For The Love Of Falanghina!

Thanks to my former role as military spouse, I spent 3 years living in Naples, Italy. I loved living there – the food, the culture, the wine….oh the wine!

While indulging in the Italian experience, I developed an infatuation for Italian wine. Like many European countries, eating and drinking local is daily life in Italy; thus, I spent many days drinking the local wine.  Unfortunately, that encompassed brief encounters with “landlord wine” (loosely translated, wet gym socks wrung into a wine bottle) – just to be clear, only brief encounters because I also had good landlord wine.  I had the privilege of drinking exceptional local wine from the ancient, indigenous grapes of the region. One of the wines I grew especially fond of was Falanghina, a refreshing white wine with classic flavors of green apple, pear, citrus, and depending where it is grown, pineapple, floral, spice and/or mineral notes.

I always say “drink what you like, like what you drink” but in general agree with the saying, if you want a good pairing, pair wine and food from the same region. In fact, I would say that’s how I first fell in love with Falanghina, but have learned this wine just seems to go well with most any food.  Seriously, I’ve had success pairing Falanghina with anything from Super Bowl junk food to gourmet artisanal salted dark chocolate.

When I moved from Italy it was with a heavy heart for many reasons.  One being that I thought it would be hard to find Falanghina.  Thankfully, Falanghina has been in my wine glass pretty much whenever I’ve wanted it, from sipping on it reminiscing about my days in bella Italia to pairing it with a pile of nachos.

 

 

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Secrets to Italian Wine

After living in Italy for 3 years and learning as much as I could about Italian wine I figured out a few keys that may be helpful for people trying to unlock the secrets to Italian wine and find something really good to drink.

It was an arduous task…tasting, traveling and conversing but I was able to work through it and set up a delectable nearly 500 bottle wine collection. So let me fill you in on a few important keys to consider when purchasing Italian wine.

Inexpensive Is Good

Now don’t get me wrong there are hundreds of delicious bottles of Brunello di Montalcinos, Amarones, Barolos and Barbarescos in the Italian wine market but if the recession is catching up with you do not despair – your days of craving complex, bold, beautiful Italian wine will not have to come to an end.  The wonderful thing about Italian wine is there are many that cost sub $20 and are really rather lovely.  For example, if you like the spice of Zinfandel – try a Primitivo from Puglia or if you prefer Sauvignon Blanc – try a Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino from Campania.

Don’t Let Classification Fool You

In the states American wine classification is not as widely prominent as for European wines which deem their classifications quite important.  The whole classification system could take pages to explain so let me just briefly give you the guidelines for the Italian classification system (which is designated on the wine bottle).

The system has a 4 tier structure which labels the lowest level as basic table wine (VdT or vino da tavola), the next higher level as wine having a specific geographic indication (IGT or indicazione geografica tipica), the third highest level being DOC (denominazione di originie controllata) meaning it not only grows vineyards in a specific geographical area but follows several other quality control guidelines and the final and highest level DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) means the wine is not only controlled it is also guaranteed.  This designation is usually set for the historical wines of the country.

For you visual folks out there it looks like this:

I’m giving you the wine pyramid basically to tell you to toss it out the window when buying Italian wine.  Why?  Have you ever heard of Super Tuscan wines?  These are highly regarded wines yet they are not DOCG or even DOC wines – they dwell on the second to the lowest level of the wine pyramid as IGT wines.  So don’t be fooled there are many excellent Italian wines with the IGT or even the VdT classification that could blow your socks off.

Plan A Trip

I am sure many of you would kill for a trip to Italy and let me encourage you to try to make that become a reality but not just because of it’s historical claim or the great food.  The real key to finding great Italian wine is in visiting the country.  Not only because there are hundreds of small family run wineries that don’t import any of their fabulous wine but also because if you go over there and drive up to one of these small wineries, you take with you not only some fabulous wine but probably a full belly, a new friend and a memory that can’t be beat!

Pyramid: www.iwinealot.blogspot.com

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Where the “Bufala” Roam…

Recently, my family and I visited Paestum, Italy, known for it’s ancient Greek ruins.  The ruins, with structures similar to the Parthenon in Athens, are fascinating because they are in impeccable condition.

I have to be honest though…I didn’t go to Paestum to gaze upon the ancient rubble.   I went to gaze upon a mozzarella farm and to see where the world famous “Mozzarella di Bufala” (mozzarella of buffalo) is produced.  After all, the origin of the water buffalo comes from Paestum.

