CEO Alberto Buratto talks about Baglio Di Pianetto

Out in the Sicilian countryside near Palermo in Sicily nestles a deceptively simple-looking cluster of buildings known as Baglio Di Pianetto. Surrounding it are acres of vineyards and olive groves that supply the resort’s extraordinary house-made wines and olive oils—the two unshakable cornerstones of Italian cuisine, done to passionate perfection here.

Alberto Buratto, CEO of Baglio Di Pianetto
Alberto Buratto, CEO of Baglio Di Pianetto

But Alberto Buratto, CEO of this five-star resort and winery, lives in Verona in northern Italy and commutes an hour and a half by air every day to play his role here—except on the many days he travels the globe as the representative of these lovely wines, telling their stories to consumers and industry experts around the world.

Signor Burrato, a handsome man with kind eyes, a warm smile and a strong yet gentle manner, was in Chicago recently representing Baglio Di Pianetto (BDP) at an Italian wine event at Eataly. At dinner at Pane Caldo, 111 E. Chestnut, he set to ordering, in mellifluous Italian, bread to go with tasting the wines. Once the house bread arrived—a small, muffin-shaped, soft-crusted loaf of bread served with tapenade and bruschetta spreads, Alberto began to tell how BDP came to be.

The story begins

The founder of Baglio Di Pianetto, he said, is Paolo Marzotto, who was once president of Santa Margherita—where he invented Pinot Grigio—and is, according to Alberto, “really a tough guy.” He even drove Formula 1 race cars, that is, until he met his then-future wife, a French Countess named Florence.  In 1955 a terrible accident at LeMans killed 18 people. The Countess, who had come that day to watch Paolo race, came down from the stands while he was off the course and told him that if he wanted to be with her, he had to stop racing. He quit that day, and they were married two months later. He turned 85 this year.

In 1990, Count Marzotto’s wife asked him to make a new kind of wines—Sicilian, yes, but with also the elegance of the French chateaux. That was when he asked Alberto to partner with him and commute to Sicily. Eventually, Alberto agreed to help Paolo fulfill his wish to please his wife with these elegant new wines.

Paolo bought two properties in Sicily, one in the north, Pianetto, one in the south, Baroni, one higher and one lower, one in the mountains with wide variations in temperature between night and day, and the other by the seaside, where temps don’t vary so much between night and day. These dramatically different terroirs would provide great possibilities for creating different wines and making different olive oils. Then he planted Viognier grapes because these French grapes were favorites of the Countess. He also planted Petit Verdot and Merlot, along with Sicilian grapes.

To provide the elegance they sought, they experimented with different oaks from different areas in France. American oak that comes from Oregon or Michigan is completely different. “Where and how the oak grows makes a big difference,” said Alberto. While the rings of a tree show its age in years, a six-year-old tree could be smaller than a four; the space between the rings controls its size and how it will behave in a barrel. “Smaller rings make a harder wood that lets in less air. And this is how the wood in a barrel affects the evolution of aged wine or beer.”

The passion of making wine

Alberto in the vineyard with Cembali--BDP star red wine
Alberto in the vineyard with Cembali–BDP star red wine

“To make wine, you must have passion,” said Alberto. “And the more you study, the more you know how much is yet to learn.”

Having learned early from his grandfather about timing, Alberto said they harvest three times each year: August, September and October. “Now, when we make the blend, we use a little bit from each harvest to change the character of the finished wine. Ficiligno is fruitier because we add more Viognier from September. Freshness comes from August. Sweeter comes from the October harvest. We taste to decide how much of each to use. Some years it’s very sunny and makes wonderful maturation—less Viognier, more Insolia.”

Baglio Di Pianetto wines and olive oils

With the arrival of the seafood risotto, Alberto called for BDP’s two dry white wines. The first, Baglio Di Pianetto Ficiligno 2014  ($19) is a blend of Insolia and Viognier grapes and epitomizes the personality of Pianetto: fresh, pleasant and mild-flavored, leaning towards savory with hints of exotic aftertaste. A lovely white wine that first gives off floral notes, and then slowly changes to tropical and fresh fruits like pineapple and mango. It was beautiful with the risotto.

