Big Wednesday

Una Serata da Leoni

I Normanni Falanghina 2004
Castello di Verduno Verduno Basadone 2004
Livio Sassetti Rosso di Montalcino 2002
Castelli Martinozzi Rosso di Montalcino 2001
Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Rabajà 1997
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 1995
Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs NV

Last night, an old friend from college days, Steve Samson, and his friends Debbie and Mike came over to cook up some food and drink some Nebbiolo. Steve and I met during our junior year abroad in Italy. Since that time (so many years ago), he has enjoyed a remarkable career in cooking, studying and working in Italy and New York, and ultimately becoming the executive chef of Valentino in Santa Monica, one of the country’s premier Italian restaurants, with one of the world’s most remarkable Italian cellars.

Steve is a world-class chef and I knew that the dinner would be worth remembering, a true serata da leoni, an evening for the lions (a reference, in my world, to the Italian title of the great surf flick Big Wedsnesday, Mercoledì da leoni in Italian).

Our mutual friend Puddu from Bologna writes: "as the roman would say ‘ammazza che magnata’!!!"

Crab Salad topped with
Diced Avocado, Apple,
and Julienned Serrano Peppers

I Normanni Falanghina 2004

The bright, approachable Falanghina, a white grape from Campania (Southern Italy), paired perfectly with the seafood. The wine’s acidity stood up nicely to the richness of the avocado and the sweetness of the apples.

Seared Scallops served over Purée of Jerusalem Artichokes
with Hazelnuts sautéed in Butter and Mandarin Oranges

Castello di Verduno Verduno Basadone 2004

Perhaps Italy’s smallest appellation, Verduno (Piedmont) is made from the rare Pelaverga grape, an aromatic, spicy red that goes great with food. The wine was light but sturdy enough to match nicely with the fatty scallops (the Verduno township also produces Barolo).

Above: Chef Steve Samson rolls out the dough for his stuffed pasta.

Tortelli Stuffed with Swiss Chard and Ricotta
served over Tomato Cream Sauce

Livio Sassetti Rosso di Montalcino 2002

Chef Steve writes that "there’s no cream in the tomato sauce. I blend it on high and add EVOO [extra virgin olive oil] while blending. The emulsification of the oil gives it the light color."

The 2002 vintage was a poor one for Central Tuscany. Many producers in Montalcino did not make Brunello (or they made less than usual) and used their top fruit for their Rosso. I’ve really enjoyed Sassetti’s 2002 Rosso (his Brunellos are, in general, a little too expensive for me, but I found this Rosso at a good price). Although we enjoyed it with the stuffed pasta, we all agreed that the more traditional Castelli Martinozzi Rosso 2001 was better (see below).

Pennoni al Ragù di Agnello (Lamb Sauce)
served over Fresh Ricotta and topped with Grated Pecorino

Castelli Martinozzi Rosso di Montalcino 2001

Martinozzi’s wine are among my favorites. His vineyards are in Santa Restituta, one of the highest subzones in Montalcino and close enough to the western coast to benefit from superb ventilation (the altitude cools the grapes at night during summer, thus allowing them to ripen more slowly; the ventilation helps to keep the fruit dry, thus reducing rot). He uses no barrique for this wine: it reminds me of the wines I began to drink in Montalcino in the late 1980s, before the modernist craze took off there. Martinozzi is the real deal: grapes + earth = wine. (Although, when I interviewed him recently, he told me that he does barrique his Riserva wine, as per the tastes of the Swiss and German markets, he said.)

Pork Shoulder Braised in Milk with Wilted Kale

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Rabajà 1997

In a recent Wine Spectator Piedmont vintage guide, the authors recommended holding your 97s and drinking your 96s. As for my cellar, my 96s are still under lock and key and I’m just beginning to see the 97s show their stuff. The vintage saw a very warm summer and the wines are already coming around. I decanted this bottle early in the evening. There’s not much I can say: 1997 single-vineyard Produttori Barbaresco is one the best I’ve ever tasted. I love this juice.

