Archive | October 2014

Wine Tasting in Veneto

I just came back from a trip to Italy with my family, where we spent a week exploring the Veneto region. Having the advantage of a car, were able to explore many picturesque towns and villages. The highlight of the trip was – of course – the wine tastings that we did.

The first winery we visited is Le Croibe in Negrar, which is in the Valpolicella wine region. Le Croibe is located on top of a hill with beautiful views. It is also an agriturismo so you can book a room there as well. We only stayed one night but it was so peaceful and beautiful that if I get a chance to go back to the region, I’ll definitely spend at least a few nights here. It’s the perfect place to relax, enjoy some wine and take in the views.

croibe sign

The garden with the fantastic views.

croibe 1

There’s even a hammock! (an equally fabulous amenity though not pictured is a swimming pool). We did our wine tasting just behind the trees.

croibe 2

A close up of the main building where our rooms were located.

croibe 3

We tasted quite a few wines at Le Croibe. The first one was a light red – 2013 Doline. This is quite a fruity wine with intense cherry aromas (as I found out over the course of my week in Italy, the reds from this region characteristically have a cherry aroma). The Doline also has a bit of earthiness and hints of spice. It is lightly tannic and has a gorgeously bright ruby red color. This red is light enough to drink by itself and it is delightful!

The next wine we had was a more complex red – 2012 Ripasso. This wine is still fruity with dominant cherry flavors as well as some vanilla. In appearance, it is almost as brightly ruby red as the Doline. At the same time, it has some more complex savage aromas like leather and animal. It is more tannic than the Doline. I would definitely pair this wine with some sort of a red meat dish.

two bottles

Next, we moved on to the amarones, which is made with a variety of partially dried grapes, such as Corvina and Rondinella. The drying process creates a much more intensely flavored wine as well as a quite tannic one. Amarone actually means the “great bitter” and this name was given to distinguish it from the famous sweet wine of the region – recioto. While a dry wine, there are nevertheless hints of sweetness in the amarone (the level of which varies from wine the wine). However, it is far short of being a dessert wine and the sweet tones are always nicely balanced by acidity and high level of tannins. Amarone can be enjoyed with a variety of savory dishes. However, in order to complement the sweetness of this wine, I might add sweet elements (such as barbeque sauce) to the dish. Examples of great pairings might be barbeque ribs, burgers with caramelized onions, a strong cheese served with honey or a fruit preserve, etc.

We tasted three amarones. First one was their brown label, which is their special production. It is from 2010.

brown label

When you smell the brown label, you can immediately notice the sweet aromas. There is clove and vanilla – the spices are much stronger than the fruit aromas, of which there is the typical cherry. In contrast to the other two reds, the cherry here is more like stewed cherries, rather than fresh. And once you aerate the wine, it smells almost like a cherry tart.

The next two amarones we tasted were from their regular production. The 2011 is more fruity and less sweet than the brown label. It is also more tannic. The 2009 is fruity like the 2011 but definitely a lot sweeter in taste and aroma. It is the sweetest of all three. The spiciness of this wine is a lot less pronounced than the other two.

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Of the three amarones that we tasted, I liked the brown label the best! I thought it was very nicely balanced and tasted delicious!

Here’s me and my brother during our wine tasting – which was outdoors in the garden of the property. Beautiful!

bro n me

After our wine tasting, we went to a restaurant in Negrar for dinner – Trattoria Caprini. All local diners and amazing food! I definitely recommend it!

The next day, we moved on to the Soave region. In the heart of Soave village is Pieropan, which has been making wines since 1880. We started our visit with a tour of the winery and the cellars.

The views from the terrace of the winery is just amazing!  You can see the village of Soave as well as the hills where the grapes are grown in the background.

me and soave hills

Behind me is the castle of Soave and the hills where the grapes for Pieropan’s La Rocca wine are grown.

la rocca and me

In the cellars, they have kept many bottles of wine from their earlier vintages – even dating back to the 19th century! There are also  bottles from other wine makers in the collection.

dusty bottles

old stuff

Some of the wines (notably La Rocca) begins fermentation in the large barrels before being transferred to the smaller oak barrels for months.

me and barrels

barrels

We then moved to their tasting room. We tasted five wines (sadly they had sold out of their amarone so that’s not one of them).

