Monday, August 18, 2014

Side Trip: Bevan Cellars

 
~ Cellar Atrium at Chateau Boswell & Bevan Cellars ~

Larger than life.  Full of energy, passion, exuberance and a playful gentle nature, Russell "T-Rex" Bevan is anything like his unofficial nick name.   Crazily enough, I've known Russell and his partner Victoria DeCrescenzo for a little over 15 years and although we originally were introduced over Zinfandel, today Russell is devoted mainly to Cabernet blends. 
 
Bevan Cellars is located along the Silverado Trail and currently shares winemaking and cellar space with Chateau Boswell, for which Bevan is also the winemaker.   The last time we were in Napa, we stopped in for a visit and this past weekend, Bevan was the focus of our latest #SideTrip.

~ Tasting in the Bevan Cellar Caves ~

The weather was perfect this weekend - cool, no humidity.  We fired up the grill for what we like to call "Cab & Cow" and I figured what better time to check in on the Bevan "EE" wine.  A proprietary red from the Oakville district, the "EE" wine is named after a friend of Russell's and is typically equal parts Cabernet Sauvigonon and Cabernet Franc.  When I tasted the 2010 in the cellars with Victoria,  I was struck at the complexity of the nose.  It smelled like the inside of a Starbucks.  I was star struck........

~ Barrels resting in Bevan Cellars ~

So with NY Strips grilling we opened the 2010 Bevan Cellars "EE" Oakville.   We didn't decant the wine, but we opened it some 60 minutes in advance.  In retrospect, to develop that roasted coffee aroma, which was not present this time,  I think we should open these wines days in advance. 
 
The 2010 is a dark, purple color in the glass.  The aromas are classic Oakville Cabernet.  Cassis, cedar, tobacco and spice are prevalent on the nose.  On the palate, the wine is rich and exuberant, just like it's creator.  Lush, ripe fruit cascades over the palate with amazing texture and structure from the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The acidity in the wine is typical by Napa standards and keeps the fruit fresh on the finish where a slight touch of mocha and spice from the barriques is notable.  This is delicious and with the steaks, a near perfect match.  Russell's wines are amazing,  but given the micro production, they are very expensive.  I treat myself to a bottle here and there, but it's not something you can typially stock up on.  94 points, $150.

~ The 2010 Bevan Cellars "EE"  ~
 
To find out more about Bevan Cellars, you can visit them at www.BevanCellars.com


~ Winemaker, Russell Bevan ~
Salute!



Saturday, August 16, 2014

Everything tastes better in Italy


~ Tuscan Street ~

For those who have been, you understand the title of this article.  It's rather simple. Whether it's the scenery, your increased awareness to relaxation, or something more practical, like the absence of a long voyage across an ocean that is fraught with tosses, tumbles and varieties of weather,  everything simply tastes better in Italy.  Food, coffee, gelato, wine, Fernet Branca, take your pick.  It doesn't matter.   Today's article is the perfect example. 

In the 1990's Casalferro was 100% Sangiovese.  Then the winery completely reinvented the wine and in my review a few years ago, I was unimpressed.   Fast forward a few years and a few vintages,  or was it just the environment? - and the story is different. 

~ Cinghiale Stew ~

Today, Casalferro is 100% Merlot - a  winning formula for me as I love Tuscan Merlot, but still, I was hesitant when I saw this on the wine list of a little Trattoria in Castellina in Chianti,  but the price was right so I decided to give it another chance. 

The 2010 Casalferro is a dark, purple color - typical of an extracted Merlot. There is a slight lightening to violet at the rim.  Aromas are generous and include crushed black plums, spices, sweet fresh tobacco and coffee. Attractive.  On the palate, the wine has full bodied flavors of black fruits with sweet pipe tobacco, dark cocoa and a pleasing menthol note.  Gone are the unripe green aromas and the dominating wood notes.  Good structure, tannins and acids from this excellent vintage are present to keep things balanced and fresh.  Very good showing for this wine.  My one caveat is that this is still rather expensive in the US.  About $60 retail, which is steep. From the wine list in Castellina, only about $35 Euro.   92 points.  

