Yesterday evening, during a meeting and tasting with an Austin client and a local editor, I asked my client — Jeff Courington owner of Vino Vino — if he’d open one of the wines he plans to have on his list at his new Italian, slated to open later this summer, Al Fico.
When he produced a bottle of Cascina delle Rose 2009 Barbera d’Alba Donna Elena (above), I couldn’t believe my eyes. Cascina delle Rose is one of those wonderful but tiny producers that never seem able to break into the extremely-hard-to-crack Texas wine market.
The mature wine, from one of Giovanna Rizzolio’s top growing sites, was gorgeous, its acidity zinging and dancing around the Barbera’s meaty flavors.
The wine still had a strip label from a previous Louisiana importer/distributor who had tried, unsuccessfully, to bring the wine to Texas.
Jeff told me that they’re being brought in now by a new company called Rootstock (if I’m not mistaken).
I love Giovanna’s wines (and she such a super cool lady) and am thrilled that that there here.
Many years ago, I worked as an editor at an Italian food magazine where I must have translated thousands of recipes. I had fun this morning translating Giovanna’s recipe below.
Giovanna’s Spinach Casserole
An old, simple, and tasty recipe.
Wash the spinach well and then wilt in a pan with a pinch of salt. Squeeze and then use a sieve to purge the spinach of its water. Sauté in a pan with a little bit of butter.
Make a béchamel and seasons with salt and pepper to taste and a dash of nutmeg. Fold the béchamel into the spinach and add freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, 2 whole eggs, and 1 egg yolk. Whisk the remaining egg white until it forms peaks and then carefully fold it into the spinach mixture.
Grease a loaf pan (or a bundt cake pan) with butter and then coat with a thin layer of flour before transferring the spinach mixture to the pan. Heat the oven to 375°, arrange the pan in a bain-marie and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before turning it out on to a serving platter.
Serve with a fondue, with mushrooms, or chicken livers.
Tracie P’s comment reminded me that I had neglected to post about Giovanna’s rooster and chickens!
There’s a wonderful expression in Italian, a phrase you might hear a mother or a grandmother utter when she can predict a child’s desire or request: conosoco i miei polli (I know my chickens). If you ever get to stay in an Italian farmhouse estate like Giovanna’s, you’ll notice that the chickens (like Giovanna’s) have very distinct and often peculiar preferences about their daily routine and pecking order, as it were. Hence the familiar, affectionate expression…
Above: Giovanna Rizzolio is a delightful woman, wholly committed to terroir-expression wines and the traditions of her beloved Barbaresco. She presents her wines every April as part of the Vini Veri tasting.
The inestimable Italian wine raconteur Mr. Franco Ziliani certainly never promised me a rose garden but he most definitely delivered a bunch of roses when he o so generously introduced Tracie P and me to his dear, dear friend Giovanna Rizzolio (above), who runs a wonderful bed and breakfast on the cozy Cascina della Rose (literally, rose farm) estate, owned by her family for two generations, atop one of my favorite vineyards in the world, Rio Sordo, with a view upon Rabajà and Asili (the latter two considered by many the greatest expressions of Barbaresco).
Mr. Ziliani (arguably one of Italy’s greatest wine experts) is a huge fan of Giovanna and her wines and an even bigger fan of her estate, where we all stayed the night of our tasting and dinner, as Giovanna and her significant other Italo’s guests.
Above: I just had to take this photo. It’s the view from the bathroom of the guest room where Tracie P and I stayed, looking northward (Rabajà and Asili to the right, out of frame). One of the coolest things about being in Langa with snow on the ground is that you can see where the “snow melts first.” In the olden days, everyone will tell you, grape growers planted Nebbiolo where “the snow melts first” because the melting of the snow reveals the growing sites with the best exposure.
A home-grown Piedmontese, Giovanna is as true to her land as her wines are: she makes some Barbera and Dolcetto but her best rows, situated at the top of the Rio Sordo cru, are devoted to her beloved Nebbiolo (even before she made wine, when she was still working in the schmatta trade, she told me, she drank Barbaresco almost exclusively).
