Monday, April 14, 2014

A Chianti Lovers Dream: The 2010 Riservas

The '95 Felsina Chianti Classico
Riserva is still going strong at age 19
An article by: Eric Guido

Some wine is meant for the cellar, while most can go right to the table. But these generalizations tend to fade when talking about Chianti Classico. In their youth, these are fun and fruity wines with enough acidity and structure to carry a meal. However, as they mature they soften, grow darker, and begin to display more earth, natural wood and spice. It is this evolution that keeps me putting bottles of Chianti Classico in the cellar.  In a good vintage, it is one of the most versatile wines being made today.  However, where a regular Chianti Classico (normale) will bring you night after night of enjoyment at your dinner table, the Riserva level wines mature beautifully in the cellar.  Which brings us to the 2010 Chianti Classico Riservas.

Classic is a word often used to describe the long, cool growing season in 2010, with a decent amount of rain moderated by periods of extended warmth and sunshine. This mix produced exciting wines of structure with juicy acidity and bright, focused fruit that really grabs your attention and holds it from the first glass through the last. Most of the straight Chianti Classico's are drinking beautifully right now, yet the 2010 vintage played right into winemakers' hands, allowing them to create Riserva level wines of exceptional quality and agebility. These are serious Chianti Classico that show the best qualities of the region and belong in your cellar. The early drinking 2011 vintage will give you more to drink over the next few years, but for me; stocking up on 2010 is my priority, because these wines should provide two decades (or more) of enjoyment.

Here's a list of some of the best 2010 Chianti Classico Riservas, in a number of price ranges, that I've tasted this year.

On To The Tasting Notes:

2010 San Giusto a Rentennano Chianti Classico Le Baroncole - The nose showed an intense burst of woodsy raspberry and cherry with hints of floral undergrowth, cedar and herbs, offset by a whiff of dark chocolate. On the palate, this showed silky textures with a vibrant, sexy personality, coating the senses with ripe red fruits and spice. Beneath it all was a refined structure that you could miss on a single sip under all that intense fruit. The finish turned fresh, yet grainy tannin could still be felt on the palate. This was a remarkably balanced wine with a slight inflection of oak, that's drinking great now, but should get even better with time. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher! (avg. $45)

2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo - The nose was restrained at first, yet became more giving with time in the decanter. Tart black cherry, moist fall leaves, dried flowers and licorice were all on display, yet still holding back. On the palate, it was tense, yet concentrated and dark with compact cherry, wood (not oak) and leather notes, kept in check by a stern tannic backbone. The finish was youthful and ungiving, needing years in the cellar to show it’s true colors, yet the potential is there. This is a wine for the cellar. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher! (avg. $75)

2010 Fattoria di Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva - The nose was restrained and youthful, showing young cherry, dried flowers, animal musk, minerals, and Tuscan dust. On the palate, it showed silky textures with tart cherry and dried spices, which quickly firmed up with fine-grained tannin. Compact flavors of red fruit and cedar lingered long on the dry, tense finish. This 2010 riserva is in need of five to ten years in the cellar, and should be wonderfully classic as it matures. (92 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher! (avg. $27)

2010 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva - The nose showed cherry with hints of stem, animal musk and a bright herbal note, which provided lift. On the palate, I found vibrant red fruits, spice, old wood tones and hints of soil. The finish showed hints of structure with juicy red fruits.  This is a great Chianti Classico Riserva in the value category; it's drinking great now with proper decanting, and can go a decade or more in the cellar. (91 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher! (avg. $20)

2010 Antinori Chianti Classico Villa Antinori Riserva - The nose showed ripe black cherry, minty herbs, cedar and dark oak looming in the background. On the palate, it was rich yet remained fresh throughout. Spicy red fruit, leather and notes of dark chocolate cascaded along the palate, leaving concentrated red berry fruit on the finish. Although the oak was more pronounced than I usually prefer, I still found it enjoyable. This wasn't my cup of tea, but if oak with your Sangiovese is a quality you appreciate, this wine will be for you. (89 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher! (avg. $32)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Live A Little: Tajarin in Truffle Butter

A recipe and pairing by: Eric Guido

I remember learning about Beurre blanc, a classic French sauce made primarily from butter. As I tasted it, all of my senses swooned. How could something this good be so bad for you? We are taught to stay away from many foods these days. Some I agree with, such as trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup. However, I think it's more important to practice the good things in life in moderation. A sauce made primarily of whole butter may not be something you should eat every day, but if you deny yourself the indulgence every few weeks or once a month--you simply aren't living.

