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Anna Maria Abbono

17 Sep

Our visit to Anna Maria Abbono was one of the many highlights of our research trip to Northern Italy. We’d met Anna a couple of years ago in the Boston area and brought several of her wines in to Pairings…her Barbera is our favorite in the store and her Dolcetto’s have been impressive as well.

Anna’s winery is located near Dogliani, in the Langhe area of Piedmont, on a dead end road up Imagehigh where the view is spectacular. It’s wonderfully quiet and the life is a balanced multi-culture. They grow hazelnuts and have geese and various vegetables. Anna is in the fourth generation of a small family winery and where they continue to develop new wines. Their small Imageproduction of 70,000 bottles includes 10 types of wines (see picture of Lori behind the wine bar) because they like to experiment. They’ve bought some property in the Barolo area, so in the future we can also drink Barolo from Anna.

The wines are grown sustainably, exceeding requirements for organic. For instance, their wines are very low in sulfates (a preservative in all wines), 40ppm where the organic requirement is being under 80ppm. This low level eliminates the headaches that Anna gets from many other wines. It was interesting to hear her talk about sulfites and how whites tend to need more than reds since the tannins, acidity and alcohol in reds are natural preservatives.

We started with a new line of white wines, which make sense because of the high altitude, large daily temperature changes and wind. One is Nechetta (yes, that’s the grape), which we never heard of before this trip and a Riesling, very unusual for the area…both fresh and nice….and they’re still experimenting with these wines.

Next was an unusual rose of Nebbiolo, lovely and fresh with big acidity and notes of strawberry rhubarb. The grapes are pressed and the skins immediately removed because of the tannins in Nebbiolo.  This rose was complex on the palate and long, and changed in the glass as we sipped.

San Bernardo is a special single vineyard Docetto that Anna makes only in the best years….awesome! The line-up of wines is excellent, but this was Ray’s favorite. Before leaving, Anna Maria gave us two bottles of this, one perhaps to drink during the trip…we’ll see. I hope you will have the chance to try this wine (at Pairings or elsewhere).

The 2007 and 2009 Dolcettos, the Barberas, the  Cado (this means gift) Langhe Rosso (Barbera and Nebbiolo),  and her Nebbiolos are impressive as well. Perhaps we should have a (blind?) tasting of her reds?


After going through the wines Anna brought out three cheeses and salamis for lunch and we continued the wonderful friendly visit with Anna and sipped some wine. We especially liked trying cheeses from very nearby. Bra, a hard cheese from the town of Bra a few kilometers away, a Morazano, like the Robiola due Latte we have in the store but firmer, and a Castelmano which was crumbly and assertive at the same time.  The graciousness and hospitality is definitely something we try to emulate in the store – great reasons to travel to learn about wine, foods, and how to live life.



1 Jul

Every time I make Risotto I reminded how easy and good it is. It doesn’t have to be stirred constantly, just enough to keep from scorching or burning on the bottom. Use a heavy saucepan that handles the heat and you can be doing other things after each addition of liquid. Risotto has many variations….add anything you like or want to pair with the main course. This version uses porcini’s, but feel free to replace them at will….peaches, hazelnuts, etc. See below for a discussion of pairings.

Mushroom Risotto

1-2 ozs Dried porcini (or other mushrooms)
a finely chopped onion
4 tbs olive oil
2 cups of risotto rice
About ½ cup of white wine (room temperature or warm)
About 5½ cups of hot broth
About 1/3 cup of grated parmesan
2+ tbs of butter

Reconstitute the porcinis according to directions
Keep the strained liquid for the broth (about one cup)
Rough chop the mushrooms

In a heavy large saucepan heat the oil and sauté the onions until soft and/or golden
Add the rice and saute’ an additional couple minutes or so stirring off and on.
Add the wine, stir until absorbed
Add the mushrooms
Add the broth a little at a time (around one cup at a time)
Stir off and on until all the liquid is absorbed, preventing sticking on the bottom
Stir in the butter and parmesan, cover and let sit a few minutes, or until you’re ready to serve.

Wine Pairings: My favorite pairing, especially with

Porcini Risotto was paired with the Stags’ Leap Cab on the left

porcini’s, is Nebbiolo (specifically, Barolo or Barbaresco), but any bold red can work. We paired this with Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon at one of our Saturday Pairings. Generally, any red wine with “barnyard”, “forest floor” or “mushroomy notes” (like some Pinot Noirs) are fine.

