Wine Wisdom: Tasting ingenuity

MetroWest Daily News February 17, 2010

Contemplate genius and the likes of Einstein or Edison come to mind.

However, the truth is, while it is a rare gift, geniuses in many fields abound. We encounter them without fully recognizing their talents and genius is too frequently recognized only retrospectively.

Recently, I had the opportunity to reflect on genius as it relates to the world of wine. I attended a wine dinner, featuring the wines of Italy’s La Spinetta and revealing the vinicultural talents of Giorgio Rivetti, one of the world’s most capable winemakers. Rivetti was present, talked about his wines, and demonstrated the passion and artistry that make him a virtual wine god.

His heavenly 2008 La Spinetta “Vigneto Biancospino” Moscato d’Asti ($16) is the perfect aperitif or wine with dessert. It’s sweet, but not overly so, and features a superb core of acidity that provides impeccable balance. Ca’ di Pian ($22) is another of his wines I enjoy. A well-balanced barbera, it’s smooth, delicious and relatively affordable. It nicely complemented the cured meat appetizers and cheeses.

The intense, dark 2005 Il Colorino di Casanova ($20), from his Tuscan estate, showcased the treasure of this little-known, indigenous grape Italian winemakers are bringing back into vogue. Served with stuffed and grilled squid, its soft, round cherry flavors made it a big hit.

Fresh pasta with chicken livers, wild mushrooms, sherry and gremolata was superbly matched with 2005 Monferrato Rosso Pin ($44), a deliciously balanced, plum- and cherry-flavored blend of nebbiolo and barbera d’asti superiore.

The main course, roast suckling pig, was matched with 2003 Vursu “Vigneto Campe” Barolo ($128). While Barolo is a bit of an acquired taste, this one aptly demonstrates why sophisticated wine lovers crave it and are willing to shell out big shekels for outstanding ones. Rivetti’s delivers excellent fruit, power and elegance.

Rivetti is a purist and avoids the use of pesticides in his vineyards. “We don’t do it to be trendy or organic,” he said. “We’ve always done it that way because that is what you do to produce great fruit. That’s how you create great wines.”

Don’t like paying top prices for wine? Rivetti countered by asking why we pay top dollar for cars and clothing, but often skimp on the food and wine we put into our bodies? That’s good food for thought, no pun intended. I’ll take his advice. For me, it’s Honda, not Ferrari, and I’ll wisely invest the savings in great wines and gourmet foods.

The La Spinetta dinner was held at Tomasso Trattoria, also the location for my other genius encounter with Executive Chef Justin Melnick. Having spent the prior three months in Italy, honing his skills in Italian cuisine and wine matching, Melnick demonstrated his recently enhanced abilities by creating what I can only describe as an evening of gourmet ecstasy – a phrase that falls far short of capturing the essence of this dinner.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he was sous chef under Tony Bettencourt, who left to start his own restaurant in Salem in 2007. Melnick became executive chef at the ripe old age of 23. Cautiously optimistic, patrons of the restaurant were delighted and amazed as the food quality rose to incredibly higher levels under his direction.

Melnick recently displayed his enhanced culinary talents at a six-course wine dinner, creating a cauliflower souffle with garlic anchovy sauce paired with a 2008 Sergio Mottura Orvieto Secco ($14); a risotto alla barbera with 2007 Scagliola Barbera d’Asti “Frem” ($18); and braised beef agnolotti with butter and sage sauce mated with 2007 Il Secondo o di Pacina Rosso Toscana ($20). The last was one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten, and this ripe cherry-flavored wine was the perfect partner.

Did these courses overshadow the roasted pork loin with cippoline onions in a sweet and sour sauce served with 2004 Vajra Barolo Albe ($38)? Hardly. It was another hallmark dish enhanced by superb wine pairing that I will long savor the taste of. Here’s an inexpensive, yet tasty Barolo. Melnick chose wines that impressed him during his Italian sabbatical.

Is Melnick the next Wolfgang Puck? Who knows? However, I know you don’t become a culinary genius unless you start out this way, and so few do. He’s a rare talent, worth watching – and tasting his food, of course.

Rivetti and Melnick. One who’s made quite a name for himself and one beginning to do so. The world of wine enjoyment is truly a better place with the likes of these two. If reading this makes you want to attend a wine dinner soon, that was my goal. Enjoy.

Mark P. Vincent is a Framingham resident who has a passion for wine. His column runs in Food & Dining on the third Wednesday of the month. Contact him at winewisdom@yahoo.com.