Review : Cantina Tollo’s new sustainable range of Abruzzo wines. And why sustainable is more than organic.

Cantina Tollo launched a new line of sustainable wines for the on-trade in April. In this article I review those wines, but I also elaborate on what sustainable means for Cantina Tollo. And that is more than the environmental part of it.

Cantina Tollo is a co-operative from the Abruzzo region in Central Italy. If you are keen on cycling you may remember Cantina Tollo as shirt sponsor (1996-2002) of the team which included Mario Cipollini, Danilo di Luca and other well known cyclists.

They are also known, however, as a producer of consistently good wines with a good price-quality ratio. My first acquaintance with Cantina Tollo was in 2016 when I tasted their MO Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2011, which I liked very much. It was very smooth and elegant, perfectly balanced. A real pleaser, and sold at just over 10€. This wine keeps piling up the awards and has received five consecutive Tre Bicchiere of the Gambero Rosso wine guide since the 2011 vintage. The last MO I had was the 2015, which confirmed all the goodness I remember from the 2011. Luscious black and red fruit, noticeable but well-dosed wood, and refreshing acidity. An attractive and harmonious wine, and at a democratic price.

So I was very excited to taste the samples I received from Cantina Tollo of their newly released line of sustainable wines for the on-trade. These wines are certified organic and vegan, which means no animal-derived products were used, such as cow manure or fining agents based on animal proteins. Moreover, efforts were made to make the packaging sustainable with the use of recycled cardboard, recycled paper for the labels, and capsules without pvc.

You may think that they are a bit late to jump on the bandwagon of organic wines, but in fact they have been making organic wine since the 1980s. The difference of the new line with the other organic wines is that the new wines have undergone a stricter selection, and the best quality grapes go into this line.  

The thing I like the best, however, about these new wines, is that sustainability goes beyond the environmental aspect and includes a socio-economic part as well. The odd 50 members of the co-operative who farm organically are offered a price for their grapes that reaches almost double the price of non-organic grapes. Cantina Tollo also offers them a contract that protects them from unforeseen circumstances. So even if yields were low because of bad weather or diseases, for example, the growers will still get a good price. In a region such as Abruzzo, which is still a big producer of bulk wines that are sold at bottom prices, this is a very welcome incentive not only to work organically but also not to convert to other crops, or simply not to move away from the region.

In terms of appearance much attention was given to the styling of the bottles. Cantina Tollo chose a format that represents the bottles that were used in the end of the 19th century by producers to bottle their own wine. While they certainly catch the eye, the downside of this type of bottle is that they are relatively heavy (ca. 500g). This is an issue that was given a fair bit of attention recently by well-known wine critics, such as Jancis Robinson, so this is something Cantina Tollo will have to address. As Commercial and Marketing Director of Cantina Tollo, Andrea Di Fabio, explains, however, they are aware of the issue and intend to look for solutions for future vintages.

In terms of the wines there are 5 different offerings, all singly variety, and all made of local grapes.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2019

Very expressive, lemony nose with a hint of almond. While the mouthfeel is quite round, the acidity makes this is a refreshing wine. This is definitely not a thin Trebbiano, of which there are still many unfortunately. There is real substance here and considerable length with a pleasant lemon zest bitterness that lingers for a while.

This is a not a very complex wine, but really well made as the kind of wine you want to have in an ice bucket next to you when you have a fritto misto or a warm goat cheese salad.

Passerina 2019, IGP Terre di Chieti

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Subtle nose with white peach and a green herbal note. This Passerina is not as aromatic as the Trebbiano but the nose is delicately perfumed. No fruit bomb but rather driven by its mild and well integrated acidity. This wine is fresh, dry and structured in a way that reminds me somewhat of a Verdicchio. In a previous article I lauded the gastronomic qualities of Verdicchio because of those characteristics, and this Passerina seems to have the same quality of being an subtle and elegant wine that will accomodate many dishes. White fish dishes will do well, but also Oriental food is a good match. The soy and fish sauce flavors of the ramen soup we had with it paired beautifully with the Passerina.

