Thursday, October 20, 2016

Orlando hometown favorite Victoria and Albert's reaps award as second-best fine dining restaurant in US

TripAdvisor annually awards best restaurant designations in US and worldwide categories based on reviews by individuals who have eaten at the establishments. This year's awardees were recently announced and hometown favorite Victoria and Albert's was ranked second best restaurant in the US fine-dining category. This is a well-deserved recognition for Chef Scott Hunnel and his crew and a feather in the cap for the Orlando food and wine scene.

Victoria and Albert's is a modern-American-cuisine-themed restaurant at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.  The restaurant has impressive credentials: a recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award, a Four Star rating from Forbes Travel Guide, and Scott Hunnel as Chef de Cuisine.  Chef Hunnel, a champion of fresh, locally produced, seasonal ingredients, is a 5-time James Beard "Best Chef of the South" nominee and was named Santé magazine's Culinary Professional of the Year in 2008.

Victoria & Albert's continues to roll along as a bastion of high-end fine dining even in the face of declining support for this style among area restaurants and patrons. The Chef (Scott Hunnel) is one of the most respected in Orlando and a seat at his table is second in desirability only to season tickets at Lambeau Field. 

The V & A kitchen

Chef Scott Hunnel at one of our many trips to his Chef's Table

Back in the good old days, Florida residents could book the Chef's Table at Victoria and Albert's for dinner and, over the years, we have used this privilege to good advantage. Disney has recently modified the Chef's Table requirements, however, restricting reservations to individuals actually staying at the Grand Floridian Resort. This is a bummer for locals as the environment, staff, food, and service are all impeccable and we loved holding special tasting events at the locale.

The Queen Victoria Room -- an enclosed 8-seater off the main dining room which serves the same menu as at the Chef's Table -- is still available for booking by locals. It is adjoining, and to the left of, the main dining room but it is a world removed. It also stands in stark contrast to the the Chef's Table: tasteful period decoration, quiet, privacy, enclosed, deficit of pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, no sous-chef testosterone on display.

Traditional setup for Queen Victoria Room
Setup of the room for our event

Below is a recounting of one of our Chef's Table outings:

Amuse-Bouche: Soft-poached Quail Egg with Galilee Caviar; Chicken Liver Terrine; Cauliflower Panna Cotta; Porcini Miushroom Cappuccino

Maine Lobster with Herb Aioli and Miniature Greens

Alaskan Salmon with Bamboo Rice and Soy Beans

Herb-Crusted Ocala Rabbit and Sausage with Carrots

Poulet Rouge with Calamarata Pasta, Forest Mushrooms and Black truffles

Minnesota Elk Tenderloin with Braised Red Cabbage Tart

Australian Kobe-style Beef with Garlic Potato Puree

Fiscalini Cheddar, Gouda Reypenaer XO, Colston Bassett Stilton, Parmigiano Reggiano

Blood Orange Timbale with Array of Fruits on a Raspberry Veil

At the time I described the meal thusly: "This was an excellent night out.  Watching course after course prepared in front of our eyes and then delivered to our table with pomp and circumstance enough to make a Victorian historian proud, and then to caress our palates with a multiplicity of pleasing flavors, was a food-lover's dream.  The eye-pleasing symmetry of presentation was only outdone by the symmetry of the flavors on the palate."

Chef Hunnel with author's wife
And Chef Hunnel does not only restrict his activities to the ivory tower of the V & A environment. He gets out into the community to work with other chefs and to mentor the chefs of tomorrow. As a part of a number of Chefs working a James Beard Nominees Charity Dinner at Cress a few years ago, Chef Hunnel talked about these chefs being at the vanguard of a food and dining movement in Orlando which is aimed at providing residents and guests with an attractive culinary scene.

The staff at the restaurant is exemplary. Here is how I described our experience at one of our seatings in the Queen Victoria Room.
Our experience throughout the evening was wonderful. I have already described how pleasing the environment was and I would be remiss if I did not give a shoutout to the service staff. We had a husband and wife team rotating as the shot callers from course to course and they had a trying job. Not only did they have to announce the general course highlights, they also had to go to each seat with a dietary restriction and explain the contents of that plate. They did a really good job and contributed mightily to the success of the evening. The courses were brought in by uniformed waiters bearing covered plates on white chargers (not the horses). The covers were then removed in a choreographed fashion once all of the chargers had been placed on the table in front of the owning patron. No mistakes here.
The man, the cuisine, the team: the contributing factors to a deserved award.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Orvieto (Umbria, Italy): A quest for wine excellence

Orvieto, located in the southwestern portion of Umbria, has had a long and storied wine history beginning in the Etruscan age, through the Roman period, and into the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The Papal Curia was especially fond of the wine of the region and is credited with introducing non-indigenous varieties such as Trebbiano into the zone. The historic wine of the region has always been a sweet wine but the wine of today is better known for its dry character.

