It’s Aperitivo time!

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Aperitivo is a wonderful custom, enjoyed and practiced all across Italy. It’s the perfect way to leave behind a long day and relax having a glass of wine or a light cocktail in good company. The word  defines the act as well as the actual drink – cocktails such as Negroni and Spritz, thought to entice your appetite. Aperitivo is often accompanied by snacks ranging from cheese and charcuterie to more elaborated finger food, such as tartine (similar to bruschetta), polpette (meatballs), fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies or seafood tartare. Just a few examples of the colorful range of delicacies you can enjoy.

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It’s origin is linked to the city Torino, where the first Vermouths (fortified wines) were prodcuced, think Carpani, Martini, Cinzano. Today aperitivo rhymes with Milano – the town flows with different kinds of bar concepts for all tastes.

The choice can be overwhelming –  here are a few tips on places to visit on a short trip:
If wine is what you are looking for, hands down this hidden cellar is a must http://www.alcortile.com/. Getting to it is an adventure  – you need to ring the bell, enter a gate, walk through a private alley and down the stairs to this ancient cellar, don’t get it mixed up with the upstairs restaurant and cooking school.
The most incredible and eclectic cocktail bar of all must be Nottingham Forest http://www.nottingham-forest.com/ , where you can sip your libations out of an All Star shoe cup, or order an extravagant cocktail containing pure gold and real pearls or experiment new frontiers of texture and aesthetics with molecular mixology.
In the fancy area of Brera you can savour an fine Japanese style aperitivo at Sushi B http://www.sushi-b.it/ and Lacerba’s http://www.lacerba.it/  charming and futuristic decor makes for a  memorable experience.

Cin cin!

Heat up with a cup of Vin Brûlé

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Italy is snowed in! Smokey, hot and spicy wine – the perfect solution to chilly weather.
Vin Brûlé (mulled wine) is a tradition in most mountainous areas of Europe. Red wine is infused with spices and citrus and served boiling hot! It’s an extremely fun and easy preparation for your next winter party.

Watch the recipe video: https://vimeo.com/199480956

Recipe for 4
Ingredients:
Red wine, 1 bottle
Orange peel, 1 orange
Brown sugar, 3 Tbsp.
Cloves, 1 Tbsp.
Star anise, 4 whole
Cinnamon, 2 sticks

Method:
In a pot add all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes. Strain and ladle into individual cups or glasses. Serve hot and garnish with orange peel and whole star anise.

Cheers!

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Orange is the new white

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Orange is the color of fall, so why not taste a glass of this new particular wine that is on everyone’s lips? It’s not made from oranges and it’s not that modern of a process either: way back in Roman times white grapes were commonly fermented this way. A very old tradition, that has seen a rebirth in the late 80’s with pioneers such as Gravner and Radikon who gave birth to the orange wine movement in north eastern Italy. Basically, it’s about making white wines as if they were red. In conventional white wine making the grapes are pressed and skins immediately separated and discarded. Instead in red wine production the skins are left in contact with the must (soon-to-be wine) during fermentation. This same technique is applied to orange wines: the white wine grapes’ skins are kept in contact with the must throughout fermentation. This helps extract color, flavor and natural antioxidants called tannins that help create a stable wine. This is why orange wines are in most cases associated with natural wines – if made correctly they need no intervention at all to maintain their longevity and stability. It is important to clarify a common misconception: orange wine isn’t equal to natural wine, and vice-versa. Natural wine can be sparkling, white, orange, rosè, red and sweet. Orange wine can also be produced conventionally. So what exactly defines a natural wine?

In recent years the movement has really hit, with dozens of natural wine fairs between Italy, France, London, Vienna and Berlin. This year even New York stepped in. All the most vibrant cities across the globe are sprawling with wine bars that focus on these gems, and important restaurants such as Noma (4 times best restaurant of the world) have wine lists that exclusively propose this approach. The term is used to loosely describe the philosophy of winemakers who grow their grapes with no chemical additions, hand-harvesting the fruit and avoiding the addition of industrially produced yeasts, keeping sulphur additions to a bare minimum, if added at all. The whole focus is on the fruit, the land and the vintage. It could be defined as a “zero intervention” approach. Most people don’t know that winemakers can add dozens of ingredients to their wine and apply just as many processes to correct mistakes and standardize flavors, without being required to list them on the label. Keep in mind that wine is one of the few food industries that is not regulated by labelling laws. Modern conventional cellars look more like chemical labs than the romantic ideal we all have fixated in our minds. Today’s industrial winemaking leaves very little to nature. On the other hand minimal intervention or natural wines use no unnecessary chemicals, processes or treatments, resulting in a product that’s more honest and reflective of its region. These wines really tell unique and diverse stories about where they come from and about the style of the winemaker. Honest wines, that are not afraid of showing who they really are.

