Regular readers of Wine Alchemy will know that I am a particular follower of Caiarossa, a Super-Tuscan biodynamic red wine that was first made in 2003. I have followed every vintage release closely since then, as it seems to me that this is a wine that, while always excellent, has improved each year as the vines have become older (they are now ten years of age) and the influence of biodynamic vineyard practices deepens. In addition, while Caiarossa is always a blend, mostly of a number of bordeaux grape varieties with Tuscan sangiovese, the proportions of these grapes in the final blend have varied markedly with each release; reflecting the terroir and the specific vintage conditions encountered each year on the Tuscan coast.
Each new release of Caiarossa is therefore unique and has become something of a special occasion at BD Mansions. What seems an emerging theme is the rise in importance of cabernet franc to become the lead grape, now displacing merlot from that role, and the current 2009 follows this, being a blend of 25% cabernet franc, 21% merlot and 18% cabernet sauvignon. Sangiovese is increased in 2009 to 19%. Supporting balance is achieved with 8% petit verdot, 6% syrah and 3% grenache, these latter three grapes being used in much smaller quantities than previously.
Rather than simply write a review of Caiarossa 2009, I really wanted to drink it paired with food, as perhaps most wines should be, and as Italian red wines really demand. But what food to pair it with? It would be easy to call in the usual suspects but I had decided to set myself a few criteria.
Firstly, I am a believer in the adage that a complex wine shows best with relatively simple cuisine. Simple does not, of course, have to mean ordinary. Then, the goal of wine pairing should be to achieve more than where the partners seem to rub along happily - ideally there must be some synergy where the wine and food experienced together is greater than the sum of the parts.
I also wanted this to be an occasion, a main course that not only upheld Italian culinary traditions but that could form the centrepiece of a celebratory meal. Finally, the food would have to be something that someone with limited culinary prowess would be able to create with confidence of a successful outcome - because the chef would be me!
Initially I was at a loss, searching recipe books for ideas but finding little inspiration. There were some great dishes, but most appeared either beyond my skill level or lacked that celebratory wow-factor to partner a potentially great wine. Time passed and I consoled myself that at least the Caiarossa was improving in bottle and that the Christmas and New Year period would provide the opportunity.
Salvation came just in time before Christmas as I watched an episode of “Saturday Kitchen” on TV. There was Gennaro Contaldo, the man that taught Jamie Oliver, full of his usual exuberance, making Porchetta. Inspiration! Stuffed and rolled roast pork belly served with sautéed potatoes seemed just right for a special occasion and just as importantly suggested a brilliant wine match. It even meant I could use the herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary) from the garden and source the pork from my local butcher, where local organic provenance and animal welfare was proven. New Year’s Eve was chosen to provide the occasion.
All I had to do now was allow plenty of time and follow the recipe without deviation, hesitation or repetition…so here is my proof:
The Caiarossa was decanted prior to serving for around two hours, being a young wine with many years of development ahead. It was fragrant and complex, a dark opaque colour. Sangiovese brought that characteristic loose tea perfume and the cabernet franc had that tell-tale pencil shavings aroma that blended in with the aromas and flavours from the meat and the garlicky herb stuffing.
What really seemed to make this combination surpass my expectations was the fennel. Unexpectedly, the fennel seeds in the stuffing seemed to pick up and reprise something similar in the wine, though I remain baffled as to why this was the case. Meanwhile, the merlot injected a helping hand of dark damson fruit but there was plenty of ripe cherry and cranberry too, all such festive flavours!
While I am no fan of high alcohol table wines (and Caiarossa runs at a heady 14.5%) the alcohol is almost unnoticeable, such is the balance with fruit and acidity. And the acidity also helps make it a good companion too, cutting through the fattiness of the pork (especially the delicious crackling) and leaving the mouth refreshed and ready for the next morsel.
It was hard not to hurry to the next forkful but worth taking time to savour each bite and sip: this is a wine of velvet texture and great smoky and spicy length. The tannins are polished but in youthful evidence, disappearing when working with the meat fibre. Few wines in my experience have both the grace and the sheer brawny exuberance to succeed as Caiarossa did here.
Meanwhile, my verdict on the 2009 Caiarossa is that it is their best release yet, even eclipsing the 2004. Some of that will be down to the vintage, some to maturing vines and some can be attributed to the winemaking and blending skills employed.
This was truly memorable meal and proved to be a wine and food match made in heaven. I can only commend both Caiarossa and Porchetta to you - preferably taken together in sumptuous celebration! It also gave me an easy New Year resolution, to do more in the kitchen in 2014!
Porchetta (serves 10–12)
- 5kg/11lb piece of pork belly - ask the butcher to remove the ribs and trim off the excess fat
- 25g/1oz coarse salt
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
- 1 large bunch fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds (if you are lucky enough to find wild fennel, use it instead, finely chopped - its flavour is unique)
- 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 6 tbsp runny honey
- freshly ground black pepper
- 400g/14oz small new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves, unpeeled and squashed
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 230C/445F/Gas 8. Lay the pork belly skin-side down onto a clean flat surface.
- Sprinkle the salt and coarsely ground black pepper over it, rubbing them well into the meat with your finger.
- Leave to rest for ten minutes so the salt and pepper settle well into the meat. Then sprinkle the herbs, fennel seeds and garlic evenly over it.
- Next tie up the meat. You will need ten pieces of string, each about 30cm/12 inches long. Carefully roll the meat up width-ways and tie it very tightly with string in the middle of the joint. Then tie at either end about 1cm/½ inch from the edge and keep tying along the joint until you have used up all the string. The filling should be well wrapped, if any excess filling escapes from the sides, push it in.
- With your hands, massage one tablespoon of the olive oil all over the joint. Then rub the remaining salt and some more black pepper over it.
- Grease a large roasting tin with the remaining olive oil and place the pork in it.
- Roast for ten minutes, then turn it over. After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and cover the meat with aluminium foil. (If you like the crackling very crisp, don’t bother with the foil, but remember that the porchetta needs to be sliced thinly and crispy crackling will make this more difficult.)
- Roast for three hours.
- Remove the joint from the oven and coat with honey, drizzling some of the juices from the roasting tin all over it too.
- Insert a fork in either side of the joint and lift it on to a wooden board. If you are serving the porchetta immediately, place the roasting tin on the hob and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the caramelised bits from the base of the tin, until the juices from the meat reduce and thicken slightly. Slice the joint thinly and serve with the sauce. Alternatively, leave the meat to cool and slice when needed. It will keep for up to a week in the fridge.
- For the sautéed potatoes, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, then drain.
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic and rosemary, followed by the potatoes. Allow to colour on all sides over a fairly high heat, stirring now and again to prevent them sticking to the pan.
- Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve with the porchetta.