Let me take a quick moment to mention our lovely lodging.  We stayed at Il Cannito.  An exclusive, intimate complex with contemporary rooms equipped with amenities such as original art pieces, heated floors, and hydro-sonic/hydro-massage tubs (such a treat!).  The food is prepared with passion  and the wines carefully selected.  All of this plus a private and picturesque setting in the hills of Capaccio.

Now, onto the star of the show….mozzarella.  The origin of the word mozzarella comes from the Italian word “mozzare” meaning to cut off.  Only seven provinces in Italy produce this world famous product and their all located in the South-Central area of the country.

We toured Tenuta Vannulo, founded in 1988 and located on 200 hectares of expansive farmland.  The farm is innovative with it’s use of new technology while respecting old time tradition.  In 1996, Tenuta Vannulo started organic farming and became certified by the ICEA (the Italian Association for Organic Farming).  This farm promotes sustainable agriculture and is the only organic buffalo farm in Italy.  Tenuta Vannulo has approximately 600 buffalo of which, 300 are adults.  One buffalo cost roughly $4,000 and weighs a little over 1,300 pounds!

Hands down, my favorite part of the tour was visiting these mighty beasts, close relatives to the Indian and North American buffaloes.  Although enormous, they seemed rather tranquil and friendly.  I think it had something to do with the fact that these fellas are pampered as if vacationing in Sedona.  Music is pumped in, massage brushes are available on demand, and plenty of space to roam helps them feel content.  While I was there, I noticed one particular buffalo use the massage brush for the best head massage I’ve seen.  These guys deserve it though, they get milked three times a day.  That may seem like a lot of work to us, but they were lined up at the milking machine as if it were a 5 star restaurant.  I think the fact that they get a private feed bucket while in there may have had something to do with it.

At Tenuta Vannulo, the process is fairly quick and simple as is the case at most farms.  Milk is collected at 4am daily, curdled then drained to eliminate the whey.  The curd is put into a mill to be ground into chunks then set in a mold, immersed in hot water and stirred until it’s rubbery.  After this, the cheese-maker kneads the cheese and when it becomes shiny and smooth, pulls a piece off and forms a ball by hand.  Once the ball is formed it is put into a cold water brine.  The end product is a fresh, porcelain white cheese with a thin rind and delicate flavor.   When cut, fresh mozzarella oozes a watery, milky fluid and smells of milk enzymes.  If you’re lucky, you can taste it when it’s so fresh, it is still slightly warm and squeaks when you eat it.   I have to tell you, after this foodie experience, I am clearly second guessing my upcoming move away from Bella Italia!

*Some information gathered from:  www.vannulo.it and www.mozzarelladibufala.org

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Falanghina

I have run the full gamut of wine drinking over the years. I started, as most of you, with the natural progression…..occasionally drinking white zinfandel at an office party or restaurant then slowly working up to Chardonnay. After many glasses and some apprehension, I made the big switch to red wine – enjoying mostly merlots and maybe an occasional pinot noir. Then I expanded my palate to the oaky, tannic wines of cabernet sauvignon. From there, I drank all kinds of red but stayed exclusively in that color realm assuming that white wines were for sissys – beginner drinkers.
How wrong I was! I have become energetically aware of the beauty of white wine in the last couple of years and, once again, drink it quite often – especially in the summer. Remember in my last post when I said I had a great white wine I wanted to tell you about……well, sit back as I tell you about falanghina.
In southern Italy’s Campania region, falanghina is one of the more prominent white wines produced (along with greco and fiano). The primary area for falanghina runs mostly along the coast from the Falerno del Massico DOC zone in the north, past Naples, and down to the beautiful Amalfi Coast. It is believed that Roman merchants brought the falanghina grape over from Greece many, many, many, many, moons ago. The word, falanghina, originated from the Latin word “phalange” which means stake or pole in reference to the method used of training the vine on the pole.
Blah, blah, blah………let’s get to the good stuff. Falanghina is a wonderfully, light, refreshing wine with delicate aromas and a pleasant palate. It requires a dry, warm climate which makes it perfectly balanced with good acidity and fruity notes. This wine is best served as an aperitif at 8-10 degrees Celsius. Some say it tastes similar to pinot grigio. It is often produced in a blend with other local varieties such as verdeca, coda di volpe, biancolella, and greco but can be great on its own as well. Some of the more prominent producers are Feudi di San Gregorio in Avellino and Ocone in Benevento. Within the Costa d’Amalfi DOC subzone, “Cuomo’s Ravello” is some of the best available with distinctly floral and citrus notes.
I have become specifically infatuated with the Campi Flegrei DOC falanghina of my friend, Pasquale, at Cantine del Mare (http://www.cantinedelmare.it/)- a local winery in my town of Monte di Procida. He produces two types of 100% falanghina wine both with the typical straw yellow color and delicate, fruity bouquets. The first type is his mainstream bottling and shows hints of vanilla and peaches. This wine has the unique benefit of having 15% of it passing briefly through barrels before it is mixed with the remaining wine and bottled aged. The second, “Sorbo Bianco,” is a little more full-bodied with careful grape selection and a dominant aroma of green apple along with hints of peaches, pineapple and vanilla. This wine (100%) is stored in oak barrels for approximately 6 months before it finishes aging in the bottle. Besides being a lovely aperitif, both wines pair superbly with fish and shellfish.
The wines of Cantine del Mare are not exported (yet) but I have noticed falanghina popping up at local gourmet and grocery stores in America. If you’re intrigued, I encourage you to go out and find a bottle to try yourself. And while you’re at it, purchase the ingredients for “Insalata Caprese” that I wrote about in my inaugural post – these two paired together are a match made in heaven. Enjoy!

