Friday, February 02, 2007

2 Meals and the Experience of a Lifetime

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


Tracie B. said...

you're right, nothing can compare to the nonna. when we eat out here, i go for a set of reasons, none of which include "to eat better." here are my reasons: to be served and pampered (no dishes!), to have something fancy or creative, or to have a dish that isn't usually served in this neapolitan home like fresh tortellini con zucca. get it? these are all things that wouldn't likely happen in my home or that of my boyfriend's family.

gennaro's spaghetti with clams is so good that i NEVER order it in a restuarant. his mom's pesce al forno leaves no room for eating it outside of her home. and my ragu alla bolognese has rendered me completely self-sufficient.

it sounds like you had a wonderful time. ho mangiato benissimo in sardegna, i would have loved to have met mamma maria :)

David said...

The balance of food and wine is equilibrium in nature. I strongly believe that a wine made without a reference to food should not be considered wine.

Your friend from Sardegna also proved that truly quality food could be prepared in the US, we just have to let go of the superficial and appreciate value.

FANCELLO Maria said...

My name is Maria and Maria Testone is my grand mother!!I live in France and my uncle Salvatore told me that Nonna was going to make a diner in the restaurant and I whish I was in Dallas to eat all the good things my nonna cook for you!!!
I'm so happy that she made you taste Sardinian flavours!
I'm sorry for my english but I hope that you understand what I want to tell you!
And thank you for writing this article about my uncle and my nonna!

Italian Wine Guy® said...

Thanks Tracie, Davide & Maria

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