The Officina della Bistecca, or “Beef Workshop”, is the whimsical name of Dario Cecchini’s restaurant located in Panzano in Chianti. As I’ve written in the past, you don’t meet Dario, you experience him. Therefore, when I returned to Panzano last month, an evening with Dario was a foregone conclusion.
After meeting Andrea and Guilia Cecchi in Castellina to taste through their newest releases and several barrel samples, we grabbed some vino and piled into the car for a leisurely drive up to Panzano.
As if the Officina needed additional charms, counted among the rest is the invitation to bring your own wine to enjoy with Dario’s signature masterpieces. Make no mistake, the food at the Officina is excellent. Various cuts of steak, baked potatoes and Tuscan Beans with garlic are plentiful. However, the destination is as much a show as it is a meal and Dario never disappoints. The first dish presented is the steak tartare which was accented by fresh lemon zest. As a result, it matched perfectly with the first wine Andrea served.
The 2017 Val delle Rose Cobalto is a new wine from Cecchi’s Maremma estate. It’s a unique take on Vermentino that is fermented partly in oak, (50%) clay amphora (34%) and stainless steel (17%). Medium gold in color, the wine displays attractive aromas of white fig, white flowers and bright citrus notes. On the palate, the clean precise flavors follow the nose and are laced with minerality and salinity. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly how the amphora contributes to the profile of the wine. However, this Vermentino displays more body than the estate’s sister wine Litorale. Very enjoyable with the tartare. 91 points.
As the sliced Panzanese steak made it’s way out of the kitchen, Andrea opened the inaugural release from his Villa Rosa property in Castellina. Situated between the hills of Castellina, the estate covers 126 hectares in total of which 30 are devoted to vineyards and 15 to olive groves. The vineyards are divided into 5 parcels but only the best fruit from the oldest vineyard is used for the Gran Selezione.
The 2015 Villa Rosa Gran Selezione is 100% Sangiovese that is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in Tonneaux for 15 months and concrete for 3 months before bottling where it spends a minimum of one year prior to release. Deep ruby in the glass, the wine exhibits lovely, classic aromas of crushed cherry, stones and dried spices. Juicy and sapid on the palate, this Gran Selezione emphasizes freshness and elegance over brawn and power. Needs time to shed some tannin and develop more complexity. 93 points.
There are guilty pleasures and then there are really guilty pleasures. One of the best parts about the Officina is Dario’s “chianti butter”. What’s that you say? Well, it’s lardo that is whipped together with various spices and herbs such as black pepper and rosemary. Essentially, it’s flavored animal fat. It’s a calorie and cholesterol bomb to be sure, but spreads with the consistency of butter. A dollop (or two) on some warmed crostini and it’s something to behold. As an added bonus, it brings out the fruit in wine as well as any cheese.
Along with the lardo, arrived the Bistecca Fiorentina. With that masterpiece, we tried two very different wines. The 2015 Cecchi Coevo is a large framed, masculine wine that deftly retains its elegance. Deep garnet in the glass the 2015 is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet and 10% Petit Verdot. As usual, the Sangiovese and Merlot are sourced from Castellina while the Petit Verdot and Cabernet come from Maremma. Coevo is vinified in stainless steel and then aged for 18 months in barrique and tonneaux.
The aromas from the wine are pure and precise. Black cherry, fennel, cypress and toasted spices are notable. On the palate, the wine is sapid, juicy and fresh with lively, concentrated flavors of black fruits, licorice, vanilla and toasted tobacco. The tannins turn chewy on the finish – especially without the food. It’s not a surprise Andrea hasn’t released this wine yet. 95+ points. Cellar Selection.
Finally, we wrapped up the evening with an aristocratic statesman. Or perhaps I should say an elegant woman. Andrea wanted to pull a wine from deep in his cellar. The subject: 1988 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva. Naturally, this wine was produced under the old laws with the blend including the white grapes; something Andrea was quick to criticize. He said, “you can already see how the wine is oxidizing because of those grapes.” Working only from memory, Andrea said that the blend approximated 70% Sangiovese and 15% Canaiolo while the balance was comprised of Malvasia, Trebbiano and Colorino.
Reduced dark cherry aromas were accented by worn wood, earth and leather notes. On the palate, the wine was surprisingly fresh with ripe balsamic cherry, turned earth, autumn leaves and old leather. The tannins have completely faded and Andrea commented that the finish was slightly bitter. “That’s from the wood. Back then everyone was using Chestnut because it was cheaper, but chestnut makes the wine bitter.” There’s something very special about drinking wine with an objective winemaker. He was spot on and has never been disingenuous. Clearly this wine has seen better days but the value here is more in the education. 87 points.
The atmosphere is always convivial at Dario’s. Here is our community table for the evening. You can see we lingered longer than our neighbors. Salute from Panzano! Grazie Andrea and Dario.
Stay tuned amici…. there’s always more to come!