Tuesday, July 21, 2009

La Dolce Vita

SCENE: A hot, July afternoon, Sardinia. You've just spent another day cavorting in the sparkling emerald waters of the Mediterranean, and the sun is about to begin its westward trek across the clear sky. After one last dip in the sea, you lay down on the warm coastal rocks to dry off. Your stomach rumbles--it must be nearly 5:00, almost dinner time. You gaze over your shoulder at the expanse of your villa, up the rambling, stony staircase from the beach. Paolo, your hot Italian boyfriend, must be back from the market by now . . .

Indeed, smells drift pleasantly toward you: the heady, ripe scents of tomato and eggplant, a briny whiff of the catch of the day, the sizzling of garlic on the stove . . . Paolo's outline appears against the blazing sky, tanned muscles rippling in the sunset, two glasses of Prosecco in his hands . . .

Wait, where am I? Um, Farm Dinner. Wine blog. Ok.

Forgive the cringe-worthy Harlequin-esqe preamble, folks, but you'd have the same scenario on the brain after last night's Farm Dinner. A week ago we learned a bit about the finer things from the French, and today we dive headfirst into La Decadent Dolce Vita.

Monday, 07.20.09

Course 1: Braised Littleneck clams, Laughing Bird shrimp, and baby octopus with fennel, tropea onions, cauliflower, and grilled bread

Preliminary Pairings: 2008 Cortijo Rose, 2006 Protos Roble Joven

Fish stew, but using red wine instead of white. Interesting. Actually a two-part process, with the Littleneck braising juice as one half of the soup-base and red wine broth as the other. The shrimp (from an organic hatchery in Belize) were marinated in parsley, lemon, and olive oil. The same marinade was used as the base if the clam sautee, with the addition of fennel and tropeas. Protos, tomatoes, marjoram, and mirepoix formed a broth. Can you see this taking shape? Picholine olives lent a note of zip and tang, a small salad of cauliflower, fennel, and purslane added crunch, and crusty grilled bread smeared liberally with aioli completed the dish.

Jason asked me to recommend a juicy, light red for the base of the stew, almost a rose. Our Italians seemed too robust for the job, our pinot noirs too insignificant (excluding pricey Ambroise). The Protos tempranillo falls perfectly in the middle, possessing substantial flavor, lively spice, and juicy fruit (I often lean towards Spanish wines when Italian is my first inkling but I can't quite find a suitable one).

Not surprisingly, the Protos paired exceedingly well. First, however, we tasted the 2008 Cortijo Rioja Rose--another Spaniard. Cortijo is delightful, fruity, juicy, brilliantly magenta-colored and refreshing. I felt confident that it would be delicious with the fish stew and my staff and I were disappointed upon tasting the two together. Giavanna claimed that the raspberry notes of the Cortijo became too pronounced. Aaron decided the result was "bitter." Truthfully, I don't think the Cortijo is high-acid enough to match the tanginess of the stew. Also, the Cortijo's mellow mineral component may not have been present enough to stand up to the brininess of the seafood. But the Protos! Naturally Protos and the steww went together like rama-lama-lama-di-dingee-di-dingee-dong. Darker fruit thatn the rose meant more balanced flavors, and the unobtrusive structure added dimension. Really, the Protos is just a great food wine, very malleable, and takes on the characteristics needed to provide an excellent counterpart to any dish.

Favorite: 2006 Protos

Course 2: Garganelli with housemade goat sausage, sungold tomato, romano beans, eggplant, and Fiore Sardo

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Tenuta Garetto Barbera d'Asti

Like buttah . . . Well, actually, like olive oil and buttah. Fabulous, simple, fresh . . . exactly what you'd want to eat after sun soaking on the Med, and exactly how it sounds. Saffron, garlic. Nichols Farm romanos (flat, broad beans, Italian in origin) and cherry tomatoes, Iron Creek sungolds, local eggplant, and crumbly, hearty Slagel goat sausage we (I say "we" like I helped--I wish) made in-house and stuffed with fennel and the like. Fiore Sardo, a smoky, firm Sardinian sheep's cheese, melted lovingly on top.

Tenuta Garetto, bambini. Sometimes refered to as "baby Barolo," barbera is a Piemontese varietal, easier to cultivate than nebbiolo but with slightly less predominant structure and long ago was used either in blends to add acid and color, or as a table wine. Now, however, barbera is harvested to make juicy, easy-drinking reds that require less aging than nebbiolo and Barolos. TG '07 is a best-of-both-worlds choice, with lovely dried violet and dark berry flavors and velvety, soft tannin. The spiciness of the sausage and the earthiness of the eggplant were my favorite pairing components here, and the best part was that although the TG has a bite to it, the juicy fruit balanced all the herbal / spice elements in the pasta and muted whatever ferociousness the barbera might be harboring.

Favorite: 2007 TG

Course 3: Yellow plum, ricotta, and praline sorbet and ice cream with almond rum cake

Preliminary Pairings: 2006 Maculan Dinarello, Alvear Solera Cream Sherry

Melissa often places sorbet alongside ice cream on a dish and I think it is a brilliant move--a dreamsicle on a plate. Yellow plum sorbet can only be described as heavenly, and if you haven't tasted Melissa's ricotta ice cream, well . . .

Rum flavors, toasty almond, crunchy praline, and a light-as-air tea cake. A white peachy, honeyed, late-harvest moscato from the Veneto, Maculan Dinarello is an unsung hero at Lula--always a go-to, yet under the radar. Last night, MD was truly the stand-out pick, eclipsing the Solera Cream Sherry for once (which was just a little too powerful).

Favorite: 2006 Maculan

Delicious, Decadent, La Dolce Vita. E-ciao!

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