Sicily Between Two Moons

 Courtyard of the Planeta Winery in Menfi

Courtyard of the Planeta Winery in Menfi

The first time I visited Sicily was Christmas 2010. We stayed at a seaside villa at the foot of Mt. Etna surrounded by lemon orchards for a week that ended with a blue moon on New Year's Eve. My daughter was twenty months old and she wouldn’t walk. She’d only jump. She jumped through passport control and the Rome airport and for a seven days she jumped around the property's jasmine scented Arabic gardens. I think of that spot every time I taste an Etna Bianco, wines made from carricante, a white grape that has been growing on Etna for a millennium. The property was a visual tasting note, a snapshot of the citrus, slate and saline qualities that make the wine so refreshing and memorable. 

 Jumping     

Jumping  

 

We could not visit any of the Etna vineyards on that trip. All were closed for the holidays. Instead, we explored the mountain itself. A local volcanologist led us up to the crater’s rim. It was like walking on the moon, but with a view of the Mediterranean coast. By the time we reached the top, the wind had picked up to twenty miles per hour, the path had narrowed to two feet across, and the gradation of the drop had drawn close to vertical, at which point I fell to my knees and became intimate with Etna's gravelly soil.

As much as any winemaker talk, the trek burnished our ardor for nerello mascalese, the dominant grape in Etna Rosso. Not because the earthy, fruity, structured wines contributed immense pleasure to our post-hike picnic, and several meals before and afterward, but because we had personally experienced the brutal conditions under which these remarkable and nuanced wines flourish. Upon returning home, knowledge of Etna Rosso was a great souvenir, a gift that kept on giving. Bottles of Benanti Etna Rosso that could be had for less than twenty dollars, and once opened evolved in the glass for hours, led to the discovery of the more esoteric wines of Frank Cornelissen, and others.  

Still, when it comes to viticulture, DOC Etna is an island unto itself. The grape varieties and conditions on the mountain are unique in Sicily. In fact, bottles of wine from Etna are the only Sicilian wines that are not required to say Sicilia on the label. Around the world, Etna is quite enough. To get a more global sense of island's wine, it is necessary to take a closer look at nero d'avola, the juicy black-skinned grape celebrated for its role in Cerasuolo di Vittoria, particularly by producers such as Arianna Occhipinti and COS, in which nero d'avola supplies the base notes while frappato contributes vivacity and floral aromas.   

Every grape variety has a spiritual home, think nebbiolo in Piedmont. For nero d'avola it is DOC Noto in Sicily's Siracusa province. Poised on gently sloping hills in the southernmost corner of the island, a stone’s throw from where the Ionian Sea merges with the Mediterranean, light bathes Noto’s vineyards. Once the ocean floor, the soil is fossil rich, nutrient poor and adept at retaining precious rainfall. Nero d’avola vines struggle to grow in these environs as much as the nerello mascalese vines struggle on Etna. The result is elegant and distinctive wines with dark fruit, sweet tannins and aromas of jasmine and bergamot. Alessio Planeta, a seventeenth generation Sicilian and the winemaker at his family's five wineries on the island, calls nero d’avola from Noto, “the most Burgundian of Sicilian wines.”

 Noto vineyards at dusk 

Noto vineyards at dusk 

For all the majesty of the volcano, even on that first trip, my most vivid memory of Sicily remains the few hours we spent touring Siracusa. It wasn’t the Roman amphitheater or the rare Caravaggio tucked into a small chapel. It was the unmistakable quality of the light, and how looking out from the ancient city to the place where the seas merge, you could feel Sicily’s history as a crossroad of Greek, Roman, Spanish, Catalan and Arabic cultures. There was the sense of being somewhere both deeply European and indelibly connected to continents beyond the horizon. 

In the fall of 2015, I returned to Sicily to tour the Planeta's wineries in Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, Etna and Capo di Milazzo. Once again, we started in Etna, where as a safeguard against lava flow the barrel room is outfitted with a tiny window and a telescope trained on the volcano. Once again, we drove two hours south to the province of Siracusa, this time to Noto. Once again, as I got out of the van I was overcome by the beauty of the light in that corner of the world. The glow at dusk made everything look as it were lit for an art film. I picked a ripe olive from a tree and put it in my mouth knowing it hadn’t been cured, yet thought it looked so plump and round, like a plum, it had to taste good. I was terribly wrong.  

