Blog: Winemaker's Journal
December 27, 2012
My traditional Christmas Eve cioppino (Feast of the Seven Fishes made easy) was complemented by two historic wines from Italy.
The wines, by Arnaldo-Caprai of Monetfalco, Umbria, Italy, recently became available in the United States.
Arnaldo-Caprai was named 2012 European Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine for the winery's work in making great wines from grapes that had been grown on local hillsides of Montefalco for centuries.
The delightful white Grecante proved a perfect match for the array of fish and seafood appetizers that preceded our meal. Lots of floral notes, with fresh lemon and lime flavors. This is a wine that would go well with any light fish or chicken dish. The wine sells for around $20.
The red Sagrantino is made from grapes brought to Umbria by followers of St. Francis of Assisi in the Middle Ages, according to historians. It grows only on the hillsides of Montefalco.
Arnaldo-Caprai worked with the University of Milan to come up with the best clonal varieties to plant. Winemaker Marco Caprai hopes to be using all organic and biodynamic farming methods within the next few years that will serve as a model for other grape growers.
This is a bold, deep red — nearly black — wine with flavors of fully ripe fruit and hints of spice. It was a little too tannic for my cioppino, but would work well with a full-flavored steak, roast or wild game. The wine retails for $60.
Both wines are available from Rebecca Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org
Back to that cioppino, when I was young the Italian side of my family always served fish on Christmas Eve, usually several courses that included anchovies, shrimp, smelt, eel and salt cod (bacala) cooked in a thin spicy tomato sauce with raisins.
For years, I tried to replicate my grandmother Isabel Micucci's recipes. Her traditional Catholic beliefs called for seven different fish or seafood. Five would be okay, or even three, but never four or six. My version often includes more, just make sure its an odd number for good luck.
I started throwing all the fish into one pot about 30 years ago. It's a wonderfully rich, delicious meal anytime, but perfect for winter holidays.
It's an expensive, but fairly simple dish to make. I saute a chopped onion, a few cloves of garlic, chopped celery and bell pepper and toss them in a large pot with a couple quarts of tomato sauce, a couple cups of white wine and at least a quart of fish or chicken stock. I add a few glugs of anisette or Pernod for a bright licorice note.
The fish go in related to their cooking times, chunks of cod and salmon first, then clams, shrimp, langostino, mussels and crab. Add lots of chopped Italian parsley and some squeezes of lemon before serving in bowls with crusty bread.
You can use any kind of fish or shellfish, although its best to go easy on the oily fish like salmon or tuna.