Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Monday, September 22, 2014

Franciacorta, What's Not to Love?

I'll admit, it has taken me a long time to appreciate Franciacorta.  As a women obsessed with Italian wine who owns a wine shop/bar, you wouldn't think it would take almost 8 years in the business to get "it".  But in my defense, the problem with Franciacorta is its availability in the US has been scarce and with only 11% of its production sold abroad, it was something I rarely got to taste.  The only one in the market for years was the high quality and highly priced Bellevista label and recently Ca' del Bosco became available through our friends at Artisan and Banville & Jones.  It was something I enjoyed, as I do most sparkling wines, but I didn't really seek it out.

Then I went to northern Italy for the first time and Franciacorta was everywhere!  And affordable - and made by producers I'd never heard of - and I could drink a different one everyday to start my meal.  I became obsessed with tasting every Franciacorta I could find!  And I finally got "it".  High quality bubbles that could rival Champagne from my favorite place in the world?  What a no brainer!

So I come back home and start asking our wholesalers about Franciacorta and find them trickling in to the market.  Berlucchi, Ferghettina, Bellavista, Ca del Bosco, Cantadi Castaldi, Montenisa...I'm so excited that we are buying a new shelf just to accommodate all of the Franciacorta I want to buy!  

And now comes the part of my job that I love - exposing our wonderful customers to a still barely known wine region and the amazing world of Franciacorta.  We started with putting the Ca' Del Bosco on our by the glass menu and it has been so successful that it remains a staple on our list.  We used the Ferghettina in our Italian rose' flight and people went crazy for the elegant wine in the beautiful package. But we've decided to really put it to the test and conduct a seated tasting, blind, and put it up against the world's best sparkling wine, Champagne. 

Kimi will present the Champagne and I the Franciacorta.  But this is not a test to see if you can determine which is which because what I really want to know is what you think.  Is the quality similar? The taste?  Do you prefer one bottle over another?  And most importantly, do you like it?  We'd love for you to participate in this very special event where a small area in Italy takes on the most prestigious sparkling wine region in the world! Casey Foote will also present his favorite cheeses from both countries to pair with the wines.  Sound fun? Interesting?  You can make your reservations here:  Champagne Vs. Franciacorta 

Here's a bit of information for thought on my two favorite regions for sparkling wine:

Champagne:  Continental Climate, chalk and limestone soils
Franciacorta:  Continental Climate; moraine, limestone and volcanic soils

Grape Varieties: 
Champagne -  30% planted to Chardonnay, 38% planted to Pinot Noir and 32% to Pinot Meunier
Franciacorta - 80% planted to Chardonnay, 15% planted to Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and 5% to Pinot Bianco

Production Methods:
Champagne - Traditional Method with secondary fermentation in the bottle
Franciacorta - Traditional Method with secondary fermentation in the bottle

Non vintage:  Champagne -  wines must spend a minimum 15 months maturing on the lees 
Non vintage:  Franciacorta - wines must spend a minimum 18 months maturing on the lees 

Vintage:  Champagne -  wines must spend a minimum 36 months maturing on the lees.  100% of the grapes must be harvested from the stated year. 
Vintage:  Franciacorta - wines must spend a minimum 37 months maturing on the lees.  85% of the grapes must be harvested from the stated year. 

Blanc de Blanc:  Champagne - wine made exclusively from white grapes, 100% Chardonnay - must be aged 15 months
Saten:  Franciacorta - wine made exclusively from white grapes, Chardonnay and up to 50% Pinot Bianco allowed - must be aged 24 months

Monday, September 15, 2014

Duccio Corsini & Antonio Molesini Host Wednesday Nite Flites

When I think about meeting Italian royalty, I envision a stuffy guy in a fancy designer suit, but maybe with an ascot instead of a tie - aloof and arrogant as truly privileged people can be (I've actually meet a marchesi from Piemonte who meets this description to a T!).  So you can imagine my surprise when a jovial man in jeans, a vest and button down shirt walked up and introduced himself to me, Kerry and my family while we were touring Principe di Corsini this summer.  "Il Duccio" was the complete opposite of my vision and previous experience. Humble, warm, friendly with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, he wanted to be sure we were enjoying ourselves and even sent me a personal email afterwards asking about our visit!

