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April 2011

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Dear friends

I am sure, like us, you have been enjoying the amazing April weather. How long will it last, that is the million dollar question. Certainly through this weekend, we hope. The Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink, now in its 8th year, is taking place once more in The Castle and Northernhay Gardens, starting this Friday through Sunday. On the Friday and Saturday evenings, the After Dark Festival will have live music as well as local food and drink. Geoff will be in the midst of it all in Castle Courtyard with his Pebblebed Devon Sparkling and Oyster Bar. And, as usual, there will be Tuscan contingent coming over to join us once again: Andrea Falciani, the brilliant pastamaker from near Pisa, as well as three young Tuscan chefs who will be staying at The Globe (many thanks, Liz!) and looked after by Bella. If you see them, either at the Festival or in Topsham, please give them a warm welcome.

As for me, I've just returned from a trip to Piedmont with Donald Sloan, Head of the Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Management, lecturer Matt Todd, and some 16 international hospitality students. While there we met with Carlo Petrini, the dynamic founder of the Slow Food movement, visited the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, and had a wonderful visit and tasting with Mario Fontana at Cascina Fontana, in the heart of the Barolo wine country. Mario was inspirational to the students, teaching them not just about how wine is made, but speaking to them too about his philosophy and approach to life and living. Bravo, Mario! While there, it was an opportunity, too, to make some plans for the forthcoming Club Vino trip to the Barolo wine hills in early September and to meet again with old friend Fulvio Siccardi, the briliant and innovative one-star Michelin chef based in Roero, as well as with Alberto and friends at Slurp! in Turin.

Our close links with Mario and Cascina Fontana grow ever deeper and more profound as the years go by. We have known Mario since he was a young man in his early 20s when he first drove over with a van full of Barolo and Barbera to sell to Nello's Ristorante way back in the early 90s. Over this period of nearly two decades, we have seen Mario's family grow up as he has seen ours, and we have shared many special moments together, always over a glass of wine or two. It is not just us, either: so many Topsham and Vino friends have come to know Mario and Luisa on their frequent visits here over the many years that they have truly become friends of our whole community.

I value this close relationship immensely and I am proud to be able to bring Mario's genuine wines direct from his cellar to ours. These are very special wines indeed, and not just because of such long-standing links and connections. Mario makes wines completely naturally, with only limited intervention in both the vineyard and the cellar. This means, for example, that for fermentation he utilises only natural yeasts present on the skins of the grapes (most wineries today introduce yeasts cultured in a laboratory). The wines are unfiltered and undergo stabilisation simply by being transferred outside during the cold of winter. Racking is done following the phases of the moon. In every aspect of growing grapes and production, Mario's wines are made as naturally as possible. As those of you who love these wines already know, the resulting wines are very pure and direct expressions of the grape varieties - Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo - and the terroir from which they come, Le Langhe.

Having extolled the excellence of Mario's wines for so long and flown the flag for them here in the UK, I'm delighted for Mario that his wines are now receiving considerable national and international attention and acclaim. I opened the in-flight magazine on a transatlantic flight recently only to read a review of Mario's wines! Berry Bros and Rudd, Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant, champions of the greatest wines in the world, has discovered Mario and is working closely with him as well as offering his wines for sale (albeit at prices somewhat higher than ours!). And, on a recent visit to Hong Kong, Mario's wines were a huge hit with a new generation of Asian winedrinkers, notably the stunning Nebbiolo wines, Langhe Nebbiolo and Barolo. As I have long maintained, these are truly great wines and we are privileged to have them here in the Topsham cellar.

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Barbera!
For those of you who have been waiting for a new shipment of Mario's Barbera (horror of horrors, we have been, would you believe, Barbera-less for the past month!), I am delighted and relieved to report that we took delivery of a pallet wine last week, mainly Barbera together with reinforcements of Gavi, Dolcetto, Langhe Nebbiolo, Barolo and the delightful, summery 'Dorato' Moscato. Please email me if you would like to stock up - free deliveries in Topsham and surrounds!

To mark the auspicious return of Mario's Barbera, which is our our best-selling wine, there will be an:

Informal Barbera tasting (various vintages) in the Pebblebed Tasting Cellar Saturday May 7th from 11.30 to 1.30. Please come along to taste, understand what Mario brings to his wines, reacquaint yourselves with this longstanding favourite, and purchase by the bottle or case.

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Vino Kitchen Dates - May and June
Our monthly 'pop-up' in the Pebblebed Cellar seems to be as a popular as ever. Here are the next dates:
Wed May 18th Italian Table
Wed June 15th Topsham Table - our annual summer West Country meal
email marc@vino.co.uk now to book your places

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Club Vino trip to Barolo
As previously discussed, we will be making a Club Vino trip to Barolo in early September to see Mario and to help him to inaugurate his new Barolo wine cellar. The visit will be organised for 3 or possibly 4 nights, though of course anyone can stay out longer if you so wish. The programme is not yet finalised but, having just returned from the region last week, I can assure you that it will be very good! How much will this trip cost? I can only say that it will cost what it will cost - that is, we will help to organise the trip together with Mario, and all of the costs will be shared precisely between those taking part. Our plan will be to stay in either simple agriturismo (farmhouse accommodation) or small hotels, share transport with a mini-bus or bus (depending on numbers) and enjoy a selection of meals that will range from rustic picnics to full feasts that demonstrate the glory and grandeur of the cucina of Le Langhe (in my opinion probably Italy's greatest food region). Naturally there will be some epic wine tastings along the way. For those who have already indicated that you would like to join us, can you please re-confirm your interest to me by email as soon as possible marc@vino.co.uk. For anyone else who is interested, please let me know as soon as possible and if there is sufficient space then we would love to have you join us.

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Bunet di Luisa
Bunet is a traditional dessert of Le Langhe, a sort of chocolate crème caramel. Here is how Luisa, Mario's wife, makes it. Buon appetito!

7 tablespoons of granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tablespoons of sweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon of flour
1/2 litre of milk
12 small amaretti biscuits
3 tablespoons of rum and/or espresso coffee

Bunet is traditionally made in a circular ring mould. If you don't have one, then use a large heatproof dish or cake tin (a rectangular pâté terrine could be used). Place 3 tablespoons of sugar in the mould or tin and heat directly over the hob to melt and carmelise. As it melts, let it spread around the base to cover uniformly.

In a mixing bowl, add 4 tablespoons of sugar and 4 whole eggs. Beat well with a wooden spoon until well blended. Add the sweetened and unsweetened cocoa powder and the flour to make a mound. Add the milk, a little at a time, blending into the cocoa and flour.

Smash the amaretti biscotti into small pieces. Add these to the mixture together with the rum and/or espresso. Transfer the mixture into the prepared, caramelised mould or cake tin.

Place the bunet mould in a roasting tin, and add boiling water 3/4 to the top of the mould to make a bain marie. Place in a pre-heated 160 degree C oven for about 20 minutes. To test if done, insert a wooden skewer to see if it comes out clean. If not, then return to the oven for a few minutes more.

When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature for at least a couple of hours. When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the bunet, then place a plate over the top of the mould and turn over with a forceful shake. Hopefully the bunet should emerge on the plate intact! Cut into slices and serve.

Suggested wine: Cascina Fontana Moscato 'Dorato'

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Here's to the sunshine, to summer in Devon, and to sharing a glass with you soon: of Pebblebed Sparkling at the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink, or a glass or bottle of Mario's Dolcetto, Barbera or Barolo.

Thank you again for your continued support. We look forward to seeing you at a Pebblebed or Vino event soon.

Very best wishes,

Marc and Kim

 
 
 

 

 
 

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

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