Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Hawthornes Enjoy A Six-Course Wine-Paired Dinner At The Saltbox Café.

Welcome to The Saltbox Café's
 latest 6-course, wine-paired meal featuring Northern Italy.

The menu is the creation of Chefs Amanda and Randolph Sprinkle.
Our servers were Lindsey and Sherry.
And Steve, Jen, and Elizabeth represented Empire Wine Distributors.

The comments and inaccuracies are all mine.

 Why can't behind the scenes at The Saltbox Café

Why can't Chef Amanda or Chef Randolph
bust out bad and turn into Gordon Ramsay
for just one night?
I want a Gordon Ramsay Moment!

 What I'd pay to see that!

Oh well...
One can only hope!

Let's get to the dinner.
We were first served an antipasto platter consisting of roasted chick peas seasoned with paprika, roasted red peppers, house-marinated artichoke with lemon and oliveoil, and Genoa salami and soppressata.

Course 1:  Gorgonzola Bread Pudding with House-Made Apple Butter paired with Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut.
 Steve:  Our first wine tonight is Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut.  If you love champagne, you need to know the name "Franciacorta."  It's a place and it's the champagne of Italy.  Prosecco is not made like champagne, but Franciacorta is, with the aging and production laws actually being more strict than in champagne.  To give you an idea of how well Italians think of Franciacorta, about 70% of Champagne is shipped not only out of Champagne, but also out of France.  About 80% of Franciacorta is consumed not only in Italy, but within about 100 miles of Franciacorta itself.  As Steve said, "You've never had a bad day drinking sparkling wine."

Chef Randolph:  We wanted to pair this with a gorgonzola bread pudding -  gorgonzola cheese, figs, pumpkin seeds, and campazola, a creamy mixture of camembert and gorgonzola,  We plated this on house-made roasted apple butter and topped it with fried basil leaves.

Rosie:  To me, this was brilliant.  It was like starting out with dessert and that's always a good thing in case something happens before you actually get to dessert.
It reminded me of a friend who would always read the last chapter of a book first.  When I asked him why, he said it was in case he died before finishing it.  I couldn't help but ask him if he'd seen the movie Citizen Kane.  But I digest...  Like I said, this was dessert to me, so I was happy.

Now the wine was bewitchingly appealing to me.  It was ready to drink, which was good, because so was I.

Course 2:  Smoked Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto with Braised Calamari paired with La Chiara Gavi Di Gavi.
Steve:  A lot of people love Pinot Grigio, but if you're in Italy and ask for a white wine, you won't get a Pinot Grigio even though it's planted everywhere.  You're going to get a Gavi di Gavi, especially in Northern Italy on the French side.  This is the elite of white wines in that area, except for certain Chardonnays from single vineyards. 

This is a tremendously special wine, actually famous at one time.  Long ago, if you were writing a steakhouse wine list in Manhattan, there was one Gavi di Gavi you'd have on your list, called La Scolca Black Label.  The gentleman who owned La Scolca estate in Gavi had three children - 2 sons and a daughter.  Before he retired, he gave each of his children their inheritance up front.  The oldest one got a winery separate from La Scolca and he took over the reins of that company.  The second son took over the reins of La Scolca winery and the daughter got the vineyard that La Scolca Black Label was made from and she started her own winery called La Chiara.  That's what we're drinking tonight.

This is a tremendously elegant wine with a nice mineral component to it.  If you want to take a step away from a traditional Pinot Grigio in Italy and if you want a Burgandy style white wine, this is the wine for you - Gavi di Gavi.

Chef Randolph:  We couldn't go through a whole Italian wine diner without doing a risotto.  Risotto can be made in many ways with different products, but traditional risotto is always made with seafood, usually with a cuttlefish and a fish stock.  We decided to go with calamari.  The squid was braised in the calamari stock and has a really nice "seafood earthiness." It should pair very well with the Gavi di Gavi and its bright acidity.

Rosie:  I love a deliciously creamy risotto with tentacles;  Mr. Hawthorne, not so much.  To Mr. Hawthorne, squid is squid is squid is bait.   I heartily agreed with Steve's assessment of the minerality of this wine.  La Chiara ran all over my tongue like a cat on a hot tin roof.  I received quite the tongue-pawing, with scratch marks to show for it.