This week we're excited to have Duccio Corsini & Antonio Molesini host Wednesday Nite Flites.  The noble Corsini family has held a prominent place in Tuscan history since the 1100's.  Once the largest landowners in all of Italy the Corsini's prestigious and influential ancestors include a bishop, saint, and a Pope!  But Duccio is sure to charm you with his down to earth attitude, love of agricultural and belief that his wines are ideally paired with “good food and good company”! We'll be tasting a fantastic lineup of 4 wines -  
Le Corti Chianti Classico 2011 ($22.50)
Le Corti Don Tommaso Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 ($41.99)
Principi Corsini Birillo Maremma, 2011 ($20.99) 
Principi Corsini La Marsiliana Maremma 2006 ($68.99). 

The flite is $15 and we'll have Italian themed cheese plates available to try with the wines.  Reservations are recommended and you can do so here, Duccio Corsini.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Eating Green in Tuscany, Carpaccio di Zucchine

My personal meat platter at Castello di Verrazzano
One of the things I love about foreign travel is immersing myself in the local culture.  Not only eating what they eat and drinking what they drink but also doing those things the way they do them.  Downing a shot of espresso in the afternoon with a half a pack of partially melted sugar in the bottom of the cup while standing at a bar in Cortona, eating a decadent brioche con crema for breakfast in Rome, drinking the simple but delicious house table wine made by the owner of the osteria in Montepulciano, enjoying a daily sweet, creamy gelato in Positano - I live 49 weeks of the year in America but for a few precious weeks I get to experience the joy of eating and drinking like an Italian!  I tell people who travel with us to leave all of their American habits at home because the best way to truly experience a place is to live it like a local.  After all, why spend the money and the time to come half way across the world to a country steeped in thousands of years of culinary traditions to eat a hamburger and french fries covered in ketchup and washed down with a Budweiser? 
Pasta with saffron cream, prosciutto and zucchine
But I must admit I do have one gastronomic complaint about Central Italy - as much as I love going to Tuscany every year the thing I crave by the end of our trip is fresh green vegetables! This part of Italy is about meat + pasta + cheese and many amazingly different and unique combinations of all of them.  Of course there is also an abundance of ripe juicy tomatoes in every size and shape, deeply flavored roasted eggplant, marinated artichokes, delicately fried zucchine flowers, but sometimes a girl just wants a SALAD!!! 

Truffles foraged in Umbria
So one of the American traditions that I enjoy on a regular basis has slowly and reluctantly crept its way to Tuscany.   Each year we go, as the Italians try to cater more to American tourists, I have noticed salads are making their way onto restaurant menus.  Thankfully these are not salads as we know them - there are no bottled gloppy dressings or fake processed cheese, no stale croutons that came out of a can or "salad in bag" stuff here.  It's their spin made of course with fresh local ingredients that change with the current season's offerings. Like crisp lettuce topped with the thinly sliced, small pears that were ripening on the trees and shaved with the local pecorino cheese from Pienza just a few towns away or the local figs that grow wild on the hillsides combined with strips of sliced prosciutto over freshly picked arugula....

Fufluns frolicking on the left
All of these wonderful food memories are bringing me to one such salad we had on our last trip - not once, but twice!  There is a great little pizza place off of Piazza della Republica in Cortona called Fulfuns (fittingly the Etruscan God of vegetation, gaiety and wine!) that we tested out on my family the first week and then brought our Swirl guests the following week.  Not knowing what it would be but assumed it would be "green"  Kerry and I ordered the "Carpaccio di Zucchine"; the epitome of Italian flavor and simplicity!  Freshly grown local lettuce and basil topped with very thinly sliced zucchine ribbons and shaved parmigiana cheese, a sprinkle of roasted pine nuts served with half a lemon and Tuscan olive oil to dress it.  I've made it a few times at home now and while it will never be as good as it is in that medieval hill town washed down with a pitcher of local Trebbiano, it brings me back to sitting outside on that cobblestone street with family and friends enjoying the food and flavors of Tuscany.

