Saturday, January 29, 2011

Food, Wine, Cold and Snow

Looking west on 50th Street, just off Park Avenue, 1/27/11

Text and all photos ©Tom Hyland

How I ate, drank, bundled up and managed my way through a wild week in Manhattan

I have just returned from four wonderful days in New York City, attending the Vino2011 event, sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission. This was the third year for this event, which celebrates Italian wines of all types, from the most basic to the most glorious. There were more than a dozen seminars over the course of two days, ranging on a wide variety of topics from social media to Italian foods and of course, there were several tastings, the most impressive the Grand Tasting on the final day, which featured several hundred producers pouring their newest - and in some instances, future - releases.

As for the seminars, there were explorations of territories and regions such as Soave, Friuli, Lombardia, Puglia and one on the various wine styles of the Montefalco zone in Umbria. Each seminar featured 8-10 wines which were often presented by the producers themselves; this was one of the primary positives of this event, having the opportunity to taste and compare wines in a sit-down presentation, which in several cases was augmented by a detailed study of the area's soils and history by the famed Dr. Attilio Scienza, arguably Italy's leading authority on indigenous grape varieties.

I participated in a seminar on competitions that present medals to winning wines; the basic premise being if medals still mean anything to wine buyers or consumers. Points from magazines were also brought up and I argued that there are many Italian wines - especially those made from indigenous varieties in a traditional style - that do not receive 92-95 points, simply as they are not made in the trendy international style that dazzles the editors at a few influential magazines. In my opinion, a Soave or Verdicchio or Greco di Tufo will almost never be awarded 95 points, as the wines aren't as exciting to these publications as other Italian bottlings. Thus I argued that maybe more Italian producers should think about entering competitions, as their wines would be judged against similar types and not against some mythical definition of greatness. Whether this will happen is anyone's guess, as Italians as a rule tend to market their wines with a human and historical angle, which may or may not jive with a gold, silver or bronze medal.

The Grand Tasting was spread out over five rooms, which meant that tasters were not having to fight for room to get close to the producers, allowing everyone a chance to talk to them. I made some new discoveries from Calabria (Statti) and Abruzzo (Rodea-Gran Sasso) that were nicely balanced with good varietal flavor and fairly priced; I was also pleasantly surprised by the complexity and depth of fruit of the 2009 Ribolla Gialla from Isidoro Polencic of Friuli as well as the suppleness of the 2009 Fontanabianca Nebbiolo Langhe, a beautifully rendered version of this wine type.

Elisabetta Polencic, Az. Agr. Isidoro Polencic

Tastings such as these are so valuable not only as you get an opportunity to taste some of Italy's best wines, but also some of its best values. Thus the tasting was a wonderful overview of what is going on in Italian wine today, from every region. Thanks to the organizers of this tasting and of course, thanks to the producers for coming over from Italy to sample their wines, be it Refosco, Pecorino or Pinot Nero.

During the week, I was able to enjoy a few special meals, including lunch at the famous Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station as well as dinners at La Pizza Fresca in the Flatiron District and at Felidia, one of the showcase restaurants of Lidia and Joseph Bastianich. Each of these meals was first-rate and I'll write a post about my dining experiences soon. Come to think of it, these meals had a lot in common with the Grand Tasting, given the diversity and quality. I can get excited over a great pizza or fabulous sea scallops just as much as I can over veal medallions and when you add in the perfect wine pairing, well, I'm in heaven!

Brad Bonnewell, La Pizza Fresca

It was a wonderful week- great wines and sublime food. How could I not love that? Even bitterly cold weather (barely above 10 degrees F on Monday) and a blizzard that dumped 15 inches of snow over Wednesday night and Thursday morning couldn't get me down. But then again, I live in Chicago- why would a blast of winter bother me?

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