The second white, Baglio Di PIanetto Ginolfo 2012 ($33), a pale golden yellow color, is richer and more full-bodied. Made of 100% Viognier grapes it, too, is the result of three different harvests. Its aroma has tropical hints and notes of toasted vanilla. It’s a beautifully dry, rich yet mellow wine—and went wonderfully with the seafood. Listen to this description of the loving process they follow in making this wine:

“The grapes were harvested by hand in crates in 3 different harvests (the first at pre-technical ripeness to create an acidic base, the second at technical ripeness and the third with the grapes slightly overripe). After sorting, half the grapes were de-stemmed, crushed and left to macerate 18 hours with their skins. The other half was pressed directly. The must was cooled once again, favoring the natural settling. The fermentation began in stainless steel tanks, then continuing for only a portion of the wine in new 225 litres French oak. In June 2012, the wine was blended.” 

Baglio di Pianetto winery also grows its own olive trees and makes its own olive oil. When I asked why so many wineries do this, he looked astonished. He said that was like asking why you would want the best wine you could afford. The answer is obvious: if you control the production of your olive oil, like your wine, you know you are getting the highest possible quality. On his iPad he displayed multiple pictures of the BDP olive oil processing equipment at work—clearly as much a labor of love as the making of their wines.

Baglio Di Pianetto Ramine 2011--fresh and food-friendly
Baglio Di Pianetto Ramine 2011–fresh and food-friendly

With the cheese course, Alberto presented two of the company’s seven reds. The first, Baglio Di Pianetto Ramione 2011 ($23) is a fresh red blend of Merlot and Nero d’Avola (a grape exclusive to Sicily), again made with grapes selected from early, middle and late harvest. It has a deep ruby color with an intense and elegant bouquet of red berries followed by vanilla and licorice hints. On the palate it feels mellow and well-balanced with a long and persistent finish. “You feel this red,” said Alberto, “with a little bit of tannins that later give a powerful feeling.” This red made a nice accompaniment to Pane Caldo’s selection of six different cheeses, especially the soft creamy triple-cream one.

Baglio Cembali 2007--a rich, deep red that loves food
Baglio Cembali 2007–a rich, deep red that loves food

And then, Alberto presented another exceptional red: Baglio Di Pianetto Cembali 2007 (bottled in 2011), a 100% Nero D’Avola Reserve (~$44). He waxed eloquent: “Think how you taste: very powerful but with a velvet feeling.” He described the process: Two harvests and age 9 months in five different types of oak, a little bit in several separate barrels. Then they blend and age that, first in stainless steel, then for 10 months in a larger oak barrel. Then 36 months in the bottle before it goes to market. Four years from harvest to table—talk about tender loving care! And the wine shows it—a deep ruby color with a spicy palate of blueberries, cherries, balsamic. Warm, savory and intense, it expresses all the specific characteristics of Nero D’Avola grown in the Noto area of Sicily.  Absolutely lovely.

Eating and drinking in America

Alberto noted that American palates are changing, and he feels BDP’s mostly medium-bodied wines will find a warm welcome here. “The previous mentality of Americans,” he said, “was they wanted powerful, tannic, structured wines—the big Cabernet.” He said American menus typically featured mainly steak and fish and potatoes and fries, hot dogs and hamburgers. While it’s probable that most Chicagoans haven’t lost their taste for those food items, the city certainly now has many international cuisines to choose from.

Spaghetti all' arrabbiata
Spaghetti all’ arrabbiata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People ask Alberto what it’s like eating in America. He feels the difference is that the average meal in America is better than the average in Italy, but that to eat extremely well in the U.S. is hard to find and costs a fortune, whereas you can find very good eating in many places in Italy. He said in Italy from 1998 to 2007, for ten years many Italian restaurants began offering many other cuisines, like Peruvian, for example, and not so much Italian. Now for five or six years, Italian cuisine is again popular. His love and appreciation for his country’s cuisine shone forth when he said, “Why must we do something else? Italian cuisine is about the purity of the essences of the food.” Impeccable for pairing with fine wines.

