Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notes from Venice & Friuli

Venice - with Enrica Rocca

After an early morning guided tour of the Rialto market with Enrica enthusing about every aspect of its fresh Venetian produce and Italian cuisine and a brief stop at one of the city's small bars for a spritz - traditional liquid 11s - of Campari, Prosecco and selzer, we returned to the Rocca family's beautiful palazzo in the Zattere laden with sufficient ingredients to eat solidly for 6 hours (as in fact we did). Starkly contrasting to the stately 1800s furnishings of the main palazzo, Enrica's own apartment - really just one huge kitchen and entertaining space - is ultra modern (she refused to have anything in it more than two years old) and as uniquely vibrant as its owner - stools covered in springbok-skins dyed in vivid primary colours, bold modern art, leopard skin rugs on grey slate floors, bright orange heaters and lots of polished metal.
On to the food - under Enrica's guidance everyone mucked in to produce a procession of seafood - razor clams, swordfish, scallops on the half shell, linguini alla vongole, slow-cooked octopus with saffron potatoes, and whole bream, complemented by fresh mushroom dishes, an artichoke risotto, and various pastas, followed by roasted shoulder and leg of baby lamb, and then local cheeses, with moscato grapes. The dishes all betrayed Enrica's signature culinary hallmarks: truly the best seasonal ingredients, simply prepared into spontaneous delicious dishes and then devoured by a team of happy, laughing, variously talented and increasingly wine-sodden kitchen assistants (the latter quality ensured by WineChap pairing off courses with a selection of vino di Veneto and neighbouring regions chosen from Enrica's extensive cellar).

Highlights of Friuli Wine Tour 12-14th October

Tasting at Le Vigne di Zamo, Rosazzo
From three of the Estate's pigs slaughtered in November, a selection of salami and cured charcuterie and cotechino - a criminally appealing greasy sticky offal sausage served with polenta and then frico - a cheesy, potato pancake. Schiopettino 2005 - high acid, soft tannin, bright plum and cherry fruit (the barbera of the region) was a good match to pierce the heavy fatty flavours.

Tavernetta - Restaurant of Castello di Spessa, Capriva del Friuli
Whilst tending to agree that golf is a good walk ruined it was such a nice day I thought a turn on the estate's driving range would be a good way to work up a thirst for an 11am grappa tasting. Strong spirits were needed after the Castle's charmingly naff promo video (the highlight being a hilariously crude reference to its most famous guest - Casanova, in a spliced scene of John Malkovitch's wolfish Comte de Valmont groping Uma Thurman' Cecile Volange from Dangerous Liaisons. Supremely tacky and surreally amusing). Anyway, dinner:
Mushrooms featured highly over the weekend so we started with a porcini pate and then more porcini grilled and served with slices of grana padano and a smattering of rucola. Had this with Venica&Venica's Ronco delle Cime 06 (tre-bicchiere winning Tocai Friulano) which picked out the flavours well. Goose is a regional speciality and although coming from the 'goose fat - worth every potential last halfbeat' school of gastronomy was impressed by the savoury leanness of the goose ragu and Saracen pappardelle.
Tagliata di manzo with rosti and fried herbs was capably done, solid and distinct comforting flavours, the herbs juxtaposing a textural piquancy. We tried this with 2 vintages of the Castello's flagship Conte di Spessa - a Merlot-based Bordeaux blend. The '02 initially convinced with coffee, damp earth and hints of mint on the nose and a hedonistic clump of soy-treacly unfocussed dark fruits on the palate. The '92, yielding eucalyptus and sweet cedar aromas, was more diffuse and whilst tiring a little remained graceful and poised throughout the evening where the '02 re-tasted later in the evening, showed the slightly hollow character of the vintage, its herbaceous border overwhelming the fruit (the comparison was akin to a faded master vs an amateur watercolourist). We finished with a duo of white chocolate - mousse and ice cream cake, paired with the opulent yet zingy Vola Vola dessert wine from Zamo, redolent of Seville oranges and marzipan.

Enoteca de Feo, Cividale
This was a chic, modern wine bar with an outstanding selection of regional wines - organised by varietal, and 25 wines of the day by the generously free-poured glass at between 2-4 euros. A limited but judicious rather than flashy selection of non-Italian producers like Egly-Ouriet (Champagne), Lucien Boillot and Robert Chevillon (Burgundy), Chasse Spleen (Bordeaux) further suggested a sophisticated and individual sourcing policy.
A Slovenian blend of malvasia/ribolla/tocai was rather funky and yeasty with old oak and O2 but opened up over rigatoni with scampi and artichoke and Pumpkin and buffalo ricotta ravioli on puy lentils with crispy pancetta.

'La Subida', just above Cormons
A restaurant worth flying out to Italy just for the evening to visit and with prices, including airfare to Trieste, not much more expensive than the best London has to offer.
Bjana Brut - methode classique Chardonnay. Surprisingly accomplished. Ripe yet structured, fruity with pears and golden delicious, and big-boned at 13.5% but, like Nigella, hiding its curves well.
Fresh tangy ricotta on salty gelatinous soft polenta with rucola and then excellent 'Friuli Wonton' - filled with pear, walnut and cheese in a creamy elderflower sauce, the complex array of intertwining flavours complementing the equally sophisticated Tocai 50Anni 2003, Zamo perfectly.
Rencel 01 J Jinta - Kras/Carso blend. Our second foray in to Slovenian wine conjured up Tito's hillside partisans - earthy and a little wild, with a nose of ivy and forest beries, the saltpetre and leather of a wellworn bandolier. Rather raw on the palate - being generous lets say it needed time...
Served with two pastas - ravioli of wild herbs (very good) and a second, possibly not helped by our server's translation as 'goose bits' with courgettes and tomato in a broth in toasted pasta, to my mind less successful than the goose ragu from the previous evening.
1995 Ronco dei Rosetti, Le Vigne di Zamo - high-toned with a silky opulence and sweet, soft musky perfume, liquorice, hints of anise and wild cherries and damsons drunk with:
Guinea fowl breast and mash in pumpkin gravy with walnuts (more more), pomegranate seeds (less if any, molar-splitting b*stards) and fennel tops was very pretty.
Veal carved off the bone at the table from a whole shank was meltingly sublime (glazed with mustard seeds and balsamic vinegar?)
After a pause to sample some locally sourced (obviously), cured, cherrywood smoked (36 hours) San Daniele carved off the haunch by genial proprietor, Josko Sirk (I'm sure that was the name of a Star Wars character?), which had my californian companions aquiver at the concentrated salt consumption, we moved on to the most impressive part of the meal, an assortment of desserts including a dish of three different flavoured creme caramels - cardoman, lavendar and grappa, and an unctuous chocolate mousse layered with aubergine chips. As stuffed as we were, these were desserts to inspire groans and sighs of Epicurean delight!
No pudding wine was needed here, it would merely have distracted from the melange of flavours already present.