If you love Classic German riesling, then hold onto your seat, because 2015 in Germany is easily the best young vintage that I have ever tasted. I say that without any doubt in my mind. I say it as a fan of Riesling who has been tasting and working to understand the region for many years now. I say it feeling confident that 20 years from now, you’ll be remembering the moment you decided to go deep on 2015s, and you will smile from ear to year.
However, before you go out and buy all of your favorite Grosses Gewächs and Trocken-style wines, heed my one warning; 2015 German Riesling is all about the classic Prädikat-styled wines. In other words, wines with residual sugar. We aren’t talking about “sweet” wines (however those are off the charts as well); what we’re talking about are the styles of Feinherb, Kabbinet and Spatlese. These are wines that carry varying degrees of residual sugar, but it’s a sweetness that you often don’t perceive, because the acidity and fruit concentration of the wine balances everything out to a tee. That is the magic of the 2015 vintage.
This is not to say that there aren’t any amazing Grosses Gewächs from the vintage, yet what was apparent to many of the best producers was that the best way to use their perfect fruit was to allow the natural ripeness and purity of the vintage to shine through.
The ripeness and balance of 2015 came developed from a series of events that unfolded throughout the year and blessed the majority of the northern regions. The Mosel, Rheinhessen, Rheingau and the Nahe were all treated to a perfect natural blend of climatic conditions. This started with an extremely dry and warm summer, which excelled the ripening and prompted the berries to develop thicker skins. Just when growers started to worry that the vintage would suffer from heat and hydric stress, rain came and temperatures regulated. In the south, this made for an earlier vintage, but in the cooler regions, producers held on and were treated to a harvest season of unheralded perfection.
Instead of worrying about when to pick or avoiding inclement weather, they were treated to five weeks of an Indian summer, which was propelled even further as the nighttime temperatures turned cool and dry. And so, through the month of October, growers were able to pick at leisure as the heat of the day and cool, brisk evenings created perfect physiological ripeness in the grapes and aided in keeping botrytis in check. The results were fruit of outstanding depth, perfect ripeness and bright, brisk acidity.
Speaking of acidity, this was both the blessing and the curse of the vintage. Producers who waited, achieved deep, concentrated berries, and they found balance in the vintage’s high acid. However, those who did not, or who picked early to create a drier-styled wine, were subject to a level of acid that I can best describe as “searing”. In fact, in tasting for this article, there were moments that my gums burned as I worked through certain portfolios. What’s worse is that some producers decided to deacidify, which created wines of round textures and fruit that lacks the verve of the vintage.
What really makes this vintage shine is balance and concentration. When reading through many of my notes, I found it amazing how often I used the words rich, savory and sweet herbs, as these are not often descriptions I find myself adding to a Riesling tasting note. However, in 2015, many of the Prädikat wines show these exact virtues. It’s amazing as I tasted so many of the Kabinetts and found them to be utterly spellbinding. It was difficult when making buying decisions, because I have so many fond memories of the wines in this range. As for the Spatlese, they are so young, yet so perfectly compact and balanced. In many cases, these are 30 – 40 year wines that a young collector could build an entire cellar on. The exact same can be said for the Auslese category, many of which may be immortal.
Take the perfectly ripe and pure fruit of the vintage. Add the depth created by the warm days and cool nights of the harvest. Then factor in the intense, vibrant acidity, and what you get are some of the most exciting wines that Germany (in my life) has ever produced.
I hope you agree and join me in going deep on 2015 Riesling.
Explanation of Terms and Tasting Notes:
Trocken = Dry as a bone. (Reminder: dry even if Spatlese Trocken)
Großes Gewächs = The Grands Crus of Germany, and Dry as a bone.
Feinherb = Off Dry and remarkably balanced.
Kabinett = A hint of sweetness balanced by lively acidity.
Spätlese = A rich wine from extremly ripe grapes., yet perfectly balanced.
Auslese = Selected harvest. Riper and richer than Spätlese, able to age for many decades.
