“Discover Wines with a Story” Event at Carluccio’s London

Did you know that Antonio Carluccio started out as a wine merchant before starting his much-loved Carluccio’s restaurants? Now I know, it doesn’t surprise me. One of the best value meals on the high street, I’ve spent many times after tastings having a plate of pasta and a glass of quality wine, because wines, such as Planeta or Caruso & Minini, are reliably delicious and very well priced. Always promoting the regions of Italian food and wines, with 80-plus restaurants, they have found that difficult balance between price and quality.

To celebrate the launch of Carluccio’s Wine Explorers collection, we tasted four wines with four typical Carluccio’s courses, as well as starting with an excellent Trentino DOC sparkling from Ferrari made in the Champagne style.

Perhaps these wines are less well known on the UK high street, but what struck me is how “alternative varieties” are now breaking through. Carluccio’s has played a big role in introducing Italian food and wine to the UK, and with these Italian wines, this is another exciting step in the right direction for high street eating.


Lambrusco Vecchia Modena, Cleto Chiarli, Emilia Romagna with a Grandioso charcuterie board (Gran Sasso, salami centricina Abruzzese, soppressa al finocchio, prodciutoo cotto, salami Aquila, chicken liver pâté bruschetta, caponata bruschetta, Parmigiano Reggiano, poponcini peppers with pesto, artichokes, mint and garlic marinated green beans, balsamic onions, mixed Italian olives and caper berries.

Pecorino, Villa dei Fiori, Abruzzo with Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese Saled

La Segreta, Planeta, Sicily with Penne Giardiniera (Giant Pugliese penne with courgette, chilli and garlic, served with fried spinach balls and cheese).

Frappato, Caruso & Minini, Sicily with Lamb alla Griglia (Marinated tender lamb chops chargrilled and drizzled with mint pesto. Served with couscous salad and mixed leaves).

Wine Explorers Offer

Carluccio’s have very kindly offered Vinissima readers a £10 voucher to discover their Wine Explorer range for yourself. Until 1 October, download this voucher and when you eat at Carluccio’s you can try one of these wines for the special price of just £10.*

*See terms and conditions of voucher.


Beautiful Gestures in Campania

After paying for a ticket to see the Palace in Caserta I asked, why is the main entrance in darkness?

To give you an idea of the opulence and amount of marble of this entrance, this is the same place that is used as stand-in for the Vatican in films and also used as a set for Star Wars.

Yet when we arrived, we had to climb the marble stairs in darkness, reducing the grandest staircase I have ever seen to a hollow echo-chamber. The fabulous silk curtains were almost threadbare and sun-damaged, the walls cracked and scuffed.

My friend Emi from Rome, resting on the empty guard's seat in the palace.

Despite this neglect, every room overwhelmed, as if outdoing the previous room in their lavish praise to gold. My calves ached from the amount of walking on marble; it must have been kilometres.


There is also something of this forgotten glamour and grandness to the wines here. I tasted some true greats in Campania. They are unquestionably brilliant but… it is like talking on a radio in a power cut. And just as frustrating. It’s not well known and there seems to be a communication breakdown somewhere. For such grandness in the glass, these should be in every serious cellar.


After sightseeing at the palace, we visited a friend who runs a few designer fashion shops in town. At his house, he had a cellar of local Campanian wines and I was thrilled he opened and talked about them with me. He wore a hankerchief in his pocket of his very beautiful tailored suit and on the way to dinner walked through the town collecting friends as stylishly and coolly as a character in Reservoir Dogs (English speakers need to consult a dictionary to understand Neapolitan hand-gestures). He dripped with a style that I see in photos of my grandparents but very rarely see today on people my own age: handmade and tailored.


We walked into the bar for a quick espresso before dinner. As we walked in, a man walking out said, “Whatever they are having, I’ll pay.” We went to an excellent seafood restaurant and the wines were organised all beforehand. The owner brought out wine after wine for us to try…

Doceassaje by Vinosia

Most of the dinner centred around seafood and a white wine called DOCEASSAjE – a blend of Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo, made by Vinosia (this is quite easily available in UK). Like cool honey, I exclaimed in my basic Italian to many bravissimi at the table and a round of applause.


Eating in Italy can be more like theatre compared to the usual stay-at-home DVD experience. The theatre of the table.


No one liked the pasta. I thought it was fine, not the best, but fine. But judging by the dark looks around the table, I was worried about the job security of the Chef. These guys took their pasta very seriously.


For me, every course of food and wine was like the next room in the palace. One course after another of glamorous indulgence and many unexpected courses. These twists and turns which keep the night interesting and moving.