When asked about the “smelling kits” growing popular in the U.S. now to help people learn to recognize “the nose” of wines, he said many winemakers start teaching their children, from as early as age 2, to identify the aromas of everything. He suggests putting a bit of something in many small containers—rosemary, tea, cream, thyme, and so on—then making a game of having the child learn to identify the scents. “Most city people have no idea what is the smell of the leaves of a tomato plant.”

Accept and appreciate

As to how a winemaker deals with changing weather—including global warming, hail storms and soaking rains in areas of Sicily where it has never rained—Alberto said it is simple. “Patience. You accept what God sends you, and know that not all bad things are bad. If you can see in a different way, sometimes what looks bad can give you more opportunity for the future.”

He said, in the end, it comes down to one thing. “The most important thing in this company is our people,” he said.

Salmon – What you see isn’t always what you get

Salmon intended for consumption as food
Salmon intended for consumption as food (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 40% of salmon sold in the U.S. is wrongly labeled, according to a small sampling done by advocacy group Oceana. That means when you pick up a package of salmon in the grocery store labeled “wild caught,” there’s a four in ten chance it’s actually either farmed or some lower-value fish. Download the full report to see pictures of the various types and grades of salmon.

For those who care about truth in labeling and potential contamination in seafood, it’s nice to know there’s a commission that’s recently made recommendations on reducing or eliminating fraudulent seafood labeling. You can help by encouraging the administration to enforce these transparency standards:

  1. Documentation for all seafood sold in the United States — require details such as what fish it is, whether it was farmed or wild caught, where and how it was caught. This information helps verify that the seafood came from a legal source.
  2. Full chain traceability — require key information to follow the fish through the supply chain, tracking the seafood from fishing boat or farm to the dinner plate.
  3. Consumer information — provide seafood buyers with more information about their purchase, such as what fish it is, where and how it was caught, so they can make more informed decisions.

Meanwhile, you can protect yourself when dining out by eating in restaurants that serve sustainably farmed salmon such as Skuna Bay or at home by using convenience packs of traceable seafood sauces and dishes like those by Fishpeople.

New Sukkah Hill liqueurs come to Chicago

Sukkah Hill liqueurs fabulous for holidays and special occasions
Sukkah Hill liqueurs fabulous for holidays and special occasions

Liqueurs are traditionally thought of as après dinner, but these two I recently received to sample look to be comfortable just about any other time as well. Strangely named—one is Besamim and the other is Etrog—these are hand crafted with meticulous care in small batches using locally sourced  ingredients as much as possible—including from the maker’s own orchard.

The tastes are distinctive for sure. Besamim (74 proof) is described by the Beverage Tasting Institute as “Vibrant aromas and flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove with a silky, moderately sweet, medium body and a gently warming frosted carrot cake and candied spiced nut finish. Elegant, natural and balanced spice flavor that is great on its own and in holiday cocktails.” I can’t improve on that. To put it simply in my words, it tastes like Christmas in a glass. Think of mixing or serving with creamy or apple-y or pumpkin-y things. The flavor is intense but beautifully balanced. My mouth is watering at the thought of a glass of this with a piece of pumpkin pie.

Etrog (76 proof) is a more mysterious combination of flavors that inventor, Marni Witkin first created by adding leftover holiday etrog – the yellow citron, a fruit traditionally used by Jewish people during the week-long holiday of Sukkot—into some vodka to see what would happen. As it happened, she passed the drink around to her friends, and they all liked it—a lot. She and her husband planted an orchard and now grow these unique fruits.

English: Etrog, silver etrog box and lulav, us...
English: Etrog, silver etrog box and lulav, used on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The finished commercial Etrog product likely tastes more complex than that first accidentally infused spirit. On its own, the liqueur has a tiny bit of a medicinal taste that’s similar to an amaro, the popular Italian digestif, but Etrog is somewhat lighter and lemon-based rather than evocative of dark roots and herbs. Mixed in cocktails, Etrog layers in a unique citrus-y subtlety that works well with a variety of liquors and other mixers. From gin (the Etrog Ricky recipe is super refreshing and a bit more complex than the traditional simple gin rickey) to bourbon, this liqueur is a star when it comes to building a cocktail with layers of flavor. Read here for more recipes.