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Pecorino 2019, IGP Terre di Chieti

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Very delicate and shy nose with green herbs and a bit of aneth. On the palate this is again nicely balanced with good freshness against a round backdrop. This is definitely not the type of Pecorino that is made in the style of a Sauvignon Blanc, as those exist as well. The character of this one is more in line with the Passerina, dry and fresh, and will therefore be a versatile food companion. Sea fruit, oysters and mussels will all make a good match.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2019

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Bright and aromatic, the freshly cut red fruit and minerality jump out of the glass. This invites very much for a sip. Absolutely not a characterless rosé like there are so many, but a wine with a fresh core and subtle red fruit, a combination that is difficult to resist. The mesmerizing, dark pink color completes the picture of the perfect wine for a sun-drenched lunch that lasts until it’s time to have dinner. Lovely! 

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019

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Fresh cherries with a herbal, peppery element. Lovely fruitiness, with mild acidity that keeps everything nicely fresh. The tannins are a bit grippy but ripe. The wine was aged in cement tanks, so this is a pure rendition of the grape. Don’t let this fool you in thinking that this is a light, fruity wine, because there is considerable structure here. Cantina Tollo managed to combine accessibility with character. Not always easy to find that balance.

This wine will be a great match with grilled meat. The match with our (attempt of) homemade pizza was decent, but this wine can, and wants to, handle more than that.

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When asked whether the decision to go for cement tanks was a conscious choice in terms of the style of the new line, Andrea di Fabio explained that Cantina Tolla was never big on wood. A recent tasting of their top wine, the Cagiòlo 2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva, confirms this. Whereas Montepulciano is a grape that tends to get heavy oak treatment, the wood in this one was very discriminate with beautiful cedar tones. Also the Cagiòlo is a very well-made and balanced wine that will seduce many palates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying Orange and non-Orange Wine with Jamie’s kinda Niçoise Salad #winePW

Today I join the Wine Pairing Weekend bloggers in their dive into skin-contact white wines, aka orange wines. These are wines that are made from juice that macerated on the grape skins, resulting in a darker hue, more volume, and noticeable tannins in the wine. The wineries who make this style of wines often swear by minimal intervention, and their wines are called “natural”. If you’re a regular on social media, you will undoubtedly have witnessed fascinating debates (I admit it is with some irony that I say this) on what constitutes a natural wine, or whether natural wine should be certified, and so on. Rather than participating in the controversy, I find it more interesting to highlight the fact that this makes for a highly original style, which in my experience often stands out because of the freshness and the purity of fruit. That is if they do not reek of barn, and other funky smells that unfortunately still occur in some of these wines. Orange wines in particular are often said to be versatile when it comes to food pairing. So, not having extensive experience with orange wines, I got very excited about this Wine Pairing Weekend theme and decided to step in with a little experiment…

I found an Italian winery that actually makes both styles, traditional and orange, of the same grapes. At Draga winery, situated in the north-east of Italy near the border with Slovenia, they have a Ribolla Gialla that is made in the traditional way, while there is also an orange Ribolla Gialla, released under the named Miklus, the name of the family who owns the winery. On his website The Morning Claret, Simon J Woolf talks to Mitja Miklus, who is currently holding the reins at Draga. Miklus describes the orange wines as “his” wines, the style he wants to make, and apparently they are very popular in Japan in China. The Draga series is produced for the Italian market, as there is more demand for the traditional style in Italy according to Miklus.

I chose both the Ribolla Gialla “Natural Art” 2014 and the traditional Ribolla Gialla 2018 to pair with Jamie Oliver’s Griddled Tuna kinda Niçoise Salad because of the meaty structure of the tuna, capable of absorbing tannins, and the very fresh dressing based on basil. I chose both wines, firstly to fully appreciate the difference between the wines, and then of course also to judge which one would fit best with the tuna. Honestly, though, I expected this to be a walkover for the orange wine. Little did I know at that point…

But first a closer look at the wines :

Miklus Ribolla Gialla Natural Art 2014, IGT Venezia Giulia

First impressions just after opening and coming straight out of the fridge : ouff, what’s this?! There’s a lot of vinegar-like and oxidative aromas coming out of the glass. The first suggests volatile acidity, which is an aroma that can come from an oxidative style of wine making, creating an environment in which the lactic acid bacteria who are responsible for these off aromas, can develop. There is also a very pronounced curry aroma, which makes me think of a vin jaune, an oxidative style of white wine from the Jura, France.

