a community of wine lovers


January 2013


January: for us this is usually a quiet period of the year, a thoughtful time, as we look ahead in anticipation at the challenges that lie ahead. For some, it is a time for resolutions, new beginnings; for others it may be a moment to take stock and regroup. A few might choose to choose the most drastic action - such as forgoing wine for a whole month. Gyms are at their busiest in January as we set out on a ‘new year, new me’ regime. Whatever they are, let’s hope that all our best resolutions continue long after the January snows have melted.

For winegrowers, this is a quiet time of year too. Over the coming months, we’ll be tracing something of the rhythms of life in Mario and Luisa Fontana’s Barolo vineyard, as well as introducing some vineyard-related Italian vocabulary.

April may be the cruelest month to TS Eliot, but for those attempting to sell wine that month is undoubtedly January. No matter - we understand that after the excesses of the holidays, this is a time for moderation. On the other hand, I do maintain that it is also a time of year when we need to comfort ourselves, keep morale up as we make our way through the coldest and bleakest time of year while waiting for Spring which still seems a long time ahead. One simple way to do this is to drink perhaps a little bit less, but better. Mario Fontana’s Cascina Fontana wines are natural, made as purely as possible and with minimal intervention in both the vineyard and cellar. These are wines that always simply make me feel good - whenever I drink them, whatever the time of year: Gavi 2011 (this zesty, minerally white has great concentration and depth); Dolcetto d’Alba 2011 (the youngest red, with vibrant colour and fruit); Barbera d’Alba 2010 (a classic, rich in structure, with a fine balance of tannin and acidity that makes it such a great food wine); Langhe Nebbiolo 2010 (a beautifully elegant expression of this aristocratic grape); and Barolo 2008 (austere, powerful, concentrated, a special and majestic treat to share with your best friends).

I am in the Pebblebed cellar on Saturday mornings usually once or twice a month for tasting and sales between 11.30 and 12.30. Please email in advance to let me know if you plan to come. I am furthermore available to meet in the cellar for wine tasting and/or sales at any time by prior notice. Just drop me an email to let me know you are coming or to arrange a time.

Looking ahead, here are a few things happening with Vino in the coming months.

We hope to see you - and raise a glass of wine or two with you soon.

a presto,

Marc and Kim

We heart Route 2 -- wine dinners with friends and more

Over the years we have done so many good things with Liz Hodges and chef James Clark, both at The Globe as well as at Route 2, which we think is a fabulous and unique venue. Our ‘Devon meets Italy’ wine dinner this Saturday 26th January is now fully booked but rest assured, we intend to do more regular events together in 2013. Though Topsham has no shortage of really top restaurants run by some great friends and talented chefs, I do think that James's special 'Devon meets Italy' tasting menu is exceptional and without doubt incredibly good value. For those coming along, have a look at the menu and wines. Our apologies to those we have had to turn away: please book early to join us on the next Vino occasion at Route 2.

Vino Kitchen Italian Table -- una polentata to take the January chill away

Hasn’t it been cold and raw of late? Here in Topsham we may have escaped the snow that has blanketed much of the West Country all around us, but we certainly haven’t managed to elude the damp and biting chill. Our Vino Kitchen Italian table menu for Wed Jan 30th is guaranteed to warm you up with a menu for winter. We'll start with a bracing insalata invernale (a winter salad of Shillingford organic leaves with roasted beetroot livened up with vibrant Sicilian blood oranges) followed by guanciale di maiale con la polenta (beautifully succulent Piper’s Farm pig cheeks slow-braised for 24 hours and served with polenta). To finish, torta di polenta (Kim’s fabulous polenta and orange cake). We still have a few spaces left - not many - so if you would like to join us, please let me know as soon as possible (but I warn you - you will have to do a bit of work for your supper - see below). More information about Vino Kitchen here.

The next Vino Kitchen Italian Table dates are Wed February 27th and Wed March 27th.