Now available at your local Binny’s for $24.99 for a 375ml bottle. More locations on the way as these unique new cordial/liqueurs make their way into outlets across the country.

Catch chef-inspired dining while bowling or attending a movie in Chicago

Update 3/16 – Having now tried a few of the food options at AMC Dine-In Theater downtown, have to report that they were not as good as expected. It was also hard to see to eat once the movie started. Based on a single experience, I’d recommend eating elsewhere before or after the movie, but it’s nice to imbibe in a glass of airplane-level wine or a cocktail while enjoying your film.
Who’da thunk it? Lucky Strike Bowling venue did. They’re now offering chef-driven food options whether you’re going out with the gang for a couple of games of bowling or gathering to watch an important Chicago sporting event at their 322 E. Illinois location.
The new menu is masterminded by A2Kitchen (A2K) Chef Rodelio Aglibot and consists of rich comfort food prepared daily with locally sourced ingredients. You’ll find contemporary takes on old favorites like panko-crusted Wisconsin cheese curds with tomato jam, ahi tuna poke flatbread and breaded chicken breast with salsa verde and chimichurri aioli. A2K’s cocktail list features a “seasonal kitchen” approach to hand-crafted cocktails, fine small batch and locally distilled spirits, ripe produce, herbs and spices. For more information, please visit
Then, as if that isn’t cool enough, you can now order up food before, during and after watching a film in downtown Chicago. AMC Dine-In Theatres Block 37, 108 N. State St., officially opens to guests this Thursday, Dec. 17—just in time for opening weekend of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The facility features 11 auditoriums with plush, leather recliner seats, restaurant-quality food and a MacGuffins ® Bar, where guests 21 and older can grab a beer, glass of wine or cocktail to enjoy with their movie.
All you have to do is push a button to access items on the new AMC online menu The menu includes “Snacks & Shares” appetizers, burgers, bowls, macs, even sweets for dessert. And/or choose from beloved theater favorites like candy, popcorn, soda and more. AMC operates 2 other Dine-In Theatre locations around Chicago, including AMC Yorktown 18and AMC 600 North Michigan 9, which features the “Snacks & Shares” segment of the menu alongside traditional movie theater food and beverage. Or check out one of AMC’s 19 other traditional theatres in the greater Chicago area.

Sexy – and practical – way to carry

Not talking about a concealed weapon, ladies, though I guess you could. But for hands-free carrying your flask or phone, credit card, cash and key without lugging a bag, try this very cool new item called SmarterGarter. The makers were kind enough to send a sample, and I’m impressed. As you’ll see from all the online photos, this new-fangled cache comes in multiple colors/designs (there’s even one with metal studs!) and looks mucho lady-macho on your thigh or your boot top. It also meets the new entrance regs for NFL games (no purses bigger than a hand-sized clutch and no butt bags).

The SmarterGarter is a great way to carry - phones, flasks, or whatever
The SmarterGarter is a great way to carry – phones, flasks, or whatever

And for those of you thinking, wow, those models on the website are all very thin. Will it fit me? I’m here to tell you, the large size fits a generous thigh nicely. Made with hooks on strong elastic (just like many bras), you can connect the hooks while it’s lower on your leg (at the calf), and then slide it up your leg until it’s comfortable. I like the feel of the vegan leather and the fact that the closures are magnetic. I hate trying to locate and close snaps, don’t you? The material on the inside assures that it stays firmly in place, too. What more can you ask?

