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May 2011

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Dear friends

I hope everyone enjoyed the past weeks of Bank Holidays, Easter, the Royal Wedding, the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink, and May Day. Already that spell of glorious hot weather seems almost in the distant past. After the April heatwave, it seems we have now returned to a more normal and familiar weather pattern of breezy days, showers, alternating moments of cloud and sunshine and considerably cooler temperatures. At least it has stayed dry, though Geoff is hoping for a good soaking of rain to help bed in the new 'Dragons Den' vineyard, planted earlier this week alongside existing vineyards near Ebford. In Italy, meanwhile, Mario reports that a spell of particularly fine weather continues, with temperatures in the low to mid 20s, sunshine and occasional showers, perfect for helping the vines to establish themselves in readiness for the flowering and the setting of the fruit. Fingers crossed, then, for the wine growers in the hope that 2011 will prove to be a fantastic year!

One of the many fascinations of wine is that mainly it comes from a single plant species, Vitis vinifera, which itself has some hundreds if not thousands of different varieties, all suitable for the production of wine. This remarkable biodiversity results in wines made all around the world in many cases from grape varieties rarely encountered outside their area or region of production. Italy is a case in point, with a literally bewildering array of wines produced from grape varieties that most of us may never have heard of, let alone tasted.

In praise of Barbera
The Barbera grape, for example, though relatively prolific, is not a particularly well known variety compared to such international superstars as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir. Nonetheless, I consider it to be one of the great grape varieties of Italy and certainly one that deserves to be better known. For me, the reason Barbera is so special is because it has the capacity to make finely balanced wines with just the right measure of fruit, acidity and tannin, making it one of the best wines to enjoy with food. Barbera is grown widely across Northern Italy, in many areas of the Piedmont as well as in Lombardy, producing an array of styles, from light, easy-drinking wines and sometimes frizzante (slightly sparkling) examples to more serious wines that can benefit from maturation in both cask and bottle for upwards of years and decades.

Mario Fontana's Cascina Fontana Barbera d'Alba certainly falls into the latter category. Produced from Barbera grapes grown on the select, steep calcareous hills of the Barolo wine zone, the result is a wine that is concentrated and intense. Mario chooses to age his Barbera in small, used French oak barriques to temper an underlying acidity that when young can be rather aggressive but which is an absolutely essential element of what makes Barbera so attractive, especially as a wine to accompany richer foods. Mario likes to age his wines in the cellar in both cask, tank and bottle until he feels they are drinking at their best and so ready to be released. In practise, this means that the current vintage of Barbera that we have is 2008. It is already drinking beautifully right now but will continue to evolve and improve in the bottle for upwards of a decade.

Tomorrow (Sat May 7th) will be a rare opportunity to have the chance to taste and understand how this remarkable wine evolves. In addition to the Barbera '08, I will have open for tasting some examples from previous recent vintages.

Please do drop in to taste and discover why Mario's Cascina Fontana Barbera d'Alba is our favorite and best selling wine. I will be in the Pebblebed Cellar from 11.30 until 1.30 and look forward to seeing you.

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Vino Kitchen Italian Table, Vino Kitchen Topsham Table
Just a reminder that our next Vino Kitchen dates are Wed May 18th for an early summer Italian Table and Wed June 15th for our annual Topsham Table. For those who haven't yet been to our Vino Kitchen evenings in the Pebblebed Cellar, they are always friendly and fun evenings of food, wine and friendship with everyone sitting together at the Pebblebed trestle tables. You can gain a flavour of our evenings here: www.vino.co.uk/vinokitchen.html

We still have some places left for both dates, so if you are interested in joining us, please email marc@vino.co.uk as soon as possible.