We ended the night opening aglianico and aglianico-blends, grappa, and a few cigars (of course, I don’t smoke cigars but but the bitterness of the tobacco adds an extra level to the taste of the wine).

Mastroberardino Radici 1987 from Taurasi region

Tasting an Aglianico such as this one from the absolute master Mastroberardino is the same ecstasy as tasting Barolo for the first time. It is rare to see Aglianico with age; it is not heavy and dense, but the flavours fall gently onto the palate like ash falling from a volcano: tobacco, cherry and licorice.

For a wine lover, this region is like stumbling upon an empty palace full of gold and velvet. There are a few good wines imported into the UK, but many of the region is like a cultural treasure left to its own devices. When the whole world is moving towards bland, why is Italy’s cultural richness left to the elements? Unlike the important infrastructure that was so fundamental to the development of Tuscany as a region, there is nothing as maintained and reliable as the autostrade 1 south of Naples.

At the train station in Caserta, on the way back to Rome, I thought, do I have to leave? I wistfully looked at the train timetable at the slow trains heading further south…


For Super-Geeky & Friends: Enoteca Ferrara, Roma 00153

If you have friends who say Italian wine is confusing, then take them to this wine bar in Trastevere in Rome.


The wines on the blackboard called me in from the street with a listing as colourful and clear as notes on a children’s toy xylophone.


In principle, the best wine bars have a sense of non-fussiness. That is why Ferrara is an incredible feat: Italy is a country where nearly everybody is a fussy oenophile. Oh yes, everyone is an expert; but perhaps Italians truly need to be with 1000s of grape varieties and so many excellent regions to choose from. Regardless, this tiny wine bar was not a bad compromise between wines that are accessible and interesting.

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Notes from Parma: My response to “What Food, What Wine” Competition’s Zero Score for Italy

Emilia-Romagna is strange. The train departure board could be a poster announcing a stadium tour of gastronomic rockstars – Parma, Bologna, Modena – and yet… as far as wine goes, the region is mostly known for its sweet fizzy Lambrusco.

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A Tale of Two Vineyards: Giacomo Conterno dinner at Zucca

When one of the oldest Barolo house changes guard, it is worth sitting up and taking notice. Cantina Giacomo Conterno is a great name in Barolo wines and was established in 1908. With the passing away of the formidable Giovanni Conterno in 2004, his son Roberto took the helm. There have been a few changes since then, which is why I was pleased to have an informal dinner at Zucca Restaurant in London to taste the latest releases.  Read More »

Go a little crazy Arneis

In local Langhe-Piedmont dialect, the name of the white grape Arneis means “crazy, weird, introverted, whimsical, bizarre”. But what’s really crazy here is that Arneis is not more well-known as a white wine. In a similar way to Viognier, its individuality was once blended away into red wines and production was limited to a small parcel of land. Reminiscent of Viognier with its hint of apricot, good Arneis has an unmistakeable note of delicate white flowers and great Italian texture on the palate. Good humoured, light and original, I won’t say I have never seen crazy-as-in-psychotic examples of Arneis before Read More »

Lunch with the Marchesi de Frescobaldi at new Harrods Wine Department

Being a family with a well-recorded ancient past must not always be pleasant, but at least, like old photos or tear-stained letters, the evidence does not require many words. True, such things as archives, documentaries, and the love and rejection which is called fashion can cause trouble over the years. And it definitely has for the Frescobaldi family at one time or another in its 700 year history. But avoiding disaster in the long-term requires a checklist as short as that for any winemaker: soil, weather, location.

Looking at my notes from lunch with the Marchesi Leonardo Frescobaldi and his family, I notice most of the day’s talk concerned the “expression of the soil”. The Marchesi posed a very simple question before tasting the four wines: “What was the message received from the soil?”.

The line-up: 2007 Mormoreto, 2007 Haut Brion, 2007 Cos d’Estournel and 2007 Opus One.

All Cabernet-based. The Marchesi de Frescobaldi inherited Bordeaux grapes from their grandfather Vittorio in the mid-19th century. Historical facts slip into conversation as easily as tossing a few coins to a busking musician. “So what about Sangiovese?” I asked, for as you may know, Frescobaldi is one of the important Tuscan families and Sangiovese is the traditional grape. He politely replied, “Sangiovese needs soil, altitude, exposure and when not there, it is difficult to produce.”

