I looked over the first column I wrote in 2012 — you know, the new year’s resolution column. As I suspected, I failed miserably on all counts.
On the other hand, the president — while consistently maddening — is at least not stark raving mad, the drought seems well on its way to being over, and I had some great meals and excellent wine with good friends and family. So 2012 turned out OK in spite of me. Imagine that.
The gist of those resolutions was to push myself out of my comfort zone in various ways, and I took a few baby steps in that direction.
I did, for example, get on couple of airplanes, and I’m happy to report that we stayed in a new (to us) hotel during our annual post-Christmas trip to San Francisco. We found ourselves, however, wandering to the same old breakfast spots — only to discover that the restaurant I once wrote was the best place to start the day in all of S.F. is now only an acceptable one.
So, once again, I learn the lesson that while it’s important to be in the present moment, you can’t hang on to it. Or you can’t step into the same river twice. Or something like that.
Perhaps I need to be a bit more moderate in my claims. Instead of telling you that Pesce is a terrific S.F. restaurant for an unusual Italian seafood dinner, for example, I should simply say that in the last week of December, it was near perfect. This week, who knows?
But I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that an even more exciting find was the wine store just down the road: William Cross Wine Merchants at 2253 Polk St. Not only do they have an eclectic and interesting selection of wines of all sorts, but they were friendly and helpful and thoughtful in their recommendations.
We ended up with a bottle of Sicilian Nero d’Avola (Case Ibidini) that was a delightful accompaniment to our Pesce small plates —especially the pumpkin and baccala ravioli. A bold red with brambly fruit and good spice, unoaked, nicely acidic, it’s terrifically food-friendly, has only 12.5 percent alcohol and costs less than $15.
In fact, I’ve had so many lovely Italian bottles of late that I’m thinking 2013 might be the year of Italian wines.
(I’m sure you don’t remember this, I didn’t remember it myself, but one of my 2012 resolutions was to explore the world of French wines. I must have gotten distracted. One of those distractions was, happily, a very local wine — though with roots in France — the Clarksburg Wine Company 2010 Chenin Blanc Vouvray Style, which I raved about in a recent column. I just got an email announcing that this very wine “is the top Chenin Blanc in the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2012 Top 100 Wine List.” Hooray for Yolo County!)
Anyway, back to Italy. The night after Pesce, we had ate “Asian fusion” cuisine at Saha and ordered the Rocca de Montemassi Vermentino, made in Tuscany from 100 percent hand-picked grapes. It was the least expensive wine on the list and just the right choice for a meal that had lots of smoky eggplant and chickpea flavors. Its bright citrus cut through the rich sauces and enhanced the earthy food.
Vermentino, I read, is “quickly becoming the ‘it’ white wine.” And since the grape grows well in our area, if you want to keep your wine purchases local, you can still be trendy. In fact, the largest vermentino producer in the United States is Uvaggio, which is based in Napa but sources its vermentino from 20 acres of vineyard planted near Lodi.
Winemaker Jim Moore, a vermentino enthusiast, says, “It has more dimensions and more life than pinot grigio, plus some peppery greenness and a bit of salty brackishness, but none of the grassiness associated with sauvignon blanc.” You’ll notice that California vermentino tend to have a higher alcohol content than the Italian.
And while I’m on the topic of Italian whites that start with “V,” I want to tell you about another delicious find, the Marchetti Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi (yes, a mouthful but so euphonious). Someone described this varietal — and this wine in particular — as “a thinking person’s pinot grigio,” adding that verdicchio is “one of the best whites in the Mediterranean world.”
Winemaker Maurizio Marchetti’s family has been making verdicchio for generations, and this citrus-y, mineral-ly example is a perfect winter white. I had it with halibut, but my partner thought it went equally well with her pasta. I’m guessing that the “thinking person” comment refers to this wine’s complexity, which is significant — and unusual in an under-$15 bottle (Co-op, currently on sale for $12.99). The warmer the wine got, the more layers were revealed, so I suggest serving this at just under room temperature. And if ever you were to buy wine just for the bottle, this lovely, sensuous one would be it.
For the holidays we drank a good deal of another Italian specialty, Prosecco. The reliable and easily available and completely delicious LaMarca (under $15 at both Co-op and Nugget) made our New Year’s Eve more festive, and we preceded Christmas dinner with one I hadn’t tried before — Valdo Prosecco brut, which at around $10 (Nugget) is really a bargain — refreshing, fruity (think white peach) with a hint of fresh lime. It’s excellent with appetizers and terrific for toasting.
One of the great advantages of Italian wines is that you can get very good ones for a relatively low price. A case in point: the Casamatta Toscano that Nugget and the Co-op have been offering for about $10. Made by “artist-turned cult-winemaker” Bibi Graetz, it’s an unoaked, earthy, and addictive Sangiovese that’s guaranteed to go well with all manner of Italian dishes. If you haven’t tried much Italian wine of late, this would be a great place to start.
And I’ve saved the best for last. My most recent love is the ’09 Corte Lonardi Rosso delle Venezie. I admit I bought it for an entirely superficial reason: “Lonardi” is the way most folks in my family pronounce our last name. Like the Marchetti Verdicchio, this wine is part of the “small vineyards discovery” collection from Small Vineyards importers in Seattle, who seem to be doing a terrific job of finding unusual bottles.
Wine-maker Silvia Lonardi serves this as the house wine in her family’s Roman restaurant. A blend of 80 percent merlot and 20 percent corvina, it’s earthy but bright, fresh with subtle dark fruit (think cranberry) notes, and altogether a food-friendly offering that’s just a little bit different. As soon as I finished the first bottle, I went right back to Nugget for a couple more. At around $10, it’s an amazing bargain.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com