Brought to you by Unwined
Story + Recipe by Brian Acton
Cenatiempo’s Biancolella was the wine that did me in. Admittedly, the deck was stacked against me. It was a north vs. south Italian wine showdown that pitted me against Vanessa Moore, owner of UnWined & Revel Wine & Craft Beer Bar. Four wines, each paired with four courses. Sounds simple enough, but I was in hostile territory. The judges were former military who had been stationed in Italy’s south for four years and had a bona fide love of Primitivo from Puglia, which is about as bold and southern as you can get! Well, when the dust settled and the votes were tallied, I was happy with how my wines did—that is, except for my pick for a white wine.
My poor little Blatterle, which is the only varietal bottling in existence since there are less than four acres of the grape planted in Italy’s Alto Adige, got absolutely trounced by Cenatiempo’s Biancolella Kalimera. It was a complete shutout. Though definitely biased, I think the judges were dead right on this score. While both wines lean in on the academic side of the spectrum, Cenatiempo’s Kalimera is a wine of gravitas. It would likely be a premier cru in another region. Lesson learned. Never bring a purely academic wine to a wine fight.
Cenatiempo was founded in 1945 on the island of Ischia, which is a volcanic island located roughly 18 miles off the coast of Campania, near Naples. Ischia was home to Italy’s oldest Greek colony, which first gave the island its name—Pithecusa. Viticulture on the island dates back to at least Roman times. Tiberius, the second emperor of Rome, even made reference to the quality of the wines. Biancolella is a grape variety that is native to Ischia. Modern evidence dates it to at least 1867, while many believe it is much older. Studies suggest that it is closely related to Falanghina, but its parents have not been identified. Biancolella flourishes at high altitudes, which makes it uniquely adapted to viticulture on Ischia as its vineyards tend to be planted on cliffs where homes or hotels would never dare be built, at elevations that can even be over 600 meters.
Kalimera is Cenatiempo’s home vineyard, situated at 450 meters of elevation at the southwestern slope of Monte Epomeo in the commune of Serrara Fontana. Farming follows biodynamic principles. The grapes are harvested by hand and the wine ferments and ages in cement. Cenatiempo’s Biancolella 2020 ($38) is a brilliant expression of the variety. Wildflowers, hay and thyme on the nose are met by grapefruit and nuances of pineapple on the palate. This medium-bodied sipper is buoyed by a saline salty acidity. It is both juicy and precise. A truly unique wine that also delivers the goods.
To pair, I’d recommend British Chef Simon Hopkinson’s recipe for Piedmontese Roast Peppers. His “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” is easily in my top five cookbooks, but this recipe also resides on the BBC Food site. There is a companion video series called “The Good Cook,” which you can still find online. It is honest, authentic and endearing. Despite being an island, Ischia is actually known for its produce rather than its seafood. Its hummus laden soils and mineral loaded water make it quite verdant. Its produce routinely fetches some of the highest prices in Italy. The acidity and freshness of the wine, not to mention its herbal references, make it just the thing for this sort of summer fare. As with all simple recipes, the quality of your ingredients is very important.
- 8-12 ripe plum tomatoes
- 4 red peppers, stalks left on (for decoration), cut lengthways in half, seeds removed
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 5-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 8 large canned anchovies, cut in half lengthways
- Small handful fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Pour boiling water over the plum tomatoes, leave for 10 seconds, carefully remove from the water and refresh in a bowl of cold water. Peel off the tomato skins.
Place the halved peppers into an ovenproof dish (preferably one that will be nice enough to present later), cut-side up.
Place the garlic inside the peppers and then fit the tomatoes inside too, pushing them gently into the space. Add a small pinch of salt and a grinding of freshly ground black pepper. Spoon over the olive oil and then place into the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes to one hour, turning the heat down a little if you notice any excessive scorching of the peppers.
Once they are nicely softened and have slightly collapsed, remove the peppers from the oven. Criss-cross each pepper half with an anchovy, baste with the oily juices and allow to cool to room temperature.
Top with basil leaves and serve.