On to my tasting notes (organized by region):
Mosel Saar Ruwer
Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken – The nose was fresh and lifted with minerals up front, followed by notes of ripe pear and floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures contrasted by mouthwatering acidity which excited the senses and brought notes of sweet citrus and inner floral tones to life. The finish was long with lingering notes of ripe apple and lemon. For the money, you cannot go wrong here. (92 points)
Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese feinherb Ur Alte Reben 2015 – The nose was rich and deeply pitched with ripe stone fruits and spicy floral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures with tart apple, lemon and mineral thrust. It washed across the senses like a veil, with a shot of energy in the mid, then finishing long, long, long, laden with minerals. (94 points)
Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese* 2015 – According to Johannes Selbach, this fruit was technically Auslese level in ripeness, and from the depth in the glass, you can certainly feel it. Here I found a deep and rich mineral-laden perfume, showing dried flowers, ripe apple, mango and hints of lemon curd. On the palate, I found silky, broad textures, which soothed the senses while a wave of acidity forced the mouth to water, releasing notes of spiced citrus and tropical fruits. The finish was long with notes of sweetened lemon and apple, then fading to become spicy and floral. (95 points)
Selbach-Oster Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese 2015 – In 2015, I believe the Domprobst Auslese may be Selbach’s best sweet wine in 2015. The nose was intense with layers of crushed stone, tart citrus, and tropical fruits. It seemed to coat the entire palate in silky textures until a wash of minerals and acidity refreshed the senses, leaving flavors of spiced apple, mango and sweet inner floral tones. It finished on tension and seemed to go on for well over a minute. Sweet, but not, and built for the cellar. (96 points)
Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling “Rotlay” 2015 – The nose was fresh and fruity with sweet floral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures displaying ripe mango, apple and lemon, before turning floral tones and spice. The finish was long with palate-coating tropical fruits, yet wonderfully fresh at the same times. This wine is so perfectly balanced. (94 points)
Julian Haart Riesling Moselle 2015 – The bouquet opened with ripe apple, mango, exotic kiwi notes, and it then turned almost savory, showing crushed stone and hints of pepper. It was racy on the palate and beautifully balanced with mid-weight textures, showing spicy green apple and minerals. The finish was long with mineral intensity, which seemed to saturate the senses. (92 points)
Peter Lauer Ayler Riesling Senior Faß 6 2015 – The nose was almost savory with its showing of green herbs, floral tones, spice and minerals. On the palate, it was soft with teeming green apple acidity, hints of lime and saline-minerality. The finish remained vibrant with coating minerals, almost salty in nature. This was not what I was expecting, but it was beautiful all the same. (91 points)
A.J. Adam Riesling Trocken 2015 – This displayed a darker and richer Riesling profile with ripe apple and hints of spice. On the palate, it was intense, as tart apple and citrus were kept juicy by brisk acidity, morphing into inner floral tones over time. It finished remarkably fresh and long with a lasting impression of tart citrus and minerals. (91 points)
A.J. Adam Hofberg Riesling (GG) Trocken 2015 – The nose was slightly restrained, yet it was all there below the surface, as yellow floral tones mingled with tart apple and wet stone. On the palate, it showed remarkable intensity, as notes of concentrated green apple, grapefruit and minerals saturated the senses, yet it was kept vibrant and clean by cleansing acidity. The finish displayed a deep well of stone fruits, a coating of minerals, and lingering notes of dried flowers. Gorgeous. (95 points)
Weingut Adam & Haart Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling trocken 2015 – The nose was restrained, showing only light floral tones, stone fruits and a whiff of minerals. On the palate, it came to life with rich yet vibrant textures, as tart apple, sour citrus and minerals soaked the senses, providing contrasts to the wine’s weight. It finished long on saturating tart fruits and a buzz of brisk acidity. (92 points)
A.J. Adam Im Pfarrgarten Riesling Feinherb 2015 – The nose showed crushed stone up front, followed by an abundance of ripe stone fruit and wet slate. On the palate, I found a perfect balance of silky textures and tantalizing acidity, along with citrus, sweet herbs, and closing on inner floral tones. The finish was juicy, vivid and long; as in my notes, the single word “Wow” is scribed at the finale. (93 points)
A.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Riesling Feinherb “In der Sängerei” 2015 – The nose was rich and spicy with ripe citrus, flowers and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures that filled the senses before contrasting notes of green apple and tart citrus joined the fray. The finish was long with cheek-puckering intensity, yet not severe in any way, as it was simply balanced with sweet citrus and minerals. I love this layered wine, and it was one of the highlights of my 2015 tastings. (94 – 95 points)
