Friday, August 28, 2009

Dining at the Roof Garden Altavilla Restaurant

Rooftop dining at its finest, the Roof Garden Altavilla restaurant, located on top of Lecce's only 5 star resort, Risorgimento Resort, affords views of the Duomo's 210 foot tower and has an artful atmosphere of white table clothes, table-size ice buckets, and very pretty plants. An open kitchen with impeccably dressed chefs elaborates on the point. Andrew, Kristin, and I dined there a few days ago and found the elevated experience quite out of the norm of most traditional, Lecce-style dining.

The presentation of the food was some of the best I've seen, and the service was also top notch (I'm writing a review that will be featured in EuropeUpClose travel guide, so keep your eyes peeled for more information). And the wine list was great. The menu was impressive both for its international and local listings. Also impressive were the extensive list of wines between 15-30 euro, mostly from Puglia.

We ordered two bottles. First Azienda Monaci Winery's 2001 "Simpotica" (85% Negroamaro, 15% Montepulciano) and the second was L'Astore Masseria's 2007 "Filimei" (a blend of Negroamaro, Merlot, and Primitivo), but the decision was tough: there were so many good bottles on the list for good prices. For example, Tormaresca Winery's "Bocca di Lupo" was offered for $30. Liberrima, the well-known book and wine store located in Lecce's center, sells the same wine for 28.95 on the shelf. The Roof Garden knows competitive pricing.

The first and only slip up at the restaurant came quickly. The Simpotica was listed as 2003 on the menu, but the 2001 arrived. I figured I'd take my chances and the wine turned out great, only next time I'll request it decanted. The first glass was obviously a bit flat and chalkiness covered any depth of flavor. But, by the second glass we were all impressed with this moody, full-bodied wine. It paired well all of the pastas dishes, and even the shrimp Carpaccio with a sea urchin sauce. The Simpatico was very gentle after 8 years.

(Above photo by Andrew Wooster) I was already familiar with the Filimei, and thought it would be a good choice since we needed to fill our empty glasses quickly with assuredly good wine. The 2007 is bright, medium-bodied, and light with a nice roundness. A good wine for afternoon barbecues or gazpacho.

I recommend the Roof Garden Altavilla restaurant to anyone looking to experience traditional Pugliese cuisine turned into fine-dining. The prices are very reasonable across the board and the views, service, and atmosphere are all impeccable.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

2007 Myriad Cellars, Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

In Lecce, California wines are hard to come by. 6 months ago when I moved here from San Francisco, I didn't mind so much, but now I'm a bit Cabernet and Pinot-starved. Luckily, my friend Andrew, software engineer extraordinaire, visited us from Palo Alto, California, and brought along an incredible bottle of California Cab with him. It took my girlfriend Kristin and I on a quick sip back home.

Andrew grew up on a cattle ranch in the Central Coast, and he grilled up a few Italian-raised steaks to accompany the wine. Kristin whipped up a parmesan polenta and I made balsamic-marinated vegetable skewers. It was my first time pairing steak and Cabernet Sauvignon, but that makes sense since I've only eaten steak twice: I was raised vegetarian. Back in my veggie days, I always noticed a strange gleam that would creep into the eyes of animal eaters when they talked about STEAK. Quite simply, it's like no other flavor on earth, just like the Myriad Cellars's Cab.

The nose was dark, dark, dark with chocolate, tobacco, and a hint of vanilla. The first sip revealed that wine needed more time to breathe--even after 30 minutes. The mouthfeel was pure silk and it was medium bodied. As the wine opened up it was intensely mineral: It had chalk on the finish and a slight metallic tinge in the front of the mouth. Other flavors were cola and cedar. The most striking component of the wine was an encompassing finish of spice and tannin. The tannins were particularly even, reminding me of why Cabernet Sauvignon is such a wonderful grape.

The Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard in Napa Valley is gaining a huge following from winemakers and consumers alike. Myriad Cellars, of course, has its own believers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Interview with Sergio Botrugno of Botrugno Winery

QUICK NOTE - check out my interview with Sergio Botrugno for I-Italy Magazine. We talk about his cult wine Ottavianello and his straight-up winemaking philosophy and methodology.

