Dinner with Joe at the Penn Club

I attended another wine dinner at the Penn Club last night with our friend Joe. Since we were both suffering with knee injuries, we took the elevator to the dining room. When the doors opened, we were greeted by Tony Kontos, the Restaurant Manager. Introducing Joe, I explained that Margaret was indisposed this evening.

“Nothing serious, I hope,” he asked, then, assured that she would be fine, Tony handed us flutes of Pasqua Prosecco Treviso. The wine was dry, crisp and fresh, with floral notes, good acidity and lively effervescence.

We continued with the Prosecco through the first course, Foie Gras Torchon with grilled peaches and truffled honey. Ordinarily, I would have chosen something sweeter, like a sauterne, to accompany foie gras, but the persistent acidity and cleansing bubble action of the Prosecco worked well with the rich starter.

Oh, and about the varietal, prosecco: in 2009 the name was changed to glera. It seems that Prosecco, the grape, grows in DOC-designated areas (Conegliano and Valdobbiadene), as well as in more far afield IGT areas, in the northeastern Veneto region of Italy. When seeking DOCG status, Prosecco the wine was confused with prosecco the grape, so the grape was renamed glera, an old synonym. This solution, no doubt satisfactory to the Italian authorities, strikes me as akin to renaming the Triborough Bridge; it will take a generation or more to catch on, if it ever does.

For our second course, Potato Crusted Sea Bass Fillet with fava bean purée and port wine jus, we drank a Chilean sauvignon blanc, 2010 Viña Casablanca Nimbus Estate. This single vineyard wine arrived far too cold to appreciate at first, but as it warmed it seemed to expand in the glass, becoming a fulsome expression of the varietal, more in the old world tradition, with a grassy nose and distinct minerality, rather than the new world, all grapefruit and melon.

Lucy Lombardi Molinaro, the wine rep who hosted the dinner, called our attention to a hint of jalapeño, although I can’t say that I detected it. Joe, sipping with intensity, perhaps to be polite, agreed that something was there that might be jalapeño. Of the four wines we drank, the Chilean sauvignon blanc was Joe’s favorite.

The meat course of Grilled Lamb Chop and Leg of Lamb Ragout with wild mushroom gnocchi and wild arugula called for a big red, and that’s what we got with a 2007 Famiglia Pasqua Amarone della Valpolicella. This was my favorite. Although a decade or more too young, the wine was elegant and full-bodied. It had a deep cherry color to match its cherry nose, along with a flavor of plums and olives. Joe wasn’t sure about the olives, thinking that perhaps it was oak I tasted; he may very well have been right.

Amarone, like all Valpolicella, is a blend of corvina, rondinella and molinara grapes, with some allowable variations. In this case, the molinara was replaced by corvinone and negrara. Amarone is made by first drying the hand-harvested grapes in the sun, or in drying houses, for about 3 months, thereby raising the sugar content by 25% or more. In January or February, the grapes – or more properly, raisins — are pressed and fermented for a month or more, usually attaining upwards of 15% alcohol. The mash is pressed again and racked into stainless steel, where it undergoes malolactic fermentation. From there, the wine goes into small oak barrels where it ages for almost 2 years before bottling.

Thrifty Italians use the mash from Amarone production, consisting of skins, pulp, seeds and stems, to make another variety of Valpolicella called Ripasso. In this process, partially aged Valpolicella is brought back into contact with the Amarone mash. The sugar in the mash feeds a second fermentation, adding tannins, color and alcohol to the wine.

Dessert was a Rhubarb Tarte with macadamia nut gelato. The dessert wine was another Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Santa Carolina Late Harvest. Light-bodied, and medium sweet, the wine had aromas of peaches and honeysuckle. Making the rounds, Lucy informed us that there was 13% gewürztraminer in there, not a grape I ordinarily associate with Chile.  It was fragrant and delicious, albeit the least successful of the four wines of the night — a tribute to the high quality of the selections.

Joe and I pushed ourselves away from the table, bid goodnight to Tony and Lucy, then limped downstairs to catch a cab home.

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