After half an hour the wine fortunately opens up with a more pleasant bouquet of exotic fruit, curry, honey and cedar wood. There’s no obvious trace anymore of the volatile acidity, but the nose is still “lifted” with a touch of freshness. With the temperature now only just below room temperature the full-bodiedness of the wine becomes very clear. This wine has great volume, is bone-dry and has pleasant tannins. The acidity is lively and well integrated. The wood is more prominent than I had expected and carries the very long and satisfying finish. I find this definitely an interesting wine, with a good deal of complexity. But it’s not an easy one. Something they obviously realize at Draga’s as well as the website clearly states: “This wine requires a lot of experience”…

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Draga Ribolla Gialla 2018, DOC Collio

If there was one word I had to choose to describe this wine, it is “shy”. There is a little bit of (browned) apple in the nose, a hint of florality perhaps. Again very dry, and the acidity is rather mild. Apart from a slight almond bitter the finish is very short. A very light and rather neutral wine.

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Would anyone at this point expect the second wine to be the better match with the grilled tuna? You wouldn’t, would you?

Jamie’s Griddled Tuna kinda Niçoise Salad

Jamie Oliver’s take on the famous Salade Niçoise is a very loose one, with fresh, grilled tuna and a dressing with basil giving a fresh lift to the dish. Fresh tuna is already very chunky, but grilling gives it even a more meaty feel.

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The pairing

I thought the powerful and outspoken tastes of the orange wine and the tuna would keep each other in balance, but alas. Instead of a beautiful marriage, the two behaved like wrestlers in a ring where there is only place for one to come out victorious. The strong, spicy character of the Miklus did not work at all with the charred and salty flavors of the tuna. And the cedar wood cursed with the lemony fresh basil dressing. While one and one can sometimes be three, this pair went for a fight to the death.

I didn’t see that one coming!

As if that wasn’t enough, the traditional Ribolla Gialla started singing like a nightingale. What I first perceived as mild acidity, became a vibrant and zingy backdrop for the tuna salad in a way that reminded my of my experiences with Verdicchio. Although I regard Verdicchio as a higher quality grape, it behaves in the same way as this Ribolla, namely as a great food partner, not very expressive but capable of accompanying many dishes and supporting them with a fresh backbone. The palate-cleansing quality of the Draga Ribolla worked wonders in comparison to the overpowering orange Ribolla.

Normally the experiment would have ended here in a quod erat demonstrandum kind of way. What had to be proven, was proven. But since it wasn’t, I was piqued and felt an urge to re-try the orange Ribolla with a different dish. By coincidence I was offered a second chance the next day when we had a improvised stir-fry beef dish. The slices of beef were marinated in yakitori dressing and the chillies gave a nice heat to the dish.

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We tried the rest of the orange Ribolla with it, and this time it was bullseye! The wine beautifully echoed the spicy and hot character of the stir-fried beef. Instead of a ring fight, this combination felt very natural and balanced.

No wonder they like this Miklus Ribolla Gialla in Japan and China.

Wine Pairing Weekend Posts

Have a look below to see what other bloggers pair with their orange wines.

  • Camilla of Culinary Adventures With Camilla is “Diving into the Skin Fermented Wine Pool of Two Shepherds Winery”
  • Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm presents Donkey and Goat Skin Fermented Roussanne; A Baaaaad Ass Wine”
  • Andrea of The Quirky Cork takes up “Turkish Amber Wines and Fast Food”
  • Lori of Exploring The Wine Glass asks “Orange you glad I have wine?”
  • Jeff of FoodWineClick offers “Wine 201: Orange Wine Primer”
  • Jill of L’Occasion has us “Thinking Wine: The Engaging World of Orange Wine”
  • Linda of My Full Wine Glass is “Revisiting NY Finger Lakes Skin-Contact White Wines”
  • David of Cooking Chat proffers “Cauliflower Bacon Spread with Orange Wine from Georgia”.
  • Gwendolyn at Wine Predator is featuring “Orange Wines from CA and Italy by Accident and on Purpose Paired with Shrimp curry #WinePW
  • Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “He Said, She Said: Ryme Cellars and the Tale of Two Vermentinos”
  • Susannah of Avvinare serves up “Orange wine from Slovenia’s Movia Paired with Homemade Sushi”
  • Katrina Rene of The Corkscrew Concierge wonders “Is Orange (Wine) the New Everything Wine?”
  • Nicole at Somm’s Table is “Cooking to the Wine: Kabaj Rebula and Chicken w/Mushroom Escabeche and Lentils”
  • Rupal, the Syrah Queen advises us that “Radikon Orange Wine – Not Just For Hipsters”
  • Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog, is serving up “A Cadre Of California Skin-Contact Wines Paired With Ethnic Fare”

Twitter Chat (#winePW)

You can join a Twitter chat on Saturday, May 9th 8:00 am PST/11:00 am EST/5:00 pm CEST (Brussels time) as we explore skin-contact white wines and food pairings. Just follow the hashtag #winePW.

