FOOD and WINE ARTICLES, RESTAURANTS REVIEWS and RECIPES by PHILIP SINSHEIMER

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WINES REVIEWS

A CLOSER LOOK AT ROMAGNA…UNIQUE WINES WORTH THE TRIP
By Philip Sinsheimer
Photos by Philip Sinsheimer, Cesare Zucca

Cesare Zucca already related our fabulous trip to Romagna last June with its various highlights, where the warmth of the people rivaled the heat of the constant sun.
Today, the “vino-Phil” that I am will focus on the unsung grace of the wines of this region, overshadowed by Emilia, its twin sister to the West, which rolls on the fame of products as famous as Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico de Modena, Mortadella di Bologna and, for the wines, Lambrusco.

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of it, as it seems to be exported pretty much everywhere. Quite an achievement for a rather peculiar red wine, both fizzy and often sweet. Clearly, not the best bottles are exported… I still need to sip a Lambrusco that I would actually want to drink.Regardless of quality, Lambrusco has acquired fame. But, can you tell me anything about wines from Romagna? Sorry? I can’t hear you… Well, my guess is: not so much. At least, that was my case before discovering this region with my own eyes and mouth! Before, I knew it only for the famous beach town of Rimini (birthplace of Federico Fellini and of beach umbrellas according to some, and the historic city of Ravenna, which served as the capital of the Western Roman Empire (from 402 to 476). But wines, no, “I was dry”, as we say in French, not a clue as to what to expect…I didn’t have to wait long to be initiated. As soon as we arrived at the charming Fattoria Faggioli where we were hosted during our four-day press trip, we were offered a red wine which reflected perfectly the delicious home cooked pasta and the general atmosphere: no fuss, big heart, big flavor, frank and bold (photo). It was a Sangiovese which, I was told right away, was the most prized and celebrated red grape of Romagna. Everyone tends to associate the noble grape with Tuscany, the region immediately to the South, with its world-famous Chianti and Brunelo di Montalcino. Even though Sangiovese has not reached those level of notoriety in Romagna, the region can definitely boast of a deeply rooted wine culture. After a few glasses, an old saying came up, revealing the generosity of the Romagnolo people and their love of wine. If a stranger knocks at the door of someone in Emilia, he is offered a glass of water, in Romagna… a glass of wine!. This sense of hospitality connected to wine culture was perfectly exemplified during our visit of the medieval town of Bertinoro. The symbol of this perched little city is its 13th century column with twelve metal rings, named the “column of hospitality” photo). Each ring was associated to one of the local noble families and when a traveler arrived into town and tied his horse to one of the rings, he would automatically become a guest of the family associated to it We didn’t arrive on horses, but were just as warmly welcomed at the beautiful visitor center with an in-depth presentation of the local wines. This was my first encounter with Romagna’s most celebrated white wine: l’Albana, unique to this region. The 2016 “I Croppi” from Celli winery (photo) revealed a white unlike any other. Golden in color, the wine had a serious body and boasted 14° of alcohol. One of the distinctive tastes I noticed was a lingering ripe apple flavor and it felt like it had some tannins. It is actually sometimes called the red wine made in white and it can pair meat dishes as well, if not better than seafood. We tasted a local 100% Sangiovese, bold and rich with 14.5% alcohol, but my second thrill came with the second white wine we tasted: the 2016 San Pascasio, Romagna Pagadebit DOP (photo), from the Campodelsole winery. Unlike the Albana, this white had a vivacious acidity and a refreshing minerality. Aromas and flavors of exotic fruits and elderflower were delicious. I was wowed and seduced immediately. Pagadebit is made from the Bombino Bianco grape, which, unlike Albana, is not unique to Romagna. It can be found in central Italy all the way to Puglia, but it has definite terroir characteristics here in Romagna and must count for at least 85% of the grapes for the Pagadebit di Romagna DOC. The name is a story in itself. “Paga-debit” – literally “pays your debt” in Italian – comes from the grape’s reputation for being high yielding and a reliable crop for vineyard owners to grow, assuring that each vintage would enable them to pay off their debts. But the latest report regarding the 2017 vintage is rather alarming and almost puts in question the validity of the promising name. My source is Mauro Sirri, co-owner of the Celli winery in Bertinoro. In his 34 years of winemaking experience, he has never seen such precocious harvest, which started on the 8th of August, about 3 weeks before than usual, due to high temperature and scarce rainfall. So much for those who have doubts about global or local warming! The oldest vines, benefiting from deeper roots, reacted better, but the average yield still dropped by 50%, putting at risk the financial balance of wineries.
On the positive side, Albana seems to gain some appeal outside the borders of Romagna. On November 25th and 26th 2017, Bertinoro will host the first Albana Trophy to find the best expert of this wine in order to be its ambassador both nationally and internationally. I wish I could go, perhaps you can, I know you should! The little town will be having many events for the occasion. You just cannot miss having a meal at l’Osteria Cà de Bè with a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and fantastic food (still thinking about this rabbit…). The wine collection is also exceptional (photo du mec?) and I really liked the 2016 Albana “Neblina”, produced by Givana Madonia, which had a very pleasant acidity
After my initiation in Bertinoro, I was better armed to appreciate the following tastings of Romagnolo wines. The first one came soon after at the Cantina Poderi dal Nespoli (link? http://www.poderidalnespoli.com/en/), a winery established in 1929 about 16 miles to the South-West of Bertinoro, with a beautiful tasting room and a wide diversity of wines. There was of course various Sangiovese based reds and out of the lot, my favorite was the Prugneto, Romagna DOC, Sangiovese Superiore, made from 100 % Sangiovese grosso: a wine full of life with a bright ruby color, an intense bouquet of ripe red fruit which didn’t translate in the palate into anything jammy, allowing a certain freshness to shine through and soft tannins to carry notes of violet and plum. Yum!
But, once again, my focus was more on the whites. The Campodora, a 100% Albana showcased the typical golden yellow color of the grape and a rich smooth taste of stone fruit and acacia flowers. But what made it shine for me was this beautiful balance between ripeness and acidity. This freshness, I was told, was to be attributed to vines perched at a higher altitude and a careful picking of the grapes in the morning, before it got too hot. Their Pagadebit (blended with 15% of Sauvignon Blanc) was fresh and vivacious with a floral nose and a crisp finish. Besides those two established whites in Romagna, we had the chance to discover a third one, called Famoso, in reference to the name of the grape which it was made of exclusively. Ironically, this indigenous grape from Romagna has been rediscovered in the last ten years or so after a period of abandonment. Fame comes and goes I guess. And what a flamboyant come back this was in the glass with this 2016 vintage: totally charming white, light, with only 11.5° alcohol, but intense with its floral aromas, notes of tropical fruit, and a long, clean, lip smacking finish. Cesare and I fell in love with this rarity and decided to buy a few bottles to take home and share with others. In spite of its name, Famoso won’t be in the aisle of your supermarket anytime soon! Look for it at your specialty wine store, but better yet, plan a trip to Ravenna.
If you have the chance to go in the summer during the Festa Artusiana in Forlimpopoli, your will be able to discover the beautiful Casa Artusi  (where you can take traditional cooking classes, as well as learn about one of the legends of Italian cookery in the name of Pellegrino Artusi whose monumental La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene was first printed in 1891 with 700 regional recipes. The whole town during these few days pays homage to the legendary food writer by putting certain of his recipes on the menu of established or ephemeral restaurants. Food stands abound and enable you to taste specialties from Romagna and elsewhere. Beverages are also part of the feast of course, from local microbrewery beers to local wines.                                                                                                                                                                         One stand had me taste an Albana Passito, sweet and intense, beautifully balanced with just enough acidity to make you want to have another sip. This final tasting note still lingers in my mind and the unique wines of Romagna will have me go back again, that is for sure