We tasted three dry white wines: Soave Classico, Calvarino, and La Robba. In front of the bottles is a rock that shows the type of soil that the grapes are grown in. La Rocco is grown in chalky, clay soil while the other two are in volcanic soil.

3 bottles

We started out with their Soave Classico from 2013. It is made fro 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano. This is a very young and fresh wine with a subtle flavor and nice acidity. It has aromas of sweet fruits, citrus (especially grapefruit) and some white floral tones as well. This would be great on its own or with some pre-dinner snacks or with a caprese salad or even a light fish dish.

The next wine was the Calvarino from 2012. This is made from 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano. This wine has more texture than the Soave Classico. It is rounder and fattier and there is also hints of saltiness (from the volcanic soil). It is more complex and has a good level of minerality. The aromas are fruity – especially white fruits like apple. This wine is definitely more elegant than the Soave Classico. I would probably serve this with a lean fish or may be a risotto with vegetables.

The last one was my favorite! La Rocca from 2012. It is made from 100% Garganega. This wine is made from a late harvest grapes so there are slightly hints of sweetness in comparison to the other two. It is also quite minerally (chalky dust), adding lots of nice acidity. The aromas are of exotic fruits like mango, papaya and also apricot. This is the most complex and stronger of the three and I would pair this wine with equally complex dishes. Instead of vegetables, I might put porcini mushrooms or truffles to the risotto. I would also love to see how this wine does with stronger fish like cod (Veneto region’s dried cod, or baccala, would probably work well) or shellfish.

We then tasted a dry red and a sweet white wine.

two bottles

The red is Ruberpan from 2011. It is made from 60% Corvina, 35% Rondinella-Corvinone- Croatina (5% other varieties). As all the other reds I’ve seen in this region, the Ruberpan is brightly ruby red (the name of this wine is inspired by the color). The nose is typically cherry. It also has a nice peppery spiciness to it. This comes from the Corvinone grape. Chiara, who was guiding our tour, recommended asiago cheese to pair with this wine.

The last wine is their Recioto from 2009. This is Pieropan’s most special wine and back in the 19th century, the winery started out by making only this. It is made 100% from Garganega. The grapes are hand picked and then they are laid on top of bamboo cane mats to go though a 5-6 month drying process in the open air (Pieropan is one of the very few wineries that has kept the tradition of slow air drying – most others have switched to technology what dries the grapes in a few hours. I definitely prefer old and traditional methods!). Below are some drying grapes.

drying grapes

The Recioto is made from grapes that have botrytis. This is a fungus that the grapes get in the drying process. I really love wines made from botrytized grapes because it gives wines such a delightful and distinctive aroma and taste. Other aromas in this Recioto are tropical fruits with honey. It is a sweet wine but it is perfectly balanced by acidity.

We were served a dry almond cake – sbrisolona – to eat with this wine. It was a great match!

almond cake

Another sweet dish to pair would be pandoro – the Italian Christmas cake. And of course, as with most sweet wines, I could also serve this with blue cheeses like gorgonzola.

After Pieropan, we moved to another great wine maker in the region: Anselmi. Instead of visiting the winery, we did our tasting while having lunch at the winery’s enoteca – Enoteca Realda, which is right outside the city walls of Soave. Anselmi has been making wine for the last twenty years. About 15 years ago, instead of limiting himself by subscribing to the requirements of the DOC classification, he simply opted out. He believed that he could make much better wine without the strict restrictions imposed by these classification systems in Italy. He was right and Alselmi is one of the most well-regarded wine makers in the region.

We tasted three dry white wines at the enoteca.

three bottles

The first one was the San Vicenzo from 2013. It is made from 70% Garganega and 30% Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. This has very subtle aromas of fruit. There is predominantly citrus as well as white fruits like apples and pears. This is not a very acidic wine and there is quite a bit of roundness.

Next, we had the Foscarino from 2012. The Foscarino is made from 90% Garganega and 10% Chardonnay. This wine smells delightfully peachy with honey tones. The aroma profile is sweeter than the San Vicenzo. It is a dry wine with more acidity than the San Vicenzo but there is a slight hints of sweetness in the taste. Both the San Vicenzo and the Foscarino are less acidic than the average Italian white.

