Wine and Food Pairing of The Week – By Chef Francois de Melogue
“Good full red. Captivating aromas of ripe red cherry, mocha and violet complicated by an herbal nuance. Sweet, dense and juicy in the mouth, displaying bright flavors of dark cherry, flowers and spices. Finishes very smooth, savory and spicy, with outstanding energy and focus and plenty of early appeal. This complex, multilayered wine strikes me as the best I have ever tasted from Feudi del Pisciotto.” 93 points Ian D’Agata, Vinous Media
Cerasuolo. If I had to use one word to fully describe Paolo Panerai’s excellent wine ‘Giambattista Valli’ that would be it. Cerasuolo means cherry like. This wine is so chockfull with bright cherry, pomegranate and strawberry flavors I had to wonder if my wife didn’t swap the wine with fresh cherry juice to fool me.
The wine is named after noted designer Giambattista Valli as part of a collection meant to celebrate Italian fashion. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the sole Sicilian DOCG wine and is made from two native Sicilian grape varieties, Nero d’Avola and Frappo.
The thin skinned Frappo grapes give the wine it’s beautiful iconic cherry flavors, aromatics and acidity but are notoriously low in tannins and structure. So, as a contrast, winemaker Alessandro Cellai adds a slightly larger percentage of Nero d’Avola, the famed black grape, to provide Cerasuolo with the body and structure needed to transform this blend into a cellar worthy powerhouse of a wine. He ferments the juice in stainless steel using natural yeasts for ten days then ages it in used French barriques for 12 months before bottling.
I don’t want to appear like all I know how to cook is Italian dishes. But when you serve such a beautiful wine that captures the very soul of Sicily it seems almost a crime not to eat the food it was born to marry with. Owner Paolo suggested beef as a perfect complement. I ran with that and even perhaps got a bit carried away in the excitement. I started with beautifully cured bresaola (air dried beef) rolled around a peppery salad of arugula and fresh shaved 24-month old parmesan dressed in a hint of fruity Italian olive oil and thick aged balsamic vinegar.
When I first tasted the wine alone I wondered if it might be too acidic and young to drink now. Any questions of its youth disappeared with every bite. The ruby red wine danced with the cured bresaola and arugula in my mouth. This is an elegant wine that will age gracefully for years, if not decades. We nibbled on a fresh pizzetta of shaved mortadella, taleggio cheese and caramelized sweet onions as the wine continued to soar and come into its own.
For the main course I prepared an earthy grilled bistecca I felt would complement the wine beautifully. I accompanied it with a melting pot of French and Italian rustic flavors. Rapini quickly stir fried with olive oil, hot peppers and shaved garlic. Ricotta gnocchi tossed with the season’s first green garlic and cherry tomato confite and a plateful of chickpea Socca, a flatbread/crepe hybrid typical of Southern France. Meat is the foundation upon which greatness is built. It never loses its meatiness but acts as a base that supports a multitude of other flavors. I left the traditional world by dusting my ribeye with powdered chaga mushrooms instead of porcinis. Chagas, foraged off of birch trees in Northern Alaska, are known as the ‘gift of God’ or ‘mushroom of immortality’ by Siberians because of their healthful benefits. They have been used as a powerful herbal remedy for well over 5,300 years. Better known for their anti-oxidant qualities rather than their edibility they score an astonishing 1104 orac units per gram compared to 165 for acai and the paltry 24 units for blueberries. Their flavor is best described as earthy with vanilla overtones.
In a crazy way the Giambattista Valli reminded me of a heartier pinot noir with its bright cherry flavors. It cozied up perfectly to the grilled beef and Mediterranean fare. This is a rustic dish will become an integral part of your grilling repertoire.
Chef François de Mélogue, author of ‘Cuisine of the Sun’
Bistecca with Chaga Mushrooms