Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Dinner to Remember

Leopoldo Franceschi, owner of Il Poggione (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I just returned from nine days in Toscana, tasting new releases of Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino (the oustanding 2004 vintage) and Bolgheri. There were many highlights, including visiting Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Le Macchiole on the same day as well as meeting many long-time (and several new) friends in various locales along the way. Over the next few weeks, I’ll report about my experiences; today my first post about the trip regards a wonderful dinner I attended near Montalcino.

The dinner was held on February 19 at the winery of the famous Brunello producer, Il Poggione. Joining that producer as co-host of the dinner was Col d’Orcia, a nearby estate that shares a similar history. Both produce Brunello in a traditional style – aged in large casks – and both have been producing Brunello for more than 40 years. Today there are more than 150 producers of Montalcino’s most famous wine, but in the mid 1960s, when these two estates were going strong, there were fewer than 30.

The dinner was a great opportunity to compare both new and old wines from these houses. The first pairing was of the 2007 Rosso di Montalcino; we then moved on to the newly released 2004 Brunellos from both. Each Rosso is full of fruit with only subtle wood notes, while their respective bottlings of 2004 Brunello were first-rate. The Il Poggione is a touch riper and fuller on the palate with beautiful acidity, while the Col d’Orcia is a bit more subdued with stronger tannins; both should be drinking well in another 20 years.

Chef Roberto Rossi of Silene Ristorante (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

To show off the evening’s wines to perfection, the winery principals hired a superb chef, Roberto Rossi, who practices his trade at his own restaurant called Silene in nearby Monte Amiata. I was assured by several locals that this restaurant is a true destination in the area and given this dinner, it’s easy to see why. Like most great Italian chefs, Rossi’s talent lies in the simplicity of his dishes combined with tremendous flavor. We enjoyed raviolini stuffed with pigeon and parmesan cheese with the current Brunellos and went on to dine on duck breast and veal with the older bottlings. There was a tremendous variety of gourmet delicacies served that night and most of us enjoyed every bite.

The final wines included two excellent pairings: the 1999 Il Poggione Riserva with the 2001 Col D’Orcia Riserva “Poggio al Vento” and the 1980 Il Poggione with the 1979 Col d’Orcia Riserva. What a treat to try these wines, as we were given a brief history lesson in how these gorgeous wines drink after a decade or more. The 1979 Col d’Orcia was particularly remarkable with striking fruit depth and beautiful acidity; I wouldn’t be surprised if this wine were drinking well in another ten years on its 40th birthday.

The last course was an incredible warm flan of pistacchio which was quite rich yet so delicate at the same time. The dessert offerings from the wineries – Moscadello di Montalcino made from the Moscato grape – were lightly sweet and beautifully suited to this treat. Of course, grappas were offered, but I was stuffed (to say the least) by this time, so it was time to say goodbye and thank my hosts, Leopoldo Franceschi of Il Poggione and Edoardo Virano of Col d’Orcia for their invitation to a dinner I will not forget any time soon!

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