Wine with heart; food with soul

This month’s focus is on San Patrignano, with their wines brought to the Island by Jacques Scott and wine educator Aaron Jay of Palm Bay International. Winedown, the cosy restaurant and wine bar located in Governor’s Square, provided the sophisticated and chic setting and an enticing array of appetisers, entrees and desserts with fine wines from this extraordinary winery.

About half an hour from Rimini on Italy’s East Coast lies the San Patrignano winery, a famous producer of some of Italy’s finest expressions of the Sangiovese grape. But the winery is not simply famous for exemplary wines; it is an extraordinary establishment, home to around 1,500 people in rehabilitation, from drug and other addictions, who live together in communities, working on the vineyards and in the winery. Patients live and work in the community for three to five years, recovering from their addictions and learning to live a clean and productive life once more.

“It brings a tear to my eye just thinking about the place,” Aaron confirms, who says he has visited the community, eaten with the patients and taken a tour of the winery. “They do an amazing job when it comes to patient rehabilitation, with around a 70 to 75 per cent cure rate, and an incredible job when it comes to making wine!”

Aaron says that people in a similar predicament come from all over Italy and literally camp out at the doors of the community, so keen are they to become part of this unusual project.

Wines tasted were all great examples of Sangiovese, that well known Italian red grape variety most famously successful in Tuscany, where the grape creates popular Chiantis all the way through to Super Tuscans.

San Patrignano’s Aulente Rosso 2008 (CI$28.99) is a fine ruby red 100 per cent Sangiovese that is aged for just three months.

Ashley Broshious, Head Sommelier at Winedown, enjoys the wine, saying: “There’s a lovely spice on the palate mixed in with cherries.”

Aaron adds that the wine is full of round tannins and a nice long finish and a perfect everyday drinking wine that Italians from the region would enjoy on a regular basis.

Winedown’s menu was kindly opened up to us diners and we enjoyed dish after dish of appetisers to complement the wines brought to the table by Manager Luis Garcia, including a fresh and light tuna tartare beautifully and artfully created by Italian Chef Frederico, who also hails from Italy. Also enticingly created to perfectly pair with the wine, Winedown’s flatbread pizza was redolent with the intensely flavoured tomato and Mozzarella topping that you would expect to find on any Italian trattoria’s menu.

Next on the wine list was the winery’s Noi from 2005 (CI$47.99), a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

“This is a great blend that has the Cabernet nudging to the forefront,” Jacques Scott’s Sergio Serrano comments. “The wine is aged for between five to 12 years and shows great tannins and good balance.”

“The smoky undertones to the fruit are the signature style of winemaker Riccardo Cotarella, who donates his expertise for free at the community,” Aaron advises.

We tried Winedown’s signature “world famous” speciality with this wine – a lamb Milanese, i.e. pan fried in bread crumbs and served with a chimichurri sauce and caponata and found this to be an excellent marriage of flavours and textures, the ripe tannins cutting through the rich meat dish.

San Patrignano’s Avi 2004 (CI$67.99) is another 100 per cent Sangiovese and much enjoyed by tasters, an elegant wine that showed ripe fruits on the palate as well as silky soft tannins.

“I like the touch of wild, tart raspberries as well as black cherries on the palate,” Ashley notes, “as well as well-rounded toasty vanilla notes.”

Winedown pulled out all the stops for mains, adding chicken parmigiano, delicately cooked Snapper, open face ravioli pomadoro and a 10oz rib eye steak to the already groaning table. Chef Frederico brings a good dose of Italian sunshine into all his dishes, creating memorable cuisine with authentic flavours.

Our last wine was San Patrignano’s Montepirolo 2003 (CI$66.99), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which the winery anticipates will hold its own up against the world’s greats.

The grapes for this wine are hand-picked from a single vineyard and the Montepirolo is made from a selection of the best grapes. The three grape varieties are then vinified separately before coming together for aging in oak for a year plus at least 18 months in the bottle.

Aaron says: “The result is a powerful, well rounded wine with brilliant structure and length.”

Winedown spoilt us further with a mini selection of desserts to tempt palates into submission – the all-time Italian classic pannacotta vied for attention with a chocolate mousse, a white chocolate mousse, and a caramel concoction. All were demolished and savoured with glee.

The San Patrignano wines ultimately proved themselves to be a force to be reckoned with, as does the formidable talents of Winedown’s dynamic duo of Ashley and her extensive wine knowledge and Chef Frederico and his passion for first class cuisine. Thanks to Jacques Scott and Palm Bay International we in Cayman are able to enjoy the delights of this important winery for ourselves.