~ The 2010 Casalferro is 100% Merlot ~

So, what's the conclusion?  Was it the company, the setting, the excellent stew that we paired with it, the improved vintage, or something else all together?   

Only Bacchus knows....


Friday, August 15, 2014

Veronese Value


~ Large Botte in the Masi Cantina ~

Masi is a stalwart producer from the Veneto region and while they are richly proud of their heritage and use predominantly indigenous Veronese grapes,  for some time now they have been on the leading edge of propelling quality wine production forward in the Veneto.
 
The Valpolicella region is suffering.  Not unlike the straw covered flasks of generic Chianti,  Valpolicella suffers from an image that portrays cheap, low quality wine.  Indeed, there is much of that produced and those wines, that have sullied the reputation of the DOC, have given rise to a wave of wines made outside the governmental regulations. 
 
Not unlike the conditions that swept Chianti Classico in the late 1970's, leading Antinori to break the rules by creating Tignanello, so too have quality minded producers eschewed convention in order to craft the best wines possible. 
 
~ Ricotta filled Ravioli with pancetta and reggiano cream ~
 
The 2010 Masi Campofiorin is a Veronese red  comprised of  70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Molinara.  Unlike a Ripasso, which passes fresh grape juice over used Amarone must in order to boost body and complexity in a wine - Masi takes a slightly different approach for Campofiorin.  Masi reserves a percentage of the fruit specifically for Campofiorin and dries it before pressing - similar to an Amarone.  No secondary fermentation with used must is employed. The result is noticeable in the finished wine.
 
The 2010 Campofiorin is a deep plum color with only the slightest of ruby reflections at the rim.  The aromas are intense and generous.  There's crushed red berries and plums that combine with Christmas baking spices,  fresh new leather, and licorice.  The aroma begs a taste.  On the palate, the wine is full bodied, with a rich, viscous texture that remains fresh from the ample acidity. Crushed plums, toast, and a hint of bitter chocolate round this out and the finish dotted with licorice herbs. 
 
This drinks very well now and what I appreciate about the wine is it's versatility with food.  We paired this with two excellent pastas that were enjoyed at Tutto Italia in Disney's Epcot Center. I was a bit skeptical about the food, but this restaurant was absolutely great and the wide variety of dishes we had were amazing.   91 points, about $15 retail, $40 on the wine list.

~ Campofiorin is a Proprietary Veronese Red ~
 
In addition to pairing well with the ravioli above - where the wine played off the rich cheese and the smokey notes from the pancetta,  it also matched exceptionally with tagliatelle with pesto and burrata.  Again, the richness of the cheese was an easy match, but the pesto - made of arugula and basil - brought out an almost minty quality in the Campofiorin.
 

~ Tagliatelle with Arugula & Basil Pesto ~

Salute!





Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cellar Note: Pio Cesare Treasure


~ Villa Pio Cesare ~
 
Stalwart. Venerable.  Iconic.  Choose among them or choose them all and you can describe the treasure that is the Pio Cesare estate in Piemonte.  A little over a year ago,  I wrote about the winery, and it's 4th generation owner Pio Boffa in an extended feature that offered some insight into the winery and the man behind it.  
 
Pio Cesare founded his winery in 1881. Today his vision has grown to include ownership of over 100 acres of ideal vineyards in both the Barolo and Barbaresco zones. Fourth generation proprietor Pio Boffa, the great grandson of Pio Cesare, continues to lead the family charge with an approach to winemaking founded on minimal intervention. This ceaseless devotion to the individuality of each vineyard and the wines borne from them, is reflected in choices made in the cellar and evident in the finished wines. 
 
