This week saw the visit of Ave Vallecchi from Felsina, who present a magnificent and very informative tasting for our customers. (The accompanying lamb casserole by Mary Jane and Maurice Caro was also delicious, and its recipe is included below by popular demand.)
It was wonderful to hear details of this superb house in Chianti Classico, the heart of this famous Tuscan region where the name Chianti has been associated with wine since at least the late 14th Century. Mr. Vallecchi explained that Felsina are based in the southernmost border of the Classico zone, where an elevated but open aspect is far enough south to be untouched by the shadow of the spine of hills running up and down the region. This offers them the warm and consistent climate with which to make wines of true greatness and ageworthy structure.
As he pointed out, it was this natural generosity that allowed them to have been one of the leaders of a movement, now decades old, in which Chianti producers lessened their reliance on blending and began to focus more exclusively on the Sangiovese grape. Sangiovese is a local variety with immense inherent quality, distinctiveness and versatility, but which can be a little rough and tannic if it is not ripened fully. Felsina are now experts of this grape, and almost all wines under this label are 100% Sangiovese (the only other two are likewise single varietal, non-blended wines). The style they present is sensuous and broad, with a serious and sometimes dense structure leading to exceptional aging capacity. But they are never without an impression of ripeness and roundness with a compelling, svelte sort of power. There were so many highlights of the evening, and this may explain why everything from Felsina this round has sold out. But a broad and inconclusive show of hands suggested of the wine of the night was somewhere between the two majestic Rancia wines.
While the recipe will appear below, here are some quick notes on two of the night’s highlights.
Felsina Chianti Classico Reserva Rancia 2013 (Library Stock, not available)
An extremely dense and powerful nose shows dark red berry fruits and tamarillo positively packed with steely or rusty earth, balsam, dark chocolate, and many leathery and savoury nuances. Steeliness also touches the earthy darkish fruit on the palate, which begins with real drive and punch through the middle but which, as the initial attack of fresh acidity settles down, broadens out to finish huge and long with brooding fruit and landscape complexities. An unstoppable sense of concentration, intensity and potential seems to almost burst out of the restraints provided by the wine’s obvious good breeding and sophistication. Outstanding and compelling!
Felsina Fontalloro Toscana 2013 (Library stock, not available)
A deep and rounded nose of ripe plum unfolds other compote fruits along with layers of tar or leather, smoothly melded with balsam, iron earth and chocolate notes. Saline notes seem to round out or augment the palate of ripe and gently mouth-filling fruit, which is layered by very reflective and continuous notes of profoundly ripe red compote and deep, earthy savoury layering. While it is a wine of huge presence and elegant sensuality, an almost jube-like refinement in the spectrum of fruit characters curiously allows an atmosphere of delicacy and almost florality to co-exist with this impressive sense of scale and depth. So serious and yet so complimentary to the palate, this red from a warmer site offers charisma and X factor in the Super-Tuscan category.
PERSIAN FUSION CASSEROLE
Serves 10 approx — START 24 HOURS BEFORE SERVING
2kg lamb shoulder – cut into chunks without too much fat. I DO NOT BROWN THE MEAT
4 large brown onions — cut into 1cm dice
4 large carrots — cut into 4cm chunky pillars
2tsp ground cinnamon
2tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp ground cardamom
4 tsp Maldon salt
400gms pitted prunes
500mls really good beef stock – preferably beef jus
180 mls decent red wine – put in a small pot and bring to boil before using
2 tsp caster sugar
Juice of 4 limes (put these in the microwave for 10 seconds before squeezing – makes far more juice!)
1/2 tsp good quality saffron threads — dissolved in 1 tab of boiling water
800gms butternut or pumpkin cut into small chunks
1 large handful of roughly chopped mint
3 tabs Balsamic vinegar – good quality
Get the oven up to 200 and then drop it to 150 when you put the casserole in.
In a large casserole put in a good glug of olive and cook the onion until very lightly browned. Add spices and Maldon salt and cook for 1 minute. Add the lamb, stock and wine. Make sure lamb is covered adding more liquid if necessary.
Bring just to boiling point. Cover with a catouch and lid. Cook for 1 hour in oven.
Add prunes, lime juice, sugar, saffron threads and water. Cook for a further ½ hour or until lamb is done. Cool and then put in the fridge overnight.
THE NEXT DAY. (There may be some fat to be removed before reheating.)
Put pumpkin chunks in a bowl sprinkle with decent olive oil, salt & pepper. Mix till chunks are well coated and spread out flat on an oven tray and roast for about 20 minutes till JUST done – do not overcook!
Roughly chop a large handful of mint. Add the above and 3 tabs of good quality Balsamic vinegar to the casserole just before serving.
Garnish with plenty of roasted whole almonds.