Pass Me a Birra!

Piedmont is well-known for its wines. In fact, the best wines of the region are legendary. But what about beer? Yes, Europe is known for its great beer. Think Ireland, England, Germany, and the Czech Republic. But, how many European countries are known for both great wine and beer? Ok, Germany could be an exception. I love a good Riesling. But, when have you had a nice glass of red from Ireland?  Is it possible for Italy to become a world-renowned producer of both wine and beer? After a few recent tastings, I think the answer is yes, and Piedmont is leading the way.

In the line-up were three beers for three different breweries. First was a lager from Menabrea, a brewery in the town of Biella in northern Piedmont. This pilsner style lager was the most similar to the American lagers that I prefer. Lighter in color and milder in taste. I could get used to drinking this beer. Perfect for a hot summer afternoon.

A bottle of Nora from Birrificio Le Baladin was next. Baladin, located in Piozzo in southwest  Piedmont, is probably the most well-known brewery in Italy, at least to beer snobs. I was excited to open up the unique looking bottle. At $7.80 for a 8.45 oz. bottle, I was hoping it was good. It was. As an ale, it was much darker in color than the Menabrea, and much, much more complex. A lot of flavors going on here (citrus, spicy and woodsy). Though I could enjoy a bottle of this ale here and there, I won’t be picking up a six-pack anytime soon. I’d rather spend that kind of money on a good bottle of wine! I’m a wine snob, not a beer snob.

Baladin

Finally came the Pausa P.I.L.S. from Birrificio Pausa Cafe in Saluzzo. Also brewed in southwest Piedmont, this pilsner style lager suited my tastes. I don’t know enough about beer to understand why I prefer a lager to an ale. I just know that I do. Like the Baladin, this little bottle was pricey, but worth the splurge.  Pausa Cafe not only makes beer, but sells fair trade coffee and cocoa. It sounds like the kind of company that you’d find in Brooklyn. Very hipster-ish. I want to try more of their beer.

Pausa Cafe

Though I have yet to try any of their beer, Birrificio CitaBunda is on my short list of stops for our next trip to Piedmont. Not only is this brewery, bar and restaurant located in Bricco di Neive (my favorite Barbarescos come from Neive), but it is also in an old elementary school. When is the last time you drank beer in an elementary school? How about drinking artisanal Italian beer in an elementary school on a hill overlooking some of the best vineyards in Barbaresco? I’m assuming never. This place is a must do.

Falling in Love with Loire

After an incredible weekend in London, we arrived in Tours on a dreary and rainy afternoon. Even though the sun was not shining, we immediately fell in love with the landscape of the Loire Valley. Although much flatter than the hills of the Piemontese wine country, the Loire Valley was just as green and lush. Who needs sun when you’re surrounded by nature and wine?

I think we may have found the best bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley. We desperately needed a spot to decompress for a few days. When you live in New York City, “vacationing” in London isn’t exactly relaxing. La Grande Maison, located on a 17th century wine estate near Saumur, was the perfect spot to reboot.

La Grande Maison

The main room of La Grande Maison

La Grande Maison’s pigeonnier at night

La Grande Maison is run by Micaela and Sue, two warm and charming Brits with a passion for wine. We knew immediately that we would get along just fine. We took advantage of their wine tour services, and that decision was a smart one. They have extensive knowledge of wine, the growing process, and the local appellations. More importantly, as non-French speaking tourists, we would have been lost without their guidance.

Exploring the caves of Domaine de la Paleine

Yes, we tried them all!

Wine dinner at La Grande Maison

Wine pairings

We left the Loire Valley with memories that will last for a lifetime. We explored many caves, drank loads of Cabernet Franc, enjoyed delicious meals, and had wonderful conversations with our hosts. Thank you Micaela and Sue. I hope that our paths cross again someday!

New friends

Crazy for Moscato d’Asti

In my opinion, if there is a white grape that can rival the most popular black grapes of Piemonte (Nebbiolo and Barbera), it is Moscato. Most people will know this grape in the form of Asti, the sparkling white wine formerly known as Asti Spumante. Although Asti is an excellent wine, I prefer Moscato d’Asti. Also made from the Moscato grape, Moscato d’Asti is sweeter and has a lower alcohol content (usually between 5.5% and 8%).

I have introduced many people to Moscato d’Asti over the last few years. The reaction is always the same. “What is this and where can I buy it?” The production of Moscato d’Asti is much smaller than its cousin, Asti. Unfortunately this means it may be a little harder to find, and could be a tad more expensive, though you can usually find a bottle of good quality Moscato d’Asti for less than $20. Look for Moscato d’Asti near the other sparkling wines in your local wine store.

Usually sold with effervescence, this sparkling bottle of gold is sweet with usual flavors of Elderflower and fruit. It is the perfect accompaniment to any dessert. A bottle of Moscato d’Asti DOCG from La Morandina paired perfectly with cupcakes to celebrate my recent birthday!

Springtime Happy Hour

With temperatures near 70 degrees here in New York, it seems as if spring is finally here. Although I usually don’t break out the Arneis until after Easter, this week seemed like a perfect time to drink some Piemontese white wine. Chardonnay may not be the first wine that comes to mind when you think of Italian white wine, but some pretty amazing Chardonnay comes from the Langhe, the area of Piedmonte that is home to Barolo and Barbaresco. I picked up a 2005 Langhe Chardonnay from Brooklyn Wine Exchange and headed down Court Street to pick up some snacks to accompany the wine.