Today's subject wine is one that I have cellared for almost 10 years.  In looking back at my report from last year,  you can read about young wines.  You can refer to the fact that relative to many Barolo and Barbaresco, Pio Cesare's wines are not expensive. They are widely available.  I challenge you to set some in your cellar so that you may someday enjoy what I'll attempt to describe below; the maturation of a wine and its transcendence from beverage to experience.

~ Aging Cellars at Pio Cesare ~

The 1998 Pio Cesare Barolo is a young 18 years of age.  Yes, young.  The virtue here, however, is that the wine is absolutely singing.  This is humming along, like a finely tuned Maserati engine that has but 20,000 miles on it.  Broken in, but with years of life ahead.  We took the bottle to a local Trattoria recently and from the time it was decanted it simply exploded with life. 
 
In the glass, the wine is a deep garnet that trends ever so faintly to brick and ruby at the rim.  It looks young, but is Nebbiolo after all.  The aromas are intense and persistent.  Dried flowers, cherry and strawberry, leather, spices, and tobacco combine in seamless harmony - yet each is discernible with careful attention. It is simply a joy to smell. 
 
On the palate the wine is full bodied, with nary an aggressive tannin in sight.  Loads of ripe wild cherry and berry fruit fan across the palate. In a way, the wine still tastes primary.  However, on the back end and on the finish, complexities emerge.  Cured meat, fennel, dusty minerals and peppery spices are wonderfully integrated and interesting.   This is delicious, delicious wine.  In fact, it was so good, I cannot remember what I had for dinner!  95 points, about $45 upon release. Recent vintages sell for approximately $45-$55 depending upon location.

~ Check out the young color on this 18 year old Barolo ~
 
Pio Cesare sources the fruit for his Barolo from his vineyards throughout the zone and the wine is aged in a combination of used barrique and large cask that he feels yields a balanced wine.  His quote from my interview sticks with me:
 
We don't try to be traditional or modern. I try to reflect the nature of our vineyards. I don't want to mask the terroir of Barolo or Barbaresco because then you have a generic wine. Barolo must taste like it comes from Piemonte. I'm not interested in making wine that tastes like anywhere else in the world. Our wines are aged in barrique and botte combinations. We want balance and harmony.
 
I find no fault in that statement or philosophy.  I find no fault in the 1998 Barolo.  The wine has plenty of life ahead of it.  If you've got some, try one now - but do decant as the wine threw a rather large sediment.

Salute!






Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Recipe: Pasta alla Carbonara



~ Classic Carbonara with fresh black pepper and shave Reggiano ~

Bacon and eggs!  Who doesn't love that?   Along with Amatriciana and Cacio e Pepe,  nothing says Rome like pasta alla Carbonara. It's the Italian equivalent to bacon and eggs!  A classic dish that although it contains only 4 ingredients,  it intimidates many home cooks because it requires a bit of technique to pull off.  This article will dispel those apprehensions. 
 
Like many things, Carbonara recipes have been "tweaked" to include things like onions, garlic, peas, and cream. They don't belong in Carbonara.  Use them if you want, but you're not making Carbonara.  With that off my chest..........

Classic Carbonara
 
1 pound Bucatini
4 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
8 oz. Pancetta, diced large
Black pepper
 
I purchased one large slice of pancetta that was about 1/3 of an inch thick and cut it myself so I could have larger pieces than the commercially available diced pancetta.  Guanciale would be better I think, but I didn't have that.  
~ Large cubed pancetta ~

In a large saute pan, use 1 teaspoon of olive oil and begin browning the pancetta over medium heat.  When the pancetta forms a nice crust, remove from the heat. 
 
Meanwhile, boil the pasta water.  In a bowl large enough to hold the eggs and grated pecorino, whisk thoroughly to combine.
 
