|APRIL 2 2012: An Evening with the Wines of the Briziarelli Estate |
at Valentino, Santa Monica, CA
While my focus has been primarily on Rhone wines the past few years, I still try to broaden my palate every once in awhile. This dinner was a chance to do exactly that. I "discovered" the grape Sagrantino di Montefalco last December at Enoteca Drago and was immediately intrigued by it. It tasted like an Italian wine, and yet, it was more approachable than I expected it to be. Sure, it had the usual tannic grip, but there was a roundness of fruit that kept me going back for more. I was surprised I had never heard of it. Though to be fair Italy has hundreds and hundreds of indigenous grapes that rarely reach our shores. This one, from the central region of Umbria is begining to gain very favorable international attention and is considered to be the top-of-the-line red in Umbria. Over the years, the grape was crafted into a sweet "recioto" style wine; however over the past two decades the region's producers have been fermenting Sagrantino in a fully dry-style, which is clearly working in their favor.
The Briziarelli family has been working their land for over 100 years. They began as stone masons, using the clay soil to craft bricks and roof tiles and became, over the years, a very successful construction company. In 2002, they planted 17 hectares (42 acres) of grapes and a grove of olive trees and began the process of building a world class winery and olive oil production facility. Their current line-up consists of two IGT wines: Duna Robba and Uno Nove Zero Sei, one DOC wine called Rosso Mattone and their flagship, 100% Sagrantino called Vitruvio (a nod to the well-known Roman architect and writer). The estate strives to use the best environmental practices in both the vineyard and the winery, harvesting all their grapes by hand and using only organic fertilizers.
Their attention to detail was impressive so I was excited to see if my initial infatuation would grow into something deeper. It's too bad the tasting wasn't on their estate (a girl can dream), but if it had to be anywhere in Los Angeles Valentino's was certainly the right spot. I think I can safely sayy that no one in LA knows Italian wine and food better than Piero Selvaggio, the restaurant's owner and host for 40 years. He was so kind, friendly and knowledgable I could have listened to him talk all night. Valentino's wine cellar is considered one of the best in the world. It offers 2,200 choices among 130,000 bottles (!) and is a consistent winner of The Wine Spectator's highest honor, The Grand Award. I had a chance to see this infamous cellar, but I chose to keep eating instead. A decision I now regret. Besides the great food, I guess I now I have aother reason to go back.
The night began with some Prosecco (sorry I failed to catch the label) along with some classic Italian appetizers. Sorry for the blurry photos, but it was hard to make the waiters stop and pose. The arancini were out of this world. Best ever.
Seared Veal Carpacchio with Umbrian EVOO
2010 Duna Robba I.G.T.
A blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Sangiovese and 20% Sagrantino
– While I like veal, I am generally not a fan of an meat raw aka carpaccio. This one was fairly light and delicate brightened by the oil and greens. The pairing was pretty good. The wine showed medium aromatics of ripe cherry, plum, spice and green pepper. The palate was medium-bodied and not as sweet as the nose suggested with fine, dusty tannins, medium acidity and notes of tar and mint on the finish. A nice, everyday wine.
Agnollotti Pasta Carbonara with Fresh Black Truffles
2008 Rosso Mattone D.O.C.
A blend of 65% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Sangrantino
– I have to admit this the dish that made me want to come to this dinner. Black truffle? Can't resist. Everything about this pasta was perfect and though intensely flavored if wasn't heavy. Wished I could have had seconds. While I enjoyed this wine I wish they had decanted it. It was quite tight and tannic showing mostly Cab notes of plum, currant, herbs and minerals. The food softened it a bit, but not enough to make it work for me.
Penne Artigianali with Sausage
2007 Uno Nove Zero Sei I.G.T.
A blend of 25% Syrah, 25% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Sagrantino
–This dish may look and seem rather simple, but hat's off to the chef for making it simply wonderful. Pasta doesn't have to be over-sauced or complicated, just cooked right. This was the best pairing of the night. An odd blend that really worked. Perhaps its age helped a bit as well. Full of ripe cherry, blackberry, sweet spice, forest floor with hints of mint and smoke. The pasta complemented the wine and helped open it up. It still has time, but with the right food, it was delightful.
Roasted Stuffed Suckling Pig with Wild Fennel and Roasted Potatoes
100% Sagrantino D.O.C.G.
– While everything about the description of this dish made ms happy, the execution left me a bit underwhelmed. The flavors were good, it was just a bit too dry. I think a little sauce would have helped. The good news it didn't detract from the wine, which was a real powerhouse. Thankfully, this one was decanted. Full-bodied with dark red fruit, earth, meat and herbs with a creamy mouthfeel and a lingering finish. Aged in new barrels for 16 months, in tank for 10 months, then in bottle for 6 months. I wish I had taken better notes, but let's just sat this one was so good I made sure to get a second glass.
Not that we needed more food, but there was also a cheese course and dessert, which I actually ate every bite of. I am not a sweet fan, but their Hazelnut-Chocolate Semifreddo with Caramelized Bananas was worth the calories.
All in all, it was a night to remember. I will definitely be looking out for Briziarelli's wines as they were well-crafted with a true sense of place. We don't get to indulge like this very often, but this time I was glad to have been invited to the table.