In the winery, we tasted back vintages of Planeta's Santa Cecilia Nero d'Avola. The wines were silky with flavors of black cherry and smoke, they had aromas of white flowers and tension in the backbone. Over dinner we tried a lovely and slightly more delicate example from the boutique producer Terra delle Sirene. Unfortunately, Noto wines can be difficult to find in the U.S., but tracking them down is worth the effort. Planeta and Gulfi are the two most widely distributed high-quality producers. There are also a number of smaller wineries that can be found at specialty wine shops, a favorite being the Savino Nero Sichilli.  

 Modica in the Val di Noto

Modica in the Val di Noto

Wines are only one of Siracusa province's many draws. We stayed a day, but given the opportunity it is a region I could spend months exploring. The Late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Rebuilt after being razed by an earthquake in 1693, the majestic stone cities of Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Scicli and Ispica represent the apotheosis of the late-Baroque architecture in Europe. 

Pastry chefs the world over covet Noto’s fresh almonds. In the heat of the summer, the almonds find their optimal expression at breakfast as locals begin their day with a cooling granita made from the prized nuts. The best granita comes from Caffé Sicilia on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Noto's historic town center.

Along the coast, the picturesque fishing village Marzamemi is home to the restaurant Taverna La Cialoma, where dishes made with local seafood embody the argument for simple preparations and the finest ingredients. If you prefer more artistry, Ragusa has six Micheline starred restaurants. 

The region is also celebrated for cherry tomatoes grown in the Pachino commune. The recipe below for Penne with Pesto & Pachino Tomatoes was delicious and full of nostalgia for the summer months when taught to me by the cook at the Etna villa in the dead of winter using supermarket produce. It takes on an entirely new dimension in July and August when tomatoes and basil are fresh and plentiful.

And, of course, there is the lure of the coast....

 Capo di Milazzo

Capo di Milazzo

We left Siracusa for Planeta's Vittoria winery, a historic walled property with mature trees and climbing bougainvillea located in the center of the island's southern coast, in a rundown area dominated by an energy plant and industrial agriculture. It was the harvest, and the winemaker Arianna Occhipinti joined us for a pizza dinner with her picking crew, a combination of artists and aspiring oenologists from across Europe who had moved in with her for the month because they admire her aesthetics and the purity of her work. As soon as she arrived, she took Alessio aside. She was worried about the rate of fermentation in the Occhipinti SP68, which was unusually slow. As they huddled, it was evident that the local winemaking community was collaborative and tight knit. After the pizza party, we tried to stay up to see the super blood moon. It seemed the perfect counterpoint to the blue moon I'd witnessed on New Year's Eve at the foot of Mt. Etna five years earlier. Moons remind us to be receptive, the special ones even more so. Both trips were far too brief, but the impressions gleaned had opened my eyes, my soul, to Sicily’s history and rhythms, the idea that it is many places and embodies a multitude of ideas and traditions, depending on where on the island you stand, and through whose prism you look. Most of all, it fostered a longing to return and a sense that once experienced, this is an island that stays with you in your bones. 


10 Wines Sicily


Penne with Pachino Tomatoes & Pesto

Serves six to eight as a first course

The bite of fresh pesto, the sweet tomatoes and the nuttiness of the grated cheese take on a creamy texture when emulsified by the heat of the penne.  Any high quality cherry tomato will be delicious in this recipe, but if you have access to Pachino cherry tomatoes, by all means use them.  

  • 2 1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered 
  • 1 1/2 lb penne pasta
  • 1/2  medium white onion, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed 
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp red (chili) pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup parmesan, grated
  • 1/4 cup pecorino, grated
  • 1/4 cup almonds, toasted and crushed

Place the quartered cherry tomatoes in a large mixing bowl.  Grate the onion and garlic over the tomatoes and gently toss. To make the pesto, quickly soak the basil leaves in cool water and pat dry with a paper towel.  In the bowl of the food processor with a sharp metal blade, combine the basil, pine nuts, black pepper, red pepper and salt along with half a cup of olive oil and half a cup of grated Parmesan. Pulse the mixture three to four seconds at a time to avoid blackening.  Scrape the edges of the bowl with a wooden spoon.  Add half remaining olive oil, pulse and repeat until you achieve a uniform creamy consistency.   Pour the pesto over the tomato mixture. Add the remaining Parmesan and Pecorino. Gently toss and let stand for thirty to sixty minutes. 

Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the penne. When the pasta is al dente, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon or pour it into a colander.  Place half the pesto in the bottom of a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the pasta and gently toss.  Add the rest of the pesto to the pot and once again, gently toss. Remove the pan from the heat.  Spoon the pasta onto a large shallow platter. Garnish with basil leaves and crushed almonds. Serve warm.

The Quiet Nobility of Chinon

The Quiet Nobility of Chinon

If wines had seasons, late autumn would be the time for Chinon. Earthy, juicy, tannic, brooding, and elegant with age, these wines taste of the moment following the harvest when the work of producing fruit is done and the vines are soaking in the last of the warm autumn sun before leaves fall, wood hardens, and sap descends to their roots.

The wines are one hundred percent cabernet franc, a thin-skinned, aromatic, black grape best known for its opulent star turn further south in Saint-Émilion, particularly in the hallowed cellars of Chateau Cheval Blanc (ten percent cabernet sauvignon is permitted in Chinon, but rarely included in the blend). Cabernet franc-based wines from Chinon may not be as overtly sumptuous as those from a Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux, but the best examples can be equally noble, if quietly so.   

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Summer Reds

Photo by Pete_Tomblin/iStock / Getty Images

When we talk about white wines for summers, we implicitly understand the reference. Summer whites are bright, light, thirst quenching wines that are eminently drinkable. Sancerre ,Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine and Albariño immediately come to mind. Summer reds are more difficult to define. We know we are not breaking out a pensive vintage Bordeaux for the family barbeque or uncorking a luscious California cabernet sauvignon with a bowl of chilled asparagus soup, but it is it possible to reduce the entire universe of reds to a simple rule of thumb for the summer months?

One helpful idea is to think about the climate of the wine’s region of origin. Warm climate reds tend to be juicy with plenty of body and just enough acidity to be mouthwatering. Think nero d’avola from Sicily, malbec from Mendoza, or grenache from the southern Rhone Valley. These intensely flavorful wines will maintain their structure in the face of bold, smoky, spicy summer fare. 

On the other end of the spectrum are the cool climate reds, what we call bistro wines, since they show so well served lightly chilled by the carafe. At their best, cool climate reds are youthful and delicious, tasting of fresh berries often with floral or mineral notes. They won’t overwhelm a fresh salad niçoise, spring pea soup or chicken paillard. Some very fine examples can be found in the Loire Valley, notably the cabernet franc from Chinon and Saumur. Other sources worth seeking out are pinot noirs from Alsace and Central Otago. 

Wines for Marcus Samuelsson’s New American Cuisine

At Marcus Samuelsson’s iconic Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster, culinary director Joel Harrington executes New American Cuisine, defined as flavors representative of the vast mosaic of cultures and ethnicities that constitute the fabric of America. For Samuelsson, these foods are also a highly personal expression of the ethnic and cultural influences in his own life.

Born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson lost his parents to tuberculosis and subsequently was adopted by a couple in Sweden, where he discovered his passion for cooking in his grandmother’s kitchen. His early career took him on jaunts throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas to study and work, until he became one of the most celebrated chefs of his generation. Samuelsson has earned three stars in The New York Times as the chef at Aquavit; won Top Chef Masters in Season Two; prepared the meal for the first State Dinner of the Obama administration; and published the memoir Yes, Chef!

When it came to designing a wine list that would straddle gravlax and jerk chicken, oysters Rockefeller and blackened catfish, his first priority was seeking out accessible wines that go well with a wide variety of foods. Toward this end, the Red Rooster list features an impressive array of pinot noirs in styles spanning from overtly fruity to delicate and textured. A current favorite among guests and staff members is the OPP (Other People’s Pinot) from Mouton Noir, the Dundee, Oregon winery owned by the sommelier André Hueston.

In terms of bolder reds, the Ridge, petite sirah is the go-to recommendation for the steak-for-two and Caribbean pork chop. Recently, more South African wines, such as the Raats, Western Cape, cabernet franc, are making their way onto the list in honor of the memory of Nelson Mandela.

Chablis: Chardonnay for Champagne Lovers

If you gravitate toward Champagne and Sancerre and prefer your chardonnay without overt flavors of oak, vanilla or butter, try Chablis. The eponymous wine of the most northerly appellation in Burgundy, Chablis is pure unadulterated chardonnay cultivated in Kimmeridgian limestone, a type of ancient (Kimmeridgian period) soil containing fossilized seashells. Combining the juiciness of the chardonnay grape with the fresh dry mineral qualities of wines from Sancerre or a Champagne Blanc de Blancs, the wines are delicious without being showy.

