I Am In Love...with LOVE !
With Valentines Day 2022 upon us everyone's thoughts turn to one thing - love. To many this will come as no surprise since this holiday dedicated to amore has been around in some form for centuries. Whether you believe it commemorates the martyring of the saints that bear the same name as the holiday or you believe it is the result of the Christian influence on a pagan festival the date of the day of love is undebatable.
I started out this Valentines Day with a conflict between two of my greatest loves - my wife and my daughter. After an invitation from my daughter to join her at her new home in Manhattan for a gourmet filled extravaganza on Valentines weekend or honor the reservations and plans my wife and I had made I was truly faced with a dilemma. Although I was offered free round trip airfare as an enticement it was a logistical nightmare to accept the invitation from my daughter Stefani long ago dubbed "Princess".
Instead I choose to spend the holiday with my wife as planned and although my princess was extremely disappointed, I got to spend the occasion with my "queen" (without whom there would be no princess). After last years Valentines Day wine dinner at Piccione in Ronda, NC we decided to follow up this year with attending an Italian Wine Dinner sponsored by our good friends Anna, Ascary and Carolyn at Vino Wine Shop located in Pittsboro, NC. Anyone who follows me knows my love for this retail establishment and my standing date each week at their famous wine tastings on Fridays. This has become an event I look forward to weekly because Anna and the staff not only bring in distributors with delicious wines in their portfolios but the distributors are local AND the wines are discounted for purchase that evening,
When I attended the recent Italian Wine dinner I got the chance to meet Laurence Vuelta of Sunrise Wines based in Raleigh. Many of you may remember his name since he was formerly with Trinchero Family Estates Wines and has conducted in person as well as virtual tastings around our local area. Because his initials are LOV, he is affectionately known as "Dr. Love". With his heavy Italian accent and soave personality his initials do not need to spell love to be deserving of this moniker. This silver tongued gentlemen is one of the most knowledgeable and impressive wine personalities I have ever encountered. Trust me when I tell you I intend to learn many things from this genius.
My love and admiration for Chef Regan Stachler were first realized during the Holiday High End Wine Dinner hosted by Vino Wine Shop last December. At that repast, Chef Stachler's dishes were paired with wines from Ian Spotz from Advantage Distributing. This meal inspired me to create the Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf that I presented at my friend Dave Nershi's Winter Vino Dinner last month. If you have nor seen the details of that lavish meal check out "A Meal Fit For A King AND An Evening To Remember" on my blog. What a shame I did not record the details of the meal I had in December, I will make sure and rectify that by now sharing with you the details of last evening's meal and the culinary genius of Chef Regan Stachler.
Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus Butter, Toasted Hazelnut & Parmesan paired with
2020 Madonnabrunna Passerina "Rivafiorita" La Marche
Right out of the blocks Chef Right out of the gate, Chef Stachler shows you his culinary mastery and state of the art prowess by serving you a dish many are familiar with - gnocchi. For those of us who are familiar with this simple ear lobe shaped dumpling we are accustomed to it being made from potatoes. Chef Regan's version was made from ricotta cheese and the light, fresh texture of the cheese was much better than the doughy, hominy like version of the potato cousin. As a big fan of asparagus I was in heaven and when I got other pieces from my wife's plate with more nuts and I was still eating as the plates were being cleared.
The wine paired with this course was crafted from the passerina varietal that is very popular in central Italy especially Marche. The 2020 Madonnabrunna Passerina "Rivafiorita" La Marche is a delicious fruit forward white wine with aromas of apricot, pear and citrus. On the palate, this delicate white wine has hints of citrus and orange blossoms along with a slight flinty minerality.
Spiced Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter and Toasted Pepitas paired with
2020 Venchiarezza "Grey and Rose "Friuli-Venezia Giulia
When this dish was served my wife and I immediately experienced dejas vu. When we recently attended the Winter Vino Dinner hosted by Dave and Kathy Nershi one or the courses we thoroughly enjoyed was the Butternut Squash/Pear Soup Shooters with Pepitas. For details of this meal be sure and check out my blog post "A Meal Fit For A King and An Evening To Remember". The two dishes were amazingly similar demonstrating a common preparation of this nutty tasting winter squash.
The 2020 Venchiarezza "Grey and Rose "Friuli-Venezia Giulia crafted from the Pinot Grigio varietal was an excellent pairing for the winter squash soup. The acidity of the wine cut through the extreme richness of the soup. This fragrant wine from Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy has hints of raspberry and fresh strawberry along with notes of citrus and grapefruit.
