“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.


2014 Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé at The Modern Pantry, London


A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to have lunch with José Rallo, owner of the Sicilian winery, Donnafugata at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.

We finished with one of the “grandi vini” of Italy: their sweet Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé and a dessert of popcorn pannacotta with brown bread ice cream and a miso and orange caramel.

Wonderfully done, I loved the touch of wild fennel in the flower arrangement – this is a herb found by the sides of the road in Sicily, so very happy to see it in London (having just been in Marsala a few weeks ago). Also, the impromptu singing of Brazilian tunes by José. There is no better way to describe the wines than through song.

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A visit to Lina Stores in Soho

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Squid ink ravioli with brown crab meat for starters. Ace Fiano Greco blend from Basilicata – a fairly remote and volcanic area in Italy that is truly fascinating to me. It tastes like super fresh and cold pineapple while sitting in the sunshine beside a bright pool. Bright!

Lina Stores in Soho London is like stepping into a grocery shop in Rome in the 1950s (as my older Italian friends tell me). It’s my favourite place to buy pasta in London and they have a small range of Italian wines with styles that can be often difficult to find anywhere else.

Visit my instagram page for more wines and food matches.

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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Breakfast wine: Moscato d’Asti on Sundays

It is not often you find a wine with a sense of humour, but this lightly sparkling, lightly sweet wine is the vinous equivalent of being overpowered by tickling. Logic says, don’t give in, but the frizzante, well – it is hardly bubbles, and 5.5% alcohol is hardly wine, and it is as sweet and light as a hazelnut meringue or biting into a fresh millefeuille pastry on a first time visit to Paris. Something monumental is born from the entirely fun and frivolous. Oscar Wilde once said, “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”, and most times I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, which is why Moscato d’Asti is the perfect antidote for lazy Sunday breakfasts.

Notes from Parma: What is quality Lambrusco?

Parma is VIOLETS. Aged hams, dark chocolate, profumo, the fizz of Lambrusco.

Violets became popular under Maria-Luiga, the Duchess of Parma and second wife of Napoleon, whose presence can be felt everywhere walking along the prosciutto-coloured streets.

The smell of violet has three distinct parts: candy-sweet, violet flower and violet leaf. In my opinion, this can be seen as the spectrum of quality of Lambrusco. The worst being confectionary and the best redolent of violet leaf. A good, refreshing Lambrusco has a violet leaf dryness with a violet fizz that immediately dissipates into an ecstasy of violet perfume.

After my last post, I had some rather strong reactions to my assertion there could even be a possibility of quality Lambrusco. Think of it this way. Rose was also once considered a sweet and cheap drink. Look at it today. Over the past 10 years it has become one of the most versatile and food-friendly wines on the menu.

What do you think? Can you recommend anything good? Or is Lambrusco a hopeless case?


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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Giro d’Italia Wine Tour 2011 with Vinissima

Join me on my Wine Tour with the Giro D’Italia 2011 as the Tour races through the wine regions of Italy. At each stage, we will match the wines from the area the Tour is travelling through.

There are maps, clips of the race, wine and food and more maps. Updated throughout the day. Drop in, anytime over the next 3 weeks. Finishes Sunday May 29.

2011 Giro d’Italia – List of Stages and Quick Links to Main Posts: Read More »

Salice Salentino Riserva 2005

Last night I tasted the Salice Salentino 2005 Riserva by the Candido family in Puglia. Salice Salentino is the name of a style of wine made from the Italian grape, Negroamaro, found on the Salentino plain located in Puglia, the heel of the “boot” of Italy.

As Nabokov puts it, “This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling…”

Salice Salentino by Candido has an acidity like a table made only of neon light: the edges are the fluorescent bright taste of redcurrant and bilberry. The acidity frames a space filled with a perfume of prune, mushrooms and dry raspberry (must remember, real raspberries taste dry). It is a brick red with orange glints. But this is where the limit of description ends and where the music begins.

Alongside the wine we enjoyed the local cheese from Puglia, scamorza (a smoky, hard mozzarella). The smokiness of the cheese became the bottom note completing the earth-fruit in the wine, pulling together the flavours and perfume notes into one perfect chord so satisfying you forget all the hours spent practicing scales and learning facts.

And what are those facts? The name of an Italian wine is often the wine style made synonymous with a region rather than the name of the grape (Barolo, Nebbiolo; Frascati, Trebbiano and Malvasia; Valpolicella, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara; and, so on). At first, the acidity may give the taste-appearance of emptiness on the palate but Italian wine is completed by food, and once opened, it is impossible to find the table empty for long.

Salice Salentino Riserva 2005, Candido bought at £11.95 Harrods

Laughter in the Dark, Nabokov, 1938.

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