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by Philip Sinsheimer
Photo: Cesare Zucca, Philip Sinsheimer

It’s harvest season and 2017 appears as a challenging vintage in Europe (“a catastrophy” in Italy according to our host Cesare Zucca). Climate has always been a nail-biting stress factor in wine production and the recent warming observations are not helping… Well, not helping everybody! If some predict the growing production of wines in small Northern players such as the UK, Southern European big producers are feeling the heat and are worried. Wine geography has seen many changes with the emergence of “New World” wines of North America, as well as Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa in the Southern hemisphere. But wines of decent quality in tropical countries had never come to my attention… Until the discovery of Mansoon Valley wines in Thailand! During our one month trip in Southeast Asia at the beginning of the year, I had conditioned myself to limited opportunity of interesting wine discoveries. I was ready to enjoy the beers of the various countries visited and an occasional bottle of rather generic imported wine. But, our initial stay in Bangkok at the Centara Grand Central World already gave us a taste of how seriou s the wine lists were at its various restaurants.When we visited their sister property Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin , around 3 hours South of Bangkok in the historic royal beach town of Hua Hin.                The Centara Hua Hin  is a magnificent venue designed to evoke the spirit of the 1920s. Colonial influences meet modern-day comforts and soothing views are to be had of the swimming pools or the magic gardens, populated by grass elephants and other animals. The hotel opened at a time when the new railway line to Malaysia was transforming the sleepy fishing village of Hua Hin into Thailand’s first beach resort.                                                                      Sensitively extended and renovated, Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin retains its air of that bygone age of elegance. I had an even greater surprise during our meal at the elegant, yet relaxed Suan Bua restaurant: a local white wine was offered to go along the traditional Thaï dishes, from shrimp with mango salad to roasted duck in red curry.

