Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Wine Expo

I feel like the emcee who asks a question, tips the microphone toward the guest and has it ripped from his hand.  It's not a completely unexpected feeling, as I went into this "Wine Merchant Wine Pairings" week fully aware of the lengthy and lavish locution to which Roberto Rogness is prone.  Roberto is the general manager and wine director of Wine Expo , 2933 Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA.  You can reach Roberto and his staff at 310.828.4428 or 1.800.WINE.EXPO.

His treatise is so full-bodied and informative, there's little for me to do except take the day off and turn the microphone - er, blog - over to him.  Here is Roberto's full discourse on wine pairings for the summer menu.  As always, he delivers good advice as well as good reading.

"Nothing more Summery or Italian than Fizzy Reds and Quality Preserved Pork Products (Hard Sausages, Head Cheese, Prosciutto, Lardo, Lonza, you name it):

Are you MAN enough to drink a Fizzy Red?

Yes Drill Sergeant!

Things happen here at your favorite wine emporium that we couldn’t make up if we tried but THIS one really made an impression: Three Sundays ago a cab pulled up and two United States Marines in full desert camo and toting full packs got out.  They came in and it turned out that they had JUST gotten off a plane at LAX after a long deployment in Iraq, were on their way home to see their wives and that their wives had mentioned some wine they really liked that they had to buy HERE: Picchioni Sangue di Giuda and
Il Falchetto Brachetto d'Acqui!  When we mentioned that the common wisdom on such wines (red, fizzy, very fruity and a bit sweet which makes them fabulous with salty snacks) was that they were a bit "girlie", one of the young infantrymen said, "When Mama’s happy, I’m happy.  That’s the battle plan sir."  Well, in that case, Semper Fi Marine, carry on, welcome home and let her try some of these next time:
Azienda Agricola Martilde, Rovescala, Oltrepò PaveseMartilde is one of our favorite discoveries in the Brave NEW World of the Oltrepò Pavese: a full service vino-teria making ten or so bottlings ranging from dry and delicate whites to insanely concentrated reds, all grown with molto rispetto for nature by a couple who have become good friends of ours, Antonella Tacci and Raimondo Lombardi.  AND they all have fabulous art labels (painted by Antonella) depicting the animals on the estate.

Martilde OP Bonarda Frizzante Gianna 2007, Lombardia $19.99 ORGANIC
Antonella and Raimondo’s entry into the local arms race over who can make the most convivial and fun fizzy red: Darker and lusher than either Agnes Cresta Ghiffi or the Picchioni Sangue di Giuda, this one is going to win even more fans to this fun category.
Castello di Gabiano, Monferrato, PiemonteThis winery quietly operates in an alternate universe from many of their neighbors whose Nebbiolo based wines are all about power and tannins and long aging.  Instead, they produce fantastic examples of DOCs rarely seen outside of Italy that are known for their elegance and restrained beauty.

We are proud to bring to the market for the first time the wines of the Gabiano, Rubino di Cantavenna and Malvasia di Casorzo zonas.  These wines are sure to delight you with their unique blend of history, poetry, grace and charm...

Castello di Gabiano Malvasia di Casorzo Il Giardino di Flora 2007, Piemonte $23.99
"The Garden of Flowers" seems intriguing enough but that literal take on the name of this wine is only the start: it is a tribute to the nymph Flora, idealized by Botticelli in his portrait of Simonetta Cattaneo (the platonic love of Giuliano di Medici) entitled "La Primavera".  What it TASTES like is another thing altogether: one of our staff exclaimed "It’s like Brachetto on CRACK!" the first time we opened a bottle.  Translation: insanely concentrated flavors of ripe and spicy red and black berries, a skoonch of teenage love and a pinch of "Oh! My! GAWD!" plus just enough sweetness to make it delicious with either fruit or chocolate cakes, tarts, cookies and truffles or some full flavored cheeses (and its just 5% alcohol so you can have more and then some more!).  We predict a big fan club for this so, remember, we warned you...

Terre da Vino, Barolo, Piemonte
These guys were our find of the year at VinItaly 2009: a modern cooperative cantina in the heart of the Barolo zona with 2800 small
growers tending 5096 hectares to chose from but dedicated to quality AND value for money!

Terre da Vino Freisa d'Asti Frizzante 2008, Piemonte $14.99
So...what the hell is Freisa?!? It is a very traditional, very local variety grown in the vineyards of and drunk by the makers of great Barolo.  Why haven’t you seen one before?  You could say it is the beautiful and enchanted daughter whom they packed off to the convent so the whole town wouldn’t be fighting over her.  She smells like violets, spices and ripe red cherries, is medium bodied, hauntingly delicious.......and slightly sparkling!  Serve chilled with antipasti and friends. This is a party in a bottle with lots of fruit but not too sweet and about half the fizz of Champagne.  Try it with BBQ (Korean or Carolina!), Tangerine Spiced Beef, Salumi and Cheese and a sunset.....improvise.

