Tag Archives: italy

Celebrate International Italian Cuisine Day With Wine and Risotto!

Saturday, January 17th is International Italian Cuisine day. I thought we should blog about great food from the “old country”.  While there are tons of great Italian dishes out there, I have been craving that specialty of northern Italy, risotto.  Traditionally served as a first course, this creamy and delicious rice dish can work as a satisfying entrée.

Risotto can range in variety from the exotic Risotto Milanese, which is enriched with saffron, to light and delicate seafood riosotto, to the dark and dusky risotto al Barolo.  Regardless of the condiment or flavoring, great risotto begins with great rice. You need a short grain rice which is high in starch content.  Arborio or carnaroli varieties are readily available in most grocery stores.  It is well worth the effort to search for a specialty store that carries the vialone nano variety.

The next important trick to great risotto is mastering the method.  Instead of steaming, risotto is made by the timely addition of broth or water.  There are 2 tricks to this… First, make sure that the liquid and the cooking rice are at the same simmering temperature. Secondly, gently stir the liquid into the rice, and only stir as much as you need to. If the grains break, your risotto will become gummy and pasty.

Here is a base recipe and some ways to change it up:

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups homemade broth   OR   1 cup canned broth diluted with 4Ingredients cups water.  (I actually heat extra because it would be a disaster to be caught without enough cooking liquid.)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons onion or shallot chopped very fine
  • 2 cups Arborio OR other imported Italian risotto rice
  • 1/2 heaping cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • Salt, to taste

 

Directions:

  1. In a sauce pan, bring the broth to a simmer. Make sure that it is close to the pan where you are making the risotto.
  2. Heat a heavy-bottomed sauté pan that has high sides (2” or so) and add the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the onion and cook gently until the onion is translucent.Making Risotto
  3. Add the rice to the sauté pan and stir gently so that all the grains are coated with the butter and oil.
  4. Now you will begin adding the broth from the sauce pan to the sauté pan one ladle at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to make sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  5. When the rice absorbs one ladle of broth, add another ladle of broth.  Repeat this process until the rice is tender but al dente. It should take about 20-25 minutes and the rice will look moist and creamy, not runny.
  6. When there is about a minute or 2 to go, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
  7. Remove the pan from heat and add all of the cheese, folding gently in order to even distribute.
  8. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately with additional shavings of parmigiano. Serves 6

Risotto Recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Variations:

White Truffle Risotto: Shave a half ounce of white truffle all over the top of the risotto right before serving. For those of us like me who are on a budget, you can always drizzle a bit of white truffle oil over the top.

Mushroom Risotto: In a separate pan, sauté about a pound of your favorite mushrooms in some butter and olive oil. I add a clove or 2 of garlic and some salt and pepper to taste. I deglaze the pan with a bit of wine and continue to cook until the mixture is dry. Before I add the butter and cheese to the risotto, I stir in about half of the mushroom mixture. I pour the finished risotto into a platter, top with the remaining mushrooms and chopped chives.

Butternut Squash Risotto: Cook and finely dice some butternut squash, about 2-3 cups. Instead of adding that last ladle of broth, add a ladle of heated heavy cream and fold in half of the squash. Finish the risotto with the butter and cheese. Top the finished risotto with the rest of the squash and some fried sage leaves.

 

Some WINES to try with these Risottos:

 

 

 

The World’s Best Wine Values under $15.00

PicMonkey Collage

“I just could not spend another dime, I really wanted a wine that my friends and I could just drink and not talk about!” How often do you feel like this? Far too often I am sure. In my wine world, I taste and evaluate all price points and yes my soul awakens when I can taste and savor a glass of Krug Champagne or ponder over a pour of Château Latour – my pocketbook opens just once when those wines come into my periscope. So how about some wines that we all can afford? Where are the great value wines? The trends have been pointing towards Spain, Argentina and Chile, among other areas in the world. I agree those are the usual places that we should look. That said, when value-hunting, looking in unlikely places can often yield incredible discoveries. I have stumbled across three unlikely places for superb values under $15.00. Let’s take a look at Australia, Italy and the USA.

For two decades Australia has been lying in wait to be re-discovered. A star in the 1990’s this multi-faceted viticultural area has been fluttering in space. This was the country that had brought Shiraz (aka: Syrah) to the fore only to become mired in a “cheap” wine mode. Most recently the Aussies have made incredibly fine wines in all price ranges. The 2011 Wild Oats Shiraz drinks exceptionally well. Supported by some subtle sweet tannins for texture, this wine delivers its ripe fruit flavors all the way through its finish. Yes, this is one of the world’s best bargains in fine red wines.