Course 3:  Lobster Ravioli with Bourbon Vanilla Cream Sauce paired with Bastianich Vini Orsone Friulano.
Steve:  This wine is from the northeastern part of Italy about 30 miles from the Slovenian border and is owned by the Bastianich family, with matriarch Lidia being the Julia Child of Italian cuisine.  Her son Joe runs her restaurant empire and also started a wine importing company to supply her restaurants.  Joe runs the company because, in Lidia's words, "He couldn't cook worth a damn."

This wine is what true Venetians would pour for dinner, for heavier courses.  It's very mineralistic and the pretty salinity of this will really bring out the lobster in the ravioli.

Chef Randolph:  When tasting this wine, we found it to be quite elegant and well-finished.  We're pairing it with Maine lobster and ravioli finished with a cream sauce with a hint of vanilla bean to bring out the characteristics of the wine.  Even though the sauce may taste a little bit sweet, there's nothing sweet added to it.  It's just the natural sweetness of the lobster.

Rosie:  Winner Winner Lobster Dinner!
I tasted floral notes in the wine...  Dare I say, "Rosebud?"
I felt an excruciating lushness of indescribable, transcendent notes and a tsunami of delightful aromas upon the entry of the Bastianich Friulano into my palatial, palatal orifice.
A voluptuous mouth-feel crept over my papillae.
I savored it.
There was at least a 45-second finish.
I do not smoke, but I needed a cigarette.

Course 4:  Braised Pork Cheek over Mascarpone Polenta paired with Le Muraie Valpolicello Ripasso Doc Classico Superiore 2011.

Steve:  Now, we're on to the red wines and some very specific vineyards.  The family that produces the next 3 wines is Recchia.  You need to understand the grape that makes most of the wines from the Amarone region - della Valpolicella.  That is the cortese grape.  The cortese grape has one or two clusters of grapes at the top, which are known as the orecchi, or the ears.  This particular family has been making this wine for so long, that their name actually comes from that part of the cortese grape.  
This winery didn't exist as a winery to sell to people except for the last 200 years.  For 500 years before that they existed as farmers, but they didn't sell grapes to other wineries.  They actually would grow grapes, bring them in, and dry the grapes on rattan mats in buildings until they shriveled up.  Then they crushed them and made a wine out of it.  Originally, they made a dessert wine called Recioto which we're having at the end.  That was the first wine of the area.  They also have a very light red wine called ValpolicellaRecioto made a mistake one time about 200 years and forgot about the wine once it started fermenting and and ended up making something called "The Bitter One," or Amarone.  

So Recioto, the sweet one, was first.  Then there was the "bitter one," and then they made something called ripasso where they take regular, light red wine and they pass it through the left over stuff after they made the Amarone.  This re-pass gives a boost to the fermentation.  Everybody else in all this area passes their wine over the leftover stuff of the Amarone.  Not so Recchia.  They are one of the largest Recioto producers so they actually pass theirs over Recioto dregs which leaves enough sugar behind to give it much brighter, fuller fruits.  This family was in the business for so long of making finished wines that they'd sell to all their neighbors to finish off their production.  They were in the bulk-wine business to their neighbors to help them finish their high-end production, until finally, someone of the next generation said, "Please, you've go to put this in a bottle and branch out to the US because they would go nuts for this!"   So this is a ripasso and different from 90% other ripassos
in that it is a single vineyard from Recchia.  Recchia has about 1200 acres of the vine, with the next closest vineyard having about 100 acres.  In Italy, everybody knows who Recchia is and you will pay 3-4 more times for their wines in Italy than you will in the US.  These wines have only been in the US for about 30 years and nobody knows about them.   All the other wineries have been making this for years, but they were in the business to sell.  Recchia was in the business of selling to other wineries so they could make their wine.  

Chef Randolph:  This wine was so even-tempered, I wanted to pair it with something Fall-like and easy to eat.  I ended up braising pork cheeks with a little bit of this wine and stock and placing it on top of mascarpone polenta, finished with carrots and onions.

Rosie:  I love an "even-tempered" wine.  I find it offensive it when my wines are easily annoyed and excitable.  And I absolutely refuse to drink an irritable, peevish, fractious wine.  If a wine is going to be temperamental and unreasonable with me, I won't have anything to do with it.  Fie on them!

