I have had an amazing semester here in Italy, but I seem to only talk about my travel and experiences in the city of Florence. I feel like since I am studying abroad I should talk to you at some point about how my classes work here in Florence. This past week my Tuesday afternoon class was postponed until later in the night in order for us to go on a “field trip” of sorts. Did I mention that this class was my Wine and Food Pairing Class?
Our “field trip” was a special four course dinner that we were required to attend instead of class. During class we usually listen to our professor lecture for the first half of class about the different regions in Italy and the food and wine that comes from that region, then cook, eat and drink during the second half of the class. It was a weird change to have the food prepared for us. Normally I really like the cooking part so I know I will be able to cook it when I go home and live on my own.
The mandatory dinner was held at Casa Toscana, right next to the Piazza Santa Croce. It was a very nice little restaurant with beautiful décor and stone walls. Slowly student after student piled into one room and sat at these beautiful tables waiting for class to start.
The appetizer, or antipasto as it is called here, was Prosciutto di Pratomagno con Mozzarella Fior di Latte. With this was paired a white wine called Villagiulia. This wine is produced with Greco di Tufo grapes in the Irpinia region in 2010. It is a good wine for food because it is 12.5% alcohol and it is a DOCG classification. This is the highest classification a wine can earn by following the strictest restrictions when it comes to growing the grapes and producing the wine. When it comes to wine tasting, there are three things you observe: sight, nose, and palate. When looking at the wine, it was the color of egg whites, almost bordering on clear water. The surface of the wine indicates how acidic the wine will be. This is known as brilliance. This particular wine had a low brilliance.
Smelling a wine is always difficult because you have to ignore the smell of alcohol and smell the actual aromas. This wine smelled strongly of white grapes. Many of you are saying “well that’s obvious, white wine is made from white grapes.” However, there was a small hint of pear and green apple behind the smell of grapes. There was also an earthy scent to it, almost as if you were standing in the woods.
When you sip a wine, there is more to it than just tasting it. There is the feel of it on the inside of your mouth. The body of a wine describes how heavy the liquid feels on your tongue. This wine had a very light body; it floated across my tongue almost like air. There is also the feeling inside your mouth after you have swallowed, which is related to the acidity in the wine. A highly acidic wine will leave your mouth feeling very dry after drinking it. This wine was highly acidic and left my mouth feeling very dry. It was a semi-sweet wine that had a very crisp flavor with the apple and pear coming through that much more.
After all of that process comes the best part: the eating. The prosciutto was salty and delicious, and that much better when it was eaten at the same time as the creamy mozzarella. It was so good I almost forgot to taste my wine again to see how the wine’s flavors were changed. After the food the wine became very refreshing. It felt as though it was cleaning my mouth from the saltiness of the prosciutto. The pair also toned down the fruity flavors of the wine. Personally, I loved this pair together.
The primi piatti was next which consisted of Penne al Forno Con Polpette, aka Baked Penne with Meatballs. There was a red wine paired with the pasta called Nero d’Avola, the same name as the grapes that produce it. It is produced in Sicily by the Borghi Company in 2010. It is 13% alcohol and it is an IGT classification. Not as high as a DOCG, but still a good wine. The wine was a deep maroon color with a very deep purple mixed in. It had a medium brilliance that was reinforced with the medium acidity that came when tasting it, although in red wines it is known as tanninic. It smelled spicy; not as like chili spicy, but more as like you had just opened a spice rack. You could definitely smell the oak and earthiness of the barrels it was in at one point during the production. It also smelled a lot of red berries, raspberries and blackberries specifically. When tasting, it has a medium body with a high alcohol content. The sweetness of the red berries did come through with a hint of blood orange. After eating the pasta, the wine was left without the bitterness from before, probably happened because of the greasiness of the dish. It left behind, however, the delicious fruity tastes that were harder to find behind the bitterness. While I wasn’t too fond of the actual pasta, the wine and the pasta did go well together.
The secondo piatti was Tagliata di Manzo con Rucola e Grana, aka Sliced Beef with Arugula and Parmesan. This was paired with another red wine, Primitivo, named after the type of grapes. It is a highly alcoholic wine at 13.5% made in the Puglia region by Feudo Monaci in 2010. It is also an IGT classified wine. The color was a deep ruby red that can also be described as crimson. It had a similar spicy smell to it as the previous red wine, but this one had a stronger smell of the berries. It was highly tanninic with a semi-dry taste that finished with the fruity berries. Now, after realizing that we were having beef, I was really really excited. I haven’t had any kind of beef in a very long time unless it was with some sort of pasta. But, when I went to eat it, it literally had the texture as if it was sitting in the grill all day. Besides the fact that the beef was like leather, the pair was just okay in my book. It was less bitter overall, but it also got rid of the fruity finish. It just took away from the wine, and didn’t add anything to the pair.
Personally dessert is my favorite part of a meal. Not only because is it a sweet treat to end the meal, but a new addition that I have come to love while being in Italy. For dessert we had Crostata di Ricotta, aka a Ricotta Tart. With this tart we had a dessert wine called Cantine 1880 by Pellegrino. It is produced in Sicily with Zibibbo grapes. It is an IGT classification and it is 16% alcohol. Most dessert wines have higher alcohol content than other wines because of the way they are made. This high alcohol content is due to the increased amount of sugars from the dried grapes, which also makes it very sweet, perfect for desserts. This high alcohol content also means that you are supposed to take very small sips and let them sit at the front of your mouth in order to actually taste the wine, not just feel the burn of the alcohol. At first I thought they were giving us bottled water because in the dark room the liquid almost looked clear. But after close examination it had the slightest yellow tint to it. The smell of it was absolutely heavenly. It smelled sweet all around, but many different kinds of sweet. There was a layer of floral sweetness, closely related to a rose. Then there was the hint of champagne, and there was also the overpowering honey smell. But when all of these combined it only smelt of one thing: Fruit Loops. I kid you not, it smelled like I just opened a fresh box and stuck my nose in it. When I tried it, the champagne and honey tastes were very pertinent. Although it tasted like champagne, there were no bubbles. It had a very light body making it very easy to drink. After trying the cake/tart with the wine, it completely upped all of the flavors. It became intensely sweet, almost too sweet for my liking. It increased the flavor or the honey and you could now taste the floral scent. I personally liked the wine by itself before the cake. I love sweet stuff, but it felt like my teeth were going to rot out of my head.
As dinner concluded students slowly made their way out discussing the different dishes and wines; what they liked, what they didn’t, who’s beef was perfectly cooked and who’s was like rubber. It was a beautiful dinner and my stomach was full and happy with the overall meal. I wish it was something I could have shared with my family back home. With the good and the bad, this clearly was the best class that I have ever attended.