Saturday, May 25, 2013

Raised glass

Not relating to anything, just I like these different pictures.

Dinner at La Subida

We were at the Radikon winery, a visit which is very well documented here. After an excellent and wine soaked lunch with the family Sasa Radikon inquired if we had ever been to La Subida, and we all said no. "Well then you have to go," Sasa replied, and it was decided. As night started to fall, we arrived in Cormons, at the border of Europes. Cormons is in Italy, but Slovenia shares the same brisk air. It can be hard today to notice the change, if you do find yourself in Slovenia, as we had earlier. The radio stations are different. Cars drive with their lights on during the day, as per Slovenian law. Men wield large hands and might shave their hair close, but they do so on the Italian side of the border as well. In other words, the chasm between the worlds is not vast, despite the spent artillery casings dotting the landscape and lost genealogies blotted out by past wars.

At La Subida, the influence of two cultures is clearly felt, and as if they were one.

Josko Sirk is the kindly keeper of this place, the restaurant and inn he runs with his family. His own parents resided in Yugoslavia, before leaving there to move to Cormons. Josko greeted us as we arrived with frico lollipops and a large cured ham leg that he sliced with a long knife. Both were delicious. In the hall were the various bottles of Ribolla Gialla vinegar and high quality olive oil that Josko produces and sells here.

As we turned towards the dining room, a boisterous and lush palette of flowers welcomed us.

The more permanent decorations made reference to the natural world as well.

A setting the inhabitants here never seem to be far from.

The poised maitre d' greeted us and showed us to our table.

The servers offered up kind smiles.

And were humble in a disarming manner.

The tools of this place were also its decorations.

Here a plate might be many colored. A world in itself.

The dining room was full on the night of our visit, and the guests radiated a quiet contentment.

The wine list - entirely devoted to the wines of Friuli - began with an invocation to friends. It was very much a thrill to read, and a trove of local names and back vintages.

Here we could try wines rarely seen outside of this place, such as this one that was new to us.

The Paraschos winery was founded in 1998 by a family of Greek origin. This wine was aged for 6 months in beeswax lined clay amphora from Greece and Crete. It was a blend of mostly Ribolla Gialla and then Chardonnay, partly sourced from the same Slatnik vineyard that Radikon also works. For me the wine showed that simplicity that Chardonnay can lend when macerated with its skins, and also less clay influence than you might think given the amount of time it was aged inside amphora. Clearly the wax lining is not terribly thin. But the wine was entirely pleasant, very drinkable, and went wonderfully with our first bite of food.

Which turned out to be a blend of cheese, polenta, and a spring herb that may have been the single most delicious restaurant dish I have been served in quite some time. Really good and it pretty much set the tone for what would be one of the best meals I have ever been served in an Italian restaurant.

The salt here was delicious, and the celery water was a good condiment as well. Of course the meat was excellent.

As the glasses were now empty we gladly returned to the wine list, and we chose, after an initial misfire on my part which was held against me for pretty much the entirety of the rest of the trip, a wine from our friend Sasa, this magnum of 2001 Ribolla. This wine was utterly fantastic, and just became more so in the glass as we enjoyed it for over an hour. Really a triumph for Radikon, and more credence to my own contention that 2001 can be the best of recent vintages in Friuli, a grouping which would also have to include 1997, 2000, and 2004 for consideration.

The wine was soon joined at the table by more spring herbs, the simplicity of their look belying the complexity of their flavors. This was also accented by the Sirk vinegar.

A spaetzle like noodle dish with grated cheese and edible flowers soon followed. Everything about this was tremendous to eat.

Another pasta brought deeper, more savory and bitter tones. Spring herbs again had a large influence.

And then a surprise blind tasting, which turned out to be Radikon Pinot Noir 2003. Yes, Radikon makes a Pinot Noir, but only for their own consumption, as sort of an experiment. The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Slovenia owned by Sasa's grandfather. The vines were planted in 1995. The heat of 2003 was of course felt here too, so I don't know how typical this Pinot Noir is for Radikon's production, but I would say that the wine held more of the ripe fruit whallop possible of Pinot and less of the elegance. There was a decidedly rustico quality as well. Still, a treat to try, and totally unexpected.

It was nice to have a glass of rustic red to pair with this dish of deer meat.

And red certainly wasn't out of place here, either.

Desserts were heralded by this small offering in a jam jar.

Which was then followed by this oversized platter of cookies, of which I ate several, er, most (ok, almost all, I admit it).

And many several desserts, of which I was only able to get a picture of one before the battle of competing forks consumed my full attention.

La Subida was included in this book, should you wish to track it down and explore the food further. The chef of the restaurant is Alessandro Gavagna, who is Josko's son-in-law. I certainly would not hesitate to cite his food as being some of the very finest I have had in Italy.

But really it is the whole atmosphere of the place, how it is run in all its aspects, that is so wonderful. Details have been seen and attended to, but fussiness has never crept in. The sense of concern is tangible, but it manifests itself in your well being, not in their showiness. You might never wish to leave.

And of course we didn't leave before first partaking of the fruits del distillato.

And again enjoying something delicious from the Sirk family.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kevin Pike is on I'll Drink to That!