 

 

 

 

 

Food and wine pairing does matter

I always thought of food and wine pairing as something that’s fun. I enjoy thinking about how to combine both. If you hit the nail on the head, you can transcend the individual level of the wine and the dish and reach something that’s more than the sum of the parts. On my blog I have a category that’s called “one and one is three”, where I talk about food and wine pairings that make me especially happy. Because the combination of the flavors create something special, or because one really pushes the other to a higher level, or just simply because they create that kind of feeling where I think : life is good.

American wine writer Alder Yarrow doesn’t think much of food and wine pairing. On his website Vinography he published a blog post calling food and wine pairing “junk science”. Or “the source of panic attacks and the fodder for hundreds of books and scores of useless smartphone apps”. I won’t disagree with the fact that there are many books that are not particularly useful. Many just give very specific combinations of a particular dish with a particular wine. What if you tweak your recipe with a few additional ingredients, or change the sauce? Or more likely, what if that particular wine is not available in your local shop? Not so helpful indeed. But as Mr Yarrow explicitly states that one plus one does not equal three, I felt compelled to write down my own opinion on food and wine pairing.

According to Mr Yarrow the rules of food and wine pairing are “bullshit” and you’re better off forgetting about food and wine pairing altogether as “it only leads to disappointment”. I hear much frustration there. In more than 25 years of eating in top restaurants he can count the experiences  where the sum was greater than the parts on one hand. The good thing I read in that is that at least he had such experiences after all. But apparently very few.

The issue at hand here might be expectation management. If you expect a sommelier to always come with a wine that “will make the choir sing”, then you need to think twice of how restaurants work. Especially the ones who want to be innovative, who experiment with dishes and flavor combinations, and on the top of that change their menu very regularly in order to constantly offer something new to the demanding customer. For a sommelier to find a wine that will fit with a new dish on the menu, there are many things to consider : what is the defining flavor? There might be more than one. And they can interact in a way that does not allow for an extra component, the wine, to interfere. What is the texture of the dish? Does the wine have to support this or contrast with it? Do you want to go for complementarity or make a bold move and aim for contrast? Not to forget a very practical question : what does the sommelier have on the wine list? He/she has to work with what is available and what is ready to drink. If you have a thousand of references to work with, that might ease the job, but such restaurants are exceptions. On top of that, the time and possibilities the sommelier will be given to experiment with the food and wine pairing will be limited. So there are a lot of “ifs” here. That is why I don’t necessarily expect the choir to sing in terms of food and wine pairing when I go to a top restaurant. I know this may sound strange to some, but I don’t. If one plus one equals two, then I will be happy. If the dish is a winner, and so is the wine, without either negatively influencing the other, then also that is a successful food and wine pairing!

Alder Yarrow also talks about the rules of food and wine pairing. As if there was a bible of what to drink with what. Food and wine pairing is not a science. If I were to regard it as such, I would probably also come to the conclusion that food and wine pairing rules are bullshit. But it’s not. Again, if you take top gastronomy as a starting point, there simply are no rules. That is the definition of innovation and experimentation : you do something new. So the wine pairing will inevitably be a trial, and yes, sometimes also be an error.

Bad experiences in such settings is not a reason to conclude that food and wine pairing is bound to be disappointing. Mr Yarrow suggests that wine should be something “universally simple and essential”. So why not look at established combinations that have been tried millions of times and that work. A sauvignon blanc will work wonders with a simple goat cheese. Just as a Muscadet or a Chablis will be a great marriage with fresh oysters. Or a lamb shank from the oven with a spicy, herby Languedoc. These are classic, straightforward dishes that do not need top wines to still be a great match with their liquid partner. There is a much bigger potential for the food and wine to lift each other up if you start with simple things than vice versa. That’s where I see the biggest added value ànd chances of success in food and wine pairings.

