Monday, September 28, 2009

Wine Spectator and Matané Winery's Primitivo di Manduria

In September's issue of Wine Spectator, the magazine rates a wine from Puglia, Italy. It was an unexpected pleasure to see Matané's 2007 "Il Matané" Primitivo di Manduria listed under "Other Red" and given 90 points. I was especially interested since I've never visited Matané Winery or drank any of their wines. The strange thing is, I can't find one smidgen of online information about them. Does anyone know anything about Matané Cantina, specifically where I can buy their wine in Puglia?

A Marathon Runner's Wine Diet

My little sister is running in this year's New York City Marathon, scheduled for November 1st. During her visit last week she was determined to not only eat pizza and biscotti in Naples, but to run daily for an hour or so. Obviously she had some difficulty fitting her training in sometimes, but one day, to prove her backbone, she ran up and down the Adriatic Coast while the rest of the fam lay around in the sun. The incredible part was that we'd all ridden 7 miles to the beach on bikes in the first place. Whew!

Running a marathon requires more than the ability to run 26.2 miles it turns out. To qualify for the marathon, for example, you must be able to run it in around 3 hours. These spots are saved for the world athletes like Brazil's Marílson Gomes dos Santos or England's Paula Radcliffe. The only other way to enter the event is to win by lottery--the odds of which are similar to winning at Powerball--or to run for charity. My sister has chosen the latter route, which is not free of pitfalls.

Running for charity doesn't just mean raising a few hundred dollars, it means selecting a charity from a pre-determined list and signing a legally-binding document that says that you will raise $2,500 dollars or else pay the total yourself. My sis is doing pretty well, but is only around the half-way mark. With one month left, she's juggling some serious responsibilities at work, extensive daily training, and the job of raising $1,300.

My little sister's done made me proud. Her determination has inspired me to hit the bike trails harder and more often. She's even convinced me to cut back on my wine intake in order to save a little to donate. If you've got a spare $20 and want to donate, just click here. Like my sister said, "If 5 people all donated 20 dollars...." Use her ING NYC Marathon entry #, which is 404328, and her last name: Bamman. The charity is Team For Kids, which donates money to schools in New York and South Africa for exercise-related activities and nutrition programs.

As for her wine diet, she kept it to a maximum of two glasses of wine a night, and refrained completely more than once. When I ran cross country in high school, I made it to state finals by staying out all night and drinking massive amounts of coffee in the morning. She's taking a more logical approach. If you have running experience, what's your wine regiment? Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Puglia Benvenuta Vendemmia 2009

Last Sunday was Benvenuta Vendemmia, a wine event that celebrates the grape harvest. 13 of Puglia's wineries opened their doors for the event, and provided visitors with tours, tastings, and traditional food. The cost of entry was 5 euro, which included a wine glass that you can take home. Since every wine event in Puglia provides a take-home wine glass, Kristin and I have more glasses than you can imagine.

The event wasn't Puglia's best showing, though it did offer me an excuse to take my family (who were visiting from Maine) into wine country and sample wines made from the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes. The event featured mostly well-known wineries rather than the best wineries, so our options were slim. We visited Leone de Castris, Due Palme, Paolo Leo, and Consorzio Produttori di Vini.

At Paolo Leo I got to get my groove on with Billy Vulcomo, who was singing traditional Italian ballades interspersed with the Rolling Stones and Lenny Kravitz. It was the first time I'd picked up a guitar since leaving the States 8 months ago, and it was a blast. I usually play death metal, so remembering the chords to a pop song took me a second, but then good ol' Wild Thing came to mind. The classical, acoustic guitar, which had an E string where a D string was supposed to be, rang out just fine and Billy improvised some vocals while my dad belted the true words. Everyone at the tasting go into the song and it felt pretty great. Man do I miss my guitar.

Paolo Leo's 100% Negroamaro "Orfeo" and 100% Chardonnay "Battigia" were both served and enjoyed. The striking label on the rosato (pictured above) was fun, and the wine had an equally striking color that verged on neon red. It was a bit too tropical for me however.

Julia Roberts Took My Pizza Away

When my family was visiting I took them to my favorite pizza place in the world, Antica Pizzeria "Da Michele" in Naples. The place is legendary and, in my mind, there is not other pizzeria in the world that makes Neapolitan-style pizza. I once asked Sergio Condurro, who is usually situated behind the cash register, what makes Da Michele's pizza so good. He responded, "Five generations of secrets." Ok, I thought, that'd do it.

Unfortunately, when I excitedly approached the restaurant with my family--my mouth salivating and my mind blistering with anticipation--I found the street sectioned off all around the pizzeria: It was Hollywood, ruining my lunch. The Naples polizia, camera crews, lighting crews, and management of all levels were running about in anticipation of an afternoon rainstorm that was encroaching the city. When I asked a nearby guy holding a walkie-talkie what was up, he said that Julia Roberts was inside and that Da Michele was closed for the afternoon.

It all started with Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love, which includes a section when she visits Da Michele. The book is now being made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. When the rainstorm exploded, the camera crew and Julia Roberts left, but Da Michele didn't open its doors. The restaurant did, however, promise to be open for lunch the following day. My family and I walked across the street to Trionan, whose pizza is good but lacks the thinness, chewiness, special olive oil drizzle, and impeccable tomato sauce of Da Michele.

The next day, the line to Da Michele was up both sides of the street and the wait was 30 minutes but at least it was open. The pizza was as good as always, especially without Julia Roberts anywhere in sight.