 

 

I have  to say I was skeptical, but all preconceptions disappeared after a few sips of this Mansoon Valley colombard, both crisp and delicate, with exotic fruit and citrus aromas, along with floral notes. Wow! Perfect pairing with the lemongrass used in the dishes and perfectly cooling to counterbalance the heat of the chilies.I was very curious about it all and the adorable staff of the hotel arranged a visit to the vineyard located less than an hour away. The drive was a beautiful occasion to see a bit of the country side with many fields, mainly pineapple plantations. What a surprise to see in the background of one of the most iconic tropical fruit a well manicured vineyard of over 100 hectars. The surprise does not stop there, as I had the opportunity to tour the property on the back of an elephant (if you’ve never done this, just be prepared, it’s a beautiful, but rather rocky ride). The large and elegant tasting room dominates the valley and one can appreciate the key position of the vineyard that benefits from a cooler micro climate with breezes coming from the hills. This is essential to the production of wines that do not taste “cooked”. It’s also the occasion of learning about who is behind this incredible business operation: a man whose name you may not know, but whose fortunate was made by a beverage you definitely have heard about. No, not wine… Red Bull! Chalerm Yoovidhya is among the richest man in Thailand with a fortune approaching 10 billion US dollars according to Forbes this year. Upon returning from his studies abroad where his taste for wine was developed, Chalerm took up the challenge of growing grapes in his native Thailand and show the world that great wines can be crafted even at the 13th latitude of the northern hemisphere. New World wines are old, new latitude wines are in! Hua Hin Vineyards is actually one of three vineyards he owns, but it serves as the flagship of the Mansoon Valley brand. The winemaker is German born Kathrin Puff, who worked in several wineries in Italy and New Zealand before meeting this tropical challenge with brio. I had the chance to sample a few of the large collection of wines available at the vineyard and all showcased a serious winemaking expertise. A brut blanc de blancs, showacses the delicate a floral notes of chenin blanc, colombard and viognier grapes that compose this traditional champenoise method sparkling. Besides the colombard white, I tried the medium sweet chenin blanc, which was not cloying at all and promised a nice pairing with spicy meats dishes and seafood salads. Among the two high-end “Cuvée de Siam” bottles, made with the best grapes of chosen parcels, I was really impressed with the red, made with the oldest vines of shiraz and sangiovese, aged in French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered. The result: a spicy wine combining medium tanin and long finish (which earned 84 points by Robert Parker). The white was a serious wine, but lacked a bit of the freshness so pleasant in the other more simple whites. To finish on a sweet note, the chenin blanc late harvest with a nice balancing acidity invites to be enjoyed along with seared foie gras, aged gorgonzola or a more local mango, sticky rice and coconut dessert.                                             Yes,!
Good tropical wine is a possibility and Hua Hin is the place to go to check it for yourself!

Not to be missed: the one and only ELEPHANT BAR in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh by night: legendary Elephant Bar leads to other delights…

By Philip Sinsheimer
Photo. Cesare Zucca

The team of the Raffles Siem Reap, engaged us to pay a visit to a real jewel., located in their sister property in Phnom Penh, I am talking of the historic Elephant Bar, a place that exudes the charm of old school luxury. Not only do the walls spoke of history but, the service evokes a tempo of another time, a pace where the demands of productivity are not part of the game. Not to say we waited a long time for our cocktails, we waited just the right time for it to be made to perfection!
The signature cocktail is the Femme Fatale,
created for Jacqueline Kennedy during her 1967 visit in Cambodia.

The bar boasts a selection of 54 hand-picked gins and among the most recent offerings you can pair your libation with a spoonful of Giaveri caviar from Italy for a very friendly $5.

We were hosted by the young French F&B manager of this legendary institution,
Thomas Bianco.

 

We hit it off immediately and Thomas offered to meet with me the next night for a night in town. What a treat! We met with his charming Cambodian wife and I got to experience the best true khmer cuisine at their favorite restaurant, Kravanh, located at 112 Samdach Sothearos Blvd, Simple, yet lovely decor with soft lighting (pic below), great service, nice wines and yes, a real gastronomic adventure at an affordable price. The “phlear trey” traditional marinated raw fish salad tossed with a variety of fresh herbs was incredible, definitely one of the best dish of my entire stay in Cambodia. The evening ended in a fun and lively bar, Chez Flo, located at 308 St 308, Phnom Penh, in the trendy Bassac lane area. Cocktails were impeccably executed by a young and hip bartender who really knew his stuff. Thomas had him create on the spot a cocktail combining ingredients I loved: bourbon, fresh lime and ginger juice, simple sugar and mint leaves. Shaken with egg white and served on the rocks with a splash of angustura bitters. What a treat! Thomas coined the name Tsin-Tsin for the cocktail in a heartbeat, combining the first letter of his first first name and the first 3 letters of my last name for an inviting chin-chin ring to it. It is now on the menu of the Elephant Bar, sealing in history the final touch of a night made of whimsy, fun and good taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Info for The Elephant Bar at Ruffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh  at
http://www.raffles.com/phnom-penh/dining/elephant-bar/

 

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