Brettanomyces and Puglia Wine

Last night I went to the Rosso di Sera wine festival in Monteroni di Lecce, an evening dedicated to the red wines of the Salento peninsula, featuring Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Malvasia Nera grapes (the Salice Salentino DOC was prevalent). After a few samples of wine I began to notice a not-too-pleasant commonality, a distinct, barnyard aroma. This wasn't true of a few wines--Cantine de Falco's "Falco Nero" Salice Salentino Riserva was complex and balanced and Antica Masseria del Sigillo's "Hilliryos"--but after a while I became quite concerned that the next wine poured would smell just like the last. The culprit was likely Brettanomyces bruxellensis, a yeast that is often responsible for the characteristics of Band-aidy, bacony, smokey, horse-saddley, and barn-yardy and even mouse-cagey and wet-doggy--Oh my.

Bretts (plural because there are 5 types of brett) are found the world over, and some people consider it a flavor enhancer. Others find it gross. From what I can tell, bretts and Puglia are not friends. They rarely want to be in the same room together. Unfortunately, many of Puglia's wine-growing and storing conditions are sadly perfect for bretts. Here are some of them:

-warm temperatures
-Puglia's grapes develop high pH levels, which makes them less stable
-Puglia produces mostly red wines (bretts attack whites less frequently)

People either like or dislike the yeast depending on their palates, and while I sometimes like barnyard aromas, I don't want a wine that reminds me of a horse stable in mid-August. What really gets to me is that bretts are not indicative of a unique winemaking region but of a yeast that can appear in any wine and exhibit aromas and flavors that are similar the world over.

Bretts usually overtake a wine during wood barrel aging, when they out power Saccharomyces yeast and swap its flavors and aromas with their own.

What Puglia winemakers are doing about it:

-adding more free sulfur dioxide during winemaking
-some research suggests that high alcohol levels fights against bretts
-deciding against the use of wood barrels in winemaking
-filtering their wines
-trying to ferment every last sugar

Unfortunately, research shows conflicting results, and none of the above strategies are full proof. The number 1 thing that Puglia winemakers must do to prevent bretts is to make the environment of their wood barrels unwelcome to bretts infection. I've noticed that some wine stores in Puglia do not use air conditioning, and so the warm wine is susceptible to having their residual sugars spawn bretts. This should tip you off that you might want to purchase your wines elsewhere.

My friend Andrew is visiting from California. He grew up on a ranch and tonight he's cooking up a mean grill of beast. He is particularly thoughtful because he brought us a wine all the way from home to pair with the meal: Myriad Winery's Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm damn excited, not only because this cab comes from one of the best wineries in Napa Valley, but because it's been a long, long time since I've drank a good ol' California wine! I'll tell you all about it in the next post.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Blog's 1 Year Anniversary

Yesterday was By The Tun's 1-year anniversary, and it feels great looking over the last year. Strange how writing almost every other day for a year extends time: It feels as though I've always had this blog.

Kristin and I had a killer dinner last night--not to honor the blog exactly--of homemade meat-stuffed tortelloni with sage-butter sauce and a bottle of Apollonio's 2000 "Divoto."

Making your own pasta isn't as difficult as it seems. With or without a pasta maker, it's simply a matter of flour and water and getting the proportions correct (I don't like fresh egg pasta nearly as much). I use a ration of 1:4 water to flour, so, with one cup of flour I use 1/4 cup of water. 1 and 1/2 cups of flour is more than enough for two people, and Kristin and I made around 40 tortelloni from 2 cups of flour (nearly 7 seven servings: tortelloni are big tortellini). Tortelloni freezes very well, so don't worry about making too much!


Pile your flour (1/2 all-purpose white flour works well with 1/2 semonlina mixed in) and make a divot in the top so that it looks like a volcano. Add two pinches of salt. Slowly add a little water in the divot and swirl so that it makes a little globule of water and flour. Continue adding water slowly until all of the flour is worked together in a ball. The idea is to make the pasta dough as dry as possible without having it fall apart. Don't worry about being gentle. When it's in a ball and doesn't have too many cracks put it beneath a clean kitchen towel and clean your work station. Next, roll out the pasta. I use a wine bottle because I do not have a rolling pin or a pasta machine. It works just fine. Roll out dough as thinly as possible without having it tear. Use flour liberally so that the dough does not stick to anything.

