Thursday, August 30, 2012

Aperitivo Time - Vallesaccarda (Av) - Oasis Sapori Antichi

It's early.  Too early for  lunch.  Or maybe too early for dinner.  So why not have an aperitif...or as we say in Italy, an aperitivo. Either way you say it, the objective is the same:  to stimulate the appetite, get the juices flowing.  A pre meal snack which can be mundane, or as a recent visit to Oasis Sapori Antichi in Vallesaccarda, Avellino proved, a perfect introduction to the meal.

The last time I was at Oasis was last December, so one of the first things that I noticed was their comfortable outside lounge. Sleek white couches, bright pink pillows, cool shades that protected you from the hot summer sun.
It was here where Puccio Fischetti offered us something to drink.  A spumante (what else)...Montesole Greco Spumante Brut Refreshing. An excellent choice to pair with our light leggero aperitivo conversation. But Carmine Fischetti decided to add a bit more to our pairing.  Three of the best bruschette that I have ever eaten.

One of the Best Bruschetta #1: Toasted bread with melted Carmasciano cheese.  A  rich flavorful formaggio made only in the counties of  Rocca S. Felice, Sant'Angelo dei Lombardi and Guardia dei Lombardi in the province of Avellino...mmmm
One of the Best Bruschetta #2: Toasted bread with sweet dehydrated tomatoes. a touch or oregano, a little olive oil...mmmmm x 2.
One of the Best Bruschetta #3:  Toasted bread with dehydrated tomatoes and burrata, a fresh cheese made with mozzarella and cream....mmmm x 3.

Glasses empty...plate clean...
The true sign of a successful aperitivo...

Oasis Sapori Antichi - Famiglia Fischetti
Via Provinciale – 83050 Vallesaccarda (Avellino) 
0827-97021, 0827-97444

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mario Carrabs - Butcher and Then Some - Gesualdo (Av)

Mario Carrabs
A typical Saturday morning.  Time to fare la spesa, go grocery shopping.  I was in Irpinia for a few days and I decided to take a quick drive to the small town of Gesualdo nestled between the valleys of the rivers Fredane and Ufita. Gesualdo, home to a   must see medeival castle and, in the corner of a quiet piazza, a small butcher shop run by Mario Carrabs and his wife Virginia.  

When I arrived, the shop was bustling with activity.  No problem,  I made myself comfortable and sat on a wicker chair in the corner...the one with the soft red pillow...and soaked in a bit of la vita quotidiano, everyday life. A housewife picking up a few cuts of meat and a few recipe tips.  Another customer interested in making meatballs that evening  waited patiently for freshly ground beef right on the spot.  The door continuously opened and closed by Carrabs' s clients; regulars, and first timers like me who didn't mind spending a little time Saturday morning shopping.

But why here?Why not?  Mario smiled as he showed me photos on the wall dating back to 1913.  Photos of animals including a special breed known as mucca podolica.  Mario shared with me that Gesualdo was (and still is) famous for their animal fairs that lasted from may all the way through September. Merchants, customers and onlookers would come from nearby regions to purchase the best livestock around.  He took me outside and pointed to an apartment house down the street.  It used to be one of the many taverns set up for travellers who needed a place to stay and something to eat.  Each had its own Irpinian specialty on the menu; lambs brain, mugliatelli which is a cooked little 'package' of lamb intestines, and soffritto
Mario and I continued to chat between customers and while he was working on two enormous orders; one  for salami and cheese at the wine fair in Taurasi and some serious steaks for a wedding that evening at Villa Assunta.  Salamis and cheese.  My eyes couldn't help but go to the side of the shop where Mario had his specialty hanging.  Guanciale di maiale all'Aglianico, pigs cheek cured with Aglianico wine.

