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WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacentini)

by Robin Garr » Wed Oct 11, 2006 1:20 pm

Great food. Where's the wine?

<table border="0" align="right" width="190"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/piacenza.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>One of the greatest contradictions in Italian food and wine, a disconnect that I've never fully understood, is the odd reality that Emilia-Romagna - arguably the epicenter of Italy's culinary scene and so honored for its food that its capital is nicknamed "Bologna the Fat" - gets so little attention for its wines.

Emilia-Romagna offers food lovers such familiar delights as <i>prosciutto di Parma</i> hams, <i>Parmigiana-Reggiano</i> and <i>Grana Padano</i> cheeses, the balsamic vinegars of Modena and so much more. Marcella Hazan, the patron saint of Italian cooking for many American "foodies," hails from Bologna, and even our familiar American "baloney" is a much devolved heir of the great Bolognese pork sausage <i>mortadella</i>.

<table border="0" align="left" width="170" bgcolor="#FFFFCC"><tr><td><b>Piacenza Tasting in NYC</b>
The New York City edition of the BraveBrains Piacenza wine and cheese tasting is set for tomorrow, Oct. 12, with seatings at starting at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., and <i>30 Second Wine Advisor</i> readers are invited. The tastings are at <b>Metro Cafe and Wine Bar</b>, 32 E. 21st St. There's no charge, but guests are asked to RSVP as soon as possible. Call 212-475-3227 or E-mail nancy@bravebrains.com
</TD></TR></TABLE>But <i>wine</i> from Emilia-Romagna? Try to find it on the retail shelf, and about all you'll see from Emilia-Romagna is cheap, mass-market brands of the widely disrespected Lambrusco. (More about this coming in Friday's <i>Wine Advisor</I>.)

I can't explain why this food-favored region's wines fly so far beneath the radar, but in the wake of a memorable tasting session, I can tell you that it's not about any lack of quality in the wines.

A couple of missionaries came through our town last night, bearing an armload of wines from Emilia-Romagna that aren't available in the U.S. <i>yet</i> but that I hope soon will be.

Andrea Mills and Nancy Callieteau, with a Mantova-based "knowledge management" firm called BraveBrains, are making a quick pass through four U.S. cities - San Francisco, Austin, Louisville and, tomorrow afternoon, New York City - talking up the wines of Piacenza ("Pee-ah-chen-zah"), a historic city on the far western tip of Emilia-Romagna (or, technically, of Emilia, the western portion of the region). They also asked lots of questions in the interest of learning more about Americans' attitudes about wine.

Although Emilia-Romagna borders the Adriatic, and Bologna isn't all that far from Verona and Venice, it's a long, narrow region that reaches far inland along the south bank of the Po River and the flank of the Apennines mountains. Piacenza is actually well into northwestern Italy, near the borders of Lombardia, Piemonte and Tuscany - a point that Mills (who's assuredly an Italian guy despite the family name passed down by his British father) is not loath to bring up in discussing the region's hearty red wines.

They poured two whites and four reds from the Colli Piacentini DOC ("Hills of Piacenza"), and passed around big chunks of crumbly, creamy and tangy Grana Padano cheese in increasingly sharp samples aged 14 months, 18 months and 24 months, finishing up with rich 30-month Parmigiano.

The sociable environment, outdoors on the lovely patio of a private home, didn't inspire deep, analytical tasting, but the wines spoke for themselves. You'll find below my brief notes on the six wines tasted. They're available in limited amounts in the UK and parts of Europe, and Mills said he hopes to have distribution in the U.S. next spring. For now, if they're not available where you live, make a mental note: They'll be well worth looking for when they get here.

Six from Colli Piacentini

<B>Cardinali 2004 "Solata" Colli Piacentini Val D'Arda Monterosso </B> - This was my first taste of Monterosso, a regional white grape. It's a clear, straw-color wine with greenish brassy glints. Spicy notes elevate apple and pear aromas and something more exotic ... quince? Good body and mouth-watering acidity. Its pure fruit presence sees no wood, and the grapes are grown with minimal chemical intervention, Mills said.

<B>Castelli del Duca 2005 "Isabella" Colli Piacentini Malvasia</B> - This pale gold wine is made in the lightly sparkling style that Italians call "<I>frizzante</i>." It pours with a foamy froth that falls back fast but leaves a crisp, prickly sensation on the tongue. Pretty floral aromatics lead into a flavor that's dry, light and crisp, frothy and very, very refreshing. Castelli del Duca is the label for the regional cooperative that comprises many of Piacenza's small producers.

<B>Castelli del Duca 2004 "Ottavio" Colli Piacentini Bonarda</b> - A fruity, high-acid grape that's also grown across the Po in Lombardy's Oltrepò Pavese - and in Argentina, where it was surely imported by Italian immigrants - Bonarda shines in the Piacentini translation. Very dark reddish-purple, it offers complex aromas of black plums, spice, pepper and a whiff of leather. Cherries and very subtle "barnyard" add an odd but appealing hint of tangerine peel on the palate, and crisp acidity makes it a fine food wine.