Above: One of the coolest things about tasting with Giovanna in her cellar is seeing the exposed subsoil, a cross-section as it were, where you can see the white calcareous marl that makes Barbaresco and Rio Sordo such unique expressions of Nebbiolo.
The top of the Rio Sordo vineyard, which literally means deaf or silent river, runs parallel to the Tanaro river (just to the northwest). It’s essentially an underground river: as they search for the water below, the roots of the vines are forced to dig through the calcareous marl and in turn render the rich fruit necessary to make fine wine.
Above: Giovanna showed me this tear drop, a product of the silent underground river. Photo by Tracie P.
The wines of Rio Sordo are softer than the more potent wines on the northside of the valley. Rio Sordo doesn’t enjoy the ideal exposure of Rabajà and Asili. But it’s for this very reason that I have always loved this cru: the wines don’t take as long to “come around,” as we say. As with Pora, the fruit emerges at an earlier moment in the wines development and what gorgeous fruit it is! I thought Giovanna’s wines were great, especially the 2006 Barbaresco Rio Sordo.
Above: Giovanna loves cats, as is evidenced by the image on her label.
But the thing I love the most about Giovanna is her attitude toward wine and life in Piedmont. Whether it was tales of dealing with unscrupulous wine pundits or the INCREDIBLE spinach casserole she served at dinner, she speaks with an honesty and integrity uncommon in the supremely competitive world of Langa wines. Her house atop Rio Sordo came to her long before the renaissance of Italian wine began and her love of Langa shines through in her personality and her wines.
Above: Giovanna’s wines are available in a few American markets.
I’m not the only one who digs Giovanna and her farmhouse bed and breakfast. Doug Cook, of AbleGrape.com, and his wife Rachel are frequent visitors. I highly recommend staying there: I can’t think of a better way to be in touch with Langa and the folks who live and make wine there.
Giovanna, you can cry me a river, anytime you like, honey! Thanks again for a wonderful stay and tasting…
Here’s Diana Krall singing “Cry Me a River” with our friend Anthony on guitar….
It’s hard to believe that this is happening in my lifetime but it’s true. I had to pull over to the side of the road the other as I was driving home and heard a radio story on American Public Media Marketplace: the spokesperson for NORMAL was talking about the recent initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use in California and — get this! — turn Humboldt and Mendocino into Napa Valley-inspired marijuana tourism destinations.
I’m certainly not the only or the first to write about this is in the enoblogosphere: check out this post by Wolfgang, who asks wryly, “have I smoked too much Cabernet?”
As I head out (tomorrow) to my homestate of California, to speak about Piedmontese wines at Jaynes Gastropub on Saturday Sunday and to celebrate the Passover with my family on Monday night, I have to admit that I never thought legalized pot would happen in my lifetime (even though pot is woven deeply into the cultural fabric of my beloved California). But is weed the new wine? Humboldt County tasting rooms? Unbelievable!
In other news…
Above: I love the raw pork sausage that you typically eat as an appetizer in Piedmont. You eat it just like that, completely raw. We were served this excellent victual when we dined in the home of Giovanna Rizzolio.
I been showered by numerous requests to hurry up and post about the amazing private tastings that were organized for Tracie P and me by venerable Italian wine pundit Mr. Franzo Ziliani in Barolo and Barbaresco during our February trip there. One zealous fan of my blog writes of his “burning disappointment” that I still haven’t posted on our tastings at Vajra, G. Rinaldi, G. Mascarello, and Cascina delle Rose, “our lady of the deaf river,” as I will call the inimitable Giovanna Rizzolio, producer of one of Mr. Ziliani’s favorite Barbarescos and his close friend.
Frankly, I’m flattered by all the messages I’ve received and I promise to devote next week’s posts to my notes and impressions of these amazing wines and the truly amazing people who make them. And I can only reiterate my heartfelt thanks to Mr. Ziliani, as I wrote on Valentine’s day, in a post published not long after Tracie P and I returned from Italy: noble is the host… (the line comes from a stanza of an ode by 18th-century Italian poet Parini that I translated and dedicated to Mr. Ziliani).