Sources: Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, Vino Italiano, the Regional Wines of Italy, (New York, Clarkson Potter/Publisher, 2002); Rinaldo Pilla, www.pillawine.com, (Davenport, 2005)

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Insalata Caprese


It was 1992 and I made my maiden trip to Naples, Italy to visit my husband when I stumbled on “Insalata Caprese.” What – this is a salad? Who knew there could be variations.

As a child, I was used to salads consisting of that pale green and yellowish stuff called iceberg with maybe some carrots, radishes, a few tomatoes and trans fat laden bottled dressing. I had no idea something so fresh and yet so simple could be so good. That first bite of mozzarella di bufala was almost an outer body experience. It was like nothing I had ever tasted and just seemed to smoothly run down my throat. The contrast of the sweet, fresh, tomatoes that the Campania region is famous for along with sprigs of fresh basil, olive oil and the perfect amount of salt was what has kept me on the quest for more.

Fast forward to 2007 when I found myself moving to Naples and ecstatic at the prospect of tasting all the wonderful food (and wine 🙂 ) Italy has to offer.

Of course, I returned to the quest for more caprese and found that there are even slight variations on this salad…..some come with oregano instead of basil, some with a squeeze of fresh lemon, some chunk the tomatoes and mozzarella, and some slice them. The key ingredients – tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala – remain the same.

So, after living here for almost two years, I not only have my favorite way of making “Insalata Caprese,” I can actually tell the difference between good mozzarella di bufala and bad. Now, before I get the Italians mad at me, let me clarify. By bad, I don’t actually mean it is indigestible, I mean, it is not my preference. Because what I’ve also learned from living here is that many people have different opinions about what makes good mozzarella di bufala. Some prefer it slightly firm, some think salt destroys it, some only buy it from the town they live in or even more specific, from the same vendor they’ve been buying it from for years (because so-and-so’s brother owns the caseficio).

I can’t say I’m much different because I have tried almost all the shops that sell it in my town and can even tell who makes it slightly firm, with little or no salt, etc. Now, many Italians would probably think I’m crazy (although admire me for sticking to my personal quest for the best) but I don’t buy my mozzarella from any of the shops in my town. Instead, I drive to a nearby town and buy mine from a local Caseficio which, in my opinion, produces the most perfectly balanced, melt-in-your-mouth, mozzarella di bufala I have ever tasted. Add the freshest tomatoes, ripped (not cut) basil, enough salt to compensate for the exquisitely sweet tomatoes, top quality extra virgin olive oil and that, my friend, is what the love of food is all about! My quest has come to a very happy end!

Recipe: Insalata Caprese

2 servings
1 large ball mozzarella di bufala
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 large leaves basil
extra virgin olive oil
kosher or sea salt
Cut mozzarella in half then each half into 4 pieces. Place on a serving dish with the tomatoes. Rip fresh basil over the insalata and drizzle extra virgin olive oil on every piece of mozzarella and tomato. Sprinkle salt to taste making sure you generously sprinkle on the tomatoes if they are sweet. Serve immediately.

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