Italy

Natural Wine Killers: Bellotti Semplicemente Vino Rosso 2016 (Italy)

Piedmont is probably the most consistently premium wine region in Italy. Spread over rolling hills between Turin and Genoa, it is one of the few regions in Italy where most wines are produced following traditional DOC or DOCG rules and there are no regional IGT wines. Regions like Barolo and Barbaresco are famous for their robust, long-lived wines, which are aged for several years in barrel, requiring time to mellow. Although Barolo and Barbaresco producers may produce more accessible red wines, they tend to be polished, often with plenty of sweet oak. These are serious wines, often with serious prices.

Stefano Bellotti’s Cascina degli Ulivi stands out like a beacon, seeking to produce honest wines, made naturally and entwined in a philosophy of self-sufficient farming. Sadly, Bellotti passed away from cancer last September, aged just 59. He leaves an important legacy though, both with his wonderful wines and the manner in which they were produced.

Bellotti was a pioneer of the “Triple A” movement. Meaning Agricoltori (Farm workers), Artigiani (Artisans) and Artisti (Artists), the certification is an indication of true terroir wines, produced in harmony with nature. Bellotti was an early adopter of organic principles, way back in 1981, and converted to biodynamics in 1984.

There is a memorable scene in Jonathan Nossiter’s 2014 film Natural Resistance where Bellotti demonstrates the difference between the health of his biodynamically cultivated soils and a neighbour’s, where conventional herbicides and pesticides are used. The difference is striking: Bellotti compares it to life vs death.

The Semplicemente Rosso speaks very much of life. Sealed with a crown cap, it demonstrates humility. It is not pretending to be anything it is not. A blend of Barbera and Dolcetto, it is fermented and aged in large oak vats for 11 months. There are no added sulphites, and the wine is not fined or filtered. It is raw and edgy, packed with intense black cherry and cherry kernel aromas. The palate is punchy, with fresh acidity and grippy tannins. There is some volatile acidity in there, but not at the expense of the cherries. In short, it is delicious.

Now the weather is getting warmer, lightly chill this wine to emphasise its freshness. Pour yourself a glass and toast to Signor Bellotti.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: Duck ragu pappardelle or French-style sausage and lentil casserole

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and wine expert. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. To sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Wine & Food Killers: Linguine Bolognese and I Vini di Giovanni Rozzo 2017

There’s nothing like grim weather and Seasonal Affective Disorder to strip you of your tolerance for ostentation. February is the time of year when the rustic prevails, when warm and honest food, like this recipe, really comes into its own.

One caveat: this isn’t your typical Bolognese, though it might be the most classical one you’ve ever made. (Caveat #2: spaghetti may be traditional, but I prefer slightly thicker linguine, which stands up better to hearty sauces.)

The woman behind this timeless recipe is the late grande dame of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, who had very strong feelings about how to make Bolognese properly. For instance: do not even think about putting garlic in this Bolognese. Bacon is not needed, rosemary is not invited. And though you might assume red wine would be best in the sauce (it’s best alongside – more on that in a bit), if Marcella says white, you use white.

This Bolognese has no shortcuts: if you want yours to taste like it was made by an Italian nonna, you need to cook like one. This is simmer-all-day sauce, the perfect Sunday project, a study in the art of patience, a fragrant rebuttal to instant-gratification. You’ll need a solid seven hours to make it; in an ideal world, you might even refrigerate it overnight and eat it the next day to allow its flavours to deepen further (this is recommended, though not required).

When it finally comes time to eat, it’s wise to go with a wine that’s similarly humble and enriching. I Vini di Giovanni’s Rozzo – made by an actual Umbrian shepherd named Giovanni Mesina – certainly qualifies. Made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, absent any added sulphur, it is pungently barnyardy when first poured, but after decanting and swirling, notes of cherry and a mellow fruitfulness come to the fore. Its tannins are serious and grippy, which makes it a wine that especially benefits from the companionship of some pasta.

Together, they won’t banish your SAD, but the act of stirring sauce for the better part of the day still has a way of making the world feel less dire.

Linguine Bolognese
Very slightly adapted from Marcella Hazan
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
45g (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
350g (¾ lb) beef mince (ground beef), preferably 15-20% fat
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
235ml (1 US cup) whole milk
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
235ml (1 US cup) dry white wine
1 400g (14oz) can whole Italian plum tomatoes in juice
500g (1.1 lbs) linguine, spaghetti, or similar pasta
Parmigiano Reggiano

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, add the vegetable oil, butter and onion, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook the onion gently for roughly 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is softened and translucent.

2. Add the carrot and celery, and stir to coat. Cook for roughly 3-4 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the beef mince and sprinkle over a large pinch of sea salt and several good grinds of black pepper. Using a fork, delicately break up the meat and toss until it is finely crumbled. Cook until it has just lost its raw colour, but not until it is darkened and dried out.

3. Pour in the milk and grate in the nutmeg. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk is fully evaporated – this process can take up to an hour. (Don’t be tempted to raise the heat and boil it off faster; slow cooking makes the meat incredibly tender.)

4. Next, add in the white wine and repeat the same process, slow cooking over medium- low heat until completely evaporated.

5. While the beef mixture is simmering, prep the tomatoes: remove the whole plum tomatoes from the can, reserving the juice, and roughly chop. When the wine is fully evaporated, add both the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and stir to combine.

6. Turn the heat to low. Cook for a minimum of 3 and up to 5 hours, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and rich. To prevent it from drying out or burning during the cooking process, add water at 125ml (1/2-cup) intervals, if needed. Season to taste, generously, with salt and pepper.

7. When you’re nearly ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain, and return to the pot. Add the Bolognese sauce and toss lightly to combine.

8. Divide the linguine Bolognese between plates or bowls, and top generously with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen and look out for our book together, The Beer Lover’s Table, launching in March 2019. These recipes accompany our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box - sign up to get yours here.