The last dry white as the Capital Croce, which spends 8 months in oak barrels with a sur lie method of bottling (where the yeast sediments are not filtered). This method creates wines with a distinctively yeasty as well as toasty and nutty aromas. In addition, this wine has sweeter fruit aromas, such as pear, peach and melon. There’s a little bit of citrus too. In comparison to the other two, this wine has the sweetest aroma and is the most acidic.It also makes wines that have more depth and are more complex. I think this is the most complex of the three wines.

I had two dishes for lunch at Enoteca Realda. The first one was baccala with polenta. Baccala is prepared with dried cod that is rehydrated in milk. This dish is quite salty and there’s a considerable strength of flavors.

baccala

Then I had the grilled local fish, served with potatoes. The grilled fish was much lighter than the baccala, not only in terms of texture but also flavor.

fish

I think the Foscarino worked perfectly with the grilled fish while the Capital Croce was a much better choice for the baccala.  Capital Croce is a more complex wine than the Foscarino and the more complex the wine, the more complex the flavors in the dish should be. Generally when it comes to pairings, it is a good idea to match the textures and the intensity of flavors of the wine and the food. In this case, the Capital Croce had the most texture and the flavor to be able to keep up with the baccala. In addition, the higher level of acidity in this wine was a great palate cleanser (as the baccala‘s taste can be quite strong).

At the end we were served the sweet wine – I Capitelli from 2011. Even before I arrived in Italy, I was very curious about this wine.

capitelli

The I Capitelli is made 100% from Garganega. It is a deep amber color. It is a sweet wine with beautiful aroma profile. There’s white peach, apricot and honey. There are also hints of citrus. The taste is sweet but it is nicely balanced.

This was the end of our wine tasting tour in Veneto. At the end of our meal, I was definitely a happy and well-wined diner!

me

Note: my mom was my own personal paparazzo on this trip. Hence the numerous pictures of myself in this post 🙂

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Some of my favorites from Paris: David Toutain

One of my most interesting dining experiences in Paris was at David Toutain in the 7th arrondissement. This is a fairly new restaurant that opened in December 2013 to much excitement. When I was in Paris a month after the opening, I really wanted to try it out but it was impossible to get a reservation. I finally got a chance to eat there in the summer and it was definitely worth the wait. Each dish that we tasted was more interesting and creative than the previous! David Toutain really has a way of combining very different flavors and ingredients that you would expect to clash – such as raw steak and raspberry, orange and pea, lamb and chocolate, etc. But somehow he makes these ingredients work together in each and every dish!

For dinner, there is a choice between two tasting menus – Eglantine and Mauve du Bois (both are carte blanche, meaning the menu is a surprise that’s divulged course by course). With the Mauve du Bois, you can also opt for a wine pairing and that sounded perfect to us!

We started the evening with a glass of champagne by Bruno Paillard. This is one of my favorite rosé champagnes. It’s a very pale salmon color, made with 85% pinot noir and 15% chardonnay. It is a very crisp and vibrant wine with great citrus aromas as well a bit of red fruits. Super refreshing!

champagne

We had quite a few amuse bouches with the champagne. First, we had balls of steak carpaccio filled with raspberry.

carpaccio

Peas with Orange.

pea

Heirloom tomatoes with basil powder and tomato juice. This was just so lip-smacking delicious! I think I downed my soup in a matter of seconds and would’ve licked the bowl clean had I not suddenly come to my senses remembered that I was in public.

tomato

Raw tuna served with onions, cream, and trout roe.

tuna

After the tuna dish, we moved on to our first appetizer: Slow-cooked egg (we were told it was cooked exactly at 63 degrees–not a degree higher or lower) served with verbena foam and fresh almonds. I’ve never had verbena as food before and it had a very refreshing citrus flavor. I definitely need to start stocking verbena in my kitchen and incorporate to my cooking.

egg

This dish was served with a glass of an Alsatian white by Albert Mann. It is a Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois blend from 2013.

mann wine

This wine is less acidic and richer than a Riesling from the same region (owing primarily to the Auxerrois). But this being an Alsatian wine, there is still quite a bit of acidity. It is also a bit more delicate and muted than the Riesling in terms of aroma (because of the Pinot Blanc), where white fruits dominate and there are bits of floral and spicy notes.