The Duomo at Orvieto

Favorable factors for winemaking in Orvieto
Donata Castagnoli (The wine-producing territory of Orvieto, Journal of Wine Research) has identified a number of factors which favor wine production in Orvieto:

  • The presence of hill slopes with good exposure (south-facing)
    • Flat areas limited to the Paglia and Tevere river valleys
  • A suitable altitude
  • The presence of volcanic clay soils (the soils of the region have been covered in a recent post)
  • Tuffaceous detrital Rupe as key enabler of the vinification process
    • The soft soil (up to 45-m deep on the hill) allows multi-level caves to be dug out allowing gravity-fed, cool-temperature vinification and cool, light-free aging
  • Proximity to the large, sophisticated markets of Rome and Florence.

Quest for ever-increasing quality
In the modern era, winemaking in Orvieto has been characterized by efforts focused on increasing the quality of the wine. The first such initiative was the Miniterial Decree of 23 October 1931 which restricted the production of "typical wine" to the territories of Orvieto, Basche, Ficulle, Monterubraglio, Porano, Castel Giorgio, and Atlerona. Since that initial effort, a series of Ministerial Decrees, DOC Production Regulations, and mods to those regulations have been instituted  (Table 1) in order to advance the quality goals.

                                                   Table 1. Orvieto Regulatory History
Ministerial Decree       
Production Regulations
23 Oct., 1931

Production of “typical wine” established in territories of Orvieto, Baschi, Ficulle, Monterubiaglio, Porano, Castel Giorgio, and Allerona

DOC; Orvieto and Orvieto Classico

DOC regulations revised to improve ampelographic composition

  • Yield reduction to 8 tons/ha for Orvieto superior
  • New vineyards no less than 3000 vines/ha

Establishment of Rosso Orvietano DOC
  • Includes the entirety of communes partly delimited by Orvieto DOC
  • Identifies main (70% of wine) and secondary varieties
  • Max of 10 tons/ha yield
Establishment of Lago di Corbara DOC
  • Entire commune of Baschi and part of Orvieto
  • Red wines

  • Grechetto as the primary variety (40 - 80% of finished wine)
  • Late harvest type included; yields cannot exceed  tons/ha
3 August, 2010

8 different wine types for Orvieto and Orvieto Classico
  • Simple name
  • secco (dry)
  • abboccato, amabile, dolce (all sweet)
  • superiore (superior)
  • vendemmia tardiva (late harvest)
  • muffa nobile (noble rot); max yield of 5 tons/ha
8 March 2011

Grants DOC Lago di Corbara right to include white and single-variety wines in production

Source: Derived from Castagnoli.

In parallel with the changes in regulatory law -- and sometimes driven by it -- changes have occurred in the Orvieto viticultural environment. In the 1960s, grape-growing was one part of a mixed farming environment. Specialized cultivation increased steadily during the 1960s, gradually replacing mixed farming. The DOC Production Regulations of 1971 changed things dramatically in that it stipulated a monoculture and prohibited the planting of dissimilar clones in close proximity to each other. This focus on grape-growing has resulted in an increase in wine production from 2.5 million bottles in the 1970s to 20 million bottles in 2010.

The Wines
Orvieto is essentially a white wine region with two included small red wine DOCs (Lago di Corbara and Rosso Orvietano). Th regulations stipulate that the Orvieto wine must be made form Procanico and Grechetto (minimum 60%) and 40% maximum of other suitable white grapes. The wine can be labeled Classico if the grapes were grown in one of the communes mentioned in the 1931 Ministerial Decree and can be labeled Superiore or Classico Superiore if: (i) the yield is kept to 8 tons/ha; (ii) alcohol is at least 12%; and (iii) the wine is aged a minimum of three months.

Orvieto continues the production of its historic sweet wines under a variety of labels. The most interesting of these are the late harvest and "noble rot" sweet wines. Orvieto was the first region in Italy to be recognized for noble rot sweet wines, a situation arising from a "fortuitous combination of autumn morning mists alternated with correct sunshine hours and levels and a good daytime ventilation" (Castagnoli).

Both of the red wine DOCs are blends and provide vehicles for showcasing international and better-known Italian varieties.

The production values of the various Orvieto wines are provided in the tables below.

Table 2. Vineyard Surface Area by Wine
DOC Vineyard Surface (ha) Percent
Orvieto VT
Orvieto Classico
Rosso Orvietano
Lago di Corbara
Source: Derived partially from Castagnoli

Table 3. 2009 Wine Production by Type
Wine Certified Wine (L)
Orvieto Classico
Orvieto Classico Abboccato
Orvieto Classico Anabile
Orvieto Classico Superiore
Rosso Orvietano
Lago di Corbara
Orvieto Anabile
Orvieto Abboccato
Orvieto Classico Superiore Dolce
Source: Castagnoli

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, October 10, 2016

Umbria (Italy) and Orvieto landscapes and soils

Umbria, one of the smallest of the Italian regions, lies almost dead center on the peninsula and is the only region to border neither a body of water or a country. I recently visited the region and, as part of my reportage, will explore some of its landscape and soils characteristics in this post.