Carpaccio di Zucchine, Fufluns Cortona

Carpaccio di Zucchine  (serves 2 hungry Americans craving greens)
1 fresh head of local lettuce or Boston Bibb lettuce if not in season
2 baby zucchine sliced very thin on a mandolin 
1 handful of fresh basil torn into pieces
2 T. toasted fresh pine nuts 
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
shaved parmigiana or grana padana
Salt, pepper
1/2 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil  

Take a large flat bowl, add the lettuce an torn basil leaves.  Top the greens with the zucchini, salt and pepper, and pine nuts; Serve with 1/2 lemon on the side and olive oil.  To dress, put a fork in the lemon half to break the fibers and squeeze the juice all over the salad.  Follow with olive oil, toss and enjoy!
Buon Appetito!!
I didn't have pine nuts this time so I used roasted almonds, preferred the pine nuts!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Real Crispy Skin Salmon, For True

I admit that I am a bit obsessed with Salmon. Grilled, seared, plank roasted, baked it in parchment, topped with chermoula; you name it, I've cooked it!  It is a weekly item on our menu, especially when I need something quick, healthy, delicious and easy to pair with either red or white wines.

But my latest obsession has been crispy skin salmon, which I was never successful at until now!  I found a recipe a few months ago, which I'm sorry to say I could not find again to reference in this post, that I've modified a bit to create the perfect salmon.  The big crunch of the skin is truly the perfect contrast to a fat piece of tender, juicy salmon.  And when I say crisp I mean like a crunchy potato chip!

I will also admit that as beautiful as the Coho and the wild salmon looks, I love the fatty North Atlantic and King Salmon.  Much richer and more flavorful, I select which ever fits into my current budget.  The new Whole Foods on Broad has a really nice fresh selection and is easy to just pick  up a piece after work.  

So here it is, just a few simple tricks to create the perfect crunch:

Trick #1:  You have to descale it.
Take your salmon fillet ( I get about a pound to split between Kerry and I and we usually eat the whole thing!) and put it on a cutting board.  Then grab your chef's knife and run along the top of the skin with a bit of pressure, scraping the scales off.  You can tell they’re gone because the skin has a netting pattern to it:
Give the salmon a quick rinse to remove the scales.

Trick #2:  Water is the enemy 
Dry the salmon very well with paper towels. Water is the enemy of a good crisp sear so soak up as much as you can. Next, season the fish skin with a good pinch of salt (no pepper on the skin, it will burn) and let the fish sit for 5 minutes. Then touch the fish skin and notice that there’s moisture there. This is because the salt pulled out moisture from the skin. You've just set the skin up to be even CRISPIER.  Give the skin a good pat with paper towel again to soak up that excess moisture, and now it’s ready to be seared.

Trick #3:  Cut the salmon into even pieces.
The more evenly the meat is distributed the better it will sear.  With a large fillet you usually get the thick piece of the body and then the thinner part of the belly.  Cut off the thin part - you'll just cook it a little less.

Trick #4:  No non stick pans!
You just don't get the same sear and if your heat is high enough it won't stick anyway.  So start with an uncoated pan, fairly close in size to the piece of fish.  Heat up your pan somewhere between medium to medium high heat (6 or 7 on a 10 scale), and let it heat up for about 3-5 minutes (3 minutes for gas stoves, 5 for electric).  Since we are using an uncoated pan, you’re going to want to have a sturdy, metal turner that can really get under the fish, not one of those flimsy plastic spatulas.

Trick #5:  You need a high smoke point oil.
Olive oil or butter won't work here.  My preference is ghee or coconut oil but the ghee really helps to brown it evenly.  You could also use grape seed oil.   Add enough to really coat the bottom of the pan.

When the oil starts to shimmer, take your piece of fish and test it by touching the very end of it to the pan. If it makes that hissing sizzling noise, that means the pan is nice and hot, and go ahead and lay the fish down in the pan, skin side down, always away from you so the oil doesn't splash. (and if the fish doesn't sizzle, your pan isn’t hot enough).  Now you can season the top meaty side with salt and pepper.

Let the salmon cook for 90% of the time on the skin side. You need about 5 minutes per 1" thickness of salmon.  With the fillets I get I usually end up doing 7 minutes on the skin side.

While the skin is cooking, take a lemon and zest about half of the skin.  Take the rest of the lemon and cut into quarters to squeeze on the fish before serving.

