Lala’s, Rioja, and Inspiration in my kitchen

Last week I met mon petit ami Jerome for a glass of wine and some tidbits after a long day.  We’d never been to Lala’s before, so we decided to check it out. It is a cool little wine bar and pizzeria across from Governor’s Park on the south side of Capitol Hill.  We love our stolen moments over a few exquisite glasses of wine accompanied by a selection of small plates or tapas.

We both tried a Rioja but different vintages, I had La Vendimia, Jerome sipped on Viña Zaco.  We shared a variety of delicious, smoky, olives with Polpette (Italian meat balls).  The atmosphere, wine, and food was sensational…we liked my wine a bit more…it tasted so much better in the kisses.

These recipies are inspired by those few stolen moments, followed by a solo viewing of “Big Night” with Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Issabella Rossellini, and Ian Holm.  The film details two brothers from Abruzzo, immigrated to New Jersey in the 1950’s with the dreams of opening a traditional Italian restaurant featuring exceptional cuisine in the face of dismally bland, faux Italian, Americanized food.  In the movie the opposition was brutal but the triumphant feast on the last Big Night looked sensational.

Great restaurant, great film (especially for foodies and wine lovers) and as usual, blissfully wonderful company and delicious wine and food.

Italian Meat Balls and Home Made Cream of Mushroom Soup

November 15,  2012

Simone FM Spinner

Italian Meat Balls

7 cloves of garlic

1 yellow onion

1/4 c Italian parsley

1/4 c fresh oregano

1 t white pepper

1 t sea salt

1 t nutmeg

2 fresh eggs

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 c gluten free panko bread crumbs

1/3 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese

20 ounces ground turkey

16 ounces very lean ground pork

Mince garlic and onion, in a food processor or blender. Add the parsley, oregano, pepper, salt, and nutmeg and blend briefly.  Add to a large mixing bowl. Whisk in olive oil and eggs. Add meat, cheese,  and bread. Crumbs. Blend very well mixing until the mixture is smooth.

Form into 24 large, 2 inch balls. Bake in a foil lined, lasagne pan for 30 minutes at 350′ F.

Form into smaller balls, either 36 or 48 and bake for around 20 minutes at 350′ F….monitor closely so they don’t overcook.

Oh so good!

Best Ever Cream of Mushroom Soup

12 large Crimini mushrooms

2  medium Portabella mushrooms

2 shallots

3 green onions

3 slices prosciutto

2 cloves garlic


Pinch white pepper

Pinch sea salt

3 bay leaves

1/2 t crushed, dried sage

1 t arrowroot

1/2 box low salt chicken broth

1 box low salt beef broth

1 c half and half

Mince shallots and green onion and sauté in a few tablespoons of butter until translucent. Add chopped prosciutto and brown. Blend in salt, pepper, sage and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add chopped mushrooms and sweat on medium low until the mushrooms become soft.

Add broth and simmer for one hour. Remove a 1/2 cup of broth and whisk in arrowroot, blend into soup.

Drizzle half and half into soup, gently whisking.

Serve immediately.

Yum yum!

Chasing Grapes: The World’s First Premier Cru: Aglianico

Vineyards of Campania
2,700 years ago, on the sun drenched slopes of Mount Falerna near Campania and Latuim in Southern Italy, Aglianico grapes basked in the sun in three very special vineyards. The first vineyard was known as the Caucinian Falernian and was located on the highest slopes, the second vineyard was the Falernian found on the lowest slopes; and between the two vineyards rested the third the prized Faustian Falernian vineyard. These precious vineyards were owned by Roman aristocracy for millennia and are still under vine today. Originally, the Phoenicians cultivated the grape in Greece. During the 7th or 8th BCE the Greeks brought the Ellenico grapes to Italy where it gained its new name: Aglianico.

