I feel like the majority of my food reviews are Italian… There’s Pulia (twice), Restaurant Evoluzione and the very lovely dinner I had with my Mum last year looking down on Lake Como. So I think it’s fair to say I both love and know my Italian food.
The thing I love about eating Italian in London is that it’s not all about pizza and pasta. Sure, they may feature, but when they do they’re more authentic than a bowl of bolognese, an overly creamy carbonara or a thick-based pizza. There’s more of a focus on small bowls of pasta that are more a starter than a main course (primi piatti), meats and seasonal vegetables. They’re dishes I couldn’t and wouldn’t whip up one evening after work and they’re what I consider to be real Italian food.
With that in mind I was pleased with the food on offer at the wine maker’s dinner at Ristorante Frescobaldi that I attended. The latest in the series, the wine maker’s dinners happen every three months and focus on a different vineyard from the Frescobaldi family.
This month there was a focus on the Castiglioni vineyard which is about 30km south-west of Florence in the Tuscan hills.
After some parmesan and Italian ham alongside Leonia Pomino Brut 2011 and canapés of ham and figs and mushroom and truffles, we were welcomed inside the lovely restaurant. There were twinkly lights entwined in vines on the ceiling and a well-stocked wine cellar in the corner.
The history of Frescobaldi wines
After taking our seats we were introduced to Diana Frescobaldi who is part of the 31st generation of Frescobaldi winemakers. The Frescobaldi’s story began 700 years ago when they were the first wine makers to plant French grape varieties in Italy.
They chose varieties such as merlot and pinot noir which tend to ripen earlier than traditional Italian grape varieties and therefore, even in a cold climate, they could still ripen.
This turned out to be a grand idea and in 1897 the Frescobaldi Chablis won gold at the World Trade Fair in Paris, the same year the Eiffel Tower was built.
Since then the wine making has clearly gone from strength to strength, the family’s Castiglione vineyard now owns 157,000 hectares of Chianti vineyard out of a possible 23,000!
The Wine Maker’s Dinner
The wine maker’s dinner comes, as you would expect (and hope!) with wine pairings. There’s not just one wine per course, but, with two dishes you even get to try two wines of different vintages. You certainly get excellent value for money with not only delicious wine but food too!
First up on the menu was Tuna carpaccio with avocado. It being the first time I’ve had tuna carpaccio, I was surprised at how meaty it tasted but the zing from the orange and creaminess of the avocado went perfectly with it.
The starter was paired with Chianti Castiglioni 2015, a full-bodied, fruity red wine.
Our primi piatti was Oxtail ravioli with fresh celery and citrus remoulade. The ravioli came with a delicious, flavoursome sauce that had everyone around the table “mmming” with delight. The ravioli itself was thin and served perfectly al-dente. This was paired with two glasses of wine: the estate’s iconic Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2013 and 2008.
Given that they were the same wine, the two tasted very different. The 2013 year, we were told, was characterised by abundant rainfall in the spring followed by a hot summer in June and July leading to an excellent harvest. This led to a wine with aromas of dark red fruits compared to the 2008 (my favourite of the evening) which was more reminiscent of lighter red fruits; strawberries and raspberries. It was sweeter and very easy to drink.
Up next was pan-fried lamb chop with pea purée and roasted artichoke. I’m not someone who’s excited by lamb every since a bad experience in Italy where I’m pretty sure I ate a lamb’s testicle… I still eat lamb though and I’m glad I ate the lamb at Ristorante Frescobaldi which had been seared to lock in the juicy flavour and then cooked to perfection; still a little bit pink but not too much so. That’s how I want to always eat lamb.
The lamb was paired with another two glasses of wine the Giramonte 2011 & 2002. Unlike the red fruit aromas of the previous wine, the Giramonte has impressions of blueberry, blackberries and sour cherry. It paired well with the lamb, but my favourite remained the previous wine.
And then to dessert, a hazelnut millefoglie and chocolate. I was expecting a fancy looking French millefeuille to arrive but the millefoglie looked a little like a deconstructed one. It was delicious though with nibs of chocolate, crunchy hazelnut and a creamy filling. This was matched with a dessert wine, the 40 Altari 2008, Vinsanto del Chianti d.o.c.
The name of the dessert wine 40 altari, or 40 altars, is so called as back in the 1600s the Frescobaldi family had had to make it up to The Pop by building 40 altars across Tuscany!
The wine was a very different colour to what I normally associate with dessert wines (not that I’ve had that many…). I usually think of them as being yellowish in colour, but this dessert wine was pink, more like a rose. It was incredibly sweet and delicious though and the ideal way to finish off the dinner.
Thoughts on the wine maker’s dinner
The wine maker’s dinner was, without a doubt, absolutely delicious. If you love Italian food you’re going to love it. I loved the wine pairings and how generous Ristorante Frescobaldi was with it too!
You weren’t strictly limited by the amount of wine you could have and bottles of each wine were left on the table should you want more. For most of us though, I think it’s fair to say 6 wines, plus the introductory prosecco is more than enough!
For the price of £80, the wine maker’s dinner is great value for a special evening out and I’d highly recommend attending the next one if you can!