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Enrico and Michel want to know why you aren’t drinking wines from Orvieto

5 Jun

Enrico is a man with a mission. Years ago he purchased 22 acres of prime vineyard, just outside the ancient city of Orvieto, Umbria; overlooking Lake Corbara (about an hour north of Rome). With Freddano‘s elevation, softly sloping incline, fertile earth and sunny exposure, it was the ideal place for producing not just wine, but magnificent wine.

But he had a problem.

In the somewhat limited perspective of wine drinkers around the world, Orvieto doesn’t signify magnificent wines. Sure, everyone knows Tuscany = great wines, a mere 30 kilometers away. The fame of the Tuscan region means even that its less stellar wines command the highest demand and good wines can draw impressive prices. However, if a wine drinker in America or Canada or The UK deigns to try an Orvietan wine, they usually expect it to just be cheap.

So Enrico and and his oeneologist Michel had an important decision to make. They could take their lovely vineyard, cut corners, crowd the grapes, spray the land with chemicals and create cheap, non descript plonk; or, truly honor the potential of the land and create a magnificent wine to convince the world that Orvieto wines are contenders.

Fortunately for us, and for the earth; these winemakers chose not only to make gorgeous wines, but  upped the ante and committed to make them organic too (certified by Accredia)

Starting our visit standing in the vineyard, Enrico explained that it’s simply not possible for all vineyards to be organic. If the terrain lacks wind, is situated at a low altitude, or otherwise has damp conditions, it’s difficult to avoid mold and rot with anything but chemicals. But here at Freddano, the conditions are perfect for sustaining organic growth.

Freddano

What can possibly taste better than wine sipped while standing in the soil of origin poured by its creators?

We sipped glasses of VIgna del Sole (“vine of the sun”) standing between rows of grapes; admiring the wildflowers growing at the base of the vines. All maintenance of the vineyard is done by hand, from the pruning of the vines to the cutting of the grass. We could imagine the wildflowers imparting a delicate hint to this delightful white.

And of course the ubiquitous rose bushes placed at the end of each row, the “canary in the mine.” roses are even more susceptible to diseases that affect the grapes. So by monitoring the health of the roses, a wine makers can monitor the health of their vines before a problem takes hold.

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Enrico, with fans.

We moved onto the bottling facility where Enrico explained how not only the their agricultural production is organic, but also their fermentation process. This means there are no additives, and most importantly no flavorings added to the wines at any point. Again, more spectacular wine was poured, this time right from the casks, as we tried a grand, unnamed white which will be released in only limited quantities in magnum bottles – this was a true celebration wine! We bandied about inspired names, our enthusiasm whetted by our liquid creativity.

Freddano’s wines blend familiar with new – blending grapes you know, with ones you’ve never heard of – like Trebbiano & Grechetto with Chardonnay & Sangiovese – and modernizing ancient growing and processing techniques to achieve organic status. And constantly there is strong appreciation for the sense of place.  We are proud to make and drink Orvietan wines!  Right down to the bottles – which designs feature tiles from the stunning duomo (cathedral) in nearby Orvieto.

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We wrapped up our “wine tasting and vineyard tour” with a 5-hour lunch in the stone farmhouse with 3 generations of family and friends. A perfect time to enjoy a “celebration wine” from Orvieto!  And we were convinced – Orvieto wines are magnificent (psssst…pass it on!)

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Freddano is represented by Dialuce Wines in Canada and internationally.  Please contact Alex Dialuce to order.

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My quest for Rome’s Best Gelato serves up 3 contenders

26 Jun

It didn’t start out as a quest.  But when you find yourself having gelato more then once a day, it’s time perhaps to seek deeper meaning in the process.

Many will claim that gelato is better for you than ice cream.  Certainly gelato, whose origin dates back to the court of the Medici in Florence in the 16th century, has been around much longer, and ice cream is in fact a recent variation.  It has a lower fat content and less air, so its flavours are intense and concentrated.

Many will also claim that gelato is made of natural ingredients, a claim at which I am going to have to draw the line.  In fact, when we are trying an unknown gelateria, our test will be to examine the colour of the pistachio gelato.  A bright vivid green means we’ll walk away; it’s full of colorants, at the very least.

But many gelateria do make their own frozen deliciousness from natural ingredients. Mmmmm….heavenly!  Here are 3 gelateria that I have found to be the very best in Rome. In general, a small serving each is plenty for me and Alessandro, and sets us back about 2.50 Euros in the tourist areas.

Giolitti
Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
(near the Pantheon and Piazza Navona)

Table service at Giolitti

This place is a pure old-school Italian salon.  Established in 1900, I love that Alessandro used to come here with his father when he was a child.  They win hands down in terms of the sheer variety of flavours – I haven’t counted but I imagine its over 50, including some unusual ones like chestnut (marrone), pear (pera) and pine nut (pina) – the latter a rich interesting flavour that I’ve developed a taste for. Even if you order a small (piccolino), you can choose 3 flavours (usually with a small at other locations you get 2).  The danger is that the amount of flavours can lead to some bad combinations.  Usually, I choose well by following a theory of either choosing a group of creamy flavours (crema, hazelnut, chocolate, espresso), or fruit flavours (limone, raspberry, strawberry, etc.) But the last time I chose mango, coconut and watermelon.  The watery-ness of the watermelon and the intense creaminess of the coconut clashed, and I ended up slicing the coconut off.  But the mango is my favourite here.

