For me, the holidays are the best time for slow cooked meals, good company and powerful red wines. The combination of cold temperatures, short days and the spirit of celebration creates the desire to be cozy inside with people you love. It’s the perfect occasion to make a delicious roast and open up a nice bottle of wine. My pick for the holidays this year is Barolo from Piedmont, Italy.
Barolo is one of the most unique reds I have ever tasted. Made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes, it is light in color and high in acid, which is usually correlated with smooth, light wines that are low in alcohol. Not this one. On the contrary, it is one of the most powerful, tannic wines with high alcohol that often demands aging and/or decanting. The Barolo DOCG regulations require that these wines age for a minimum of 3 years, including 18 months in oak. The aroma of the wine practically jumps out of the glass, with notes of roses, red fruits, decaying leaves, tar, truffles and baking spices. Often, just smelling the wine is enough to make me swoon. It’s a wine that should be paired with food, and braised red meat is a perfect pair.
I may be a little biased in choosing this wine, because Piedmont is where I have spent the past 3 fall seasons guiding bicycle tours, and two years ago I worked at a family winery in the heart of Barolo. The land, people, food and wine has become very near and dear to me.
Barolo is known in this region as “The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings” because the area used to be ruled by the royal Savoy family from France and it was served in all the royal courts of Europe to represent Piedmont. Still today, it is the most highly revered wine in the area (and arguably in all of Italy). Barolo gets its name from the small town of Barolo, which is the epicenter of the small 4285 acre designated Barolo DOCG zone. The area of Barolo is covered with steep rolling hills of grape vines with wineries around every corner and quaint hilltop villages with beautiful churches, medieval castles and restaurants that cook up local specialties.
Piedmont is known for its rich, meat-heavy food. Home to the Slow Food Movement, they specialize in braising meat for hours, cooking it slowly in liquid that is often made up of wine. The result is a rich and tender meat that melts in your mouth. Risotto, polenta and fresh pasta are also common in Piedmont. They make a rich pasta called tajarin that is made with egg yolks and in the fall can be served with a mound of shaved truffles on top (a mouthwatering experience!).
For our holiday meal with my sister, her family and our parents, we decided to braise a roast in wine. I picked out a 3 pound rump roast, which isn’t considered a good cut of meat, and I’m pretty sure I got a sideways glance from my sister. Still, I confidently placed it in our cart. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Italians it’s that braising makes any cut of meat tender and delicious. The other nice thing is that you can prep it and then forget about it for a few hours while it cooks, making it a relatively easy meal for a big group when there are lots of distractions (like playing with the nieces and making handmade pasta!)
My husband prepped the roast by making several incisions on the top and stuffing them with garlic and pieces of bacon. We marinated it in red wine for a couple of hours, which gave us time to go mountain biking with our 10 year old niece who is now a mountain biking fanatic. She literally graduated from a kids bike to a mountain bike and started ripping up the trails near her house in the same day. (Her aunt and uncle are very proud!)
After getting our biking fix, we put the marinated roast in the crock pot, pouring the marinade and another cup of wine over the top and letting it cook on low for 4 hours. The liquid would be thickened into a wine gravy after the meat cooked in it. My mouth watered at the very thought! Meanwhile, my sister made the adults martinis and we had a contest to see who could knead flour, eggs and water into a pasta dough the fastest (not surprisingly, our niece won. (She is good at everything she tries).
Once the pasta thoroughly kneaded we put it through the pasta roller to make flat sheets. (This was where our 3 year old niece excels, having done this many times with her mom). With the pasta sheets we made flat fettuccini pasta to go with the tomato and pancetta sauce that was bubbling on the stove.