When it is time, flip it over and give it a about a minute or so on the other side. Remove it, put a few pats of butter on it and the lemon zest and serve immediately with the lemon quarters on the side. Fantastic!!

Ok now what wine to serve?  The reason I had to make this was to give me an excuse to open the 2012 Terre Nere Cuvee delle Vigne Niche from Macrco de Grazia.  We just received our very very small allocation and half of it has come home with me!

Etna White Cuvée delle Vigne Niche 2012
Wine Spectator Score: 92

Aromatic, with floral and spice notes. There's power to the racy acidity and smoky minerality of this finely meshed white, which is elegant overall, offering flavors of creamed apple, almond skin, apricot and preserved lemon. A vanilla-tinged, leesy overtone echoes on the finish. Drink now through 2025. 250 cases made.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bringing the Cinque Terre to Swirl - 2013 Bisson Ciliegiolo Rose'

If you've ever been to the villages of the Cinque Terre or Portofino on the Ligurian coast, chances are you fell in love. You probably hiked a few of the trails between the villages, ate the local sea food and fresh pasta with pesto in one of those tiny osteria perched on the cliffs.  You warmed yourself in the coastal sun, taken in view the of the ocean, waves crashing on the rocks below as the terraced vineyards above soaked up the summer rays and salty sea mist.  Really, there's nothing quite like it.

You also probably had the local wines; the crisp refreshing whites, the juicy, pure rose' and the light bodied fruity reds.  And like me, you wished you could have them here at home to try to recreate that amazing feeling you had by the sea...unfortunately Ligurian wines are a bit hard to come by.  They produce such tiny amounts on those steeply terraced mountains and keep most of it for their own consumption.  So you can imagine how excited we were to get our hands on the 2013 Bisson Ciliegiolo Rose from one of the top producers in the region!

Pure red cherry fruit, juicy acidity with that subtle salinity from the sea breezes - this wine is perfect for New Orleans spicy fare, has enough body for barbecued chicken, pork sausage and most food from the grill, and is a classic pairing with Zuppa di Pesce Alla Ligure

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hunting with Sole

Every year we take a group of Swirl guest on a wine, culinary and cultural trip in Tuscany and Umbria.  This year our visit included a truffle hunting excursion in Umbria...

Sunflowers in full bloom in Tuscany & Umbria
Driving the twisting narrow roads with seemingly endless switchbacks we go up and over the mountains that seamlessly join Tuscany and Umbria.  Even those who don't get car sick feel effect of the last 6 days on our stomachs.  Plunging down into the valleys we ride through the very rural small villages, peaceful land layered in a patchwork of color with brilliant yellow sunflowers, the silvery leaves of olive trees, golden wheat fields, and endless deep green tobacco.

View from the top of the mountain
Of course we make a few wrong turns but finally find the steep windy road that takes us up to the top of the tallest mountain yet.  Climbing higher and higher the forest changes from slender birch, ash and maple trees to thick trunks of oak and pine until finally reaching the top.  The GPS tells us we've arrived but all we see is a sleepy little hamlet of old stone dwellings and not a soul in sight.  As I try to find the phone number to get directions, a little white truck appears - our host out looking to see if we are lost.  We follow him further up the mountain road to his farm greeted by the breathtaking view of the villages below with the mountains of the Marche, Umbria and Tuscany stretched out before us.

Our host, the personable and soft spoken Matteo, brings us to one of the wood buildings on the property where we are greeted by his mother, father and two cats with their four young kittens.  Matteo and his family live here in this remote area of north west Umbria. They work the land as farmers, hunters and gatherers, living harmoniously with nature on their 30 acres of property.  It's not game or fowl that they hunt, but treasure in the form of elusive and mysterious funghi, truffles!  

We sit and spend some time talking first.  Matteo tells us that his passion and skill for truffle hunting was passed down from his father Carlos and he in turn wants to share his knowledge with others. He educates us on the fascinating world of truffles - what they are, the different types, colors, where they grown, how the animals find them, ripening, maturing and of course, the amazing dogs.

