A night in Alto Piemonte

We arrived in Alto Piemonte on a light-jacket-weather spring afternoon and quickly met Andrea from Guido Platinetti (above left). He sped us up the hillside of Boca for us to take a look at his vines and those of a few of his neighbors. We were fascinated to learn that a century ago, the area was a far more significant wine production zone, with upwards of 800 hectares under vine. With the incredibly arduous task currently underway of replanting a handful of promising overgrown slopes, the total will soon be close to 20 hectares.

Before heading back to town, we stopped at the foot of the hill to meet and taste the wines of Davide Carlone (bottom right) at his cellar. Actually, our primary destination was Davide’s father’s garage, where he stores an astounding collection of close to a hundred antique motorcycles, including debut and early models from Harley-Davidson, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, et cetera. Tasting Carlone’s wines afterward from the current vintage going back a decade or so, it’s clear that he has inherited his father’s obsessive nature and transferred it to producing Boca. 

Our day ended at the home and winery of Francesca Castaldi (bottom left), where we were joined by Francesca and her son Marco, Andrea, Davide, and a handful of other winemakers in the area. A large table in ine corner of the room quickly became littered with dozens of bottles of new and old vintages of nebbiolo, barbera, vespolino, et al; while an even larger table was decorated with an immoderate array of local cheeses and meats, bread, and a large pot of paniscia, the recipe for which we will soon provide…

An odd blend of Italian, French, and English conversations slowly crescendoed above the blaze of the woodstove, as our memories faded under the night. 

Scallop crudo & Muscadet

leloupEvery winter, just as the mercury starts to nosedive, I feel a great sense of relief at the welcome sight of dozens of different brightly colored citrus at the grocery store. Their range of hues from lemony green to rosy orange stand out against winter’s monotone of grey. Their arrival is doubly well-timed to brighten up my kitchen repertoire, which by January has usually sunk deep into “comfort mode”. A liberal dusting of grapefruit zest is just what I crave to wake up my chilled senses, and I find that even when it is illogically cold outside, I look for the those same refreshing notes in crisp white wines, like Muscadet.

Bernard Chereau’s family has been making Muscadet from some of the most prized vineyards between the Sèvre and Maine rivers of the western Loire since the 15th century. Bernard classifies his different cuvées according to each particular vineyard site, to showcase melon de bourgogne’s naturally expressive personality from different soil types and exposures. This cuvée’s long-winded name  “Comte Leloup de Chateau de Chasseloir de Ceps Centenaires” bares the family name – Leloup – who originally planted this 8 hectare parcel of 100-year-old vines, likely some of the oldest in the region. Fermentation with all of Chereau’s wines is spontaneous with indigenous yeasts; once complete, this cuvée is allowed to rest on its lees in cement tanks for 12 months before bottling and later aged for 3 years before release. Elegant and clean, this wine delivers loads of sea brine and tart lime zest, with surprising body and Muscadet’s classic cutting mineral finish. It’s a match made in heaven for any fresh shellfish, but in the winter I particularly love it with plump, fresh sea scallops, served crudo style with a liberal dose of citrus.

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This recipe is simple and easy to prepare, and will come as a welcome change from the heartier, more typical winter dishes we are all cooking these days. Thinly sliced sea scallops have enough body and richness to stand up to fresh citrus in a light vinaigrette with a bit of vinegar, olive oil, and a kick of spicy fresh chili. The recipe lists grapefruit juice, but its easy to substitute other citrus – blood orange works well, or pomelo, or a combination of a few different types. Let the fruit inspire you.

Scallop Crudo with fresh citrus and chili
Serves 2

(If you see Maine Bay scallops, substitute them for the sliced bay scallops. They are a fraction of the size and can be used whole. They are sweet and delicate and a real treat in this dish, when you can find them.)

4-5  fresh sea scallops, sliced thin
1 tsp. grapefruit zest
Juice of 1 grapefruit
2 tsp. Banyuls vinegar
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, ribs removed – slice one half in thin strips, and reserve other half
sea salt to taste
A few wedges of one blood orange, removed from pith and thinly sliced
A handful of minced fresh chives, and some little pieces of fennel fronds

In a non-reactive bowl, combine grapefruit juice, olive oil, vinegar, a pinch of salt, and the ½ pepper. Take a quick taste test and tweak – if the grapefruit is super sweet you might want another drop or two of vinegar.

Arrange the sliced scallops on a plate and generously dress with vinaigrette. Top with the slivers of blood orange, pepper slices, fennel fronds and chives, and a sprinkle of sea salt crushed between your fingers. Serve chilled.

– Jess Smith

New American Sampler

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Our American section is radically different from when we first opened, just two and half years ago. For starters, there’s more of them. While we still have a handful of wines from producers who have set the bar for a generation or more, we keep falling for wines from the new generation winemakers. Their stories don’t draw a common thread from one to the next, though we find some common themes in the resulting wines: less reliance on oak barrels, lower alcohol levels, higher natural acidity, and more attention to overall balance. Just in time for the holidays, we’ve put together a six bottle sampler to give you a survey of the new guard, at a specially-discounted price.

NEW AMERICAN SAMPLER $135
A bottle of each of the six wines listed below, at just over a 10% discount.

La Garagista “Lupo in Bocca” Barnard, Vermont $25
Yes, that Vermont! Deirdre Heekin farms French-American hybrids in a handful of vineyards using traditional European methods. The early results of her efforts are nothing short of staggering, and we offer this rosé of a grape called marquette as exhibit A. She is also an acclaimed author, restaurateur, and sommelier.

2012 Analemma Rosé Columbia Gorge, Oregon $28
Analemma was founded as a result of their signing of a lease to farm Atavus, one of the oldest vineyards in the Pacific Northwest. They produce a tiny amount of “rosé” of pinot noir which is so light that it might as well be called a white wine. Think still Champagne with a touch more nutty extract.

2013 Broc Cellars “Love Red” Berkeley, California $23
Chris Brockway has become one of the darlings of the new American generation of winemakers for demonstrating the potential for restraint in Californian wines. “Love Red” is a new cuvée with carignan at the fore, a grape long maligned and all but forgotten in California until pretty recently.

2012 La Clarine Farm “Piedi Grandi” Sierra Foothills, California $25
It’s amazing to us that we’re even able to get anything from La Clarine Farm, given the minuscule quantities produced. “Piedi Grandi” is a bizarre blend of nebbiolo, mourvedre with a drops of syrah and semillon, all from a single vineyard. Farming is biodynamic, and winemaking is natural (no additives of any kind).

2013 Folk Machine Charbono, Suisun Valley, California $23
Kenny Likitprakong (Hobo Wines) has become one of our favorite producers, as whether it carries the label Camp, Folk Machine, Hobo, or whatever else, each wine has a unique story to tell. The grape charbono is part of California winemaking history that has held few champions. Having only tasted a handful of wines made from charbono, it’s hard to know what’s typical. This one is full of fruit without being jammy, and seems like it might age well.

2013 Fausse Piste “Garde Manger” Syrah, Columbia Valley, Oregon $27
Syrah might finally be receiving the attention it deserves, thanks to a renewed interest in the wines of the northern Rhone, and the discovery that American syrah doesn’t have to be over 15% alcohol. “Garde Manger” weighs in at 13.5% and suffers no lack of intensity or balance. Revealed behind all the excess fruit is the meat, smoke, and black pepper inherent to the variety.