Banfi Enrichment Trip Day 9 Frascati and an Epic Meal

Photo by Barry HImel

Photo by Barry HImel

On Wednesday morning, we visited the market at Campo di Fiori.  Since 1869, this piazza has been home to a daily fish and vegetable market.  We arrived early as thevendors were still setting up their booths.  At first glance, with the mishmash of clothes, blankets, handbags, and trinkets that were on display, you might think this was a tourist bazaar.  However, the central booths of the market were lined with vibrant displays of seasonal vegetables that popped with all the colors of the rainbow. There were several vendors offering dried pasta in all shapes and sizes.   There was a deli and fish market with storefronts on the piazza.  I would guess that a bakery and butcher shop were nearby.   Everything needed to create a complete meal with fresh seasonal ingredients was available within walking distance.

Photo by Barry Himel

Photo by Barry Himel

bakery

My greatest find at the market was crushed ice that was used to chill some perishable foods.  I bought a bottled Coca Cola that I poured over a cup filled with crushed ice.Ice Cold Coke  After more than a week of lukewarm beverages, an icy-cold Coke was Heaven!

After snacking on some Roman pizza, we departed for Frascati.  Before leaving Rome we made a final stop at a vantage point that overlooks the entire city.  The panoramic view with history as far as the eye can see in every direction, was breathtaking.

Rome Skyline

I was looking forward to Frascati.  I was blown away during my first meeting with Mauro Merz in Houston when we tasted “library samples” of Fontana Candida Frascati.  Check out my post regarding this encounter.   Visiting the estate, the first thing I noticed, is how close the vineyards are to Rome.  I am sure we didn’t drive more than 20 minutes.  It is easy to understand how these vineyards would be threatened by the expansion of Rome.  Mauro is a self-appointed champion of Frascati and his wines make a strong case for the preservation of the Frascati vineyards.

Frascati Map

After we toured the vineyards and the barrel room, Mauro led us to his caves that were carved out of the tufa soil.  The walls were structurally firm, but you could easily chip pieces of soil off with your hands.  The caves were filled with bottles of Frascati from multiple vintages.  Fontana Candida’s Luna Mater Frascati Superiore is aged in the bottle for a year before release.  Mauro dusted off a bottle filled with a golden liquid.  The label had long since disintegrated.  Turns out it was one of 8 remaining bottles of a 1997 Malvasia.  He also pulled a 1998 Santa Teresa Frascati.  He wanted to prove a point to us.

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Photo by Dominique Henderson

Photo by Dominique Henderson

Photo by Dominique Henderson

After come very cool photo ops in the caves, we made our way upstairs to the tasting room.  This tasting room was unlike any we had visited so far.  We passed through a hallway that was flanked by a “laboratory”, complete with beakers, test tubes, and analytical equipment.  The tasting was set up at a square table covered in white melamine that seated two on each side.  At the middle of each side, we found a hidden drawer that would pop out to reveal an old-school dental spit basin complete with swirling rinse – I’m not joking.  With all the white surfaces and cabinetry, we are all thinking – Dental Office!!

Photo by Dominique Henderson

I was first drawn into Mauro Merz’s world of Frascati when I was invited to a “Library Tasting” of Frascati.  It is no surprise that the first portion of our tasting was a vertical from 2007-2012.  The point of this tasting lineup was the same as in Houston.  Mauro wants to show that his wines age, gracefully.  Of the wines in the vertical, the 2007 was probably everyone’s favorite.  But, all were pretty darn good.  We finished with the 1997 Santa Teresa and a 1996 Malvasia.  Each of the wines had taken on honeyed and reductive notes, a definite evolutionary jump from the younger wines we had tasted.  The tasting proved once again, the Frascati of Fontana Candida do indeed age gracefully.

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Photo by Barry Himel

The Luna Mater Frascati Superiore is crafted with a meticulous attention to detail.   After bottling, the wine is aged for a year in the cellar prior to release.  My encounters with Mauro Merz have proven that the wine will develop beautifully over a period of a decade or more.  Frascati is also an extremely versatile food wine.   Like a chameleon, the character of the wine changes depending on the dish, often expressing savory notes that are surprising.   At around $20, Luna Mater is a world-class wine that you can have for a song.