Terre da Vino Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco Dolce, Piemonte $16.99
Our notes from VinItaly: "Sex on wheels! So fragrant and fun you could drink a whole bottle.  Ali will go crazy with this in Hawaii and we need an endless supply here in Santa Monica too."  This is RED Malvasia with a wondrous nose of ripe red berries and rose petals, just a touch of sweetness, full pressure fizz but just 6.5% ABV.

Cantina Sociale di Puianello, Quattro Castella, Emilia-Romagna
We met these guys through a friend of a friend (ciao e grazie Arrigo!) and were immediately impressed by their almost surreal professionalism.  Their stand at VinItaly was like a Formula One pit stop: Marketing Director Vittorio Maltezze welcomed us in perfect English, we sat and within seconds a crack staff went to work and for nearly an hour glasses appeared and were replaced like magic, top flight Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and cured pork products materialized seemingly out of thin air (with their salt, spice and sweetness levels matched to each new wine), technical and marketing brochures in English landed next to each new glass, mineral water filled our glasses, spit buckets were dumped and replaced without us even noticing let alone asking.  And the wines? As the company motto says, "É buono, è un Puianello" (it’s good, it’s a Puianello)!  Now for the story:

In 1938 five grape growers in the hills of the tiny hamlet of Puianello near Reggio founded a co-op so they could make wine instead of selling grapes and thereby see a little more of the profit on the fruit of their labor (and they located the cantina at an address on Via Carlo Marx, quite fitting for a Cantina Sociale, don’t you think?).  Over the years more growers joined bringing more land so that today there are 330 members producing a large range of wines in many styles with a focus on the traditional frizzante and spumante styles of the zona, red, white and rosato, ranging from bone dry through "amabile" (amiable or friendly) to dessert wines.
We tasted over twenty of them and brought in four that fill some holes in our ever expanding omniverse of fine fizz. 

Puianello Lambrusco dell’Emilia Rosso Amabile, Emilia-Romagna $12.99
Very dark and packed with full throttle spicy black fruit, finished just off-dry (but more than balanced by the bubbles and natural acidity of the Lambrusco variety).  At this price you can pound it with classic pasta Bolognese, BBQ (Texas, North Carolinian, South Korean, bring it on), pizza or brunch and still pay your bills.

Puianello Lambrusco Grasparossa Amabile Luceria, Emilia-Romagna $15.99
This is serious, just OFF DRY, red (well almost black) wine that you can serve with almost anything and has the added food matching advantage of medium but persistent effervescence and the fact that you serve it cold.  The perfect solution for hot days, hot foods or hot’s versatile.

Puianello Ancellotta dell’Emilia Dolce BonDaMat  $11.99
100% Ancellotta with a dark red color, intense rose petal and violet notes on the nose followed by lots of ripe berry fruit and medium sweetness on the palate.  In their brochure the enologist says it is "similar to the more trumpeted Brachetto Piemontese but at lower cost" and that just about nails it.  Already a sensation with local Italiani, get yours before they buy it all....

The LA Times' Jean T. Barrett on the joys of Lambrusco:
"AND WHAT of the reds? An antipasto array that includes smoked and cured meats calls out for the classic wine pairing with charcuterie, Emilia-Romagna's frothy Lambrusco.  What? you ask, incredulously.  Are you referring to that fizzy sweet drink that many of us cut our wine teeth on?  Hardly.  True, most Lambrusco exported to the U.S. is pop wine, but the best bottlings from quality-oriented producers in the DOC zones around Modena and Reggio display a lush fruitiness and fizz as well as firm acidity and tannins that contrast deliciously with the salty, rich flavors of dry salami, prosciutto and other charcuterie.  For an even drier and
bolder version, sample Puianello's Contrada Borgoleto Lambrusco Reggiano. It is deep garnet in color, intensely jammy and tarry in the bouquet, and tastes like dark cherry soda while being absolutely bone dry.  Please pass the salami . . . and the olives . . . and the crostini. . . "

Giuseppe e Ricciarda Caprari, Reggio Emilia, Emilia- Romagna
Lambrusco is a very mysterious wine: most people will never admit to drinking any yet, as Carl Sagan might say, every year millions and MILLIONS of bottles are made, sold and enjoyed.  Somehow when someone opens a bottle of quality Lambrusco, the contents seem to vaporize as if by magic and everyone forgets their old college war stories of bad run ins with Riunite, Cold Duck or worse.

Cantina Caprari was established in 1927 and the current generation are making the best wines ever with a strong eye towards traditional methods, styles and culture (the Foieta is named after a traditional bowl used to consume broth, wine and filled pasta all
in one go to fortify the vineyard workers for their tasks) while taking advantage of newer technology where it fits in.

Caprari Lambrusco dell'Emilia Dolce Frizzante 2008, Emilia-Romagna $14.99
The softer, sweeter (but not too sweet) sister of our beloved Foieta (below), this rocks with fruit and cheese, spicy red sauce Q, picnic fare or just a sunset and a friend....

