When I moved back to the states from Italy, I carefully packed 100 bottles of my favorite Italian wines. Somehow, I thought those bottles would last me a few years. Yeah, that didn’t happen. So when I had the opportunity to meet two CA-based distributors who import Italian wines, how could I say no?
The tasting was hosted by the Italy American Chamber of Commerce West at Cafe del Rey (my neighborhood haunt) to introduce our group to Nicola of Veneto Hills and Paolo of Vino Direct. As a former Italian expat, I never pass up an opportunity to drink great Italian wines and brush on my fledging language skills with native Italians.
Before lunch, we got to know each other by tasting two exceptional Prosecco wines produced by Veneto Hills, a family winery near Venice. This boutique operation covers six acres producing DOCG Prosecco wines under the label Tenuta 2 Castelli. The Veneto’s Conegliano Valdobbiadene region comprises 15 villages all producing exceptional DOCG Prosecco Superiore wines. In 2016, they sold more than 90 millions bottles. How did I not discover this region when I lived in Italy?
We tasted the Prosecco Superiore Spumante Brut DOCG and the Prosecco Superiore Spumante Extra Dry DOCG produced with 100 percent Glera Grapes. Maybe it’s my roots, but I find a Prosecco so easy to drink and the perfect starter for a meal with new friends. These two wines were uniquely different (don’t be fooled by the extra dry, it was anything but that) but equally enjoyable. It’s important that you think about the region that produces these wines, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, and its significance in the world of Prosecco production.
It was time to eat and Cafe del Rey’s Executive Chef David Vilchez never disappoints.
The meal started with a beautiful Salmon and Albacore Tartare with avocado and dried cranberries. Vino Direct, representing a number of boutique wineries, paired their La Montina Franciacorta Satèn from the lake region of Lombardy, a region I’m quite familiar with from my years of living in Milano. This 100 percent Chardonnay, aged for 30 months, was the perfect complement to this seafood starter. This was quite possibly the best food-wine pairing of the day.
A bottle of the La Montina Franciacorta Rosé Millesimato 2009 Extra Brut was poured for our primi of Winter Green Flatbread, a base of Burrata topped with Endive, Spinach, Frisée with a basil vinaigrette. A blend of 85 percent Pinot Noir and 15 percent Chardonnay, the Rosé helped marry the bitterness of the greens with the creamy decadence of the burrata.
We moved on to the secondi course with Lamb Lollies atop Pepperjack Polenta. Paolo introduced us to Ugo Lequio wines, a boutique producer in Piemonte. The Ugo Lequio Barbera D’Alba Vigna Gallina DOC 2013 was one of the best Barberas I’ve have since leaving Italy – bold enough to stand up to lamb yet incredibly balanced.
Chef David’s Oxtail Bucatini with Fennel and Arugula was my favorite course of the day. The Ugo Lequio Barbaresco Gallina DOCG 2011, 100 percent Nebbiolo, was such a great pairing to complement the peppery flavors of the fennel and arugula.
And in traditional Italian fashion, our meal ended with a digestivo of limoncello with a lemon tart topped with toasted meringue, shortbread crumble and raspberry coulis.
On those days when I miss the everyday adventure of being an Italian expat, I think of meals like this, and new friends like Genny, Paolo and Nicola.