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Photo courtesy of Taverna il Spuntino Website

Photo courtesy of Taverna il Spuntino Website

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Photo by Barry Himel

While we had many great meals, lunch with Mauro remains one of the most memorable meals of the trip.  Our lunch was at Taverna dello Spuntino in Grottaferrata, just south of Frascati.  The building that housed the restaurant was originally a winery and had plenty of character.  Peppers, fiascos (the Chianti bottles wrapped with straw), strings of garlic, whole slabs of prosciutto, shelves with old wine bottles, pots, pans, and dishes were hanging everywhere on the walls and from the ceiling.  It was a sight to see. The room oozed with seductive aromas of resinous smoke and cooking spices.  There was long table with an amazing spread of antipasti.  We were seated and passed a bottles of 2007 and 2011 Luna Mater to fill our glassed as the waiters began to bring a seemingly endless stream of greens, vegetables, cheeses, cured meats, baby artichokes, and eggplant prepared a dozen different ways.  The waiters insisted that we try “everything-ah”. The traditional Italian “meal before the meal” had begun.  This would be an epic dining experience.

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Photo by Barry Himel

After a generous sampling of antipasti, most of us would have been happy to be on our way to a long nap.  But the waiters cleared the plates and brought the first pasta course, a simple, but delicious linguini with porcini mushroom.  They  followed with the most intensely flavored pasta amatriciana I have ever tasted.  True to form, both the 2007 and 2011 Luna Mater paired with everything we put in our mouths.

We were stuffed and begging for mercy when Mauro pulled a cork on a  Sangiovese Merlot blend, Kron.  The wine was rich and balanced, with a forward style.  I wasn’t expecting a red from Mauro, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The Kron accompanied “lollipop” lamb chops, that were intended to be held by the bone and eaten….well, like a lollipop.  It is nearly impossible to find information on Kron – It is not even mentioned on the Fontana Candida website.

Did I say we were stuffed?  After the lamb, none of us could possibly eat dessert.  But we were informed that wild forest strawberries were in season and they were delicioso!!!.  We agreed just to be polite.  I thought  I would have a bite and be done.  This would not be the case.

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Photo by Barry Himel

The strawberries were about the size of jellybeans, and they tasted AMAZING!!!  My serving was topped with a gelato flavored with orange liqueur that, though it seemed impossible after the first bite, took everything to another level – A FANTASTIC compliment to the dish.  This was by far the best dessert I had tasted on the trip. Much to my misery,  I finished every strawberry on the plate.

We air-kissed, hugged and boarded the sprinter for an amazing drive through the Appenines on our way to Abruzzo.  I slept most of the way but woke up in time to see some fantastic castles and complete mountainsides covered with sunflowers.  The scenery was amazing!!

Its been a while since my last post.  Family, work, and study for the tasting portion of the CWE Exam have taken up most of my free time.  Thanks to my travel mates for providing all of the great photos.  I didn’t mention that my camera/smartphone stopped working during the trip.  So, I have relied upon others to provide photos to document the trip.  This adds a lot of time to the editing process.

l have one more short post detailing the final day in Italy, with a report on Abruzzo and Sagrantino and Montefalco.  Stay Tuned….

Looking toward the Appennines

Looking toward the Appennines

Giovanno Rosso – Video Update on New Cantina Construction

Aside

About six weeks ago, I was in Serralunga d’Alba and visited with Davide Rosso, winemaker for Barolo producer Giovanni Rosso.  In my blog post, I mentioned the new facility that the Rosso Family is building that will significantly expand the production capacity of their winery.  They just posted a video to update progress on the new cantina.

Since my visit, they have completed a significant portion of the excavation that was needed to level the area where the remaining portion of the cantina will be built. Davide said he anticipated the cantina would be ready for production by harvest 2014. There is still plenty of work ahead.

Banfi Enrichment Trip Day 8 The Maremma Toscana and Rome

Maremma Map

On day 8, we departed the Collupino Farmhouse with a hint of sadness and fresh laundry.   It was nice to be in one place long enough to sleep in the same bed more than once.  But, there was more of Italy waiting for us to discover.  We headed southeast from Tuscany to the Maremma Toscana where we would rendezvous once again with Andrea Cecchi.

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Photo from Val delle Rose Website

The Maremma is considered an “up and coming” area with regards to viticulture.  With several DOCs being established in the 1990s, and the only DOCG, Morrelino di Scansano being established with the 2007 vintage, the Maremma is in its infancy when compared to other Italian wine regions.  Morrelino, is purported to be the name for the region’s favored clone of Sangiovese.  But as we learned in Montalcino, there are numerous clones of Sangiovese that exist. So, rather than naming a specific clone, Morellino is a name that identifies the unique expression of Sangiovese that is born of Maremma terroir.