How it’s done:
You have to pay first (at the cashier to the left of the entry) and then assertively make your way to the counter to get your gelato if you want a cone. The serving staff are elegantly dressed and patient with questions about the dizzying array of flavours, and can speak a little English.  You have to tell them all the flavours you want at once, as apparently there is an intelligence behind which flavour gets placed in which order on a cone. After your gelato is piled up, the server will ask you, “con panna?” which means “would you like whipped cream on top?” This is the only place I choose this option, as their panna is clearly homemade, thickly dolloped out of a bowl with flecks of vanilla (at most places it is an aerated version)

You can also upgrade your experience, and sit at a table in their salon or outside, although this will escalate your price considerably!

Grom
(also near the Pantheon and Piazza Novona, right down the street from Giolitti)

An organic cone at Grom, Rome

This is part of an international chain, and just opened up a couple weeks ago (so recently that I am not able to actually find an address for it).  But you can find it by starting in the piazza in front of the Pantheon.  Stand at the fountain in the middle of the square, with your back to both the Pantheon and the fountain.  Walk through the laneway in ahead of you (it will be slightly on the right) and keep walking essentially straight for about 8 minutes.  Although no lanes are truly straight in this central area of Rome, just avoid any major turns. Eventually you will encounter Grom on the left hand side, on a corner, when your alleyway ends in a T-intersection.  Incidentally, if you turn right at that corner, you will get to Giolitti, in case you want to really go deep into your research.

So, sleek and modern Grom uses all organic ingredients, sustainable production and compostable products.  The ice cream is rich, subtle and pure; here I tried their crema (sort of a custard-y vanilla) and cream di Grom (which has chocolate and biscuit in the crema).  Alessandro had a fruit combo with melon, strawberry and mango..  Although the flavours are great and I am always happy to support organic flavours and sustainable production, this IS a chain of 40 gelateria and it did have a “chain-y” feeling to it.  Also it has fewer flavours (about 12 when we were there) and the gelato is kept in covered containers. Perhaps there is a reason for this, but isn’t part of the fun of going to gelateria standing in front of the glass and marvelling over the mouth-watering display?

How it’s done: Line up and pay first at the counter. Try to get a peek at the flavours and ask the servers a million questions.  Get your cone or cup, and they won’t ask you if you want panna if you haven’t paid extra for it at the beginning.

Fior di Luna

A cup is your only option at Fior di Luna

(Fiordiluna Gelato E Cioccolato)
via della Lungaretta 96 (in Trasteve)

We just found this place the other night; recommended by an old friend of Alessandro’s.  Jim Porto is a world-renown Brazilian jazz musician who has been living in Trastevere for the last 30 years.

This tiny little hole in the wall was packed with people who seemed to be buying gelato by the kilo. The wait took a while and seemed to be made worse by the complete lack of a process to line up.  Romans, by the way, do not seem to buy into the concept of a line-up, so be warned!

Finally, I got my cup of gelato.  I chose strawberry and lemon.  They don’t serve cones, only cups; as they are committed to using only organic and natural ingredients and apparently serving cones goes against this philosophy.  This deducts marks from their final score, as I love the child-like feeling that eating gelato from a cone imparts.  Furthermore, I am quite certain a brief phone call to Whole Foods would produce a carton of organic cones.  However, this gelato was heavenly – the pure fruit flavours were gorgeous on a warm summer night – both light and rich at the same time, and completely refreshing.  It doesn’t have an enormous range of flavours but enough that you feel you have a good choice.

How it’s done: crowd in and play to competitive sport of getting served.  It’s worth the wait.

In a future post, I’ll share 2 other frozen Italian treats – granita and grattachecca….

Coming to a supermarket near you? Mafia-Free Pasta

15 May

As North American consumers, we have become increasingly aware of ethical considerations of the food and products we consume,  and the impact they have – not only on our bodies when we consume them, but the communities that produce them.

More and more labels document this trend and support our desire to chose products with a more positive environmental, health and social impact – organic food; locally sourced produce; fair trade coffee & chocolate; biodynamic wines; chemical-free cosmetics (gratuitous plug for LAVISH Rose Creme); to name just a few.

Shopping in Rome last week I saw something new…

…That’s right: Mafia-Free Pasta.  It  seemed comical…it reminded me of Alessandro’s story about his father’s friend who raised beef cattle.  When it came time to sell the cattle, the farmer would give the cattle salt licks, and afterwards would allow the cattle to drink as much water as they could consume – increasing the weight, and sale price drastically.

But further research showed Mafia-Free Pasta was no laughing matter. There is an interesting story in the UK Guardian here on the topic. According to the article, “over 80% of Sicilian businesses pay pizzo (protection money) to the mafia including hotels, restaurants and cafes.” A growing number of small Italian producers are taking a stand against the pressure imposed by the mafia in agricultural regions of Italy, and the wheat for this pasta was actually grown on land seized from a jailed mafia kingpin.  In past years the local mafia has waged a reign of terror against any local business who did not pay the pizzo, or caused interference in illegal activities – so this is a remarkable stand for a group of courageous business owners.

In North America, we tend to have a somewhat romanticized vision of the mafia from movies like The Godfather; the truth is that the mafia has had a devastating impact on southern Italian families and communities. if you are traveling to Sicily, look out for businesses that are members of “Addiopizzo” literally “goodbye protection money” or “Libero Futuro” to put your money where your values are.  The later organization is named after Libero Grassi, “a local pyjama maker who publicly refused to pay pizzo and was gunned down in 1991.” Hopefully some of these Mafia-Free products will start to reach our supermarkets in Canada & the US, and we can support this Italian-grown ethical food movement.