What we are drinking in lockdown

I’ve been talking a lot about what we have been cooking in lockdown for the past two months (most recently for the Financial Times How to Spend It weekend magazine), and it’s unsurprisingly been a lot of comfort food, a lot of baking and lots and lots of bread as our sourdough starter has finally been given a life!

Off the back of a fun little live chat that Marco and I did on Instagram recently about wine (you can see the notes from it in my highlights here), I thought it would be nice to do another “what we are drinking” blog post, which is about introducing some interesting Italian winemakers that Marco picked and why we like them.

In lockdown, drinking wine has been part of our daily aperitivo ritual – a glass of wine with nibbles as we are preparing dinner, or maybe taken down to our neighbour’s olive grove, picnic style, with some tiny glasses, salami and Marco’s sourdough bread, so the girls can stretch their legs after being cooped up for most of the day. That golden hour before dinner is the prettiest time to be out on the hillside, under the olive trees, it is absolutely magical and it has been a lifesaving, head-clearing ritual over the past weeks, a nice excuse to go for a walk, look up at the sky, switch off and relax with my family and I keep reminding myself to do it more often while we can (we have to enjoy it now before the mosquitoes drive us away)!

But to the wine, I want to share something with you about these interesting grape varieties from equally interesting wineries, a selection of the things that have stood out lately. It’s a coincidence but they all come from northern Italy and, looking at these now written down together, they actually make the start of what would be a fabulous food and wine inspired road trip!

Marta Valpiani, Albana di Romagna 2018 Madonna dei Fiori (Emilia-Romagna)

Marta Valpiani is a winery in Emilia-Romagna, near the medieval town of Castrocaro Terme, composed of a mother and daughter team that call themselves “artisan winegrowers”, which I like. We ordered a few of their wines as well as their olive oil and really enjoyed this Albana (below), a golden white wine made from older vines (between 30-60 years old) grown according to organic and biodynamic principles, harvested by hand. It’s a wine for dining with and goes well with punchy flavours like bottarga, anchovies, even artichokes which are notorious for pairing with wine.

Ca’ Lojera Lugana Annata Storica 1999, Lake Garda (Lombardy)

Ca’ Lojera is an organic winery situated on the south side of Lake Garda, right on the Lombardy/Veneto border – not far from Verona, even if it’s on the Lombardy side. We picked up this 21 year old special vintage Lugana (above), made with 100% Turbiana grapes at our local bistro in Settignano, Caffe Desiderio, which is closed like all restaurants and bars right now, but offering deliveries. It was a steal, too, at 30 euro. It was balanced and elegant, with notes of apricot and honey to match its deep honey colour (see the first photo in this post!). We drank it with a whole roasted sea bream with potatoes, but it would have been wonderful with a plate of cheeses too. If you’re interested about this grape variety, Turbiana, Wine Folly has an interesting story on it here, until recently it was thought to be a Trebbiano grape but it is actually a Verdicchio, which in Lugana’s microclimate is expressed in a very unique way.

Le Sincette Groppello from Lake Garda (Lombardy)

We visited this winery (in photo below) last autumn, while driving back from beautiful Bergamo. Situated on the southwest side of Lake Garda, near Salò, it is one of the most important biodynamic wineries in the area. They grow mostly red grapes, plus chardonnay, an interesting one is their Groppello. It’s a native grape to the little pocket of vineyards on this end of Lake Garda on the Lombardy/Veneto border (it is one of the few DOC wines that crosses borders actually, though on the Veneto side this same grape is called Rossignola), and is often used in blends with Sangiovese, Marzemimo and Barbera — single variety wines like this are rare. A nice red to go with salumi.

Diego Morra Verduno Pelaverga, an unusual grape variety from La Morra (Piemonte)

Pelaverga piccolo is a rare grape varietal grown in the Langhe in Piedmont, especially around the town of Verduno. It’s production today is limited to about 18 hectares divided by about 10 producers only, but it has actually been around since at least the 1400s when this small, black grape was trained over fruit trees as supports. It had a little revival in the 70s and in 1995 was awarded DOC status (in an effort to showcase some of Piedmont’s lesser known varieties) but as you can imagine, it’s still overshadowed by the region’s more famous Nebbiolo, Barolo and Barbera. It’s a fruity, aromatic, peppery, bright red wine and is versatile for pairing with but Marco rightly suggests to simply drink it on its own, so you can enjoy this unusual and rare grape without any distractions. Diego Morra is a family winery run by three generations of winemakers in one of the most beautiful winemaking regions I’ve ever been to.

I’ll leave you with this intriguing piece by journalist and wine writer, Alice Feiring, on what has changed by drinking alone in isolation:

“When drinking with others (even one other), my game plan is to choose wines that can oil the joints of conversation, wit, gossip, and sometimes argument. But COVID-19 requires more proletarian options.”

It’s interesting, is wine the same when you don’t have someone to share a conversation with? Marco has always been reluctant to write about wine, or let me even interview him about wine for the blog, insisting that wine writing is outright boring. What’s interesting – to him – is the tasting, and especially tasting with others, so that you can talk about it together. He was even skeptical about me writing this post but I stubbornly insisted because I like to share and tell the story of food and recipes, things we have been enjoying, why not wine?  Yes, he’s right that it’s not the same as drinking it at the table together in person, but hopefully you find this useful, maybe you can seek out these interesting grapes or these particular low intervention winemakers where you are, or plan a trip for the future. And hopefully one day we can drink them around the table together.

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