Mr Yarrow seems to realise that : “Our expectations need to be re-set. The bar needs to be lowered. We should absolutely be choosing wine to go with our meals, but our goals should center on enjoyment of both and the idea of “mistakes” should be banished.” I can’t think of a better way of saying it actually. So why conclude then that we should forget about food and wine pairings? There will be times that the food and wine pairing does not give the effect we wanted or hoped for, but we can also have great experiences and discover unexpected pairings. You can only do that if you’re open for it, if you see it as fun to experiment, ànd if your state of mind is rather to welcome anything good that comes out of it rather than to be disappointed if the result is anything less than stunning.

Let me give one example of a great discovery I did myself recently. One of our favorite dishes to prepare when we want comfort food is keema matar, an Indian/Pakistani curry with ground meat and green peas, topped with coriander leaves. As you can imagine, it is a very rich and relatively spicy dish. In Mr Yarrow’s opinion you should drink what you like with your food. I quite like red Burgundy, but I wouldn’t dream of drinking that with keema matar. It’d be an absolute waste of the wine. In the past I had already paired this dish with a very rich and opulent Negroamaro, an Italian wine with very ripe black fruit. The reason why that worked very well was because there was a certain sweetness from the ripe fruit that worked with the spiciness of the curry. Recently, however, I decided to take it up a notch with an Amarone, the Campo Inferi 2013 of Brunelli.

This is, for my standards, the embodiment of a “big” wine. Very rich, bold and smooth at the same time, and with a whopping 16,5% alcohol. This is a wine that is defined by ripe black cherries, milk chocolate, butter scotch and cinnamon. Big and ripe tannins, and a supporting acidity that keeps the alcohol in check. Again there is a sense of sweetness here that works very well to counterbalance the spiciness, and the smoothness and ripeness of the wine complement the structure of the curry. A good food and wine pairing, without any doubt. But what really made me tick in this combination was the combination of the ripe cherries, chocolate and cinnamon with the coriander leaves. A match made in heaven! Yes, this was definitely where I felt that one plus one equals three, where everything blended in so well together that the choir sang a little hallelujah.

The effect of the coriander with the Amarone is an example of how food and wine pairing is not a science, but something that you can discover and that will give great satisfaction once you do. Maybe not everyone will appreciate this combination the same way as I did, but others might. And by the looks of the numbers of people who post their food and wine pairings on social media, there seem to be many people who enjoy looking for that combination that adds an extra dimension. These are people who do not think in terms of potential disappointment, but in terms of discovery.

 

Avoid wine and vinegar. Really?

It’s one of the food-wine pairing wisdoms you will often hear or read : if you want to have a glass of wine with your salad, don’t use vinegar in the salad. Vinegar is said to cause your wine to taste spoiled. Or throw it off balance. This was even one of the things we were taught during our sommelier training.

The thing is : this does not match with my experience. First of all, I cannot eat a salad without a vinegar based dressing. I love the freshness that the vinegar gives to my salad. When it’s summer, you want something refreshing, and just having a splash of olive oil on my salad doesn’t do the trick for me. I need to have that sour kick underneath whatever goodness there is in my summer salad, whether it be ripe tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, you name it. I also like sweet and sour salad dressings, like balsamico vinegar, or vinegar with olive oil and honey, or apple or pear syrup. Plenty of possible combinations there, and they all add a fresh extra layer to your salad. And you know what? There’s plenty of white wines or rosé wines that will work perfectly well with your salad.

When I started the sommelier training we learned the basics of food and wine pairing by combining things such as a green apple with different kinds of white wine, like a fresh sauvignon blanc, a full-bodied chardonnay and a sweet wine. It will probably not come as a surprise that the sauvignon and the apple were the best match. For the very simple reason that both a green apple and a typical sauvignon have high acidity. So they echo each other. The acidity of the sauvignon does not shock you after you just had a piece of green apple. And vice versa. The same goes for fresh goat cheese, which is also high in acidity. It’s for obvious reasons that goat cheese and sauvignon blanc are such an exemplary food-wine pairing. So why would a nice vinaigrette on your salad not work with a fresh white wine?

Today I had a courgette carpaccio with pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, pine and sunflower seeds,  and parsley. The dressing I used was made with olive oil, balsamico vinegar and apple syrup.

