special guest blogger, Stefano Manfredi, visits Fèlsina

Stefano Manfredi, a good friend of slp, is one of Australia’s leading chefs. Stefano heads up the kitchens at Bell’s at Killcare and Pretty Beach House and, in 2011, opens a new Italian diner at Sydney’s Star City. He visited Fèlsina in October 2010.

It’s always interesting to note what turns people on. I’ve taken Australians many times and to various parts of Italy and it’s often some minor detail that becomes a talking point, an obscure memory that is taken back home and talked about to friends over dinner party tables.

Caterina Mazzoccolin’s family produces some of the most exquisite wines in Italy. We’re in the courtyard of the Fèlsina winery, a group of twelve Australians, and Caterina has finished her welcome chat outlining the property’s fascinating history. Before continuing she offers to answer any questions and one of our group asks about her gumboots. Where can they be bought? Florence? Milan?

As it happens the boots are unprocurable. They belonged to her grandmother and a short discussion ensues on their style merits and how a fox had chewed the trim. An insignificant side issue is what you’re thinking?

Well, yes and no. It seems to me that Italians love detail. Look at their art, buildings, food, festivals and the minutiae of their daily lives. Their ability to dissect and argue about the slightest thing is both endearing and infuriating.

And when it comes to Italian wine matters it’s instructive to look at the details. Caterina gave us the grand tour. The Fèlsina winery borders on the southernmost edge of Chianti Classico and looks across to the northern confines of Chianti Colli Senesi. Her finger points out the non-descript dirt road dividing the two DOCG zones. The family has important vineyards in both. Sangiovese in the Classico is robust and muscular while Colli Senesi exhibits more elegance. And the icing on the cake is highly respected winemaker Franco Bernabei, who has crafted some of the most important wines of the past quarter century.

The morning is spent around the vast property, stopping at old, seemingly run down farmhouses only to go inside and find Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes drying on mats for Vin Santo. Everywhere there are vines and olive trees laden with fruit. Fèlsina makes a small quantity of superb extra virgin olive oil. All the while Caterina details the significance of each parcel of land to the wines they produce.

We’re invited to lunch in an elegant dining room, cooked and served by women. It feels as though we’re in someone’s home. Most of what’s prepared is grown on the property- the intensely sweet pumpkin, seamlessly integrated with the pecorino in a wonderful risotto; the stewed venison, shot a few days ago and hung, then cooked slowly in wine and served with creamy white beans. For dessert there’s a spectacular fig and walnut torta, both walnuts and figs macerated in Vin Santo.

The wines with lunch are exceptional- I Sistri Chardonnay, Berardenga Chianti Classico 08, the just released Riserva Rancia 07 and Fontalloro 07, and a real treat in Fontalloro 98. We finish off with the gorgeous 01 Vin Santo.

On my return to Sydney the current edition of Alessandro Masnaghetti’s highly regarded and entertaining wine newsletter Enogea is among a pile of mail. In it he praises the Rancia 07 as ‘stratosferico’ and the Fontalloro 07, just pipped by the Rancia, is hailed as the best since the 2001. I am eagerly awaiting their arrival in 2011.