Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Going the Whole Hog

Sometimes life is a cornucopia of events. And sometimes it’s a dry well in the desert. And this week, while it is tending more towards the first, we are going the whole hog.

Master sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have been sauntering across Texas with their Frasca/Scarpetta road show. Dallas on Tuesday, Austin on Wednesday, Houston on Thursday, that kind of deal. And while tomorrow will find me on a totally ‘nother wine trail, today we lingered in Italy; Friuli to be exact. And man, was it good.

The Scarpetta wines mainly hail from Friuli; we sampled four, the 2010 Timido Sparkling Rosé, the 2010 Friulano Bianco, the 2010 Pinot Grigio and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. We finished with the fifth from Piemonte, 2010 Barbera Monferrato.

I have to stop right now and talk about the food. Holy moly, chef Lachlan served up one of the best things I have had this year – in any country. Yeah. You heard me. Riso Adriatico. We were sampling the 2010 Pinot Grigio and the 2009 Sauvignon when the plates arrived. The room filled up with the perfume of the Adriatic. And then we ate it. And then our palates experienced wave after wave of the essence of the Adriatic. Lachlan came out and described the process of making the seafood risotto. Essentially it is the kitchen sink approach, everything from the sea, chopped very finely and then slow steeped until it gets a little “dank.” The process reminded me of Garum, the uber-funky fish sauce made in Roman times. Lachlan’s was rich and gorgeous, I really felt like I was on the shores of the Adriatic; from Grado to San Benedetto del Tronto to Ortona.The wines, the aromas, the plates, it was perfect. Like I said, one of the best things I have eaten all year.

Lachlan loves frico, heck his twitter tag is @eatfrico. So he interpreted a pleasant version as an appetizer. Really popped with the Friulano. Lachlan can cook.

And Bobby? Always a pleasure to be around someone who elevates the discussion and everyone around the table. Levitating Bobby, his new nickname. So what did he do that was so notable? I thought you’d never ask.

Bobby makes me stretch, and not in a master sommelier kind of way. When he talks about Italian wine, whether it be from Friuli or Piemonte, like he did today, he always puts it in context of the larger picture. The whole hog. Educating but never condescending. Reminds me of another pal of mine in Colorado, Damon Ornowski. Must be the Colorado air. Or maybe we are really lucky to have gents like this in the Italian wine world.We sure need 'em these days.

Talking about Pinot Grigio, Bobby gently nudged all of us at the table (sommeliers included) about revisiting Pinot Grigio. But the real stuff, of which Friuli has some of the greatest expressions. Funny, because the other day I was sipping on a Scarbolo Pinot Grigio in Austin and loving the searing acidity. Bobby and Lachlan's 2010 Scarpetta Pinot Grigio is in that league, maybe not as bracingly sharp, but as a white wine from Friuli, true to its place. Not some watered down sorry-assed excuse of a wine, which most so-called Pinot Grigios can be.

And then we came to the Sauvignon. Right as Lachlan was plating the Riso Adriatico, Bobby took us on a journey across the Loire and back to Friuli. The essence of it, and I agree completely with his, is that the Loire Valley is not the place to look for the next Didier Dagueneau- Friuli is. 

After spending some time there over the years, I can only hope America and her wine loving people will begin to embrace these wines. They aren’t cheap. But they are wonderful wines.

Lastly we sampled a 2010 Barbera from Monferrato. Bobby nailed it when he talked of the perfect plum. I remember my days as a young man in the Santa Clara Valley, where I had some of the best plums in my life. The Barbera had the fruit, the acidity, what Bobby called “tangular.”  Yeah, I’m with ya bro. Tangy meets angular. I’m dancing the tangular.

Huge kudos to Bobby for the wines and for chef Lachlan and his team for bringing Frasca to Texas for the week. How many wine companies can bring their kitchen with them? When they do and when it is something as esoteric and wonderful as Friuli, it really helps sell the region and the wines so much easier.

Speaking of Friuli, at the end of this post, seeing as the labels represent a pig, inspired by Bobby and Lachlan’s love of prosciutto San Daniele, I have dropped in a few shots (below) from our COF11 trip last year to Friuli when Nico and I were invited to a hog butchering. They say a pig gets fat and a hog gets butchered. We watched as the team of four butchers took a 400 pound hog down in about 90 minutes. That day they did three or four. The images are not for the faint of heart, even though I posted the tamer ones. 

Anyway, if you eat pork, it comes from a living creature, a pig. And we butcher them and that’s the way it is. In the case of the butchers we visited in Friuli, they consider the whole hog and nothing, nothing goes to waste. Respect your food. In Friuli those ways are gospel.

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