“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.


Posted in Dinners, Emilia-Romagna, Food, Sicily · Leave a comment

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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2010 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy

2010 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy

2010 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy

If you put your ear up to the glass like a shell you can almost hear it say, 2010 style: “I am the greatest!” Maybe. Give it another few Olympics. But there is power in the 2010 vintage.

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Trentino treat: Elisabetta Foradori Teroldego at Trullo

2016-02-27 13.39.26So happy to find Elisabetta Foradori’s Teroldego when at lunch today at Trullo in Islington. From Mezzolombardo in Trentino, Elisabetta has been producing red wine for the past 25 years from this one grape. The one grape. You could almost say she is Teroldego. Benchmark stuff. Energetic and purity of colour typical in the Dolomites. Tangy red and blue fruits with savoury twang. Lunchtime friendly 12% alc. Refreshing with hidden structure that makes it sing with fish to suckling kid to their beef shin paparadelle, which is a bit of a classic and thankfully always on the menu. Such a comforting and silky dish that matches the wine perfectly.

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Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2004

Poggio di Sotto

Last bottle of the 2004 vintage, carried around from house to house for the past 5 years or so. But it really needed that extra time – now, everything is so on point. From sour cherry to deep Tuscan plum. New leather and melting tannins. The winemaker, Piero Palmucci has now retired, and his organic vineyard was bought by the Collemassari estate. Whether that affects the style of the wine, we will have to wait and see with the newer vintages. Although Espresso Vini d’Italia 2013 guide rated thousands of wines from all over Italy, but only one achieved the highest score in that year: the 2006 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino.

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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.

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Don Chisciotte at The Remedy Bar in Fitzrovia, London

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A brilliant Fiano from Campania at The Remedy in Fitzrovia (Warren St tube). If I had to taste this blind, I would never know it was a Fiano. The herbal character and the remarkable texture get under your skin leaving you wanting more. Never the same vintage. A very unusual wine, a natural wine, and I love it.

Hint: Ask for the red wine list under counter for rare gems at low margins.

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Rosso di Montalcino 2013: Don’t call me baby!



I’ve never liked the term “baby Brunello” when describing Rosso di Montalcino. It has its own DOC, and the better ones are considered separate wines from the more expensive Brunello. A few of them have every right to say as they do in Dirty Dancing, Nobody puts baby in the corner!

Recently I went to Tuscany. When I got to Montalcino, I stocked up on as much Rosso di Montalcino 2013 as I could carry to the car. The Brunello Consorzio consider it a 4-star vintage for the Brunello di Montalcino. That’s not yet on the market. But what about the Rosso – and can the Rosso di Montalcino give us an idea of what it will taste like? Four bottles, in particular, stood out.

Read full article here > 


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Five star vintage for Brunello di Montalcino 2010


The 2010 Brunello di Montalicino vintage has received a standing ovation from winemakers and critics alike. But it is not easy to generalise about a vintage in Montalcino. It is rare to hear unanimous praise.  Read More »

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A little Dolcetto at lunch


The Dolcetto d’Alba  Vignevillej from Brovia at Trullo restaurant in Islington.

Dolcetto is a fantastic lunch wine, and a good one should be able to step in when the (Barolo) boss is away and do a decent job. This Dolcetto d’Alba Vignevillej from Brovia does this and more – it has all the easy satisfaction of a lunch wine and a pretty violet colour, but can cut through a beef shin ragu, particularly the one at Trullo restaurant in Islington that has been cooked so long the meat has an incredible creamy texture.

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Mario Cordero (Vietti) talks Moscato d’Asti

Here I talk to Mario Cordero of the brilliant Vietti winery in Piemonte when he came to visit Bibendum Wine in London.

Vietti are well known for their serious single cru Barolo, so I ask him, how do you like to have your Moscato d’Asti?

This has to be one of the most fun wines in the world and truly lights up the room when it is opened. As my friend said after seeing this video, Mario should get the award for World’s Best Dad.

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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…


Posted in Campania, Dinners · 13 Comments

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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Posted in Dinners, Food, Roma · Tagged · 8 Comments

Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta

Imagine the bubbles of Franciacorta are not spherical but square and you’ll have the true idea of Italy’s premier sparkling wine.

This is one of the most disciplined DOCG regions in the North of Italy, between Milan and Venice, and has a super-commitment to quality that is almost frightening if you expect Italy to be a fun Read more

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Reclaiming the Noble Wines of Southern Italy: Sara Carbone, Basilicata

A properly romantic wine has a sense of adventure. Sara Carbone’s wines from Mount Vulture in Basilicata, Southern Italy bring to mind the line from Descartes about travelling that it “is like talking to men from other centuries.” Not only are her Aglianico del Vulture and Fiano complex and interesting wines in themselves but they are also a journey through Southern Italian history.