In praise of polenta

For northern Italians, polenta is not just a food, it is basic staple that represents something of the soul of the diet. Long before corn was brought to Italy from the New World, the Romans made a similar sort of porridge from ground barley, spelt or dried pulses - the pulentum that nourished the Roman legions and fuelled an Empire. The cultivation of corn was introduced to the Veneto in the 16th century by a visionary agronomist, Conte Marc’Antonio Serègo on his estate in the Valpolicella, north of Verona. Polenta, made from coarsely ground yellow or white cornmeal, quickly became a staple, loved by both poor and rich alike to the extent that southerners will sometimes refer disparagingly to someone from the Veneto or the north as ‘un polentone’ - a polenta-eater as opposed to someone who’s staple diet is based on pasta.

We have been wanting to do ‘una polentata’ - a polenta party - for some time as we simply love polenta. In Italy today the cooking of polenta remains something of a winter ritual, sometimes done outdoors by the men using an ancient copper pot placed over a wood fire. The polenta must be stirred continuously or it will burn, so a long stick is used as the polenta has a tendency to spit as the steam escapes. Once cooked, the polenta is traditionally turned out on to a wooden board, patted down with wooden paddles then cut into portions with a piece of string. Sometimes the board is simply placed in the centre of the table and everyone dips in to the communal dish. Polenta can be served ‘wet’, either straight from the pot or board, freshly cooked. Or else it can be allowed to set and then is either baked, char-grilled or even deep-fried.

For our January polentata, we plan to set up a pot in the cellar and invite everyone to take a turn stirring the polenta. It’s an enduring winter tradition, after all. And the elbow effort will help you to work up an appetite in anticipation of the meal to follow.

Wine, a global history - publication date

My next book book, Wine, a global history (part of Reaktion Book’s ‘Edible’ series’), is due for publication on April 1st. A brief preview can be found here where the book is available for pre-order through Amazon.

We will have copies available for sale direct and will be doing signings in both Route 2 and Pebblebed, dates to be confirmed.

The Gastronomy of Piedmont - with me and Martin Randall Travel: 5-11 October 2013

I will once again be leading and lecturing on this amazing gastronomic journey to the Piedmont. Martin Randall Travel has the highest reputation for putting together meticulously planned and researched cultural tours and this one, I can assure you, is very special. One of the highlights of the week is a visit to Cascina Fontana where last year Mario’s mother Elda and mother-in-law Grazia cooked a 4-hour Langhe feast, which we enjoyed after a vertical tasting of young and old vintages of Barolo. Other highlights include going on an actual hunt for white truffles with a dog through the woods; a journey into the high mountains in search of Castelmagno cheese made from the milk of hearty cows that graze on high alpine pastures; a modernist cooking demonstration in a Michelin-star restaurant; simple picnics and countless visits to both rustic casalinga trattorie and exalted restaurants alike. It is a truly wonderful trip and I would love to have any Vino friends join me. More information can be found here.

Club Vino renewals now due

Just a reminder that our Club Vino renewals most fall due on the calendar year. So if you would like to continue to enjoy benefits - including discounted prices on wines, events and Vino Kitchen meals - please email Marc to renew.

The vineyard year at Cascina Fontana, Barolo, Piedmont
We follow the vineyard year at Cascina Fontana month by month

Gennaio/January At this bleakest time of year, a leafless vineyard, with its even rows and dead wood, resembles nothing so much as a cemetery. The vines are resting and in Barolo there is often snow on the ground. It's a dead time of year. But there are important tasks to be done in vigneto, in the vineyard. The winegrower must go out even in the freezing cold, con i piedi nella neve, with feet in the snow, to begin la potatura, the pruning of the dead wood from the vines. This is an immensely skilled task, learned from father to son, the knowledge of precisely which branches to remove and which to leave, the latter determining the quantity as well as the quality of grapes that the vine will produce in the coming season.
Meanwhile in the cantina, the wine cellar, the wines from the previous vintage continue to repose in either vasche di acciaio, stainless steel fermentation and storage vessels, or in botte di rovere, large Slavonian oak casks or in barriques, small 225-litre new or nearly new French oak casks. Meanwhile older vintages continue to mature in the bottle. These are wines that require time - and patience. It may be a quiet time of year but such periods are necessary in anticipation of more busier months to come.

Cascina Fontana web site




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