A.J. Adam Dhron “Has’chen” Riesling Kabinett 2015 – The nose was deep and rich, however restrained, with only hints of wild herbs and minerals. On the palate, I found ripe apple and melon with hints of savory spice, which seemed to coat the senses in their concentration. It finished fresh on ripe apple and mouthwatering acidity. (92 points)
A.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Riesling Spätlese 2015 – The nose was youthfully restrained. On the palate, I found full-bodied textures lifted by brisk acidity. The fruit was tropical and ripe but kept in check by stunning minerality. The long finish lent a buzz of mouthwatering acidity which provided freshness. It was very nice but painfully young, and I doubt my score will do it justice years down the road. (90 – 92 points)
A.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Riesling Auslese 2015 – The nose showed ripe apple and pear. On the palate, I found luscious textures, yet lifted and fresh, with notes of mango, orange peel and ripe apricot. It finished long on sweet florals and hints of spice. This wine requires time to find itself, as I have no doubt that it will grow into something much more than it is today. (94 – 96 points)
Schloss Lieser Helden Riesling Spatlese Trocken 2015 – The nose showed tart citrus with intense minerals, floral tones and musky undergrowth. On the palate, wow, concentrated yet silky with intense rich citrus contrasted by a coating of minerals and spice. The finish was long and spicy with tart citrus and an almost-smoky quality. (92 points)
Schloss Lieser Riesling Estate 2015 – The nose was fresh, showing young mango, apricot, lemon zest and minerals. On the palate, I found soft, almost creamy textures, mixing lemon with ripe apple and zest acidity. It turned tart, then made the mouth water throughout the finish. (90 points)
Schloss Lieser Estate Riesling Kabinett 2015 – The nose showed crushed stone minerality with hints of ripe pear. On the palate, I found soft textures, almost creamy, with sweet citrus, apple and perfectly balanced acidity. The finish was long, almost floral, with lingering hints of tart citrus. (91 points)
Schloss Lieser Riesling Kabinett Brauneberger Juffer 2015 – The nose showed ripe pear, and spice, then turned mineral with sweet florals. On the palate, I found soft textures giving way to ripe apple, pear, and rich lemon curd; but through it all, there was great energy and tension. The finish coated the palate with sweet apple and inner floral tones. (92 points) Find it at Morrell
Schloss Lieser Riesling Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2015 – The bouquet was intense and almost savory, with floral perfumes, spice, fresh ginger, and wet stone minerality. On the palate, it was perfectly balanced, silky and ripe yet contrasted with green apple acidity and coating minerals, then turned to inner florals. The finish was ridiculously long on ripe apple and sweet citrus with a slight buzz of acidity. It’s a mind-bending wine. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese 2015 – The nose was deep and rich, showing crushed stone minerality with floral tones, lime, and sweet herbs. On the palate, it was silky, coating the senses with sweet textures lifted by stunning bright fruits, including floral peach, ripe pear, ginger and citrus. The finish seemed to go on and on, slowly tapering off over time with lingering hints of minerals and lemon. (93 points) Find it at Morrell
Dönnhoff Felsenberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs “Felsenturmchen” 2015 – (limited notes) The nose was rich and deeply layered with intense minerality and young stone fruits. On the palate, it was fresh and well-balanced, yet a twang of acidity seared the mid through the close. It finished mouthwatering and spicy. (91 points)
Dönnhoff Hermannshöhle Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2015 – The nose was gorgeous with intense floral perfumes, fresh sliced apple, and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found zesty minerality with green apple acidity, and pure and precise notes of apricot, pear and inner floral tones. A coating of tantalizing minerals saturated the senses throughout the finish. This is gorgeous. (93 points)
Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl Riesling Kabinett 2015 – It was holding back on the nose, showing only hints of its future self, as notes of young peach and hints of spice mingled in the glass. However, on the palate, I found juicy, ripe stone fruits accentuated by zest acidity and minerals. It finished long yet fresh, as its ripe fruits backed down and revealed floral tones and spiced green apple. This is beautiful. (94+ points)
Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett 2015 – (limited notes) Showing a mix of ripe stone and yellow tropical fruits with silky textures excited by bright acidity, leaving a coating of minerals and notions of fresh green apple. (91 points)
Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese 2015 – The ‘15 Hermannshohle Spat was off the charts, with a bouquet of spiced florals, sweet sliced apple, crushed stone and hints of fresh ginger. On the palate, it was layered and intense yet still lifted with saturating notes of lemon curd, spiced apple, minerals and electrifying acidity. It finished fresh and long with lingering notes of citrus and minerals. This wine has decades of development ahead of it. (96 points)
Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese “Goldkapsel” 2015 – (limited notes) The nose was floral with sweet tropical fruits. On the palate, I found a mix of silky textures, zesty acidity, sweet citrus and saline-minerality. The finish was palate-staining and long, but also wonderfully fresh. (93 points)
Schneider Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Trocken “Magnus” 2015 – The nose was rich, almost savory, saline and intense. On the palate, tart apple and a rush of intense minerals were overly accentuated by searing acidity. It coated the palate with minerals throughout the finish and forced the mouth to water. I’m not sure when this wine will find its balance, but on this day, it was almost painful. (89 – 92 points)
Schlossgut Diel Riesling Feinherb ‘Von der Nahe’ 2015 – Here I was treated to a bouquet of ripe apple, sweet herbs and floral tones. On the palate, concentrated layers of citrus and tart stone fruits were offset by a soft wave of balancing ripeness. It was mouthwatering and intense throughout the finish with a zesty buzz of acidity through the close. (91 points)
Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Goldloch Riesling Kabinett 2015 – The Dorsheimer Goldloch Kabinett showed intense minerality on the nose, more expected from a GG than a Kabi, with fresh floral and lemon zest. On the palate, I found vibrant textures with pure ripe citrus fruit. The details haven’t fleshed out here yet, but the purity is simply stunning. The finish was long and fresh with zippy acidity that prompted me to take another sip. (92 points)
Schlossgut Diel Pittermannchen Riesling Spatlese 2015 – The nose displayed a mix of sweet florals and herbal tones with hints of mango and ripe pear. On the palate, I found a refreshing mix of ripe stone fruits, coating minerality and citrus zest. It was long and caressing to the senses with layers of ripe stone fruits on the finish. (92 points)
von Winning Kirchenstück Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2015 – As expected from von Winning, the 2015 Kirchenstuck showed intense minerality on the nose, with a saline or marine quality, along with young mango and pear. On the palate, I found a wonderfully fresh expression with soft textures to contrast its saturating minerality and hints of tropical fruits. It finished remarkably long and floral, yet tense. It’s still holding much back, but the concentration here is intense, and the acidity is in perfect balance. Put it in the cellar. (94 points)
Spreitzer Oestricher Lenchen Riesling Spatlese ‘303’ 2015 – On the nose, the ‘303’ is still holding back; yet on the palate, it went off like a bomb. Here I found intense sweet lemon and tropical notes offset by scintillating acidity which reinforced its tropical layers and coax the senses to water. This lasted throughout the long finish, adding mineral and sweet herbal tones. (92 points)
Spreitzer Winkeler Jesuitengarten Riesling Spätlese 2015 – The nose was rich and floral with notes of ripe apple, minerals and floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found zesty acidity with notes of ripe tropical fruit and minerals in a very balanced and alluring expression. It finished long with saturating tropical fruits offset by zesty citrus tones. (94 points)
Künstler Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Trocken 2015 – The nose was so layered and fresh, smelling like Spring, with a mix of floral tones, herbs and young peach. On the palate, I found tart lemon and inner floral tones with tantalizing green apple acidity. It finished long, lifted, floral and mouthwatering. Definitely among the top Trockens I’ve tasted from 2015. (92 points)
Künstler Hochheimer Kirchenstuck Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2015 – Künstler really delivered the goods on the Hochheimer Kirchenstuck, as an exotic and almost-savory bouquet of spicy florals was given added depth with hints of caraway and fresh apple. On the palate, it was remarkably soft-textured on entry but then cleansing through vibrant acidity. Inner floral tones prevailed, as its fruit seemed to take a back seat. However, I’m not worried here, as there’s so much going on, which is still not at the surface. (92 points)
Keller Riesling Limestone 2015 – The nose showed a bright mix of a ripe spiced apple with wet stone minerality and zesty lemon. On the palate, I found vibrant, soft textures, leading with succulent ripe apple and then turning tart with intense minerality and inner florals. Granny Smith tartness lingered long, long, long on the mid-palate, along with saturating minerals, all while remnants of zesty acidity forced the mouth to water. (91 points) Find it at Morrell
Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos by: Eric Guido
What’s become one of the highlights of my year is the tasting of new releases from BOND estate. This year it was the 2012 vintage that was under the microscope. To just say that I’m impressed would be a serious understatement. Last year the 2011 vintage really wow’d me, which is a testament to what Bond has created through their selection of vineyard sites. These wines transcend vintage, yet when you combine this level of quality winemaking, the prestigious terroir that BOND has chosen, and a good vintage like 2012, you end up with something purely magical.
