Italy – a special place for both wine and food
Gismondi’s Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi
There’s already a buzz in Vancouver about the massive contingent of Italian wine producers headed for the west coast in late February to headline the 38th Vancouver International Wine Festival. The city will host some 60 producers that make wine in just about every important region of the vine land they call Enotria. But are we ready?
Whenever I’m lucky enough to be in Italy I take my watch off. It’s not so much that time stands still, but rather that it moves at its own pace and that rarely includes 60 beats per minute. Italians can be gregarious talkers and use a whirlwind of gestures when doing so, but when it comes to food and wine there is a calmness and a sense of purpose in their choices that few other cultures can match.
It’s not that they spend a lot of time thinking about pairing wine and food as much as they serve what comes naturally, or might I say historically, in the region where they live. What we can say is there is a simplicity and a clarity of flavours on the plate that make Italy a special place for both wine and food. Often only one or two flavours are present in any dish and rarely more than three and it is this reliance on simplicity and uncluttered flavours that gives Italian cuisine its wide appeal.
When you think about it, the Italian way is probably a good road map for where we need to go in Canada. Certainly there could be some relevance between modern-day high end Canadian wine and the mostly lean, fresh style of Italian white and red wines. Freshness and minerality are the hallmarks of many Italian whites and when paired with equally fresh seafood dishes they can move to another level, revealing finesse and character from the front of the glass to the back.
Pasta and Italian wine is an easy match and if you think like an Italian and add perhaps only one or two ingredients the results can be stunning. In the case of verdicchio, a crisp white with plenty of minerality and acid, it is a quick match for tossed fresh pasta, available at most specialty markets, with a variety of pesto. In Canada, pasta, some fresh clams in a butter sauce, and a steely chardonnay could result in a perfect match.
Pinot grigio is probably the best know Italian white wine but often the light-bodied, dry, crisp wine is overwhelmed by the food we serve with it in North America. A case in point is squid. It is almost always breaded, spiced and served as an appetizer when in Italy, pan-seared squid with a little olive oil, salt and pepper is the perfect match for a refreshing pinot grigio.
Red wines with vital acidity, like barbera, nebbiolo and sangiovese, are incredibly versatile food wines working with mushrooms, tomatoes, wild boar, raw beef and more. I can think of many local Canadian gamay, cabernet franc, grenache and pinot noir that fit that bill.
Enter Italy. There is something about Italian cuisine that simply does not intimidate the average food and wine aficionado in the way French food and wine traditions do. Perhaps it’s the Italian propensity for showing up late and staying late that sets a tone for informality. This month as the Canadian dollar heads south faster than a snowbird, I suggest you consider organizing an in-house dinner party and end a hectic day, Italian-style, at home, with friends.
It’s easy enough to pull together a no fuss menu and share it before hand with your guests and then suggest they bring along some of their favourite Italian labels to accompany one of the courses. With no restaurant mark-ups to double the price consider spending a bit more at retail and bring along a great bottle of wine for the night.
To get the party underway think about serving a selection of antipasti and your favourite Prosecco. The best Prosecco, the DOCG, are made from the glera grape and grown in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene regions of Veneto, just north of Treviso. It’s a softer style bubble, with ripe fruit and a brisk finish, well-suited to all types of antipastos and pre-dinner bites. Think marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, a selection of olives, and some thinly sliced sopressata, capicola and Genoa salumis. I recommend the Adami Bosco di Gica Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.
Make pasta your secondi or second course and keep it simple. You can pick up a variety of fresh pastas at most specialty markets. Simply decide on the saucing and you are ready-to go. Linguine with pesto is both satisfying and easy to prepare and it’s relatively wine friendly. All you have to do is boil some water, cook the pasta al dente and then toss with the pesto.
To accompany the pasta, think about the cooler, fresher style Italian whites from the north or those grown near the sea, or at altitude. A current favourite is Tenuta di Angoris Villa Locatelli Friulano 2014 from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Fragrant wildflowers, honeysuckle, nectarine and fennel set the stage for a white wine that will cut through the pasta.
The main course sounds impossibly challenging but grilled Florentine steak or Bistecca alla Fiorentina could not be simpler to prepare. Rub the steak with a good olive oil and generously season it with salt and pepper. Then simply toss it on a pre-heated grill and prepare it to order for your guest. Grill some vegetables ahead of time – they taste sensational as the dry heat concentrates natural sugars and gives them a bold and rustic look. Now you have a main course built for big reds.
Tuscan sangiovese or Super-Tuscan reds are perfect match or you could look to the south of Italy for slightly more rustic reds that are big on value. Begin with Rocca della Macie Roccato 2009, a super Tuscan bled made by Sergio Zingarelli. Roccato is a 50/50 mix of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon all picked by hand and vinified separately aged in French oak barriques. It easily has the heft to handle any grilled meats.
Similarly, fans of big reds will enjoy the Barone Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010. Colledilà has been a part of the Brolio estate for centuries, and is the cru that stands above all others. Expect a rich, round, smooth, juicy palate with a long but warm, meaty finish.
The ultra bargain steak wine comes from Sicily: Il Passo Nerello Mascalese e Nero d’Avola Vigneti Zabu 2013, Sicily. An 85/15 mix of nerello mascalese and néro d’avola whose canes are cut allowing the grapes to naturally dry out on the vines. The nose and palate is a savoury mix of baked fruit including plums, figs and black currants flecked with a peppery, cherry, chocolate finish.
If you have paced yourself through this multi-course marathon you can easily cap off the evening with an array of chocolate truffles from your favourite local purveyor and a lightly frizzante fruity ending based on the aromatic moscato grape. The fruity, orange ginger notes of the lightly sparkling moscato will all but set off the chocolate and send your guests home smiling.
The Batasiolo Bosc Dla Rei Moscato d’Asti 2014, as reviewed by Sara d’Amato, will suit.
Now all you need do is add music (Italian of course), and lively guests (Italians not a prerequisite) and you’ve yourself una serata perfetta – a perfect evening.