Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch

Tuna and Prosecco
I’ve always been a big fan of Prosecco, the charming and thirst-slaking Italian sparkling wine, for festive and casual bubbles imbibing. At a recent lunch at Serafina, I was reminded what a great food wine it is as well. Prosecco belongs on your lunch (and dinner) table!

The Proseccos we enjoyed were from Valdo, a shop favorite. Their Brut DOC is a machine here at Esquin. The staff loves it and so do our customers. They also make an excellent Rosé Brut, though don’t call it Prosecco! The Italian wine laws in the region have recently changed to protect the good name of true Prosecco; it has to be made from the Glera grape and in a specific geographic area. The Rosé is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape (surely you’ve heard of it) and is a joy to drink. Ultra-fun! It was perfection with the Calamari, especially with the touch of chile flake giving a little heat. (The Brut DOC was no slouch with it, either. I was alternating back and forth between the two.)

Calamari

Most unexpectedly, the Prosecco even worked with a sweet pea and ricotta ravioli (with taragon butter and sauteed pea vines, to boot) The sweetness of the peas was a nice match with the DOC Brut, which has a whisper of sweetness.

Sweet Pea and Ricotta Ravioli

But my favorite pairing was with the tuna at the top of the post. I devoured it with two special Proseccos from Valdo: The “Cuvee di Boj” and “Cuvee Fondatore”. Both have DOCG status, which denotes the highest quality in the Prosecco region. These Proseccos were drier, more elegant, and most harmonious with the tuna and its melted leeks, fingerling potatoes, and frisee salad with a basil-grapefruit vinaigrette.

It was a wonderful lunch made even more wonderful by convivial dining companions and and special guest Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, the President of Valdo. Hard to think of a more personable and genuine ambassador for the region and the wines. Bravo!

Full disclosure: I was a guest of the importer and distributor who provided the food and wine.

VINO 2011: The Grand Tasting

VINO 2011 Grand Tasting

It’s here: the big finish to the three-day Italian wine extravaganza that is VINO 2011. A tasting of wines so deep, so enormous, and so loaded with every type of wine imaginable (reds, whites, rosés, sparklers, dessert) that I desperately needed this map:

VINO 2011 Grand Tasting Map

Once again, navigating your way through an event like this requires strategic planning. My first order of business was to hustle to the Allegrini table to see my friend Robin.

Robin Shay of Allegrini

Not only is he a dapper and charming fellow, he happens to represent two of my favorite Italian wines. Pictured is the Amarone, which for a wine of such concentration, richness, and strength somehow finishes with an elegance belying its brawny profile. And I wouldn’t dare step away from the table without trying what I consider to be an iconic wine of the Veneto: La Poja. It’s a single-vineyard, 100% Corvina that you need to get into your glass ASAP. (I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention that Robin knows where the best pizza in New York is: Kesté. Check out this review with great photos from one of my absolute favorite food blogs, John and Elana Talk About Food. But I digress….)

So where did I go from here? I decided that I just was going to try totally unfamiliar wines. Like this late-harvest Primitivo from Cignomoro. It was a sweet, but not cloying, red wine that I would love with some fromage blanc cheesecake or blue cheese. (I dig the labels, too.)

Primitivo Dolce

Or how about a Passerina from the Marche? Made by Domodimonti, it’s a crisp and dry white. And I really liked their Pecorino (not the cheese, the grape) which had a nice richness from oak aging and would be great with heartier seafood dishes.

The Wines of Domodimonti

Needing a break from wine, I wandered over to the area of the tasting I call “Aperitif Alley.” (Or possibly more accurate, the “Digestive Detour.”) Loveliest was a beautiful anise liqueur from Varnelli, pictured on the left. I adore the flavor of black licorice, especially in clear alcoholic form.

Digestives

This post was composed in the VINO 2011 Press Room, and greatly aided by the genius-in-a-pouch combo of espresso, sugar, and Varnelli over ice.

Genius in a Pouch

Full disclosure: The Italian Trade Commission has provided my transportation and accommodations.

VINO 2011: Italian Wine Discoveries

vino 2011 day 1 002
Greetings from VINO 2011 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, a wine conference sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission. How do you navigate a wine tasting with over 80 producers, each pouring multiple wines? Do you try them all? Although tempting (purely in the interest of seeking more wine knowledge, ahem), the answer is no. I did a quick survey of the room and honed in on one target: bubbles. I’ve always loved the wines of Northern Italy for their freshness and purity so it was no surprise that I flipped for the sparkling wines of Maso Martis from the Trento region. Pure, elegant, and crisp, I found a lot to love from the Brut, Brut Rosé, and the Brut Riserva.

Maso Martis

The sparkling wines of Maso Martis and Alessandra Caroni, Export Manager.

Another highlight was a red wine from Talis in Friuli, the Purpureo. It’s a Bordeaux-style bend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve been recently exposed to a ton of red wine that has been lavishly slathered with oak, so it was a great change of pace to drink a red that tasted of fruit and varietal character(s) rather than oak. I guessed that the Purpureo was unoaked, but it turns out it gets a brief stay in the barrel. But don’t confuse unoaked with wimpy; it had plenty of tannin to balance the fruit. I wish I just could have walked off with the bottle, headed to the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria, and curled up in a big chair with only a good book to accompany my wine. (I guess it wouldn’t of hurt to ask if I could have done so, no?)