There are four levels of Chablis: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The wines grow weightier and more complex as they scale the hierarchy. A good quality Petit Chablis, such as Domaine Seguinot-Bordet, tends to be refreshing with citrus and mineral flavors. Wines at the Chablis and Premier Cru level, such as Domaine Romain Collet Les Pargues, have more weight, body and structure, yet retain all the liveliness and gripping mineral flavors of their siblings. In recent years, young producers like Thomas Pico of Domaine Pattes Loup have brought organic and biodynamic practices to the region resulting in Chablis’ of remarkable clarity of flavor. Meanwhile, Grand Cru Chablis, such as the Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Valmur are among the world’s most age-worthy white wines. Not only do they develop attractive almond and caramel flavors after a few years in the bottle, once opened, the wines evolve in the glass in a way normally associated with Burgundy’s best pinot noirs, growing richer and more nuanced with each passing hour.

Because of its high acidity and restrained fruit character, Chablis is an extremely versatile food wine. It makes for a delightful aperitif served with fresh goat cheese or a nutty hard cheese such as Emmental. It holds up well in the face of salad dressing and asparagus, and will enhance any meal that features oysters, seafood, poultry or pork.

Second Time Around: Thanksgiving Leftovers & White Rhones

Thanksgiving leftovers are one of the best meals of the year. Stuffing tastes better the next day as does gravy, homemade cranberry sauce and sweet potato soufflé. Some like to refresh the meal a bit by using the turkey carcass to make a rich soup, but for those who can’t look at the stove after all the holiday prep, a new wine pairing will do the trick. 

Roasted turkey with gravy involves caramelized skin and dark rich sauce, which means that it calls out for a wine with some weight, aromatics and refreshing acidity. For The Big Meal the tried and true choices are pinot noir, cru Beaujolais and, for those who prefer something associated with America, zinfandel. Leftovers are a time to be more adventurous. 

Once the guests are gone, why not try a white Rhône marsanne-roussanne blend? These age-worthy medium-bodied wines are a staple of the southern French table. Marsanne-roussanne blends combine marsanne’s weight and structure with roussanne’s bright acidity along with its honey, floral and mineral flavors. At their best, these wines possess great finesse. They run the gamut from great values from top domaines, such as the Domaine François Villard “Version” Saint Peray, to delicious splurge-worthy bottles, like the Jean Luc Columbo “Le Rouet” Blanc Hermitage. Look for producers from Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Saint-Peray.

The Wines of Boroli

Italy’s Piedmont region not only borders France and Switzerland, its food and wine embody many of the finest qualities of the three nations. “Piedmont” means foothills, specifically the lush green slopes beneath the Alps, where pastures yield world-class cheeses and veal so tender, crudo is a local staple. It is an epicure’s heaven: the fish is caught fresh in nearby Liguria, the roots of oak trees are a favorite hiding place for truffles, butter is used as liberally as olive oil, and the most important local grape variety, nebbiolo, is the foundation for Barolo, one of the most collectible wines in the world.

Nebbiolo is a thin-skinned red grape that, with enough time on the vine, develops ripe cherry flavors anchored by a bouquet of roses, violets, tar and forest floor. What sets the variety apart is its texture, the penetrating dry tannins accompanied by high acidity. It is the reason Barolo ages gracefully for decades, and why Barolo traditionally takes a good ten years to become approachable.

In the past, Barolo producers looking to quicken the process made wines in the “international style,” a shorthand for ample use of new oak barrels and intensely concentrated fruit. These Barolos were easy drinking in their youth but an anathema to purists, since flavors of toast and vanilla along with a perception of sweetness masked nebbiolo’s bewitching aromatics.

Today, a more modern approach to making accessible Barolo has taken hold. Wineries like Boroli are using contemporary fermentation techniques to soften tannins, while crafting wines with fresh fruit, clarity and precision. These wines, while not the classics, open a beautiful window into Barolo for nebbiolo lovers keen to enjoy a bottle upon release, pronto!

The Boroli Barolo 2008 is a particularly good value. The cool wet vintage meant fewer single-vineyard bottlings and more top lots of nebbiolo in the blended bottling. It goes beautifully with braised veal or wild mushroom risotto.

A Recipe for Rosè and Autumn Nights

Valérie Rousselle knows a thing or two about entertaining. A Saint-Tropez native and the proprietor of Château Roubine, a Cru Classé winery in the Côtes de Provence, she studied hospitality at the famed Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland before becoming the steward of a historic vineyard that once belonged to the Order of the Knights of the Templar. 

