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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Da-lectable Time at DaPietro's

A Da-lectable Time at DaPietro’s
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Westport, CT – What better way to cap a steamy August day than to gather in an intimate friendly setting, sample fine wines and enjoy heavenly food?

This was the endeavor pursued by 25 local individuals who had registered for an exclusive wine dinner held Monday evening, August 9th at DaPietro’s Restaurant. The eatery, at 36 Riverside Avenue, which has been a Westport mainstay since 1987, was happy to accommodate the group. Attendees were recruited through the combined efforts of hosts Black Bear Wines & Spirits (also of Westport) and Ronkonkoma, NY-based Vinifera Imports.

Gerard Iulo, the sole proprietor of Black Bear since Fall 2008, and wife Denise were on hand for the event. It was a welcome break from a renovation project at their 221 Post Road West shop, in which they were now nearing the homestretch. As Denise described it, “We started the renovation early to mid summer, but the true transformation began about a month ago. We went from 3,600 to 2,400 square feet. The old store was very spread out and overwhelming. We’ve now created a cozier space with an exclusive wine section, organized from white to red, and by region. The result is an easier shopping experience.”

Black Bear invited Jeff Schultz, CT Wine Director for Vinifera, to showcase a variety of the brands that the company imports and which Black Bear embraces in its store. Vinifera is the pre-eminent importer of premium Italian wines in America. Founded in 1979 by Dominic Nocerino, Vinifera now includes a national distribution network serving retail shops and restaurants in all major commercial markets.

Their collaboration for this event and its staging at this particular restaurant was highly appropriate on two levels. For one, Dominic Nocerino and DaPietro’s Chef Pietro Scotti had played soccer together in Campania in the late 60s/early 70s, so have been “connected” for over 40 years. Second, both the importer and wine store are very selective about the brands they choose to represent and strive to educate wine enjoyers. Says Denise, “We really like varietals that are unique. And we taste and do research on every bottle of wine that comes in. We place tasting cards with each wine, with background and ratings, to inform our customers and enhance their palate.”

The atmosphere at DaPietro’s can best be described as cozy and jewel-like, with plush paisley-patterned banquets and framed Hermes scarves. Exposed beams protruding from whitewashed walls lend a European feel while a ceiling fan pushes down refreshing cool air.

Jeff got the evening started with some brief background about the first libation: Soligo Prosecco Brut VSAQ. Chosen to cleanse the palate, this prosecco hails from the winery Colli del Soligo, a small producer in northern Veneto. The grapes grow in the Treviso hills and are processed and fermented for more than a month to provide a delicate flavor with notes of dry fruit and mangoes. Fewer than 2,000 cases are produced per year. “Salute!” Jeff exclaimed, raising a glass.

“I really like the prosecco and I’m not normally a huge fan,” said attendee and Norwalk resident Peggy Schroeder, alternating between sips and nibbling on a piping hot bread roll which had quickly absorbed little pads of butter. “Prosecco and Moscato are very popular in America right now,” added Jeff.

The prosecco opened the door to a 2009 Zeni Pinot Grigio Ramato, highly unique in that it is pink in color. “This is the traditional old world way to make Pinot Grigio,” Jeff explained. “The pink color comes from the pink grape. Most Pinot makers remove the skin. This brand incorporates the skin. You don’t see this a lot. The producer, from Verona, has been making this for decades and has won Three Glasses honors eight times.” Said a new fan in attendance, “I love the Pinko Grigio!”, giving the brand a more memorable title.

A 2009 Pra Soave Classico was also introduced to the mix, to accompany a dish called Agnelotti alla Toscana. This consisted of wild mushroom, ricotta and parmesan stuffed pasta with a clear tomato basil broth. Peggy appreciated the Soave as well: “It’s very full flavored… and complements the pasta.” Seated beside her, Kathleen Davidson, a Westport resident and loyal Black Bear customer for years, echoed Peggy’s comments: “It’s got a nice blend, a little floral and a subtle minerally taste. You want to have a sip and another sip. An unanticipated taste.” Indeed, the vintage was truly light in presentation but featured a marked, definitive taste. “Very surprising,” Peggy concluded.

A couple from Westport (declined to give names), relocating soon to Norwalk, were enjoying the proceedings thus far. “We have gone to Black Bear for the past 4-5 years, get the newsletter, and saw this mentioned. We went to another Black Bear hosted wine dinner a couple weeks ago and got hooked.”

A fine looking pyramid of Insalata Rucola showed itself. The arugula salad incorporated Granny Smith apples, Asian pears, Roquefort cheese and honey Dijon dressing. This dish was accompanied by a 1999 Sant’Elena Merlot Isonzo and a 2008 Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico.

Ethan Epstein, Black Bear’s young manager, who had been left to close up the store, and girlfriend Claire Van Brunt, made a mid-evening entrance. “Roll up your sleeves and grab a glass of Val,” someone suggested. Ethan worked with Vinifera’s Schultz to determine the event’s wine pairings.

Kathy decided the Valpolicella had “a nice nose…” then added, “and so do I”, referring to the ruby red coloring of the brand and, no doubt, her increasing rouge-like glow. “That’s in your cellar, I know it,” remarked Jeff, overhearing Kathy. The Westporter acknowledged that that was so and explained her and Peggy’s purchasing strategy: “We both are one-person families, so we have to be discerning. When we find something we like, we buy it.”

In advance of the Cernia al Fona, a poached grouper au gratin dish, Jeff presented a 2007 Chionetti Dolcetto di Dogliani “Briccolero” and a 2007 Dante Rivetti Barbera D’Alba. About the first selection, Jeff mentioned, “Dolcetto means ‘little sweet one’…but there’s nothing small and sweet about the wine. Many refer to this wine as a benchmark… it’s very complex. Rich fruit, strong tannins.”

Claire made up her own mind about the Dante Rivetti. “The Barbera is wonderful. It’s blissful… It’s surprising because it’s so light… and it’s such an apt pairing with the fish.”

As the evening, now two hours along, began to draw to a close, the concept emerged about drawn-out dining and the European way of enjoying a meal. “Americans eat, Europeans dine,” said the Westport relocators. Indeed, meals are occasions in Europe – drawn out, discussed, enjoyed. Multiple courses, multiple bottles of wine. Certainly this occasion qualified.

Like the actor Cary Grant, to whom some had begun comparing Schultz, the importer took the spotlight to share a most wonderful 1997 Pertinace Barbaresco. “1997 is epic and legendary in terms of winemaking. The Barbaresco is very much ready to drink but it’s also ok to buy it and stick it in your cellar for another 20 years. It will be in its peak for a long while to come.”

“Wow!” was the collective comment all around as eyes rolled back into heads and this tan, well-heeled group imbibed the latest offering. As with previous pairings, it was an apt match with a second entrĂ©e: Costelette di Agnello Arrosto, a tender rack of lamb with garlic, rosemary, white wine and ratatouille.

The final coupe de grace for the evening was an Icardi Brachetto “Suri Vigin”, a sweet dessert wine with 5% alcohol content, served with a chocolate almond tort, fresh blueberries and a pod of vanilla ice cream.

Jeff explained that dessert wines are usually higher alcohol content. “This selection allows you to talk and enjoy… and I hope you talk about these wines a lot.” It was a good suggestion and this crowd was already abuzz with enthusiasm.