Taste orange wines with an open mind. Don’t think about them as whites, enjoy their versatility and depth of flavor. They pair amazingly with food, most food in fact. Some of our favorites are cheese, charcuterie boards and poultry dishes.

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Orange wine during skin contact fermentation, Zidarich cellar, Carso Italy.
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Orange wine tasting at Slow Food’s main international fair,  Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy.
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One of the most iconic orange wines of our times, Ribolla Gialla by Josko Gravner, aged in clay vases called Amphora.

Very Vinegar

Whilst grocery shopping in the condiments isle have you ever stopped to think where our average vinegar comes from, how it’s made and which ingredients are involved? A staple food in most pantries across countries, vinegar is often taken for granted as if it were invariable, with no options for different varieties.

Apparently man has known vinegar for as far back as 2000 years, making it the most common acid-based ingredient worldwide. Different raw materials are involved in its production: fruit, wine, beer, honey, rice, molasses… each culture has their own. Historically, acidity in food was a consequence of preservation necessities, and often was probably achieved by mistake. A batch of wine gone bad for example. Today it has also come to play an important role in cooking – as one of our main flavors in the search for balanced dishes.

In nature, any sugary matter acidifies spontaneously – vinegar being the result of a double fermentation – through a process that is first alcoholic and secondly acetic. The name comes from the French “Vin aigre” meaning sour wine. Basically, once it has finished its alcoholic fermentation, wine left in contact with air turns sour. Sour wine is not, however, the same as fine vinegar made with care. Controlling the process means making sure the right bacteria are activating the fermentation.

A good vinegar isn’t made in a hurry, the process takes time and air exposition is essential. Once it has reached the right acidity, some of it is drawn off and more wine (or other ingredient) can be added. The process can be repeated indefinitely. This is why “mothers” can be passed on for generations. The “mother” is a gelatinous scum full of living bacteria which ferment vinegar (similar to the scoby we make kombucha with). Most retail vinegars are mass-produced, highly diluted with water, made from inferior wine or other ingredients using techniques that save time, but sacrifice quality. Luckily there are a very small number of craft vinegar producers that make incredibly high quality vinegars.

We have recently visited Josko Sirk in the far North-Eastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia that makes a unique skin-contact grape vinegar. The Sirk family works very closely with the culture and territory they operate in. The vinegar production is just one of their many amazing projects – which include a traditional trattoria, an amazing Michelin star fine dining restaurant, guest homes immersed in nature and much more (visit http://www.lasubida.it/)
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This vinegar is made exclusively from local prime white grapes from the renowned Collio wine region. They make vinegar from the best grapes that would otherwise be used to make wine (indicating the quality of the raw material). It is very rare to find vinegar made from fresh grapes as its usually made from wine, most often from bad wine. The grapes used by Sirk are pressed and left to ferment on their skins in wooden barrels in the family’s all-wooden vinegar house. It is aged for 3 to 5 years. Just like any great wine, time is essential: it sharpens, matures and becomes grand. No other ingredients are added and the product is not diluted with water.

The quality of the grapes, the slow process and the presence of noble moulds convey a very complex structure, persistency and great minerality. The result is a fine product, an incredible ingredient to enhance dishes and balance foods. Strong and displaying character, it is at the same delicate and elegant.
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Italy is harvesting

It’s that time of the year. Italys countryside is filled with beautiful ripe grape bunches and busy winemakers picking, selecting and rushing back to their cellars to make sure all fermentations start as planned. The coming together of a whole year’s hard work in the field, a critical moment where all decisions and timings will determine the outcome of the year’s vintage.

2016 has been strange for wine production so far, lots of rain in early summer, and droughts in August. Climate unpredictability plays an important role in today’s winemaker’s jobs. Everyone was hoping for late harvest, but rain came and winemakers across Italy started picking.There were no extreme conditions though and overall it could result in a great year.

Italy has a long tradition of grape fermenting, making it one of the oldest places for wine production. The country’s landscape is very diversified and is host to plentiful vineyards and unpronounceable grape varieties, with a wider variation of wine styles than any other country. There are supposedly between 800 and 3000 indigenous grapes – although only 400 of these are authorised and classified in the appellation system.

We travelled across the country and visited some of the smallest and unique wine producers, who grow their grapes without chemical additions, who hand harvest the fruit and avoid the addition of selected yeasts, keeping sulphur additions to a bare minimum, if added at all. All the focus is on the fruit, the land and the vintage.

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82 year old Giuliano Anichini, checking the ripeness of his Sangiovese grapes in Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany. Vallone di Cecione Winery.
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Sangiovese grapes,  ready to be harvested. Vallone di Cecione Winery, Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany. 
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Ajola winery in Orvieto, Umbria. On the border between Lazio and Umbria, Jacopo, Gigi and Patricia, three young winemakers produce extremely special natural wines with no sulphites. Its a very small production of about 7000 bottles per year. 
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Procanico grapes, ready to be taken in the cellar to start fermentation. Ajola winery in Orvieto, Umbria.