As I’ve said before, I’m always up for meeting Italians to enjoy a fine meal and taste some great wines. So when I was invited to sit down at my favorite local restaurant, Café del Rey, and meet Lucio Gomiero of Vignalta Wines from Italy, how could I say no?
Lucio, now a Californian, owns the largest winery in the Veneto region of Italy, Vignalta. Italy’s Veneto region doesn’t get the recognition of Tuscany for its wines, but vinophiles might be surprised to know that it ranks first in the country for classified DOC wines. It’s known for its Valpolicella, Amarone, and Soave, and more recently Prosecco.
Lucio started out as an architect, and through his travels, developed an affinity for Bordeaux wines. It was back home in Colli Euganei that he realized the climate of the region was similar to Bordeaux, so in 1980, he bought up eight acres of land and decided to try his hand in the wine business. He started with Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Garganega grapes, and in 1986, he bottled his first wine. Today, with 120 acres of vineyards, Vignalta produces 250,000 bottles annually. Since 1998, Vignalta has won Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri award six times for its flagship Gemola, a Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend, the Rosso Arqua` Merlot, and the Cabernet Riserva, which is released only every ten years.
Lucio strikes me as the kind of guy who always needs the challenge, a new project. So when he heard that the U.S. was not producing much of a radicchio crop, he decided that was his new calling. In 1987, he planted his first radicchio crops and today, he is the largest grower in the world with 7,200 acres in California and Florida.
Our menu and pairings at Cafe del Rey included:
Bleu cheese polenta with balsamic onions and arugula paired with Colli Euganei Fioir d’Arancio Sparkling Orange Muscat 2015
The pepperiness of the onions and arugula paired perfectly with this slightly sweet, fruity Moscato. Amber in color, this DOCG wine has a bouquet of flavors with hints of apricots and candied orange peel. (Lucio suggested adding Amaro for a beautifully balanced cocktail.)
Grilled celery root and lentil salad with spinach, shallots and chive vinaigrette paired with Colli Euganei Pinot Bianco 2015
Vignalta’s Pinot Bianco grapes come from high elevations with a mix of clay and volcanic soils making it a classic white wine perfect for first courses. The wine is kept on its lees for several months, allowing it to develop a complexity of textures and flavors.
Quattro Pepe Tonno Hamachi with a pomegranate reduction with herbs, shallots and white soy with Colli Euganei Rosso Riserva 2011
Red wine with raw fish, you say? Surprisingly, this worked. This Merlot/Cabernet blend had enough fruitiness and tannic qualities to complement, but not overpower, the tuna.
Calamari with prosciutto, olives, capers, chili flakes and tomato paired with Colli Euganei Gemola 2011
Gemola is Vingalta’s flagship label and most award-winning wine. It was clearly my favorite. This Merlot/Cab Franc blend owes its richness to perfect soil composition and ample sun exposure.
Pumpkin biscotti with Chantilly creme and berries, paired with Colli Euganei Alpianae 2013
Another of the Fior d’Arancio grape yields, this perfect dessert wine has hints of apricots and candied orange peels. A DOCG wine, it is produced in limited quantities.