Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Toasting 2022 with Italian Wine Pairings

Italian cuisine has a timeless appeal – and with so many rich sauces and ragus, tempting pasta shapes, airy pizzas, fresh fish, rich polentas, creamy risottos, and more, it’s easy to see why. Americans enjoy a lot of Italian food – in fact, one survey said that the average US consumer enjoys over 15 pounds of Italian cheese a year!

And Italian cuisine is perfect for dinner parties – for example, pasta recipes can easily be modified to serve more or less guests.  A fun entertainment idea for the new year is to host your own Italian night with a multi-course celebration featuring all Italian wines.

It’s always great to start the evening with something sparkling – a time-honored way to welcome guests as they enter your home in Europe.  The Ca Di Prata Brut Prosecco DOC ($16) is a great choice with crisp pear and apple flavors, lots of fine bubbles, and delightful acidity.  Passed trays of fresh salami and hard pecorino cheese (need inspiration on a building a cheese board? look here) would work well to start the evening off.

After everyone arrives, it’s time to sit down for the first course. A risotto with parmesan and lemon (see recipe here) is a crowd-pleasing first course that would match beautifully with the Barone Montalto Pinot Grigio 2020 ($12), a dry white wine with hints of citrus on the palate.  And your guests will be intrigued that this Pinot Grigio is not from northern Italy, but Sicily!

After the risotto has disappeared, it’s time for the main attraction – a roast loin of pork rubbed with olive oil and rosemary. The wine to pair is one of Italy’s iconic selections – a Barbaresco made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. The Riva Leone Barbaresco 2017 is a perfect choice, as its complex flavors of dried red fruits and spice will complement the juicy pork wonderfully. At only $25, it’s a great value as well.

While some of your guests may say they don’t have room for dessert, they’ll certainly be persuaded to have a slice of this traditional semolina cake and a last glass of something lightly sweet. The Acquesi Asti Spumante ($18) is 100% Moscato from Friuli. Its lightly sweet flavor and lovely perfumed nose will create a sweet and sparkling ending to your night of Italian fun!

Monday, January 3, 2022

Celebrating Charming Abruzzo and Bordeaux Wines at Il Gattopardo

New York at Christmas time is a treat, and the same can be said about a meal at the midtown East restaurant Il Gattopardo, which specializes in southern Italian cuisine. I had the opportunity to attend a wine media lunch there where we sampled a wide range of wines from Abruzzo during the main courses as well as a trio of sweet wines of Bordeaux with dessert. 

The alluring combination of quality dry and sweet wines from two different EU countries is part of the Charming Taste of Europe promotional program, which doesn’t limit its celebration of European wine to a single area. 

While some Abruzzo wines are not as well-known as those of Tuscany or Piedmont, their wallet-friendly prices, delicious flavor profiles, and intriguing indigenous grapes should put this Italian region on wine lovers' radar. 

Our meal began with one such variety – the lively Pecorino grape. The Poderi Constantini Antonio Abruzzo Pecorino Superiore 2020 was a crisp wine with dried herbs on the palate, as well as notes of chamomile and a touch of minerality. Pecorino is a food-friendly white with a unique flavor profile -- worth seeking out as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. 

With the first course of  spaghetti alla Chitarra, we sampled a white wine from the Trebbiano grape, the Masciarelli Tenute Agricole, Marina Cvetic, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2019, which had a crisp nose reminiscent of fresh cut celery with sage, green melon, and minerality on the palate. We also tried a rosata, the Valori, Abbruzo Talamonti Cerasuolo Rose 2020. This had more heft than many roses with a nose of cranberry, good structure, and tart fruit flavors. 

The second course of patate maritate (potatoes with sausage), was paired with the Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019, a biodynamic wine made in amphora. All Montepuliciano d'Abruzzo wines must contain at least 85% of Montepulciano grapes. This had powerful black fruit and balsamic vinegar aromas and deep flavors of black plums and black pepper, as well as perceptible tannin. 

The flavorful fish soup course -- “brodetto alla Vastese” – needed robust wine to match it, and the answer was two substantial reds. The Cantina Frentana Montepulicano d’Abruzzo “Rubesto” 2017 was a big wine with blackberry and caramel on the nose and lots more blackberries on the palate. The last Abruzzo wine was the Podere Castorani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Casauria Riserva 2015. This wine had a savory rosemary nose and dried cherries dusted with sage on the palate. This wine is truly made with care – it’s harvested late (in November) and has a long maceration period of up to 30 days to increase complexity.

The light dessert course of lattacciolo was served with three sweet wines of Bordeaux. Although Sauternes is the most famous (and pricey) example, Bordeaux sweet wines come from several appellations in the larger Bordeaux area. The Chateau de Garbes “Cuvee Fut de chene” AOC Cadillac 2019 had a lovely honey nose with honeysuckle on the palate. The Chateau Fayau Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux 2019 also had honey aromas with a richer marmalade palate. The most luxurious selection was the Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet AOC Loupiac 2017. The nose was full of ripe apricots and the wine had a rich texture and a long finish. 

Cheers to the Charming Taste of Europe for showcasing a large selection of delicious Italian and French wines in a fabulous, fun lunchtime tasting.  The wines we tried at Il Gattopardo from Abruzzo and Bordeaux are certainly worthy of your attention in the new year.