Mauro Cencig of Talis Wine

Mauro Cencig of Talis Wine shows off the delicious Purpureo.

So what are some of your recent wine discoveries?

Full disclosure: The Italian Trade Commission has provided my transportation and accommodations.

Prosecco: Freshness Matters!

Freshness matters!
Sometimes you can learn a lot about a wine from a back label. Let’s take the Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede for instance. This single-vineyard gem is not only thirst-slaking, palate-cleansing, and party-starting, but the good folks at Bisol are kind enough to let you know the vintage of the bottle in your hand. Even better, you can tell when it was bottled by deciphering the lot number. No Rosetta stone necessary: L10082 means it was bottled on the 82nd day of 2010. With most Proseccos, and sparkling wines in general, there is no way to discern freshness based on what you see on the label. (And here is where I must say that we sell oceans of bubbles at Esquin; nothing that we love sits around for any extended period of time.)

This is a practice I would like to see more sparkling wine producers undertake, beyond their vintage-dated offerings. For non-vintage wines that do not go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, why not stamp the date it was bottled on the back label? If it’s good enough for Budweiser, it’s good enough for all your quality sparkling wines that peak in their youth.

Demand freshness!

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Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede: $20

Quintarelli: Great with Thai Food

Quintarelli WhiteLike Dal Forno Romano, the wines of Quintarelli will change your notions of the heights that great Valpolicella can reach. And, to my pleasant surprise, Quintarelli also makes a hell of a white wine.

The Secco Ca’ del Merlo is an unusual blend: Garganega, Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin. (I have no idea what Saorin is.) Aromatic, medium-bodied, silky-textured, and refreshing as a mountain stream, it was pretty damn incredible with some Thai food we had delivered to the home of Esquin’s Wine Jedi, Arnie Milan. (I’m Luke to his Obi-Wan. Though I’d prefer to think of myself as more Han or Boba Fett. But I digress.)

And though I really love stylized wine labels, there is something really charming about Quintarelli’s scripted label. I love the unique look of his writing; I wish my chicken-scratch penmanship could hold a candle to it. Can someone please turn it into a font?

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2007 Quintarelli Secco Ca’ de Merlo: $52

Tasting The Legend: Dal Forno Romano

Tasting the Legends
It’s not often that you get to cross a dream wine off your tasting wish list. It’s even less often that you get to cross off three in one night. And it’s the rarest of rare occasions that all the wines are from the same producer. That night was Wednesday and winery was the incomparable Dal Forno Romano.

Hailing from the Veneto in Italy, Dal Forno Romano wines demand that you totally recalibrate your perception of Valpolicella. The wines are painstakingly made through minuscule yields and a perfectionist’s mindset. Massively rich, concentrated, and yet somehow not over-the-top, these Valpolicellas will cellar for many, many years. If you are going to drink them now, I would say two hours in the decanter would be a minimum. (And I wouldn’t blame you if you drank them now; they are extremely difficult to resist.)

If it wasn’t enough to try two vintages of the Valpolicella, we were treated to the 2003 Dal Forno Romano Amarone. Whoa. What a wine! A little richer and denser that the Valpolicella, it had some of those lovely dried fruit characteristics that are the hallmark of Amarone. And like the Valpolicella, the Amarone is remarkable for its balance, especially considering the concentration and alcohol content. This wine doesn’t just strive for perfection, it’s knocking on the door.

Just when I thought I would run out of superlatives, the wine of the night (for me) arrived: The 2003 Dal Forno Passito Vigna Sere. Like the Amarone, it’s made with dried grapes, but it’s sweet. To call it the finest sweet wine I’ve had doesn’t seem to quite do it justice. I have to put it among the finest wines I’ve ever had, period. Having some blue cheese with it takes it into the stratosphere. I am loath to use words like “awesome” or “amazing” to describe anything because both words are so epidemically overused to be meaningless. (“That taco was awesome!” Awesome? Really? It inspired awe?) But if last night I heard any or all of these wines being described using either of those words, you’d probably notice me nodding my head in agreement and thinking, “Yes. Yes they are.”

Chris Zimmerman of Vias
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Zimmerman from Vias, the company that imports Dal Forno Romano and many other excellent Italian wines. Chris led us through a “Visions of the Veneto” seminar that proved his knowledge of Italian wines is only matched by his passion for them. And I’d be truly remiss if I didn’t mention the lineup of wines before the Dal Forno Romano, which were very impressive. We started with two Suavia Soaves, the unoaked 2008 Montecarbonare and the barrel-aged 2006 Le Rive. Fans of Chablis and White Burgundy, respectively, need to get a hold of these gems. And the Le Salette Amarones that followed were outstanding; made in a very refined style appropriate for the dinner table.

So what wines are on your wish list or which ones have you crossed off?

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