The love for Bordeaux was evident. Chateau Haut Brion was talked about fondly as if an old school friend. The Marchesi talked admirably about Chateau Haut Brion’s restaurant in London in 1666 “to present their wine to the British palate” and explained how it was the inspiration behind opening their own restaurants, in Harrods new Fine Wine department.

About the wine. Although the point of the tasting was not to have a “Judgement of Paris” competition amongst the 4 wines (although Stephen Spurrier led the tasting lunch), this was a brave tasting to put one of my favourite Bordeaux – Haut Brion – next to a Bordeaux blend from Tuscany (but then again, Cabernet proves it can excel in Tuscany).

There is no mistaking the warmth of the Tuscan soil in the 2007 Mormoreto and it showed very well against the elegant 2007 Haut Brion, and most definitely against the 2007 Cos d’Estournel (not showing very well, disjointed and unbalanced). I did not enjoy the 2007 Opus One as I found it too obviously chocolate, however it would be churlish not to say it was not a good wine (Frescobaldi on Mondavi: “we don’t have a relationship, but we still have an affection”). Overall, there is no real comparison, as each showed an incredibly distinct voice.

Strangely enough, the only wine that had an identity problem seemed to be from Bordeaux itself: 2007 Cos d’Estournel.


NB: Mormoreto and Haut Brion worked best with food.

2007 Mormoreto: At first approach – balanced, very cool, dry palate – developed distinctive Tuscan opulence with Tuscan “chalky” tannins but not OTT, very fine and elegant. In the glass, it developed a warmth yet had a fresh energy, depth and structure. Would like to see in another 5 to 15 years. (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot).

2007 Haut Brion: leather, polished, knitted tannins with outstanding elegant finish. Very deep colour. Red fruits, wild roses and leather on palate slightly restrained but harmonious. Also needs 5- 15 years. (44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc).

2007 Opus One: spicy yet seamless with sweet tannins and smooth cocoa taste. The Cabernet showed a green capsicum taste overcome by ripeness of Petit Verdot, finished with warm tar. (79% Cabernet, 8% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec).

2007 Cos d’Estournel: robust, not in balance. Cabernet Sauvignon does not taste ripe as usual Cos style. It has a rawness, a wine that you have to make excuses for at this stage. Sell if you have bought En Primeur. (85% Cabernet, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc).

Many thanks to the Marchesi de Frescobaldi and Harrods Wine Department for the opportunity to taste the 25th anniversary 2007 Mormoreto.

Link: Franco Zilliani “Marchesi Frescobaldi abbonati ai Top 100? Quale il segreto di cotanta puntuale presenza? (But be careful of literal translation – and subsequent loss of irony – in the last paragraph as it is in local, jocular Tuscan dialect)

Related link: Benefizio

Image: Paris Fashion Week, Chanel


Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song

Sicilian, Sartorial, Sensual: Planeta Dinner, W1

Sitting at dinner with Francesca Planeta, it did not surprise me when she told me her wine had run out at Milan Fashion Week. I know from experience, these wines are seriously loved by my friends in the fashion industry. But what does come as a surprise is to learn Planeta has only been making wines in Sicily since 1985.

Think Italy and wine: what comes to mind is old estates with centuries of history. Then there’s Sicily… dormant for the past 4000 years, it has recently become a hotbed of wine innovation.

The world’s love affair with Planeta started with their Chardonnay. We tasted the 2000 vintage and I was instantly back in the 1990s: poured from a double magnum, it’s a full-bodied Chardonnay with prominent oak, a style which has now fallen out of fashion somewhat. But that was then: this is now. Contrast the latest 2009 Cometa Fiano. It’s a cutting-edge style of fabulous pure fruit expression from this grape from Campania which, had a consultant exclaim on first tasting, “When a wine comes out like this, it’s indigenous in itself.”

This is a statement you’re more likely to hear in the New World than the Old World. In many respects, Planeta is NEW Old World. Constantly evolving and moving, Planeta has had the freedom to experiment in Sicily, experimenting with international varieties such as Chardonnay and Syrah. However, for me, it is Planeta’s experiments with local Sicilian varieties where things become exciting. The Carricante from the Mount Etna region, released in small, experimental-level quantities, is delicate and mineral enough to be an aperitif, a taste unlike any other wine.

The flagship wine, Santa Cecilia, is truly a thrilling wine made from the native Nero d’Avola. Francesca admits this wine had a few false starts; it wasn’t until 2005 after a few bad vintages that the Planeta family felt happy about releasing it. There’s A LOT to be happy about it now: this is the best Nero d’Avola I have ever tasted, a languid glass of dark-liquid jewels in dark fruits and licorice.