For an in-depth guide to Napoli-style pizza, check out my article for Europe Up Close. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Harvesting Grapes in the Rain

I took a brief vacation from By The Tun because my family is visiting. There was a lot I wanted to show them. September in Lecce seems to be a mix of warm winds, gentle rain, ferocious thunderstorms, and sometimes even blue skies. It's unpredictable, which makes it hard on the grape growers who want get their grapes into the wineries at their peak.

When I was a teenager, I harvested blueberries in Cherryfield, Maine; known to many as "The Blueberry Capital of the World." For three weeks each August I broke my back in the fields (I'm not sure if I could do as well now as when I was 15), and when it was all over, I had a good amount of money to spend on CDs, school clothes, and eventually, my first car. Rain was my enemy, because it meant that the raking crews (so called for using large rakes to pluck the berries) would be sent home and we wouldn't make any money that day.

Most winemakers in Puglia are in the middle of harvesting their Primitivo grapes. The Chardonnay, Verdecca, and Fiano are long finished, and the Negroamaro will be harvested after the Primitivo. Rain makes it difficult to stay on schedule. It also heightens the threat of mildews and parasites. Fortunately, the rains this year are often short and are sometimes followed by a drying sun. These were the rains we prayed for when raking blueberries: all we had to do was hide beneath a few empty boxes for 20 minutes then we could get back to work.

Last Sunday was Puglia's Harvest Celebration, known as Benvenuta Vendemmia, but the rains were not short or gentle, though they did come and go. Just a few minutes of those harsh rains were enough to soak a field to the point of no return. The workers had to pack up their things and head home for the day. Sometimes it's as complicated as getting large mechanical harvesters stuck up to their axels in mud, such as those used by the massive Due Palme winery in San Marco. But it can also be as simple as wet feet and low visibility that puts a winery behind schedule.

The harvest in Puglia should conclude around the 2nd week in October. I'll be speaking with winemakers throughout the region to provide you with the latest news on the 2009 vintage. Enjoy your fall!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Grappa Made from Olives

One thing I couldn't fit into the olive oil article, was an interesting experiment of the adventurous Dr. Raffaele Cazzetta: A grappa distilled from olives. It was unlike anything I'd drunk before, somewhere between a dessert wine and a bitters (think Fernet Branca or Ramazzotti only with more alcoholic punch), and was really quite good. It had a decadence level that surpasses most spirits, and I couldn't drink it regularly. This is likely a result of being a bit oily, and I know this sounds unattractive, but it's actually a really delicious characteristic, reminiscent of chocolate syrup. As an exotic and truly unique experience, it hits the mark.

Oh the wonderful and strange experiments we do... Hats off to Raffaele at Cazzetta.

My Burning Desire for High-Quality Olive Oil

QUICK NOTE: I go inside Cazzetta olive oil factory and partake in an olive oil tasting lead by Slow Food specialists to learn what constitutes high-quality olive oil. Check the article here. Published by I-Italy Magazine.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wine Pairing with Official Bolognese Sauce

After drinking a bottle of Azienda Monaci's Simpotica--rich, chalky and beefy--at the Roof Garden Atlavilla restaurant, I wanted to try their other wines. My friend Andrew was still visiting from California so he, my girlfriend Kristin, and I decided to make traditional Bolognese meat sauce with homemade pasta using the official recipe. To pair with this meaty dish, I wanted a tannic, smooth wine using the Nero di Troia grape, and Azienda Monaci creates a wine that features the grape, 2005 "Sine Pari" (90% Nero di Troia, 10% Negroamaro).

Sine Pari is one of the most balanced and least agressively tannic Nero di Troia wines that I've had. That it was only a 2005 was surprising. It paired very well. When the Sine Pari ran out we opened one of most famous Primitivo di Manduria DOC wines, Consorzio Produttori Vini's 2006 "Lirica" (100% Primitivo). Full of juicy red fruit, the wine was very good. The nose was leather, plum, and smoke and the tannins were very round and soft. So, to say the least, I was greatly surprised by two wines that I wasn't expecting that much from. Azienda Monaci's consistency is currently at 100%.

The Bolognese sauce didn't turn out so well. I'd eaten Bolognese sauce in Bologna a few months ago and it was incredible: the main surprise was that the sauce seemed to be composed primarily of the juices and fat of the meat, not tomato, as it is served in most restaurants in the United States. Our sauce was a little lean, and I think it was a result of Puglia's style of meat, which focuses on the lean cuts.

At the butcher, we asked which meat makes the best sauce. The butcher said that every Italian has their own opinion because different areas of Italy produce different cuts and flavors of meat. We should have known this, of course, because it is one of the greatest elements of Italian tradition: Keep it local. He told us the best cut for a Leccese sauce and we took it home with some pancetta. In the end, the sauce and homemade pasta were delicious, but not perfect: The sauce wasn't the meaty and--dare I say--greasy sauce I had up north. Next time, I might try hamburger meat. I was really against the idea but I think that Lecce puts all its fat in its hamburger. We'll see. Thanks for reading. Salute!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Interview with Piero Ribezzo

QUICK NOTE - If you get a chance, check out my interview with Piero Ribezzo, owner of organic winery Pirro Varone, featured in I-Italy Magazine. Pirro Varone is located in Manduria and creates a rustic Primitivo di Manduria DOC that focuses on the Primitivo grape, and just the grape. Salute!

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