Irpinian tradition, Mario shared.  Many farmers would place their meats and cheeses in must, hay, straw, or  caverns to hide them from their lords or the taxman.  And by doing so, they not only were able to hang on to what they produced, they discovered interesting ways to preserve their products. Old traditions like these have been becoming quite popular again, and after a taste, I could sure understand why.  Nothing new to Mario, though.  His family has been in the business for three generations...

The tannins in the wine do not overpower or invade the flavor of the pork. Instead, it embraces giving a comforting contrast tto the flavorful fattiness.  At this point, it seemed only natural to try some other specialties that Mario makes, like his soppressata, capricollo, and pancetta.


Mario left me for a moment to cut some more steak, but not before a mini lesson on Irpinia's amazing cheese.  Virginia prepared three for me to try...
The first two by caciocavallo producer Vittorio Sorrentino whose factory is in Montella.  He makes his cheeses from the milk produced by the mucca Bruna, a particular species of cow.I tasted a young caciocavallo which had been aged for six months, ahile the other 2 years.  Just as I was about to try the third cheese, Mario was back with an explanation of what I was about to taste.  Another caciocavallo cheese, but this one was made with the milk from the mucca podolica.  A cow which loaves to roam the hills in Irpinia, travelling from pasture to pasture.  So the flavor of this cheese, aged for 2 1/2 years should be much more complex.  Was it? Yes, it was.

With all this tasting going on, Mario suggested I open up a bottle of wine.  Carrabs, a sommelier for a little over 10 years, has a small but fierce selection of wines from Irpinia and nearby Basilicata.  He handed me a glass, a corkscrew, a bottle of Antelio Aglianico del Vulture 2008 by Azienda Agricola Camerlegno, and went back to work.

No problem.   I enjoyed that glass with my soppressata and chunks of caciocavallo podolico,cheese as I sat in the corner, on a small wicker chair...the one with the red pillow...and soaked in a bit of la vita quotidiano...

Grazie Mario...

Macelleria Mario Carrabs di Mario Carrabs
Via Campo S.Leonardo, 1- 83040 - Gesualdo (AV) 


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Two Nights in Taurasi, Part 2 - Taurasi 1999

Sunday evening, the twelfth of August, I found myself back in Taurasi. This time to try 8 Taurasi's dated 1999. A wine tasting conducted by journalist  Luciano Pignataro.  I have attended various Taurasi tastings over the past couple of  years (herehere and here) this was one that made me pause a bit to reflect on my little love story with Taurasi. So while I waited for the rest of the Taurasi tasters  to arrive, I prepared myself mentally for this tasting.  Friends told me that 1999 was  a great year.  But why?  How does one judge a great year?  I thought back to what I read in a booklet written by my friends from Miriade & Partners ; who during their numerous years of presenting Taurasi to the public and press examine a harvest year on 4 parameters.  For them there are two separate committees, the first,  a group of growers, winemakers and agronomists working in   Irpinia and the second panel formed by national and international journalists who participated in Taurasi Vendemmia.  Factors such as climatic trend,  the health of the grapes, agronomic/analytical aspects,  the average quality  of wines tasted as well as their potential for evolving.  Vintage year 1999 was rated eccelente, excellent.  Up there with classic vintage years such as  '97, '93, '90, '88, '87, '85, '77, '68  '61, '58, '34, and '28.   A cool summer with significant temperature fluctuations in September and October. Wines with good structure, true to their terroir of origin, tannis and very fresh ... classic Taurasi, severe, acidic, perfect  for aging.(Paolo De Cristofaro, journalist, Gambero Rosso)

 And although thirteen years is not  that long   for a big red in the wine world, it is a pretty significant number for a territory that has experienced a boom in the number of wineries over the past 10 years.

Eight wineries were chosen for our tasting...
The first wine was Feudi di San Gregorio's  Selva dei Luoti... A wine that whose color and brilliancy gave us a sneak preview of what we would notice in the wines that would be poured that evening...Bright, vibrant, ruby red.

 Next was a wine from a winery that I am very familiar with, Mastroberardino.  the wine presented was their Radici 1999 from their vineyards in Montemarano (Av).