Potato, Onion and Bean Tortilla

23 Jun

Wine Pairing Suggestion: This Spanish tortilla is versatile…use as an appetizer, tapas or side dish, especially in the summer. Eggs are notoriously hard to pair with wine, but combining them with potatoes, onions and herbs makes it versatile. Our Saturday Pairing is a gruner vetliner (Austria). Also, a fresh white or dry rose.…even a smooth red (think tempranillo from Spain) will be fantastic. For more flavor, set out a bowl of your favorite salsa.

• 2 Spanish (or sweet) onions, sliced thinly
• 12 oz waxy potatoes cut into ½ inch dice
• 11/2 cups of your favorite canned beans (e.g., Navy or Fava) drained & rinsed
• 1 tsp of chopped fresh thyme (or other fresh herb you like)
• 7 extra large eggs
• 3 tbsp of chopped chives (and or parsley)
• 3 tbsp of olive oil
• Salt and pepper

1. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a 9in non-stick frying pan
2. Add and stir the onions and potatoes, and continue to cook over low heat for about 20 min (this is pre-cooking, not browning).
3. Stir in the beans, thyme, add salt and pepper to taste and continue cooking for about 5 min
4. In the meantime, beat the eggs, add in the chives and pour over the potato and onion mixture
5. Turn the heat up slightly (still less than medium) until the egg on the bottom sets and browns
6. Gently pull one edge away from the side and tilt the pan so the uncooked egg goes underneath
7. Once the top has set (no free liquid), turn off the heat and let it cool
8. After 20 min or more, slide the tortilla onto a plate or cutting board.
9. Cut into whatever size pieces you like, and serve warm, if possible.

Ham and Gruyere Savory Quick Bread

19 Jun

Wine Pairing Suggestion: This bread is delicious and a good pairing with Pinot Noir.
• Gruyere: ½ cup coarsely grated plus ½ cup finely grated plus 4oz 3/8 inch cubes
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tbsp baking powder
• 5 oz baked ham cut into 3/8 inch cubes and browned in olive oil
• 1/8 cup chopped fresh thyme
• 3 eggs beaten
• 2/3 cup Greek yogurt
• 1/3 cup olive oil
• Salt and pepper
1. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper
2. Heat the oven to 350 oF.
3. Spray and 9×5 loaf pan with non-stick oil (or coat with oil or butter)
4. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with ½ of the coarsely grated gruyere
5. Toss the 3/8 ham and 3/8 gruyere with the dry ingredients
6. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, yogurt, oil, thyme and the finely grated gruyere
7. Combine with the dry ingredients, just until smooth
8. Add to the loaf pan & sprinkle the rest of the coarsely grated gruyere on top
9. Bake for about 45 min (use the clean toothpick rule)
10. Cool for about 20 min, remove from the pan and serve when ready

Buonocristiani, Bell, Hollywood & Vine, Raymond and Goose Crossing

3 Jun

Today (5/30/12), our last day visiting wineries in CA, was a quite varied line-up, from Buonochristiani, a

Lori and Ray at Caves

small cult winery that took us up into the hills to see a new Caves-Site in progress, to Bell, a medium-sized winery with wonderfully restrained terroir driven wines (and a unique Clone 6 Cab), to Hollywood and Vine, with Hollywood roots (truly boutique), to Raymond, which has a good name, value wines, and is dedicated to education and biodynamic wine-making. We finished this trip to wine country at Goose Crossing, which doesn’t distribute (but can mail to MA).

View to Soda Canyon

Buonocristiani – is run by four brothers. Jay-Bone (as he’s called) came into our shop about a year ago. I wasn’t interested in bringing in another Cab or Merlot from CA at that time, but after tasting his wine, immediately brought in their OPC Cabernet blend and Osso Anna Merlot. When the OPC ran out, we brought in the Osso Anna Cabernet. They all become favorites for several customers (most everyone who tried them). Jay invited us to meet the next time we visited Napa…so there we were. Jay was busy with the Napa Auction, so brother Matt “showed us around”. That meant driving us up Soda Canyon and up to a perch where caves are being dug into the mountainside, to hear about the winemaking/storage/offices/wine tasting/event venue which 3 small

View of Napa Valley

wineries will share. As we approached, several deer curiously checked us out before taking off. The view in one direction is of Soda Valley and of Napa Valley in the other direction. Along the way Matt opened up several of their delicious wines, a sauvignon blanc, rose, the Osso Anna merlot and OPC cab. When completed, the facility will be fabulous…a destination. We found at that there’s a glitch in the distribution of Buonocristiani wines in MA, so we’re going to do what we can to find a way to continue having their wines in MA.

