from Uruguay!

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Italian Food, Wine & Travel Group Tackles Sagrantino
February is my turn to host our group, and I was hoping my buddies would take on the challenge of trying a Montefalco Sagrantino. Sagrantino is a lesser known grape, but it is the king of the Montefalco area within the larger Umbria region of Italy. And tackle it, they did! Take a look farther down in this post for a dozen other experiences with Montefalco Sagrantino!

fongoli sagrantino - YouTube

Azienda Fongoli Farm
The Fongoli farm encompasses a total of 35 hectares (about 77 acres) in total, including vineyards, woods, olive grove and a natural truffle area. All the cultivated land is certified organic, and the family uses biodynamic principles in their approach to viticulture and winemaking. There are no chemical additions or subtractions and minimal use of sulfur. The winemaking doesn’t use temperature control, there is no filtering and the wine is clarified by racking. Aging is in large traditional botté and the Montefalco Sagrantino requirements include at least 37 months of aging, at least 12 of which are in oak. At Fongoli, the wines typically spend much longer than the minimum time in oak. Traditional? I think so. If you make it to Montefalco, you can visit and taste, so put this winery on your “must visit” list for a future Umbria trip!

Fracanton is Fongoli’s most traditional and natural wine. The fermentation takes place in clay anfora, no sulfur is used at all in the winery. It sees long aging in old wooden botte.

Fongoli “Fracaton” Montefalco Sagrantino “anphora” DOCG 2012 ($41 at Sunfish Cellars or online here)
Eye: Hazy, deep ruby fading to garnet at the very edge. Lightly stained legs
Nose: Clean, medium- intensity. Subtle red fruit, fresh raspberries, spicy and peppery with clean earth, and a bit of graphite.
Mouth: Dry, full body, medium+ acidity, high tannins. Brawny. High Alcohol, although it doesn’t read as hot. Red fruits, raspberries, leather, earth. While it’s a big, brawny wine, it doesn’t come across as bold or plush. It has a certain refinement without losing its’ wild character. We didn’t finish the wine on day one, and it was even more enjoyable on day two. Good signs for aging!

While not strictly Italian, Sagrantino was a great partner for rare flank steak and creamy blue-cheese potato gratin. A warming dinner on a cold Minnesota evening

Pairing Fongoli “Fracanton” with Food
I’ve had Montefalco Sagrantino from a number of Umbrian producers, and my general impression is of a powerful, tannic, somewhat rustic wine. You know, a little rough around the edges but with a heart of gold.  The Fongoli Fracanton pairs beautifully with rich blue cheese scalloped potatoes. In fact, it was even better with the potatoes than the steak. (It was just fine with the steak, but loved cutting the rich, creamy potatoes.)

Italian Food, Wine & Travel Posts
If you see this note early enough, please join our chat on Twitter. You can find us on Saturday morning at 10am CST at the hashtag #ItalianFWT. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  • Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Buridda for Befana + Còlpetrone 2011 Montefalco Sagrantino”
  • Marcia from Joy of Wine shares “The Power of Sagrantino”
  • Jill from L’Occasion shares “Azienda Agricola Fongoli: Making Natural Wine In Umbria“
  • Katarina from Grapevine Adventures shares “A Biodynamic Expression of Sagrantino in Umbria”
  • Susannah Gold from Avvinare shares “Nectar of the Gods: Antonelli’s Montefalco Sagrantino Passito DOCG”
  • Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares “Antonelli San Marco: Umbria’s Wine History in a Glass”
  • Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “Italy’s Finest Wine At A Great Price“
  • Giselle from Gusto Wine Tours (in Umbria!) shares “#ItalianFWT – Sagrantino For The Win(e)”
  • Gwen from Wine Predator shares her thoughts on a recently found bottle of wine
  • Jennifer from Vino Travels Italy shares “Lawyers to Winemaking with Antonelli San Marco”
  • Nicole from Somm’s Table shares “Cooking to the Wine: Còlpetrone Montfalco Sagrantino and Pasta with Red Pesto & Truffle Meat Sauce“
  • Jeff from Food Wine Click! shares “Montefalco Sagrantino on a Cold Winter’s Night”

Flank Steak with Bleu Cheese Potato Gratin

We’ve run into a spell of cold weather in Minnesota, perfect for comfort food served with a big brooding wine like Montefalco Sagrantino. Even though the potato recipe is French, it pairs beautifully with the Fongoli Fracanton. I hope they don’t mind!  The recipe comes from one of my all time favorite cookbooks, David Lebovitz’ “My Paris Kitchen”. The full recipe is available here online, but go ahead and get yourself a copy of David’s book, it’s great!