The tasting continued..Fatica Contandina, Terradora from vineyards in Lapio as well as Montemiletto, a territory totally different from the previous glass of wine, and not a reserve, so less time in wood.

Di Meo's Taurasi Riserva was the next glass poured.

Followed by Macchia dei Gotti from Antonio Caggiano, aka Mr. Taurasi.

Next, Contrade di Taurasi...

GMG's offering...

And I Capitani's Bosco Faiano...

Tasting completed. Degustazione over. And over a plate of fusilli avellinesi with an amazing ragu sauce, I thought about the wines tasted.  Taurasi can be a tough cookie to crack at first. And without a little background, it is easy to fall into the trap of lumping them into one big melting pot.   For a wine to be a Taurasi DOCG, the vineyards must inside the 17 counties recognized by the disciplinary.  85 % of the wine must be Aglianico, while the rest can be Piedirosso, Sciascinoso, Sangiovese, or Mantonico.  It must age for 3 years, 12 months of that must be in wood unless a Riserva is what your after, which requires that the wine spends at least 18 months in wood. Then obviously, each wine maker decides whether or not to use barriques or larger barrels, French or Slovenian oak, add a few more months in wood, a few more months in the bottle.  And as I learned during Taurasi Vendemmia 2008, territory is key.
So for me, the purpose was not to judge these wines against each other.  It was to see if they lived up to assumptions made 13 years ago.  That the harvest year 1999 was eccelente.  That that harvest year which produced wines with spectacular tannins and interesting acidity was perfect for invecchiamento...great for aging.  These wines proved that.  Some with aromas of spices a little more evident than others, but all with that fantastic mature fruit which is to be expected.  And when tasted?  That acidity still evident, terrific tannins which showed me, as well as others in the room that evening,  that these Taurasis have stood the test of time.

And have a long road ahead.

I just hope I don't have to wait 13 years for another opportunity to find out...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two Nights in Taurasi, Part 1 - Aglianico

The Fiera Enologica di Taurasi just completed its 13 edition yesterday in the sleepy centro storico of Taurasi in the province of Avellino.  A wine fair, a festival...5 nights of wine fanfare for the eno-gastronomical enthusiast. Insomma, in short, a fair with plenty to offer for everyone.  After looking at the rich program of tastings, concerts, and laboratories, I decided to focus my attention on the first two evenings and two guided wine tastings; MondoAglianico e Formaggi di Altura and La magnifica annata, retrospettiva Taurasi 1999.  
Reservations necessary...the program said.  So I made mine, and found my seat in the front row in the first floor of Tauras's medieval castle.

Saturday night - MondoAglianico e Formaggi di Altura...A tasting designed to give us a mini immersion into the world of Aglianico, my first love.  Three territories and two vintages for a total of six wines were on the ticket.  But first? First we needed to understand the territory, of course. And the man to explain it to our group of 40 or so participants was winemaker Maurizio De Simone. Short and sweet...

Aglianico del Vulture from the Basilicata region.  A volcanic soil which is not hurting for water. Wines produced here, in respect to the other territories, are smoother, a little sweeter...ready sooner.
Aglianico del Taburno in the Benevento province of Campania.  Rocky terrain in an area often subject to heavy rain storms.  Result? Wines that are austere, complex and obvious notes of minerality.
Taurasi.   This territory us dry producing a low yield on the vine.  Grapes are concentrated with tannins that are aggressive.
And with that brief but informative intro, we began our tasting with three wines vintage year 2007. A dry year, Slow Wine's Oto Tortorella shared.