The Fiano label (left) tells a love story: Emperor Federick II’s castle for his lover was in the town of Melfi in Basilicata. He was the ruler of Sicily and Southern Italy and the monarchy lasted well into the 18th Century. During the time under the monarchy, Naples was the third largest city in Europe after London and Paris.

Over the past 10 years, winemakers have started to reclaim the wealth of the noble varieties of Fiano and Aglianico found in Basilicata. On the dormant volcano slopes, only 100% Aglianico grapes are permitted in the wine. Sara Carbone is a young winemaker whose family once sold their grapes to the most regarded winemaker in the region, Paternoster, and since 2005, bottles the wine under her own label.

Tasting Notes

The 2010 Fiano, Basilicata Bianco is an example of the heights this variety can achieve Read More »

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Seeing Rosso: the economic and social impact of changing Rosso di Montalcino

Why? I keep asking myself, Why?

I am seeing the news coming in from the Brunello Consorzio and it is exasperating! Why this constant push by the Consorzio to change the Rosso di Montalcino blend when most producers have clearly said no. Why is the decision that was scuppered in February back on the agenda in the first weeks of September, during vintage?

When the Brunello Consorzio reconvene again, during stressful vintage time (Sept 7), they will be there to talk about changing the laws for Rosso di Montalcino to include international varieties.

Why change a clear and unique product, from one tiny town in Tuscany, to make it more generic?

What is tabled by the Consorzio are two or three different versions of Rosso di Montalcino which will all have different names: Rosso di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese and Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese Superiore. In other words, there is a move towards segmentation in this one little wine, which in layman’s terms, is a baby Brunello.

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Posted in Tuscany · 28 Comments

Prosecco is for girls

“She’s angry with us for dissing Prosecco – every girls favourite fizz!”*

Sure. Prosecco is for girls. Just like My Little P ony and the colour pink. Peaches are girly and how much do you love those peachy, soft bubbles? It’s not as expensive as Champagne but it sure does look like it!!!** Get him to pick out a DOCG Conegliano, Valdobbiadene*** (under £15 a bottle) if he won’t give you the credit card after all those shoes you bought, oops! Because girls you’re worth it. And if he wants a glass there’s always the top Prosecco from Cartizze*** – powerful, strong, some would even say, masculine – but let’s not go there, girlfriend.

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100% Lagrein (blink and you’ll miss it)

There are so many different and beautiful wines in Italy, blink and you could miss one.

This is what happened to me recently after a spate of Italian tastings in London.

It wasn’t until I looked back over my notes, I started to see a pattern emerging: 100% Lagrein.

A red wine from Alto Adige, an area up in the Italo-Swiss border, which in my mind, is associated with super-Alpine-bright white wines and Pinot Nero. Yet this peculiar red wine came up winning in tastings time and again. Why?

This is a convergence of two style popular at the moment: one style is about powerful, heavy reds and the other is the mineral, lean style. What is different about Lagrein is the two styles do not fight but, instead, meet in the middle for a big, friendly, delicious hug! The Lagrein grape is genetically related to Teroldego, Syrah and Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero). There is a look and perfume of a big wine but there is a leanness on the palate, especially if the tannins and structure are there. What about the actual wines? Read More »

Posted in Alto Adige · 4 Comments

Funhouse of Mirrors in Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is a funhouse of mirrors where Sangiovese enters different rooms and finds certain flavours are emphasized and others shrunk until there is a confusion about where you are and what you are supposed to be tasting. Someone cries, “Get me out of here!” and you rush back out, full of adrenaline, back into the big wine circus.

Then you find Castello della Paneretta: Chianti Classico clearly mirrored by Sangiovese brilliance.

The only surprise is it never shouts about the fact it shares the same small valley as Paolo di Marchi’s Isole e Olena, a place well-known for Sangiovese radiance. This is the same area in Chianti Classico where Paolo di Marchi went on his adventure with international varieties and hurriedly came home to Sangiovese.

No, this wine is reassuringly unsurprising. Both Castello di Paneretta and Isole e Olena share the same iron kiss, prosciutto taste and cinnamon tannins. The 90% Sangiovese Castello di Paneretta is a humble wine – too humble, in fact; you may even miss it on the shelf – yet has a light-weight confidence which makes it a benchmark, value Chianti Classico at under £15.

Sangiovese lovers in the Chianti Funhouse: this mirror is the real one.

Related post.

Image: Beth Hoeckel

Posted in Tuscany · 6 Comments

A guide to getting more Valpolicella pleasure (featuring Stefano Accordini)

Just as folk music gets louder and more fun as the evening progresses, Valpolicella goes up in different levels of intensity and is often all the better for it.

Understanding these different levels of Valpolicella opens up a world of drinking pleasure.

But it is not always easy.

There are traditional producers and modern producers, seriously bulk wines from this nerve centre of Italian economy alongside artisanal winemakers in the hills; on top of that there are winemaking techniques unique to this region.

Valpolicella has always been about innovation, since Roman times, so you’d be forgiven for not keeping up. Read More »

Posted in Veneto · 8 Comments