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Vino @ Darts Farm
Darts Farm, as most everybody knows, is the source of some of the best food and drink in the West Country, with the freshest local fish and shellfish from Dave Kerley at The Fish Shed; outstanding local meats from Gerald David; Darts Farm's own-grown and just-picked vegetables; a range of traditional as well as innovative food produce and products, hand-crafted or grown locally; and of course a growing selection of local award-winning wines, beers and cider. Mike and Jim also source a limited range of international products that have been produced with the same artisan passion, usually from producers who they have met on their travels and whose quality products have a story to tell. I'm delighted that they have been out to Cascina Fontana twice now to visit Mario and Luisa and have come to appreciate, enjoy and value these very special wines as well as their friendship with Mario and Luisa. Indeed, both we and Mario are proud that Cascina Fontana Barbera d'Alba, Cascina Fontana Barolo and Cascina Fontana 'Dorato' Moscato wines are in the Darts Farm Food Hall. Later in the year, Mario will be coming out especially for a tasting of his wines as part of the Darts Farm Food Club series of events.

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8th Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink - the best ever!
I hope you had the opportunity to attend last week's Exeter Food Festival, now in its 8th year. With the Royal Wedding celebrations taking place on the Friday, there was an amazing party atmosphere throughout all three days and the crowds were immense. Geoff's Pebblebed Sparkling flowed liberally; there were wonderful things to taste and eat; the cookery demonstrations led by Michael Caines were brilliant as always; and the Darts Farm 'Food is Fun' tee-pees were incredibly vibrant and fun. The young Tuscan chefs Matteo, Fabio and Samuele were a big hit, cooking pizzas along with Valentina, Antonella, Steffano, Silva and Sprout. Andrea Falciani, from Pisa, did some fantastic pasta masterclasses. Meanwhile young Dan Hodges, assisted by Liz, ran the Taste Adventure workshop, and Bella and her Youth Food Movement friends with the help of James Clark acquitted themselves quite respectably in the 'cook-off' against the young Tuscan chefs. All in in all it was fantastic, so well done to everyone who made it such a great event.

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Risotto agli asparagi
Here's a recipe that the young Tuscan chefs demonstrated at the Festival (and afterwards made for us that evening at our house) - a simple - and simply delicious - way to make use of the wonderful Devon asparagus that is just perfect at the moment.

(Serves 4 as a starter)

For the cooking broth
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 leek, washed and sliced
Asparagus trimmings
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
300g carnaroli rice
2 glasses dry white wine
Broth (as above)
1 large bunch of freshly picked local asparagus (the asparagus at Darts Farm is picked fresh daily and is sensational)
Extra virgin olive oil (preferably Tuscan)
Large knob of Devon butter
Plenty of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the simple vegetable broth. Gently sauté the chopped vegetables in extra virgin olive oil, then add about a litre of water and bring to a simmer. Skim off any grey scum that rises to the surface and leave to simmer for about an hour. Season to taste.

Prepare the asparagus. Cut off any tough ends of the stalks and add to the vegetable broth pot. Cut the asparagus into short segments, reserving the tips.

In a large saucepan, heat up some extra virgin olive oil and add the carnaroli rice, stirring it to coat all the grains with oil and to get the rice up to temperature. Add the finely chopped onion and garlic and sauté for a further five minutes. Add two glasses of dry white wine, bring to the bubble and allow to reduce almost completely. Begin adding the vegetable stock a ladle at a time, stirring all the while. After 13-14 minutes, begin tasting the rice. As it begins to soften and lose its chalkiness, add the asparagus segments. Continue adding the cooking broth until the rice is almost fully cooked but still 'al dente'. At this point, remove from the heat and beat in the butter and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Risotto, explained the young Tuscans, should be 'all' onda' - wavelike - which means that the consistency is such that that when you shake the pan, the surface of the rice ripples like a wave. In fact, this means that the risotto is more liquid than you may be used to, though in fact by the time it is served, the extra moisture will be absorbed by the rice. Just before serving, poach the reserved asparagus tips in the cooking broth for no more than a minute, then serve the risotto on plates or bowls and garlish with the asparagus tips. Serve with additional parmigiano reggiano.

Recommended wine: Cascina Fontana Gavi 2009 - the intense minerality of the wine goes beautifully with the minerality of the asparagus.

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We hope you have a great weekend - and we look forward to seeing you in the cellar tomorrow if you have a moment to pop in.

Very best wishes,

Marc and Kim

 
 
 

 

 
 

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