Thursday, February 25, 2010

Post Tre Bicchieri Dinner at Kuleto's

After the 2010 Tre Bicchieri Tasting event yesterday, I joined a small group of Italian wine producers represented in the US by Vinifera Imports for dinner at Kuleto's. Everyone was in a satisfied mood as the San Francisco leg of the tour was well attended, with a crowd larger than the version held in New York City last Monday. This despite the number of producers featured dropping to 107 in San Francisco from over 150 in New York.

People in New York were probably wined out after a series of Italian wine and food events there recently. Yet I also feel that during this downturn one of the few bright spots in the Bay Area food and wine scene is Italian-centric gastronomy. I've observed that over the past year or so trendy enotecas, pizzerias, trattorias, and similar joints have opened with pizzaz in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

But much as I love the modern take, purveyor-driven food, and often bite-size plates at places like Bar Bambino, SPQR, A16, Beretta, Star Belly, and Perbacco I get weary of the cramped, dark, oftentimes canteen-like communal rooms. So what a change of pace at the expansive, well-lit, unhip, throwback atmosphere of Kuleto's, which has been in this off-Union Square spot for over 20 years! I felt like I was in a restaurant again.

Food-wise, the salumi plate is what you'd come here for. Kuleto's has been doing housecured salumi since it started, now of course salumi is very in. The plate has a wonderful selection of coppa (my favorite), soppressata, mortadella, ham, ciccioli, and finocchiona. But I must say the salumi was somewhat marred by the dressing of olives and olive oil. When I order salumi I really just want the salumi, I would rather order salad separately.

With four different wine producers around the table, we drank just two wines and none from one of them. The 2006 Pietracupa Fiano di Avellino from the Campania region was so perfectly matched with the salumi, with its fruity, mineral qualities and intense peppery spice. I must remember to bring in some of this wine to the store.

One of the producers around the table was Graziano PrĂ . He and his brother, Sergio, make some of the best Soave Classicos. Their unoaked Monte Grande has been awarded Tre Bicchieri eight years in a row!

The tower of Roasted Beets and Arugula Salad topped with seared Skyhill Farms goat cheese from Napa toppled clumsily but was delicious. About half of us ordered it. The plate was big enough to be a vegetarian meal. I noticed that Francesco, sitting next to me couldn't finish his plate.

So who's Francesco? Francesco Ripaccioli is the third generation in his family to run the classic Brunello di Montalcino producer, Canalicchio di Sopra. This is one of the original 12 Brunello producers that existed prior to the creation of the DOC in 1967. Primo Pacenti, Francesco's grandfather, who established the estate, was one of the organizers of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. Francesco and his siblings are continuing the heritage well, their 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a 2010 Tre Bicchieri winner.

My plate of Sonoma Duck Breast still tasted okay even though the meat was well-done, therefore a bit tough. Its apricot and grappa sauce was delicious and the side of polenta was decadently creamy and buttery. A lovely touch was the roasted peach on the side.

The 3-liter of 1997 Drei DonĂ  Tenuta la Palazza "Magnificat", a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a single-vineyard within the estate in Emilia-Romagna, was smooth, dark, well evolved, and nicely integrated, with distinctive cassis and olive notes. A dark beauty and quite elegant. Thankfully it was served decanted, so we didn't have to be passing back and forth the 3-liter bottle.

No strangers to producing excellent reds are Stefano Cesari of Brigaldara in Verona and Giorgio Pelissero of Pelissero in Piemonte. Stefano produces beautiful Valpolicella Classico and very fine Amarone, particularly Case Vecie. I have been selling his reasonably priced wines from the outset.

Giorgio makes outstanding Barbaresco, the single-vineyard Vanotu is a standout and the 2006 Barbaresco Vanotu is a Tre Bicchieri winner, though the normale is also impressive. I opened a bottle of the 1997 normale two years ago in a ten-year Barbaresco/Barolo tasting and it stood out in the lineup. But Giorgio bragged to me about how good his Nebbiolo/Barbera blend, Long Now, is. I have to try it soon.

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