<B>Cardinali 2004 "Nicchio" Classico Colli Placentini Gutturnio</B> - "Gutturnio," Mills explained, is the Piacenza name for a 50-50 blend of Bonarda and Barbera so inky that it was traditionally served in a white bowl so revelers could swirl it and admire the way it painted the ceramic purple. This one lives up to the tradition with an inky blackish-purple color. Smoky black plum aromas lead into a full-bodied flavor, ripe fruit balanced by mouth-watering acidity that makes it an excellent food wine.

<B>Castelli del Duca 2001 "Sigillum" Colli Piacentini Gutturnio Classico Riserva</B> - Aged in <i>barriques</i>, it's a very dark garnet color. Dried fruit, brown spices and subtle woodsmoke join in the aroma. Full-bodied, dried-fruit flavors follow the nose, well-balanced by snappy acidity.

<B>Cardinali 2004 "Torquato" Colli Placentini Gutturnio Classico Riserva </B> - Very dark garnet. There's a lot of high-toned volatile acidity in this one, a characteristic not uncommon in dry Italian reds, but it works well in concert with exuberant dried currants and cranberries and fragrant black pepper. Bright and juicy fruit flavors and zippy acidity.

<B>WEB LINKS:</B>
The Consorzio Piacenza Alimentare, the Piacenza trade association that helped fund the BraveBrains research, has a simple but informative Website (Italian and English) with photos. I suggest starting with this English-language page,
http://www.consorziopiacenzalimentare.it/eng/soci.htm
and click down to "Wines," "Cheeses" and other points of interest. Under Wines you'll also find a link for Castelli del Duca Terre dei Farnese, the wine cooperative.

Cardinali, the producer of three of the wines tasted, has its own Website (Italian only) at this link:
http://www.cardinalidoc.it/

The Italian Trade Commission's ItalianMade.com Website has a history, maps and facts in English about Colli Piacentini here:
http://www.italianmade.com/wines/DOC10110.cfm
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Susy Guidolin

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Susy Guidolin » Wed Oct 11, 2006 4:39 pm

I'm glad that Italian regional varieties are starting to get noticed. I lived in Europe for several years and had several chances to visit vinyards, farms, restaurants and shops. I ended up concluding that most good food and wine stayed in the countries if not regions where they are produced. The question I asked was whether that was because foreigners would not appreciate wine and food when it travelled, or if the locals loved their products so much they themselves consumed everything before anyone else got near it. Certainly the Swiss seemed big consumers of their own wines. And just as certainly, many foods and wines do not seem to travel well. I don't want to regale you with my sorry attempts to find good mozzarella in Ottawa. It's a staple in much of Europe, (in fact, the Swiss eat more of it than any other cheese, but apparently in some areas of Italy it is made with Swiss milk-- the EU can function quite well in some respects) but seems quite rubbery here in Ottawa unless you purchase a good import. Those, alas, are hard to find.

In any case, my last six pack of wine was, sure enough, Barberas and Gatturnios. They were young, simple wines, and quite good. I served them with simple dishes like salads and pasta dishes in the summer. I didn't get a chance to taste more complex Gatturnios, but tried several Barberas. The Piemonte was my region of choice, purely for geographic reasons. The beauty of Italy is that you can make wonderful discoveries anywhere. I must admit, however, that half the fun is travelling to the area, and making the discovery. Again, I don't know how well that will travel to North America. It certainly is an interesting challenge. I hope they pair the wines with great food suggestions, since I think this is what the Italians do best.
Sue Guidolin
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Thomas » Wed Oct 11, 2006 4:58 pm

Suzy,

The only good mozzarella is a fresh one--no days old. And most of the stuff sold in the U.S. and Canada called gorganzola is garbage-ola!

As for Italian offerings, we have quite a good selection in the U.S., except for Emilia Romagna and a few other regions.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacentini)

by Ian Sutton » Wed Oct 11, 2006 5:57 pm

One (not very cheap) wine to look out for is Drei Dona's Magnificat. The only exporting I'm aware of is to Germany, but who knows. A good challenger to the supertuscans IMO.

Part of the problem of Emilia-Romagna is the great flatness, which is great for lots of agriculture, but not for viticulture. The food is good there and there seems to be some recent effort on the wines (expect to see some better ones emerge). I can't see it ever being considered great, but there is a love of wine there so who knows. If nothing else, you can always taste wine in Copernicus' local in Ferrara, which is a very decent wine bar to this day.

p.s. We also had an excellent Lambrusco Secco in Ferrara (by Venturini Baldini). Smashing wine with a picnic lunch of lovely stuff from the local delis. Worked a treat.

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacentini)

by Hoke » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:00 pm

Had a great autochthonous (fancy way of saying indigenous; I love writing it...slowly) variety whilst in Ravenna a few years back.

Almost disappeared, revived with the help of some local growers and winemakers, and damned tasty in a rustic style.