In the autumn, once the grapes have been harvested and the chilling winds of the mistral wind blow down from Rhône River, Valérie invites friends to the winery to welcome the new season with a glass of her Prestige rosé and a dish of eggplant “caviar” served warm. 

We love her eggplant “caviar” for the alluring smoky flavor taken on by the eggplants when roasted directly on the stovetop, and because it can be made in the time it takes to put some olives in a bowl and pull the cork from the bottle. The Château Roubine rosé is a beautifully textured blend of mourvèdre and syrah with a pale salmon hue and aromas of flowers and spice. 

Eggplant “Caviar”
Serves 4 

Ingredients:
- 2 Japanese eggplant
- 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper 

Blister the eggplants directly on stovetop flame (as if you are roasting a pepper), turning them regularly until their skins are entirely charred and black. Set the roasted eggplants aside to cool for two minutes, then slice the eggplants in half and scoop the soft flesh into a medium-sized bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and puree with an immersion blender. Alternatively, transfer the entire mixture to the jar of a traditional blender and puree for 30-60 seconds, until the mixture is creamy. 

Serve warm with thick slices of toasted baguette and your favorite Provencal rosé. 

 

A Cinderella Story in Chianti Rufina

The story of Selvapiana is a fairytale come true. It begins with a beautiful hilltop castle surrounded by olive trees and sangiovese vineyards. Once a summer residence for Florentine bishops and later under five generations of family ownership, the property eventually came under the stewardship of Count Francesco Giuntini Antinori who had no children. As he grew older, the count looked around the castle and at all the villagers and decided that the future of the property would be best served if it was placed in the hands of his estate manager’s two children who were born there. In 1994, four years after his estate-manager passed away, the count adopted the brother and sister and made them his heirs in perhaps the ultimate example of loving the family you choose. The story even has a happy ending. Today the count’s adopted children, Silvia and Federico Giuntini A. Masseti are the winery’s managing directors, leaders in organic farming and international spokesmen for the wines of Chianti Rufina. And if that weren’t enough, the Selvapiana “Bucerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG is a benchmark for elegance in Chianti Rufina and one of Italy’s great wine values.

The Count turned 80 years old on September 13th and celebrated with a grand lunch at the winery with Silvia, Federico and 150 of his closest friends and relatives. Guests came from throughout Italy and from as far as India, New York, and Denmark. As Selvapiana was one of several Tuscan estates owned by the count’s parents, cousins from Badia a Coltibuono in Chianti Classico and Capezzana in Carmignano and a niece from La Parrina in Maremma were at the heart of the festivities.

The party began in the garden with an aperitivo of wine and cheese from La Parrina, then moved indoors for lunch. There was a primi (first course) of risotto with sangiovese grapes and Chianti Rufina, a secondi (second course) of roasted wild boar and a dolci (dessert) showcasing a giant napoleon topped with 80 candles. Selvapiana “Bucerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva was served with the main meal and a special library vintage of the Bucerchiale accompanied dessert.

SELVAPIANA “Bucerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG, 2007 (Italy) $31 
Made from 100% old-vine sangiovese grown at high altitude in limestone and schist, the wine is concentrated with wild cherry and tobacco flavors, great length and liveliness. Delicious upon release, with time, it softens and develops aromas of truffles, berries, and the scent of the forest floor. Available here

Recipe:
Risotto with Red Grapes and Chianti Rufina
Serves: 4
Preparation time: approximately 30 minutes

Ingredients:
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 cups Italian short grain rice, such as Carnaroli or Arborio
¾ cup Chianti Rufina or other dry red wine
2 cups ripe seedless red grapes, cut in half
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Bring the vegetable broth to a simmer. Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and butter in a large heavy-bottom pan over a medium-low flame. Once the butter melts, add the shallots and sauté for 2 minutes until translucent. Add the thyme and the rice, sauté for 2 more minutes using a wooden spoon and stirring frequently. Add the red wine and stir constantly until the liquid has been absorbed. Be sure to scrape the side and bottom of the pot ensure the rice doesn’t stick. Add the warm broth to the rice in ½ cup increments. Stir until the broth has been absorbed before adding another ½ cup. After about 18 minutes the rice will be tender but firm to the bite. Add the grapes and grated Parmesan, cook for two more minutes, stir gently until the grapes soften. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Happy Endings: Moscatao d'Asti and Rustic Fruit Tarts

Italians understand the true role of dessert. After anantipasti, primi and secondi, the dolci need not be a meal in itself, but a subtle shift from savory to sweet to linger over at the end of a meal. Think biscotti, panna cotta, dried figs and rustic fruit tarts. So it is not surprising that they invented Moscato d’Asti DOCG, what may be the perfect dessert wine. Made in Piedmont from ripe Moscato Bianco grapes, the pale gold, lightly effervescent, off-dry moscato d’Asti tends to be nimble on the palate and rich with fresh aromas of apricots, orange blossoms, honeysuckle and almonds. 

