Weekend Wine Pairing – Lenny’s Quick Cassoulet and Château Maris Le Carignan de Maris 2013

Today, I present a recipe by special request. I was recently asked if there was a way of making cassoulet that didn’t involve all the time and work. So, here I give you a simplified version of the classic French Cassoulet.
Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, made with duck confit, sausage, and beans. Served with good crusty bread and a good bottle of hearty wine Cassoulet is just about the finest warden against the cold dark night.

If you are looking for a wine to pair with Casoulet you could go with a Cahors or Madiran, but many hearty country wines pair nicely. Take the Chateau Maris Carignan, the wine hails from Languedoc in the heart of the Minervois, in the Cru of La Livinière. This winery is quickly garnering worldwide acclaim for their outstanding line up of reasonably priced wines. Most recently Wine & Spirits Magazine announced that Chateau Maris as one of the top100 wineries in the world for 2016

Chateau Maris Le Carignan de Maris 2013 $14.99
“A great example of the variety, the 2013 Minervois Carignan de Maris offers classic plum and purple-like fruit, spring flowers, crushed rock and hints of charcoal to go with medium to full-bodied richness, beautiful purity and surprisingly polished tannin, which isn’t easy to do with 100% Carignan. Aged 10-12 months in concrete tank, drink this beauty over the coming 4-5 years” Jeb Dunnuck
91 points Wine Advocate 

Weekend Wine Pairing – Lenny’s Quick Cassoulet and Château Maris Le Carignan de Maris 2013
This wine is a real beauty and perfect for cooler weather fare like lamb stew or cassoulet.
Chateau Maris is run by Robert Eden, who is the driving force behind the push toward biodynamic and sustainable farming in the region. Robert’s approach to winemaking is based on the fundamental premise that wine is “grown”, not “made”. The winery is certified Demeter biodynamic and Ecocert organic. The winery has zero carbon footprint, producing more energy than it consumes. He’s gone as far as building his new winery out of massive hemp “bricks”. Their work in the Languedoc is leading the wine world in sustainability. Their hemp brick winery is cooled naturally, without refrigerant and absorbs CO2 from the fermentation process. Water is recycled and solar panels provide power. Lightweight bottles and recycled paper are standard.

Weekend Wine Pairing – Lenny’s Quick Cassoulet and Château Maris Le Carignan de Maris 2013

Lenny’s Quick Cassoulet

4 ounces bacon, diced

1 cups chopped onion (3/4 lb))

1/2 cup celery, diced

1/2 cup carrot, peeled diced

1 lb Sausage links, cooked and sliced

1 tsp finely chopped garlic

1 tsp thyme

1each bay leaf

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 (14-oz) can stewed tomatoes, chopped with juice

2 each confit duck legs*

1 14 ounce can white beans

2 cups beef broth

1 Tbl tomato paste

2 Tbl olive oil

1 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

Printable Recipe and Instructions

Introduction to Wine by Arnie Millan

Esquin is delighted to offer wine classes, perfectly designed to bring out the wine expert in everyone! These classes make a great gift, too.

Sommelier Arnie Millan presents the Introduction to Wine Class series beginning Sunday January 15th, 2016 until March 5th. The program of six classes is scheduled every Sunday from 1:30 until 4:00 p.m. at Esquin Wine & Spirits at 2700 4th Avenue South in SODO.

Free parking is available in Esquin’s lot on the South end of our building.

The Seattle Times has named Arnie  “The Finest Wine Mind in Seattle.”

The classes include thorough tastings of 8 wines during each class and will be offered for $39 per class or $225 for the entire 6 class series.

Click here to purchase the series of 6 classes  

Topics covered will be:

January 15th – Grapes, Viticulture and Winemaking

We will learn a glossary of important wine terms, discuss the major international grape varieties as well as the basics of viticulture and winemaking

Click here to purchase this class

January 22nd – A Tour of Spain

Spain’s wine history is the oldest in Europe and its wine regions reveal a wealth of indigenous grapes far beyond the famous Tempranillo. Explore Spain’s dynamic and exciting wine scene.
Click here to purchase this class

January 29th – A Survey of Italy

Italy is one of the world’s greatest wine regions with an unbelievable treasure trove of terrific indigenous grape varieties. We will cover all 19 wine regions and taste 8 delicious wines made from native grapes.
Click here to purchase this class.