When wine drinkers hear of Tuscany, they think of Chianti. As one of the world’s most revered regions, this area has found its sweet spot in the $20 to $40 range, but every once-in-a-while, one can uncover a super bargain and that is just what the 2010 Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico offers. Decidedly sassy and true-to-the-region, this wine plays nicely into the hands of those that want to save a few $$$’s.

One area that one never hears of in the value camp is the USA and how about Oregon, no way! The 2013 Acrobat Pinot Gris is so succulently good. Plenty of ripe fruit and nice acidity, this wine outplays many wines in the $20+ range.

While the expensive and exotic marquis wines get all the ink and a few regions in the world have gained the reputation for their “great wine values,” the best values are often found in the most unlikely of places. As a wine retail veteran of 40+ years, I have learn that deals can show up from anywhere in the world. If you are like me (a bargain hunter) let the world be your oyster. Remember the best pearls are often found after the dirt has been washed away.

Wine.com Tasting Room: Italy

In our second Tasting Room, we’re delving head on into Italy.

Though not a large country in land size, Italy kicks some major butt in wine size. Not only is Italy one of the largest producers of wine in the world, it also is one of the most diverse. The country sports 20 different wine regions, each named by district. Vineyards are planted in just about every corner of the country – from the Alps in the north to the sunny tip of the boot. Add hundreds of DOC and DOCGs and numerous indigenous grape varieties, and you have one complex wine nation.

For the Novice…
Most people shy away from wine labels that look completely unfamiliar. Unfortunately, most Italian wine labels are just that – unfamiliar. So how do you go about decoding Italy? It’s good to know a few key regions and their grapes, as well as the laws that regulate them.
First, let’s talk about the label. Italian wine labels can be quite confusing due to the fact that they have no uniformity. In France you see region, in the US you see grape, in Italy… well, you see both. Sometimes the label will list the region, other times just the producer and occasionally the grape AND the region together. Without knowing what to look for, it’s hard to know what you’re getting. We want to give you a little cheat sheet for decoding Italy. Here, we list the regions and grapes and what you see on the label and what it means.

Tuscany (Toscana)
Tuscany is one of the more famous regions in Italy. The primary grape of Tuscany is Sangiovese. When you see red wines from Tuscany, you MOST LIKELY are drinking a wine based on Sangiovese. Within Tuscany are smaller sub-regions, some with grape specialties. They are:
Chianti (red): Chianti is a DOCG, which means it is regulated by the government. Within Chianti there are other sub-regions.
Brunello di Montalcino (red): Brunello is the grape (a clone of Sangiovese), Montalcino is the sub-region within Tuscany. It’s a collectible wine worthy of the cellar. Try Rosso di Montalcino for a less-expensive and more youthful wine.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Vino Nobile (the noble grape, which is Sangiovese) is the grape, Montepulciano is the sub-region of Tuscany (NOTE that in Abruzzo, Montepulciano is a GRAPE).
Super Tuscans: For Super Tuscan wines, you may see a grape or a region like Maremma or Bolgheri on the label. You will most likely see IGT instead of DOC or DOCG. This is because Super Tuscan wines came about by not following the DOC and DOCG rules, so they were labeled with IGT (see more on Italian Wine Labels).

Piedmont
A region in the north that is know for three reds: Barolo, Barber and Dolcetto, as well as the ever popular Moscato.
Barolo and Barbaresco: Both are regions producing big, bold, expensive and age-worthy wines from the Nebbiolo grape.
Barbera and Dolcetto: Both are grapes producing light-bodied, reasonably priced wines in Alba (Barbera d’Alba; Dolcetto d’Alba) and Asti (Barbera d’Asti; Dolcetto d’Asti).
Moscato: All the rage, Moscato makes a lightly sweet, lightly sparkling wine with low alcohol levels.

Trentino Alto Adige
 If you see this region on a label, you’re in for a delicious white wine (most likely). Some of the best Pinot Grigio are from this area.

Prosecco
A region and a grape, this is THE sparkling wine of Italy

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Montepulciano (grape) and Abruzzo (region) make a rustic yet fruit-driven wine from central Italy.

Primitivo
Genetically the SAME grape as Zinfandel here in the US, Primitivo is usually from the Puglia region down near Italy’s boot.

