Thursday, July 14, 2011

Garantito IGP: The Mead Poet

This time Carlo Macchi takes the Stand:

Take me, on a hot summer day, add a good, young Verdicchio producer (Andrea Felici, whom our readers know), mix well in the cool hall of a restaurant (Il Marchese del Grillo; if our readers don't know of the place they soon will), and what do we have? A top mead (and honey) maker.

It's clear that as math goes this is leaky, so let me explain myself better.

I was having lunch with Andrea Felici in the cool depths of the Marchese del Grillo in Fabriano, when the conversation turned to honey. We had gotten there from the love of the establishment's owners for local foods, and Andrea had said, "For example, you should meet the only young mead-maker in the area."

Mead? The concept attracts. Unfortunately, they tell me he makes just a few hundred bottles a year, and it's very hard to come by. They also tell me he makes extraordinary honey that recently won an important award. I'm a bit nonplussed, but what's a body to do? The conversation continues until I see Andrea peeing into the depths of the hall, and say, with a smile, "You wanted the mead maker? There he is!"

And almost by magic I find in front of me Giorgio Poeta, who hadn't come to eat, but rather pay his respects (that's what people used to say) to the young chef, and owner, of the establishment. Before the respects, however, I see he's got what looks like a half-full jar of honey in his hand. Presentations and a few words, but my attention's fixed on the jar, which has an amber liquid that even I in my ignorance recognize to be honey. He says it's unusual and gives us a taste: excellent but odd, with hints of vanilla and peat; he say's it's aged in barriques, and we discover it's the honey that won the award.

Those who know me know that my hair stands on end at the mention of barriques in wine, and can imagine what I feel about their being used elsewhere. Seeing that the honey really was good, I try to overlook this and steer the conversation to mead. Do you think I didn't insist he go home to get a bottle? Of course I did, and after a 40-minute wait (spent happily eating) he reappeared with a bottle of mead in hand. I said bottle, not labeled bottle, because he hasn't started to sell it yet.

Indeed, Giorgio, who has a degree in agriculture and is a beekeeper because he loves it, only fell under their thrall 7 years ago. After his fate, almost as a joke, give him two hives, he started to make top quality honey, selling it locally. Hand-crafted, but labeled too. Young people do have to try new things however, and that's why he thought of mead, which was traditionally made in the area.

At this point, in the interest of clarity I'll let him speak:

"We start from honey. The use of honey with powerful aromas makes for distinctive meads. I use honey from Stachys Officinalis, a betony of the Labiatae Family that is unique because it grows on the wheat stalks if they are not plowed under immediately after the harvest. Fabriano and the surrounding area are the only places in Italy where this honey is made. It's elegant, moderately sweet, and in color resembles acacia. The preponderance of fructose with respect to glucose (structural isomers) make it crystallize even more finely during the fall, becoming almost white. "Now that we've said what honey we use, the procedure. What I do is my technique, and I don't want to imply that what others do is wrong. This is simply what I do. "Forts of all, to fully amalgamate water and honey, something that usually doesn't happen, you have to warm everything, though never more than 45 C (about 113 F), because at higher temperatures the enzymes in the honey can break down. With everything well amalgamated I let the mixture rest for a day in a cool, dry, dark place, and then transfer it to an acacia cask, sealing it with a fermentation lock because fermentation does produce Co2. Not immediately; I prefer selected yeasts of the kind used for white wines, and add them to the cask after four days. The fermentation is like wine fermentation, with the only difference being that almost all of the sugars become alcohol, resulting in an alcohol content of 15-16%. "The remaining sugars could make the mead cloyingly sweet. Aging in acacia wood reduces this sensation, while filtration can also help reduce sugar content, though only at the end of the fermentation. I think that to obtain a drier mead, one should increase (and I do do this) bottle aging to at least 9 months, for a total of 6 months in wood and 9 in bottle."

Got that? Now I expect you're wondering what this mead is like. Patience, let's first think about what to drink it with (I know, I should first discuss it, but I like keeping you in suspense). Are you familiar with those (for me useless) jars or jams and honeys people serve with cheeses? Well, you can toss them, because the perfect accompaniment to moderately aged cheese is Giorgio Poeta's mead.

Intense straw yellow, powerful nose, smelling -- obviously -- of honey, but also blossoms and white berry fruit. On the palate, despite its being made from honey it's not at all overly sweet. Very well balanced, thanks also to its concentration, about 10%, is not just a drink, but an alcoholic drink that can easily match a good wine. In short, it's good! The finish isn't overly sweet, but clean, and leaves one ready for another sip.

Now I can hear you wondering where to find it, since it's unlabeled and so on. You'll have to contact Giorgio Poeta. A word of advice: When you call, ask if he has some honey, like the jar he gave me. I finished it in 10 days, and I usually don't eat honey.

Last thing... The hunt is on to find a name for his mead. Even though it works well with cheese (and more), I modestly suggest "Ape Ritivo."

Note: Carlo is making a horrid play on words; Aperitivo is Aperitif.

Azienda Agricola Poeta
Via Dante 71/E
60044 Fabriano (AN)

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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