This past weekend TuscanVines hosted it’s first themed wine & food pairing dinner at Caffe Piazza in Hillsborough, NJ.  All food was prepared by Chef-Owner Antonio Ruffa and the wines were selected and sponsored by TuscanVines.  This was the first of many themed dinners planned to take place, with the aim of doing 4-6 per year.  The theme for Saturday’s inaugural dinner, was naturally,  Tuscan wines.   
I wanted to showcase the recent string of excellent vintages, and also provide diners with the ability to easily locate the wines served should they enjoy them.  Here’s a look at the menu, and the paired wines.

~ Antonio’s Tasting Menu ~

Prepping some of the reds before the festivities……..

The evening’s reds, awaiting pouring

Upon arrival, plates of bruschetta and potato croquettes were passed.  The croquettes were absolutely delicious; stuffed with hints of parsley, spinach and cheese and perfectly fried.  We started pouring the first wine of the night, the 2010 Kris Pinot Grigio.  This Pinot Grigio, from the alpine hills of Venezia, was absolutely wonderful.  Pale golden straw in color, it gives off aromas of flinty minerals and citrus fruits. Crisp, refreshing and balanced in the mouth, the flavors echo the nose with nice persistence.  It paired perfectly with the first course of crab legs, grilled shrimp, and scallops wrapped in smoked bacon.  88 points, about $12.

2010 Kris Pinot Grigio, della Venezia
The second course was an amazing wild mushroom and parmeggiano risotto. With this, we paired the 2008 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva.  Monsanto has a long tradition of making very authentic, somewhat austere wines and this Chianti was no departure from that.  Comprised of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino and 5% Canaiolo, the color is a dark garnet to brick red. The nose of the wine is rustic; with a pleasant floral component that works well with the vibrant cherry fruit core.  However, there was also a slight “funk” to the wine – a bit of “barnyard” as the Tuscans would say. This didn’t surprise me as I think it’s Monsanto’s hallmark, nor did it diminish the enjoyment of the wine for the diners. Me? I preferred the second Chianti more.  90 points, about $18 on sale.

2008 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva

The Monsanto was paired with an amazing risotto, perhaps the best dish of the night.

Risotto with wild mushrooms: Crimini, Porcini, Champignon & Chanterelle
The next featured wine was the 2008 Mazzei Chianti Classico – Ser Lapo which I reported on previously here:  Original Ser Lapo Tasting Report 
It’s fair to say that this wine performed to my expectations. It was a gorgeous violet to almost purple color. Aromas of ripe berries, spices, and floral notes lift from the glass nicely. On the palate the wine is lively, polished, a bit sexier than the Monsanto. With 10% Merlot in this blend, it greatly expresses itself in terms of the texture of the wine. It’s beautiful.   92 points, about $17. 

2008 Mazzei “Ser Lapo” Chianti Classico Riserva

The Ser Lapo was paired with a grilled NY Strip steak that featured an amazing reduction sauce of horseradish and dijon mustard. It was amazing! 

Prime NY Strip with horseradish-dijon reduction, delicious!
The final wine of the night was also something I’ve written up before, but this evening presented a chance to put this wine on a stage and see if it could wow a group of people.  I wanted to showcase the excellent 2006 Brunello vintage and this wine fit the bill.  The 2006 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino again met the challenge. In the glass, it’s noticeably the darkest wine of the night. The bottles had been opened a few hours before serving and the wine offered up generous aromas of black fruits, spice, slight wood and new leather.  On the palate the wine is very well structured.  Packed with generous amounts of fruit, slight oak, sweet pipe tobacco and earth notes it seems eager to impress, but will show even better in 3-5 years. And in general, I think that’s where the 2006’s are heading. They seem to have given up their early charming stage and are shutting down for some cellar time.  Drink the 2007’s now and let the 2006’s slumber. Getting back to the La Rasina, it’s in balance and a terrific value in Brunello. For those interested, it’s 100% bio-dynamically farmed. As James Suckling once said to me: “La Rasina rocks it!”   92 points, about $30. 

The 2006 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino
Although I forgot to snap a picture, this wine was paired with Floridian Red Snapper with a gaeta olive and roasted red pepper coulis. I wondered a bit about the pairing, but it worked incredibly well. The oil in the fish cut the tannins in the wine and brought the fruit forward and the slightly bitter olive notes in the sauce really complemented the wine as well. Nicely done. 
As dinner wound down we finished up much of the remaining bottles (we had 5 bottles of each on hand), and enjoyed Antonio’s wonderful homemade hazelnut gelato with espresso and cappuccino. 

Homemade Hazelnut Gelato & Espresso

The dinner was excellent and to my relief, the wines showed very well.  All the diners enjoyed themselves and as I gather feedback, I’ll be posting any comments here.  Stay tuned for the next dinner, later this fall – theme to be determined. 

Ci vediamo!

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