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October 2007

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October, season of mists, grapes and the new wine

If September is my favourite month (and wasn't it a good one, this year?), October is usually pretty good, too. This is always a time of plenty and abundance, when there is a profusion of so much good produce coming in from the fields. No wonder it's a time for Harvest Festivals and in Italy for feste and sagre of all types: for this is above all a moment in the year to celebrate Nature's bounty. In normal years, October is the month when the grape harvest finishes. But it doesn't stop there, for once the grapes are in the cellar, the juice, now in wooden or stainless steel vats, slowly ferments as the natural yeasts feed on grape sugars to transform into alcohol. This is a process that continues over a period of weeks, and inevitably, somewhere along the way, there is deliciously uncertain in-between period when grape juice ceases to be juice yet still is not yet wine. This partially fermented mosto can be drawn from the vat in jugs, beautifully lively and frothing, to be consumed just so, traditionally in the Barolo country of Le Langhe as an accompaniment to a dish of bagna caoda - the pungent anchovy hot pot into which seasonal vegetables are dipped - or to enjoy with another autumn treat, chestnuts roasted over a wood fire. The mosto is still rich in unconverted sugar, and so still sweet, yet also alcoholic and so a sort of wine - but not yet quite real wine! Yet when drunk with hot roasted chestnuts just off the tree, it somehow tastes magically of the old year being washed down with the new.

October itself is a deliciously in-between period, a moment of the year poised between the warmer months now ending and the onset of winter. Glorious, sunny days like today are a bonus, a time to enjoy last swims at Budleigh Salterton and cook-outs on the beach, before the autumn gales inevitably arrive (remember the storms during last year's Pebblebed harvest?), the clocks go back, and the days become ridiculously and depressingly short.

No matter, it's all part of an annual cycle. And the colder months and shorter days do have compensations, not least in the opportunity to enjoy again the bigger, warming red wines that we all enjoy drinking, both new and vividly fresh young wines, as well as older and mature vintages such as Nebbiolo and Barolo.

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Cascina Fontana vintage report

Mario is utterly exhausted after the completion of the vendemmia and will send a more detailed vintage report in due course. For now, at least, the grapes are all in at Cascina Fontana. Harvesting of Dolcetto began unusually at the end of August, a good three weeks earlier than normal. Barbera followed and even the Nebbiolo grapes are now all safely in the cantina, with the final grapes harvested on October 2. Normally Nebbiolo is a notoriously late ripener - the name comes from 'nebbia' or fog, for the harvest is usually well into the season of mists. Harvesting as late as November is not uncommon. Yet the extremely warm spring weather in April caused early flowering and the grapes consequently were ready to come in some weeks ahead.

It's far too early to comment on the quality of the 2007 vintage. Mario has been concerned that the lack of precipitation during winter months (remember, the Alps had hardly any snow last winter) would effect quality adversely. However, rains in late August combined with fine weather during the vendemmia seems to have helped considerably. Quantity is down, but Mario is quietly confident and satisfied the the results will be interesting.

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Vino at The Slow Food Market Saturday October 20th 10am-2pm

In a couple of weeks' time, Vino will be at the monthly Slow Food Market on Exeter's Quay (note: we won't be in The Wine Cellar on that day). We have been involved with Slow Food for many years and I am a longstanding member of the international jury for the Slow Food Prize for Biodiversity. So I'm delighted to become more involved with Slow Food Devon, which has some great initiatives and activities planned for the coming year. The Slow Food Market on Exeter's Quay is just one of them: this is an opportunity for us to work alongside local food producers who share Slow's ideals and values. If you haven't yet been along to the SF market, please put the date in your diary and come and see us. If you would like to know more about Slow Food, visit http://www.slowfood.com/ or email Club Vino member Jo Hawkins for information about Slow Food Devon activities: hawkinsjo@blueyonder.co.uk

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Darts Farm Food Club launches

We were delighted to go along to the launch of the Darts Farm Food Club earlier this week, where Michael Caines gave a masterclass demonstration of haute cuisine Gidleigh Park style. As always, Michael's virtuosity is quite amazing to witness and the dishes, creating while entertaining a riveted audience, looked simply sensational (unfortunately we didn't taste them!). Afterwards, Michael spoke about the importance of supporting local and regional food producers and of such matters as cooking seasonally. It was a great inaugural event for the Food Club, and Jim and Mike Dart both explained how the club has been formed in order to forge more direct links between local food producers, chefs such as Michael, and their customer base, we food consumers. There will be masterclasses, outings to food and wine producers, children's events, food safaris and more. Well done to Mike and Jim. I think it's a great initiative and we'll certainly look forward to joining in to some of these events. For further information about the Food Club contact foodclub@dartsfarm.co.uk

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Recipe for October

Red mullet with chilli and garlic on linguini Ancona-style

Fish at this time of year seems to be particularly good. We were in Brixham Fish market earlier in the week and saw the most glittering array of truly stunning fish and shellfish, just landed from our own West Country waters. "It's a great time of year," explained Phil Bowditch, Michael Caines' fish supplier, "most of the fish are in their best condition now and they are really full and fat." It's true: we enjoyed some incredibly thick and tasty plaice from the Fish Shed this week. And last night Kim brought home some beautiful red mullet fillets. How to cook them? Why not Ancona style, fried with chilli and garlic and served over a bed of linguini - a perfect excuse to enjoy a bottle of Loretello, produced from Verdicchio grapes in the wine hills in the hinterland just above Ancona.
Serves 4

4 small or 2 large red mullet, cleaned, scaled, filleted and pin-boned
Olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped (use more or less to taste and depending on the heat of the chillies)
Glass of dry white wine
About a dozen small cherry tomatoes or baby plum tomatoes, halved
Handful of flat-leafed parsley, chopped
500 g linguini
Salt and pepper

Put a large pot of water on to boil, add salt, and cook the linguini according to the time on the package. Meanwhile, cut the red mullet fillets into pieces about an inch or so wide and season with salt and black pepper. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan, and when hot, add the pieces of red mullet, skin side down. Cook for no more than a minute, turn and cook for another minute, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add the garlic and chilli to the frying pan and gently stew. Add about half the flat-leaf parsley, deglaze the pan with a glass of wine, then reduce the heat and add the halved cherry or baby plum tomatoes. Allow this to bubble down and thicken into a sauce. Return the red mullet to the frying pan and adjust the seasoning.

When the linguini has cooked to just al dente, drain and place in a large serving bowl. Tip over the red mullet sauce and mix well. It doesn't matter if the fish breaks up. Top with the remaining flat-leaf parsley and serve at once.

Suggested wine: Loretello Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi (no other will do!)

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Here's to autumn!

Best to all,

Marc and Kim

 
 
 
 
 

Copyright Marc Millon 2005-2009 All rights reserved
Images copyright Kim Millon 2005-2009 All rights reserved

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