Course 5:  Grilled Veal with Prosciutto and Masala with Rosemary Whipped Potatoes paired with Ca' Bertoldi - Amarone della Valpolicella Doc Classico 2009.
Steve:  The Ripasso was the opening act.  Now we have the Amarone, the big brother of the Ripasso.  This is an extremely special wine.  When harvested, they bring in the grapes and single layer them on racks.  They go into large buildings where they dry for up to five weeks.  When you crush these grapes, you get a very concentrated juice and sugar content.  When you ferment the dried grapes, you get this Amarone. 

A tremendous amount of Amarone is made, since so much land is under vine.  All of their cuvée, or blends of Amarone, is what they sell to everybody else.  This particular wine is a single vineyard Amarone.  Ca' Bertoldi, the name on the bottle, is the name of the individual vineyard this wine came from.  This is extremely rare to get a single vineyard Amarone because when all the grapes are taken in and put on racks in the those buildings, this one particular vineyard has to be separate from all the others - all this while you have a hundred or so people going in and out, checking on the grapes, pulling the ones that are just the right "raisinette" characteristics.

Chef Randolph:  Randolph first asked us a question, "Has anybody here ever had something called 'saltimbocca?' "  Of course, yesses and nods went around the room.  Then Randolph does what he does a lot and switches directions.  "Well, this is not that dish.  But it's kinda like it."  Saltimbocca is an Italian dish, meaning "jumps in the mouth," and is in a roll form a lot of times.  Veal medallions were thinly sliced, topped with prosciutto, then pounded, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, and grilled.  This was served on top of a roasted garlic rosemary purée with a marsala sauce of mushrooms, marsala wine, and a veal stock reduction.

Rosie:  This dish jumped all in my mouth and the wine was jumping all around too.
Like  Khrushchev, this is a firm, fervent, vehement, emotional, aggressive, and passionate wine.
Have enough of this and you'd experience the sharp pounding of shoe in your head the next morning.

Course 6:  Dolce Tre - Vanilla Almond Panna Cotta, Blackberry Orange Mascarpone Whipped Cream and Pistachio Gelato paired with La Guardia Recioto della Valpolicella D.O.C.G. Classico 2011.

Dessert deserves two pictures.

Steve:  As I considered the first two reds brothers, this next and last wine, the Recioto, I think of as the grandfather.  I know.  It's sweet.  But I promise you with this dessert you will change your mind.  If you taste it before dessert, make sure you stop and think about the sugar you're going to taste.  Most dessert wines are 7-9% alcohol because the vintners arrest the fermentation early on.  What makes this wine so different and amazing is that the fermentation is no stopped.  This wine is 14% alcohol.  This is finished fermentation.  These grapes were allowed to "raisin" twice as long as the other grapes so you have 1/4 of the water that you normally have in wine production.  The yeast lived its entire life and died and this is what was left.

What makes the Ripasso so special is the pass over this production and not the Amarone.  All of the sugars left in there bring out all the bright fruit characters in this wine.  A lot of times, Ripassos are leathery and earthy because there's no sugar left in the re-pass method, whereas in this one, there is.

Reciotto is the first wine - the original wine from the Amarone region.

Amarone was an accident that happened 200 years ago.  This is the wine that everybody made.  The sugar isn't syrupy.  It's not cloying.   There's enough acid left behind in this to cut the sugar a bit and you'll love it paired with the dessert.  

The Venetians were as powerful as they were in the trade business because a large part of there success was due to this wine.  They traded this wine for spices from the MiddleEast.  That's how important this wine is to them.

Chef Randolph:  As usual, Randolph had nothing to do with dessert.  Usually with a red, it would be paired with a chocolate, but this has a nice acidity but not a lot of tannins to stand up to chocolate, so we decided to pair this wine with other things.  We have vanilla bean, almond panna cotta, a gelatin dessert with cream, mascarpone and blackberry whipped cream,  and pistachio gelato with a streak of white chocolate ganache.

Rosie:   This wine balanced extremely well with the dessert - like a well-seasoned tightrope walker.  It was never intrusive or aggressive like a telemarketer.  Actually, it was quite the approachable wine.  We made polite introductions, then I downed it.

Enjoy behind the scenes!

Love that Saltbox Crew!

Josh Naser is helping out again tonight.

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