February 19h – A Tour of France

France is the touchstone for fine wine, the benchmark by which quality wine is judged. We will de-mystify and explain all their major regions including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace and the Rhône Valley.

Click here to purchase this class. 

February 26th – New World Wines (U.S., Australia, Canada, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand)

If Europe is called the “old world” then this class covers everything else including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and China. Whew!
Click here to purchase this class.

March 5th – Wine/Food pairing, Germany/Austria

Germany and Austria make some of the planet’s finest wines but few are aware of this. This class will definitely change your perception of these wines. The second half of the class focuses on food and wine pairing with a handout detailing Arnie’s Rules of Food and Wine Pairing.

Click here to purchase this class.

Advance registration is necessary. Gift certificates available.

Weekend Wine Pairing – ROCO Gravel Road Pinot Noir and Turkey Paupiette

In 1987 Rollin Soles launched Argyle Winery and quickly became Oregon’s leading sparkling wine producer and was named “OREGON’S PREMIER WINERY” by Wine Spectator in 2000. Rollin’s wines have been named among the Top 100 Wines of the World by Wine Spectator thirteen times, a distinction matched by no other Oregon winemaker. And in 2013, he was named one of the “20 Most Admired Winemakers in North America” by Vineyard & Winery Management magazine.
In 2001 he left Argyle to focus on his own vineyard Wits End and winery ROCO. He still makes Sparkling wine as well as award winning Pinot Noir as matter of fact his very first ROCO vintage was poured at the White House. ROCO wines are classic Rollin; focused, fruit driven, deftly balanced and expressive. Rollins wines are consistently solid performers, and that is saying something when you are working with one of the most fickle grapes.

Weekend Wine Pairing – ROCO Gravel Road Pinot Noir and Turkey Paupiette

ROCO Winery Gravel Road Pinot Noir 2013 $24.99 

Deep garnet in color, the spice driven nose includes aromas of red cherry, cinnamon, vanilla, and a hint of sweet tobacco leaf. Full flavored with a sweet, juicy, and deep center, surrounded by ripe red raspberry, a touch of gravel, bergamot, and strawberry compote. Nice firm structure. Finish is pure fruit with briar-earth elements. A compact, complex and complete Pinot Noir.

This time of year it seems as soon as I finish my Thanksgiving leftovers I get a hankering for Turkey again. I like to pick up an extra Turkey after Thanksgiving when they are on sale. I will take the hind quarters and make confit with them, a la Duck and separate the breast into smaller sections and use them for cutlets.
A favorite is Turkey Paupiette with Madeira served up with potatoes. A paupiette is a thin flattened piece of meat or fish that has had a filling spread on top and is then rolled up and secured with a wooden toothpick or a string. For these I make a stuffing of bread crumbs, hazelnut and apple finished with a little Madeira and demi-glaze this makes for a perfect winter supper. This dish paired with a nice Oregon Pinot like the ROCO Gravel Road and you have a dinner that will impress your guests without damaging your pocketbook.

Weekend Wine Pairing – ROCO Gravel Road Pinot Noir and Turkey Paupiette

Turkey Paupiette

2 lb Turkey Breast
1 Cup Chicken Broth
***** Stuffing
1 Cup Bread Crumbs
½ Cup Diced Apple
¾ Cup Ground Hazelnut
½ Cup Grated Parmesan
1 Whole Egg
Pinch Nutmeg
1 Tsp Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
***** Sauce
½ lb Mushroom
1 ea Shallot, finely diced
4 Tblsp Butter
1 Cup Madeira
1 Cup Demi glaze

Printable Recipe and Instructions 

Felsina Beradenga Chianti and Tuscan Sausage and Tortellini Soup

In the world of wine there are some wines that are just misunderstood. Riesling is probably the best example, Viognier is another; but the one wine with the most baggage is probably Chianti. Everyone knows Chianti, but it seems not many understand Chianti. Those of us of a certain age remember the straw basket wrapped Il Fiasco Chiantis of yore. Chianti like many regions was a victim of its own success. Now don’t get me wrong we sell a lot of Chianti and here dedicate as much floor space to wines of Tuscany as we do those of Bordeaux.

