Tag Archives: falanghina

Amalfi – surprisingly great wines as well as super lemons

6 May

The Wine Wanderers were recently on the Amalfi coast in search of the world’s finest lemons.  We found them, in droves(or should that be groves?), but what we also stumbled across, quite unexpectedly, were some of Italy’s best and least-celebrated wines.

Campania was not known for its winemaking skills as recently as a decade ago, but boy, have they come a long way in this land of fine mozzarella, fabulous seafood and, indeed, superlative lemons.   They are making excellent fiano, falanghina, Greco di tufo and aglianico in Campania, as well as some excellent white blends – and the Wanderers were lucky enough to be staying at two of the best hotels in the region, where some serious thought has been given to showcasing Campania on the wine list.

First stop was the Santa Caterina in Amalfi, where we tasted that superb aglianico.  The Wanderers first tasted this sumptuous, inky red in neighbouring Basilicata, where it has an AOC, and did not realise production was more widespread.   A Donnaluna 2011, actually 90 per cent aglianico tempered with 10 per cent primitivo,  was a voluptuous drop to accompany an inventive dish of burrata, poached egg and asparagus; the Greco di tufo “Devon” from Cantine Antonio Caggiano Taurasi which preceded it was crisp, dry and refreshing.

Sitting over the sea next day with an excellent seafood risotto, it was fitting to be served a splendid falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio.     But even better was a Furore blend of 60 per cent falanghina and 40 per cent indigenous biancolella.  Furore is named for a wine village just up the coast from Amalfi; this very excellent example came from from Cantine Marisa Cuomo.

On to Sorrento and one of the world’s oldest and grandest grand hotels, the exemplary Excelsior Vittoria, where they actually have a live pianist serenading guests in the breakfast room every morning.   Dinner is served in the Michelin-starred Terrazza Bosquet, where maitre d‘ Luciano gave us more Campania whites which knocked our socks off.   With scampi from the Messina Straits in Sicily we had the smokiest and most minerally fiano de avellino Colli di Lapio from Cleria Romano.   And a Per Eva Costa d’Amalfi falanghina blend from  Tenuta San Francesco stood up beautifully to a dish of orzo risotto perfumed with black garlic and candied zest of Sorrento lemons from the hotel garden beneath a bed of delicate white cuttlefish.

Although the blue lobster with bisque reduction sauce and caulifower foam must be the finest dish cooked anywhere on the Amalfi coast, we couldn’t blame Luciano for serving us a chardonnay from hundreds of miles north in Cortefranca,Lombardy.   Ca‘ del Bosco is one of the best chardonnays in all Italy and possibly the world; it can stand side by side with Montrachet, big, buttery with a lemony nose and altogether gorgeous.

The Wine Wanderers rarely choose Italian wines outside Italy, yet they never fail to surprise and delight us in their country of origin.   You have to be more careful with what you pick up in the British supermarkets, but Sainsburys does a pretty decent Aglianico del Vulture from Basiiicata at £8.   They also have a drinkable Greco di Tufo on offer till May 17 at £8(normally £10), but the Wanderers preferred a somewhat more elegant version of this varietal from Tre Fiori, £10.99 at Waitrose.   Wine Direct has that fine Feudi falanghina for £13, and Mad About Wines has the Furore for £21.85, the kind of price Campanian winemakers could not have dreamt their wines would fetch a decade or so ago.

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Gorgeous Italian wines – from Russia with love

10 Feb

You don’t expect superb Italian wines served in a beautiful, light and bright Tuscan-style restaurant from a Russian restaurateur, but Mayfair’s newest eatery, Novikov, confounds all expectations.  It’s the first and only restaurant outside Russia from Arkady Novikov, who made his name bringing different fine cuisines to Muscovites, and decided to make a present of his flair to Londoners, with whom he shares a home.   The Novikovs, while living in London for as long as their children are studying there, also have a villa on Lake Como, so perhaps it’s no surprise Novikov knows his Italian food – not that he’s slaved over a hot stove personally for many years now.

While the odd bottle from neighbouring countries like France and Austria gets a look in, Novikov has wisely built a fine Italian list for the half of his massive restaurant devoted to that country’s cuisine(the other half serves stylish Asian food).  There is a super list  of wines by the glass, and we enjoyed a Rami falanghina to accompany traditional starters like bresaola and the best possible burrata flown in from Puglia, as well as an inspired carpaccio of sea bass.   Light but in no way insipid; expect to see a lot more falanghina about in the coming year.

With spectacular primi piatti of linguine into which a whole Scottish lobster, sauted in brandy with a touch of tomato, had been chopped, we were served a vermentino from Sardinia.   I wish it could have been the spectacular but pricey Cervara della Sala from Antinori in Umbria, which I relished a taste of to follow.  Worth £20 per glass for anyone who adores fine chardonnay which resembles an old-fashioned Meursault.

Bless Novikov for making the king of Italian red wine, Barolo, also available by the glass – our Burlotto 2006 was a voluptuous and aromatic partner to a bistecca alla Fiorentina.  It was served, just as it would be in Tuscany, as a thick T-bone for two,  probably a kilo in weight, seared to perfection and sliced at the table, with fine Tuscan olive oil and a squeeze of lemon as the essential and only condiments.   Spinach to go with, wilted and also dressed lightly with olive oil, and potatoes mashed to a seductive puree with yet more olive oil, made lovely accompaniments.   It’s astonishing we found room for dessert, but a pear poached in red wine and served with a scoop of cassata ice-cream went down a treat with a little glass of vin santo.

The day ended with a gorgeous little surprise, when the  remainder of the bistecca came out to be enoyed at home.    We washed it down with a glass or two of chianti far smoother and fuller than you would expect from a bottle  costing barely more than £5.   That’s a promotional price, but the Canaletto chianti from Girelli would be decent value even at the normal £7.39, and is a wine Waitrose regularly seems to put on promotion.

When Italian wines are done well, they please like no other – we remember virtually all the barolos, amarones and brunellos we have drunk down to the year and place, because they were so seductive and unforgettable.    What a shame the perception of wines from the world’s largest wine-producing country  have been tainted by too much cheap chianti, poorly-made  pinot grigio and the produce of other grapes which are either grown on the wrong soil or haven’t been properly treated by the harvesters and winemakers.