Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Porchetta Wine Luncheon

Lechon, as whole roast pig is called in the Philippines, is roasted traditionally in a long bamboo spit over coals for several hours.

I've been eating whole roast pig for as long as I can remember. It's primal dining at its best. The sight of a 100-lb (80-100 lbs is best for a full size roaster and about 35 lbs for a suckling) greasy, glistening, orange/red pig roasted in its entirety from head to tail (often garnished with an apple in its mouth) resting on a chopping table immediately sends my gastric juices into action.

When I was growing up in the Philippines, my father would order a side of roast pig for Sunday lunch after church. Lechon, as it is called there, is chopped up and eaten with gravy sauce (made with fat drippings and liver) over rice. The crispy, crackly skin-the ultimate pork fat-is the first thing that everyone attacks.

In the US, the most accessible source of whole roast pig is the takeout deli in a Chinese restaurant or store. The Cantonese roast pig is flavored with five-spice, but it's essentially the same as lechon, though in the Philippines, the lechoneros strive to make every square inch of the pig's skin as crispy as possible-that's where the money is.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where many food trends start, Chinese cuisine isn't as gourmet chic as Italian, at least to folks who seriously follow food trends, so Cantonese whole roast pig has never caught on among foodies. Instead, lately, I've been hearing a lot about porchetta, the Italian-style whole roast pig that's deboned and flavored with herbs and garlic. It's becoming the latest food rave. While I'm definitely a whole roast pig aficionado, I confess I've never tasted porchetta, until last week, when I was invited to a porchetta luncheon.

Lorenzo Scarpone, one of my wine importers, is a native of Abruzzo, where porchetta is indigenous cuisine. At his warehouse in South San Francisco he brought in Salvatore Denaro, the renowned chef/prorietor of Il Bacco Felice in Foligno, one of Umbria's top restaurants, to prepare a whole porchetta, plus a side dish of polenta e salsicce. Chef Denaro spread slices of the roast pig on long loaves of ciabatta bread and cut up the loaves into small paninis. It was ridiculously delicious! The pork was tender and flavorful, with just a hint of rosemary.

I easily devoured four or five of those paninis, washing them down with various wines, including Ruggeri's Extra Dry Prosecco (I never expected extra dry Prosecco to be fantastic pairing with porchetta), Fornacina's 2003 Brunello and 2005 Rosso, Fonti's 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva and 2003 Fontissimo super-Tuscan, Sassotondo's 2007 Maremma and 2005 San Lorenzo Riserva, and, of course, Caprai's 2005 Poggio Belvedere, 2005 Montefalco Rosso Riserva (wow!), 2003 Sagrantino Collepiano, and 2003 and 2004 Sagrantino Riserva 25 Anni.

I have eaten countless roast pigs in my life, but porchetta is the most enjoyable roast pig dish I've ever had. I left the luncheon three hours later, satiated and staggering from all the wine and food. Since then, I dream of porchetta everyday.

Chef Denaro slices porchetta for the ciabatta bread panini

Just a few of the dozens of Italian wines we gulped down during the luncheon

Ah, the perfect ending, a selection of tasty dolci after the meal. Quick, find the mini canoli, it's heavenly!

Villa Italia team.JPG
Chef Salvatore Denaro, renowned Umbrian chef, on the left holding what remains of the pig and our generous host, Lorenzo Scarpone, on the right. On the foreground is the tasty polenta, perfect with the porchetta

Italian Car.JPG
Italy's version of a smart car, right-hand drive, with painted sign saying "Italian Culinary Toy"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Reybier Backs Out of Montelena Deal

I blogged about the Chateau Montelena sale to Chateau Cos d’Estournel back in July saying that it was the biggest news in winedom at that time. Well, last week Chateau Montelena announced that the deal collapsed, making this by logic the other biggest news in winedom.

Wine blogs and wine forums immediately picked up the news. I tried to look for more info and Yahooed (I happen to use Yahoo not Google) the news, typing in “Cos”, “Montelena”, etc., and I was amazed at the dozens of search results all saying the same thing. Wrapping the history of Montelena—including, of course, its winning the “Judgment of Paris” tasting, the Barrett family story, blah, blah, blah—around the single press release from Montelena, which said: ‘Reybier Investments has been unable to meet its obligations under its contract with the Barrett family, who will retain ownership and not offer the winery for sale. The process that just ended did not result in the outcome we or Mr. Reybier desired.”

That’s it. There is no further news or explanation for this nixed deal. No statement from Jean-Guillaume Prats, Cos d’Estournel’s GM, or from Michel Reybier himself, the owner of Cos and the buyer. It’s not even clear if any news organization tried to reach them. I found myself asking the question, like a lot of people reading the news, I'm sure, why didn't the sale go through? And who is this shadowy-like figure, Michel Reybier?

Jean-Guillaume Prats has been the only French face in this deal. Many know him, of course, as the son of Bruno Prats, the long-time, former patriarch of Cos, who was forced to sell his family’s property due to French tax laws. An investment company purchased Cos from the Prats in 1998, then in 2001 sold it to Michel Reybier. Reybier was a processed-meat tycoon from Lyon, who created some of the most well-known deli meat brands in Europe. Reybier successfully sold his deli meat empire to the US company, Sara Lee, in 1996. His wealth is currently estimated at $650-800 million. Among his other interests are a luxury hotel group based in Geneva and Paris, an investment stake in an oil exploration company, and properties in the south of France.

Reybier is one of many French tycoons who own high-profile estates in Bordeaux. Others are Bernard Arnault, François Pinault, Albert Frere, Jean-Claude Beton, Gerard Perse, Cathiard family, Bich family, and Wertheimer family, just to name a few.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two Classics Meet: Porsche and R. López de Heredia

Exposición Porsche.jpg

A most unlikely pairing with Rioja's most classic Rioja, Viña Tondonia, is the classic sportscar 911 Porsche. An exhibition of 11 models of 911 Porsche will be shown at Bodega R. López de Heredia on November 7-22.

On hand will be the following 911 Porsche models gathered from private owners in Spain:
Porsche 911 2.0 (1965)
Porsche 911 2.4 Targa (1972)
Porsche 911 ST (1972)
Porsche 911 3.0 RSR (1974)
Porsche 911 3.0 Carrera (1976)
Porsche 911 3.3 Turbo (1982)
Porsche 911 3.2 (1984)
Porsche 911 3.2 Speedster (1989)
Porsche 911 (964) (1992)
Porsche 911 (964) Cabriolet (1992)
Porsche 911 (993) (1995)

Ms. María José López de Heredia sent us a note to relay her gracious invitation to this extraordinary event:
"For anyone who is a Porsche lover and want to come and visit our bodega during the time of the exhibition we would love to share a glass of Viña Tondonia with them. The showing of these 11 porsches model 911 will be open Monday to Saturday, from 7th of November to the 22nd, inclusive, from 10 am. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m."

Bodega R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia
Pabellon de Exposiciónes
Avenida de Vizcaya, 3
26200 Haro. La Rioja
Phone: 941.310.244