Recreating the magic of Tuscany

The Westin’s culinary team, in conjunction with Palm Bay Imports and Jacques Scott made their annual pilgrimage to Tuscany earlier this year for a sumptuous feast honouring the traditions of that northern Italian region famed for the very best in Italian home cooking and featuring wines from the Col D’Orcia and Teruzzi & Puthod wineries. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull was there and reports.

Regular attendees at the Westin’s winemaker dinner series will be familiar with the culinary team’s (led by Executive Chef Jason Koppinger) distinctive style, which draws upon authentic ingredients and combines them with innovative ideas and skilled techniques to produce a real feast for all the senses. This event was extra special for the chef as he was able to introduce his sister, Kelly as his new right hand “man” in the kitchen.

The team did not disappoint with their take on a Tuscan feast, with a day boat scallop carpaccio, pistachio pangrettato con amaretto served with white truffle dusted roasted beets an impressive start to the proceedings.

Chef Jason said at the dinner: “The scallops were flown in a couple of days before especially from New York alive and flapping just for this event!”

Aaron Jay, wine educator with Palm Bay Imports discussed the wine pairing techniques he employs at such an event and said: “Executive Chef Jason has really raised the culinary bar since arriving at the Westin. Sitting down together before the dinner we carefully consider the menu and characteristics of the wines. It’s an interesting job as we cannot have a wine overpower a delicately flavoured dish and likewise a full-flavoured dish requires a full bodied wine.”

Bearing this in mind, a Vernaccia 2006 from Terruzi & Puthod was chosen to pair with this first course.

The Teruzzi & Puthod estate in San Gimignano is considered a pioneering producer, reckoned to produce the indisputable benchmark against which all other vernaccia wines are judged (vernaccia an indigenous grape to the region). The medieval town of San Gimignano in the province of Siena is one of Italy’s oldest winemaking sites, and the fame of the vernaccia-based wines that originate in its hillsides is nearly as ancient as the city itself.

This particular wine is fresh and fruity with a bouquet displaying notes of citrus and a light and crisp taste infused with lemon and lime, thus making it a delicious pairing with the scallops.

This wine was also served with the following course, a torta salata savoury flan with pancetta, romano cheese, chard, leeks and melanzana (Italian eggplant/aubergine). Chef Jason noted that all the flavours in this dish “married excellently”. The Vernaccia’s crisp flavours cut through the flan beautifully.

Turning to the red wines for the evening, Aaron said that Chianti was the most well-known wine from the Tuscan region however it had had to work immensely hard to banish the perception that Chianti wine was nothing but cheap plonk stored in round straw covered bottles. “That image left something of a bad taste in the mouth of the US consumer,” he said. “It took a long time for the region to get rid of the cheap red table wine image.”

A really special selection of wines was offered to diners, produced by Col d’Orcia, a winery of immense stature in the region owned by Count Cinzano. The winery produces one of Italy’s most revered red wines, Brunello di Montalcino. Situated on the outskirts of the medieval hilltop village of Montalcino in Tuscany’s Siena province, the estate has a rich winemaking history dating back to the 1700s.

Diners were introduced to the winery with a glass of Rosso di Montalcino DOC from 2006, made with 100 per cent Sangiovese. This is a deep ruby red wine with purple reflections and an intense bouquet of ripe fruit with some spicy notes from a gentle nine months in oak. In particular, the fruit forward flavours married really well with the next course – a bowl of heart-warming traditional Tuscan ribollita with a parmesan espuma, arugula and radiccio. Ribollita means reboiled in Italian and thus Chef Jason explained that the soup had been made the day before to allow the heady and aromatic herbs such as rosemary and thyme to properly work their magic. The parmesan foam added a novel twist to this flavourful peasant soup.

A ‘naked’ ravioli then followed, surrounded by an intensely flavoured duck ragu, sage pesto and a pecorino cheese insalata with cannelini and a thyme flavoured evoo (extra virgin olive oil to those of you who don’t watch Rachel Ray…). The duck was served with a glass of Col d’Orcia’s Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, again made with 100 per cent Sangiovese. This time the wine was complex and fresh, with inviting fruit aromas balanced by oak-imparted spices.

Aaron says: “The Brunello is a well-structured and full-bodied, with fine tannins that promise great aging capacity. The finish is long and impressive.”

A seafood extravaganza, delightfully surrounded by an expertly created creamy yet ‘to the bite’ porcini and mascarpone risotto then followed, complementing the big guns Nearco 2002. Made from 50 per cent Merlot; 30 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 20 per cent Syrah this is a Super Tuscan that packs a powerful punch (especially with its 14 per cent alcohol content).

The three grape varieties are handpicked and fermented separately and the resulting wines are each aged 12 months in new French oak barrels, after which the three varietals are blended then returned to the barrels a further six months. The wine is aged a year or more in bottle prior to release.

Aaron describes the wine: “It’s a monster! Dense, dark with violet tones, this wine is really intense. There are lots of spices on the nose and it has a wonderful balance with powerful tannins complemented nicely by a luscious body. It’s an excellent example of elegance and finesse.”

The main course continued to enhance the Nearco, an osso bucco with toasted pine nuts gremolata and soft white polenta, a clever construction of flavours and textures that melded nicely together.

To finish up an incredible array of desserts was presented to each and every diner. Now I realise that I might sound like a stuck record to regular readers at this point, but the Westin’s pastry chefs cannot be praised highly enough for their excellent skills and diverse range. The pecan and brown sugar cake with cinnamon scented whipped cream, amaretto and dark chocolate semi-freddo and mini apple pie with caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream were all a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

The sweet Pascena Moscadello di Montalcino DOC that followed, made from 100 per cent White Muscat (Moscato) was a final triumph in the Col d’Orcia experience.

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The Westin Culinary Crew

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