Porcini porn: how Tuscan men eat

Lunch today with the Bindocci men at Trattoria il Pozzo (Sant’Angelo in Colle)… Keep in mind they are approaching “piena vendemmia” (nearly the peak of harvest) here in Tuscany and this was a quick, working lunch… a 45 minute affair… giusto, giusto so that we could “break bread” together…

Raw porcini salad.

Pici al ragù (di manzo, beef ragù). Normally I’d have the wild boar ragù but I didn’t want to get carried away (literally).

The 2004 Brunello Riserva Paganelli (cru) by Il Poggione was INSANE! Such bright acidity, such chewy red fruit, equine tannins, indomitable but delicious nonetheless!

Normally we’d have the bistecca alla fiorentina but today it was a mere beef filet (blood rare, of course) topped with a grilled mushroom cap.

Just in case, we also had a roast mushroom cap.

Wherever I lay my hat these days, I am reminded that Texas is my home (for MELVIN CROAKER).

More chestnut-flour polenta and pork facial glands


Wow, thanks, everyone, for all the wonderful comments and emails about yesterday’s post on dinner in the home of the lovely Bindocci family in Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino, Siena). I thought I’d post a few more photos from the dinner. And thanks, especially, to Stefania and Fabrizio, who so graciously welcomed us into their home. That’s Stefania, above, slicing the chestnut-flour polenta with a string.


The incredible sensual experience of the chestnut-flour polenta is its combination of its sweet, chestnut flavor combined with its inimitable texture. The night we were invited, Fabrizio’s niece was there with her husband. They had just returned from Libya, where they had been living (they’re agricultural engineers and they work to create sustainable farming in the third world). To celebrate their return, Stefania had created this traditional Mt. Amiata menu (she was born in the mountains, while Fabrizio was born on the Orcia River Valley floor).


@BrooklynGuy the delicate but firm-to-the-bite texture of the pork facial glands (almost like candy), which have imparted their flavor to their cooking liquid, combined with the pillowy softness of the polenta was an unforgettable sensorial event in our mouths. The porousness of the polenta proved an ideal receptacle and medium for the rich jus of the offal. The two worked in concert, in a dynamic dialectic that rewarded the senses with its seamless ingenuity.


In another era, the slaughter of a pig was an important event in the familial and societal rhythm of life. While most of the pork was “put up,” as they say here in Texas, in the form of cured thigh and sausage, the offal was consumed in celebration of the good fortune of avere le bestie, as they say in Italian, of having beasts (i.e., livestock) on your estate. One of the coolest things about Il Poggione is that it is a working, integrated farm, where livestock is raised and sent to pasture in fields adjacent to the vineyards and olive groves. The integrated approach, says Fabrizio, is an important element in creating the terroir-driven wines for which their winery is so famous. We paired the 2006 “owner-selection” Rosso di Montalcino with the chesnut-flour polenta and pork facial glands (we served the 07 Rosso di Montalcino by Il Poggione at our wedding reception).


Some of the most memorable meals I’ve had in Tuscany have been centered around pig and boar liver. It’s so important to experience the wines of Montalcino (and Sangiovese in general) in the context of food and pairing. The 2001 Brunello by Il Poggione was such a fantastic wine — a great vintage from a great producer. But the greatest treat was to taste it in the context and flavor “economy” of traditional pairings. The tannin, red fruit, and acidity of Il Poggione’s Brunello, paired with nearly impenetrable richness and deep flavor of the liver, assumed a new ontographical significance, by which, I mean our ability to describe the nature and essence of things.

We ate liver again on the next day of our trip in Bologna… and there was an important reason for that. More on that later…

Please stay tuned and thanks, again, for reading and for the thoughtful comments… :-)


The second night and second dinner of our stay in Tuscany, we had the great pleasure of being invited into the home Stefania and Fabrizio Bindocci in Sant’Angelo in Colle. I’ve known Fabrizio, the winemaker at Tenuta Il Poggione, for many years now and Tracie P and I were thrilled to get to taste his wife’s cooking.

