Italian Food & Wine Pairing
With relatively little notice or advanced planning we recently hosted a wine pairing event. This was a new one for us, but we’re adventurous and thought we’d give it a try. Here’s the catch. We assigned each of our guest couples a dinner course. Their task was to bring a wine they felt would pair well with their assigned course. When we served their course they would explain their choice and we would test their thoughts as we enjoyed the food.
Five couples, five courses, five bottles of wine… well, not quite. We tend to extend wine drinking activities in our house with something called “pre-wine”. Pre-wine is the wine you have while you’re thinking about or preparing dinner. That and a little music always sets the mood. So for this event we had pre-wine available as an ice breaker for a group of guests who, for the most part, had never met. The wine selections were a 2013 Hess Select Chardonnay and an Apothic Red, a nice blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet.
Here’s how the evening unfolded…
Aperitivo: We assigned ourselves this course to help ease into the evening. An assortment of cheeses, fruits, nuts and crackers. The cheeses represented various regions of Italy; the taleggio and gorgonzola (cow’s milk) were both from the Lombardy region. The pecorino (sheep’s milk) was from Tuscany and the asiago (cow’s milk) was from the Po Valley region. The salty, buttery cheeses could have paired well with a red wine, but we chose a medium bodied white, thinking that the rest of the meal might include several reds. Our selection was a Cococciola – Terre de Chieti, from the Abbruzo region of Italy. The cococciola grape is typically a blending grape, leaving it a bit out of the mainstream. The medium body and acidity helped balance this course rather nicely.
Insalata: This course was a classic caprese salad of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and a drizzle of reduced balsamic and olive oil on a bed of chopped arugula. Our guest brought a couple of different bottles to pair. The first, a 2006 Francis Coppola Pinot Noir, and the second a 2003 J Vineyards Pinot Noir. The table lit up a bit when the J was introduced. I had not previously tried it. I’m a Pinot guy, so this was all good with me.
Primo: I’ve made gnocchi a few times with good success so we served a lemon ricotta gnocchi with pesto cream sauce, roasted garlic, sun dried tomatoes & grated parmesan. The cooking was a two stage process; 1) Make and boil the gnocchi early (stored on parchment lined pans, in the refrigerator) and 2) pan fry, before adding the pesto cream sauce, garlic, sun dried tomatoes and a 1/3 cup of pasta water, just prior to serving.
Our guest pairing for this course was a Domaine du Salvard Cheverny, white loire wine; a chardonnay/sauvignon blanc blend. This wine had great balance and paired very nicely with the pesto sauce.
Secondo: Chicken Marsala with cremini mushrooms and pancetta, served with parmesan risotto. Thankfully, at this point, our guests had become very content (and patient). There’s no way to cook this dish quickly. We did, however, shorten the process by cooking the chicken tenders (pounded to a consistent thickness) a few hours ahead of time. They were added to the dish and warmed through when the Marsala sauce had thickened. I’ll admit to “cheating” with the risotto and baking it rather than using the traditional stove top method. This recipe yields a decent result. I’ve used it a few times. The trick is to monitor the liquid as the risotto is nearly finished. I’ve found the need to add stock before the end of the cooking time to prevent it from drying out. I also prefer to add the wine at the beginning so the alcohol has a chance to evaporate and the flavors have a chance to mature.
Our guests pairing this course went with a Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir from Freedom Hill Winery (2013). This paired very nicely with the richness of the Marsala sauce and the “meaty” flavors of the cremini mushrooms.
Dolce: Rita took this assignment, classic tiramisu. I won’t say she lost sleep over it, but there were definitely moments of trepidation… firm or soft lady fingers? Rum or amaretto? Raw eggs? Ultimately she used three different recipes to complete the task (soft, rum, egg custard). It was fantastic.
Our guest pairing this course had consulted a few resources to find the right answer. She told of a search for the right tawny port, but ultimately settled on an Adami Prosecco Garbel. Garbel meaning crisp and dry. (I know Mary, we’ve shared plenty of wine with her prior to tonight. Tawny port was never a real option, but it made for a great story : ) She’s a champagne and prosecco girl and this particular prosecco paired very nicely with the tiramisu.
At the end of the night the final count was nine different wines… nine very good wines, some good food and great company. Until the next Experience, Buon appetito!