Vineyards near Campania
The Falernian wine made from these ancient Aglianico grapes, from the Faustus vineyard were the world’s first Premier Cru, and were reserved for the extremely wealthy and important members of Roman society. It was a wine of legend and heritage, written about by famous poets, philosophers, scholars, and historians. The grapes were harvested late in the season and had tremendous levels of sugar resulting in a sweet wine with very high alcohol content. The wine was left to oxidize for up to twenty years in clay amphorae vessels. The potent sugar and alcohol content of the wine made it age worthy and suitable for travel. The Roman legions carried Falernian throughout Europe and as far north as Britain. Pliny the Elder commented, “It is the only wine that takes light when a flame is applied to it.” He also described a particular banquet honoring Julius Caesar in 60 BCE where the famed “Opimian vintage of 121 BCE” was served. That vintage was an exclusive Falerian and was one of the finest wines ever created.

Aglianico grapes
Aglianico grapes are deep purple, hearty, and full of potent flavors. In Basilicata, they thrive in the volcanic soils of the extinct volcano, Mount Vulture, and on the hills near Taurasi in Campania. The commoners of Rome drank a crude red wine pressed from these grapes. The rustic, inky black wine was superior in tannins and in acidity. It had notes of smoky ash from the volcanic soils and bright red fruit from the abundant sunshine. The best Aglianico was more elegant than rustic and reserved for Roman aristocracy alone. Legend claims this is the wine offered to Jesus before his crucifixion and the same wine that Mary Magdalene dabbed to his lips as he was dying. We will never know.

What we do know is that this lovely little grape is still growing in these same vineyards in the southern most regions of Italy. Eighty years ago two winemaking families began to produce modern wines from Aglianico grapes grown on Mount Vulture vineyards. The two most prominent regions for Aglianico in Italy are in Campania, where it is known as Taurasi DOCG, and Basilicata, where it is known as Aglianico del Vulture DOC. Until very recently, Donato D’Angelo and Paternoster were the only two producers of Aglianico del Vultures available in the U.S. Feudi is a new leader in the Aglianico game. Now, Aglianico is springing up on wine lists and in wine boutiques across Denver.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of presenting three styles of the Aglianico grape to a budding group of wine aficionados.  I happened across an expression of the grape I’d never had the chance to try: bubbly! De Conciliis Selim Spumante is the first sparkling Aglianico from the Campania region of Italy.  Bruno De Conciliis harvests his grapes from vineyards in Paestum, near ancient Greek ruins. This beautiful, fresh, smoky wine blends Aglianico with Fiano grapes to produce a lush, lively wine with notes of orange blossom, tangy citrus and fleshy, succulent peaches. Named for a jazz great, Selim is an anagram for Miles, as in Miles Davis. Pair Selim with a fresh seafood salad or even with a late morning brunch.  Next in the lineup was Apollo Aglianico from the hillsides of Ponte Sannio, Campania.  This Aglianico has a more modern style made from hand harvested fruit that has been fermented in oak and stainless steel vats but it is finished for six months in oak barriques. It is unfiltered adding to its richness, blackberry juiciness and perfume of vanilla and blueberry jam.  Finally, we tasted the more traditional Terra di Vulcano Aglianico del Vulture, a classic representation of this inky, rustic, sultry grape.  Salvatore Pala first began making Aglianico in the 1950’s in Basilicata and this is one of his darlings. The project is still family owned, the grapes are hand harvested and fermented in oak and stainless steel, and although the winery uses modern technology, the wine is still a classic. This sensual wine is full bodied, with a nice balance of tannins and acidity.  It shows gorgeous smoky notes of black plums, black cherries, dried cocoa, violets, and rose petals. Aglianico loves food and is fantastic with rustic, wood fired pizza, smoked salmon, spicy cured meats or lean grilled meats. Share these wines with your friends and loved ones at your next late summer barbecue.  I am looking forward to sharing all three of these sexy wines with mon petit ami, Jerome, the very next chance I get! I am sure he will love Aglianico as much as I do.

Mount Vulture


Look for this trio of wonderful wines at Little’s Fine Wines, 2390 S. Downing St Denver, CO 80210; Mon-Thurs: 10am to 11pm Fri-Sat: 10am to 12am Sun: 12pm to 9ish pm; 303-744-3457.  Ask for Ashley.

photos courtesy of flicker, salentosolemarevento, and,