When the pasta is just short of al dente, return the pancetta to medium heat.  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and "deglaze" the pan with the water. 
~  This is the pancetta after adding the pasta water to the pan.  Scrape up all the delicious brown bits ~
 
Next drain the pasta to the pan with the pancetta and toss to coat.  Then remove the pan from the heat.  This is the key.  Remove from the heat and pour the egg and cheese mixture over the pasta.  Stir the pasta immediately with tongs constantly until the pasta is coated with the egg mixture.  If you do this over the heat, you'll end up with scrambled eggs and noodles - akin to some perverse attempt at Lo Mein.  If you let the eggs sit on the noodles without stirring, you'll end up with an egg pancake on top of pasta.  Just stir them in. Is that really that hard?  

~  The pasta immeditately after stirring in the eggs.  Serve right away ~

Carbonara must have abundant black pepper cracked at the table.  Legend says that the dish was invented by Italian coal miners that worked late into the evening. Upon returning home, they'd want something hearty to eat, but also craved breakfast. Carbonara was the creation of necessity and the pepper was an homage to their coal mining trade.


~ The Chef's Plate ~

So what to drink?   Many things would work with this dish.  The dish is rich,  savory, and slightly smokey.  While some might opt for White or Rose,  I went with a medium bodied red and the pairing was great. 

The 2009 La Valentina Spelt Montepulciano di Abruzzo  continues to greatly impress.  This is a rustic medium bodied red from Abruzzo with a beautiful deep plum color.  Aromas of flowers, smoke, plums and spices are prevalent and pair well with the smokey component of the pancetta and the richness of the cheese.  On the palate the wine has ripe plum flavors that are concentrated and balanced by spice and acidity. Low in tannin, their was no harsh clash between the wine and the velvety texture of the eggs.  Great value here at just around $20.  91 points.

~  A best buy! ~
E vero!






Monday, August 11, 2014

Brunello Identity Crisis?

 

~ Montalcino Street ~

Latent within the discussion I broached last month regarding the division over subzoning in Brunello is an undercurrent of an identity crisis that some feel pervades the appellation.  It's a perceived matter of safeguarding the quality of wines that bear the "Brunello" name and thus, the subzoning argument which, if achieved, will presumably advertise the superior terroir of a given wine estate.

I'm not sure I buy the argument.  Though I think within the confines of Montalcino, there is certainly some unspoken idea that the name Brunello is being weakened by wines not attaining the quality that the reputation of the appellation suggests.  Today's subject wine frustrates me and clearly in my mind, could be one of the examples for this perceived weakness. 
 
2006. A legendary vintage.  Perfect in almost every respect.  It produced wonderful fruit with aromatic and sensory complexity.  Wonderful wines with racy tannins and acidity capable of long aging.  It is a benchmark in recent times.  One thing I noticed  with the release of that vintage was the appearance of many single vineyard non-riserva wines that I'd never seen before. Another sure fire sign that the vintage was special or simply a way to create a wine that can command a higher price? 
 
The 2006 Mocali Brunello Vigna Raunate is a very good wine.  That in itself, speaks volumes.  It's a deep ruby and fades to slight violet at the edge of the bowl.  Decanted for 60 minutes, the wine displays simple pleasing aromas of crushed red fruits, spice and menthol.  No complexity here - nothing exotic, special or noteworthy.  On the palate, the wine is medium bodied with soft red fruits mingling with spicy herbal notes.  One dimensional.  Tannins and acids are soft, subdued and very tame.  How is this from a classic vintage?  How did this warrant being singled out for a vineyard designate bottling?  In my mind, it didn't. 
 
There is nothing "closed" about this wine.  It doesn't need more time.  In fact, given the amount of sediment and the lack of structure here,  I'd suggest it should have already been consumed.  And that is another problem. This is straightforward wine.  I've had Rosso di Montalcino and Chianti Classico that are more interesting, more complex, and more substantial than this.  This is not what Brunello should be.  If this were the first Brunello I ever tried and someone pitched it to me as a wine so special that it was singled out for special bottling,  I'd wonder what all the fuss was about?  
 