“We’re not having ‘Tuscan’ food,” joked Fabrizio when he invited us. “We’re having ‘mountain’ food,” he said. He met his wife, he told us, when he attended a dance as a young man on Mt. Amiata (to the south of Montalcino and Sant’Angelo in Colle). There were no women in the valley back then, he joked.


Dinner began with a nice light chickpea soup, accompanied by Sbrancato, a Sangiovese rosé produced by Il Poggione.


Next came a dish I’d never had before: chestnut flour polenta, a classic dish of the Tuscan mountains, said Fabrizio and wife Stefania. She used a string to slice the individual portions.


Fabrizio’s son Alessandro authors a blog about Brunello and life in Sant’Angelo, where he has posted about the pigs they raise at Il Poggione. We dressed the chestnut flour polenta with facial glands (above), butchered from the estate-raised pigs.


Next came the true “stick to your ribs” dish: pig liver wrapped in caul fat.


The liver was followed by sausage made from other organs, the darker of the two was spicy.


To my knowledge, Il Poggione was the only producer to make a “riserva” Brunello in 2003, an extremely difficult vintage throughout Europe because of the heat and lack of rain. Brunello di Montalcino does not allow irrigation (not even emergency irrigation). But the elevation of the vineyards and their age (and thus the depth of the roots, which allows the vine to find the water table even in drought years) made it possible for Il Poggione to make a superb expression of Sangiovese despite the growing conditions. This was my first taste of the 03 Riserva, which is the first vintage that the winery has labeled as its “cru” Paganelli (the oldest vineyard on the estate, with vines more than 40 years old, and the source of the clones that inform the estate’s identity). The 03 Paganelli was superb: its fruit was bolder than most vintages I’ve tasted from Il Poggione, but the surprisingly powerful tannin and acidity kept the fruit in check. Very impressive. The 2001? To my palate, that’s one of the greatest vintages for Brunello in recent memory. The wine was unbelievably good, nearly perfect I’d say, a glorious balance of fruit, tannin, and acidity, with many years ahead of it but already showing gorgeously — and what a wonderful opportunity to taste it a stone’s throw from the estate, with the winemaker, paired with his wife’s traditional cuisine!


Winter means fresh chicory as a side dish in Tuscany, red and green chicory, dressed with the estate’s olive oil.


What Tuscan meal would be complete without castagnaccio, a short bread made with chestnut flour, topped with pine nuts and rosemary, for dessert?

Oops, I didn’t mean “Tuscan” food. I meant “mountain” food! ;-)

Thanks, again, Stefania and Fabrizio, for an unforgettable meal…

Italy meal 1: Trattoria il Pozzo, Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino)

Just like people, restaurants have “good days” and “bad days.” The night we went to Trattoria il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino), it was one of those off-the-charts good days (and not every meal we had in Italy was worth writing home about, believe me). I’ve been going there since 1989 when I first began to “frequent” Montalcino (the fons origo of my passion for Italian wine). Paola (in the kitchen) and Franca (front of the house) Binarelli have owned and run Trattoria il Pozzo since 2001 and honestly, the food there has never been better. It was just one of those magical culinary nights, when everything came together just perfectly. I’ll let Tracie P’s superb photos do the talking…

tuscan cuisine

Salt-less bread crostini topped with liver and spleen (the chestnut-colored spread, classic Tuscan), chopped mushrooms, and tomato (not so traditional but now part of the pan-Italian culinary lexicon).

tuscan cuisine

Salt-less bread soup, drizzled (rigorously) with extra-virgin olive oil by Il Poggione (more on Il Poggione later).

tuscan cuisine

Pici (long, hand-rolled noodles) with sausage, mushroom, and tomato (this was UNBELIEVABLY good).

tuscan cuisine

Pici with wild boar ragù (the boar meat was so tender and flavorful and the combination of textures and flavors was sublime).

tuscan cuisine

We had to sneak a peak in the kitchen since they were still rolling out the pici that evening.

tuscan cuisine

One of the sine qua non elements of the bistecca fiorentina is that it must be charred on top — to heat the meat on the bone without cooking it through.