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Not only delicious but also pleasing to the eye

I paired it with a lovely chenin blanc from Anjou, in the Loire Valley : the Blanc Ivoire 2016 of Château Soucherie.

IMG_1620I like this wine very much. It has everything I look for in chenin blanc : an almost ethereal minerality that sets the scene for ripe exotic fruit, and even a touch of honey. The ripe aromas of the fruit and the honey contrast with a fresh and zingy mouth feel. There’s plenty of green apple and lemon zest there that beg you to drink this wine in your garden with a nice summer salad. An attractive finish as well, with a touch of wood leaving its print on your tongue.

The wine paired very well with the courgette carpaccio. The dressing of course, but also the pomegranate seeds and the feta cheese offer plenty of elements to echo the freshness of the wine. Nothing offsetting here, no spoiled taste, just summer indulgence…

IMG_1618So don’t hesitate to have a glass of white or rosé with your salad and vinaigrette. Just look for something that’s not too heavy, no oaked chardonnay for example, but something fresh, think sauvignon, chenin, muscadet, albariño, plenty of options. Even unoaked chardonnay will work, if you really wanted to. So go ahead and experiment. And let me now what works for you! Cheers.

Blaufränkisch : the Austrian parade horse

 

If zweigelt is regarded as the « easier » red Austrian wine, then blaufränkisch is seen as the grape with most potential. The parade horse, as the Austrian magazine Falstaff calls it. In general it produces wines that are medium to full-bodied, quite aromatic, spicy, and have a good acidic backbone. It’s mainly produced in Burgenland, which is in the east of Austria, most quality wines coming from those parts of the country. There are three different appellations or DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus – who invented this name?!) in Burgenland where blaufränkisch is either the only or the dominant grape for red wines.

Leithaberg is the most northern one, followed by Mittelburgenland, and then Eisenberg in the south. Burgenland lies at the west side of the Pannonian plain, a big basin in Central Europe, which means that the climate is decidedly continental, so hot summers and cold winters.

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The red area is Burgenland (map from http://www.austrianwine.com)

Leithaberg is the most northern DAC of the three DACs in Burgenland where blaufränkisch dominates and has a soil that’s rich in slate (= schiefer) and limestone. This is supposed to produce elegant and mineral wines with a good acidic structure. The two wines below are from that region but don’t actually carry the DAC classification. Not sure why though.

Blaufränkisch Fölligberg 2014, Weingut Leberl

The first aroma I have is rather lactic, like forest fruit yogurt. Then some peppernut, tobacco, a bit of smoke, and black cherries. The wine is fresh and quite structured with bold but ripe tannins. Ends with a chocolate bitter. A noble wine, but it deserves further cellaring. Contrary to what you’d expect from Leithaberg, no minerality here though. The vineyard is situated on a hill called Fölligberg, where there is a lot of clay. Maybe this explains the more powerful character of this wine.

Blaufränkisch vom Kalk 2015, Weingut Altenburger

Very refined and noble aromas coming from the glass. Blond tobacco, fresh cherries, and yes, a bit of minerality! These aromas remind me somewhat of a good Beaujolais, or even Burgundy. The wine starts fresh and ends fresh, and is nicely structured by the fine tannins. Very elegant, very fresh. This wine reflects the reputation of Leithaberg. Markus Altenburger is specialized in blaufränkisch and has a hands-off approach, not using selected yeasts for example. I would definitely like to try more from this winery!

Mittelburgenland is, quite logically as the name suggests, in the middle of Burgenland… It has a heavier, loamy soal. Add to that a minimum of 300 days of sunshine and only 600mm rainfall per year and you have a recipe for richer, more concentrated wines. 

Blaufränkisch von Lehm 2016, Gesellmann

Ripe forest fruit, cedar wood, a minty touch. The wine is very smooth, not overly powerful, rather medium-bodied with good acidity. Goes down very easily, pleasant to drink.

Blaufrankisch 7301, Weingut K + K Kirnbauer 2015.

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Probably meant as a quaffer, but I enjoyed this very much!

The nose seduces with its black fruit, underwood, and a touch of tobacco. This wine is very light on its feet, joyful an yet nicely structured. The finish is carried by the refreshing acidity. This is lovely! While this is an entry level wine, it is better than average and makes you pour another glass as soon as the first is finished. Great drinking pleasure. One of my personal favorites.