If you wanted to try a benchmark Chianti I can think of none better than Fattoria di Fèlsina. Located in the village of Castelnuovo Berardenga in the province of Siena, Felsina has long been one of the great names in Chianti. Fèlsina produces one of the finest ranges of ageworthy and complex Chianti bottlings in all of Italy. Fèlsina has never capitulated to the use of international varietals, Sanigovese is what you will see growing in their vineyards.

Their elegant full bodied wines are some of the most well regarded in Tuscany. Felsina has been awarded the coveted Tre Bicchieri 17 times in the Gambero Rosso. The single vineyard Rancia is one of the most highly rated wines in Chianti. A personal favorite is the Beradenga Chianti Classico. Guiseppe Mazzocolin, who runs the estate of Felsina says the wine, a blend of selected top wines from all of his vineyards, falls qualitatively between the Berardenga Rancia Riserva bottling and his regular Chianti Classico. I find this wine to be outstanding nearly always. First produced in 1983, it’s a harmonious and rich red, 100 percent Sangiovese, with lots of ripe fruit and silky tannins.

Fèlsina’s 2013 Chianti Classico Berardenga shows a great level of richness and general intensity. The wine reveals a very full and luscious set of aromas with cherry and blackberry in pole position. Lighter tones of spice and tobacco fill in at the back and give the wine a greater sense of aromatic lift. The mouthfeel is also characterized by velvety richness – a delicious vintage.

Once again the critics are unanimous in their praise.

Wine Spectator- 92, Wine Enthusiast – 92, James Suckling – 92, Advocate – 91+, Vinious – 91

Chianti is a personal favorite of mine, speaking as a chef there are few wines that are more food friendly. The mix of acid, earth and fruit is a natural for pairing to everything from hearty soups, Pastas of all sorts, grilled cheese sandwiches or Steak. With this weather I could think of few dishes as satisfying as a Hearty Tuscan style sausage and kale soup.

This soup is ready in about 25 minutes and makes a wonderful supper, all you need is some good crusty bread, a drizzle of olive oil and a nice bottle of Chianti.

Tuscan Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup with Tortellini

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Italian sweet sausage, casing removed
1 medium onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leave
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 cup red wine
1 15 ounce can Tomatoes
52 oz chicken broth
115 ounce can white cannellini beans
1 lb Cheese tortellini, fresh
1 bunch kale, stems removed chiffonade
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Freshly Grated Pecorino Toscano

For printable recipe and instructions 

We hope you enjoy the recipe and find time to share some good food and wine with friends and loved ones.

Brined Fresh ham with Cider Mustard Glaze

Everyone has heard the expression, as American as Apple Pie? How about American as Apple Cider? Everyone has heard the story John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed, but most people don’t know is that what apples he propagated were less likely to be pie and more likely to be cider, and hard cider at that.

The apples that Chapman brought to the frontier were completely distinct from the apples available at any grocery store they weren’t primarily used for eating-they were used to make America’s favorite beverage at the time, hard apple cider.

“Up until Prohibition, an apple grown in America was far less likely to be eaten than to wind up in a barrel of cider,” writes Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire. “In rural areas cider took the place of not only wine and beer but of coffee and tea, juice, and even water.”

In the US today there is nothing short of a cider renaissance, with cideries opening up at record numbers. Here in Northwest we are at a center of the action, for decades Washington has been synonymous with apples and with over 175,000 acres of orchards we produce over half the apples in the US.

Brined Fresh ham with Cider Mustard Glaze

We are blessed with many great cider producers but a personal favorite is Finnriver. Finnriver Cidery was founded in 2008 by Eric Jorgensen and Keith and Crystie Kisler.  The roots of the cidery began in friendship and farmland and now, with several thousand heirloom cider trees in the ground, farming and fermenting continue side by side on 80 acres in Chimacum Valley on the Olympic Peninsula.

Finnriver is at the forefront of the craft cider revival and farmcrafts a range of traditional, contemporary and seasonal ciders made primarily from organic Washington fruit, along with a line-up of spirited fruit wines.

Cider is an excellent choice for Thanksgiving, the sweet-tart flavors are a natural with the flavors of the thanksgiving table. The lower alcohol is also a nice bonus for a long lazy supper.

