Best meals 2011: Frasca (Boulder)

Dinner at Frasca with Tracie P in September was one of the best meals of my life… for the food, for the wine, for the fun, and for the sheer joy of sharing it all with the woman I love…

When Tracie P and I talked about one last “babymoon” before the last trimester of our pregnancy (when she can’t fly anymore), she expressed her desire to dine at Frasca in Boulder. And so on Saturday, we headed for the Rocky Mountains and one of the best meals we’ve ever had.

It’s so hard to get properly sliced prosciutto in this country and I have told Tracie P about Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s obsession with reconditioned vintage Berkel slicers and how their beveled blades make all the difference (it’s in the diffusion of the heat, Lachlan explained to me last year when we traveld in Friuli together). When our server asked us about what we wanted to eat, the first thing out of (and into) Tracie P’s mouth was: P-R-O-S-C-I-U-T-T-O!

Co-owner Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey graciously offered to select the wines for us and it was only fitting that we start with 2010 Malvasia by Venica & Venica: Lachlan, he, and I tasted the wine together last September at the winery in Collio not long after it had been harvested. We loved the spice in this vintage of Malvasia by our good friend Giampaolo Venica.

Lachlan’s frico was off-the-charts good.

Bobby surprised us with this 09 lees-aged Sauvignon Blanc by Borgo del Tiglio, a winery I’d never tasted or seen in the U.S. I love the muscular style of Sauvignon Blanc embraced by certain Friulian producers. If ever there were an international grape variety to grow in Italy, it would be Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli, where winemakers can obtain sublime expressions of this aromatic grape. The 09 Tiglio had a crazy spearmint note on it and it was amazing to see this intense wine evolve over the course of the evening. (Note how Bobby decanted it for us.)

Lachlan’s cooking is a benchmark for Italian cuisine in the U.S. His gnocchi had that perfect balance of substance and lightness.

His ravioli were stuffed with a “deconstructed ratatouille,” in other words, all of the ingredients of the classic French dish, but prepared separately. Again, the quality of Lachlan’s pasta is a benchmark for Italian cuisine in the U.S. (Note the yellow color.)

1997 Schioppettino by Ronchi di Cialla was one of the most incredible wines we’ve drunk this year. Unbelievable minerality with this bright, fresh grapey note and under 13% alcohol. Simply incredible… It was gorgeous with Lachlan’s roast pork loin.

After dinner, Lachlan gave us a tour of the kitchen and revealed some of the secrets behind his Neapolitan pizza, served at their new pizzeria next door. Believe it or not, we actually went next door after our 3-hour dinner and ate again! I’ll post on the pizza later this week.

At certain point during our dinner, we were having so much fun that we were nearly overwhelmed by the joy of sharing food and together. Almost simultaneously, we looked into each other’s eyes and it was as if the same thought had just come to our minds at the same moment. I looked at Tracie P and told her I loved her and that it’s a miracle that we found each other: there’s no one else in the world that I could share an experience like this.

See that glimmer in her eye (as she enjoys a Sanbitter before dinner)? It makes me melt like prosciutto on her tongue…

IMHO, Frasca is the best Italian restaurant in the U.S. and you really can’t go wrong there. But it’s so much better if you go with someone you love…

There’s so much more to show and tell about our dinner in Boulder but it’ll just have to wait… Stay tuned and thanks for letting me share this special evening with you!

Zen and the art of the spritz

Lachlan and I went back to the Caffè del Corso on the main piazza in Cividale del Friuli yesterday between winery visits for an audience with the grand master of the spritz, owner Simone, who delivered a lecture on the nuance of Aperol vs. Campari. When time and technology permit, I’ll relate what he had to say…

97 Vie di Romans Pinot Grigio INSANE!

Dinner last night at the famous Ristorante all’Aquila d’Oro in Dolegna del Collio (Gorizia) began with this 1997 Vie di Romans Pinot Grigio Dessimis, which entirely blew me away with its nuance, and complexity. Pinot Grigio is so maligned and misunderstood and as much as Vie di Romans tends toward modernity (not my personal preference), there’s no denying that the winery delivers extreme elegance its bottlings. Fantastic wine…

Many excellent dishes were served last night (the stemware, dishware, silverware, and mise en place exquisite) but the course that impressed me the most was this incredible wild duck risotto. I was intrigued by the size and texture of the grain of rice and when queried, the owner revealed that it’s a Carnaroli hybrid that was developed for his family in Vercelli more than 30 years ago. Lachlan pointed out the fact that the grains do not stick together and the owner told me that no butter is used in this dish: only the stock was used to impart fat, thus bestowing a remarkable delicacy. Stunningly delicious…

Castello di Trussio dell’Aquila d’Oro
34070 Dolegna del Collio (Gorizia)
Località Ruttars 11
tel.: 0481 60545 (or 0481 61255)

Getting my spritz on in Friuli

Bobby, Lachlan, and I got our Aperol spritz on during the ora dell’aperitivo (the aperitif hour) in downtown Cividale del Friuli yesterday.

