Last Wednesday, a major Nor'easter was forecast, and it was thought we would have a foot or more of snow. I was disappointed as I had plans to attend a wine dinner in the North End. Fortunately, the forecast was wrong and we barely had a couple inches of snow, so I was able to easily trek into the city. And I am extremely glad that I did.
The four-course wine dinner, which I had been invited to as press, was held at Prezza, with a special guest, winemaker Lucca Currado of the Vietti Winery in Italy. Prezza is owned by Chef Anthony Caturano, pictured above, and he named the restaurant after the ancient Italian town where his grandmother was born. The restaurant has a rustic style, with influences from other Mediterranean regions, and emphasizes seasonality. Thus, the menu frequently changes to capitalize on what is seasonal.
Based on the dinner, I have to praise Chef Caturano for an amazing culinary experience. Each dish was superb and I savored every bite. I will most certainly return to try more of his cuisine, and I anticipate that I will equally as impressed. Based on my experience, I give Prezza my highest recommendation.
There were only twelve of us at this dinner, and we sat at a long table, beside a window looking out onto the street. I sat directly across from Lucca Currado, the guest of honor (pictured above). Lucca was extremely personable, with a good wit, and obviously passionate about wine. The wines he provided were also excellent, pairing very well with the various courses. Great food, great wine, and stimulating conversation made for a top-notch evening.
Lucca feels that "wine is made in the vineyard," so they view winemaking more as delivering the wine from the vineyard, rather than trying to manipulate it to their desires. It is very hands-off winemaking. They have also been organic for about 25 years. Lucca believes that they have "grapes and vineyards that no one else has." Amusingly, Lucca stated that our life is a "small fart" of about 40 years compared to the vineyard which has over 400 years. Thus, embrace the terroir and don't try to impart your own style onto the vineyard.
The evening began with a glass of the 2008 Roera Arneis, made from 100% Arneis which has not seen malolactic fermentation or oak. This was delicious, with a floral aroma, crispness, fine citrus flavors and hints of minerality. A refreshing wine which would also pair well with food.
The Vietti Winery actually bears much responsibility for saving Arneis, as well as making dry Arneis so popular in Italy. Arneis used to be referred to as the "wine of the mother-in-law," something which was often blended with other grapes. It was sometimes blended with Nebbiolo to make a Rose or made into a sweet wine. But, it was dying off, with less and less plantings, and could soon vanish completely.
Alfredo Currado though saw potential in Arneis, and desired to make a dry Arneis. So he somehow convinced some priests to assist him, by bringing him whatever Arneis vines they could find. Alfredo then started to experiment, making his first dry Arneis in 1968. This eventually became extremely popular, the government even taking cuttings, and the grape was saved from extinction.
Prior to our first course arriving, we received baskets of warm, fresh bread, some rustic Italian and foccacia, with a dish of olive oil and olives, black and green. Of course this started me off in a very positive mood, as everyone knows how much I love warm bread.
Our first course was Rabbit Saltimboca with Saffron Risotto, paired with the 2007 Dolcetto D’Alba Tre Vigne. The tender, rabbit loins were wrapped in prosciutto and were fantastic! I love rabbit and these loins were moist and flavorful, with the fine, salty flavor of the prosciutto. Plus, the risotto was delicious, reminding me a bit of paella due to the saffron flavor. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the intense flavors went well with the rabbit. This is a dish I would definitely order again if it were on the menu.
Lucca has spent extra time working on Dolcetto, taking it on as a special mission. The wine is made from old vine grapes, 100% Dolcetto D'Alba. I found it to have lush fruit flavors, including black cherry and blueberry, good acidity and soft tannins. An easy-drinking wine, it would be perfect for everything from pizza to pasta.
The second course was Goat Cheese Gnocchi with a Lamb Ragout and Pecorino Cheese, paired with a 2006 Barbera D’Alba Scarrone and a 2006 Nebbiolo Perbaco. This dish seduced my nose, the aromas so alluring. And its taste fulfilled the promise of its aroma, an exceptionally rich, rustic dish with plenty of pieces of very tender lamb and pillowy gnocchi. Each bite pleased me more and more, and I don't think this dish could have been any better. I could probably have eaten three plates of this dish.
The aroma of the Barbera was equally as compelling as the food. The fruit smells were so enticing, it took a time before I tasted it, simply reveling in the delightful aromas. On the palate, there was plenty of cherry flavor, with touches of vanilla and spice. It was smooth, with a moderately long finish, and went well with the pasta. I have tasted the Nebbiolo before, having enjoyed it then as well as now.
The final entree was Rosemary Braised Pork Shank with Asiago Polenta and Braised Greens, paired with a 2005 Barolo Castiglione and 2004 Barolo Lazzarito. The pork was meaty, very tender, and extremely flavorful. It just melted in your mouth, a rustic delight. The polenta was also very pleasing, a cheesy pleasure. Chef Caturano had scored a hat trick, three dishes that scored perfectly.
The two Barolos were fantastic, complex, rich and profound. The Castiglione is made from a blend of Barolo crus. The Lazzarito is from land where a hospital is located, which had been built about 400 years ago to deal with a local plague. The wines went well with the pork shank and it was difficult to choose which of the two I preferred. They both were compelling, and you would not be disappointed with either.
For dessert, we had a plate of assorted cheeses and accompaniments. I was quite happily sated at the end of dinner. The food had been exquisite, the wines sublime and the conversation compelling. It was nice to see and chat with Caroline and Eric, the owners of Vintages: Adventures in Wine. It was also nice to meet some new people. I was so glad that the weathermen were wrong, and that snow did not prevent me from attending this wonderful dinner.
I am sure I will return to Prezza, again and again.
24 Fleet St.