tuscan cuisine

Need I say more? To look at the meat you’d think it was over cooked. But the secret is that the beast is slaughtered young. Older than a calf but still relatively young and so the meat has a pink rather than blood-red color.

tuscan cuisine

Fried artichokes. Franca told me that Italian celebrity chef Gianfranco Vissani once complained that they had served these with lemon wedges. So no more lemon wedges!

tuscan cuisine

The chicory was at once bitter like Tuscan dirt and sweet like Tuscan heaven.

gianni brunelli

The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by the dearly departed Gianni Brunelli, one of the great Tuscan restaurateurs of our lifetime. Beautiful acidity, gorgeous fruit, and man, the combination of the red fruit flavors of the wine and its acidity against the fat and flesh of the steak was better than… well, actually, it wasn’t better than… it was our honeymoon after all! ;-)

Ristorante Il Pozzo
53024 Montalcino (SI) – Piazza Del Pozzo, 2
tel: 0577 844015

closed Tuesdays

You shall learn how salt is the taste/of another man’s bread… Cacciaguida to Dante, Paradiso 17, 58-9.

Vin Santo: an overlooked “orange” wine? (and a more likely explanation of its name)

vin santo

Above: Ale posted photos of grapes (Trebbiano and Malvasia) being laid out to dry on reed mats for the Vin Santo that he and his father are making this year.

Scanning my Google Reader feed this morning, I came across these posts by my friend Ale in Sant’Angelo in Colle. He and his father grow Sangiovese and make Brunello di Montalcino for one of the oldest — and one of my favorite — producers in the appellation, Il Poggione.

vin santo

Above: The mats are then hung in the vinsantaia, an attic used especially for the drying of the grapes. Windows on either side of the space allow for ventilation that helps to limit humidity during drying.

Reading his descriptions of harvesting and drying grapes for the production of Vin Santo, it occurred to me that Vin Santo is an “orange” wine. There is no canonical definition of “orange wine,” even though a new “orange wine” movement has clearly emerged among European winemakers, mainstream wine writers, fringe wine bloggers (like me), enthusiasts, and lovers. Vin Santo is generally not made using skin contact during fermentation (one of the fundamental techniques employed in the production of orange wine). But there is no denying that Vin Santo is orange in color.

The rich orange color of Vin Santo is created by the drying of the grapes and by intentional oxidation of the wine.

vin santo

Above: Specially sized caratelli (literally, “small casks”) are used for aging. Many believe that the size of the barrels is one of the keys to the unique flavors and aromas of Vin Santo.

The earliest documented printed reference to Vin Santo is found in Giovanni Cosimo Villifranchi’s Oenologia Toscana (1773). In 1605, Sir Robert Dallington mentions a wine called Zibibbo, which was “dried for Lent” and could possibly be a reference to Vin Santo (see his entire description of grape growing and winemaking in Tuscany here).

Many claim that the name Vin Santo (literally, “holy wine”) was coined in the 15th century when Greek humanist Basilios Bessarion tasted the wine and compared it to the wines of Xantos (see also this entry on Bessarion in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia). Supporters of the theory maintain that he liked it so much, he exclaimed “Xantos!” and those present understood him to say “Santo!” But I doubt this is the case.

I’ve heard some say that the name is inspired by the fact that Vin Santo can go through a second fermentation in the spring when temperatures rise in the vinsantaia. Like Christ, the wine “rises again.” I doubt this is the case but Dallington’s reference to Lent leads me to believe that dried grape wines were associated directly or indirectly with Easter in his time.

In 1773, Villifranchi writes: “The name that is given by us today to this ‘Vino di Santo’ is believed by some to be owed to Ancoret saints* and the Monks of Soria [Spain] who originally made wine in this manner.” He adds that “others believe that this name derives from the fact that the grapes are typically pressed during the period of the Christmas holidays.”

Whether you call Vin Santo an orange wine or not, it would seem to pass muster with the natural wine dogmatists. Using a “mother” yeast to start fermentation is a sine qua non of Vin Santo production: after pressing, sediment is scraped from a cask from a previous vintage and then added to the newly pressed juice to initiate fermentation. That’s how they’ve been making Vin Santo for centuries (or at least since Villifranchi first described methods of vinification employed in his day).