In keeping with my credo no wine without food, no food without wine, I just had to have a few mortadella cubes, even though I knew that much food lay in my immediate future…

Ornella Venica’s favorite wine

The inimitable Ornella Venica greeted me in the late morning with a glass of Pinot Bianco by her family’s historic winery, Venica & Venica. “Maybe not the most popular or important,” she explained, “but my personal favorite.”

For the next 5 days and nights, I’m going to be staying at the Venica & Venica estate in Dolegna del Collio (Gorizia, Friuli) with leading U.S. food and wine professionals Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson (owners of Frasca in Boulder, CO), who asked me to join them and a group of wine buyers on a tour of Friuli (sponsored by the Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia).

The main course at lunch was a delicious pork shank prepared by Ornella herself (note the kren in the foreground).

I’d never tasted the Venica Refosco. The 2008 (recently bottled) was killer… chewy and juicy.

I cannot conceal that I am very psyched to hang with Bobby (who helped Ornella clear the dishes after lunch) and Lachlan, two of the nicest dudes in the biz and undisputed Friulian insiders!

Stay tuned…

A killer Tocai (and a new system for wine ratings?)

Above: Bobby Stuckey, Master Sommelier and probably the nicest guy I’ve met in the world of fine wine and dining. He came to Austin recently to show the new vintages of his killer wines from Friuli.

“We’re not making a lot of wine,” said Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, when he showed his Scarpetta Pinot Grigio and Tocai Friulano from Friuli in Austin the other day to a group of Texas wine professionals. “But Texas stepped up to the plate with our 2006 and so we’re going to give you an allocation even though there’s not a lot to go around.”

As Willie Nelson once wrote, “Miracles appear in the strangest of places”: you wouldn’t expect to find small-production wines like these in Central Texas but I’m finding more and more that the Texan style and passion for great food and wine brings some of the brightest and the best out to see us.

Above: The pig on the label of Bobby and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s Scarpetta is inspired by their love of Prosciutto di San Daniele. The name “scarpetta” comes from the Italian word for “sopping up leftover sauce from your plate.”

I liked Bobby’s 2007 Pinot Grigio a lot: bright acidity, freshness, and nice fruit, with balanced minerality. A totally clean wine, easy to drink, a great quaffing wine.

But I REALLY DUG the Tocai Friulano: while the Pinot Grigio is aged in stainless steel, the Tocai, Bobby told me, is aged in botti, large old oak casks — totally old school, the way I like it. This wine had the richness and grassy notes that I love in traditional style Tocai and I’m totally geeked that it will be coming to Texas (at under-$20 retail, I was told). I can’t wait for Tracie B to taste it.

Btw, even though the EU prohibits Italians from writing Tocai on the label, I still can’t help myself from calling it Tocai. Surprisingly, the new requirement to call it Friuliano has resulted in an increase in sales, as Franco and I reported earlier this year at VinoWire. (In 2007, in decision in a complaint by Hugarian producers of Tokaj, the EU constitutional court prohibited Italian producers from using Tocai on bottles sold outside Italy.)

I also liked what Bobby had to say about it: “I wanted a wild beast, not a lap dog in a Gucci bag.”

Bobby is part of an expanding group of master sommeliers who are making wines or consulting with winemakers, approaching them from the perspective of the restaurateur rather than the trophy wine seeker.

In other news…

We tasted some great Italian wines last night at my sold-out Italian 101 seminar at The Austin Wine Merchant. Participant Pat Kelly posted this nice review at her blog.

And our new friend Mary Gordon surprised me by showing up after she snagged one of the waiting-list spots.

During the tasting, I realized that I, too, am guilty of using a de facto rating system: I found myself calling a grapy, easy-to-drink Montepulciano d’Abruzzo a “Wednesday night wine,” an elegantly tannic Rosso di Montalcino a “Friday night wine,” and when we tasted a rich, earthy Aglianico, Mary Gordon asked, “what night of the week is this wine?” Another participant chimed in, to the amusement and agreement of all, without skipping a beat: “Definitely a Saturday night wine!”

Next Tuesday’s Tuscany class is already sold-out but there are still some spots available in later sessions. Click here for the full schedule.

Mmmmm… tonight is Wednesday night. I wonder what Tracie B and will drink… ;-)