Location… Terroir… Letting Cabernet Sauvignon speak in Napa Valley.
Over the last 20-years BOND estate has been working to define Napa Valley’s Grand Crus, which is something that speaks volumes to me—and my single-vineyard-loving roots.
In fact, I recall tasting at a very prestigious Valley winery some years ago, where they allowed me to sample pure Cabernet from each of their vineyard sites. I was amazed by the quality and enjoyment I found in each glass, yet completely disappointed as I knew they would ultimately be blended to create the estate’s flagship wine. Of course, for a very long time, this is what Napa Valley was all about. However, today we see the importance of place finding traction in California, and BOND is at the head of the pack.
What BOND has done is to seek out and define five distinct locations, each with noticeably different terroir, and create a series of single-vineyard expressions. With their vineyard manager, Mary Maher, overseeing each sight, and winemaker, Cory Empting vinifying each of the wines in the same fashion, BOND has succeeded in bringing us an exciting collection of Napa Valley Cabernet.
Imagine this as you sip from a glass of Melbury, with it’s vibrant, plush fruit, supple textures and elegance, a result of the ancient sedimentary soils and compressed clay that these vines grow in. Now move on to Quella, from the eastern hills overlooking the valley. A steep southwest facing slope, atop an ancient riverbed, covered by a layer of volcanic ash. It’s a graceful and vibrant wine with more blue fruits and a refined finish. With St. Eden we move further south to a rocky knoll, just north of Oakville in soils composed of iron-rich volcanic rock. In my opinion, St Eden is the most all around pleasing wine in the lineup, a classic Napa Valley Cabernet. Moving on to Vecina, we take a turn to structure, intensity and savory tones, as this terraced volcanic slope is mixed with exposed bedrock and alluvial sediments. It shows the darker side of Napa with its blackberry fruits, also layered with a melange of exotic aromas and flavors. Vecina is a serious wine, built for the cellar. Lastly there’s Pluribus, their highest elevation site, located on Spring mountain in soils made up of decomposed volcanic rock. Pluribus is dark and intense, again a candidate for the cellar, and a wine that will please lovers of the old-world and the new.
As you can see, BOND has something for every palate. Yet each time I think I’ve picked my favorite, a different vineyard expression impresses and makes me rethink the decision. I can’t help but want to study each of them and the intricacy within each glass. Never have I felt more compelled to buy a collection of wines versus deciding to settle on one.
On to the tasting notes:
2012 Bond Melbury – This displayed a vibrant and alluring bouquet of bright red fruits along with blueberry, sweet spice, dusty soil and dried floral tones. It showed intense and concentrated red fruit on the palate, yet it’s velvety and dense textures supported it all effortlessly, as tart cherry and spice seemed to saturate the senses. The finish was long on lingering fruit yet not tiring at all. The ‘12 Melbury was a real treat and so easy to like. (94 points) Find it at Morrell.