To make tortelloni you need to have something circular with a good edge that is about 3 to 3 and 1/2 inches in diameter. I had nothing else so I used a small bowl. Punch out as many circles as possible and then combine the left over pieces of dough into a ball and repeat. This second ball is harder to roll out but try your best. If your pasta dough feels anything but dry at this point, let it sit around for half an hour to dry out--this will make it less doughy tasting.


To make the filling we used 6 sausages. In a medium-sized pot, brown 1 chopped onion and 3 chopped cloves of garlic. Then add meat. As the meat releases a lot of broth, drain and reserve it to allow the meat to brown. If your sausage is fatty, cook longer than usual.

When completely browned, pour mixture into a bowl and add 1 egg and 1/4 cup of parsley. Mix thoroughly. Now add 1/4 cup of parmesian, 1 tsp. of salt, some freshly ground pepper, and 1/8 cup of all-purpose flour. Mix together and let cool.

Stuffing Tortelloni:

Pictures work best to show this. We have a lot of fun with it! You need a small dish of water to moisted areas of the pasta to make it stick and a floured pan to put the tortelloni on (do not let them touch).

1st, put a teaspoon of stuffing in the center of a circle of pasta dough.

Moisten 1/2 of the rim of the circle, then fold the other half over and squish so that it sticks.

Take the 2 edges of the pasta and pull together. Add artistic flare here.

When you've completed stuffing, put the pasta in the freezer for 10-15 minutes: this allows the pasta to firm.

Meanwhile, fill the largest pot you've got with water and boil. I usually cook the tortelloni 1-2 minutes after they have all floated to the top. Make sure they don't stick by stirring them once during cooking. I use a slotted spoon to remove the tortelloni when they are done rather than pouring them into a collandar to drain the water. It is ok if a little pasta water gets into the serving dishes, it mixes well with the sage-butter sauce.

Sage-butter Sauce:

Very easy. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter per person and let it to very gently brown. When it's almost completed cooking, add 10 ripped or chopped leaves of sage. Cook 30 seconds to 1 minute then immediately pour over tortelloni.

The Divoto was perfect for the meal because the tortelloni are very substantial. I recommend a Negroamaro or Nero di Troia for this meal--two of Puglia's best food wines. Otherwise, a Cabernet Sauvignon or Chianti would go very well.

Thank you all for reading over the past year! Salute!

Interview with Massimiliano Apollonio

This week's addition of my wine column, Sipping from the Heel, features an interview of Apollonio Winery's, Massimiliano Apollonio. One of the most talked about winemakers in Italy after winning this year's Grand Gold Medal in one of the most important categories at Vinitaly, Massimiliano is down to earth with a twinkle in his eye whenever the subject of wine comes up. In the interview, we talk about his philosophy of winemaking, Puglia's environment, and the future of the New World-style wines that are produced in Italy. Please head over and leave a comment if you get a chance. Don't hesitate to demand more answers, and I'll try my best to supply them. Here are two reviews of his wines: 2000 Divoto and 2007 Fanali rosato.

As Alfonso Cevola writes in his recent blog post, August in Italy is a time for beaches, bikinis, drinks with funny names, and parties. This kind of life philosophy is foreign to an American like myself and I find it hard to really partake fully in Dolce Far Niente. The saying means "The sweet doing nothing," but it's more complicated that it seems. Doing nothing is an art in Italy. It could mean quitting work early to drink a glass of wine and watch the sunset. It could mean taking a walk on the beach rather than going out with friends. What are some of your ideas for Dolce Far Niente?

For me, it seems that article deadlines and job applications are always around the corner. Between poetry, articles, blogs, and 3 books, there's a lot that I want to do. But life is about balance. Yesterday I was reading The Sound and The Fury and suddenly a short-story appeared. Two hours later it was complete. I know for a fact that I wouldn't have this story today if I hadn't been twiddling my thumbs all day, reading on the patio rather than focusing on work. So, how do we find this balance?

In Italy, summer vacation doesn't end when you graduate from high school. Most businesses are closed and the beaches are absolutely packed. Shouldn't we all be spending more time doing nothing? And with that, I bid you adieu.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ouch: Calici di Stelle In Lecce 2009

Calice di Stelle is a annual wine event that takes place throughout all of Italy. I'd been excited to attend the one in Lecce since May, however, Calici di Stelle in Lecce was disappointing, primarily because few wineries featured their full line of wines, but also because it was a drunken zoo--in a bad way.

