sabato 26 luglio 2014

The wine of the Venice lagoon: Venissa - a unique example!

What is Venissa? It's a vineyard located in Mazzorbo, one of the quieter islands of the Venetian lagoon. It's a peaceful little backwater, joined to Burano by a footbridge. Historically the vineyard was cultivated but the logistic and therefore economical obstacles caused its abandonment for a long time. 
The Venissa "estate" represents a perfect example of a “walled vineyard”, which dates back to the fifteenth century. To make it even more charming it's the campanile of the S. Michele Arcangelo church, standing out in the middle of the vineyard, simply amazing.
The vineyard has been revitalised in 2006 thanks to the dedication  of the Bisol family and the oenologist Roberto Cipresso, who have been entitled to manage the estate after winning a tender notice of the Venice municipality.  The story goes that Bisol rescued the Dorona autoctonous grape variety from extinction, finding the last three surviving plants on the neighboring island of Sant'Erasmo.
After years of dedication today we have the opportunity to taste the Venissa wine, as a result of  the growing of the Dorona grape came back to production after Venissa vineyard revitalization. The name comes from Oro,  the Italian for gold, and indicates the golden-green and brilliant color of Dorona grapes. The variety was once thought to be identical to Garganega (the one used for Prosecco), but this theory has been disproven. Dorona wines unquestionably rank among the world’s rarest and the only remaining ones are growing at the Venissa estate.
The first vintage has been the 2010 one: a 30 days maceration and a maturation period of 12 months before it's ready.
Only 4.880 rare examples thave been produced and I have been one of the lucky persons who got the chance to taste one of them!
The wine has a plain golden colour; mineral perfumes, typical of the terroir well-balanced by the sweety notes which reminded me about nuts, caramel, peach and honey.
The taste is elegant and charming at the same time; it has a good savoury entrance, without losing its delicacy.
The precious bottle is an homage to the Venice history, to honor the three most important local traditions: wine, gold and glass. The authentic pure golden leaves are produced by a local laboratory and are manually applied to the bottles and then merged in the glass inside the furnaces of the memorable glassmakers Carlo Moretti from Murano.

In the heart of the walled Vineyard stays the Venissa restaurant, a charming and magic place with only 24 seats and a wonderful view to the grapes.

A part from the charm, also the kitchen is worth to mention.. The Growing and Research principles guide the chef Antonia Klugman, always looking for seasonality and vegetable elements. The love for nature, water, the vegetable garden and the orchard guide Antonia in the choice of the raw materials to be used!

lunedì 14 luglio 2014

Easy going Wine Tasting lesson: the visual examination!

I don't want to be rambling. Just to explain in few words (if I am able to!) what wine tasting means, in order to understand the most common gestures that we, sommeliers, do (sometimes)! And to understand what you hear always more frequently almost everywhere. You can hear and therefore speak about wine in a cellar, in a wine shop, in a restaurant but, why not, also in the gym while exercising, in the canteen during your lunch break, in the post-office while queuing... Just kidding :)

I will speak about different stages of tasting in separate posts, to give the time (also to me!) to digest them properly! Today it's about the visual part.
Wine tasting starts always with a visual examination. 

This steps it's important to give the first informations on the wine we are going to taste, confirmed during the exams that come after: olfactory and gustatory-olfactory. At this stage you judge the clarity, the colour (and we could speak hours about the different tonalities), consistency and effervescence.  
Clarity is "officially" defined a the absence of suspended particles. Mmmmm, what does it mean? Very easy: can you notice some bits on the wine surface? If not, it doesn't mean you are blind; it means that the wine is clear, which occurrs in most of the cases. 
A wine with strong turbidity has experienced something negative during its life: an unwelcome fermentation for example. Poor wine. It's better if you leave it! If the wine shows just some particles, it's not necessarily a wine with defects. It can be due to a long aging in the bottle (typical of some red wines) or when they have been bottled without filtration especially for red ones rich in extract.
In these cases, the manipulation of the bottle during pouring must be done with extreme care.  A decanter is advisable! (and also fashionable!). 
Always evaluating the clarity aspect you can decide that you are in front of a crystalline wine, with its own intence brilliance. Just think about a Champagne, with its beautiful shine and vibrancy that reflects the light rays passing through it, thanks to the presence of bubbles of carbon dioxide which refract the rays of light.