As I walked out of the gold room of Hush Restaurant into New Bond Street in the gloomy rain, I walked past the glossy windows of Dolce & Gabbana (their 2010 season of lace dresses inspiring my original post). Planeta did not hit on a winning formula and become complacent with their success: it is a winery constantly evolving and moving, much like fashion, reinventing new rules every vintage. It could equally be said about Planeta wines, as Stefano Gabbana said about fashion, “It’s about redesigning a point of view… molto sexy.

Thank you to the team at Enotria UK for making this possible and the wonderful hopitality of the staff at Hush Restaurant, W1.

Image: Editor-at-Large of Japanese Vogue, Anna Dello Russo’s own photo from Balmain show in the rain at last week’s Milan Fashion week.

Title of post: Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce describing the inspiration for their 2010 Menswear collection.

Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song

the blue wines of Tuscany

At first everything seemed fine, more than fine: from left to right, older terracotta-coloured wines from Chianti to the latest bright purple wines from the Tuscan coast of Maremma. The new 2006 Coevo sat in the middle: a perfectly balanced blend of two distinct regions, Chianti and Maremma. But then out came the Michelin-star Chef, Massimo Bottura, to introduce the food.

Initially, I thought it was simply a good idea to have food with a Tuscan wine tasting, for Tuscan Sangiovese wines are often completed on the palate by food. But Massimo Bottura, from Osteria Francescana in Modena, a 2-Michelin star restaurant (Bottura himself is ranked number 6 in the world), was not here just to cook, he was here to interpret the ideas behind2006 Coevo wine through his food.

Suddenly, the tasting shifted to a whole new level…

Bottura’s ideas flew as thick as aged Balsamic yet as fast as a Ferrari (both also at home in Modena where Osteria Francescana is based). Bottura insisted, the modern chef needs to have their feet on earth and mind in the clouds. The Cecchi family stopped him there. We needed a pit stop. We tasted the wine again.


The Dream of the Child


“I need memories and dreams,” continued Bottura, as he told the story behind his first dish,Ricordo di un Panino alla Mortadella (roughly translated as remembering Mortadella sandwiches), “the past and the future.”

Ricordo di un Panino alla Mortadella (spuma di Mortadella, gnocco croccante, crema d’aglio e pistacchi)

Like most children, Bottura had the memory of going to school with a packed sandwich in his school bag. His translation of this everyday childhood event had turned this most humble meat into sci-fi 21st century food art: the mortadella had been distilled into water, almost to perfume. What was left was the smooth texture, or memory, of Mortadella in the ethereal form of a mousse. Just as all art aspires to music, perhaps all flavour aspires to perfume? When I was young, this would be as close as I imagined food would be like in the 21st Century… in The Future.


The Sky and the Earth


This dish was both past and future. A food response to the 2006 Coevo wine, which is a blend from two regions: traditional Castellina in Chianti and modern Maremma on the coast.

Chianti, in 1716 the world’s first designated wine region, is at the heart of Tuscany and is predominantly Sangiovese, which literally means, the blood of Jove. Although the Cecci family also source Cabernet Sauvingon here, which has developed its own distinctive voice when grown in Tuscany. Contrast Maremma. Developed only in the past 25 years or so, it is where all the “new” French varieties thrive. Closer to the ocean, they have a tint of blue that is not found in Chianti. The 2006 Coevo is a blend of the two regions with the best characteristics of both.

Five great dishes ended with a final flourish of the idea of past and present: an “Icecream Popsicle” of Foie Gras with a centre oozing with 35-year-old Balsamic covered in Piemonte hazelnuts and Sicilian almonds. Each element an interpretation of the wine: North and South, childhood treats in the form of the most “adult” and “snobby foods” (Bottura’s words), Foie Gras.

Croccantino di foie gras (Fegato grasso con mandole di Noto e nocciole di Piemonte caramellate e il cuore liquido di Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena)

So what can I tell you about this wine? Other than buonissimo; or, other than it won the Tre Bicchieri on this its first vintage. The 2006 Coevo avoids the “excess styles” of each region: it has the mouth-watering tannins of Chianti but is not searingly dry. It has opulent fruit but it’s cool with blue tints of Maremma. The 2006 Coevo is a re-interpretation of modern Italian wine, dominated by the big name Super-Tuscans, but with many references to the great history of traditional Chianti: a memory of Italy and a dream of the future.

And like all dreams, there’s something about it blue


Filippo Vartolotta’s Cecchi Wine Tasting at Vinopolis: 2006 Coevo: Thank you to Enotria UK and 2010 Identita London Chef Conference


Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song