Blaufränkisch 2015 Mittelburgenland DAC Gold Reserve, Weingut K + K Kirnbauer

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This is the premium blaufränkisch of the same winery as the 7301. It has a very luxurious and luscious nose with ripe red fruit, cedar wood, it really jumps out of the glass. The wine is ripe, has a lot of fruit, kept in balance by the refreshing acidity. Black chocolate in the background gives it more depth. This is very approachable as it is now, no need to put this wine away. I cannot help thinking, though, that this wine is a bit “made” and perhaps a tad too easy for its price (+/-25€). Still, I can drink this anytime…

Eisenberg is the furthest down south of the Burgenland DACs. The landscape here is more hilly and slate dominates the soil on the hills. At the foot of the hills there is more ferrous loam, giving more powerful wines while the wines of the hills should be more elegant and mineral.

Blaufränkisch Ried Weinberg 2015, Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Kopfensteiner

This wine does not come from one of the hills but a plateau with heavy loam soil. Cherry liquor, cedar wood, a bit of caramel. The mouth feel is warm and the tannins are rather harsh. The high acidity gives freshness, but this is not my favorite blaufränkisch to be honest.

Food pairing

With all these wines of blaufränkisch I was curious what would match well with them. Duck was a pairing I found on several websites, so off I went to buy duck fillet, or magret de canard.

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Perfectly cooked duck, even if I say so myself!

I made the duck with a mash of celeriac and sautéed greens. The duck had a very powerful, earthy taste. We had the blaufränkisch of Gesellmann and Kopfensteiner with it :

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Even though the wines went relatively well with the duck, I somehow felt that a heavier wine would have been better. I rarely drink Cahors (= malbec) but here I could perfectly picture a good glass of black wine with my duck. The combination with the Kopfensteiner was a perfect illustration, however, of how red meat can completely absorb the tannins of a wine. This blaufränkisch had quite harsh tannins that made the wine not so pleasant without food. With the duck, though, all tannins were gone…

So, conclusion? I thoroughly enjoyed these wines of blaufränkisch. They are hardly ever heavy. Even if they are concentrated and structured, most of them have beautiful fruit and great mouthwatering acidity that make these wines approachable and digestible. In fact, with the trend away from very concentrated oak-driven wines, I am convinced there is a market for blaufränkisch. Another argument for blaufränkisch is that the qualit of the entry-level wines is already quite good, so if you spend 10-15€ on a blaufränkisch, chances are high that you will have a wine that is very pleasant and offers a good price quality ratio. Chances of finding that in Burgundy, for example, very low… Speaking of which, I am not going to pretend that blaufränkisch is an alternative for Burgundy pinot noir, but there were a few that made me think of a fruit-forward pinot noir, like the ones they make in New-Zealand for example. You might find it a bit hard to find these wines though. Even though there are quite a few shops where you will find a grüner veltliner or a zweigelt, if you want to buy a selection of blaufränkisch, you will have to revert to webshops. Or be lucky that you have a specialized shop in your neighborhood. But if you find a bottle, give it a try, and as always, let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

Riesling with Asian food – an all-time favorite

It’s classic stuff… Riesling with Asian food. If you’re a bit of a foodie, then you surely know that Riesling is an often recommended companion for Asian dishes that are built around sweet and sour contrasts. Riesling basically has very similar characteristics : often you’ll find pine apple, candied lemon, peach, and honey if it’s sweet or evolved. And of course that magnificent acidity that makes that Riesling hardly ever comes across as flat or plump, no matter how sweet the wine is… When the dish has more spicy flavours coming from cardamom, cloves, cumin,… then muscat or gewürztraminer will also be a very good match.

Today I prepared Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian version of a Chinese classic dish : Black pepper tofu. This is one of our favorites here. But mind you, this is an extreme dish, in every possible way! In his recipe, Ottolenghi uses 8 chillies, 12 garlic cloves, three table spoons of ginger, and 5 (!) table spoons of crushed black pepper. It made me laugh when I read his version is already a milder version than the original… I can have a bit of pepper and chili, but I toned things down another notch or two, bringing the quantities down to 4 chillies, 6 garlic cloves and a few whiffs of pepper. Believe me, I found that hot enough.