And with clarity we are over! Uff!
Regarding colour, it's often suggestive of the wine age. Think about a red wine with a vanished shade, tending to orange tonalities: it's quite uncommon to be in front of a young wine; it's rather a product which experienced a maturation and a related evolution in the colour. And what about a wine with ruby-red tones purplish highlighted? It's exactly the opposite: I wouldn't expect a wine of exstensive aging. 
As human beings, not all wines are the same, so we cannot generalize! These are just indicative directions to give the basis in wine "analyzing". Think about a very very tanned woman: she should come from a tropical country you would say; and what about solarium centres? So, rule #1: never generalyze!
Even though, my role is to give you some knowledge about wine colour and I will do so. What are the factors behind it?
The wine colour comes from the staining, given by the maceration of the must with the skins during the fermentation. For red wines the vinification is done starting from red grapes with a variable maceration time. For white wines the vinification is done starting from withe/black grapes removing the skins.
The intensity of the colour depends instead on the amount of substance present in the grapes that is the result of soil and climate, of the microclimate but also depends on seasonality of the rains, the maturation, the state of health of the grapes, winemaking techniques, etc. Soils rich in limestone and clay tend to give grapes richer in pigments compared to sandy soils.

For the more curious, here below a very slim analysis of the scales of wine colours!
Greenish yellow: in white wines very young, light and fresh, with a good acidity   - Straw yellow: in most white wines still quite young, but with a lower acidity; softer  - Golden yellow: in white wines with a more mature relationship softness/acidity; probable aging in wooden barrels. 
Light Pink: in rosé wines with a colour similar to the peach blossoms or pink roses colour; usually obtained from red grapes which had a short maceration on the skins   - Cherry pink: wines generally obtained through a little longer maceration.

Purple red: in red wines with a very young relationship softness/hardness in favor of the latter: tannins are quite aggressive - Ruby Red: normally this color is associated with a wine in a good state of health and conservation; good maturation - Garnet: in more matured red wines, rather soft than hard taste; it's similar to the color of blood (bleaaaa); a good evolution possibly with short periods in contact with wood - Orange-red: in red wines with a long aging (wow!)

If colour gives the first informations on wine evolution, consistency can do the same for alcoholic strength. Swinging the glass allows you to create some small archs on the glass walls, whose width and descent speed indicate if the wine you are going to drink has a marked or weak alcoholic strength. Generally, slow and regular drops associated to small arcs very closed to each other spot a wine with a good % of alcohol.
Just try to do it with a glass of water and see the difference! You will understand what I mean.

And finally, what about effervescence? This evaluation is considered only for wines with the presence of  bubbles (I like to call them in this way :) ), formed during alcoholic fermentation in the production of sparkling wines produced with the classic method or Martinotti, sweet or dry. When you rate the bubbles (in this world we really judge EVERYTHING), you analyze the grain (are they coarse or very thin?), the number (are they rare or abundant) and the persistence (do they disappear after few seconds or do they reproduce themselves continuosly?)!

Sorry but speaking about bubbles I have become thursty!
Cheers and ... talk you in the next lesson (or better post on tasting)!

giovedì 10 luglio 2014

A strong woman, a great wine: Ida Agnoletti

I have met few times in different fairs Ida Agnoletti and the impression I got has always been the same: a strong woman, with a strong character and clear ideas. She firmly supports her choices and she won’t change her mind easily. At a first glance I understood she is a woman to admire. A woman that makes you think that “you can do everything” if you believe in something.