Walking to the forest to begin the hunt
Armed with our new found knowledge, we walk a short distance up the hill with kittens following close behind.  It's time to meet Sole, his dog.  As he talks about Sole, telling us stories of his training and first hunt, it's evident in his voice how much Matteo loves  his dog.  He releases him from the pen and the enthusiastic Sole bounds up the hill to greet us. Running, jumping, darting, constantly putting his nose to the ground and then the air, his energy seems endless.  Matteo softly commands and Sole obediently follows; their symbiotic relationship and mutual respect is the key to their success.

Into the woods we all traipse, Matteo leads us to one of his favorite spots. "Vai, vai Sole" Matteo says and Sole takes off, frantically searching, sniffing - you can actually hear his rapid breathing as he puffs his cheeks and puts his nose to the ground.  He hons in on a smell and frantically begins to dig.  "Piano, piano" slowly, slowly, Matteo softly calls and Sole tries to slow down but he's so excited, tearing at roots, flinging dirt behind him. Reaching down Matteo gently takes him at the neck and Sole immediately goes limp and lies beside his hole awaiting his next command. Matteo digs into the hole first using his vanghetto, a shovel like tool, and then his hands to see what Sole has found.  Out comes a black truffle about the size of a large plum with its dark knobby skin.  Matteo smiles, shows us all the treasure and then puts it into the pocket of his vest. Sole is generously rewarded with treats and affection.

Sole's first find
The ritual repeats, over and over in this spot and then another.  Matteo and Sole hunt each morning for several hours.  They are fortunate to live in an area where different types of truffles are available year round. And the reward can be great; the jewel of Italian gastronomy, white truffles, retail for over $3000/lb., the black for around $1200/lb. The black summer truffles that we found sell for around $500/lb.  Each type of truffle is available only certain months of the year.  Some days are plentiful but others might not yield a single truffle; it's a roll of the dice.

Today is a good day for Sole and Matteo.  In about an hours time Matteo has a pocketful of truffles and we head back to reception area where the delicious smells from the kitchen tell us lunch is almost ready!   Matteo shows us how to clean and store truffles as we sip on Prosecco in the courtyard.  We move into the dining area, beautifully and humbly set for our lunch. The intoxicating smell of fresh truffles permeates the air. Matteo sits with us but goes into the kitchen with each course to help his mother. Crostini with many different types of truffle sauces, carafes of local wine, fresh pasta shaved with our catch of the day, Matteo's fennel roasted pork with rosemary potatoes followed by dessert and of course espresso; we are served a simple, rustic family meal with local fresh ingredients, prepared with the utmost care.

The fruits of Sole's labor

Our fresh pasta with his catch of the day
Matteo's generousity,calm demeanor and infectious smile gives the experience an incredibly intimate feeling - his spirit, love of the land, his relationship with Sole are expressed throughout the visit.  Matteo is a young farmer dedicated to his trade and enthusiastic about sharing it with others.  We will be back...And so with full bellies and warm hearts we load back into our cars, with a new found understanding and appreciation for the now not so mysterious funghi and the people and dogs who bring them from the mountains of Italy to our tables.

If you'd like to visit with Matteo and Sole email him at bartolini.matteo@gmail.com or check out his website at Ca' Solare Agriturismo.  Please tell him Beth from New Orleans sent you :)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Temperature Matters

Serving wine at the proper temperature is something we all struggle with here in New Orleans.  It's really an issue in the US in general; we drink our reds to warm and our whites too cold.  Especially here in the sub tropics - our reds suffer severely from the idea that they are best served at "room temperature".

The beautiful underground cellars at Antonio Caggiano's winery in Campania
The whole room temperature red wine thing came out of Europe where those lovely stone castles and chateaus, lacking in central heat,  remain a constant 60 some degrees. Then there are those cool underground cellars at where their whites rest at a perfect 55 degrees.  That is a far cry from our poorly insulated below sea level homes in our stifling humidity and 90+ degree temperatures!

So what's the big deal?  What does it really matter what temperature you serve your wines?  I guess that all depends on the drinking experience you are looking to have.  If your goal is to guzzle down a big high alcohol red so you can get a quick buzz to start your weekend, then chances are you don't really care how it's showing.  But if you really want to experience a wine at it's best, temperature matters.