Right now, for the life of me, I can't remember the name though.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Michael Malinoski » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:09 pm

Robin,

Thanks for the notes and the links. In my neck of the woods, one producer from this area shows up fairly regularly at retail--La Tosa. Stefano Pizzamiglio is the name of the winemaker there. I've had a number of bottlings, with this one the most recent:

La Tosa Cabernet Sauvignon Colli Piacentini Luna Selvatica 2001. Clear bright ruby color. Aromas of red currants, licorice rope, and bright cherry candy. Medium-bodied and very clean in the mouth, it is a very fruit-oriented young wine with a bright easy-going finish.

They make a number of other interesting wines, including a summery frizzante wine called Valnure and a Sauvignon Blanc. I've also tried the Gutturnio Vignamorello, which I believe is a sort of field blend of Barbera and Bonarda. All appear to be made in a soft fruity style, which I associate more with the winemaking philosophy than necessarily the style of the region. Anyway, they are worth trying and offer at least one other look at the wines of this region.

-Michael
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Robin Garr » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:30 pm

Sue, thanks for joining in, and a warm welcome to our forum!

As for that mozzarella, it's really critical to find a merchant who makes it and sells it while it's still warm. NYC is full of 'em, and we're very lucky in Louisville to have one shop (Lotsa Pasta) that does it, using cow's milk of course, not Buffalo, but still. Does Ottawa have any locally owned and operated Italian delis? That's the kind of place I'd look.

The "doesn't travel well" argument is certainly widespread, but with the possible exception of some particularly light and fresh wines like Vinho Verde, I'm not sure I buy it. Shippers who take care with their exports and move them in refrigerated containers seem to do a good job of getting a wide variety of goodies over to the New World.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Robin Garr » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:34 pm

Ian Sutton wrote:Part of the problem of Emilia-Romagna is the great flatness, which is great for lots of agriculture, but not for viticulture.


Excellent point, Ian, although I'd respond with a couple of points just for the sake of debate:

* Before dismissing flat-land viticulture, consider Chateauneuf-du-Pape. :)

* It hasn't been my pleasure to visit Piacenza, but in photos and on the map, it appears that the DOC in particular is not on the Po plain but on the slopes of the Apennines. (Hence "Colli," now that I think of it.) For that matter, much of Emilia-Romagna, at least from Bologna west, is about as close to the mountains as it is to the river.

Maybe the Bolognese are such gourmets that they permit good taste to override regional pride and simply slurp up the best that the rest of Italy has to offer when they pile into their great food?
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Robin Garr » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:36 pm

Hoke wrote:Had a great autochthonous


I rented one, but it broke down on the Autostrada outside of Bologna ...

Right now, for the life of me, I can't remember the name though.


A stroll through the DOC section of http://www.ItalianMade.com might pop it up. Or might not.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Robin Garr » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:38 pm

Michael Malinoski wrote:In my neck of the woods, one producer from this area shows up fairly regularly at retail--La Tosa.


Thanks for the data point, Michael. Nice notes! The name La Tosa definitely sounds familiar ... do you know offhand who imports it?
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Oct 11, 2006 8:48 pm

Sue, welcome to the forum. Good to see another Canadian here!!
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacentini)

by Bill Hooper » Thu Oct 12, 2006 10:48 pm

[quote="Robin Garr"]Great food. Where's the wine?quote]

Another question is: Great wine. Where's the food? Most regions of the world with strong winemaking traditions have excellent culinary traditions as well. I really can't think of an instance where this doesn't apply.


Prost!
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Robin Garr » Thu Oct 12, 2006 10:57 pm

Bill Hooper wrote:Most regions of the world with strong winemaking traditions have excellent culinary traditions as well. I really can't think of an instance where this doesn't apply.


Largely true, Bill, unless we start looking around the margins - Finger Lakes and Ontario? Temecula? Even, dare I say it, Germany? I might even argue that the culinary traditions of the various French wine regions could be ranked and that not all would rank equal. Really, other than a few high-end traditions, what's the culinary tradition of Bordeaux? Entrecote?
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by James Roscoe » Thu Oct 12, 2006 11:27 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Bill Hooper wrote:Most regions of the world with strong winemaking traditions have excellent culinary traditions as well. I really can't think of an instance where this doesn't apply.


Largely true, Bill, unless we start looking around the margins - Finger Lakes and Ontario? Temecula? Even, dare I say it, Germany? I might even argue that the culinary traditions of the various French wine regions could be ranked and that not all would rank equal. Really, other than a few high-end traditions, what's the culinary tradition of Bordeaux? Entrecote?


What you don't like saurbraten? No knockworst? No Brats and saurkrat? Will no one else speak up for German cuisine?!!! (My German grandmother (GRHS) over-cooked every piece of meat she touched. She couldn't do anything with potatoes or veggies. but give her some sugar and flour and watch out!
.....we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. A. Lincoln
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Great food. Where's the wine? (Six from Colli Piacenti

by Bill Hooper » Fri Oct 13, 2006 12:23 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Bill Hooper wrote:Most regions of the world with strong winemaking traditions have excellent culinary traditions as well. I really can't think of an instance where this doesn't apply.


Even, dare I say it, Germany? quote]

Be careful Robin, lest I show this to my wife. I've never found it a good idea to get the Germans mad :) And why is it I always gain five pounds when we go? It couldn't possibly be just the beer.


Prost!
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