The one good thing was Cefalicchio Winery's 2005 "Romanico" (100% Nero di Troia). Wow, what a wine. Nero di Troia is one of the most important grapes in the north of Puglia; full bodied, very dark, and full of powerful tannins. Wines made with Nero di Troia often have significant aging potential. This 2005 was surprisingly soft and ready to drink at a young age, but could spend another 2-4 years in the bottle too. Very juicy dark fruit and a chewy mouthfeel, Romanico pairs particularly well with meat from the grill.

I'm not sure what went wrong at Lecce's Calici di Stelle. Perhaps it was that the event tried to show off Puglia's 26 DOC regions. DOC is a government classification that ensures that wines with the DOC seal are made using grapes sourced from a particular region and by specific methods as outlined by the Italian government. DOC wines are nothing to shout about however, and most Italians I speak with believe that IGT wines are generally better than DOC. However, speaking this way is to deal in stereotypes. In short, some DOC wines are great, some are not.

But to again speak en mass: Few of the DOC wines featured at Lecce's Calici di Stelle were interesting. Further, the event did not warrant the 10 euro price tag. The lines were absolutely abhorrent. The atmosphere was not one of contemplation and sensual stimulation. Instead, attendees had to focus on just getting wine in their glass; there was no time for tasting it, discovering what grapes were used, or hearing about the winery. I thought the signs that featured the wineries' names drove the point home: "Calici di Stelle" was printed in massive letters while the names of the wineries themselves were too small to read. So, in general, it was a poorly orchestrated zoo. I do not recommend that anyone attend this event next year in Lecce.

So that's my bitter report for today. Back to shade to recoup my superpowers.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Staying Classy while Drinking Copious Amounts of Wine

August is a time of sun and relaxation on the Salento peninsula. Beaches are crammed full, sailboats and yachts dot the calm Adriatic and Ionian Seas, and celebrations are in full effect, from wine-focused events to reggae concerts and Slow Food festivals. Not a bad way to indulge in the good life, and Italians know all about it. As I report for I-Italy Magazine, the Mercatino Del Gusto festival, a massive, 4-day event organized by Slow Food Puglia, offered samples of hundreds of wines. I approached the festival in a pragmatic manner: 1st night for white wines, 2nd for rosati, and 3rd for reds. But it didn't take me long to wonder how professional wine tasters and distributors taste through over a 100 wines in a day without getting totally wasted.

So here are a few tips for staying classy while drinking copious amounts of wine. In my experience, taking tiny sips is the wrong way to go. You don't taste all that the wine has to offer, particularly in regards to body and finish. Also, no matter how tiny, after 20 little sips you're bound to be a bit tipsy, and that's no good because you've got another 80 wines to go. So, learn to spit.

Spitting is both gross and counter-intuitive, and likely you'll be the only one doing it. I didn't let this bother me, however, simply out of necessity (I was very thankful at the end of the night). Here's a good article written by Michael Steinberger for Slate Magazine on how to spit. In my opinion, it's all about getting a large mouthful so that you can taste as much of the wine as possible before sending it on it's way.

So you're not drunk, but you are tasting so many wines it makes your head spin. You need a game plan. I chose to separate my nights by wine-type: white, rosato, and red. However, any
thoughtful approach works. If you're at an event with 50 wineries, such as the Calici di Stelle wine festival in Lecce that I'm attending tonight, any number of routes can be taken. I'm likely going to focus on wines from the Castel del Monte DOC, which is one of the best known DOCs in Puglia and which is producing incredible wines with the red Nero di Troia grape. Say you want to be a Zinfandel/Primitivo connoisseur: focus the night on tasting the differences between wines made with Zinfandel. This taught me how to taste typicity of the grape, the different flavors brought out by using oak barrels vs. stainless steel, the different flavors from the different growing regions, and the different approaches to the grape taken by winemakers.

To make sure my taste buds do not get overly saturated, I try to make use of the crackers, taralli, or other bland foods that are lying around. This gives the taste buds a break and prepares them for the next wave of wine.

Water is, of course, a serious necessity, both for the morning after and for keeping your mind clear. And it's such a simple trick! One glass of water an hour will keep you refreshed and alert.

So these are my tips for drinking 100 wines in a day without losing track of what you've tasted or waking up with that less-than-fresh feeling, I'd love to hear yours. Salute!

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