2007 Michele Chiarlo Barbera D'Asti Superiore "Le Orme"

Since we've spent quite a few weeks tasting the wines of Tuscany, I felt it was high time we moved on to a new region of the Italian countryside. Piedmont is located in Northern Italy, surrounded by the Alps and bordering Switzerland and France. Its name means foot of the mountain, and according to my Wine Bible, much of the land in this area is not conducive to growing grapes because the climate is too cold and the hills are too steep. However, there is a small section of the region that manages to grow and produce some of the most revered wines in all of Italy. Granted, I won't be blogging about these wines because most of them -- especially Barolo -- need to be aged upwards of ten years before they can be consumed and are also quite pricey.

2007 Michele Chiarlo Barbera D'Asti Superiore "Le Orme"(on sale for $9.99 at BevMo; regularly $14.99)
Instead, I've opted to try a lighter wine that is widely imported to the United States and that many residents of Piedmont drink every night with their dinner. This wine is called Barbera. It is light to medium bodied, filled with fruity goodness, and ultimately quite drinkable. As mentioned in a previous wine blog, Italians often like to nickname their wines, and this particular bottle is called "Le Orme," which means, the fingerprints. In addition, it happens to be the only Italian wine that has ever been designated "Best Value" by all the major wine magazines in the world. Not too shabby, eh?

Just to back track a tiny bit, if you're wondering what on earth I meant when I referred to Barbera as being "medium bodied," I will try to explain as my manager did at the restaurant where I work. He gave us the analogy of comparing different types of wine to different types of milk or cream, as both have a wide array of density in terms of their thickness. For example, cream is certainly heavier and thicker than nonfat milk, or even two percent milk, for that matter. The body of a wine is exactly the same way. You've got your light bodied red wines that have a bit of translucence to them, your medium bodied wines that appear darker and thicker, and then your full bodied wines that are completely opaque and bear a heaviness in both flavor and density.

When it came to choosing the recipe for this week, I must admit that I was inspired by Nilay Gandhi, a blogger and Wine Consultant, who wrote an awesome article called, "How to Choose Wine, For Vegetarians and Those Who Love Them." I took his ideas and ran with them -- all the way over to Whole Foods in Manhattan Beach where I had a ridiculously fun time perusing the wild mushroom section of the produce department. I decided to be adventurous and cook with mushrooms I had never used or even heard of, such as dried Porcinis and fresh Maitakes. If you decide to try this recipe, I suggest you do the same. Go exploring at Whole Foods and see what you come up with. Any collection of wild mushrooms will do!

Wild Mushroom Gnocchi
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small leeks, chopped
2 cups wild mushrooms, sliced (I used Crimini, Baby Bella, classic white mushrooms, dried Porcini, and Maitake, but feel free to get creative and use whatever combo you like!)
1/4 cup red wine (cheap cooking wine will work)
1/2 cup chicken broth
handful fresh thyme
sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup half and half
2 lbs. potato gnocchi 
freshly shaved Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago (you can find a preshaven container at Trader Joe's and use it to top each serving)

                                         Maitake mushroom and chopped leeks

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the gnocchi, then get out a large frying pan and sautee the garlic and leek in butter and olive oil. Add the wild mushrooms and allow them to brown for about ten minutes. Add some salt and pepper, then use the red wine to deglaze the pan. Let the wine simmer for another 5 minutes until it is almost all gone.

Next, add the chicken broth and thyme and keep allowing it to simmer. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then add the gnocchi to the boiling pot of water and follow the cooking directions on the package. While the gnocchi is cooking, add the half and half to the mushroom sauce, then simmer for a final 5 minutes.

Drain the gnocchi and top each serving with the wild mushroom sauce and the Parmesan/Romano/Asiago mixture.
Stacy and me, enjoying our last meal together before I leave for New York

Stacy and Bentley -- our honorary dinner guest

old friends :)