Here’s another wonderful alternative or addition to you holiday table.

Brined Fresh ham with Cider Mustard Glaze

Cider Brined Fresh Ham with Cider Mustard Glaze 

***** Brine

1 (6 to 8-pound) bone-in fresh ham

2 cups kosher salt

2 cups sugar

2 bay leaves

2 Tbs fennel seeds

2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes

4 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

2 gallons water

12 ounces Hard cider


4 medium scallions, coarsely chopped

2 small jalapenos, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 lime, juiced and zest

2 large cloves garlic

2 Tbs chopped fresh ginger

1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme

2 Tbs chopped sage

1 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ cup olive oil


1 cup Dijon mustard

1 cup whole-grain mustard

1 cup honey

1 cup Apple Cider

Printable Recipe and Instructions

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and Maple Glazed

Now, not all whiskies are created equal. Some are grassy, some smoky, some smell of citrus and some of salt. That smoky briny quality of Scotch is a perfect compliment for Oysters.

Some like Bourbon are sweet with hints of maple and caramel. Bourbons like these are perfect with a dense chocolate dessert (I make a Bourbon Chocolate torte that fits the bill nicely.) Apple Pie? Pumpkin Pie? Oh how about Pumpkin Pie? I think there is quite possibly no more American way to finish up your Thanksgiving dinner than with a tumbler of Kentucky Bourbon.

What could be more American than Apple Pie? How about Barbecue? How about Steak?

Below is my recipe for a Maple Bourbon Glazed Tri Tip Steak. This dish is a balance of sweet, spice, smoke and umami that pairs beautifully with a nice aged bourbon.

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and Maple Glazed

Maple Bourbon Glazed Tri Tip Steak

2-3 lb. Beef Tri-tip

Marinade: 1 tsp. course ground black pepper 1 tsp. chopped garlic ¼ tsp. ground thyme ¼ cup bourbon 1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Glaze: ¼ cup Bourbon 2 Tablespoons Grain Mustard 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup 1 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar 2 Tablespoons Siracha

Roasting: Olive oil Sea salt Black pepper

1. Day 1: Trim Beef of any excess silver or fat. Combine ingredients for marinade. Place Tri Tip in a Ziploc bag with marinade at let rest overnight in refrigerator.

2. The next day remove tri tip from marinade and let come to room temperature.

3. Preheat oven to 250 degrees

4. Combine ingredients for glaze and set aside

5. Rub Roast with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.

6. Prepare a roasting pan with a wire rack.

7. Heat a large cast iron pan on stove top. Sear each side of tri tip to brown 3-4 min each side.

8. Place roast on wire rack and place in oven.

9. Roast for about half an hour and brush roast with glaze.

10. After 20 minutes turn roast and brush with glaze again, repeating every 10 – 15 minutes until center of roast reaches 130 degrees.

11. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

Printable Instructions + Recipe

Cassoulet and Chateau La Couronne Bordeaux $21.99 (90 WA)

Cassoulet calls out for a hearty wine, say Madiran, Cahors or Bordeaux. Bordeaux is one of the most popular categories of wine here at Esquin. The reason being is that there are truly Great Bordeaux – the First Growths like Margaux, Rothschild, Haut Brion – but also great Bordeaux that you can afford to drink every day. There are few categories where you can find great wines from $10 to $1000 bucks and every price point in between.

That classic profile of currant, plum, cedar, graphite, earth and grippy tannins is what makes Bordeaux a great pairing for hearty fare like Cassoulet. In fact the Tannins are easily smoothed out by the cassoulets fat content. A perfect example of the quality price performance is the Chateau La Couronne from outside St Emilion.

Chateau La Couronne Montagne – Saint Emilion Reserve 2012 $21.99
This wine from propietor Thomas Thio is dense, masculine, powerfully extracted and rich. This is an intense, full-throttle wine, which is impressive given the fact that it is from the satellite appellation of Montagne St. Emilion. Look for it to drink well for another 10 years. 2012 is a sleeper of a vintage.
90 points Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate.