Her wines are produced in Selva del Montello, in the hills surrounding the Treviso area. She is in love with her place, as much as she is in love with her wine and her job.
She is one of the first women who achieved the diploma at the Enological School of Conegliano, at that times a quite rare event I have to say. 
Starting to work in a world definitely “male chauvinist ” has not been easy for her. She encountered the first barriers when she started her career as enologist, a profession on which she spent 8 years. When she started to look for a new job it looks like nobody wanted to recruit her, despite the extensive “enological” experience matured beforehand. 
Honestly this doesn’t surprise me. The world of wine is not so “closed” as some years ago, but it’s still quite difficult to approach for a woman like me, like Ida and like many others women. There are still many prejudices difficult to overcome. 
Just think how many times you hear the following sentence: “this wine is quite soft/gentle/pander; I always serve it when there are women because I know they will like it”. Or, even worse, there is a common habit to associate sweet wine (or sparkling wines with a good % of residual sugar) to women tastes. 
OK: it’s true that those type of wines are very “easy” to be drunk and do not require a particular knowledge neither such a fine taste to be understood. But it’s also true that there is a universe of women who have a real passion for wines, aware of what they drink and with a very deep sensitivity that sometimes men lack of, which makes them more attentive and introspective in wine approaching.
Closing this bracket, I start from where I opened it. Ida was refused and so she decided to go ahead independently from prejudices : she started to produce wine on her own. Obstinate, brave, crazy? Passionate I would say.
She is doing everything: from the grape harvest (rigorously manual), up to the bottling and the packaging. Whatever activity needs to be done in the cellar in September she is involved in the first place. Basically she is on her own.
Ida produces mainly Incrocio Manzoni, Prosecco, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Anyway, her last bet has been the “Recantina”, an autochthonous grape not known out from the local territory. It was in the 17th Century under the names Recardina or Recandina. Through the Institute of Viticulture of Conegliano three varieties were identified; these are Recantina a Pecolo Scuro (dark stalk), Recantina a Pecolo Rosso (red handle) and the previously recorded in the official register of varieties Recantina Forner (according to the winery, where it was found )
Almost all Ida wines are not filtered and derive from indigenous yeasts; she uses new barriques and tonneaus, in order not to alter the original flavor of the grape. She is not supporting “trends”, “styles”, cliché and so on … She just follows her ideas and her principles.
Last week, I have tried her Prosecco made with Glera grape (the Selva 55) and I confirm that it’s different from the usual Prosecco, because of its milder sweetness and its stronger personality. It copes well alone, as aperitive, but also accompanying different type of meals, thanks to its degreasing properties. The residual sugar is only 3.5 g/l, almost a pas dosè., the reason why it doesn’t meet the taste of the crowd. 
The Seneca is a wine coming from the oldest vineyard (dating the ‘50s) and it’s made of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Ludwy is dedicated to her father, who used to sign with this name. It’s made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Shiraz, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, a blend whose proportion can change depending on the year.
Last, but not least, the Follia, made of Incrocio Manzoni and for around 20% of Riesling Renano, bottled on its yeasts after max 3 “travasi. The Follia is produced only when Ida is convinced about it; when she is 100% sure that the conditions have been favorable. 
I still haven’t visited the Ida's cellar but I am so curious to discover with my eyes and breath with my nose the atmosphere that only a woman like her can transmit.


domenica 6 luglio 2014

Antica Osteria Cera Michelin stars experience

When you are a sommelier, you do not enjoy only wine but also food, especially testing tasting!

 When food is not nourishment and when it’s the food accompanying wine and not the opposite, you might be in a Michelin stars restaurant.
You cross the door and there the perfect senses experience starts. Take your time, enjoy every single bite and do not wait for food, let the food wait for you.

Today I want to speak about Antica Osteria Cera, a two Michelin stars restaurant located in Venice area, closed to Chioggia. Chioggia is a small picturesque town of the northern Adriatic, vivid and full of colour, with its narrow channels that remind you about Venice romanticism. Its fish market serves surrounding areas, Antica Osteria Cera included, guaranteeing daily supply and therefore freshness.

I had the luck to try this 2 Michelin stars paradise to celebrate a special occasion and I want to tell my story and share my experience.
You can choose from the menu different courses or you can let yourself be guided by the kitchen creativity, selecting one of their menus. Obviously I opted for the second one, the “Azzurro” (blue) menu.
You start with a seaweed and herbs soup, with red snapper and clams. It’s very particular. It’s not capturing you with a captivating flavor. Perfume and colour are not so appealing. It reminded me Asian style cousine, Japanese style precisely. I needed some time to be in tune with it.

While waiting they proposed us a steamed bread with some burrata and cherry tomatoes. I can’t describe the emotions I had while tasting that soft “focaccia” style bread. Simply amazing, as it was the whole bread basket.
After the soup they served us the best plate of the menu in my opinion: cold spaghetti with king prawns, lamp, cream of pistachios from Bronte and basil. A perfect union of ingredients.
A “bruschetta” made with steamed cooked bread, stuffed with raw fish and a black truffle sauce: this small but delicious bite anticipates the more elaborate Russian salad. Russian salad is commonly a “poor” dish, made with mayo and veggies (like carrots and peas). In the “Antica Osteria Cera” interpretation it was enriched by scallops and octopus. Very delicate and colourful.


To continue we had some small calamaris stuffed with seafood and served on a gazpacho sauce. More “important” the seafood and shellfish casserole, cooked in the traditional way of the surrounding valley.

