I'm in a tasting group that meets once a month for dinner and a brace of wines. We take it in turns, with a different person each month choosing the venue and providing the wines. It's a good way to try a range of wines from some very different cellars. May was my turn, so I decided to do an all-Italian lineup at Italian & Sons.
The food and wines:
Bellavista NV cuvee
- I think this is my favourite Italian white bubbles from the French varieties. Liked the balance of development and acid on this. Good with the antipasto.
Antipasto: focaccia; cured salumi plate; assorted olives with sage, chilli and rosemary
- Excellent quality smallgoods here. The bubbles went best with the salt and rosemary focaccia just from the wood oven.
Bracket of two whites with the next two dishes:
Benanti Pietramarina Etna Bianco 2005
- Stunning, mesmeric white wine for me. Constantly shifting and evolving (had been decanted for three hours). Sometimes fresh lemon, sometimes candied lemon peel. Some development, but still freshness and intensity. Maddening smells that would come and go - fennel bulb, fennel seed, fenugreek, hay. Made from carricante vines, goblet-pruned and grown on the slopes of Mt Etna. Had a 2003 of this a few weeks ago and this was a whole order of better. Having an elderly Italian wine waiter who grew up 20 minutes from Benanti's vineyards was a magic touch.
Corte Sant Alda Soave 2009
- Very much a contrast to the Benanti! Good fresh characters, including a little pear juice, and attractive acid. Handled the soused sardines very well. Nice example of soave.
'Sarde in Saor' sardine fillets, pinenuts, currants and chardonnay vinegar
Tortellini di zucca, filled with roast pumpkin, ricotta and leek, with a burnt butter and sage sauce
- My pick of these was the sardine dish. Lovely balance of sweet and sour. Even tempted two of the group who had sardine issues... though they did also have some deep fried salt cod puffs.
Ciacci Brunello 2004
- This was really on song. All the power of good brunello - waves of nutty tanins (almost like tasting the skins of roast hazelnuts), attractive dried herb characters, restrained cherry fruit, even more restrained oak. Lovely. My wine of the night, I think, as stunning as the Benanti was. Everything I like in sangiovese.
Wood roasted fillet of beef 'Stracio' with lemon rucola and horseradish maionese
- This was the best dish of the night, for me. Very simply presented, slices of rested beef from a fillet cooked off briefly in the wood oven, salted and arranged on lemon-dressed rocket. A dollop of hot horseradish mayonnaise gave a contrasting sweetness and spice. Blissful, quality, simple Italian cooking, and just about perfect for matching the brunello.
Borgogno Riserva 1999 (Barolo)
- Always a pleasure to try a Barolo with more than ten years on it. This looked a little older than a 1999, having moved through much of the secondary fruit spectrum and showed plenty of leathery development. An interesting tannin contrast to the Brunello - here less about waves of tannin, more like a lake. Good to drink, and excellent to accompany the roast suckling pig and cheeses later, but shaded by the Brunello for me as red of the night.
Roasted suckling pig on the bone 'Sardinian style' with baked apple and sage, cavalo nero, pan juices
- Pat and co at Italian & Sons source small pigs (3-5kg) and roast them whole in the wood-fired oven, before breaking down the meat and crackling. Especially liked the large, fluffy pieces of baked apple and the excellent crackling here.
- I really enjoy brachetto. All about fresh, sweet, red fruits (strawberries and raspberries), attractive bubbles and not too sweet. Very easy to drink, especially with desserts. Better a match with the fruit and panna cotta than the cheeses though. A different part of the sparkling red spectrum to what we tend to see in Australia.
Formaggi - selection of Italian cheeses served with crisp bread and dried muscatels
- Good cheese mix, though hazy memory of exact details. I do remember two of the party sneaking in a couple of panna cotta.
A good espresso to finish and all done for another month. Great night, with lots of laughter. Always a good sign.