Lest my readers think I'm being too harsh, let me state again that this isn't a bad wine.  It's well made.  It tastes good.  However, this should not be what Brunello is.  This wine doesn't live up to the stature of the appellation.  That is what Montalcino should be worried about most.  Not which corner of which hill is demarcated on a label. 
 
At the end of the day, the consumer wants Brunello to mean something.  If they come across this, they may not be coming back. 88 points, about $50. 

~ Mocali Brunello Vigna delle Raunate ~
 
With this Brunello we had wonderful grilled pork chops, marinated in garlic and rosemary.  As a contorni,  garden fresh vegetables dressed in extra virgin olive oil with burrata cheese. 
 

~ The food eclipsed the wine ~
E vero!


Friday, August 1, 2014

When in Rome, Drink Tuscan?




When in Rome, do like the Romans do.  Right?  Well,  if a Roman happens to hand you an amazing wine list filled with affordable, cellared wines, then you might be forced to rethink the axiom. 
 
And so I confess.....
 
On our last night in Rome, we dined at the exceptional Roman Trattoria,  Matricianella.  Just a stones throw from the Pantheon,  Matricianella is tucked into a tight alleyway masquerading as a street.  In other words, typical Roman charm.  And just so you don't think we threw all convention away,  in true Roman style,  we had 8PM reservations.  


~ The Wine "List" at Matricianella is almost 3 inches thick and boasts sections dedicated to Solaia & Sassicaia ~

We enjoyed several courses over the evening.  A friend of mine arranged the table for us and he counseled me to "Eat slow and order a lot of food."  Pretty simply advice that we happily observed. 
 
So with Roman Polpetti,  Carbonara,  Cacio e Pepe, and Roasted Lamb with Sage & Potatoes on the way,  we chose a wine that would best compliment them all.   The 2004 Villa Cafaggio San Martino.  


~ Carbonara ~

As I've written before,  Villa Cafaggio is a gorgeous estate.  Situated in the heart of Chianti Classico, near Panzano, the estate is focused on quality wines, crafted predominantly from Sangiovese.  San Martino, not being the exception, is 100% Sangiovese. 

~ Villa Cafaggio: Sangiovese vines extending from the Cellars ~

The 2004 was on the wine list for a fraction of what it costs at retail in the US.   It was a no brainer.  Deep, almost blood red in the glass with black reflections, the wine has effusive aromas of the Tuscan landscape.  Dusty roads,  whiffs of Cypress, crushed red fruits laced with sage, tobacco and spice.  You can visualize the aroma.  The palate of the wine is no less impressive with an ample core of red berry fruit that is both rich and elegant at the same time.  The acids lift the body of the wine beautifully and ancillary flavors of roasted coffee, smoked meat, earth and tobacco are present.  Simply amazing.   Gorgeous with the first two courses - maybe even better by the time the lamb arrived.  This is available in the US  so seek it out.  95 points - a classic wine! 

~ San Martino is 100% Sangiovese ~

It was then time for the evening stroll to "earn" back some of those calories......


~ The Roman Pantheon ~


Arrivederci Roma!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Coevo, Inside Out




Earlier in the week I chronicled our  time with Andrea Cecchi and our evening with the Butcher of Panzano.  As I mentioned,  we spent several hours with Andrea and part of that time was devoted to touring his winery and learning more about a wine that is fast becoming one of my favorites, Coevo. 
 
This photo essay shows us Coevo, from the inside out. 
 
Coevo means "contemporary" in Italian.   The name given to the wine in order to capture the individual spirit of each vintage.  Each year the wine is produced, the blend changes slightly depending upon the characteristics of the grapes.  Coevo is a super tuscan blend comprised of grapes grown on Cecchi's Villa Cerna estate in Castellina in Chianti and his Val del Rose estate in Maremma.

~ Villa Cerna sits high atop a hill in Chianti.  The vines on the slopes give Sangiovese & Cabernet for Coevo ~
 
Adjacent to the Villa Cerna estate lies the Cecchi winery; a state of the art facility that is pristinely maintained.  When Coevo was created, it was conceived in a sense as an "Uber Tuscan" - no expense was spared from fruit selection to equipment to the aging cellars.  It is the dream of Andrea and his brother Cesare. 


