by Andrew Chalk
It is not every day that you get to dine with Bacchus. God of "wine, vegetation, fertility, festivity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre" (he was a busy guy). It took the Italian Trade Agency, the Italian government body that promotes Italian products, to make it happen at EATALY this week, where chef Luigi Iannuario prepared a 12-course meal for the Italian wine trade in Dallas (I was a media guest). It is a multi-city tour but on only its first trip to Dallas.
Each course showcased an Italian wine and while that showed off 12 wines, so great is the number of indigenous grape varieties (one estimate has 387), that it barely scratched the surface of the oenological riches of the country. There is simply nowhere in the world with this bounty of grapes. Wine is made in all 20 regions country from the Alps to Etna, and the character changes with every winegrowing area. Nonetheless, the meal showcased how Italian wine and food pair together and showed some surprising things, such as red wines that worked in pairings typically confined to whites.
Presenter, the affable Anthony Giglio, came in from N ew York. He is the sommelier who chooses wines for the American Express Centurian Clubs. He also writes for Food and Wine and other publications.
This was also the first meal I have had from chef Luigi, who only arrived at EATALY Dallas in September. He and his crew did an exemplary job preparing so many covers, of sometimes considerable complexity, to a very high standard. Based on this performance, I can foresee people starting to talk about Iannuario as one of the best Italian chefs in town.
I had been running errands earlier in the day and came across example after example of poor customer service in foodservice establishments. It was a breath of fresh air to see the slick, professional, and friendly efficiency of this serving team. The staff exhibited an olympic gymnast's ability to slide between the tight rows and graciously serve the nearly 100 attendees. Certainly EATALY would make an impressive and well-qualified venue to hold a large holiday party.
Below is the menu and some highlights of the food and wine. The Trade Agency had made sure there were no stinkers in the wines! Among reds, Italy's global place is already firmly established. It was the whites, like the minnows of Morocco defeating football soccer giants Belgium in the World Cup, who rose to the occasion with a sparkling wine from Franciacorta (wine 1) leaving harmonious flavors sloshing round the mouth for many minutes. A humble Verdeca (wine 2) from Puglia (the heel of the boot, to continue the World Cup analogy) that had an intensity of citrus and vibrant acid to pair so well with whipped cream and caviar. A mountain enclave-grown Vallée d'Aoste (wine 4) with piquant acidity to match a grilled king prawn and a wine from Lazio (wine 5), the area surrounding Rome, blended from a dog's breakfast of 45% trebbiano, 35% malvasia, and 20% verdiccchio that had powerful weight in the mouth and peach, apricot and apple flavors as well. They and their dessert counterparts were a masterclass in why to start getting back to white Italian wine.