Use one of these when you’re out clubbing/dancing, attending a festival, game or wine tasting (where you’re already trying to balance the tasting notes book and a pen, the food and the wine glass), traveling, hiking, or riding your, ahem, motorcycle. The SmarterGarter can hold many types of useful stuff…

  • flask (small round, taller rectangular)
  • smart phone (yes, it even fits the new iPhone 6 PLUS)
  • ID (driver’s license, business cards)
  • keys (home, hotel rooms, locks)
  • safety (Mace, pocket knife, condom)
  • comfort (tampon/pad, tissues)
  • beauty (small comb, lipstick, compact, nail file)
  • medical (medications, insulin pump, epi pen)
  • travel (passport, tickets, map, guide)
  • money (cash, check, credit cards)
  • miscellaneous (pen, small notepad, flash drive)
  • kid stuff (diaper, wipes, pacifier)
…and keep it handy without unduly weighing you down. As of this writing, SmarterGarters are available on the website for $37.50. What a neat present for someone in your life who gets around.

Food and drink drew 400 to Uptown Uncorked

An event called Uptown Uncorked, traveling around to major cities in the U.S., is the result of an interesting partnership among Lexus luxury cars, Diageo fine spirits people, and Uptown Magazine for upscale African American consumers.

For its recent Chicago showing, organizers invited two rising African American chef stars and two African American wine aficionados (The McBride Sisters) to provide the goodies, and everybody got to show off their products to a group of 400 enthusiastic members of their target market. It was a huge gathering, with loud pumping music, and lines of people waiting to pick up their samples of food

and wine. Lexus provided the spotlight adornments in the form of some of their latest models set up in the cool space at Moonlight Studios, 1446 W. Kinzie.

Chef Julius Russell is "a shy guy who cooks."
Chef Julius Russell helped make the event a success

One of the evening’s master chefs, Chef Julius Russell is not only a private chef to celebrities but also serves as owner of A Tale of Two Chefs, Culinary Ambassador to Chile, and as a TV Host on the Big Ten Network. As a private chef, Russell provides everything from in-home cooking for the family to large scale catering for public events. He focuses heavily on authenticity, using ingredients and techniques specific to each of the regions he has traveled. Chef Julius says, “I’m just a shy guy who likes to cook.”

What a neat way to create synergy between brands and attract a crowd of folks who appreciate your wares.

Izakaya Mita – Japanese comfort food and drink

Akachōchin lantern outside an izakaya; the cha...
Akachōchin lantern outside an izakaya; the characters read “izakaya” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Japan, an izakaya is basically a tiny little bar with just a few seats. In Chicago, Izakaya Mita, 1960 N. Damen, is a warm yet modern and clean-lined bar and restaurant featuring Japanese cuisine. Japanese-accented easy listening music makes a nice background. Helen Mita, who with chef son Brian opened the place early in 2015, says the goal is to create a comfortable, unpretentious space that offers the best of Japanese comfort food and a full line of versatile and sophisticated alcoholic drinks, including sake (pronounced sah-kay) and shochu (like sake, but distilled rather than brewed). It was a pleasure to be invited to try the place.

 If the last time you tasted sake (we Americans used to call it rice wine even though it’s actually brewed like a beer) was in the 70s or early 80s, you’re in for a delightful surprise. Back then, many characterized the flavor as “rotten rice.” But today, the range of flavors and intensities of offerings makes a sophisticated field ripe for investigation—and Izakaya Mita is a perfect place to do your exploring. Helen and her staff are at your service to explain all the choices and give you background on how these food and drink items are made and enjoyed in Japan.

Sake, according to Frank who was our guide/server for the evening, is made by pressing liquid out of rice and then adding some of the rice back into the brew. It’s very clear and has more alcohol than beer or wine, but not as much as hard liquor. Two-ounce pours at Izakaya Mita go for $3.50 to $6 each, five-ouncers for $8 to $13.50, and most varieties that come in the “Sake One-Cup” (6 ounces) for $10-$11. We didn’t get to sample the shochu but look forward to reporting on that next time. The sake wines have poetic names like Chrysanthemum Meadow, Demon Slayer, and Fragrant Jewel.

Frank was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. He explained that sake wines come in a range–some slightly sweet and others much drier–and he helped us understand what each food item would be like as served. When we ordered the chilled, marinated baby octopus, he warned us about it, saying that many people are shocked to see that these are literally baby octopuses (yes, the correct plural of octopus) served as single bites. We assured him that was okay with us; they were dark reddish, a little chewy and very tasty.