Bell Wine Cellars
We tasted Bell wines shortly after opening Pairings, and love their flavor, restraint and, in the case of the Clone 6 Cab, uniqueness. We carry 5 of their

Bell Vineyards

wines…unusual to have so many wines from one winery. Sandra Bell presented her wines at one of the special Tuesday Pairings, and kindly hosted us at the winery in Napa. Sandra poured us a glass of lovely chardonnay (which we have at Pairings) and toured us around the facility and to the edges of the vineyard, explaining the rationale for how the vines are handled, based on the local weather and geography.

Bell does a wine and cheese pairing, which I recommend. It includes 4 cheeses (all of which are at Pairings – Humboldt Fog, Beemster XO, Grafton Cheddar, and Fourme D’Ambert Blue) and five wines, including their famous (and special) Clone 6 Cab (their web site has a great explanation about Anthony Bell’s research that lead to the Clone 6 wine . We finished up with a restrained Syrah (available at the Tasting Room), different from the one at Pairings, which is more fruit forward and lush. It seemed surprising that the Syrah would come last, after the two cabs, but we saw why when we re-tasted the Cabs again after the Syrah…for me they tasted more acidic and minerally. As Sandra said, they just don’t taste as good. One of those examples of how much the order of tasting wine (and food) can matter. Bell is doing an amarone style version of Clone 6 that would be fascinating to try.

Hollywood and Vine Cellars is so small it not only doesn’t have a tasting room, it doesn’t have a winery (3000 cases total). We met with Bev Brown outside on the deck at the Laird Family Winery, a facility where 60 different organizations do some part of their winemaking. The owner of Hollywood and Vine writes and directs made-for-TV movies and was an actor (the Fall guy, Designing Women…), and the winemaker is a famous woman consultant. A few weeks ago we tasted their 2480 chardonnay, which is truly unique….really. It’s hard to describe, with delicious tropical fruit, complexity with suppleness, a good mouth-feel, both full-bodied and long….You can taste it a Pairings in the evening on Tuesday June 12. The 2480 comes from the address of the property that got the owner started in the wine business. In addition, we tried the entry level, Short Ends cab and then their fantastic 2480 Cabernet, chocolate with hints of black fruit; delicious, fresh, long and bold. We’ll see about finding a spot for it at Pairings.

Raymond Vineyards has been bought since we first visited it about 10 years ago. My original interest stemmed from the name, Raymond, but I found the wines to be good. Since then the wines have improved and the price decreased…the two we have at Pairings (a chardonnay and a red blend) are great

Barrel Concept

values. The new owners are dedicated to education, organic and biodynamic methods. An outside area (more like a park) has exhibits demonstrating the different aspects of biodynamism and how it impacts the environment and, of course, wine. Inside are 2 interactive areas, one with different material to experience different feels (e.g silky) and another for experiencing difference fragrances. There’s also a crazy, dark, night club kind of room for tasting their high end wines. The wines we tasted, as expected, are exceptional values. In an interesting innovation called Barrel to Barrel, essentially bag in a barrel, one can have 3 or 10 liter barrels for serving wine aimed at glass pours in restaurants, but 3 Liters (i.e. equivalent to a case of wine) could easily work in the home or for parties. Also, anyone named Raymond (aka me), can pay a dollar to join the Raymond club and get a ½ bottle of Cab, which I did.

Goose Crossing – was our last winery of this trip to Wine Country.…on a whim, because of a recommendation at breakfast. Goose Crossing isn’t distributed, selling all 9,000 cases to club members and out of the tasting room, which is a good business model and impressive. However, Adam says they can ship to MA. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a visit. The wines are nice and somewhat different from most wineries in the area, as they are known more for their whites. The chenin blanc is outstanding, along with the orange muscat dessert wine. Their Howell Mountain cab had been decanted for many hours and still needed time…a very big cab….a nice end to our research trip to Sonoma and Napa.

Pina, Napa Valley and Grgich Hills Estate

28 May

We heard about Pina, Napa Valley from a customer a little over a month ago, who was looking for this wine they’d bought in Napa. I tracked it down, and found out a little about this boutique winery, and had a chance to taste their wonderful wines. Pina, as a company, survives by doing vineyard management, which gives them access to some exceptional grapes.

AT Pina

Clair Palmer, a 20 yr retiree gave us a thorough explanation of their wines, including many statistics on wine and the area. They do only 2000 cases, with 90% sold in tasting room or wine club, so it’s in very limited supply. All of their 6 cabs are 100% cabernet sauvignon and single vineyard, which is very unusual for Napa (where most wines are blends, even if they’re called cabernet sauvignon). The first wine, Cahoots, is very nice, but the next two, which probably are available in MA, are fabulous. We look forward to have them again. Here are notes taken during the tasting.