Finished? Not yet! Not be worried, everybody can cope with the menu. Portions are quite small but enough to taste them properly, leaving space for the following one. The timing between one course and the subsequent one is correct: it gives you time to appreciate everything!

...Here you are: there ravioli came. Three ravioli served with “peppy mussels”. Essential, fresh, authentic.

And finally the San Pietro fish served with beans and “pappa al pomodoro” (“tomato pap”, one of the typical “poor” dishes of Tuscany area, made with homemade stale bread, tomato, basil, extravergin olive oil, enriched with garlic cloves).

Waiting for dessert, I tell you a little bit of story. Originally this 2 Michelin stars restaurant was a traditional “osteria” (simple local restaurant) where the mother Silvana proposed to her guests typical dishes from the Venice area like the the mixed fried fish, the local seafood “cicchetti” (tapas), based on the daily availability of fresh raw materials.
During the ’90, Silvana left her role to the son Daniele who, with the help of the sister Lorena, of the brother Lionello and of the sister in law Simonetta as a maitre, transformed the traditional “osteria” in a real gourmet pleasure reality. Even if creativity and reinterpretation are a must, the local ingredients and the freshness of the food coming from the nearby Chioggia fish market, keeps somehow a link with the traditional Venetian style.

What else…? Come on, I was forgetting about sweetness. In our menu they want to keep the secret: “tasting of our patisserie” it’s how they name the dessert within the “Azzurro” menu. You start with some “pralinas” and some delicate mignon pastries; you continue with some homemade sorbets and icecreams and then you end up with an original interpretation of the “Zuppa Inglese”. “Zuppa Inglese” is one of the most controversial Italian desserts. There are several theories; following one, the story goes that the dish was developed following instructions from English soldiers who wanted a little taste of home but the taste was so good that the dish remained as a local tradition.


And about wine? Mmmmm … A huuuge and expanded wine list. All the regions, France, Spain, Austria and Germany, rest of Europe, rest of the World. An extensive Champagne range. I spent 20 minutes admiring it and dreaming about some crazy choice.
At the end we opted for a Ribolla Gialla from Sirk, produced in the heart of the Slovenia hills, closed to the Italian border. Their wine is not organic, neither biodynamic: it’s simply made following traditional processes from vineyards which are more than 30 years old. The grapes picking is rigorously manual and the wine normally is left maturing within the bottle before being sold, to enhance its charachteristics.  This Ribolla has been accompanied by food in an elegant way. Simple but very perfumed and with a good personality keeping its presence throughout the whole menu.





giovedì 3 luglio 2014

Fongaro Pas Dosè 2009

Champagne or not Champagne? That's the dilemma. I have confessed few times that I have a weakness for Champagne, that's true. Because I like the after taste that the Champenois method leaves in your mouth, in a very discreet manner. That fragrant sensation that pairs perfectly with shellfish but that can also be enjoyed alone chilling out in front of a nice lanscape.
So Yesterday I opted for an alternative "classic method" bubble, choosing the Pas Dosè 2009 of the Fongaro factory. For those who don't know, Pas Dosè means no dosage, zero sugar added (also Brut Nature).
The grape is not Chardonnay, it is not Pinot Noir; it is the Durello or Durella grape (depending if you are male or female chauvinist :-)), a light-skinned white grape variety which comes from the Veneto region, distinguished by a significant acidity, which makes it quite difficult to use it stand alone and not as a blend with other grapes.
Despite of that, Fongaro has been able to produce a Champenois method using Durello in a single-variety vinification, in the Monte Lessini volcanic area (the hills on which the vines grow are layers of rocks formed by lava flows and the soil is rich in minerals and fossil deposits), having a balanced result.

I have tried the Pas Dosè 2009 (around 18 thousand bottles produced) and even if the freshness was a little bit undermined by the age (we are in 2014) I have found it quite pleasant. Maybe less elegant than a Champagne, less brown-noser, going directly to the point. It needs to be understood. But if you do it, you will appreciate it and especially you will feel the terroir.
Due to its marked acidity someone could advice to pair it with fatty or oily food, taking advantage of the degreasing properties which typifies the grape. That' true.
Having enjoyed it some years later, when the acidity typical of the grape has been mitigated by the wine maturing, I have found the pairing with fish quite balanced as well, despite the rhombus fish tends to be a delicate dish more suitable with milder tastes.
I Always advice to be brave and try everything, especially what you are less used to. So, GO FOR IT!