Tortorella continued as he and journalist  Pasquale Carlo lead us through the tasting...
Aglianico del Vulture, Nocte 2007 Terra dei Re

Aglianico del Taburno DOC 2007 Il Poggio

Taurasi DOCG Poliphemo 2007 Luigi Tecce

Each wine a representative of their territory reemphasizing De Simone's notes from beginning of the evening, particularly the minerality noted in the Aglianico of Taburno....the mature, concentrated fruit in Tecce's Taurasi..
Next, three wines from 2004, recorded as a normal year weather wise, when the grapes arrived to the winery in tip top condition.
Taurasi DOCG Bosco Faiano2004  I Capitani

Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2004 Eleano

Aglianico del Taburno DOC Bue Apis 2004 Cantina del Taburno

A trip with an older vintage demonstrating Aglianico's ability to age and age well.  From a vibrant Taurasi to a bellisimo Bue Apis from Taburno, this tasting completed its mission on a positive note.  But we weren't really finished.   The organizers, along with Gaetano Palumbo, Slow Food Taburno and Paride Leone fiduciario Slow Food Vulture, thought it might be interesting to try cheeses from the territories featured.  A pecorino cheese from Taburno, aged 17 months.  Another pecorino from Vulture, aged for 13, and a grande caciocavallo podolicco from Montella aged for 24 plus months.

This way we experimented a little, focusing on the characteristics of each cheese, then mixed and matched it up with the wine still resting and evolving in our glasses.  I especially enjoyed the Taurasis with the pecorino from Taburno, for example...but that's another story.
The tasting was over and time to take a quick stroll through the very crowded streets of this not so sleepy  centro storico in Taurasi.

And time to prepare myself for the next evening's tasting...a horizontal tasting of Taurasi vintage year 1999 from 8 top producers...

domani ish...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Serendipity - Domus Giulii 2008 - La Sibilla

Wikipedia: Serendipity means  a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. 

An email from Jeannie.  She had visitors in town from the states and wanted to take them to a local winery.  Could you give Vincenzo a call and set something up?  Vincenzo di Meo, a friend, enologist, and 5th generation guy in charge of La Sibilla in Bacoli (Na).  Sure, why not?  I enjoy taking people there to try some of the most interesting wines from Campi Flegrei; their Falanghina, Piedirosso, and one of Jeannie's favorites, their Marsiliana  ( a blend of Marsigliese, Olivella, and Piedirosso). And this would also be a great time for me to try the latest vintage bottled just a few months earlier.
So, after a summer evening stroll in the vineyards with Vincenzo, it was time for the degustazione...our informal wine tasting paired with a campi flegrei cena estiva. And when it was time to taste Domus Giulii 2008, I put down my fork, raised my glass, and got out my pen and notepad.  I haven't tried this one before, I whispered to Luigi Di Meo, Vincenzo's dad. No?...
No, I replied. Sure, we had talked about it often and  I'd recently tasted a glass of the 2011 vintage in progress from the stainless steel vat. But  not a real taste of the finished product.   Vincenzo poured...

And as he did, he spoke about his experimental wine, as he likes to call it.  First thing I noticed was the color. It seemed similar to a dessert wine..  Vincenzo decided to make this version of Falanghina by first having it spend 5 months macerating with grapeskins and seeds, then another 5 to 6 months maturing on the lees. It was an idea that didn't seem that wild to Vincenzo, after all, his grandfathers used to make Falanghina wineby macerating it with the grapeskins for a short while with the purpose of getting it on the market quickly. So what did they think of Vincenzo's idea when he presented it?  It would make some good  white wine vinegar! they teased him.  But he stood firm.   And it ain't vinegar!

Aromas of his first vintage do not remind one of a typical glass of La Sibilla's Falanghina primary aromas, adds Vincenzo. Meaning no fresh fruits, no minerality.  Instead we headed straight for rich aromas such as toasted nuts, dried apricots, and resin. Taste? Smooth and flavorful. A nice experiment.

I was curious about the 2009 vintage .  We could try it next time I stop by La Sibilla.  Or you could try it at the Capri Palace, Vincenzo mentioned, where our friend sommelier Angelo Di Costanzo just added it to the wine list...

Who knows? Maybe the next time Jeannies's relatives are in town...