Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wines at Salento

Yep, that’s wines at Salento, not wines from Salento.

When eating at home most nights, casually that is, I always try to select a wine that will match well with the meal but don’t usually quibble over the cultural origins of the dish vis-à-vis the denomination of the wine. When going out to eat at a spot with a specific culinary focus, French or Italian for example, I tend to be a stickler for selecting wines from the same country, even right down to a specific region, to match. When dining at Philadelphia restaurant Salento recently, the choice should have been easy – wines from Salento itself, the heel of the Italian boot. In hindsight, wines from Tuscany and Le Marche down, especially reds from Salento and reds and whites from Campania, would have been perfectly suitable given Salento’s culinary scope.

The problem was, there was nary a thing from the southern extremes of Italy to be found in my cellar and I wasn’t up for a wine shopping excursion as prelude to a casual meal out. Red wasn’t too big an issue as there were a decent number of Tuscan bottles from which to choose. White options, on the other hand, were rather more limited. By that understatement, I mean two, just two measly vini bianci from which to pick. As one was a 500ml bottle of Josko Gravner’s Ribolla Gialla, which I wasn’t about to jostle around town, the decision was made.

Langhe Chardonnay, Ettore Germano 2005
From the opposite corner of Italy relative to Salento, this would normally have been an odd choice for pairing with southern Italian food. No matter, it worked. Sergio Germano could be considered a modernist for growing Chardonnay, not to mention Riesling, in the Langhe and for barrique aging some of his whites and reds. For his Langhe Chardonnay, however, he all but eschews wood – only about 5-10% of the wine sees any barrel time – in favor of a fresh, crisp, food-friendly style. When first released, it can be soft and fruity. With just a little bottle age though, it becomes more Burgundian. His 2005 – the current release is 2006 – smelled funky and wound-up when first opened. I was thrown off as it reminded me more of the tangy green character of a Chablis from Laurent Tribut than the usual Langhe Chardonnay. With a bit of air and warmth, it retained its Chablis-like crispness and raciness but rounded out into an easier drinking wine that paired pretty easily with my garlic-inflected bowl of linguine ai frutti di mare. $16. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Imported by Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Indicazione Geografica Tipica Toscana “Fianesco,” Fattoria di Fiano 1999
Given that I was culling from Tuscany, a traditional style of Chianti could have made for a nice partner to my secondo of pork loin, potatoes, pancetta and Brussels sprouts. As the IGT designation suggests though, traditional this was not. A sample bottle received years ago, this had been chilling in the cellar ever since. As I knew little about its specific origins, a bit of research was in order. Fattoria di Fiano is located in the southern portion of the Chianti Colli Fiorentini zone, just north of Classico. According to the notes on Fiano’s website, Fianesco is not entirely untraditional in its blend: 80% Sangiovese rounded out with varying amounts of Colorino, Canaiolo, Merlot and perhaps some Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Its darkness of color, especially for a wine approaching ten years of age (when Sangiovese should be showing some elegant fade), suggested far more than 20% of the non-native varieties. The wine was overtly modern, with big, bold fruit, polished tannins and fairly voluptuous vanillin oak notes. To its credit, it was reasonably balanced, had enough fruit brightness to stand up to the wood and showed slight traces of Tuscany’s expected dusty, spicy tannins. As hinted at above, it was over-matched to my dish and to all but the most red meat intensive of Salento’s dishes. 13.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Sample bottle: price and importer unknown.

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