Sunday, November 19, 2006

What to Drink With What You Eat & Who Needs to Know

I was reading some entries from another site and pondering the whole idea of someone needing to know how to eat, how to drink, how to match it and why someone should tell anyone what they should do in that regard.

Before you get to thinking that I'm set to disregard guidebooks, that's not where I'm going. What I am reaching for is another direction.

Last night in a new restaurant in Austin, Texas with friends and clients, we were pondering the wine list. All Italian. The first wine I ordered was cooked. The next wine was fine. The following wine gave me such a terrible headache that I spent most of the night awake with a real pounder. It wasn’t from excess. Something was wrong in the winemaking. And something was more wrong in the wine buying.

I'm attuned, after some time, to look at wine from an enjoyment perspective. But deeper down there is an appreciation for a well-made wine. It can come from anywhere. But a thread of quality runs through those examples that reflect sound winemaking principles, healthy and sound wines. When wines age in warehouses or when distributors go out of business, wines that have languished in storage, especially if they aren’t of the highest quality or if they have been aged beyond their potential, can produce results that are less than optimal.

When a wine buyer offers to take these products into their restaurants or retail stores and represent them as sound examples of wine, it makes me wonder about the other products in the business. Are they buying eggs on close-out or mushrooms? How about pancetta or olive oil that have passed their expiration points? Maybe the bread isn’t as fresh on Sunday as it was on Friday? Or the shrimp smells a little too clean, like it has been passed over by a chlorine wash?

Maybe it's been a few too many days in contact with wine consultants who have gotten good press and believed it a little more than was good for them. And for their customers.

All this is written as a preface to a recent experience I had in Tuscany. There was no wine consultant who wrote the wine list, in fact the list was written in pencil, very simple and innocent. We were in the heart of meat country and the place specialized in sea food. And they did it very well. The restaurant in Castlenuovo Berardenga is Da Antonio. And it was a wonderful example of 1) What to eat with what you drink and 2) what to put on a wine list that works with the food.

Da Antonio - Castelnuovo Berardenga

8 courses
1st- crudo of shrimp and small lobster
2nd – salad of fresh mushrooms, gamberetti and arugula
3rd - puree of eggplant and filet of sole
4th – salad of artichoke julienne and octopus and gamberetti
5th - fried small fish ( like sardine) and tempura style white octopus
6th - pasta with garlic and parsley and julienne calamari ( flat pasta cut on diagonal, small)
7th – rombo (turbo) filet , fresh mushroom and grilled prawns
8th – crème brulee’ or tortino cioccolato
- café and grappa
Wine- white blend of Zibbibo, Ansonica and Cataratto from Sicily - Donnafugata Anthilia

A Sicilian wine in Tuscany? That's what I thought. The lady of the house recommended it over Vernaccia, Galestro, Vermentino. We were not disappointed.

Too bad the last few outings back in the New World haven't been as fortuitous.

Perhaps the book, What To Drink With What You Eat, needs to be read by the young consultants who are writing today's wine lists. Or perhaps they need to get back in touch with their client base, folks who dine and have disposable income. Smart folks who travel, people who know quality. That they might have disposable income doesn’t mean that they want to drink wines that should have been disposed of months, or years, ago.

Many of us already know what to drink with what we eat. We want honest wines, healthy wines, and sound wines. At fair prices. If you want us to come back, take heed. There are too many possibilities, too many choices, to waste time on "consultants" with worse taste than their already bad attitudes. We are not stupid. We will not come back. You don’t have us at "hello."

And our "disposable income" is not at your disposal.

Don't disappoint us.

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Travel Italy said...

Caro Alfonso,

you are expecting the restraunteur to see his restaurant as something other than a way to make money by turning tables and buying cheap products while covering the natural flavors with garlic. I believe you are talking about passion, unfortunately passion cannot be franchised thus is very difficult to find.

Anonymous said...

in this case a good chef, with well prepared food.
but bad advise from a consultant who has gotten too much press for his own good.

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Statale Abetone 50 – San Giuliano Terme (Pisa - Italy)
Tel./fax: 050.815106

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