D’Adamo Vineyard 2007 – (decanted) $75; Intense black fruit with expresso on the nose; delicious and lush; fresh and long; lovely

Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard 2007 –(decanted) $85, Wonderfully intense nose with coffee, leather; decayed volcanic ash; beautiful on the palate, complex and very long.

The also have a chardonnay which is sold out (said to be unique) and a late harvest chardonnay that we tasted and loved.

Grgich Hills Estate – Next we headed over to Grgich

Cheesemaker from Beehive at Grgich

Hills, since we carry a chardonnay and cabernet from them that are popular at the store. We’d never visited and wanted to check them out. It’s on the busy side of Napa, and, being Sunday, it took a few minutes to make a right hand turn onto the main drag. They are smaller than you might think, at 30,000 cases per year, and both organic and biodynamic. We were happy with the quality of the wines, but they have a name and aren’t inexpensive, ranging from $35 for a zin up to $150 for a cabernet sauvignon, of the ones we tried during the visit.

We were happy to find out that they were having their 2nd annual Wine and Cheese Festival, with many cheese-makers on hand to present their cheeses. There were five tables, each with a different wine and cheese company. This was lunch….and a lot of fun…and we expect you will get to try some of these exceptional cheeses. Our favorite was BeeHive Cheese company; their Tea Hive (coated with bergamon…much better than it sounds), Barely Buzzed (hand rubbed with expresso and lavender) and Sea Hive (hand rubbed with local honey and sea salt) are unusually delicious. That’s all for today.

Cheese-fest at Grgich

AVV, Trentadue and Valdez Family(!!!)

28 May

Alexander Valley Vineyards (AVV) was our first stop of the day. We carry several of their wines because of their exceptional value to price ratio. Even though they’re on the large side at 150,000 cases per year, they’re family owned and maintain control. We visited them in 2004, and the tasting room is still the same friendly place it was then, and the wines are even better.


Lori, Jacob and Ray

We arrived right after opening and we had a nice visit with Jacob, energetic and friendly and a wine geek like us (see picture). We got to talking about pairing and one of Jacob’s cohorts brought out some cheeses for us to try….what fun. One of the cheeses was coated with coffee and lavender, from the Beehive Cheese Company, was a perfect pairing with their Cab. We re-tasted some of the wines that we have at Pairings, being reminded of how good they are for the price, along with some reserve and wine club wines that aren’t generally distributed. The Cyrus, a Bordeaux blend we have is superb. Their “primitivo” has 25% zinfandel, pointing out that although Primitivo is genetically the same as zinfandel, there are different clones.


Outside at Trentadue

Our next stop was Trentadue, which also is family owned and has been around since being bonded in 1969. They hand-pick all their grapes, with production of about 25,000 cases. Trentadue made their name with “Old Patch”,  a jammy, spicy, inky, chocolatey, delicious blend of old vines zinfandel, petit syrah and carignan, a very popular wine at Pairings. We started with a fresh Viognier, and ended with their upper level of “La Storia” wines. We carry the La Storia zin, which has a huge jammy nose and palate. We also like their “supertuscan”, petite syrah and cab. They also make several ports, which, now that we’ve tried 5 of them, we’ll look to bring into Pairings. Their Angelica (made with mission grapes, which aren’t good for dry wine but are excellent for port, which we didn’t know), Viognier, zin and petite syrah “ports” are excellent. Trentadue also caters to the college crowd, labeling wines with the symbol from most NCAA colleges.


Mauricio and Ray

The find of the day was Valdez Family Winery, north of Healdsburg in Cloverdale. We’d had their wine at the restaurant Zin the previous night. It was the best of a line-up of zins we tried…wonderful. Mauricio, the winemaker, led us through the tasting. The Valdez family started out as viticulturists, and manage many vineyards. In 2004 they started making wine themselves, with help from some of their famous customers (e.g., Paul Hobbs, a winemaker from Jordan, etc.). Whatever they did, it turned out great! These wines are fabulous, and we’re going to see if there’s any way to bring them into MA. The Sauvignon Blanc is awesome, as is their chardonnay (which has been served at the White House, amazing for such a small winery), the Pinot Noir, 2 zinfandels, petit syrah…all exceptional. During our discussion about many things wine we found out that Maricio loves Enkidu, which we’d visited recently (see previous blog) and also love. What can we say but “awesome tasting”.