Soave and Orvieto
Two delicious white wines from indigenous varieties in central Italy.

For the Enthusiast…
Though small in land mass, Italy remains a giant in the wine world. With 20 wine regions and numerous indigenous varieties, diversity is a key theme through the country. While that means Italy can be confusing when it comes to wine, it also means there is a little something for everyone beyond Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Our Enthusiast list this month highlights the hidden gems – wines slightly off the beaten path – that are some of our favorites, yet often overlooked due to their obscurity.

Italy is full of what we call indigenous varieties, which means grapes that are local to Italy, species that originated in the country and have found a “home” there. We throw that term, “indigenous variety,” around when we’re talking about non-international grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon is also indigenous somewhere, but since it’s grown just about everywhere else, we call it an international variety.

Italy is quite unique in the vast number of indigenous varieties that are grown and not only consumed within the country, but also commercially sold. Falanghina is not in Australia yet. Aglianico has not picked up in California and I doubt you’ll be seeing Nero d’Avola pop up in South Africa. Countries have tried to grow Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, and while they have had some success, these grapes are just not destined to become international variety superstars. This makes Italy a very special place in the wine world.

There are a few generalities we could throw at indigenous varieties in Italy. For whites, most are crisp, with excellent acidity, and many have a slight hint of a “nutty” character, like almonds or roasted nuts. You may also note a lovely minerality flowing through Italian white wines. For reds, excellent acidity remains a theme, as well as red fruits, dusty tannins and an earth-driven character that is distinctive. That said, both white and red wines vary greatly due to extremely diverse climates, soils and grape make-up. Our selection of Italian gems off-the-beaten-path are meant to show you how Italy truly represents a sense of place.

For the Collector…
Structured and long-lived, the collectible wines of Italy are some of the best in the world. From the highly sought after Super Tuscans to the dust-worthy Barolos to the comeback kid Chianti Classico, we have a delectable list of collectible Italian wines ideal for your cellar. An age-worthy Italian wine has a combination of acid, structure and complexity of flavors. We think most of those wines deliver this harmonious blend. Though the majority could use some age, some of these wines can be drunk and enjoyed now.

We hope you enjoy the wines of this month’s Tasting Room. As always, feel free to let us knwo if you have any questions or would like to learn about a wine subject/region/grape in particular! tastingroom@wine.com

Wine Wednesday & Buitoni

In case you missed it, Buitoni USA is running a Wine Wednesday sweepstakes where they are giving away Wine.com gift cards. Kind of a no brainer – sign up and you’re entered to win a $25 gift card to Wine.com!

In case you are unfamiliar with Buitoni, the company produces a number of Italian food products, from delicious pesto sauces to ravioli to complete meals!

We’ve decided to help pair some wines with these meals during the sweepstakes and today, we’ll feature the Shrimp-Lobster Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce. Um, can you say rich white?

Since it’s Italian in nature, my first pick would be an Italian white like the Planeta 2008 Chardonnay. It’s rich, saturated and creamy, a perfect match to that rich garlic butter sauce with the ravioli. The dish is perfect for any rich Chardonnay, but pairing region with region (Italy with Italy in this case) is always a recipe for a good pairing. Don’t hesitate to try another white I love from Italy: Falanghina. This is another rich variety, perfect for a creamy sauce.

Don’t forget to enter the Wine Wednesday sweepstakes today through the Buitoni facebook page.

Staff Pick: WineShopper – Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml


Wine Name: Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml
Wine Reviewer: Eileen
Wine Rating: 5 stars
Paired with: Nothing … I had this one just by itself


Wine Review: I bought two of these for stocking stuffers at Christmas, one for a stocking, and one for me and my partner. Yes, folks, we’re lightweights when it comes to wine. We find ourselves not opening a bottles when we know we won’t finish the 750ml. So these half-bottles are absolutely perfect … and I love that this wine is 93 Wine Spectator points under $20. So … on to the wine!

I enjoyed the mellowness of this wine and its medium body. Not as powerful as a Cab but not as light-bodied as a Pinot. Somewhere in the middle and elegant. As what I would expect from a European / Italian wine, the nose has a rich fruity bouquet and the flavors of dark cherries stood out. The mellow tannins were enjoyable for a nice soft grip. I sort of wanted to enjoy some cheese with it, but I declined and enjoyed my ‘special’ glass all by itself.

Something I’d recommend to share on Valentine’s Day or not, you’ll enjoy it either way. :-)

Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml

Read more of my reviews on my Wine.com community page.