May 22, 2010

Hanging out with Marchese Lodovico Antinori

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I was very happy to have been invited to an intimate dinner with Marchese Lodovico Antinori. Lodovico needs no introduction to any wine lover, being a member of the Antinori dynasty and having founded Tenuta dell'Ornellaia.  I had the pleasure of meeting him at a dinner last year where he introduced wines from his new project.  He's back on a tour of China and will spend time in Hong Kong during Vinexpo, meeting up with his brother Piero.

The reunion was a happy one.  He's got a good memory and remembers our last meeting.  He also has a friend back home who reads this blog, which is a nice surprise.  The four of us sat down at our table in Otto e Mezzo, and let Danilo arrange the food to match our wines.  I was originally thinking of having a light dinner, but I decided it was best to go with the flow.  The only shame was that Chef Umberto wasn't in the kitchen - he was taking a detour to Madrid to watch his club Inter Milan play Bayern Munich...

We started with my contribution - 1996 Sine Qua Non Omadhaun & Poltroon.  I had given the bottle to my friend for her birthday as I knew she'd be interested in trying it, and she decided to bring it out tonight.  I've always loved this interesting blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay, and it drank very well tonight.  Floral notes with honey, caramel, flint and a little metallic.  Amazing that at 15.1% alcohol, you can't really smell the alcohol... although the finish was a little hot.  There was also some toasty oak and a little bit of smoke, along with some sweet grass.  At the end of the dinner, the remaining wine in the glass showed classic notes of butter and sweet corn, as the Chardonnay finally broke free from the repression of the Roussanne.  I loved it.

The first course was Dover sole with Italian spinach, tomatoes and new potatoes.  I was never a big fan of Dover sole...just never liked the texture.  The execution was pretty good, though...

Then came white asparagus and scampi cassoulet with sea urchin and asparagus foam.    I've read about this dish and never understood why the restaurant decided to call it cassoulet, since it was neither cooked in a cassole nor contained the white beans that makes up the majority of a cassoulet.  I guess this was a modern interpretation using foam...  I do have to say that I loved the dish.  The scampi was so sweet and fresh, and the scampi sauce with asparagus foam was just very delish.  I eagerly scooped up whatever sauce was left with my spoon...

We had a plate of pata negra to give us a break from seafood.  Very nice.

Things were getting better by the dish... The homemade trenette with Canarian king prawn was simply awesome.  I have not tasted such a fresh, sweet and flavorful prawn in a very long time.  The smell hits you as soon as the plate is laid down in front of you.  The homemade pasta from Genova had just the right amount of bite...yes, al dente...  The sauce was incredible, with just the head and cherry tomatoes - no cream added as they do at Da Domenico.  I feverishly dug into the head to get every bit of goodness out.  This pasta kicked Da Domenico's ass all the way off the field.

We drank two reds side by side for comparison.  First was the 2007 Lodovico - the inaugural vintage - which was due to be released in September.  This was fantastic.  I could tell it was a young wine, but it was already very delicious.  Nose was very sweet, a little smoky, somewhat medicinal but it definitely wasn't brett...and a little pine needle.  Still lots of tannins in the wine, but they were beginning to round out.  Later on there was some cotton candy and a hint of green peppers (not bell peppers, more like jalapeños) in the nose.  I can only imagine what this wine would be in another 10 years.

Then we had 1996 Masseto in honor of Lodovico.  Admittedly not one of the best vintages, the wine nevertheless drank beautifully.  In a blind tasting, there was no way I would have guessed it wasn't from Bordeaux.  Smoky nose with a little brett, sous bois over the core of red fruits, and a little pencil lead.  Tannins were very smooth.  A yummy wine to drink now.

Now for the pièce de résistance - the Colorado rack of lamb.  This was originally going to be the only dish I ordered for dinner.  This had to be the best rack of lamb I've had in a long, long time.  It was pretty rare, and the fat was distributed very nicely.  The meat wobbled as I put pressure on it with the knife.  In fact it shook like a block of Jell-O!  I wish I had remembered to take a video of the "belly dance"... I was in heaven.  The red capsicum compote on the side was interesting.  Following tradition (my own, that is) I picked up the bone with my hands and stripped it clean.  I have no shame about doing that at fancy restaurants.

The cheese plate was next, and we had four of them along with caramelized red onion and orange compote.  I started with Strachitunt, an interesting blue from cow's milk.  It was strong and pungent, pretty salty with a little acidic mid-palate.  I agree with the comment that it smelled and tasted like Chinese fermented tofu (腐乳).  It actually paired very well with the mystery wine.  The Taleggio - made in the same area as the Strachitunt, was very creamy and a little savory.  Tuma de la Paja became the one that kept running away...very creamy from sheep's milk.  The Gorgonzola was pretty nice, too.

We decided to open up the final bottle with dessert.  The 1973 Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé was a great way to finish.  The nose was very oxidized as we all expected, with caramel, honey, marmalade, apricot and a little salty plum (話梅).  Very fine bubbles.

Wild strawberry Melba: fine strawberry jelly, milk vanilla foam, strawberry pannacotta - soooo delicious and refreshing.  The tricolor creation - with the colors of the Italian flag - was made with strawberry jelly, panna cotta, and pistachio topped with wild berries.  The Melba was delicious, too, with the vanilla and strawberries working wonders together.

I had so much fun this evening.  On top of the wines and food, it was a rare chance to just spend a casual evening with someone who is as passionate about wine as Lodovico.  I hope to see more of him in the years to come!

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