The Piri Kara Kyuri—unpeeled cucumbers—were chunked and served in a spicy, intensely flavorful glaze ($5). Most enjoyable. The Ingen Goma ae—green beans in sweet black sesame—was outstanding ($5). Crisply cooked and nicely accented by a light and thin but mysteriously good sauce. These are a customer favorite, he said.

The sake menu is extensive and varied. For a novice sake drinker like me, Frank suggested a flight of three two-ounce samples and selected two more delicate flavors and one more assertive. They all had layers of floral and other flavors. Later he suggested two more with a little more gumption, and he made excellent choices. One had mushroom-y undertones, and both were richly aromatic and light but fuller-flavored. My companion enjoyed a favorite Asian beer of hers, Asahi, with her meal.

 The Ika Geso Kara Age—deep fried squid legs—were crispy and delicious and happily accented with a small tangle of fresh greens ($7). Tokoyaki—octopus balls-sounded irresistible ($7): four half-golf-ball-sized spheres of rice with little chunks of chewy octopus are deep-fried, drizzled with a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise-based sauce and topped with surprisingly tasty shaved dried fish. Hot and delectable at first bites, a little like rice-based hush puppies. The Kinoko Itame—mushrooms sautéed in buttery soy citrus sauce—made our mouths pucker and smile. What a happy curiosity to taste butter in an Asian-flavored dish; I enjoyed every bite.

The Bincho-Tan grilled items—cooked on a Japanese grill with chemical-free, smokeless, super-hot charcoal made of oak—were offered in one of two ways: either sweet (Taré—Tamari-based teriyaki) or savory (Shio—salt and sake) style. We got shrimp ($5.50) prepared with the sweet approach, and crispy wings ($3) and asparagus ($3.50) made with the salt and sake approach. The shrimp came three small to a brochette, nicely cooked—though missing conspicuous grill marks—with a much lighter flavor than some of the other dishes. The wings were tasty, though not particularly crisp (we were there when the restaurant first opened, so it may be the grill hadn’t reached its full-scale charring stage), and the asparagus was crisply cooked and good. Happily, none of the dishes tasted overly salty, as has been known to happen with Asian sauces.

We made room for one more dish, an Unagi rice slider—broiled eel with eel sauce, brushed with egg and sugar and served on a dense, compact inch-square rice patty ($6). Greatly enjoyed the rich eel flavors. By this time, the two of us were full, but there is a whole array of other menu items to choose from including various tempura ($3 to $6.50), hearty bites such as sirloin, pork, fish, etc. ($6.50 to $14.50), and noodle dishes featuring mixed seafood, pork, vegetables, chicken, etc. ($13.50 each).

Izakaya Mita is a great place to educate yourself about Japanese food and drink—and a cozy place to sit back and enjoy some unique bites and sips. It’s right on the corner of Armitage and Damen, so take public transportation or look for street parking.

Book review: Vintage by David Baker

Cover of Vintage, by David Baker - Love the wineglass stains!
Cover of Vintage, by David Baker – Love the wineglass stains!

You’ll either be delighted or affronted by the protagonist of Vintage by David Baker–possibly both. Bruno Tennenbaum is a half Jewish/half Catholic, working-class gourmet food writer with a weakness for expensive wines and indulgent meals–and has a not-so-surprising resemblance to certain qualities of the author himself.

Like his protagonist, author Baker worked in vineyards, visited France, and for some years made a passable Pinot Noir in his garage. He’s also a professional food writer who writes with poetic passion in the story about food and wine pairings that will make your mouth water.

Unfortunately, protagonist Bruno’s excesses have come back to haunt him–a recent over-indulgence in wine has left him broke, fired from his job as a food columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, and nursing a spot on his mothers couch. He’s separated from his wife and two daughters–though he still visits occasionally and charms them by cooking fabulous meals and bringing special wines–and he’s lost as to how to turn things around.

