Exquisite Tuscan food matched with Italian wines

I recently presented the wines at a special wine dinner held at the Lake Hotel in the Port of Menteith, Perthshire. Owner of the hotel, Ian Fleming, had explained to me that this would be a very special evening, as he was bringing over chef Denny Bruci from one of his favourite hotels and restaurants, Poggio ai Santi in Tuscany, to cook for the evening. Denny arrived, complete with a few key ingredients, and prepared a really superb five course meal along with the Lake Hotel’s own chef Mike Hobbins and his brigade.

There were some absolutely brilliant flavours here, including the Pear and Scampi raviolis: no pasta involved, as the ravioli parcels were made from wafer-thin slices of poached pear stuffed with scampi, chilli, pepper and doused in a sweet Muffato wine sauce. Scottish langoustine were delicious, draped in melting layer of Colonnata fat (bacon fat cured, spiced, and pressed for six months in a marble bath) whilst the simple spaghetti cooked with saffron, pepper and cheese was astonishingly flavourful, cooked “a la risotto” according to Denny, not boiled in lots of water, but cooked slowly in stock, added ladle by ladle to absorb the flavours.

The wines

xI have to say the wines – sourced in Italy with Denny’s assistance – delivered some superb flavour combinations. A sell-out crowd certainly seemed to enjoy the evening, which was one of two special dinners arranged by the Lake Hotel each year with international guest chefs. Check out the Lake’s website for their regular wine dinner programme using the hotel’s own team and local speakers.

Star of the show on paper was Le Serre Nuove from Ornellaia, a blue-blooded super-Tuscan Sangiovese. It was indeed spectacularly good, a wonderful wine that combined a sumptuous character with real nerve and structure. The Gewürztraminer from Peter Pliger, whose vineyards are within striking distance of the Austrian border, was a real surprise for the audience: bone-dry and weighing in with 15.5% alcohol it defied expectations of the grape. I have to say I had a real soft spot for the Vernaccia from Montenidoli, which was just riven with life and energy and shimmered across the palate (as well as being a superb match with those Scottish Langoustines).

This really was a most enjoyable night of amazing food and some exciting and unusual wines. The cooking and the wines represented a wonderful fusion of Italy ancient (in terms of ingredients, cooking techniques, grapes and wine regions) and modern in terms of Denny’s interpretation of classic dishes and some vibrant, confident wine styles.

Food and wine

Pear & Scampi Ravioli with White Pepper and Muffato Wine
Peter Pliger, Gewürztraminer 2007, Alto Adige
From way up in the Italian Alps near the Brenner pass, very close to the Austrian border. Pliger was one of the pioneers of grape growing in this cold, northern valley, growing varieties we’d think of a distinctly German – Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner and Grüner Veltliner. Pliger farms organically and follows biodynamic principles. Very natural winemaking with no oak barrels, no malolactic. This is a dry, steely take on Gewurz, the crisp, lightly aromatic lime and lychee aromas leading on to a full, oily, weighty palate, yet one that is crystalline with a terrific core of acidity. Though dry, its weight, texture and pristine fruit matched the dish with its sweet Muffato wine sauce really nicely. 90/100. See current stockists at wine-searcher.com

Scottish Langoustine on Zucchini with Colonnata Fat
Montenidoli, Vernaccia Di San Gimignano Fiore 2007, Tuscany
Vernaccia is the grape, and makes white wines, mostly very crisp and dry – a bit like Chablis in style, sometimes with a very slight spritz (though not sparkling). San Gimignano is a beautiful hilltop village in Tuscany. The Montenidoli estate is owned by Elisabetta Fagiuoli, who farms olives and grapes. The cuvée Fiore is made from free-run juice. Fermented in cement tanks, and sees no oak. It had a wonderfully crisp, zesty and appealing nose, with little mineral and herbal nuances dancing around lemon fruit. On the palate it is beautifully focused, and seared through the Colonnata fat, whilst not overpowering the delicate langoustine. 91/100. See current stockists at wine-searcher.com

Saffron Spaghetti with Cheese and Pepper
Pian dell’Orino, Rosso Di Montalcino 2006, Tuscany
Without a doubt Chianti is the most famous wine name of the Tuscany region, but there are several other red wine appellations, making wines from the same grapes, mainly Sangiovese. This wine comes from the vineyards around the village of Montalcino, and is 100% Sangiovese. It is wild fermented, using only natural yeasts. It is aged in Slavonian oak barrels for over a year, then given extra cellaring in bottle before release. With this stunning dish (how is it possible to pack so much depth of flavour into a simple bowl of pasta?) the wine was another spot-on match, having some earthy, bloody depth to the ripe, rich berry fruit that matched the depth of the pasta, and a soft, spicy and tobacco finish. 90/100. See current stockists at wine-searcher.com

Loin of Ochil Boar Sangiovese with Spring Onion and Black Olive
Ornellaia, Le Serre Nuove 2007, Tuscany
The famous red wine Ornellaia was one of the handful of red wines that broke the mould to become ‘super Tuscans’ in the 1970s and 80s. From Bolgerhi, a new region right on the Mediterranean coast. Produced primarily from the younger vineyards, this is the ‘second wine’, 40% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot, aged in French oak barrique (25% new). The wine exudes class from first sniff, with a glossy sheen of blue-black fruit, a plump blackberry juiciness and a delicate polish of oak. On the palate it was much more silky and refined than the Rosso di Montalcino, and what it lacked in the Rosso’s hot-blooded, rustic charm, it more than made up for with length, balance and precision. A great match with the wild boar too, the soft, yielding meat having the gaminess to tease out the fruit of the wine. 92/100. See current stockists at wine-searcher.com

Caramelised Navel Oranges with Olio Novo Ice Cream and Black Salt
Ca d’Gal, Moscato d’Asti Lumine 2008, Piedmont
This is a Moscato d’Asti, made from the Muscat grape near the town of Nieve in Piedmont in the northeast of Italy, not far from Turin. This is an under-appreciated wine style of sweet, gently fizzy wines with only around 5% alcohol. The Ca d’Gal estate specialises in this style, and these remarkable wines are delicious with all sorts of desserts. They also age remarkably well – if you visit Ca d’Gal you may well taste a 20-year-old bottle. Here, the orange blossom and sherbet notes of the wine sat very nicely with the dessert, and then that fresh, beautifully focused fruit and acidity coped nicely with the caramel richness of the sauce and oily texture of the ice cream. 89/100. See current stockists at wine-searcher.com

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