Egg is notoriously difficult to pair with wine as it can easily make most wines taste outright awful. It’s not really the flavors in the egg that are problematic but rather their unctuous texture, which coats the mouth much like tannic foods do. The yolks especially are difficult in that respect. People recommend anything from sparkling wines to round yet fruity whites to very light reds when it comes to pairing wine with eggs. However, Alsatian whites are known matches to most eggy dishes, whether it is a simply scrambled egg and lardon dish, a custardy tart like a quiche, or in this case, a slow cooked egg.

The second appetizer we had was seared duck foie gras served with caramelized pistachios, olive paste, and cherries. This was also served with the Pinot Blanc Auxerrois.

liver

Both the Auxerrois and the Pinot Blanc grapes add fruitiness to this wine. This provides a great and refreshing contrast to the richness of the foie gras itself (fruits complement foie gras really well), creating a more balanced dish. Although I would expect that a sweeter Alsatian wine as the first choice with foie gras, the roundness of the Pinot Blanc Auxerrois does work with the rich texture of the foie gras.

The next two courses were seafood. First, we were served a medley of zucchini ribbons, nectarine slices, smoked salmon, miso, and basil.

zucchini

This was served with a glass of “Romo” by Domaine des Huards, Cour-Cheverny. The vintage is 2010.

romo

This white is definitely a mineral driven wine. I’ve actually had this wine (though the 2012 vintage) in another restaurant – Verjus. There, the Romo was paired with a smoked pink trout dish. (see: Some of my favorites from Paris: Verjus). Smoked pink trout and smoked salmon definitely share similar taste and aroma profiles so it’s not a huge surprise that the same wine was chosen for these two dishes.

The second seafood dish was a whiting filet, served with basil cream, peas, and rhubarb. The whiting fillet was prepared in a really interesting way. I could not tell whether it was raw, smoked, cured like ceviche, or else. It definitely did not have the flaky texture of a conventionally cooked whiting. To the contrary, the texture was quite firm. However they prepared this whiting, it was ridiculously delicious!

whiting

We continued drinking the Romo during this course. Mineral driven wines are more complex than fruity wines and you need a food that matches the wine’s complexity. The preparation technique of the whiting definitely enriched the dish. Based on this, I think the Romo matched the complexity of the dish really well. In addition, the citrus aromas in the wine, along with the tart rhubarb in the food, worked really well together to complement and balance the flavors of the fish (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love tart and lemony flavors with fish).

Before moving on to our meat course, we had a snack of smoked eel with black sesame sauce. Another super interesting dish!

eel

The final course was lamb served with chocolate sauce, smoked eggplant, and girolle mushrooms. Unfortunately, I pretty much attacked the dish as soon as I was served and I didn’t remember to take a picture until I was licking my fingers. Needless to say, the lamb dish looked as beautiful and delicious as all the other courses!

The wine that we had with the lamb was a Roussillon from the Languedoc region of France. It is a 2007 Cotes du Roussillon Les Apres by Domaine Nivet-Galinier. Roussillon wines are very rustic and often have savage qualities in aroma and taste. This is no exception and you can really notice the leather and animal notes. The wine’s aromas really closely mirror gamey meats that have strong scents. Even though it’s not game, lamb often mimics gamey-ness in terms of its texture, flavor and smell. As such, the lamb was a great match to the wine. Les Apres also has some smoky earthy characteristics, which I think work super well with the mushrooms and the eggplant.

roussillon

We then moved on to our cheese course. Abondance, which is a wonderful semi-hard raw cow‘s milk cheese from Savoy.

abondance

I was definitely way too full for dessert but they gave me a little taster anyways: Cauliflower with white chocolate and coconut. I know that it sounds weird but it was quite delicious!

cauliflower

That concluded our dinner at David Toutain. I loved the food and really enjoyed the surprising combination of ingredients and the juxtaposition of flavors, even if it did at times make me go “hmmm” 🙂 I can’t wait to go back there and see what new flavors and dishes David Toutain has come up with.