Italy meal 1: Trattoria il Pozzo, Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino)

Just like people, restaurants have “good days” and “bad days.” The night we went to Trattoria il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino), it was one of those off-the-charts good days (and not every meal we had in Italy was worth writing home about, believe me). I’ve been going there since 1989 when I first began to “frequent” Montalcino (the fons origo of my passion for Italian wine). Paola (in the kitchen) and Franca (front of the house) Binarelli have owned and run Trattoria il Pozzo since 2001 and honestly, the food there has never been better. It was just one of those magical culinary nights, when everything came together just perfectly. I’ll let Tracie P’s superb photos do the talking…

tuscan cuisine

Salt-less bread crostini topped with liver and spleen (the chestnut-colored spread, classic Tuscan), chopped mushrooms, and tomato (not so traditional but now part of the pan-Italian culinary lexicon).

tuscan cuisine

Salt-less bread soup, drizzled (rigorously) with extra-virgin olive oil by Il Poggione (more on Il Poggione later).

tuscan cuisine

Pici (long, hand-rolled noodles) with sausage, mushroom, and tomato (this was UNBELIEVABLY good).

tuscan cuisine

Pici with wild boar ragù (the boar meat was so tender and flavorful and the combination of textures and flavors was sublime).

tuscan cuisine

We had to sneak a peak in the kitchen since they were still rolling out the pici that evening.

tuscan cuisine

One of the sine qua non elements of the bistecca fiorentina is that it must be charred on top — to heat the meat on the bone without cooking it through.

tuscan cuisine

Need I say more? To look at the meat you’d think it was over cooked. But the secret is that the beast is slaughtered young. Older than a calf but still relatively young and so the meat has a pink rather than blood-red color.

tuscan cuisine

Fried artichokes. Franca told me that Italian celebrity chef Gianfranco Vissani once complained that they had served these with lemon wedges. So no more lemon wedges!

tuscan cuisine

The chicory was at once bitter like Tuscan dirt and sweet like Tuscan heaven.

gianni brunelli

The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by the dearly departed Gianni Brunelli, one of the great Tuscan restaurateurs of our lifetime. Beautiful acidity, gorgeous fruit, and man, the combination of the red fruit flavors of the wine and its acidity against the fat and flesh of the steak was better than… well, actually, it wasn’t better than… it was our honeymoon after all! ;-)

Ristorante Il Pozzo
53024 Montalcino (SI) – Piazza Del Pozzo, 2
tel: 0577 844015

closed Tuesdays

You shall learn how salt is the taste/of another man’s bread… Cacciaguida to Dante, Paradiso 17, 58-9.

92 Biondi Santi Rosso and 89 Grattamacco

Bandmate and neighbor Greg Wawro brought over a few aged Porterhouse steaks last night to pair with some big Tuscan wines that I had been saving: a ’92 Biondi Santi Rosso and an ’89 Grattamacco (note how dated and simplistic the label of the Grattamacco appears in the photo above).

The 1992 vintage is widely considered to have been a poor one in Tuscany: did Franco Biondi Santi use his top grapes for this Rosso that year? I think that this is the case since he made little or no Brunello that year… at least, there doesn’t seem to be any on the market. This bottle came to me via a self-described hobbyist of vintage wine who lives in Mondovì in Piedmont. It was so moderately priced that I couldn’t resist buying it. I wasn’t sure if it would survive the trip nor was I certain that the wine hadn’t lost its life. I decanted it about thirty minutes before drinking. Although the first aromas were not so pleasant, the wine opened up beautifully. It certainly had seen better days but for me, there’s nothing like the taste of old wine. It was bright and still had a lot of good acidity. Biondi Santi’s wines are made expressly to age and this one paired wonderfully with our bistecche alla fiorentina (alla Upper West Side).

The 1989 Grattmacco… pure hedonistic pleasure. I’m really not one for Bordeaux-style wines from Italy. But I had a chance to taste a lot of Grattamacco working for one of my former clients and really came to enjoy the wines. When I had the opportunity to buy this bottle at a discounted price (one of the perks afforded by the client), I jumped. Historically, Grattamacco has been made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese. This bottle seemed to be an even balance of the first two, with lesser amounts of the Italian grape. It was fantastic and paired beautifully with aged cheddar.

The best thing about the Grattamacco was how the wood (i.e., the barrique, the new oak) had integrated – or better yet – had had the time to integrate well. In this country, we are so accustomed to drinking young overly oaked Bordeaux-style wines, that most wine enthusiasts believe the prickly sensation in the back your mouth is a good thing. On the one hand we drank a wine that had no barrique whatsoever. Although the Rosso has passed its peak, it was still very much alive. An oaked Rosso di Montalcino would never last that long (fourteen years!). On the other hand, we drank a very modern wine where the flavor of the wine was not overshadowed by the new wood.

A judicious balance of Old World and New… the wines were some of the most interesting and rewarding that I have ever opened in my home.