Caprari Lambrusco dell'Emilia Secco Frizzante Foieta 2008, Emilia-Romagna $23.99
BONE Dry, deeply colored and flavored with bright fruit and spice, this can be served with a wide range of plates: Penne Arrabbiata, real Smoked Bar-B-Que, your family Lasagna recipe, Tandoori meats, Szechuan stir fries or a traditional holiday feast, you name it, it works.  Mmm Mmmm Good!

Azienda Agricola Andrea Picchioni, Canneto Pavese, Lombardia
Andrea is very famous here for his insanely concentrated reds from the Buttafuoco zona but this casual sipper has its own rabid fan club:

Picchioni Sangue di Giuda 2006 $14.99
Deeply colored, just 7% alcohol, fizzy but not too, explosive dark berry flavors, enough zizz to deal with anything from salty prosciutto and olive tapenade anti-pasti to red sauce BBQ or tangerine spiced beef.  We even had a customer excitedly call in once to tell us how "Everyone is going crazy for that stuff......even my mother-in-law who puts Equal in her Chardonnay!".  Uhhhhh....right.  Even though your inner weasel is large and in charge most of the time, your inner child IS hiding in there and this wine is almost guaranteed to bring him/her out to play.  20 cases only, get it while it lasts!

Azienda Agricola Fratelli Agnes, Rovescala, Lombardia
Like our friends at Fattoria di Faltognano, the family operating this winery has been doing so for so many generations (800 years in this case) that making delicious traditional wines with utmost respect for nature is encoded in their very DNA. They make such a small amount of wine and it is so famous in their zona that they really didn’t want to be bothered with all the paperwork involved in exporting any.  Well, after three years of courting them and reminding them of the great success we’ve had with their next door neighbors at Martilde they relented and the wines have become huge WINE EXPO-ista favorites:

Fratelli Agnes Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda Frizzante Cresta del Ghiffi 2005, Lombardia $16.99
This is the most traditional and typical of the local tastes: Late harvest Bonarda from 50 year old vines, finished slightly sparkling.  It is fabulous with antipasti like figs or melone wrapped in prosciutto then grilled or maybe bruschetta with Gorgonzola and Olives.  The name refers to the comb of the serious looking rooster glaring at your from the label to make sure you finish every last drop and get another glass...right away!

Tenuta Il Falchetto, S. Stefano Belbo, Piemonte
The wines of I Fratelli Fabulosi Forno (The Fabulous Forno Brothers!) have been big hits here since we opened the doors in ‘93 and we have just unloaded a new batch of their fabulously food (and wallet!) friendly wines for your enjoyment:

Il Falchetto Brachetto d'Aqui Frizzante 2007, Piemonte $21.99
Brachetto is: 1) Perhaps the most delicious thing you’ll swallow this week.  2) Red (well dark pink actually), slightly sparkling wine with a bouquet of fresh strawberries that’s almost too easy to drink (so you had better get two to prepare).  3) A pretty darn good reason for living, come to think of it.  4) Wonderful with prosciutto e melone, fruit & cheese or just good company on a sunny afternoon.  5) One of the best seduction tools ever devised.  Psych!  Trick question, it’s all of the above!!!

Azienda Agricola Podere Saulino, Novi Ligure, Piemonte
This cantina has 12 hectares of vines in the heart of the Gavi DOCG zona, mostly dedicated to the Cortese variety for Gavi but also makes a lovely Brachetto that will be perfect for your next picnic or breakfast in bed

Il Saulino Piemonte Brachetto Dolce e Spumante 2007 $26.99
This version of our most popular fizzy red has full on pressure like Champagne, a light strawberry color that follows through on the nose and palate and is just sweet enough to set off the flavors of a nice cheese plate, some salty snacks or a groovy picnic/brunch spread.  It is so good you will want to drink the whole bottle and since it is only 7% ABV we say "Why Not?".

Azienda Agricola Cascina Fonda di Marco e Massimo Barbero, Mango, Piemonte
Living in a town named after the most sensual of fruits (Mango, near Asti) the Barbero brothers, Marco and Massimo, just HAVE to make exotically perfumed nectars of seduction, right?  Well.....YES they do, and, despite the pronouncements of a recent  "authoritative" book about regional wines of Italy that you would have to go to Piemonte to find any, we’ve had them (and a lot of the others mentioned) here for years.

Casina Fonda Brachetto 2008, Piemonte $35.00
Brachetto is:  1) The most delicious thing you’ll swallow this week and almost too easy to drink.  2) Wonderful with prosciutto e melone, fruit & cheese, re-runs of Reno 911 on Comedy Central or just good company on a summer afternoon.  3) Red, sparkling wine that has an intense bouquet of fresh strawberries (and, as Miriam Makeba once noted in song, so does love!).  4) All of the above!!!"

My thanks to Roberto Rogness of Wine Expo for the great pairing suggestions, along with the fabulous entertainment.  I love the passion for wine he exhibits in his words.  My big fear is that I will learn he wrote this piece in less time than it took me to proofread it.  After this, it may take a while for me to get up the nerve to post any of my crummy little tasting notes.  We hope to have another batch of wine merchant pairing suggestions tomorrow, so please pay us a return visit.

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