The DOCG Morrelino di Sacansano requires its wines to be 85% of Sangiovese grapes and allows the indigenous Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Malvasia, Colorino, and Alicante along with “International” varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah to complete the blend.  With the Maremma being a newly rediscovered region in Italy, the winemaking is not as constrained by history and tradition as other areas. This allows plenty of liberty for experimentation and facilitates the creation of modern wines.

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Photo by Barry Himel

Over the past two decades, there has been a tremendous influx of cash into the Maremma.  In 1996, the Cecchi Family seized an opportunity to gain a foothold in the region and purchased the Val delle Rose Winery.  We toured the expansive estate, which currently has 100 hectares under vine.  The vineyards covered numerous elevations and provided sweeping vistas of the rolling terrain.  Despite being 500 meters above sea level, it was HOT.


Of late, Cecchi has made a HUGE investment in the production facility at Val delle Rose.BWcIaDA8SeU0RazOVh5GQkxFvB6Y6jnExcccqcKlL4A[1]  The new winery, in just its second vintage, is a state of the art showplace with massive production potential.  During our visit to the barrel room, we tasted the 2011 and 2012 vintages of the Val delle Rose Morrelino di Scansano Riserva .  A far cry from some of the punishing barrel samples we had experienced in Barolo and Montalcino, these young wines were already showing soft tannins and round, chewy fruit, the hallmark of the Maremma wines.

We gathered for a casual lunch in a building that could have been located on an eco-lodge in Costa Rica.  We began our meal with a handmade ravioli that was accompanied by the Littorale Vermintino.  We later enjoyed the 2009 and 2010 vintage of the Val delle Rose Morrelino di Scansano Riserva  to accompany a wild boar dish that was prepared on-site by one of our hostesses.  These vintages might seem young for a riserva, but the DOCG allows a riserva wine to be released January 1st two years after the harvest.  Despite their youth, the wines were soft with ripe fruit notes that expressed the warmth of the Maremma terroir.  Good acidity from the Sangiovese provided a crisp and refreshing balance to the ripe fruit that kept the wines from going flabby.  The 2009 was drinking especially well, though both wines paired nicely with the boar.

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The Maremma is certainly an area to keep your eyes on.  As with any region, there are hits and misses.  The good news is that most of these wines don’t require a huge outlay.  (The Val delle Rose Riserva retails for about $20.) The payoff in some of the gems that you will find is well worth the investment.

Currently, Valle delle Rose produces three wines – The “Litorale” Vermentino, Morrelino di Scansano, and a Riserva.  While we did not sample the Morellino di Scansano “Normale”, the Riservas  and the Vermentino were both delicious, unpretentious, and provide solid value.

We said our goodbyes, to what was becoming our new-found family in Italy, and with much anticipation we headed to Rome!!

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Photo by Barry Himel

I’m not going to write much about Rome here.  It is an amazing and vibrant city that is alive with people and tourists everywhere on the streets.  There is much to see and the awesome feeling of walking on sacred ground at every turn is inescapable.  We did a “Griswold” tour, as Lars called it, stopping briefly at the major sights – the Trevi Fountain, Coliseum, The Vatican, etc.  I enjoyed my first Negroni on the piazza with an amazing view of the Pantheon.  If you’ve never had a Negroni, this is certainly the BEST way to ingrain a memory.  I will remember this experience with every Negroni I consume for the rest of my life.

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Photo by Barry Himel

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Photo by Barry Himel

We walked the Spanish Steps after dinner, which was full of people just hanging out and enjoying the night.  Ben and I stumbled on to a cool bar where two very talented 20ish guitar players were absolutely slaying an improvisational jazz set.  Ben played bartender/sommelier and ordered some boozy drinks for us.  In Ben’s capable hands, I didn’t have to think.  Being the conscientious sommelier that he is, Ben was careful to balance the whisky with good acidity.  It was a refreshing departure from the onslaught of wine.  We finished with a whiskey smash, that I believe Ben actually made himself.  Ben knows wine, but based on this experience, I can say he knows whiskey too. (and Grappa)

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Photos above by Barry Himel

After a few nightcaps, I should have been more drunk than I was.  But maybe at this point, intoxication was just a matter of degrees, as we had been functioning on some level of inebriation for most of our waking moments during the trip.  With map in hand, we found our way back to the hotel.  I hit my pillow with much anticipation of a reunion with Mauro Merz in Frascati.