Friday, June 20, 2014

Judging at A Tavola con Il Nobile in Montepulciano, Tuscany

Judges taste food & wine at a Contrada

We were honored with an invitation to be judges at A Tavola con Il Nobile in Montepulciano, Tuscany. Our “job” would be to taste foods created by chefs at eight different contradas (divisions) of Montepulciano with select Vino Nobile wines over two days. To top it off, we were thrilled to learn that this year’s main ingredient would be duck (locally called Nano), one of our favorites.

The trek from Denver to Rome via Detroit was smoother than one could imagine. Considering that Detroit was actually in bankruptcy, we were concerned about changing flights there. To our surprise, the Detroit airport was modern and loaded with restaurants, bars and shops. The flights took a combined 16 hours and when we arrived in Rome the next morning, a friendly man named Guido of Etruria Tours greeted us. After gathering up three other journalists who flew in from other US cities, we boarded Guido’s Mercedes van for Montepulciano. The ride took just a little more than two hours.

After resting a while at our hotel, we were all picked up by our generous host, Thomas Francioni, Marketing Manager of the Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Thomas is responsible for the worldwide marketing of Vino Nobile wine.

That evening we enjoyed an open-air tasting of Vino Nobile conducted in the town square “Piazza Grande”. About twenty local producers poured their wines. While the tasting was serious, the mood was fun and playful. Many of the pourers were obviously vintners with their wives and even teenage children pitching in to represent their family’s wines.

For the next two days we enjoyed visits to wine producers in the morning and the competing contradas in the afternoon to taste food and wine pairings. We tried four different duck dishes each day, made in a kaleidoscope of preparations and styles. On day two, we started feeling like judges for “Top Chef”™ Montepulciano! The Contrada Chefs were taking this competition very seriously. They were in it to win it. Duck represents part of the farming traditions on which Montepulciano's economy is historically based. One thing for certain, we determined early on that duck pairs exceptionally well with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano! 

Competition President with Winners

Wining Chef with Dish!

Sixteen judges (5 American, 11 Italian) selected three winners. We were pleased that our favorite dish, 'La nana di Talosa' or Talosa Duck (roasted with crispy skin, duck liver, and garnished with zucchini flower) accompanied with Montepulciano Nobile wines from Poliziano, Le Bertille, Dei and Triacca wineries, won first place. A spectacular awards ceremony and celebration took place that afternoon in lavish Theatre Poliziano. Afterwards everyone was invited back to the Talosa Contrada for a celebratory dinner overlooking rolling Tuscan hills.

Chefs making celebratory dinner at the Talosa Contrada


I was happy to learn that the 2014 main ingredient will be Chianina Beef !

For more information visit the website of the Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Homemade Red Sauce-With Meat #156

Homemade Red Sauce-With Meat #156

Over the years, I have made many versions of red sauce. As my career blossomed to include interviewing top chefs from around the world, I have fine-tuned the recipe more than 156 times!

Just like with wine where you need great grapes, using authentic San Marzano tomatoes makes a big difference in taste. I usually use Cento brand. Currently both Walmart and Target have been discounting this product to around $3.49, which is about $1.50 less than small shops.
Careful! Cento also sells canned tomatoes from California. These are not San Marzano Certified from Italy. 

Serves: 6-8 people
Prep & cooking: 2 hours


2-28OZ Cans of San Marzano Certified Peeled Tomatoes
1-Whole Yellow Onion chopped finely
¼ -Cup of Olive Oil
2-Carrots peeled and chopped
2- Teaspoons of fresh or frozen Basil
4- Garlic Cloves
3-Bay Leaves
1-Teaspon Italian Herbs Seasoning Mix
1-Tablespoon of Tomato Paste
1½- teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon finely chopped Italian Parsley
1-Teaspoon of ground pepper
1-Cup of Good White Wine  
1-Cup of water
1-Cup of Chicken Stock


·      •Heat olive oil in 4 quart pot
·      •Sauté and sweat onions for 15 minutes, be careful to control heat so the onions do not get burnt
·      •Add garlic and chopped carrots and sauté for 5 minutes
·      •Open tomato cans, remove tomatoes and use a spoon to remove most of the seeds over a colander that is placed above a bowl to capture tomato juice.
·      •Add tomatoes and remaining juice into pot
·      •Add basil, bay leaves Italian Herbs, Salt, Pepper, Tomato Paste, Parsley, White Wine, Water and Chicken Stock
·      •Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes
•   •Cool down sauce and remove and discard bay leaves. When mixture cools down (30 minutes) place in food processor with chopping blade and Purée for 5 minutes.