Cassoulet and Chateau La Couronne Bordeaux $21.99 (90 WA)


There are many versions of Cassoulet as there are French grandmothers and Chefs. Some include lamb, pork shoulder, or even partridge. Below I give you a basic version that comes very close to traditional.


Cassoulet and Chateau La Couronne Bordeaux $21.99 (90 WA)


Lenny’s Cassoulet



1 lb.             dried white beans (Flageolet)
8 1/4 cups  cold water
3 fresh        Thyme sprigs
1 fresh        Rosemary sprig
1 each        Bay Leaf
4 each        Cloves
1/4 tsp        Black Pepper Corns
2 tbl            Olive Oil
4 oz.           Bacon, diced
2 cups        chopped onion (3/4 lb.)
1 cup           celery, diced
1 cup           carrot, peeled diced
3 tsp            finely chopped garlic (6 large cloves
14-oz can  stewed tomatoes, chopped with juice
2 cups         beef broth
1 tbl             tomato paste
4 each         confit duck legs* (1 3/4 lb. total)
1 lb.             garlic pork sausage
1/2 cup        Parsley, chopped
2 cups         coarse fresh bread crumbs
1½ tsp       salt
½ tsp         black pepper

Special equipment: an 8-inch square of cheesecloth; kitchen string; a 4 1/2 to 5 quart casserole dish (3 to 4 inches deep)

Printable Instructions and Recipe



Cune Gran Reserva Rioja and Paella Mixta

CVNE is one of the most historic and important wineries in Spain. Cvne, is situated in Rioja near the train station the oldest wineries of Rioja Alta established themselves, for the main reason of transporting their goods to the port of Bilbao. In 1879, two brothers decided to set up a winery. They named it C.V.N.E., Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España (The Northern Spanish Wine Company) or la Cuné, as it is commonly known.

But for all its tradition, CVNE is no fuddy-duddy winery. As matter fact CVNE has been on fire in the Wine Spectator lately. It all started at the end of 2013 when the WS:95 Gran Reserva Imperial 2004 became the first Spanish wine in the 25-year history of the Top 100 to be named the #1 Wine of the Year. The momentum continued in 2014 when the winery earned high scores across its range and another Top 100 placement for the overachieving (WS90) Monopole White 2013. 2015 was the third year in a row that a CVNE wine was featured on the list with the WS:93 Imperial Reserva 2010 taking the #56 spot.

The bell of the ball for me is the new release 2010 Gran Reserva!Cune Gran Reserva Rioja and Paella Mixta

2010 CUNE Gran Reserva Rioja 2010 $32.99

“This generous red shows a traditional character, with leafy, dried herb, tea and spicy notes framing dried cherry, licorice and leather flavors. Firm tannins and balsamic acidity impart structure. There’s plenty of depth here, culminating in a juicy, spicy finish. Drink now through 2025.”
Wine Spectator 94 Points

This is a classy wine that delivers a powerful punch for money. A wine that is in itself a special occasion, and paired with Paella makes dinner a party!For this recipe I cook the seafood and rice separately to keep the fish from over cooking, real traditionalist may have problem with this, but I find the dish turns out delicious.

Cune Gran Reserva Rioja and Paella Mixta

Paella Valencia Mixta

¼ Cup Olive oil
8 ounces Chicken thigh, Boneless skinless
4 Ounces Chorizo (about 2 Links)
1 Tblsp Pimento de la Vera
1 Pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound the freshest fish available
8 ounces Mussels, de-bearded and cleaned
2 ounces Sardines
¼ cup sherry

2 cups Bomba or Paella Rice
1 Yellow Onion, diced
½ Pasilla Pepper, diced
1 Red Pepper, diced
3 cups Broth (vegetable, chicken or fish)
Water, as needed

1 ea Bay Leaf
½ Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
Salt and Pepper
1 Pinch Saffron

Printable Recipe and Instructions

We hope you enjoy the recipe and find time to share some good food and wine with some friends and loved ones.

~ Lenny

Avennia Les Trouves and Grilled Ribeye Steaks and Gorgonzola Butter

From their very first release in 2010 the wines from Avennia have demonstrated a class and style that eschew contrivances of oak and alcohol for purity and elegance. Founded by Chris Peterson and Marty Taucher, the wines quickly became a personal favorite. The Avennia wines garnered high praise right out of the gate including an unprecedented 95 pts for the debut 2010 Arnaut Syrah from Parker and 94 pts for the 2010 Parapine Syrah from Spectator.

