The food of love

A romantic evening peppered with wines from Verona and food to get you in the mood was the order of the day at the Westin’s Valentine’s Day wine dinner. Business Editor, Lindsey Turnbull reports.

The setting of surely the most romantic love story of them all, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona is home to some of the finest Italian wines, in particular from the houses of Bertani and Anselmi. Featuring these wines at a Valentine’s dinner was therefore an easy decision for Aaron Jay, Wine Educator with Palm Bay Imports. He says, “Bertani is one of the most influential winemakers of the region, producing a wide range of classic wines from Veneto and some of the most revered wines of Italy, including Amarone. Roberto Anselmi has been a pioneer among Italy’s white wine producers and helped to establish benchmarks of quality within the industry.”

Moving slightly left of Veneto just for a second, to the region of Trentino, diners were greeted with a glass of Ferrari Brut, a sparkling wine made in the traditional metodo classico from 100 per cent Chardonnay and producing a straw coloured wine with a fresh taste full of apples and wild flowers. Aaron furthers, “This wine is clean and well balanced with a pleasant fruity finish. Perfect as an aperitif.”

To work in tandem with the sparkling wine, Chef Jason Koppinger created a selection for the amuse bouche which awakened the palate from all angles, including a CAB tenderloin carpaccio (first created in Verona), a spicy salsa ‘peverada’ served with toasted bread and a pistachio spuma to round the amuse bouche out. Ever pushing the creative boat out, Jason “painted” each plate with a pomegranate lacquer to add a new dimension to the dish.

“All this gets you where you need to be!” says Chef Jason.

A razor clam and prawn fra diavolo (spicy soup), baccala mantecata (salt cod mousse) and crisp sage then followed – waking up the tastebuds as only Chef Jason can do.

He says, “I wanted to incorporate, what I call, the urban spices: rosemary, thyme, basil and sage into the dish, as well as red pepper flakes to create a deeply flavoured dish.”

Aaron decided on Anselmi’s Capitel Foscorino as the wine of choice for this dish, made from 90 Garganega and 10 per cent Chardonnay which produces a vibrant wine full of tropical fruit, citrus and honey that is medium to full bodied and matches well with seafood.

Following in traditional Italian menu style, the Primi course was then served, consisting of rici e bisi (rice and peas, Italian-style) with a sopressata (cured meat) lardon and caperberry relish.

“Rici e bisi is a classic Italian dish of “wet rice”, a kind of cross between a soup and a stew, and, because of our own love here in the Caribbean for rice and peas, this dish just fell into place,” Jason confirms. The lardon added a salty smokiness to the dish while the caperberry relish added a new and exciting sour direction to the overall picture.

Bertani’s Due Uve (two grapes) was the pairing wine for the dish, made from 50 per cent Pinot Grigio and 50 per cent Sauvignon Blanc. Vinified separately, the two grapes in this wine come together when stainless steel fermentation takes place, producing a well defined wine and hints of elderflower, peach and apricot on the nose.

The hard hitting pasta course which followed consisted of baked black pepper ricotta gnocchi with sausage and caramelised fennel. As well as focusing his attention on creating full and rounded flavours, Chef Jason also looks to taking particular care in the detail. The ricotta for this dish, for example, was made by hand by mixing 2 per cent milk and lemon juice and allowing it to slowly drip through a cloth.

Heading up the scale in terms of weight, Aaron chose a Bertani Villa Novare Valpolicella from 2006 to be served with the gnocchi. The grape make up includes 70 per cent Corvina Veronese, 25 per cent Rondinella and 5 per cent Molinara which were harvested from Bertani’s Villa Novare vineyards in the heart of Valpolicella Classico zone.

“This wine is intensely aromatic, full of ripe cherries and plums on the nose and red berries on the palate,” he confirms.

After a delicious prosecco and pomegranate sorbet, diners moved on to the secondi course, a magnificent stew of spring lamb and beef, served with braised radicchio and a cranberry, polenta and cherry tomato confit with a cippolini (Italian onion), lentil and Portobello ragu.

“This dish is an ode to the slow food movement which has its origins in Italy. It’s rich and hearty peasant food at its best,” says Jason.

In true Westin winemaker dinner style, diners were treated to not one but two great wines, to help them decide for themselves which was the best pairing – a Bertani Villa Novare Albion from 2001 and a Bertani Amarone from 2000.

The former is a 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon made from low yield vines derived from clones of French origin. Deep ruby red, almost black, the Albion is aged for 14 months in French oak before remaining in the bottle for a further six months of aging.

Aaron states, “Lovely aromas of ripe blackcurrants, blackberries and raspberries as well as chocolate hit the nose while on the palate there are concentrated fruit flavours with a hint of vanilla.”

The Amarone is made from 70 per cent Corvina Veronese, 25 per cent Rondinella and 5 per cent Molinara and is aged for between five to eight years in Slavonian oak with an addition year in the bottle. A very special wine, Aaron enthuses over its sour cherry, vanilla and spice notes on the nose and its dry full bodied structure and long finish. Two quite different wines each with the ability to mingle perfectly with Chef Jason’s full bodied main course.

Dessert rounded off the lover’s menu nicely with delectable threesome: a crema fritta, torta sabbiosa (polenta-based cake) and of course, the ubiquitous tiramisu.



Chef Raj Babu