This brings me to my recipe for Tajarin. This is a fresh egg yolk pasta prepared in a simple butter sauce.

Will it make you fat if you eat it every day? Yes.
Will it make you fat if you eat it once in a great while? Absolutely not.
Will it make you happy if you eat it once in a great while? Absolutely YES.

Add to that a little White Truffle (if you're willing to afford it) or some white truffle oil, and you have decadence on a plate. This is a dish that will seduce your guests.  As for a pairing; staying local is best, serve it with a Barbera, Freisa or a Langh Nebbiolo.

A good Barbera can be found for $15 - $20, but if you're making Tajarin, you may want to splurge for the top shelf, in which case I would recommend 2010 Giacomo Conterno Barbara Cascina Francia - The nose was enticing with massive waves of aroma wafting up from the glass, which seemed to change and intensify with each swirl. Showing dark ripe strawberry, brown sugar, cedar dust, menthol, floral undergrowth and, at times, a slight rustic note of barnyard. On the palate, it was tightly knit and focused with a balance towards acidity, as it revealed ripe red berries, sour patch apple, exotic spice and inner floral tones. It finished dry with berry extract seeming to coat the entire palate. (92 Points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

Tajarin with Crimini Mushroom and White Truffle Butter

Serves 4 – 6

The Pasta
2 cups AP Flour
8 Egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
2 Tbls. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbls. water
pinch of salt

The Sauce
2 sticks of unsalted butter
6 sage leaves
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms (Soak in 1 cup of warm water or stock for 30 minutes. Strain and cut into small pieces.)
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Small White Truffle (or White truffle oil)

Notes on fresh pasta: Fresh pasta takes patience. You will get better with practice, and I assure you, it’s worth it. If you have a stand-mixer with a pasta attachment, it will make this much easier. Otherwise, you can buy a manual pasta roller. You will also want to have a dough scraper handy.

Measure and sift the flour along with a pinch of salt. Beat the egg, yolks, olive oil and water. Place the flour on a clean counter-top and make a well in the center with your hand (big enough to pour the egg mixture into). Pour in the egg mixture. With a fork, slowly stir the egg mixture, and with each stir, skim a small amount of the flour into the mixture (be careful not to let the egg mixture pour out from the well). Continue doing this until the egg mixture has absorbed enough of the flour so that it is forming a dough.

With your hands, begin to knead the dough. At first, a pushing, folding, pushing motion is best to incorporate the remaining bits of flour and egg. Use your dough scraper to scrape any excess pieces from the countertop. Once the dough has incorporated fully, continue kneading in a circular motion. The idea is to form a ball and for a skin to develop that stretches over the ball. If the dough is too dry (cracking of crumbling), moisten your hands with a little olive oil and continue kneading.

When done, you should be able to press your finger to the top of the ball, forming an impression, and the dough should push back up in response.

Place the dough into a bowl and cover lightly with a piece of plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.

Once rested, cut the dough into four equal quarters, using the dough scraper (you can wrap the dough and store it in the refrigerator for 3 days or a freezer for 2 – 4 weeks). Lightly flour your work surface. With a rolling pin, roll out one quarter (leave the rest covered.) Begin by processing it through a pasta roller (manual or automatic) on the widest setting. Then fold the dough in three (envelope fold), and roll it out again with your rolling pin. Put it through the pasta roller for three passes. Then reduce the setting on the pasta roller and put the dough through three more times. Continue doing this until you have rolled the pasta to your desired thickness. If the pasta begins to shrink after being rolled, cover it with plastic wrap for ten minutes to let it rest, and then continue to process once it’s rested.

Now that your pasta is at it’s desired thickness, you can cut it. A stand mixer has separate attachments to cut different-size pasta (I like tagliatelle for this preparation). However, you can just as easily use a dough scraper or pasty blade. After cutting, keep the pieces separated on a lightly floured surface.

To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Drop the pasta into the water, making sure that the pasta doesn’t stick or clump together. Once the water returns to a boil, allow it to cook for 1 – 2 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter over medium heat. Strain the pasta and douse with olive oil or truffle oil.

After draining the pasta, place it into the pan with the butter, sage, Procini mushrooms, a healthy pinch of salt and allow to cook for one minute. Remove from the stove, add half the grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary and plate. At this time, if using a fresh truffle, grate the truffle over each mound of pasta, or, if using truffle oil, sprinkle just enough to add a vibrant aroma of truffle and serve. Have the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano out for your guests to sprinkle on top.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Coming of Age: Pecchenino Barolo

So you’ve become one of the top producers of Dolcetto in your region. Your winery produces some of the best juice coming out of Dogliani, Piedmont. Your base-level wine outperforms most wines in its price point, and your top wines are some of the best and most age-worthy in the region. So what do you do next? You make Barolo, of course.