Spezzatino di Manzo (Italian Beef Stew) with Chick Peas and Baby Potatoes paired with
2018 Corte Altar Tornidoro Valpolicella Ripasso, Veneto
The moment this wine dinner turned towards red wine it did so in a big way with not only the wine but the food accompaniment as well. For the next course we were served a sumptuous Italian beef stew created from beef shoulder that was fork tender and so succulent. The braising of the beef resulted in chunks of flavor that were juicy and hearty. The chick peas contributed texture and served as little sponges soaking up the beefy savory sauce. Having recently had the responsibility of pairing a dish with a bold opulent red wine I know full well the enormity of the task.
Perhaps that is why I was so impressed with the 2018 Corte Altar Tornidoro Valpolicella Ripasso, Veneto. I have long been a fan of the wines from the Valpolicella region of Italy. This wine features a blend of Corvina 60%, Corvinone 15%, Rondinella 20%, Molinara 5% and is rich and intense with notes of dark fruit, ripe blackberry, nutmeg, chocolate and oak. With a slightly peppery taste and long finish it more than held it's own and paired well with the beef.
Burrata with Warm Honey and Roasted Almonds paired with
'84 Prosecco Extra Dry, Treviso
Although I have only been a disciple of Chef Reagan for awhile it is obvious that he is skilled in the selection and use of cheeses in his menus. No matter what the course, Chef Reagan has a way of expertly weaving a cheese into the tapestry that has become the essence of the meals I have been privy to attend. His clever use of the burrata in this course is a testimony to his mastery of cheeses. Burrata, meaning "buttery" in Italian, is a fresh cheese made from a mix of mozzarella and cream. The outside thin shell is a pasta filata curd made of buffalo and/or cow's milk mozzarella while the insides contain a soft, doughy, stringy, mixture of curd and fresh cream. The cheese originated in the Apulia region of Italy known for sheep farming and agriculture. When you cut open a Burrata, it oozes with buttery and creamy panna containing scraps of mozzarella. The rich cream flavor paired magically with the warm honey which added just a touch of sweetness and the roasted almonds with their texture and nutty flavor.
Anyone who really knows me will tell you I am a sucker for sparkling, Whether it is cremant, champagne, cava, sekt or in this case prosecco I love bubbles in my wine. The '84 Prosecco Extra Dry, Treviso prosecco was delicious and welcomingly drier than many Proseccos that I have which tend to be sweeter and geared more towards export to the American market (many of whom prefer their prosecco sweeter). Although labeled "extra dry" there are still from 12-17 grams of sugar per liter and the end result is a surprisingly refreshing sparkling with pear and citrus on the nose. Zesty and refreshing, the acidity cut through the intense richness of the burrata and created yet another memorable course.
Rosemary Orange Vanilla Mascarpone Cake with Pomegranate and Molasses Macerated Strawberries
Epoca Malvasia di Casorzo, Piedmont
As someone who has composed his share of meals and corresponding menus I can tell you that no course is more important than the last course. Although some will argue with me, many like myself feel that this course must pair harmoniously with the prior courses but it is also the last memory of the meal - the grande finale. In that regard it is like the person who runs the anchor leg in a relay race; your job is to bring the victory home and finish the race in style. At first glance the Rosemary Orange Vanilla Mascarpone Cake with Pomegranate and Molasses Macerated Strawberries looked a bit docile and reminded me of the many strawberry shortcakes I have enjoyed over the years. But one poke of my fork revealed a cake with a dense coarse texture that caught me by surprise. The cake, scented with orange and vanilla, was inviting and once again Chef Reagan's bold use of spices was front and center with just the right hint of rosemary to accentuate the dish. The texture of the cake was perfect for soaking up the sweet rich sauce constructed from strawberries and the nutty sweetness of molasses.
Paired with the final course of the evening was something I noticed at a distance as it was being poured and assumed it was port or a port style wine. The Epoca Malvasia di Casorzo, Piedmont did indeed remind me of a port style wine but with a bit of a twist. Not only did this beverage have the flavor of port but we quickly sensed a bit of effervescence which the Italians refer to as frizzante. This sweet, fruity beverage was an excellent complement to the cake and a fitting end to the meal.
The combination of Chef Regan Stachler plus Vino Wine Shop plus an outstanding wine distributor has become the prerequisites for a magical event as evidenced by the fact that for this last dinner they actual had to add a second seating. I joked with Anna that the day was rapidly approaching when yet a third seating may be necessary. Trust me, all it takes is for the word to get out how this culinary artisan (without a kitchen) and this entrepreneur with a gift for procuring outstanding reasonably priced wines have united to create events at the end of which I always have the same question...when is the next one?