For the steak, you probably have a favorite way of preparing flank steak. We get our flank steak from our friends at Sunshine Harvest Farm. The cattle are pasture raised and grass fed, so I prefer to enjoy the meat with as little adornment as possible; the flavor is that good. On my ceramic grill, I set up for a direct heat with a dome temperature around 450°F. Depending on the meat thickness, I’ll usually go no more than 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Tonight, our steak was not too thick, so I went 2 minutes per side, perfect for me!

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Sagrantino Grapes in Umbria. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Sagrantino Grape and the Italian Food, Wine & Travel Group
Sagrantino is the bully of the Vitis Vinifera world. Dark, thick skinned, withstands heat and cold. It holds one of the highest levels of tannins in the world of red wine grapes. In Umbria, it has long aging requirements to allow those strong tannins to integrate. Unless you know Umbria, you’re unlikely to have encountered it anywhere else, as the grape is indigenous to the region and rarely found outside. Historically, this tannic bruiser was tamed by making it into a passito-style sweet dessert wine. However, since the 1970’s, Sagrantino has also been made in a dry style. The Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco has an excellent overview of the Sagrantino grape on their website, here.

Learn How to Tame the Sagrantino Beast with Us
This month, our group of bloggers have been wrestling with Sagrantino, take a look at their posts below. This Saturday Feb. 2, our posts will all be live and we’ll be chatting about our discoveries. Join us on Twitter at 10am CST at #ItalianFWT, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with Sagrantino! Take a look at all the great ideas our group will be posting:

  • Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Buridda for Befana + Còlpetrone 2011 Montefalco Sagrantino”
  • Marcia from Joy of Wine shares “The Power of Sagrantino”
  • Jill from L’Occasion shares “Azienda Agricola Fongoli: Making Natural Wine In Umbria“
  • Katarina from Grapevine Adventures shares “A Biodynamic Expression of Sagrantino in Umbria”
  • Susannah Gold from Avvinare shares something good….
  • Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares “Antonelli San Marco: Umbria’s Wine History in a Glass”
  • Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “Italy’s Finest Wine At A Great Price“
  • Giselle from Gusto Wine Tours (in Umbria!) shares “#ItalianFWT – Sagrantino For The Win(e)”
  • Gwen from Wine Predator shares her thoughts on a recently found bottle of wine
  • Jennifer from Vino Travels Italy shares “Lawyers to Winemaking with Antonelli San Marco”
  • Jeff from Food Wine Click! shares “Montefalco Sagrantino on a Cold Winter’s Night”

Warmup: Terre de Trinci Montefalco Sagrantino & Lamb Chops

Cantina Terre de Trinci Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2006 ($18 locally, or online here)
Eye: Very slightly hazy, deep garnet color with a rusty garnet edge. Medium stained legs.
Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Clearly an older wine, tobacco, pine needles, leather, followed by dried cherries and raisins.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ intensity flavor. Medium+ acidity, high tannins, even 13 years away from harvest. Medium+ body, medium alcohol. Flavors of dark fruits, balsamic vinegar, tar, pine needles. Medium+ astringent finish. An austere wine, to be sure, begging for a grilled meat.

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Umbria lives in the shadow of Tuscany and is one of the few landlocked regions in Italy. Map courtesy of http://www.italianwinecentral.com

Italian Food, Wine & Travel Group Searches for Sagrantino in Umbria
Our #ItalianFWT group has visited Italy via her wines for four years! We made our first “visit” to Umbria back in 2015 when we were touring the whole country virtually (my post is here). In February, we’ll be going back, specifically in search of wines made from the Sagrantino grape. We’ll be getting together to blog about our Sagrantino experiences. Traditionally, Sagrantino has been produced in the passito style (partially dried grapes) into a sweet dessert wine. In 1976, winegrowers started making dry red wines from the grape as well. We’d love to have you join us! See the details below.

