These are strange times. As I sit writing this, it’s hard to believe this event was only a few short weeks ago. It seems as though it was the last normal event before we all passed through some sort of bizarre portal to a different world. Undeterred, I am forging ahead as promised to provide some semblance of normalcy for my readers. Recapping the Tuscan Vines Open House might just be the panacea we all need.
As the guests were arriving they were handed a welcoming glass of 2018 Lambrusco Grasparossa La Battaglia. Inky purple, deliciously fizzy and off dry, Lambrusco is a wine I truly enjoy with cheeses and cured meats and the La Battaglia did not disappoint. As the conversation ensued, I explained that I had arranged two small blind tastings “just for fun”. We headed to the table and sharpened our senses.
Blind Tasting Flight #1
I told my guests absolutely nothing about the wines. I think most assumed that the wines would at least be Italian, if not Tuscan, but some were skeptical that I might throw them a curve. Since I arranged the wines and tasted them earlier that day to ensure they were sound, I didn’t really take notes, though I did jot down a few general impressions.
Wine #1 – This wine impressed me. It showed so much better than it did at this event in the sense that it was much more forward. Racy acidity, wonderful fruit and hints of herbs like mint.
Wine #2 – I specifically requested this wine be included in the tasting because I loved it so much at the Gran Selezione tasting in December. Absolutely lovely concentration of fruit. Fresh, balanced well and very long. Suave. My favorite of the flight.
Wine #3 – A massive Sangiovese. Bright fruit, fresh acidity and lots of structure. One for the cellar.
Results: Wine #2 won 5 first place votes out of 10 and that didn’t surprise me. It’s got 5% Merlot in the blend and that makes a difference.
The wines for the first flight were graciously provided by the Chianti Classico Consorzio with the assistance of Colangelo PR. My personal thanks to each of them for working with me and sourcing these wonderful wines directly from the estates. Grazie mille!
Blind Tasting Flight #2
Wine #1 – This wine really impressed me. Despite arranging the flight, I had forgotten the order and thought this was something else! I was less surprised when the bottles were revealed. Several people pegged this as some sort of Bordeaux blend. It is loaded with black fruit, menthol and very succulent. My favorite in the flight.
Wine #2 – This was more austere in style. Closest to a Bordeaux than any of the three. The least tannic wine of the flight.
Wine #3 – I really enjoyed this as well which isn’r surprising as I’ve liked older vintages in the past. Black fruits, spices, very tannic. Again, lots of comments about Bordeaux blend were uttered around the table.
Results: Wine #1 won a resounding 7 first place votes and that didn’t surprise me.
The wines for this flight are all imported by Kobrand Imports who graciously provided the wines for this event. Grazie mille!
The first course served was a simple beef and pork ragu cooked down with tomato and finished with just a hint of cream. I also added some local arugula just before serving. The Campochiarenti and the Gran Selezione’s really excelled along side the pasta.
While some helpers (thank you!!) tidied up the table a bit, I finalized the contorni while a contingent of men oversaw the grilling of the Fiorentina. With the meat being safely attended to, I began preparing a few other wines to enjoy with the steaks. Mike Giordano graciously contributed a wonderfully matured gem of a Brunello; the 1999 Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino. We also opened a 2016 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi, a 2016 Felsina Fontalloro from Magnum and a 2010 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino. (I didn’t taste the Capanna)
The 1999 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino was, without question, an utterly amazing experience. I don’t use the word “wine” in that sentence because it was more than that. I could probably write an entire article about the late polarizing winemaker, Gianfranco Soldera but say what you will. Whether you agreed with his dogmatic views or not, he knew how to make Brunello. At 20+ years of age this was fresh and vibrant. Captivating aromas were complex with earth, herb, fruit and cured meat aromas. On that palate there are layers of crushed cherry, red plum pulp, sage, mushroom, toasted spices and coffee grinds that were magnificent. This was truly special and easily one of the best wines I have ever had. 99 points. Wow!
Once the steaks were perfectly cooked, I warmed up the broccoli rabe and put the finishing touches on one of the surprise contorni of the evening. Simple white beans cooked in olive oil and garlic. I first had this wonderful dish at Dario Cecchini’s but it is ubiquitous in Tuscany. As with much of Italian cooking, the key is simplicity. The recipe for these beans is laughably simple and appears later in this post.
The 2016 Felsina Fontalloro was not as massive as I expected. Even though it was from a magnum, I opened it about 2 hours before the guests arrived and decanted half the bottle. Lots of ripe, sour cherry is backed by tobacco, rosemary and clay on the palate which is more giving than the nose. Still, this is obviously very young and needs time in the cellar to show best. Refer to this 375ml tasting conducted not that long ago with pretty different results. Format matters. But wine is like an elusive vixen that never shows you all her colors at once.
For now, some additional shots of the evening…
Originally conceived to be an added benefit for some of my most interactive readers, the people attending spanned the entire range of my supporters. My long time friend Allen and his wife attended along with folks that have found my website “organically” and who’ve reached out to chat via email. Facebook followers, Twitter followers and even some last minute family attended and I cannot tell you how much fun the evening truly was. Passionate Italian wine lovers from 4 states attended and but for some unfortunate last minute cancellations, we would have added 2 more states and 4-6 more people.
Recipe: White Beans and Garlic in Olive Oil (serves 6)
There are five ingredients in this dish. Onion, garlic, beans, olive oil and rosemary. I cannot stress this enough – use a very good oil. Use the best you can find. The secret here is more about the timing and technique than the simplicity.
3 cans white cannellini beans
1/4 medium Vidalia onion diced small
6 cloves of garlic minced
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Rinse the beans in a colander. Rinse the beans. Rinse them. And then rinse them some more. Easy? Rinse them again. Let them drain, transfer to a serving bowl and let sit until you are ready to finish the dish. This is important. If you assemble the entire dish ahead of time, the beans will look like wrinkled raisins and that’s gross.
In a frying pan large enough to hold the finished beans, saute the onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil over medium to low heat until the onions have softened significantly. At this point, set off the heat until you’re ready to finish the dish.
When preparing to serve, add the beans to the frying pan over medium heat and cook 5-8 minutes until they soften and warm through. Add copious amounts of good extra virgin olive oil. With the back of a wooden spoon, smash about a tablespoon of the beans. This adds a creamy consistency to the final dish and helps the beans absorb quite a lot of flavor from the oil. Add a little oil at a time but don’t be shy. The idea is to use the oil almost like a sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Then chop the rosemary and add it to the beans just before serving. It gets no better.
With the meat sliced and the contorni to the table, we finished dinner and many other wines. The Campochiarenti was delicious and well received. The Capanna I didn’t manage to taste. The left over wines from tasting really were much better with the food. That comes as no surprise because this is what they’re meant for.
I really cannot say enough about the people who attended, their passion and generosity. It was truly a memorable evening and perhaps the highest praise for all involved is that I hope to do it again. For now, we’ll enjoy together on these pages.
Salute and as always thank you for reading and thank you for your support!