•Put mixture back into pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Vegetarians/ Vegans:
You are ready to serve this sauce over your favorite pasta.

Meat Lovers:
Add uncooked meatballs and cooked sausage into sauce and cook for 20 minutes at medium heat before serving. The meat will add a hearty flavor to the sauce.

Seafood Lovers:
Add peeled and deveined shrimp, Scallops or lobster, turn-up heat to near boiling for 12 minutes. For spicy sauce lovers add two teaspoons of Tabasco and a teaspoon of crushed red peppers. Mix into sauce for two minutes with a wooden spoon.

I hope that you enjoy these recipes as much as my family and I do!
Note about wine: While many folks like to cook with red wine, I use white wine instead because it is less acidic.

For wine suggestions visit VinoTasting.Com

Monday, November 18, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Champagne Rising At The 2013 Denver International Wine Festival

The 9th Annual Denver International Wine Festival was our best ever!
Wine loving ticket holders booked 167 rooms on Friday November 8th enthusiastically supporting the move of venue to the luxurious, Four-Diamond, award-winning Omni Interlocken in Broomfield.  All ticket events were sold-out in advance.

The five day festival stepped-up the focus on wine education and culinary greatness.
Three educational seminars were moderated by Brandon Tebbe, Master Sommelier. Seminars included :

Artisanal Cheese & Wine Pairing Adventure Seminar by: Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario and Mike Andrews of Coyote Canyon Winery

Champagne Styles by Madeleine de Jean, “Madam Champagne”.

Riedel Vinum XL Glass Tasting by Price Kitchem, National Sales Manager, Riedel Crystal America

A 4th seminar was presented by The International Wine Guild

Wine and Food Pairing Seminar
Instructor: Claude Robbins, GWM, MWE

The stars of this year’s festival included former White House chef John Moeller and “Madam Champagne” who helped wine lovers expand their knowledge of Champagne.

The final event, The Julia Child Champagne Tribute Luncheon  delighted attendees with 6 different amazing champagnes from G.H Mumm, Gosset and Taittinger, backed up with a delicious redux of Julia Child’s own Champagne Picnic Lunch menu (Sans Aspen Food & Wine Classic). See menu here:

Attendees enjoyed watching Madam Champagne teach Omni Executive Chef Mario Clapes how to saber a bottle of Champagne nearby an empty chair that was dedicated to Julia Child. Ladies participated in the fun by speaking in Julia’s voice!

The 10th Annual Denver International Wine Festival returns to the Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield, November 20 to 22, 2014.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cheers to James Gandolfini

It’s been about almost 2 months since James passed away of a heart attack in Rome. I am still in non-belief!

I was one of his biggest fans when he played Tony Soprano, Godfather in HBO’S Soprano’s. As Tony, Gandolfino kept everyone glued to their couches on Sunday evenings.

In 2009, I had the honor of getting back stage access at “God of Carnage”. Marcia Gay Harden, my friend and past wine tasting client arranged this very special visit. The play was amazing. The set was a living room where two couples are discussing what boundaries their rambunctious children broke. In the beginning, James voice had a lisp and was speaking softer than his Tony Soprano tone. When the phone continued to ring, with his mother’s continued nags, James screamed “WTF MOM!” in his typical Tony Soprano titrate. Everyone applauded!

I had the pleasure of meeting James in person after the show. He was in front of the theater signing autographs. At first, when he saw me he was cautious until he realized that I was harmless. When I approached, he extended a hand shake and asked “where’s my wine?”

As a true “Sopranosholic” I was always dreaming of a Soprano’s movie, in “Sex in The City” style. This will not be possible after James demise. I guess, James has faded into black just like the Soprano’s series.