Pork chops with braised fennel (recipe) and 2005 Vodopivec Vitovska

I’m adding a new category to the blog today: de arte copulandi vinorum…

Photos by Tracie P.

1 bulb fennel, washed and trimmed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 porter house pork chops, about ½ inch thick

Slice the fennel vertically into rounds about ¼ inch thick.

In a wide sauté pan, heat 3 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. When smoke begins to rise from the pan, add 1 clove garlic. When the garlic has begun to brown, add the fennel rounds, sprinkle with salt, and brown on both sides.

Deglaze with ½ cup white wine. When the alcohol has evaporated, add ½ cup chicken stock and simmer over low heat until the cooking liquids have reduced by half. Transfer the fennel to a mixing bowl, discard the garlic, filter the sauce using a fine strainer, and add the sauce to the bowl. Reserve.

Preheat oven to 200° F.

Gently season the pork chops with salt on both sides.

Add 3 tbsp. olive oil to the same pan used to braise the fennel and brown the remaining garlic clove over high heat. Add the pork chops and brown on both sides (n.b.: it’s important to brown the pork quickly over high heat; they don’t need to cook through).

Once browned on both sides, transfer the pork chops to an oven-ready dish and cover with aluminum foil; transfer to the pre-heated oven.

In the meantime, add the remaining wine to the pan over medium heat. When the alcohol has evaporated, add the remaining stock, the reserved fennel and its sauce, and reduce to desired consistency. Remove the fennel from the pan and reserve and then filter the sauce using a fine strainer (n.b.: in the time that it takes you to reduce the sauce, the pork chops will have cooked through).

Arrange the pork chops on a serving dish and then top with the braised fennel and sauce.

The tannin of the skin-contact, amphora-aged Vitovska was ideal with the fatty, juicy chops and its nutty fruit flavors the perfect complement to the sweetness and tang of the fennel.

Buon weekend, yall!

Vitovska: Italian Grape Name and Appellation Project


This week’s episode of the Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project is devoted to a variety that I simply cannot drink enough of, Vitovska, a grape grown primarily in the Carso (Eastern Friuli) and Slovenia, a grape that produces bright white-fruit wines with low alcohol and high acidity, and a variety that has become a flagship for orange-wine (skin-contact) producers like Vodopivec and Zidarich — two of my all-time favorite wineries and wines.

Above: The Zidarich winery is one of the most amazing sites I’ve ever seen in all of my vinous travels. It was constructed using only locally found materials, like “Carso Onyx,” the red limestone of the Carso in Eastern Friuli.

Above, you can hear and see Benjamino Zidarich (BEHN-yah-MEE-noh ZEE-dah-reech) speaking the ampelonym Vitovska, with the rapid rhythm very commonly found among speakers in the Carso (the dialectal inflection of nearby Trieste is famous for this signature of its prosody). I visited Benjamino and his amazing winery back in September of 2010. Even though we’d never met, we share some very close friends (the uncle of a very good friend of mine is the architect who designed his incredible facility). We both remarked about the fact that he and I both have Old Testament names: his family has a long-standing tradition of giving its children names from the Hebrew Bible.

Above: Every element — including the artistic — in the Zidarich cellar is an expression of Benjamino’s respect for nature and his deep sense of spirituality inspired by her, like the four bas-reliefs on the columns supporting the ceiling, each of them representing one of the four seasons.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Benjamino and his winery was his deep sense of spirituality, expressed not only in the way he spoke about his wines but also in the cellar itself. The facility was built using only materials found locally in the Carso and it includes many artistic elements that depict nature and its balance. I don’t think Benjamino would disagree with my observation that he has built a temple consecrated to nature and Natural wine.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the biodynamic movement in America rarely includes its spirituality — one of the very foundations upon which it rests. However much they may disagree, the one thing that ties nearly all of the European producers of Natural wine together is their spirituality and quasi-religious devotion to what they do and how they speak about their wines and nature. Benjamino is one of the most deeply spiritual I know.

