Monday, February 14, 2011

An Italian Valentine's Day: Barbaresco & Bolognese

In many ways, this blog began nearly five years ago to the day. In the early days of courting Meghan, Valentine's Day peeked its Hallmarkian head around the corner and I wanted to shine. I stumbled over to our soon-to-be favorite wine shop, Amherst Wines, and asked the owner for a great bottle of wine that would be amazing to drink in five years. For the big pink day I presented Meghan with two wine glasses, a blank journal to chronicle our wine journey, and a 2001 Barbaresco, along with a promise to buy a bottle of wine each year to cellar for future Valentine's Days.  A tradition was born. Needless to say, this was well received. (Not to give away all my secrets, but a little Billie Holiday on the record player never fails either.) Five years have passed, one of the wine glasses has broken (it's quite incredible that we didn't break both), the wine journal has morphed into a wine/food/spirits blog, and the annual cellaring wine purchase has lived on. Equally important, five years have passed, which means we get to crack our first bottle of Valentine's Day wine.

In the following five Valentine's Days we've skated the globe for wines to add to our cellar. We've tapped vineyards from Italy, Spain, France (twice), and Austria. For 2011 we looked stateside towards Vincent Arroyo's 25th Anniversary Petite Sirah (if you've followed this blog in the past you know we rave about Vincent Arroyo - here and here). But, let's get back to the bottle in hand.

Barbaresco is made from the Nebbiolo grape which is grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. Barbaresco was long considered the "junior" of the region's more famous wine, Barolo, though it gained notoriety and esteem in the 1960's.  It is aged for at least two years, one in oak, and is traditionally a very dry, tannic, acidic wine. Barbaresco is not to be drank young - let it sit for 5 or 10 years and you won't regret it. 

Opening the 2001 Cantina del Pino Barbaresco, our first cellared bottle of wine, was a big deal and we needed to rise to the occasion. We couldn't allow our culinary prowess to be upstaged by this sterling vintage, so we turned to Culinaria Italy for inspiration. The food of Piedmont is heavy on braised meats, and truffles, and risottos... but we cheated and made a sauce from nearby Bologna instead. This allowed us to create a hearty meat dish that was a bit more our style. We sautéed pork belly, ground beef, pork, and veal, and simmered them with tomatoes for a few hours to create a bolognese sauce that can go head to head with the biggest wine you can throw at it.

The bolognese sauce called for a heaping glass of white wine, and coincidentally, so did Meghan and I. It was only fitting to stay Italian, so we opened a bottle of Trappolini we found at our favorite local wine shop, Cool Vines. Continuing our imaginary southbound journey through Italy we turned our attention to Orvieto, where they have been blending the Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes for well over two thousand years. The wine's characteristic flavors from blending these grapes have changed from sweet to dry over the many years, and this Trappolini's crisp freshness is no exception. This lovely white has notes of pear and almond with a hint of grass or earth to it. It is quite simply an immensely drinkable wine that will not get in your way and will never offend you. (It also contributed well to the bolognese that was simmering in the background, so it's an unselfish team player.)
It should be noted that bolognese is not a Tuesday night dinner. In order to reap the benefits of this dish you can't rush it, or try to squeeze it in between checking emails and going to the gym. Along the lines of, "if you're gonna do it, do it right," we went to Whole Foods and picked up a scant pound of fresh rigatoni pasta, made locally by the Severino Pasta Co. Fresh pasta can't sit on your pantry shelves as long, and it cooks in less time than its packaged counterparts, but it greatly rewards you for the extra effort. As the bolognese finished flavoring, the pasta water started to boil, and with the white wine long disappeared, we got ready to move up to the big leagues by decanting the Barbaresco.

At first glance the wine has rusty, blood-red look to it. The nose is sharp and complex, and almost unapproachable at first, but as wine and wino become more acquainted the vintage begins to reveal itself. This is an unrelenting, powerful wine. The wine's big, bold tannins grab you and impart a superb acidity and dryness. There is a strong, dirty terroir that feels innately Old World and Italian (clearly not an American, fruit forward wine, but a bit like a French wine that's been turned up to 11). Once your palate is able to process the enormity of this wine, you start to recognize bits of fennel or licorice, on top of a smoky, leathery backdrop. When paired with our rigatoni bolognese (no slouch itself in the boldness department) the wine became more resolute in its stature. The bolognese was stunning. The flavors were deep and complex, and didn't waiver from the first bite to the last. The fresh pasta and ciabatta bread were minor players in this evening, but ever present and memorable in their role as supporting actors. We've had some luck pairing wine to food in the past, but its fair to say this was a remarkable success.

Bearing the fruits of this five year old tradition was more rewarding than we could have possibly imagined. This was our first cellared wine and the first time it was made abundantly clear to us why people cellar wine in the first place. Sure, the flavors improve and the character grows and deepens. But, more important was our interaction with the process. We cared for this wine, moved it along with us between four apartments and a few cellars. Valentine's Day often just serves as a clear reminder that there's no easy way to quantify or acknowledge the small victories in a relationship. Someone keeps moving the goalposts on you. It's nice to have traditions that mark the road along the way.
Rigatoni Bolognese
Serves four
  • 1 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 small carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/3 lb pork belly (or 3 slices of unsmoked bacon), diced small
  • 1/4 lb ground beef
  • 1/4 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 lb ground veal
  • 1 large glass of white wine
  • 14 oz  tomato purée
  • 4 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cup beef broth (chicken or vegetable will work fine)
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Shredded parmigiano reggiano cheese for serving 
  • Parsley for garnish
Sauté the onions and pork belly over medium high heat in olive oil for a 3-5 minutes, then add the ground beef, pork, and veal. After the meat has begun to brown, add the chopped carrots and celery, and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the white wine and cook for another 3-5 minutes, then add the tomato paste, purée, and oregano, stir and simmer for a couple minutes. Add the beef broth, bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat to as low as possible. Simmer for a long, long time. We simmered this meat sauce for a little over 2 hours and were rewarded in silver and gold. Garnish with parsley & shredded parmigiano reggiano, and serve over rigatoni.

Trappolini Orvieto (2009)

Cantina del Pino Barbaresco (2001)

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