Saturday, February 28, 2015

Caserta: ground zero for mozzarella di bufala

When in Caserta, or anywhere else for that matter, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like fresh mozzarella...for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, or anytime in between. 

Mozzarella starts as curd, which is then washed with hot water to make it stretchy and elastic. Then, it's formed into balls, and soaked in brine. In the case of this and many other caseifici around Caserta, the entire process is made by hand.  

Of course before there can be mozzarella, there must be milk. And for there to be milk, there must be cows: in this case, water buffalo or bufala, which probably arrived in Italy from India a couple thousand years ago according to il professore, Massimo Alois. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

On Lipari

After waiting much of the day for waves to subside we took the fast ferry to the Island of Lipari, where the spanking-new high-tech Tenuta di Castellaro was built. The island is breathtaking. Below, my daughter Aili taking in the scenery. 

The barricaia, or barrel room, is supported by columns of cement that were poured without a cast, directly into the earth in order to preserve the impressions of 5,000 years of stone strata. The winery has incredibly innovative sustainability systems built in, like a "wind tower" that opens and closes automatically, and who's job it is to capture cool nighttime winds, vent them below to a 350m long system of ducts where they maintain naturally cool temperatures in the cellar. 

In one of the cleanest fermentation chambers I've ever seen, left to right: Sebastiano, Salvo Foti's right hand here on Lipari, winery owner Massimo Lentsch and his wife Stefania, Gabriele Colombo who manages sales, and Michele Giannetti, the brilliant architect who designed the winery and its many innovations. We tasted last night the Bianco Pomice, and Nero Ossidiana, unique and expressive wines crafted from indigenous grapes under the guidance of Salvo Foti. Those wines have been an important part of the WorldWide Cellars portfolio for 4 years, since the first vintage in 2008. We also tasted a new rosé from Nero d'Avola and Corinto, barrel-sampled a red wine from 100% Corinto, and finally, tasted the winery's first vintage (2012) of the jaw-dropping Malvasia delle Lipari, a vino passito made from the local Malvasia and the required 5% of Corinto. Sweet but not too sweet, with a nose of nectar, apricot, and a touch of honey and fig, it was brilliant. 

How do you get to Lipari? Weather permitting, you can take a fast ferry that will travel up to 30knots. You'll be there in about 45 minutes. Hope you don't get seasick. One of Massimo's passions, and one of his reasons for investing in Lipari, is because of his passion for sailing. Lipari is famous for its winds, and the islands provide exceptional day-trip destinations. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New projects from Salvo and Mario

Another day on Mount Etna. Weather continues to be a bit of rain, a flash of sun,  another sprinkle. At the end of the day, a full-out storm hit the mountain with hurricane winds, rain, and driving snow higher up. Could be an interesting trip tomorrow to Lipari on the hydrofoil. 

The day started with I Custodi: a tour of the magnificent Vigna Centeraria, Mario Paoluzi's spectacular vineyard of ancient albarello-trained vines, some plants up to 250 yrs old. Eventually there will be a grand-cru bottling from this vineyard, but for now the grapes are used for Aetneus, the winery's spectacular "regular" Etna Rosso. We then drove to the Moganazzi vineyard, where at some point the new cellar of I Custodi will be completed. Eventually, there are plans to get to 100,000 bottles and to bring all the winery's production here, which compared to productions that are currently counted by much smaller multiples of a thousand, is very exciting. 

Lunch was with Salvo, at his newly-acquired old palmento in Milo, on the east side of the volcano. A palmento is an ancient cantina, typical of Sicily, in which grapes were crushed by foot, macerated in vats of volcanic stone, and finally pressed by means of a gigantic lever made from a chestnut beam, supported with a stone counterweight, all flowing through the system by gravity. Strictly speaking, the use of the palmento is now not allowed in Sicily due to what I believe Salvo would call government overreach - concerns about hygiene. True that the volcanic vats are probably difficult to clean, but over the years, Salvo explained, the flora of yeast lives on and the wines taste not only of the terroir of the vineyard, but also of the cellar. 

The gentlemen in the photo (left to right: Massimo Rufino, Mario Paoluzi of I Custodi, Thomas Schuster) are tasting a wine that (may have) been made by Salvo in his palmento, and aging in two buried anfore of 800 and 1200 liters that Salvo purchased and had blessed by priests in Georgia (not the one in America). In another photo, the wine is drawn by Salvo's son and likely successor Simone. The wine was incredibly pure, aromatic, elegantly balanced: pure Salvo Foti. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Scilio - Winter on Mount Etna

There is a decided chill to the air up here in Linguaglossa today even if one senses that spring could not be far off. And rain: one must remember that water is never a problem on the mountain, especially in February. Rain showers, then a respite of sun, a rainbow, and fifteen minutes or an hour later, another sprinkle or a downpour. Things are decidedly on the wet side during the winter season.

The Scilio family has been growing grapes on this mountain since 1815, longer than any other current grower. Giovanni remembers his great grandfather selling wine to the locals as a boy. Farming has always been as natural as possible, and the estate is now certified organic. The old vineyards produce Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio, Carricante, Catarratto, and small quantities of other indigenous cultivars. The resulting wines are made with natural yeast and minimal intervention. Our relationship with this producer is still almost new, but I feel myself growing more and more excited about our future together. Tasting the wines from the old vine parcels yesterday made me very grateful to be working with this smart, committed family.