Kevin Pike is on the podcast show today and if you are at all curious about what it means to build a viable national wine import operation from the ground up, and specifically for niche wines, then really you shouldn't miss the talk. What are the nuts and bolts that underpin your and I seeing small producer wines on a shelf for purchase? What is the reality at the business level? Really you aren't going to get this kind of picture of the American market, with this level of expertise, from many other people.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On the Amaro Hunt in Italy, my notes for the Amari file

At Mascareta we gathered around the bar for an impromptu amari tasting. La Dispensa di Amerigo is a line of products offered by the owners of a longstanding restaurant in the Emilia. The guiding philosophy is traditional recipes, some help from enthusiast friends, and no use of chemical additives. There are a wide range of options across what they sell, including vinegar, jarred cheeses and pasta sauces. In terms of spirits, there are several, including a Rosolio (!), a Zabajone, and a lemon liqueur. And also those that I tried, which started with a Fernet. 

The Amerigo Fernet was similar in style to that of Luxardo: cigarette ash and celery spiked cedar, while not so much on the cooling spearmint or the dark, rich and viscous tones. It is lighter in weight on the palate, like Luxardo is, and its punch derives from the flavors inside the liquid, instead of the body of that liquid. The listed ingredients included extracts of rhubarb, sweet flag, zedoary root, cinchona root, gentian root, liquorice root, aloe, and anise seeds.

The China China, I have to admit, wasn't for me. Maybe I am not enough used to the style. I found it overly stark and lean. But it probably has its fans. Maybe it is better used as part of a cocktail collaboration. The bottle said it was 30% alcohol, and listed extracts of cinchona root, bitter orange, sweet orange, sweet flag, cinnamon, and gentian root as ingredients.

The Nocino, on the other hand, I thought was very good. Certainly better than most of those currently imported into the States, which actually isn't that many. The recipe calls for green (underipe) walnut husks picked in late June, steeped in alcohol with sugar, and then aged for 3 years. That's it. Nothing additional, and no junk in there. It was 40% alcohol.

The Marasca was also charming, and definitely something I might reach for if I was behind a good cocktail bar somewhere. Deeply cherry and deeply satisfying, if pretty sweet (for me). They take the black cherry juice, add bitter almond extract and essential oils, and that is the recipe. 30% alcohol.

The next evening at La Subida they gave us free reign to try whatever we might like after dinner, so of course I powered through pretty much everything you see on this cart.

Hidden on the bottom of the cart was probably the find of the trip, this Pelinkovac, associated with Abuja (definitely click on that Abuja link). Apparently Abuja and the Northern Italian town of Gorizia have a long history together, which unfortunately seems to have ended when the family sold the distillery a few years back. Today a larger corporate concern located in Trieste makes this Pelinkovac, but they have kept the old label, and apparently the old recipe as well.

It's a shame to hear that the family sold the store, but at least this is still being made.

The taste is dry, dry, dry. Super twisted up biting brambly dry. Twigs dry. It was a little simple and a little disjointed, but I liked it anyway. If you like bitter, like I do, then by all means pour yourself a glass should you have the opportunity. Or mix with a big whiskey or lightish, dryish beer. That would be nice.

Surprisingly, the finished alcohol was only 20%, which is very low for the category. It doesn't taste hot or heavy at all, but I was still a bit shocked when Kevin pointed out the low percentage.

This Nocino, also at La Subida, was perfectly ok, if not more than that. Probably there was some artificial something in there. Caramel coloring would be a likely candidate.

Not the drink itself, but a poster in a quiet bar that we happened to walk into, in another part of Italy.

And not an amaro, but there was this grappa that is well worth mentioning. After a lunch at Fonterenza the sisters were nice enough to share a bottle with me. It turns out to have been made by my buddy Gianni Capovilla, and I must admit, this is one of the best grappa I have had from him. It's probably not cheap, of course. But here was the extra gravitas melded with the clarity of the style. Excellent.

There was a extra level of depth here, and what I thought for a moment were blue fruit notes. Funny how taste can play tricks on you like that.

This Petrus? Super bitter, and if you are a fan of Santa Maria al Monte, as I am, you will like this too. Maybe it is not quite in the same league as Santa Maria al Monte, but what is? Anyway, quite good. And not afraid to finish dry.

The back label claims that there are ingredients from all the continents of the world inside. Not sure what Antartica is bringing to the mix, but who I am to know? On another note, you must absolutely watch this video. Definitely required viewing.

This amaro would be an interesting find for somebody who likes the Nardini amaro. Medium weight, brown, probably colored, and with a soft/sweet finish, this similar in many respects to Nardini, except I thought I picked up more gentian here. Certainly some sort of exoticism.

I found this particular bottle in Sardegna, but apparently it is from Milano. For that reason it is a little surprising that I'd never seen it before, since I have traveled to Milano now and again. But there you go.

I'll say this about Stock products, with the exception of the Rosolio, which couldn't be, they could all be worse. This was a perfectly ok sort of Cynar or celery heavy amaro substitute, although with less real character than I might have hoped for.

Sure, nothing special, but I poured some into my cool glass of Sardinian beer, and that was just the right mix.

In a roadside trattoria in Sardegna there was a dark corner shelf, and this is what I found there. Simple, straightforward, but by no means bad. This was probably caramel colored. I ended up pouring most of it into my espresso, so no I didn't love it. But it was nice to try.

Lemon peel, eh? I don't recall seeing that on a Nocino ingredients list before. That must account for the color of the label.

Nobody else liked it, and there were several complaints about the texture, but I thought it was ok. It had some obvious mirto character. But yes, it would probably be better in a cocktail than on its own.

Here were the stats, in case you are curious. Should you be flying out of Sardegna, I found the duty free shop near my gate to have an impressive selection of Mirto options. There were probably 25 different bottlings there for purchase.

Which brings me to the admission that no, I didn't get to try everything along the way, but I did give it a go on this run, and I'll try to pick up the spares on a return visit.