How to join us:

  • Send an email to tell me you’re in: Include blog url, Twitter handle,  and any other social media details. If you know your blog post title, include that…but you can also send that a bit closer to the event. We’d like to get a sense of who’s participating and give some shout-outs and links as we go. You can contact me at jmb5121@gmail.com
  • Find a wine from Umbria, hopefully one with Sagrantino. Write up your experience and get ready to post and share. But don’t post it yet!
  • Send your post title to me by Tuesday, January 29th to be included in the preview post. I will prepare a preview post shortly after getting the titles, linking to your blogs. Your title should include “#ItalianFWT”
  • Publish your post between late Friday night Feb. 1 and 8:00 a.m. EST on Saturday, February 2nd. You can always schedule your post in advance if you will be tied up that morning.
  • Include links to the other #ItalianFWT participants in your post, and a description of what the event is about. I’ll provide the HTML code that you can easily put in your initial post — which will link to people’s general blog url — then the updated code for the permanent links to everyone’s #ItalianFWT posts.
  • Get social! After the posts go live, please visit your fellow bloggers posts’ to comment and share. We have a Facebook group for participating bloggers to connect and share, too.
  • Sponsored posts are OK if clearly disclosed. Please be sure to disclose if your post is sponsored or if you are describing wine or other products for which you have received a free sample.

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Biodynamic wines from all over France

Biodynamics Isn’t for Everyone
It’s January 2019, and our French Winophiles group is exploring biodynamics in France. I’ve been interested in the viticulture side of wine for some time, and I’ve been writing about it a bit recently. I explained why I’m interested in a post (here) if you’re interested.

There’s a lot of hoopla about some of the more unusual aspects of biodynamics: manure filled cow horns, working by moon phases, root days. If you step back though and take a larger view, it makes more sense. Biodynamics treats the farm as an ecosystem.  The idea is to promote and encourage the health of all aspects of the farm: the soil, the crops, animals, and farmers. Sounds great, why isn’t everyone practicing biodynamics? Two words: Powdery Mildew.

The reality of biodynamic viticulture is that it’s more work and higher risk. Significantly more labor is required per acre of farm, so labor costs are higher. Contrary to popular belief, chemical use isn’t forbidden, it’s simply limited to traditional chemicals involving copper sulfate and sulfur. Unfortunately, these chemicals are less effective compared to modern counterparts, and copper in particular tends to collect in the soil over time. Finally, in climates where rain and hail are a risk during the growing season, powdery mildew is a big risk for grapes. Winegrowers can lose an entire vintage to powdery mildew with a single ill-timed rainstorm. Well timed application of the approved copper sulfate (Bordeaux mixture) can manage the fungus, but it is higher risk.

For biodynamic winegrowers, the payoff of better wines outweighs the risks and additional labor required. Biodynamics extends into the techniques used in the cellar, where chemical adjustments are also not allowed. If you want the wine in your glass to have the best chance to show where it comes from, and something about the vintage, you might want to try some biodynamic wines.

Real Risks to Organic and Biodynamic Viticulture
(click on any photo to start a full size slide show, hit “escape” to return to the post)

In multiple trips to France, we have sought out, or lucked into visits with passionate practitioners of biodynamics. Here then, are some French biodynamic wineries we have visited and think of as our friends

Château de Béru in Chablis
We visited Chablis and Château de Béru in the summer of 2018. Here’s a link to my post detailing our visit. Our guide Gaelle shared a touching story with us. They lost the entire 2016 vintage to a combination of early frost and powdery mildew during the summer. Other organic and biodynamic winegrowers in France heard of their situation and sent grapes from their vineyards so they could make wine in 2016. Their fellow winegrowers said that perhaps they would repay the kindness if they ever fell to the same fate. That’s comraderie!

If you are planning to visit Chablis, definitely schedule a visit at Château de Béru. You might even decide to stay at their B & B. I think we will do so on a future visit!

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