~ This Photo hangs in the family conference room within the company headquarters.  It's a reminder to the family that while business is serious, so too can it be fun, passionate.  Cesare Cecchi at left,  Andrea at right, and the Matriarch center - each with a glass of Coevo ~

There have only been 3 vintages of Coevo released to the market thus far:  2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 which is not yet available in the United States.  2006 and 2010 received the Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso while 2007 and 2009 received Due Bicchieri.  The wine is made in only the best vintages. 
 
Typically a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Verdot,  the former two grapes are sourced from the Villa Cerna estate while the latter are grown in Maremma and transported to Castellina in Chianti.  Blending, bottling and aging take place in Castellina.


~ Fermentation of Coevo takes place in stainless steel while the barrel aging regimen varies by varietal. The wine is aged in a combination of tonneaux and barrique ~
 
The wood aging regimen for Coevo is monitored carefully.  French oak is used, but as Andrea is quick to mention,  the wood is only partially new. Aging in wood lasts for only 12 months.  "Giovanni, we select only the best grapes for our Coevo, so we want them to maintain their sense of place - they come from Maremma and Chianti and we want that overall vintage expression to be vibrant - to represent the whole of Toscana.  We are very careful because we don't want to make any mistakes."

~ The Cecchi winery is a vast operation. These tanks will hold Sangiovese come harvest. When we visited, they were sparkling clean ~
 
 
~ Vineyards adjacent to the Cecchi winery in Castellina ~

A new buiding was completed adjacent to the winery shortly before the first vintage of Coevo was completed.  The upper floors house the family offices, conference rooms, reception area and ancient china collection. Andrea's mother is an avid collector and has moved dozens of pieces from the family home to the offices so that more people can share them.   Below the offices lie more aging cellars that were designed specifically with Coevo in mind. 

~ Barrique & Tonneaux hold future vintages of Coevo ~


~ The Coevo Room: Dedicated to bottle aging Coevo prior to release & maintaining stocks of library wines, the room is carefully monitored for all environmental factors. With Cinzia & Andrea providing context, note the size of the doors ~

Un Assagio

Recently we fondly reminisced and opened a bottle of the 2007 Coevo.
 
The 2007 Coevo is a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet.  In the glass, the wine is a dark, blackish red. It's nearly opaque.  Aromas are redolent of cherries, leather, pipe tobacco and "soft" smoke.  On the palate, the wine exhibits a deep core of ripe wild cherry fruit with fresh herbs, leather and minerals in a supporting role.  The Sangiovese appears to be dominating the blend at the moment, but I sense, texturally a large assertion from the Merlot.  This is smooth and perfectly balanced with acidity and silky tannins.  Showing more personality than the first time I tried this just over a year ago.  Has tons of life left.  92 points.  About $50 in the US.

~  The label of Coevo is designed with embossed words that mimic an hourglass allowing time to progress, but never pass.  The quote is from St. Augustine ~

Cesare expressed the idea of Coevo eloquently.  "Coevo makes no compromises. It is the result of slow and hard work that my brother and I have been pursuing with passion and pride for many years with the aim of creating a wine that speaks of the region and that somehow expresses the 'wisdom' of the contemporaneous agricultural time.  For us, time is circular." 

And so it goes......





Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sandrone Charms





Founded in 1978, the Sandrone winery has been synonymous with grand Barolo ever since. Now run by brothers Luciano and his younger, winemaking brother Luca, the family farms approximately 27 hectares of vineyards, about 75% of which are owned by them directly.  Since 2001, Sandrone has focused on creating 5 distinct wines; two Barolo, a Nebbolo d'Alba, a Barbera and a Dolcetto. Today's article focuses on the estate's newest release;  the 2012 Dolcetto d'Alba.
 
