Monday, May 31, 2010


For last week’s wine club, I wanted to do another comparison between France and Italy. While we are still plagued by torrential rains and I have yet to see the beach this year, in the spirit of positive thinking white wines were on the menu once again. Alsace is a region that has always fascinated me, and the natural choice for the Italian counterpoint was the Alto Adige. Both regions are well known for the German and French grapes Riesling, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sylvaner, and Gewurztraminer, among others. Though native to Germany, the Gewurztraminer grape is most famously grown in Alsace today. Literally spicy grape in German, it is known for its very strong aromas, most notably lychees and roses. It i one of the most full-bodied white wines, and Alsatian versions are known for being the biggest and with the strongest aromas.  In Alto Adige you will also see Traminer on labels, and this is indeed the original version of the grape, native to the village of Tramin or Termeno.  With good Alto Adige examples you can get the classic Gewurztraminer qualities, but they are generally much more restrained. Our tasting tonight largely bore that out. We tasted two wines from Alto Adige followed by two wines from Alsace. The revelation for the night was the incredible quality and value in our first wine, from Coltereznio. At less than ten euros, it was subtle on the nose but had an amazing texture and balance. It was definitely the best value of the evening.  The powerhouse of the evening was our last wine, from famed Alsatian producer Zind Humbrecht. Their 2005 was most recognizably Gewurztraminer, with strong aromas of lychees, rose petals, and grapefruit, very full-bodied but balances by a good level of acidity with a long, lovely finish. Our third wine of the evening was our Grand Cru, and was perhaps the poorest showing, with a level of sweetness that was unbalanced. It was three years younger than our other Alsatian wine, so perhaps with time it will improve. Our other Italian offering was from the high-quality co-op San Michele Appiano and was pleasant, but considering it was 10-15 euros more than the Colterenzio, didn’t seem to justify the higher price with its subtle flavors and short finish.
The lineup:
1. Gewurztraminer 2009 Colterenzio
2. Sanct Valentin 2009 Gewurztraminer Alto Adige San Michele Appiano
3. Wineck-Schlossberg Gewurztraminer 2008  Meyer-Fonné
4. Gewurztraminer Wintzenheim 2005 Domaine Zind Humbrecht

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tuesday Night Out

When you are bored and trying to diet on a Tuesday night, and your partner suggests going to the gourmet restaurant up the street, the answer of course is let’s do it! We had been driving past this lovely place on the top of the Janiculum hill ever since we moved into our new neighborhood in February. The Antico Arco has an extremely tempting tasting menu, but since it was Tuesday and  I was supposed to eat light after all, we opted to try out just a few dishes and return another day for the menu. Now, when you order crispy buffalo mozzarella, salted tuna roe, and tomato confit to start, followed by homemade tortelli pasta with guinea fowl ragu and black truffle and cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) pasta with crispy zucchini blossoms, what wine could possibly complement this diversity of flavor?  Luckily Antico Arco has an incredible wine list (and excellent service as well) so there was plenty to choose from. I immediately thought of Riesling, one of the world’s most food-friendly wines. Its crisp acidity and bright fruit flavors make it a perfect match with any number of dishes. I chose the Geheimrat “J” Riesling Spätlese trocken 2005, a dry wine from the Rheingau, which is actually a blend of the estate’s best first-growth vineyards. It had lovely aromas of grapefruit and ripe pears, a hint of flowers and a whiff of the petrol aroma that Rieslings sometimes take on with age. It had a pleasing, bright acidity and managed to stand up to all those strong flavors. It improved every dish that we tried. I can’t wait to go back for the tasting menu!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sauvignon Blanc

When I was planning last night’s wine club three weeks ago I thought for sure it would be time to celebrate the warm weather with our first white tasting of the year. Alas winter seems to have returned to Rome but the wines tasted great just the same.  One of my favorite things to do is to taste different expressions of the same grape, so last night we looked at French and Italian Sauvignon Blanc. One of my favorite grapes, sauvignon blanc is one of the parents of one of the world’s most popular varieties: cabernet sauvignon. It dates to the 18th century and like its progeny, its home is Bordeaux. Since then it has spread throughout the world and is now successfully grown in California, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile...the list goes on! My idea was to take two of the most representative areas from the most accessible countries, Sancerre from France and Fruili Venezia Giulia from Italy. The Sancerres turned out to be a bit too pricey for the purposes of this tasting so instead I went with four wines from Friuli, a wine from Pouilly-Fumé (not far from Sancerre) and one from Bordeaux. We had an interesting lineup in terms of vintages; they ranged over nine years. Three were from 2008, one from 2007, one 2009 and one from 2000. I wanted to taste the six wines blind to see if we could figure out which ones were French. A great idea; unfortunately I completely forgot about the Bordeaux in the vegetable crisper (the only space left in the fridge!) so this one was tasted on its own at the end. (Note to self: while owning a mini fridge I might have to give up my sourdough starter and various other kitchen experiments that take up all the space!) The other five wines were disguised and tasted blind. The good news was fellow sommelier Sarah and I both correctly identified number two as our Pouilly-Fumé ! All the others (with the exception of the wine that was clearly 10 years old) had the tell-tale signs of Friulian sauvignon blanc: lots of citrus, lemons, grapefruits, crisp acidity, medium body. The big clue about number two was the pronounced stony, steely quality it had that for me marks the biggest difference between Italian and classic French sauvignon blanc. Friulian wines tend not to have this characteristic. The 2000 was a bit of an anomaly, having not only a good few years on the others, but it was also the only one to have been aged in oak. While the wine was still very much alive, too much of the fruit had faded away and we were left with an overpowering sensation of the oak with lots of buttery, smoky, toasted hazelnut flavors, which, while pleasant, were a bit unbalanced.
The line up for the evening:
1. Collio Sauvignon Blanc Marco Felluga 2009
2. Pouilly-Fumé Les Pierres de Pierre 2007 Domaine Masson-Blondelet
3. Colli Orientali dei Friuli Sauvignon 2008 Livio Felluga
4. Colli Orientali del Friuli Sauvignon Ronc de Juri 2000 Dorigo
5. Sauvignon Venezia Giulia 2008 Jermann
6. Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Château Reynon
My favorites of the night were one and two. Happy drinking!