The only difference is that in Italy, they don’t call it “natural wine.” They just call it wine.

Look for more on Sir Robert in upcoming posts and check out this cool video posted by Ale on his blog today:

* “The recluses of the East in the early Christian centuries” (OED).

Banfi 2004 Brunello, I cannot tell a lie (and other notes and posts on 04 Brunello)

Tracie B snapped the above pic of me using my Blackberry the other night, when she came home with an open bottle of Banfi 2004 Brunello di Montalcino in her wine bag (when not otherwise occupied being knock-out gorgeous, Tracie B works as a sale representative for a behemoth mid-west and southeastern U.S. wine and spirits distributor).

The moment of truth had arrived: it was time for me to taste the wine with my dinner of Central Market rotisserie chicken, salad, and potatoes that Tracie B had roasted in her grandmother’s iron skillet.

The wine was clear and bright in the glass and had bright acidity and honest fruit flavor. The tannin, while present, was not out of balance and the wine had a slightly herbaceous note in the finish that might not please lovers of modern-style wines but that I enjoy. If ever there were a wine made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, I would say this were one — tasted covertly or overtly.

According to WineSearcher.com, the average retail price for this wine in the U.S. is $65. I can’t honestly say that I recommend the wine: it’s not a wine that I personally look for at that price point. I did not find this to be a great or original or terroir-driven wine but I will say that it is an honest expression of Sangiovese from Montalcino.

Anyone who reads my blog (or follows news from the world of Italian wine), knows that Banfi has been the subject of much controversy over the last year and a half. But fair is fair and rules are rules and I cannot conceal that I enjoyed the 04 Brunello by Banfi. (Btw, Italian Wine Guy, who is Glazer’s Italian Wine Director, recently posted on 04 Brunello, including a YouTube of Banfi media director Lars Leight speaking on the winery’s current releases at a wine dinner in Dallas.)

Above: Facing south from Il Poggione’s vineyards below Sant’Angelo in Colle, looking toward Mt. Amiata.

Despite the will of some marketers to make us think otherwise, 2004 was not an across-the-board great vintage in Montalcino. In my experience with the wines so far, only those with the best growing sites were able to make great wines in the classic style of Montalcino and wines that really taste like Montalcino.

Btw, in all fairness, it’s important to note that the Banfi vineyards lie — to my knowledge — primarily in the southwest subzone of the appellation, one of the historic growing areas for great Sangiovese. When you drive south from Sant’Angelo in Colle, you see signs for the Banfi vineyards on the right. Earlier this year, my friend Ale over at Montalcino Report posted this excellent series on understanding the terroir of Montalcino using Google Earth. It’s one of the best illustrations of why the wines from that part of the appellation are always among the best, even in difficult years. (Ale’s killer Il Poggione 04 Brunello, which I tasted for the first time at Vinitaly in April, received such glowing praise from one of the world’s greatest wine writers that it caused near pandemonium in the market, prompting wine sales guru Jon Rimmerman to write that it “may be the most offered/reacted to wine I’ve ever witnessed post-Wine Advocate review.”)

Above: Facing north in Il Poggione’s vineyards, looking at the village of Sant’Angelo in Colle (literally, Sant’Angelo “on the hill”).

Franco recently tasted 93 bottlings of 04 Brunello at the offices of The World of Fine Wine in London and wrote of his disappointment with the wines delivered by even some of the top producers. Here are Franco’s top picks and straight-from-the-hip notes, posted at VinoWire.

In other news…

One of the greatest moments of personal fulfillment in my life was when my band NN+’s debut album reached #6 in the college radio charts so I guess that stranger things have happened: a colleague in Italy emailed me last week to let me know that my blog Do Bianchi was ranked #9 in the official (?) list of “top wine blogs.” Who knew?

Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to read Do Bianchi. The blog has been such a rewarding experience for me and it means so much to me that there are people out there who enjoy it.