Ever since being introduced to Italian wine over 25 years ago,  I gravitated toward the ripe, boisterous, almost playful nature of Dolcetto almost immediately.  It's often an "easy" wine;  the perfect wine for drinking every day, which is exactly what the Piedmontese use it for.  Dolcetto comes in many forms, but I've always been partial to the versions from Alba.  They seem more complete, more complex and often times riper than others.  Today's subject is no example.



The 2012 from Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba is a deep violet with purple hues.  The aroma of the wine is open and expressive with little coercion.  Flowers, smokey plum notes, and cake spices are prevalent. On the palate the wine is fruity and vibrant.  It's forward with it's flavors without being cloying or excessively rich.  The balance here is deftly achieved with plenty of acidity to prop up the fruit and refresh the palate.  The finish is tinged with smoke and floral notes.  88 points, and a nice value at just under $20. 
 
Dolcetto is easily paired with food.  From lighter pasta to antipasto, it's versatility is part of it's charm.  Here  we opened it with fresh made soppresatta, Tuscan Pecorino and some crusty bread before a Sunday Gravy dinner. 

~ Balance, versatile and charming: Sandrone Dolcetto ~
E vero!



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Butcher of Panzano


~ The large clump of Cypress trees on the "White Road" to Castellina in Chianti ~

As I've previously written, Castellina in Chianti is about as picturesque a Tuscan hill town as you will come across.  For us, it holds special meaning as it's home to Andrea Cecchi and his winery.  We met Andrea on the steps of the Church, in the piazza as is the customary gathering place.  We were meeting for dinner and Andrea wished to show us "Chianti through his eyes".....
 
For the next six hours this warm, gracious and generous friend led us on a remarkable excursion that included not only a tour of his estate vineyards and winery, but of every corner of Chianti.  It was, without question,  one of the highlights in a trip filled with wonderful moments. 

~ Part of the Cecchi Wine Cellars ~

We tasted his  2013 Villa Cerna Sangiovese  from barrel.  It's destined to be Chianti Classico but is yet unblended. The 2013 Chianti Classico already shows amazing purity of flavors from the barrel.  It's very aromatic with lots of floral notes, red fruits, and soft wood notes on the nose and palate.  It will be one to watch for once bottled.  We then retrieved a few bottles of wine from his cellar to take to dinner.  

~ Andrea Cecchi retrieving a barrel sample of his 2013 Sangiovese ~

Winding through the roads of Chianti can be hungry work and firmly in his charge, we decided to stop in Panzano to visit the renowned butcher, Dario Cecchini - as Andrea called him, "The Crazy Butcher of Panzano".
 
Larger than life, with the boisterous, energetic personality to match,  Dario has been featured in Food & Wine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bon Appetit and scores of other publications in addition to various appearances on gourmet related television shows.  
 
He is an expert at his craft.  After taking over from his Father,  he continues to lovingly butcher only two animals,  cows and pigs.  Nothing more.  He says lovingly because to Cecchini,  it's an honor butcher an animal. It's a privilege and he insists on using every piece of the animals he butchers.  Nothing is wasted.  
 
By day, Cecchini runs his butcher shop.  By night, the counter is closed,  but the foyer is opened to the town, to passersby in what can only be called a roving party.  Crostini lathered with Dario's own lardo,  cured meats, olives, and homemade wine are offered for the price of a smile.  It's a jovial fun atmosphere and when we ran into winemaker Marco Pallanti, from Castello di Ama,  the die was cast.  We were going to visit Dario's restaurant - the "Officina".


~ The Entrance to Dario Cecchini's Shop ~

~ The Counter of Cecchini's Shop ~

~ Cecchini ages his meat with the utmost care ~

You don't meet Dario.  You experience him.   Dressed in a red, white and green Court Jester outfit,  he darts from place to place making certain is "Squadra Manzo di Cecchini"  (Cecchini's Beef Team)  is ready to perform.  Yes, dinner is not served, it's performed outside under welcoming pergolas at long wooden communal tables. 