When we pour a white wine directly from our frosty 35 degree refrigerators to our glass, the aromatics and flavors are suppressed. The cold brings out greater astringency, which means the wine can  tastes sharp and tart.  And our room temperature average of 72 degrees for reds?  They lose all their finesse and freshness to an overpowering sensation of alcohol and tannin.  They're flabby, out of balance and not as enjoyable as they could be with a little help.

But you don't need to have an fancy wine cellar to serve/drink your wines at the proper temperature.  If you store white wine in the refrigerator, take it out 20 minutes before you want to pour it. To cool down reds (or room-temperature whites), all you need is an ice bucket filled half with ice and half with water. If you’re in a hurry, throw in a cup of salt.  You can get to the right temperature in 10 minutes in an ice bath; or you can put reds in the fridge for about 45 minutes if you are thinking ahead, with whites, 2 hours in the fridge should be perfect.  That’s all it takes.

Kerry is more of a stickler about the red wine thing than I am - I'm usually impatient and just want a glass of wine.  Sometimes I think she waits too long and the wine gets too cold!  With whites, I like them a bit warmer, Kerry- super cold! So to help us both out, I got these little wine bottle digital temperature cuffs. You put them on a bottle, give it a few minutes and it reads the temperature of the bottle.  

So I  put one of the digital thermometers ($16 at swirl) on a bottle that is down in the dark corner where we store our wine at home and got this: 72 degrees.  Upstairs in the kitchen while we are making dinner? Yikes! 75 degrees! In the fridge 30 minutes? A perfect 63!  

Here's what we should be shooting for:  Typical temperature for serving red wine ranges from 52ºF - 65ºF, and 45ºF- 50ºF for white wines.  If you really want to get picky about this, there are different temperature suggestions for different varieties (see chart below).  But I think if we just shoot for the averages for now, we'll all be happier wine drinkers!  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Aperol Spritz, a Classic Italian Beverage

While you can order an Aperol Spritz just about anywhere in Italy, its beginnings are in the north.  It is particularly popular in Venice and Verona where it is the aperitivo drink of choice.  It's bright orange color is unmistakable and while it is served in a variety of different glassware, the recipe remains the same.  This is the classic recipe from Aperol, the company who has produced this low alcohol spirit since 1919.  We'll be serving these at our first Aperitivo Thursday this week at Swirl.  Come over and try one with a complimentary plate of snack from our friends at Good Eggs!

Aperol Spritz
3 parts Proscecco
2 parts Aperol
Splash of club soda

Fill a wine glass with ice. Add the above ingredients and garnish with half an orange slice. Insert straw, close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting in a lively piazza it Italy! 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Aperitivo, The Happiest of Hours

Verona from Lamberti Tower in Piazza Erbe
It's somewhere around 5pm.  The sonar sound coming from my ipad tells me it's time to wake up from my very brief nap.  I hear Kerry rustling around in the livingroom as I slowly try to focus my eyes and will my self from the bed.   After an exhausting 3 days sampling hundreds of wines at Vinitaly in Verona, we only have a few more hours left to explore this beautiful city and I need to perk up.

The Adige River in Verona
Out of the apartment we take a right and walk the few blocks toward the Adige River which winds around in a crescent shape with the historic center of the town nestled inside.  A city that dates back to the Romans, the ancient cobblestone streets are lined with Medieval palaces, elegant churches and bars and restaurants with small terraces perched over the banks of the river.  We duck inside one for a much needed espresso and the icy orange drinks being prepared at the bar can mean only one thing - it's aperitivo time in Verona. A trend that started once upon a time in Milan and can now be found all over Italy, an aperitivo is a glorious couple of hours, a little something before dinner; an aperol spritz or maybe a prosecco or a glass of wine, accompanied by a small snack, great people watching and lively conversation.

Bars and cafes line the piazza.
Continuing our walk, we contact James for a meeting time in Piazza Bra for our last aperitivo of the trip.  We get there early and I start perusing the perimeter of the square checking out the cafes to see who has the best offerings. Some simply provide olives and chips, others get a bit more elaborate with a plate of small nibbles like bruschetta, focaccia, or even meats and cheeses.  I of course chose the latter and James appears just as we are about to sit down.

