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Everyone loves Italian food and naturally wants to pair Italian wines with this cuisine. What are the best pairings of Italian wine and food? I went to three authorities in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and asked them what Italian wine (or wines) they would pair with some classic Italian dishes. The three wine and food authorities are:
Charles Scicolone – New York City
If you want to know anything about Italian wines – especially those made during the 1950s and 1960s- ask Charles. He is a wine consultant, writer and educator and has been specializing in Italian wines for more than 40 years. He was the wine director for I Trulli Restaurant in New York City for 10 years and today consults for various Italian restaurants in the city. He authors the blog Charles Scicolone on Wine and is also the wine editor for www.i-italy.org. He has lectured about Italian wines for the Italian Trade Commission and is often hired by regional Italian wine departments to make presentations about their wines. He also is one of this country’s leading authorities on pizza, especially the classic pizza margherita from Napoli.
Piero Selvaggio – Los Angeles
Long before today’s fascination with Italian wine and food in America, Piero Selvaggio was educating Americans on the glories of these products. Born in Sicily, he arrived in Brooklyn in 1964 and soon learned how different Italian-American food was from that of his native Italy. He attended college in California and worked at several restaurant jobs – everything from busboy to waiter to assistant manager.
He opened the restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica in 1972 with a friend. Praise for this restaurant was extraordinary right from the start; it is no exaggeration to write that this was the first great Italian restaurant of the modern era in the United States. Along with using the finest ingredients, Selvaggio emphasized the best wines from all over Italy.
He has since opened a Valentino restaurant in Las Vegas and Houston and continues to explore the ever-changing relationship between Italian wine and food.
Jason Carlen, Chicago
Early this year, Jason Carlen took over the wine program at one of America’s temples to Italian food, Spiaggia Restaurant in Chicago. Carlen is the newest wine director here, following the magnificent work of Henry Bishop and then Steven Alexander. While the Italian wine program here does not have the most selections in the country, it is as thorough and eclectic as any in America. Before coming to Spiaggia, Carlen spent four years as sommelier at The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, an Auberge resort in Bluffton, South Carolina.
I will also be adding my thoughts on the pairings. I have made 49 trips to Italy over the past ten years and have enjoyed wonderful meals throughout the country, from humble trattorie and osterie to two-star Michelin ristoranti.
Here are the foods and the recommended pairings from these gentlemen:
Risotto with Vegetables (pictured above)
Charles Scicolone: “Classic vegetable risotto with peas and carrots calls for a Soave. This white wine with good acidity from the Veneto will work very well with the richness of the risotto and the mild flavors of the vegetables.”
Piero Selavaggio: “Part of the fun of pairing wine with certain food is always the originality, the nuances, the way salt of food and acidity of wine dance well together. Here is a new partner in the contest. For the risotto, I picked a wine of exemplary elegance: Grifola. It is from the small Marche region in central Italy by Poderi San Lazzaro.” (note- this is a Marche Rosso IGT produced exclusively from the Montepulciano grape – TH.)
“It is a wine of dark black fruit, yet fresh and elegant in the finish able to enrich and complement the richness of the cheese and the butter that ties the risotto and sustains the simplicity of the veggies.”
Jason Carlen: “As for the risotto, I would love a Trebbiano by Valentini. I think the purity of those wines and slight oxidative quality are reminiscent of Puligny-Montrachet. I love pairing the richness of a risotto with an equally rich wine that is perfectly balanced with acid.”
Tom Hyland: I am in agreement with Charles on this one. A Soave Classico from a top producer such as Pieropan, Ca’ Rugate or Coffele has the ideal flavors that pick up on the risotto, while the aromatics of the Garganega grape blend ideally with the vegetables.
CS: “Pizza Margherita is not only the perfect pizza, but also the perfect food. The wine I like to drink with pizza is Barolo, one from a traditional producer. Barolo of this type has subtle fruit, hints of tar, tobacco, etc. with good acidity. This is a perfect combination for the tomato sauce, the mozzarella and the basil of the margherita.
PS: “For pizza, I always think Sangiovese. From Umbria, I like the Falesco; it is bold and supple, jammy and easy, just like the pie. An alternative is always a good Chianti, like Felsina, Ricasoli or Fattoria La Massa in Panzano. These are the type of new Italian wines that made people fall in love with Italian gastronomy.”
JC: “I think there are so many directions you can go with a margherita pizza.Personally I prefer a red with enough acid to cut through the fat of the cheese and to hold up to the tomato. Perhaps the COS, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2008. I love the sweet herbaceous cherry fruit in this wine, the chalky tannins and the bright acidity.”
TH: I agree with Charles about Barolo with the margherita pizza, especially when it comes to a traditional style of Barolo. I also think a traditional Barbera d’Alba with plenty of spice can work well, while an Aglianico-based wine from Campania or Basilicata can also pair well with the pizza.
CS: “With this dish I would drink an Amarone. I would prefer one with good acidity and the characteristics of a table wine, as opposed to some Amarones with intense flavors and aromas that can make it more like a dessert wine. The gaminess of the duck will not be overwhelmed by the Amarone and the raisins and onions will enhance the flavors of the Amarone.”
PS: “For the sauteed duck breast I like a Veronese Ripasso: Palazzo della Torre by Allegrini. A young wine that has been blended with Amarone-style raisiny juice. It is robust and concentrated, yet showing the elegance of the Corvina grape, that should wrap well with the sweetness of the sauce.”
JC: ” I normally like to pair duck with a pinot noir but in this case I am thinking a Gattinara would do the trick nicely. With the fat of the duck I think a more polished Gattinara would work well. The little bit of tannins would made docile by fat of the meat and the sweetness of the raisins would help to bring out the fruit in the wine. A favorite right now is the Anoniolo “San Francesco” Gattinara 2006.”
TH: I also like a Ripasso or Amarone with this dish. I would also love to pair this with a Dolcetto from Diano d’Alba – the Fontanafredda “La Lepre” is a tantalizing example of this wine. The black cherry and cranberry fruit flavors are spot on here, while the tannins are not very strong and do not overpower the duck.
Do you have any thoughts on what Italian wines you would pair with these dishes? Do you have other Italian wine and food pairings you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!
Text and photos ©Tom Hyland