Above: In the U.S., we almost only see Vitovska vinified with skin contact as an orange wine. And the wines are DELICIOUS! But when I visited Benjamino, I got to taste his entry-level Vitovska, vinified as a lighter-style white wine. Man, I could drink that wine every day…

Eric the Red wrote a wonderful however short piece about Vitovska last year and Alder over at Vinography is a huge fan as well.

Zidarich Vitovska and horse meat dinner

Tonight I’ll be in Friuli (more on that later) but the weekend between the two working legs of this trip was spent in Padua, as a guest in the lovely home of my wonderful friends Sita and Steve, whom I’ve known since I was a junior at the Università di Padova (remember them [click and scroll down]?).

Sita knows how much I love and miss the horse meat of my beloved Veneto (more on that later) from my days as a grad student in Italy and so she prepared a wonderful dinner of horse meat for us on Friday night.

Steve knows how much I love the tannic white wines of Carso and so he grabbed a bottle of 2007 Zidarich Vitovska from his Eurocave. As it turns out, Sita’s uncle was the architect who designed the Zidarich winery!

The first course was horse meat salamino, ripe olives cured in olive oil, and taralli.

Next came my FAVORITE: sfilacci di cavallo, cured and shredded horse meat, dressed with olive oil and lemon and served with griddle-fried polenta. The horse meat bresaola and raw figs were equally delicious.

As the Vitovska came to room temperature and gently aerated in the glass, its tannic structure began to reveal itself. The floral notes on the nose and the mineral character of this wine blew my mind, so unbelievably good.

Sita really outdid herself with this spezzateino di puledro, pony and horse meat sausage stew, served over polenta (of course).

Horse meat became popular in Italy and France in the 1960s as an affordable source of protein for young families. Today, the Veneto is the only place I know of where it’s common to find horse meat butchers.

By the end of the meal, the Vitovska had opened up gloriously, the white fruit (apple and pear) singing to the rhythm of the wine’s acidity and tannin.

An acoustic guitar was produced and dutifully tuned and a chorus of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and some ubriaco brushed with Prosecco must made for the ideal coda to a meal of happy memories shared with good friends.

Italy Day 7: Words cannot describe the way I feel…

…about La Dama Bianca in Duino near Trieste.

Scallops on the shell were divine. Note how they chef left the scallop’s tasty “foot” attached.

On Monday, April 7, Céline (vox aka Verena Wiesendanger), Bonnie (vox, violin aka Emily Welsch), and Jean-Luc (vox, bass aka Dan Crane) arrived at the Venice airport and we headed north to Duino, a little lost-in-time village just south of Trieste along the Adriatic coast. We had a reservation for dinner and an over-night stay at what is simply one of the most delightful hotel/restaurants I have ever had the pleasure to experience.

La Dama Bianca (The White Lady) is a family-owned seafood restaurant with just five single rooms on the second floor: the father does the fishing, the mother does the cooking, and the son serves as sommelier (and his list is a wonderful romp through Carso, Collio, and Colli Orientali).

Lost in time: the Dama Bianca has remained seemingly unchanged since the 1960s, as has the village of Duino. The rooms, each with a sea-view terrace, were spartan but immaculately clean and after six days of traveling and wine fairs, the gentle rhythm of the tide against the breakwater lulled me to sleep like a baby.

One of the chef’s signatures was the combination of two types of seafood in every dish, like these sautéed shrimp served with baby sea scallops.

When I told Dario that we wanted to drink a Vodopivec Vitovska with our our main course — scorfano (scorpion fish) in cartoccio (en papillote or in parchment paper) — he produced no less than four vintages. On his recommendation, we drank the 2003, which was beautiful, oxidized, with fruit notes as golden as the color of the wine (below).

2003 Vodopivec Vitovska.

It was dusk when we arrived at the small breakwater and harbor. A gentleman was fishing and enjoying the “golden hour.”

An auto-timer of Jean-Luc, Bonnie, Céline, and me (Calvino di Maggio, detto Cal d’Hommage).

Albergo Dama Bianca
Frazione Duino, 61/C
34011 Duino Aurisina (TS)
040 208137

Stay tuned for Slovenia Day 1!