~ Dario grabbed us:  "To Beef or not to Beef" ~
 
For reasons passing understanding - and I can only attribute it to the great company of the evening - I didn't take a single picture of the menu that was presented.  We were drinking, laughing, and sharing the banter of Marco and Andrea - absorbing the conversation like a sponge and were simply immersed in beef.  
 
The menu is performed like a stage show each night.  Horns announce courses, the dishes are announced in Italian, the Squadra is presented for curtain calls. The Menu........ 
 
Beef Tartare (simply the best I've ever eaten)
Beef Carpaccio
Thin Sliced Flank Steak
White Beans with Oil & Herbs
Raw Vegetables & Oil for dipping
Fiorentina Steak
Fiorentina Steak
Baked Potatoes w/ "Chianti Butter"
Fiorentina Steak
Lemon Cake & Italian Military Spirts for digestion
 

~ This I found!  Baked potatoes with Dario's "Chianti Butter" - Lardo mixed with fennel pollen, garlic, pepper and rosemary.  It's otherwordly - but a little goes a long cholesterol rising way ~
 
It was an homage to cows.  It was the most flavorful, tender, succulent steak I've ever eaten.  It was more than I could ever eat and served with no end in sight.  You must beg to be finished. 

~ Cecchini at Right, Presenting the first two Fiorentina of the Evening ~

And we had wine.   Marco Pallanti had brought some of the 2012 San Giusto Chianti Classico.  The wine is a pretty ruby color from a wonderful vintage.  It was spectacular with the tartare and the white beans.  Floral, earthy and medium bodied, this 100% Sangiovese is reminiscent of it's pricier sibling, Percarlo.  Long, lovely, dusty herb like finish.  Juicy and fresh.  90 points. 

~ San Giusto A Rentennano 2012 ~
 
 
~ Marco Pallanti of Castello di Ama, & Andrea Cecchi ~
 
As I mentioned, Andrea had retrieved several bottles of wine from his cellar to bring for dinner.  Each one was seemingly better than the next.  Quality is quickly on the rise at Cecchi.  With Andrea at the helm along with his brother Cesare,  the pair are propelling Cecchi forward.   
 
The 2010 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva was everything I've come to expect from this wine.  A blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino from estate vineyards in Castellina,  this wine harmoniously combines power and elegance. It's deep ruby in the glass with almost black reflections.  Redolent aromas of crushed berry, herbs and new leather fan from the glass.  The flavors follow the aromas and the wine is medium to full bodied with ripe, dusty tannins - like the white road that runs directly past the vineyard.  I've had this wine a few times now and it consistently impresses. 92 points, about $25 in the US.  Find it! 

~ The Villa Cerna CCR will soon bear the new "Gran Selezione" designation ~
 
As the Fiorentina started rolling out of the kitchen,  we upped the ante with the Tre Bicchieri wine, Coevo.   The 2010 Cecchi Coevo is Andrea's contemporary vision of that year's Tuscan harvest.  The blend for Coevo changes each year, as vintage dictates.  The 2010 is 60% Sangiovese, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet.  The Sangiovese & Cabernet come from Castellina in Chianti while the Merlot and Petit Verdot come from Cecchi's estate in Maremma.  This is a massive wine. It has an absolutely huge core of wild red and black fruits, with cocoa, espresso, licorice, smoke and cured meat on the nose and palate.  It's more approachable than it was at Gambero Rosso - but frankly, I'm thinking thats an "Italy" thing. This will be a 15 year wine and was amazing with the meat.  94 points. Simply wonderful.
 
~ 2010 Cecchi Coevo alongside the 1995 Spargolo - sadly corked ~
 
Cecchini may well have the ultimate Italian Steak House.  His legend precedes him.  It is well deserved.  His restaurant and his Maccelleria are absolute must visits for those in Panzano. 
 
~ The Maestro ~
So much more to come.....