Piedmontese Cheeses (Bra, Robiola, Castelrosso)

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 1995

I’ve been lucky enough to taste older vintages of Giacomo Conterno’s wines on a few notable occasions (including a luncheon, at my old job, where I poured a vertical of his famed Monfortino from the 1950s; another was a 1971 shared with me by sommelier Bob Franco of I Trulli). I opened and decanted this bottle at the very beginning of the evening and by the time I served it, it was pure hedonist indulgence. As Murray Moss (one of my new bosses) noted to me the other day a propos a nineteenth-century ceramic figurine that he adores, I wouldn’t want to exist in a world without Giacomo Conterno’s wines. I’m sure the 1995 would have had many years ahead of it, but after decanting and a few hours of aeration, it was simply gorgeous.

Wine and Song

Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs NV
After so much great wine, the evening ended in true Italian style: some bubbles and a song, a true serata da leoni.

A hearty thanks to Steve Samson for sharing his culinary wizardry.

Crystal City Riesling

Above: Robert Weil Rheingau Riesling Spätlese 2002 and Fritz Haag Riesling Auslese Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr 2002.

Last night Nous Non Plus performed in Las Vegas, where, between loading in our gear and playing the gig, we took time out for a round of Karaoke and some excellent German Rieslings accompanied by fantastic (although very spicy) Thai food.

This bizarre restaurant was highly recommended by my friend Steve Samson, ex-executive chef at Valentino. The Lotus of Siam occupies a modest space in a strip-mall, otherwise devoted to 99-cent stores and Karaoke bars. By the time we sat down (after a few rounds of Karaoke awaiting our table), there were Low Riders in the parking lot, partying and showing off their hydraulics.

When the waiter brought us the book, I was completely blown away: there must have been more than 300 lots, including 1995 Margaux ($450). The list was dominated however by German Riesling. Although I have some experience with Alsace, I must confess that I know next to nothing about German wines. The waitstaff was not much help in choosing the wines, so I based the selection on what the restaurant’s cellar master seemed to prefer (he had verticals of both producers).

The first wine was a Spätlese or "late harvest" from the Rheingau, the second a Auslese or "later harvest" (i.e., a superior wine in the German appellation system) from Juffer-Sonnenuhr (vineyard site) in Brauneberger (appellation) in the Mosel.

As we dined on a series of dishes that included super spicy ground pork, sausages made from pork testicles, stewed pork, each accompanied by lettuce and julienned carrots and sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, these sweet wines stood up well to the intense flavors of the cuisine. While the first wine did not show a great deal of character, the second opened up nicely, revealing fruit at first but minerality and structure as it came to room temperature. German Rieslings are famous for their longevity and the character they develop with the passing of the years. I could only wonder out loud how these wines would show if given proper time to age. They did pair beautifully with the food.

Addendum – Upon reading this post, Nous Non Plus drummer Greg Wawro (below, far right) told me that he felt the foods were so spicy that they overpowered any balance in the wines. In retrospect, I have to agree: the sweetness of the wine paired well with the intense flavors but the spice overwhelmed our palates. Greg is right to note that the tasting conditions were far from ideal. Nonetheless, it was a stimulating if not balanced experience: as the Romans used to say, when in Vegas…

The show that night was well-attended, even though we didn’t go on until 1 a.m. Between watching our good friends Hello Stranger and the end-of-night beers and goodbyes (it was the last night of a three-night run), we barely made it back to our hotel by sunrise. The joke of the evening was "what transpireth in Vegas, remaineth in Vegas." But this experience was definitely worth bringing home (see pic below).

From left: Dan Crane, Jeremy Parzen, Ryan Williams, and Greg Wawro. Menswear by Imp of the Perverse. Photo by Emily Welsch, who also attended.