Moscato d’Asti is exceeding low in alcohol (5.5%)--less than half that of Champagne--which makes it a gentle final nip after a glass or two of wine earlier in the night. It is also an affordable luxury, usually for less than twenty dollars a bottle, and crafted by the same venerable Piedmont producers that make collectable Barolo and Barbaresco. But don’t let hallowed names like Vietti and Chiarlo trick you into cellaring these bottles. A mouthful of moscato d’Asti should offer the sensation of biting into a just picked perfectly ripe pear -- the younger, the fresher, the better. Also, be careful not to confuse moscato d’Asti with plain moscato, which is often made from bulk wine and lacks moscato d’Asti’s finesse and charm. 

Recommended wines include the Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti, a delicately aromatic tribute to Michele’s father who used to filter Moscato d’Asti with Dutch sail cloth; the Tenimenti Ca’Bianca, a lovely frizzante wine with lingering notes of pine nuts and clementines; and the Vietti Moscato d’Asti Cascinetta, which is luscious and beautifully balanced.

Entertain Like an Antinori

Cantinetta Antinori opened in 1957 on the ground floor of the family’s ancestral home in Florence. Palazzo Antinori, as the trattoria is known, is an homage to the medieval tradition whereby aristocratic families sold delicacies from their country estates by offering those dishes through small windows in the wine cellars of their city residences. Over time, what began as a small shop featuring the Antinori’s wines and olive oils evolved into a popular sixty-seat traditional Tuscan restaurant.

Allegra Antinori, a 41-year-old mother of two with luminous green eyes, oversees the Cantinetta in Florence, along with outposts in Vienna, Zürich and Moscow. She also manages hospitality at all the Antinori estates. Her job could be described as demonstrating her family’s commitment to authenticity and finesse through food, drink and generosity.

Allegra believes that wine should be an emotional experience. She wants her guests to use their senses to perceive perfumes, tastes and textures and respond to wine viscerally, the way they might to a piece of music or a work of art. She fosters environments at the restaurants and estates that encourage this kind of experience by entertaining elegantly without being overly formal or excessive. She greets guests with a glass of wine, sits everyone at one long table, serves family style and always has something boiling on the stove.

In early October, Allegra brought Cantinetta Antinori to New York City as a pop-up restaurant at the Mondrian hotel in Soho. The scene was set as if for an opera, complete with faux marble walls, a replica of the Antinori family tree dating back 26 generations, and a long communal table. The 2008 Tignanello, the most important current release in the family’s portfolio, was served with the simplest dish, gnudi, a dumpling made of spinach and ricotta served in a tomato cream sauce. The pairing was revelatory. The pillowy dumpling revealed the Super Tuscan wine to be elegant and expansive. Of course, for many of us, serving Tignanello requires stretching the budget. After dining at Cantinetta Antinori, however, the wine feels more accessible knowing that the rest of the evening’s shopping requires little more than spinach, ricotta, Parmesan and eggs.


Gnudi: Ricotta-Spinach Dumplings
Serves: 4
Preparation time: 60 minutes
Based on the recipe from Cantinetta Antinori, Flavors of Tuscany

1¼ cup, fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup, leaf spinach, cooked, drained, and finely chopped
3 tbsp, grated Parmesan cheese
2  eggs
¼ tsp, nutmeg, grated
½ cup, flour, as needed
½ lb, melted butter

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Drain the ricotta well and place it in a bowl. Add the thoroughly dried spinach, half the Parmesan, the eggs, the nutmeg and a large pinch of flower. Mix well and let and let rest for at least 30 minutes. Bring salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Using your hands or two spoons, form the ricotta mixture into small dumplings. Dust the dumplings with flour and gently drop them into the salted water. When the dumplings rise to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to an ovenproof dish. Top the dumplings with the melted butter and remaining Parmesan cheese and cook in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Garnish with a dollop of your favorite tomato sauce. Serve hot.