A round of "spreetzs", the beckoning bright orange drink, for all as we settle in to take in the scene around the piazza while nibbling on our snacks.  The bars and cafes are buzzing with activity, the evening passeggiata is in full swing as the locals enter the marble lined Via Mazzini and stroll to nearby Piazza Erbe.  The coliseum towers mystically over the square reminding all of ancient beginnings of this beautiful place.  There is a joyfulness here that is hard to capture in words, a lightness in the people, an energy in the air that is positively enchanting.

Hoping to recreate that special feeling, we're excitedly starting our own aperitivo at Swirl on Thursdays. There will be a special drink menu for the evening, all Italian of course.  Your first drink will be accompanied by little something extra; a small plate of nibbles, local fare provided this week by our friends at Good Eggs.

So please join us this Thursday, May 8th anytime  between 5:30 - 7:30 for our first aperitivo, a joyful couple of hours after work to relax with friends, take in the lively scene around Faubourg St. John while sipping on a delicious Italian beverage.


Coravin, Drinking High End Wines and Never Popping the Cork!

It's Sunday night and I've cooked a really nice piece of crispy skin salmon.  For some ridiculous reason, Kerry wants to drink a beer.  I, of course, want wine.  Digging through the wood boxes stuck in the dark corner of the downstairs hallway, I'm in search of something for me to drink with my meal.  I realize I have a dilemma - the only appropriate wine, in my mind, to have with my fish is the 2008 Moises Holmes Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and at almost $40 a bottle, it's not the one to pop open on a whim, drink a glass or two and put in the frig hoping it holds until the next time I'm at home and looking for something to drink.  But now my mouth is watering thinking about drinking this wine and how lovely it will pair with my salmon....

Enter Coravin, the solution to my problem!  I had brought home our new gadget and this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.  Unwrapping the box, I'm a bit nervous - it looks like a cross between a microscope, a drill press and one of those silly rabbit wine bottle openers.  I take my time, read the directions and follow the steps to readying  the "device" - take the yellow safety piece off of the needle, insert the gas capsule and test the gas.  Ok. looks like we're good to go.  

Clamping it on the bottle, it's time to insert the needle. Making sure everything is lined up properly, it goes in with an easy push from the palm of my hand, right through the foil and into the cork. I pull out one of my awesome Reidel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses and get ready to pour.  Tilting the bottle above the glass I give the trigger a quick press, release, and out it comes - the translucent but deeply tinted perfect shade of garnet lovely Pinot Noir. Into my glass it flows until the bowl fills to my desired amount.  Turning the bottle upright, I hear the quick hiss of the argon gas being released into the bottle.  Out comes the needle, the bottle goes back in its resting place until its services are required on another day, the perfect pairing just a pour away... After a glass and a half I thought about having a little Barolo, but then realized I was just being greedy :)

The top of the bottle - you can see where the needle pierced the foil.
Coravin offers a revolutionary way to drink or serve high end wines without worrying about oxidation - the cork is never pulled and the instant insertion of gas means that it never sees air.  For more info on how it works, check out the Coravin site or sign up for our Special Coravin Flite Nite this week where we'll be offering the following wines to chose from.  A flite of 3 will be $25.  Reservations are recommended as we are only pouring 12 flites.  You can reserve here with a credit card, Coravin Flite.  

2007 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino, $85
Winemaker's Notes
Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino is ruby red tending to garnet. It's very intense, with a persistent nose with red fruit notes. There is a warm, balanced flavor with velvet-smooth tannins and long-lasting aroma. A beautiful Brunello made in the traditional style, produced exclusively from Sangiovese grapes picked by hand from vines at least 20 years old.

Critical Acclaim
"The estate’s 2007 Brunello di Montalcino has developed beautifully over the last year. Freshly cut flowers, dark raspberries, spices and mint all take shape in a 2007 that impresses for its freshness and pure energy. Sweet roses and violets linger on the finish. I imagine the 2007 will enjoy a very broad drinking window. Today it is drop-dead gorgeous. The combination of dry extract above 34 and acidity north of 6% is exceedingly rare and suggests the wine will age for several decades. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2047."
95 Points The Wine Advocate

"Medium red. Reticent nose hints at red berries, marzipan and nutty oak. Fine-grained, fleshy and highly concentrated, without any undue impression of weight. Lovely sappy sweetness accentuates the wine's inner-mouth perfume. Really builds on the very long, even, sweetly tannic back end, which stains the palate with red fruits, flowers and complex soil tones. This strikes me as more typical perfumed sangiovese than the darker, more locked-up, more obviously structured 2006 riserva."
95 Points International Wine Cellar