The name Avennia comes from the Roman name for the city of Avignon. Marty and Chris have clearly demonstrated an understanding of the Rhone and a love of old world winemaking. Les Trouvés (pronounced lay troo-vay) roughly translates from French as ‘the found,’ is their latest project.

“Les Trouvés was born out of the abundance that Washington offers,” Chris said. “There are huge amounts of very good wines from around the state that are delicious and complex, and just waiting for a context in which to be placed.

What we add is that context: a rigorous commitment to quality and thoughtful blending from different sources to create complete, delicious wines that deliver great value.”

Avennia Les Trouves and Grilled Ribeye Steaks and Gorgonzola Butter

Avennia Les Trouves 2013 Red Blend Columbia Valley $24.99

The traditional blend Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre is approachable and delicious. Layers of herbs and peppery spice add complexity to the cherry and blackberry fruit balanced with fresh acidity, while a savory element leaves wanting another glass. Approachable, easy drinking and delicious!

“This is just what we love about the regional wines from Provence,” Chris said. “It is very approachable now, but complex enough to hold our interest.”This southern Rhone style of Red would pair easily with everything from Ratatouille to Grilled Tuna to Roast Lamb. It also pairs just as easily for a Grilled Ribeye with Gorgonzola Butter.  A surprisingly simple preparation with that will impress your guests.

Avennia Les Trouves and Grilled Ribeye Steaks and Gorgonzola Butter

Ribeye Steaks with Gorgonzola Butter

1 ea 2lb (1 ½” – 2″ thick) Bone-in Porterhouse Steaks
¼ Cup Olive Oil, plus more for serving
Sea Salt
Black Pepper, freshly ground
Rosemary sprigs

*** For Serving
Lemon wedges
2 Cups Arugula
Roasted Potatoes
2 lb Asparagus

*** Gorgonzola Butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
Salt and pepper

Printable Recipe and Instructions


Soave 2016

Soave 2016

I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Veneto, Italy. I was invited by the Consorzio Il Soave in collaboration with Evan Goldstein, Master Sommelier. We traveled the region toured vineyards, met the winemakers and proprietors, and of course tasted the wines. The region, although well known, was a revelation. The history, the terroir and the people who farm these ancient vineyards unveiled what is a truly unique wine growing region.

Soave, like many other wines and wine growing regions suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Soave is a victim of its own success.  Soave saw a peak of popularity in US in the mid-20th-century Italian wine boom that followed the end of World War II. Returning soldiers from the European theatre, many who were born and raised during prohibition, returned with a new found love of wine. But, Italy and Europe was still rebuilding many of the vineyards, wineries and winemakers were gone. Into this market stepped large producers like Bolla who instituted mechanization and modern production techniques. By the 1970’s Bolla’s machine helped make Soave the largest selling Italian DOC wine in the US, surpassing even Chianti.

The Soave produced by Bolla wasn’t the same wine produced before WWII. Before WWII, Soave was produced on terraced hillside vineyards that to this day are still worked by hand and by horses.

The History of Soave is told in geological terms. The Italic peninsula is volcanically active country, containing the only active volcanoes in mainland Europe. The Veneto and Soave are located at the foot of the Dolomites and the Alps. The Soave DOCG sits on an ancient volcanic zone that was lifted out of the sea millions of years ago. Basalt flows and volcanic soils distinguish this area from the lower farmland that came under cultivation post WWII.

Soave was the first Italian wine to be recognized as “Vino Tipico”. The classico zone was first delineated by Veneto authorities in 1927 and originally encompassed 2,720 acres (1,100 ha) of hillside vineyards within the Soave zone. Today, the use of the specification “Classico” with the designation “Soave” is reserved for the product made from grapes harvested from the hillside vineyards around the municipalities of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone in the original and oldest classic “zone” of Verona.

The vineyard soils of the classic region are considerably less fertile than the alluvial soils in the plains. The vineyards above the village of Soave and the eastern vineyards near Monteforte d’Alpone, these soils are made of decomposed volcanic rock that produces steelier more mineral wines. These mountain vineyards can be on 45 or even 60 degree aspect!