Once everything was ready we served it up Italian-style as courses. Keeping true to this theme, our first course was the pasta dish. The sauce clung to the flat noodles and we sprinkled it with fresh pecorino. It was heavenly! There’s just no comparison to fresh pasta! Tomato sauce can be tricky to pair with wine, because of the acidity from the tomatoes. My go-to wine for tomato-based sauces is usually Chianti, because there is enough acidity in the wine to match the acid from the tomatoes. It also has a rustic flavor with medium tannins that can match up to meat that may be in the sauce (in this case, pancetta). You can pick up a bottle of Chianti Classico, such as this Castello D’Albola for under $20.
Next, we had the roast, which we served with the wine gravy and a small arugula, pear and pecorino salad. It was delicious! My brother in law commented that he usually doesn’t like this cut of meat, but in this case he couldn’t get enough. Italians can turn anything into a delicacy! The secret is time and wine! To top it off, the Barolo was a home run with the roast. The tender and savory meat was met with the powerful tannins and flavors of the wine, creating a beautiful combination.
The Barolo we opened was the 2012 Diego Pressenda from La Torricella, the small family winery that I worked at in 2015. (Diego is the father/grandfather who still farms all the grapes). At this time their wines are only imported to a couple of states on a limited basis. Luckily, there are many other Barolos that are easier to find. A highly respected and similar style would be Domenico Clerico or Renato Ratti. Both are more of a “modern” style and can be drunk relatively young (although I still recommend decanting).
Here’s to sharing more special meals and wine with people we love! What is your pick for a Christmas feast wine this year?
*The inspiration for this blog post came from the Italian Food, Wine and Travel bloggers group that I have recently joined. The theme for this month is Christmas Feast Wines! Check out what other wine bloggers have to say and feel free to join us for a Twitter discussion this Saturday, December 2nd at 9am Mountain time. We’ll be at #ItalianFWT. Click on ‘latest’ and jump into the discussion!
- 3-4 pound rump roast/bottom roast
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 strips bacon
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 24oz can diced tomatoes
- 2 Tb tomato paste
- 1 tsp beef base
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp powdered cloves
- 1 Tb cornstarch
- Olive oil
- Peel and cut garlic cloves in half. Cut bacon into matchsticks. Toss garlic and bacon with 1/4 tsp each of cinnamon, cloves and salt.
- Pat dry roast and season with salt and pepper. Using a sharp knife cut 8 incisions on the top of the roast. Insert half a clove of garlic and a few bacon matchsticks into each incision. Place roast into a large bowl and pour 1 cup red wine over the top. Cover and place in refrigerator for 2 hours to marinate (and up to 24 hours).
- When you are ready to cook your roast, first put onions, celery and carrots in the bottom of the crock pot. Place the roast on top and pour the marinade over the roast, along with the can of diced tomatoes, tomato paste, beef base and remaining cup of red wine.
- Cook on low for 4 hours, or until meat is cooked all the way through.
- If roast isn't fully submerged, flip it over half way through cooking.
- When roast is done, pull out of the crock pot onto a cutting board to let it rest.
- To make the red wine gravy, strain the liquid from the crock pot into a sauce pan on medium and add a slurry until it thickens up. (A slurry is just 1 Tb cornstarch mixed with 3 Tb warm water).
- Slice the roast in 1/2 inch thick slices and pour gravy over the top.
Camilla from <a href=”http://culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com/”>Culinary Adventures with Camilla</a> offers up “Buon Natale, Baccalà, and Barolo”
Lauren from <a href=”https://theswirlingdervish.com/”>The Swirling Dervish</a> pens a piece entitled “Feast of the Seven Fishes and Wines to Match.”
Lynn Gowdy from <a href=”https://savortheharvest.com/”>Savor the Harvest</a> adds “A Vin Santo Holiday”
Jill Barth from<a href=”https://jillbarth.wordpress.com/”> L’Occasion </a> writes “A Romantic Italian Christmas At Home.”
Here at <a href=”http://www.avvinare.com”>Avvinare</a> I’ve written about “Prosecco DOCG and Chianti Rufina, Wines for the Christmas Feast.”