Now we’re not talking about just any Barolo either. With the 2004 vintage, Pecchenino Barolo Le Coste hit the market with rave reviews; a wine which wasn't made by the son of a legendary Baroloista. Instead, it was made by Orlando Pecchenino, who has three generations of family experience working in the vineyards of Dogliani. Speaking with Orlando helps to put this puzzle together. He’s a passionate man, bent on perfection, whether that perfection comes from the hand of man or by abstaining and allowing the grape to express itself in neutral barrels. He’s open to experimentation and the opinions of others, but in the end, what goes into the bottle is all that matters, and the quality of Pecchenino Barolo cannot be denied.

Currently in the Pecchenino portfolio are two Barolo, with a third on the way. The San Giuseppe is a ripe and juicy effort, which comes across as elegant and accessible with sweet tannins. Yet, even with its plush character, this wine has the stuffing to age. It’s enjoyable on so many levels and I highly recommend it as an introduction to the house style. However, for me, it’s the single vineyard Barolo Le Coste (a little known vineyard in the southern reachs of Monforte d’Alba) which will find it’s way into my cellar. The Le Coste is immaculately balanced, fruit forward and has enough structural backbone to age beautifully. It’s a rich wine, yet it seems to hover on the palate with radiant dark Nebbiolo fruit, while tempting the senses with violet floral tones and spice. The fact that these wines are aged in neutral casks just goes to show the quality of the fruit and the perfect ripeness it achieves. 2004 was only the beginning, as Le Coste continues to improve with each passing vintage.

Pecchenino is a producer to watch; I can assure you, they are firnly on my radar--and also keep your eyes open for a Barolo Bussia in 2012. Below, you’ll find tasting notes from the ‘08, ’09 and highly-anticipated 2010 vintage. It was an eye-opening experience to taste these vintages side by side. They are all wonderful, but the 2008 Le Coste stole my heart. Enjoy.

On to the Wines:

2010 Pecchenino Barolo San Giuseppe – The nose showed rich dark cherry, a hint of herbs and spice with balsamic tones in a rich, yet fresh and elegant expression. On the palate, it was velvety smooth with ripe fruits, yet perfectly balanced by juicy acidity and hints of tannic heft providing backbone. The finish was long with sour cherry, lingering tannin and balsamic tones. A beautiful wine. (93 points)

Producer website: Pecchenino
Avg. price $49
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Pecchenino Barolo San Giuseppe – The nose was tense, seeming to be holding back it’s true power. It showed young red berries, hints of stem and herbs. On the palate, it was weighty with silky textures, tart berry fruit, and hints of citrus peel, turning more angular and dense toward the close. A firm tannic bite took control through the finish. With time, this should balance out more and could one day deserve a higher score. (90 points)

Producer website: Pecchenino
Avg. price $60
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Pecchenino Barolo Le Coste – The nose showed black cherry with sour floral tones, undergrowth, hints of grapefruit and a menthol lift. On the palate, it was feminine, with red fruits contrasted by fine tannin in a juicy and seemingly weightless expression. Staying red berries lingered on the finish, turning dry as the wine’s structure bore down on the palate. This is a serious Barolo in need of time in the cellar, yet it should emerge as a beauty. (94 points)

Producer website: Pecchenino
Avg. price $63
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Pecchenino Barolo Le Coste – The nose was dark and powerful with ripe red fruits, sweet florals, spice and a mentholated freshness. On the palate, a grounding note of bitter, medicinal herb and spice, which provided a beautiful contrast of textures, came together with ripe raspberry and cherry. The finish was long with earthy dark fruits which seemed to saturate the senses. The 2009 Pecchenino showed wonderful balance in its dark and brooding nature, a true standout in the vintage. (93 points)

Producer website: Pecchenino
Avg. price $65
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Pecchenino Barolo Le Coste – The nose was classic and wonderfully expressive with intense red berry, spicy floral tones, mineral laden soil and undergrowth. On the palate, it was rich with a bitter twang, showing dark red fruits, spice and inner floral tones. The finish was elegantly balanced with ripe red berry fruit and balsamic notes contrasted by fine tannins. (94+ points)

Producer website: Pecchenino
Avg. price N/A
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!