Then Bruno stumbles on the secret to an infamous bottle of wine, the 1943 Trevallier. Stolen from France during World War II and missing even from the Trevallier family records, the ’43 Trevallier is worth a small fortune – and major acclaim – to whoever locates it. Bruno, financed by what he thinks is a loan from his estranged wife, goes gallivanting with reckless abandon across the Continent and Russia in search of this treasure that he believes will restore his fortunes and inspire his next book.
Baker even intertwines his plot with a true story of how Americans saved the French wine industry. In the late 1800s vineyards all over France were dying. It was because of an imported root louse called phylloxera. All the classic French varieties fell prey to it. Many winegrowers went under. Stories abound of vintners hanging themselves in despair. Two Missouri researchers shipped to France millions of grafts of American root stocks that were immune to this louse. Today most of the vines in France have American origins below the soil.
The book is full of beguilingly poetic anecdotes and succulent descriptions of gastronomic experiences. Although the protagonist is a definite loser in many ways, you may find yourself charmed. The book is a light-hearted page-turner and would make a nice gift to any food and/or wine lover. Learn more here.

Eataly hosts Piemonte Italian red wines

Prunotto rd wines at Eataly
Prunotto rd wines at Eataly

Eataly Chicago is dedicated to providing a full schedule of educational programs around food and wine. A recent event featured wines by Prunotto, the Antinori family’s picturesque wine estate among the Langhe hills of the Piemonte region of Italy (located in the southern section of the cuff of the Italian boot-shaped land mass).

Signor Emanuele Baldi, representing the brand, said Prunotto made the Italian wine map after the Antinori family, with 600 years of wine-making fame in Tuscany and Umbria, turned its attention to Piemonte (aka/Piedmont). He presented a small array of tannic reds from the area: Barbera, Barbaresco, and Barolo, all paired with complimentary dishes from the chef at Eataly’s cucina.

First course, served with the Barbera and the Barbaresco wines was Vitello tonnato—melt-in-your-mouth-tender, palest-pink poached veal with a smooth, creamy tuna and caper sauce—delightful, light and piquant with a drizzle of fresh lemon to set it off. The second course consisted of a platter of salumi and formaggi, tidbits of succulent preserved meats and rich, smooth cheeses also from the

Buttery truffled noodles at Eataly
Buttery truffled noodles at Eataly

Piemonte region.  He pointed out that eating any blue cheese with tannic wines is always problematical; the only cheese, he said, that can reliably go with almost any wine is classic Parmigiano. The third course was a beautiful nest of egg-rich noodles covered in a butter sauce perfumed with white truffle essence. Delicious.

The Barbera Pian Romualdo D’alba DOC 2012 with a ruby a color was representative of the high acidity of this variety of grapes as grown here in clay soils layered with sand and seashells. Here, these grapes  tend to produce wines that are fresh-tasting with more fruit and more acidity. This particular wine improved with time after opening, gradually smoothing out some of what many Americans would perceive as sharpness.

The two Barbaresco wines, both DOCG appellations (the highest designation in Italian winemaking), included Prunotto Barbaresco 2011 and Prunotto Bric Turot 2008. Each had a beautiful garnet color which he said they would always have, no matter how long you age them. They show more delicate floral than fruit and are considered more feminine and are made with Nebbiolo grapes,  grown only in Piemonte. Wines made with Nebbiolo grapes show elegance and finesse similar to what Americans find in Pinot Noir varietals. Good with pasta, stewed meat, roast duck and others.

The two Barolo wines, both also DOCG appellations, included Prunotto Barolo Classic 2009, and Prunotto Bassia Barolo 2008. These two, also made with Nebbiolo grapes, were the deepest and richest wines of the evening. The presenter described them as more muscular, with higher tannins and greater structure, not unlike Cabernet Sauvignon wines from America. Excellent paired with the rich, buttery noodle dish. Each of these is a perfect companion to a variety of salumi, meats and cheeses.

Eataly-Prunotto vino e pane e olio
Eataly-Prunotto vino e pane e olio

It was a pleasure to hear the presenter give a famous Italian maxim, “The best wine is the one whose bottle is empty first.” So, if you’re one who says,  “Hey, I just know what I like,” that means your opinion matters as much as any expert’s.

By the way, their website is surprisingly easy to use. For more information, visit the Prunotto website.