My usual choice for Italian snacks was closed by this time of the evening, so I popped into Union Market to check our their Italian cheese selection. Piedmont was well represented at the cheese counter and Toma Piemontese seemed like the perfect pairing to some Langhe Chardonnay.

Along with some bread and some toasted hazelnuts, this happy hour was a perfect way to welcome spring. The wine was dry and full-bodied and you could definitely tell that it was aged in barrique. The Toma was mild and didn’t over power the wine. After months and months of drinking Barbera and Dolcetto, it was nice to relax with some white wine and enjoy the warm weather. I’m glad that spring has arrived!

Uncommon Reds

Piemonte is famous for Barolo and Barbaresco. Most wine drinkers are also familiar with Barberas and Dolcettos from Piemonte. These are the most common Piemontese reds that you will find in your local wine store. Last night, I visited one of my favorite Brooklyn wine stores, Brooklyn Wine Exchange, and picked up two not so common reds from Piemonte.

If you’ve never visited Brooklyn Wine Exchange in Cobble Hill, go! They have one of the best wine selections in New York City, as well as some of the most helpful staff. Although their offerings may vary from week to week, they always have something interesting. In addition to a couple of Barberas, I picked up a 2007 Croatina and a 2010 Grignolino. You won’t find these varieties everyday, so I was excited to get home and open them up.

The Croatina was beautifully dark and had a nice fruity/floral finish. This was my favorite of the two. The Gringnolino is more delicate and has a light body. My wife preferred this wine. Both were excellent finds and delicious. Thankfully, we didn’t over imbibe and have enough left of both to carry us through the weekend.

I’m falling in love with the wines from Valli Unite. I’ve previously had both their Dolcetto and Barbera. The wines are always interesting, and so are their bottles. Look at that cork!

Simple Food and a Special Wine

My sister invited my wife and I to her Greenwich Village apartment for a classic Italian American dinner party. This was, in fact, her first dinner party. She loves food and wine, but had yet to cross the bridge of entertaining for herself. We were to be her first guests.

She is surrounded by many Italian specialty shops, wine stores, cheese purveyors and even more Italian bakeries. I was excited to see what she put together. We started with stuffed spicy peppers, marinated bocconcini, Piave cheese, rosemary crackers and roasted red peppers. She picked all of these up at Faicco’s Pork Store on Bleeker and they were all delicious. Next came an arugula salad with beets, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. Finally, she served a simple lasagna of spicy marinara and ricotta cheese. All of the ingredients were simple, and stereotypically Italian American, but when combined, it was an amazing dinner.

My job was to bring the wine. I stopped off at Le Vigne, an artisanal Italian wine shop on Greenwich Avenue, where I picked up a 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba and a 2008 Barbera d’Asti. Both were excellent wines, but the hands down favorite was a 2006 Carema Classico.  It is no wonder why we loved the Carema best; it is made from our favorite grape, Nebbiolo. We’ve tried our fair share of Barolo and Barbaresco, but this is the first time we tried Carema, which comes from the Northern reaches of Piemonte. It definitely won’t be the last time we enjoy a bottle of this special wine.

A Reason to Speak Italian

When my friend Sandro told me about the Winter Wine Dinner honoring the Piemontese wine maker Enzo Boglietti from La Morra, I knew we had to attend. Not only was I excited to try the wines, but the dinner was at Sandro’s friends restaurant, Locanda Vini e Olii, a Northern Italian Restaurant on Gates Avenue in Clinton Hill that I have been wanting to try for some time now.

The Locanda Vini e Olii was the perfect setting for an intimate wine dinner. The space, a former drug store, features tin ceilings, original woodwork, and pharmacy bottles. This is the type of restaurant that you add to your “must take visitors to” list. It is certainly now on ours. We hustled in from the cold, hung up our coats, and were escorted to our seats. Our neighbors at the table were introduced to us by Rocco, one of the owners of Locanda Vini e Olii. Seated to my right was the honoree of this dinner, Enzo Boglietti, and across the table was his lovely wife.

We exchanged pleasantries, me in horrible Italian, and the Bogliettis in much better English. The Bogliettis spoke some English, but not much. I, unfortunately, used up most of my Italian skills when we said hello. Here I was, seated next to a highly respected wine maker from my favorite wine region, and we could hardly communicate. I did learn that Enzo grows his grapes on 22 hectares which yields 100,000 bottles a year. He, of course, is very passionate about his wine. This was apparent without the need for any translation.

Thankfully, the food and wine kept us occupied and the breaks in conversation were not awkward. The menu and wine pairings were exactly what I hoped they would be. We started with Bagna Cauda and vegetables paired with Enzo’s 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba “Taglineri”. Next came a Piemontese beef tartare paired with a 2008 Barbera d’Alba, “Roscaleto.” Then came Swiss chard gnocchi with “fonduta” which was paired with a 2007 Barbera d’Alba, “Vigne dei Romani.” Finally came the course I’d been waiting for since seeing it on the menu, Piemontese beef cheeks braised in Barolo with cannellini beans in extra virgin olive oil. This was paired with, of course, Barolo. The wine was Enzo’s 2006 “Case Nere.” Delicious food and spectacular wine. Someone at our table said it best, when holding the 2007 Barbera to his nose. “This just smells like Piemonte!”

As we said goodbye to Enzo and his wife, I silently vowed that I wouldn’t let an opportunity like this slip away again. I must speak Italian. We promised to call on them when we visited Piemonte again. I told them I would speak better Italian then. They promised to speak better English.

Now the search begins for Enzo’s wines here in New York. This dinner is a memory I will always be happy to relive through a glass of Enzo’s wine.

The Bogliettis