Usually, when one thinks of volcanoes, the image is of explosive flows of magma, gas, and ash. The volcanoes that formed Soave were underwater and the basalt that flowed came into contact with cold seawater and formed what is called pillow lava. All around the hills of Soave are outcroppings of Basalt, soils of pumice with limestone and red flake. These soils have high levels of macro-porosity compared to other types of rocks, meaning the pores in these rocks allows these rocks to store up to 100% of their weight water. This high coefficient of water retention is of notable importance in drought years and even though this is the northern green part of Italy the area receives most of it rain in 60 days out of the year.

Soave 2016

The Hills of Soave are some of the most densely planted in the world. The most widely planted grape is Garganega, which occupies around 95% of the vineyard land, with a few other cultivars – Trebbiano de Soave, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. These vineyards cover literally every square foot of cultivatable land in the DOCG. The majority of the vineyards are trellised using an ancient style of Pergola. The Pergola trellising system has been in use here since the Roman times. The position of the arms makes harvesting difficult; and the overhead design makes it difficult to use a modern tractor. Most of the vineyards in Soave DOCG are small family owned, usually no larger than 4 hectares, so harvest is done by hand by the family.

Garganega can produce a delicate wine with peach, honeydew, lemon, almond and a subtle notes of saltiness. Soave when it is made well is a dry, light bodied wine, like a less aromatic Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris, but with a touch of richness. Older Soave can be intense with more developed flavors of marmalade, beeswax and honey. Recioto (raisoned) styles are popular because of the grapes acidity. These wines are thick and viscous with caramel and butterscotch notes.  The Sparkling wines of the area were a revelation. Sparkling Soave and the lesser known Durello are wonderfully dry alternatives to the ubiquitous Prosecco.

While there we were able to visit many wineries including Bolla. Some of my favorites were Bertani, Cantina di Soave, Cantina del Castello, Cantina di Monteforte, Cantina Giovanni Tessari, Coffele, Corte Moschina, Filippi, Gini, I Stefanini, Le Battistelle, Montetondo, Sandro De Bruno and Tenuta Sant’Antonio. Some were larger operations, most were family run and had been in family hands for generations.

Soave 2016

In wine we are always talking about ‘Terroir’ the sense of place: Soave DOCG represents a truly unique environment for grape growing and winemaking. The combination of unique soils, a unique indigenous grape varietal, vineyard management and winemaking make Soave one of kind in a world of wannabe’s and also ran’s.

The story of Soave is ancient one and for over a millennia Garganega has been farmed on the hillsides of the Veneto.  The name “Soave” is taken from the Suevians, a German people who settled in the area. Today, there is nothing short of a renaissance is going on in Soave. Soave has long been recognized as the great white wine of Italy, but years of mass market jug wines have done a great deal of damage to the reputation and standing of Soave as one of the Great DOC in Italy.

In the small villages and hill towns of Soave, Monteforte, San Martino B.A., Roncà, and Montecchia there are families working to rebuild the vineyards and wines that made Soave the first delineated white wine region in Italy.

I Stefanini is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Established in 2003, this small family run winery in the foothills of Monteforte d’Alpone, sits in the heart of the Soave region, just ten minutes from the beautiful medieval castle of Soave. Francesco Tessari is the winemaker, his father Valentino is the vineyard manager, together with the help of very friendly dogs, they manage 10 hectares of vineyards, fruit and olive trees.

The I Stefanini Selese is a Soave DOC made with 100% Garganega. Sèlese, made from the vineyards nearest their estate, the wine shows the quality of the fruit and the skill of this father-and-son team.

I Stefanini Il Selese Soave DOC 2014 $10.99

Soave 2016 Soave 2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to walk these vineyards with Valentino and sit taste the wines with the family. These wines are right in my wheel house – firm and medium bodied with crisp acidity and a wonderful nose – perfect food wines that also work as an aperitif. With a delicate perfume with notes of violets, hawthorn and elderberry; dry and smooth with almond notes at the finish makes this a perfect accompaniment to fresh seafood and shellfish or herb pasta with a drizzle of olive oil. Here is my recipe for “Foglie di olivo” or Olive leaf pasta with pesto and olives.

Soave 2016