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September 2011



After a cool and rather disappointing summer, autumn has arrived with a vengeance. Yet, in spite of the weather so far, September remains my favourite month of the year. The long summer holidays have ended, the nights are beginning to draw in. But the sea is still at its warmest and we often enjoy glorious autumn days that are all the more special for being unexpected. September is also the start of the annual cycle of wine as the arduous grape-growing season culminates in the harvest, the pressing of grapes and the making of new wines. All across Europe and the northern hemisphere, in the great wine regions of France, Italy, Spain, Germany, California - and yes here in Devon too - winegrowers are preparing for the harvest and the winemaking tasks that lie ahead. Meanwhile, we wine lovers can anticipate the release of a new season of pleasures to enjoy in the months to come.

Mario Fontana reports from Barolo that the Dolcetto harvest is now complete. It started early this year - 30th August - and the grapes were all brought in within two days, harvesting at dawn to ensure that they arrived in the cantina in the cool of the morning, before the day turned too hot. Mario is satisfied with the results so far: "To be honest, prior to starting the harvest, I was somewhat concerned for the Dolcetto, that during the last phase of maturation the heat may have been too excessive, since Dolcetto is a very delicate grape. However, it seems that all is well. The sugar levels and the colour are excellent and I am hopeful that we will be able to enjoy with you some good glasses of Dolcetto 2011. The only problem is the quantity, in fact our yield this year is down by 15-20%, though I had expected this."

Meanwhile here in Devon, Geoff is preparing for the Pebblebed harvest in the Ebford vineyards. It has not been an easy year, says Geoff, but that is very much the nature of grape growing here in Devon. Cold weather during the flowering has meant that the Seyval crop is well down, but the Madeleine and Rondo grapes are looking good. Some warm autumn weather - that long anticipated indian summer - will help to bring the grapes to full ripeness. Geoff anticipates that picking will commence on September 25th. As usual, all are welcome to come and lend a hand - please check www.pebblebed.co.uk or email geoff@pebblebed.co.uk to ensure dates and times.


Vino Kitchen Italian Table Dates

As the nights drawn in, we are looking forward to the series of autumn Vino Kitchen Italian Table evenings in the Pebblebed Cellar. Autumn is a time of bounty and harvest and it is also a time of year for warming foods and wines. I love it! The dates for the next two Italian Table evenings are:

Wed October 19th
Wed November 23rd

Please email me marc@vino.co.uk as soon as possible to reserve your spaces. Cost for 3-course meal is £15 for current Club Vino members (£18.50 for non-members). Find out more here (and peruse past menus): www.vino.co.uk/vinokitchen.html In mid-December, we will have our annual Festive Italian Table (date to be confirmed). For further information visit www.vino.co.uk/vinokitchen.html or email marc@vino.co.uk to reserve your places.


Mario's cellar inauguration postponed

Our planned visit to Barolo for the inauguration of Mario and Luisa's new Cascina Fontana wine cantina will now take place in the New Year, either February or March. For any who are interested in joining us, please register your interest.


Express & Echo goes weekly with a new wine column

As our Exeter newspaper makes the transition from daily to weekly, Marc Astley, the editor, has invited me to contribute a fortnightly wine column. I plan to write about any number of topics and themes and look forward to including tasting notes from the best independent wine shops in our area. Each week's edition will come out on Thursday and should also be available on-line. Do follow me and let me know what you think.


Vino Kitchen Recipe

La porchetta - Roman-style roast pork

Porchetta has proved to be one of our most popular dishes at our Vino Kitchen Italian Table evenings. What we are trying to do with this recipe is recreate 'porchetta alla romana' - that is, the way you would enjoy it in the Eternal City. There, in Rome, porchetta is usually encountered from roadside stalls, a whole boned pig laid out on a wooden plank, head and all, deeply burnished from roasting in a fragrant and ferociously hot wood oven, the succulent meat filled with an aromatic stuffing of wild fennel, garlic, rosemary and a touch of chilli. The tender meat is hand-carved before you, then stuffed into crusty rolls to eat just so, with your hands, ideally accompanied by lemon-yellow tumbler of cave-cool Frascati. To recreate this Roman treat, we head out to the Kenniford Farm Shop whose freerange pork is simply the best. What cut, loin or belly? At our VK evenings we usually serve a slice of each. But if I had to get off the fence on this, personally I'd opt for belly every time. Yes, it is fattier, but when slow-cooked until almost falling apart, the meat is meltingly juicy, incredibly moist and tender. Here's the way we do it.

Serves 8

1 whole pork belly, boned and skinned if possible, but not rolled
10 cloves garlic, smashed with a little salt to a coarse paste
5 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped (use the frondy leaves)
A bunch of rosemary, stripped from the stalks and chopped
Sprinkle of chilli flakes to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

Make a coarse paste with the crushed garlic, fennel seeds, chopped fennel, rosemary and chilli, moistening with olive oil and seasoning with salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Lay out the whole pork belly on a board and massage this mixture into the meat. Roll up the belly and secure with string. Rub any of the remaining paste onto the outside of the belly joint or else rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Pre-heat oven to 220C. Place belly on a rack in a roasting tin, add a little water or a glass of wine to the tin, and place in the hot oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes turn down the heat to 150C and cook for a further 2-3 hours (timing is not critical with belly - the internal temperature should be around 70-75C when tested with a probe thermometer. Remove from oven, allow to rest for 20 minutes, then carve into slices or else stuff into fresh crusty rolls.

Recommended wine: Mario's Barbera Fontana Dolcetto d'Alba (choose the youngest vintage available) - the fruit and acidity are magic with the pungent, flavoursome pork.

Marc and Kim




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