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There’s a funny anecdote to this dish. You’re supposed to dust the tofu with corn flour to make it a bit crusty when you fry it. I had corn flour, but it was yellow corn flour to make polenta. That’s a much rougher version than the white corn flour, which is so fine you can hardly distinguish a single grain. On the picture above you can clearly see the corn flour I used. Well, this sure gives a crunchy coating! But we actually liked it. By now I’ve prepared this dish quite a few times, and I’ve tried both white corn flour and yellow corn flour. We actually prefer the yellow corn flour as it adds structure to the dish, which is interesting.

The wine we drank with it was a Riesling of Domaine Meyer-Fonné, a winery in the Alsace, France. It was the Pfoeller 2012. That’s a “lieux-dit”, a single vineyard coming from a specific place with the name Pfoeller.  On the website they describe the wine as follows : “The palate has a clean attack, distinguished, and an athletic acidity. As a slowly developing wine this is a riesling without compromise for the enlightened connoisseur.” Well, I can confirm that this wine has an “athletic” acidity (what a nice description, don’t you think?), but as is so often the case with Riesling, the acidity is not disturbing at all. This is a mouthwatering wine, very elegant, racy, complex. I also love the minerality in the nose, and there’s a hint of honey suckle as well. It’s true that this wine is no where near the point that it needs to be drunk. This wine will still develop for many years to come and will still get better, probably developing more mellow flavors alongside the racy acidity.

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The glass is empty and so is the bottle!

The combination worked really well. This black pepper tofu dish was very rich, and the riesling was a refreshing break in between the chili-loaded tofu. If you decide to make this dish and use the original amount of chili and black pepper, then by all means do not hesitate to take a riesling that’s slightly sweet, such as a Mosel Kabinett. It’s wrong to think that such wines are dessert wines. The sweeter versions, think of Spätlese, are indeed good partners for a fruit dessert. But a Kabinett can perfectly be paired with hot dishes and will help not to burn your tongue with the chili and pepper…

If you try this dish out, let me know how that went. Especially if you go for the hot version 🙂

 

 

 

If it’s Sicilian, it’s gotta be fishy!

Have I told you already I like Italian food? If I haven’t, punch me. I love Italian food! Whenever I have a proper Italian dish, I can’t help wondering how something fairly simple can taste so wonderful. Not that all Italian dishes are easy to make, but many classics are. And when they’re done well, they make me drool.

From time to time I have a go at making a few of these dishes at home. A recipe that gave me great satisfaction is the ragù bolognese of TV chef Antonio Carluccio. This recipe gives me the feeling I’m eating something authentically Italian. Many people in Belgium chuck in a lot more in the sauce, and I used to do so as well. And that’s ok. Everyone has his or her own way of making spaghetti sauce and many of these versions are also really yummy. But try Carluccio’s recipe for once. It’s pretty good stuff and actually not so difficult to make!

But the ragù bolognese is not the dish I want to talk about in today’s 1+1=3. I want to talk about a Sicilian dish : the pasta con le sarde, or pasta with fresh sardines. Continue reading “If it’s Sicilian, it’s gotta be fishy!”

Slower food, please!

I am not a fan of slow food. With slow food I don’t mean good quality food that’s sourced locally. I mean slow food, like in waiting one hour for your food. If you’re hungry and you’re drinking your third aperitif because the food is not coming, then you’ll end up drunk at table. That’s probably not the ideal scenario for a romantic dinner.

Last weekend I was in London with my wife for a surprise weekend, including romantic dinners, in Margot, top Italian food, and in Nopi, the restaurant of celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi. We certainly did not have to wait long for our food in these restaurants. Actually, we hardly had to wait at all. Continue reading “Slower food, please!”

Faux gras and Jurançon

And off we go with the first food wine pairing… The holiday season is drawing near, so which better way than to kick it off with a classic. Foie gras with apples and sweet wine. I just give it a little twist here… I replaced the foie gras by “faux gras”, a vegetarian alternative for the fat liver of a stuffed goose. I’m not really a vegetarian. Rather flexitarian, or whatever you want to call it. I like vegetables, and nowadays cooks get better and better at making yummie dishes without meat or fish. So my principle is : if I can eat a vegetarian dish that will give me just as much pleasure as a non-vegetarian dish, why not… And that is certaimg_0806inly the case here! Continue reading “Faux gras and Jurançon”