One hundred million years ago, much of Italy was an ocean floor. According to Menichetti and Coccione, the Umbria - Marche sedimentary basin formed in the late Triassic in a passive continental margin of the southern Tethys Ocean. In that basin, a 3000-m-thick stratigraphic succession "records the thermal and mechanical subsidence history from the Jurassic carbonate platforms to the pelagic realm of the Paleogene, while its upper part consists of Neogene terrigenous clastics that accumulated in a migratory foredeep system reflecting the encroachment of the Apennic deformation and sedimentation patterns into the Adriatic foreland" (Menichetti and Coccione).

In describing the Apennines, a distinctive feature of the Italian Peninsula, and, as such, Umbria, Vezzani, et al., paint a picture of "lithotechnic assemblages that evolved through interaction between the African and European plates in the central Mediterranean with: (i) Mesozoic development of the Tethyan domain; (ii) Cretaceous-Eocene oceanic subduction; (iii) Oligocenic-Miocene and Pliocene convergence, continental collision and shortening; and (iv) late-Miocene - present extensional collapse of the contractional edifice." The Vezzani - Menichetti and Coccione arguments are tightly aligned.

According to Moti, geologic processes through the ages have resulted in the following soils distribution:
  • Alluvial sediments and debris along major river valleys
  • Gravels, sands, and clays deposited during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene
  • Marly deposits during the Oligocene - Miocene
  • Stratigraphic Umbria-Marche deposits from the Jurassic-Miocene
  • In the southwest, volcanic deposits from the eruptions of the Vulsino volcano.
This distribution is illustrated graphically in the figure below.

Schematic geologic map of Umbria.
Blue = Limestone; Gold = Sandstone rocks;
 Yellow = Inter-mountain basins; and
Purple = Volcanic complexes (Source:
Andrea Moti,

Orvieto Landscape
Orvieto, one of the three major Umbrian wine regions, is centered around the town of Orvieto in southwest Umbria which, itself, sits on the northern edge of a broad volcanic plateau (alfina) which originated in the Quaternary period. Orvieto is shown in the map below.

The geological configuration of the Orvieto area is a direct result of neotectonic and volcanic events which took place in the Quaternary. The marine clays revealed by the departing sea experienced an extensional tectonic stage during the lower Pleistocene, resulting in a NW-SE fault. Magma flows and pyroclastics from the Vulsino volcano terminated against the raised block of this fault and backfilled to form the Alfena Plateau. Alfina Plateau formation dates from the middle Pleistocene.

Over time, the River Paglia and its tributaries cut the volcanic tuff of the Alfina Plateau into mesas (Bardano and Orvieto, for example) or buttes (Rocca Ripensa, for example). The distribution of soils in the Orvieto area is shown in the figure below. Note that the main difference between this distribution and the broader Umbrian distribution is the addition of a volcanic layer to the series.

1, talus (Oligocene); 2, recent and present alluvial sediments,
also terraced (Oligocene - Upper Pleistocene); 3, volcanic rocks
of the Alfina plateau (Middle Pleistocene); 4, gravels, sands and
clays (marine clastic sediments, Lower Pleistocene - Pliocene);
5, marls and sandstones (pre-Pliocenic bedrock); 6, River Paglia
and its main tributaries. Source: Moti.
The middle Pliocene clays form the base of the stratigraphic sequence in the Orvieto area and serves as reservoir for water flowing through from the uppermost layers. This is the old seabed present before the emergence of the Apennine range and these clays tend to be bluish in color -- tending towards grey -- and have high calcium carbonate content (marly clays). In some areas the CaCO₃ content can exceed 40% (argillaceous marls). These clays are also characterized by a good percentage of micaceous silt.

In mesas, there is a thin layer of volcanic origin from a fluvial-lacustrine environment that is called the Albornoz series. This soil type is probably incorporated into the topmost layers in non-mesa, non-butte structures.

The topmost stratigraphic layer in mesas, and a significant component of the recent alluvial sediments, is the effluvia of the Vulsino eruptions which occurred over a 300,000-year period. This lithoidal tuff with black scoriae includes "yellow-orange tuff of lithoidal texture with numerous inclusions of pumice and extremely friable rock of a grey color that incorrectly takes the name of pozzolano." Both the pozzolano and tuff have natural porosity.

Andrea Moti, An Example of Possible Application of Detailed Geological Maps. The 11 DOC/DOCG Destined to Wine Production in Umbria,
Corrado Cencetti, et al., The Rock of Orvieto (Umbria, Central Italy),
Mario Menichetti and Rodolfo Coccione, Umbria - Marche Apennine geological field trip,
Livio Vezzani, et al., Geology and Tectonic Evolution of the Central-Southern Apennines, Italy

©Wine -- Mise en abyme