There are great meals that make good wines better, and there are great wines that make good meals better.
Last week I had both of those experiences back to back. It was a revelation.
Here in Dallas, (which Molly Ivins described as the kind of town “that would have rooted for Goliath to beat David”), Chef Salvatore Gisellu of Daddy Jack’s Wood Grill, had planned a meal, made by his mother who had come from Sardegna. For his mother, Maria Testone, this would be her first and possibly only visit to America from the island. Sardegna is another country from Italy. Another race of people founded the place, and though they have some of the foods and language from the Italian culture, their island is really another story. Maria Testone lost her husband decades ago. She still wears black, the costume of the widow, of Italy and the South. You see it less these days, but the tradition is still alive. Not cutting one's hair, maintaining a silent vigil over the lost love - a gravitas and a dignity that one doesn’t see too often, here in the urban setting.
We paired up Sardegnan wines from Argiolas, Santa Maria la Palma and Soletta with her food. Six stages, from Stuzzichini to Dolce.
It is rare to taste food in a public setting made with so much love. But all one had to do is take a look at this woman from another world, and another time, to see that the evening would be extraordinary. The experiences of her life would be, for all of us, an experience of a lifetime.
The Burrida, swordfish salad, and the Macarrones de punzu with bottarga, were foods that she had spent all week preparing. Like her son ‘Tore said, “All this was made by hand, her hand, and her love.” These foods made the good wines even better. Especially notable was the Argiolas Costera Canonnau 2004. I'd had that very wine at lunch with another client, and it was amazing how her food changed that wine, made the wine shine. Tachis in retirement, it's a wonderful thing.
The next night, I had arranged a tasting of some very good wines for a dinner in a private home. Several people had bid on and won me for a night for a very good charity, Room to Read. This is a charity that has been in my heart. My friends and family have donated thousands of dollars in memory of my wife, Liz, who passed away, now 6 years ago.
There were 7 couples, all young professionals: lawyers and doctors and financial consultants. The best and the brightest, wonderful folks. They catered the food from Maggiano’s. 180 degrees from Maria Testone’s handmade macarrones. Lately the folks from Maggiano’s have been reaching out to the Italian community here, to ask how to make their dining experience more authentic. While that might be a giant undertaking in America, to change the local eating habits and, moreover, their expectations, perhaps some day a little change will be made. A rising tide lifts all boats.
I brought wines from Piemonte and was setting up to compare two wines with each course. First we had a Prosecco from Montesel. For the white course, we compared the Arneis “Blange” from Ceretto with the Gavi from Figini. The next course, we compared a Dolcetto d’Alba from Pio Cesare with a Barbera d’Alba from Bruno Giacosa. With the main course, we had a Barolo Ravera from Elvio Cogno with a Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco. And finally for the dessert, we had a Moscato d’Asti from Ceretto with a Brachetto d’Acqui from Marenco.
Looking at the food that was delivered, I thought, how is this going to work? I was really worried about having too much food. The night before, even though we had 6 courses, they were small portions (family style, so we could portion it out ourselves). This night, too, we could size our own portions, so that wasn’t a problem. And while the food didn't rise to the level of the night before, the wines helped to elevate the food.
So the night before, the food elevated the wines, and the next night the wines returned the favor. Food and wine, working together, to make the world a better place.
All week I have been thinking of the quiet woman from Sardegna. She struck me more as a Mother Teresa in her solemn dignity. What we witnessed was a person from a place that she had rarely left, if ever, bringing her goodness and sharing it with us. She is what Slow Food talks about in their manifesto; she is what all those jet-setting chefs rush all around looking for. But they can never be quite like her. Feet firmly planted on the ground, eyes set forward, looking straight into ours. Selling nothing. Goodness and grace.
And just like that, she is back in Dorgali in Nuoro province, the realm of Salvatore Satta and Grazia Deledda. Another world, another time, and another culture we were so fortunate to touch for a brief moment, On the Wine Trail.
The Sardegnan dinner~ click here to enlarge menu