2012 Bond Quella – The nose was closed at first, yet time in the glass revealed dark red fruits, pretty violet tones, baking spice and a hint of orange peel. It was graceful and silky on the palate, with a mix of spiced red and blue fruits, which seemed to coat the senses and slowly taper off to reveal savory minerality and a lasting impression of blueberry on the back palate. The ‘12 Quella is an understated wine and comes across with beautiful refinement and elegance. (93 points) Find it at Morrell.
2012 Bond St. Eden – The nose was gorgeous, as it balanced fruit and earth, displaying floral undergrowth, animal musk and dark earth up front, followed by crushed cherry and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures giving way to wild berry fruits, baking spice, and a coating of fine, sweet tannin. It finished long on sweet spice and a mix of red and blue fruits. (94 points) Find it at Morrell.
2012 Bond Vecina – The nose on the ‘12 Vecina was deep and layered, and it required a bit of coaxing before it sprang to life. Here I found intense dark red and black fruit, balanced by dusty earth, wild floral perfumes and stunning minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures delivering formidable weight and tannic clout, as a wave of massive dark fruit swept across the senses, leaving notes of cocoa, dried herbs, and confectionary spice in it’s wake. The finish was long with notes of tobacco, dark chocolate and sweet herbs. I simply didn’t want this glass to ever empty. The ‘12 Vecina is simply stunning! (98 points)
2012 Bond Pluribus – The nose was dark and refined, showing crushed stone, savory herbs, tobacco and tart cherry. On the palate, I found silky textures giving way to youthfully restrained dark fruit laced with a minerals and tannin. Structured and somewhat monolithic today but dence and remarkably balanced, it finished on a core of haunting dark fruits and inner floral tones. It will be many years before we can really see where the ‘12 Pluribus is going, but once it gets there–watch out! (96 points) Find it at Morrell.
And as a great reference we tasted a number of back vintages.
1999 Bond Vecina – The nose was stunningly fresh yet also perfectly mature, displaying crushed strawberry, dried leaves, moist soil tones and hints of spice On the palate, it was softly textured and still vibrant, as spicy red fruits gave way to hints of cocoa and minerals. It finished on sweet herbs, dried cherry and plum, with inner floral tones lingering long. This is perfectly mature and a real treat. (95 points)
2002 Bond Melbury – Absolutely stunning and unexpected for me, as I have often loved Melbury for its vibrance and youthful appeal, yet never really thought of it as a wine that would mature this beautifully over the course of 14 years. The nose showed a mix of fresh herbs, dried flowers and dusty soil with fresh ripe strawberries. On the palate, it was silky, plush and alluring with vibrant acidity giving life to its flavors of sweet herbs, crushed berries, minerals and dried spices. It finished long, with lingering minerality and hints of green olive. (96 points)
2010 Bond Pluribus – The nose showed violet florals with black fruits, crushed stone, hints of smoke and lifting herbal tones. On the palate, it displayed silky textures, yet it was still youthfully lean and tannic with smoky red fruits, exotic spice, and minerals. The finish was structured with a coating of fine tannin contrasted by dry yet saturating dark fruit and spice. This is still so young and hard to read. (94 points)
Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by: Eric Guido
Caponata is a vegetarian dish that’s centered around eggplant and fresh, harvested vegetables. It’s a celebration of produce and on the palate obtains a melding of fresh, salty, and sweet flavors that truly makes it a celebration for your taste buds as well. It is satisfying, refreshing and delicious.
It’s a dish that can be served cold, at room temperature or warm, and it can be an appetizer, side dish or main course. It’s difficult for me to think of another dish that is as versatile as caponata, especially since it can thrill you on a paper plate in the yard or served on fine china at the table.
My favorite way to serve caponata is at room temperature as an appetizer. When served at this neutral temperature, the medley of flavors in this dish is on full display. Each ingredient still bears its unique flavors while contributing to the whole.
As for a wine pairing, I like to go with a wine that can stand up to the vibrant acidity of caponata. Remember that this dish has a sweet and sour profile and could be overwhelming next to a new world-styled wine. However, it’s also a dish that showcases the finessed yet sometimes fragile flavors of fresh vegetables, so it wouldn’t stand up well to a heavy-handed red. Lastly, I want a wine that will augment the flavors of the caponata. On this occasion, I went with a small-production boutique producer from California, who is experimenting with Italian varietals and combining their old-world characteristics with the ripe flavors of California fruit, and a producer from northern Italy making one of my favorite summertime rosés out of Nebbiolo.
The Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo Colline Novaresi Il Mimo 2015 was the color of a gorgeous deep-red rose with forest floor, intense cranberry, red florals and chalk dust on the nose. The palate was smooth, juicy and almost a little sweet with cherry, strawberry fruit, dried orange and a hint of spice. It was very enjoyable and thirst-quenching, providing fruity contrasts to the earthiness of the caponata’s eggplant.
The Massican Annia 2014 is a wine that you really need to give the proper attention to. It’s a blend of 45% Tocai Fruiliano, 32% Chardonnay, and 23% Ribolla Gialla, with a nose that was at first restrained, showing a beautiful bouquet of green apple, white flowers, wild herbs, and a bit of lemon. The palate displayed vibrant and forward acidity, which enriched it’s flavors of green apple, citrus, and wet stone, with minerality that carried well into it’s fresh citrus finish. This wine was a pleasure to drink as its brisk acidity kept your palate perfectly tuned in for another bite of caponata.
The most important thing is to use the best quality ingredients. This dish doesn’t mask a thing. Instead, it amplifies the flavors of each ingredient, and that’s part of its magic. Many recipes will tell you to peel the tomatoes, but in this case we’re using grape tomatoes for visual appeal and their bittersweet flavor. You could also use plum or vine tomatoes, in which case you should blanch and peel them.
- 3 – 4 Italian eggplants, about 2 pounds (or look for a mix of colors; smaller is better)
- salt and pepper, as needed
- grape seed oil, for frying
- 4 – 5 stalks of celery, large dice
- 4 tbls extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, small dice
- 1 cup green Italian olives, sliced in half with pits removed
- 1 pound of grape tomatoes, sliced in half with seeds removed
- 2 tbls of capers, rinsed
- 7 tbls of red wine vinegar
- 2 tbls of sugar
- 1 loaf Italian bread, to serve
- 1 bunch fresh basil, to serve
1. Slice the eggplant crosswise into ¾-inch slices. Line a sheet pan with paper towels and a cookie rack. Coat both sides of each eggplant slice generously with salt and place on the rack. The salt will pull the bitter flavors out of the eggplant. Allow the eggplant to sit like this for one hour. Then rinse the eggplant well, and dry.
2. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. At the same time, place a large sauté pan over a medium flame and pour enough grape seed oil in to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is hot, place the eggplant into the sauté pan. (Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. You may need to fry the eggplant in two batches.) Fry the eggplant on one side until golden brown and then flip to achieve the same sear on the other side. Once both sides have been cooked, remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
3. Set up a small ice bath. Place the large dice of celery into the salted boiling water. Blanch for three to four minutes or until the color becomes a deep vibrant green. Pull the celery from the pot and place into the ice bath for no more than one minute. Then drain and set aside.
4. Cut the eggplant slices into large dice with a very sharp knife; remember they are soft from being fried, and make sure to keep the skin on the eggplant.
5. At this time you are ready to begin the final assembly of the dish. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Once hot, add the onions and season with a pinch of salt. Allow the onions to cook for three minutes. Add the olives, tomatoes and celery and stir together. Allow to cook for another five minutes.
6. Now add the eggplant, capers, vinegar and sugar. Stir the contents of the pan together well and allow to cook for 10 minutes.
7. Taste for seasoning, and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
8. Move the entire contents of the pan to a serving dish.
If you are looking to serve this at room temperature, allow the dish to sit for up to an hour before serving. To serve hot, allow only ten minutes. To serve cold, place it in the refrigerator for two to three hours.
No matter what temperature you are aiming for, when ready to serve, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Slice the Italian bread into ¼-inch slices, brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil and place on a parchment-lined baking dish. Put in the oven for five minutes to toast slightly. Chop the fresh basil and add to the caponata; stir to combine.
You can serve the caponata plated out with the toasts, or serve it family-style.
Article, tasting notes, photos and recipe by: Eric Guido
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