"A wine with roasted meats and dark fruits on the nose and palate. Full body, with soft and velvety tannins and a juicy and fruity aftertaste. So delicious and seductive. Drink now or hold."
94 Points James Suckling

2008 Fisher Coach Insignia, $87
Winemaker's Notes
The Coach Insignia honors our family's tradition of craftsmanship, first represented in fine automobiles of the 20th century with Body by Fisher and now in Fisher Vineyards' wines of the 21st century. The Coach Insignia Cabernet represents the pinnacle of our winemaking craft, comprised of the finest selected lots of Bordeaux varietals from our Napa Valley Estate.

Critical Acclaim
"Deep ruby. Highly fragrant aromas of red and blackcurrant, dried cherry, anise and herbs, with sexy oak spice and floral qualities adding complexity. Sappy and expansive in the mouth, offering sweet cherry and dark berry flavors. Turns spicier with air and finishes quite long, with fine-grained tannins and a late note of black cardamom. "
93 Points International Wine Cellar

"The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Coach Insignia is a gorgeous, refined wine laced with expressive red fruit, flowers, mint and licorice. The elegant, feminine side of Cabernet comes through, along with a hint of mocha and spice from the presence of 8% Cabernet Franc in the blend. Hints of sweet herbs and licorice reappear on the finish. Today the 2008 looks to be a fairly early-maturing wine, but I don’t think that will be much of an issue based on how delicious it is."
92 Points The Wine Advocate

2010 M. Chapoutier "Les Granits" Saint-Joseph Rouge, $76.99 
In Saint Joseph, as in Hermitage, elevated soils of high granite composition give Syrah a unique style. Made from 60-80 year old vines this rich and expressive Syrah is dark garnet in color and features aromas of black fruit jams (blackberry) and mineral overtones. Smoky, peppered notes, with a long persistency in the mouth.
Chapoutier owns some of the most famous plots in the Rhône, including 34 hectares within the tiny Hermitage appellation. This collection of highly sought after wines is coined "Selections Parcellaires".

Critical Acclaim
"Most of the fruit comes from hillside vineyards in Larnage. The 2010 St.-Joseph Les Granits (870 cases produced) is a more flowery, elegant, feminine-styled effort than Les Varonnieres. A deep purple color is followed by sweet aromas of Chinese black tea, graphite, blueberries and black raspberries. With a flowery character, superb purity, full body and a precise, crisp finish with plenty of wet rock and powdered stone-like notes, this 2010 should age well for 15-20 years. "  
94 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

"Bright purple. Potent aromas of black and blue fruits, incense, licorice and black olive, with a bright mineral topnote. Sappy and precise, offering deeply pitched blueberry and cassis flavors and an exotic floral pastille nuance. The mineral quality comes back strong on the finish, which lingers with outstanding tenacity and clarity. There's a tension to this wine that suggests it will be a long-distance runner."
93 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar

2010 Gaja Ca'Marcanda Magari, $79.99
Winemaker's Notes
The word "Magari" has several meanings: "if only," "would that it were true," "perhaps." Ca'Marcanda's unique combination of terre brune (dark soils: loam and clay) and terre blanche (white soils: stones and pebbles) is reflected in Magari. Deep garnet with blue tinges. Lush Merlot fruit and spicy Cabernet aromas. Magari showcases the essence of the upper Maremma. It's a full, rich, well-rounded wine with an elegant, silky finish.

Critical Acclaim
"Showing spectacular traits of the vintage, the 2010 Magari (50% Merlot and 25% each Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc) is a dark and modern wine with a thick fabric of dark fruit, blackberry preserves, spice and tobacco woven tightly together. The mouthfeel is exceedingly plush and there’s a sweet oak note of toasted almond or Spanish cedar on the close. Anticipated maturity: 2015-2026. "
94 Points The Wine Advocate

"Fresh and bursting with black cherry and plum fruit, this red has density and a well-integrated structure. Builds to a long finish of fruit, spice and mineral. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc."
90 Points Wine Spectator


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