You have to be careful about the tannins. You need some sugar. That’s the key to a successful pairing. – Bobby Stuckey, Taste of Vail
There is something quite special about a meal where the food and wine are paired well. The meal by itself may be outstanding, and the wine drunk may be wonderful, but when the two components are expertly paired together the sum becomes much bigger than simply adding up the parts. My wife, Heather, and I recently had such an experience in Boulder, Colorado at Frasca, one of our favorite restaurants. Frasca is on the Pearl Street Mall and specializes in north-eastern Italian food, inspired by the cuisine found in the sub-alpine region of Friuli-Venezia, which shares borders with Austria, Slovenia, and the Adriatic Sea. Enjoyment of wine for us is a fundamental part of living, particularly when it’s part of a unique dining event, and finding a place, like Frasca, which can enhance a dining experience through original, thoughtful and deliberate food and wine pairing by a knowledgeable staff, can craft an evening of memories which linger and is able to move one to expand his or her desire to create similar events at home.
Frasca’s website describes their food as, “… classically Italian in many respects, but clearly reflect(ing) the international influences of the region, and the culinary sensibilities of the Friulian people– rustic yet sophisticated.” It goes on to emphasize the importance Frasca places on, “… a harmonious and uncomplicated relationship with wine.”
There are two people responsible for the success of this restaurant concept; the co-owners of Frasca Bobby Stuckey and Lachland Mackinnon-Patterson. The impressive resumes for both individuals I have abbreviated here inspires much confidence in their abilities.
Bobby Stuckey is a celebrated Master of Wine Sommelier, one of only 94 in the USA, and just over 120 worldwide. He has worked in restaurants in Arizona, Aspen, and most famously at the French Laundry where he received numerous awards, including the James Beard Foundation’s ‘Outstanding Wine Service Award’, ‘Outstanding Restaurant Service Award’, and ‘Wine Director of the Year’. It was at the French Laundry where he met Lachland, and the two conspired to create Frasca.
Chef Lachland Mackinnon-Patterson trained in Paris at the prestigious Ecole Gregoire-Ferrandi. He then worked at several Michelin rated restaurants in Europe before moving to the Napa Valley to work as Chef de partie, and help develop the diverse menu under Chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry Restaurant. After numerous trips across Italy, including the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, Lachland and Bobby were inspired to create a Boulder based restaurant that conjured up the essence of eating and drinking in Friuli, Italy. Because of his efforts at Frasca, Lachland was named one of Food and Wine’s top ten new chefs in America, and was awarded the James beard Foundation’s ‘Rising Star Chef’. He was also awarded the James Beard ‘Best Chef in the Southwest Region of the US in 2008’. The point of describing these accolades is to point out that when it comes to food and wine pairing, these two are uniquely qualified.
My wife and I are repeat customers to Frasca for this very reason, and in fact, we have made Frasca our anniversary restaurant destination, although we often stop by for dinner if we happen to be in town. Our most recent visit was just such a case, and they had availability on a Saturday night despite short notice and their perpetually booked seating schedule. We were seated at the kitchen table which actually is within the confines of the kitchen, so you could see the staff preparing meals, but still out of the way so as not to bother the flow. What an experience! It felt as if we were in the middle of Iron Chef America. We immediately were poured a glass of Tocai Friuliano as we sat down. Bobby Stuckey came to the table and greeted us. I told him that instead of purchasing a bottle or two of wine, we would love to have our wines paired specifically with each dish. With a smile he said it would be his pleasure and disappeared. What followed was a symphony of food and wine pairing that was so memorable, I felt compelled to record it here.
As for the specifics, I have decided to simply list the food and wine pairings my wife and I had in order of the Frasca traditional Quatro Piatti fixed price menu, because the names tend to bog down:
Stuzzichini (Italian correspondent to Amuse-busche):
“Zampare”: Acorn pork trotter, Frisee, and stone ground mustard.
Wine: Bereche & Fils Brut Reserve, (Montagne de Reims, France)
Karl had: “Polenta con Sugo di Capra”, Four-story Hill Farm kid goat, soft polenta and Ricotta salad.
Wine: 2011 Ronco del Gnemiz Schioppettino “Invinidi Jacopo”, (Colli Oriental del Friuli, Italy).
Heather had: “Pesci Crudo”, New Zealand Snapper, Colatum and Puntarelle.
Wine: 2011 Burja Malvazija, Slovenia.
Karl had: “Casoncelli”, a traditional Bergamaschi stuffed pasta with multiple types of meat.
Wine: 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti, tre Vigne, Piemonte, Italy.
Heather had: “Mezzaluna”, Baby artichoke, Cardoon, and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Wine: 2011 Elio Grasso Dolcetto d’Alba “Dei Grassi”, Piemonte.
Karl had: “Uccello”- a Poularde (milk fed chicken), hedgehog mushroom and Calabrian chili with a butter sauce.
Wine: 2010 Castel Feder Pinot Nero Glener, Alto-Aldige, Italy.
Heather chose a second primi dish: “Fagotelli”, Fontina Val d’Aosta and wild mushroom.
Wine: 2010 Castel Feder Pinot Nero, Alto-Aldige, Italy.
“Crostada di Pompelmo”, Coconut, almond, grapefruit, pastry cream and yogurt gelato.
Wine: 2011 La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti “Bricco”, Quaglia, Piemonte, Italy.
The “Casoncelli”, was one of the most memorable pasta dishes I have ever had. It was important for the wine to complement, and not overshadow the delicate pasta dish. The Elio Grasso Dolcetto d’Alba, which had no oak, was the best wine I had ever tasted with an artichoke dish. For both of us, our favorite wine of the night on its own merits was the Castel Feder Pinot Nero. Low in oak, and bursting with cherry and strawberry notes, this versatile wine paired well with both my Uccello and Heather’s “Fagotelli”. In many ways the wines chosen to complement each dish was not a wine I would seek out individually to add to my cellar on its own merit. However, the way each glass of wine complemented the food it was served with was so exact, that I could imagine no better pairing. In a high caliber restaurant such as Frasca, the “wines by the glass” section of the wine menu are not cheaper, inferior wines, but are actually chosen by the wine staff to match the offerings on the menu by way of geographic provenance, and flavor profiles.
In a recent interview with “eatocracy” (06/14/2011), Bobby related some basic principles with pairing wine with Italian food. Drink Local: It goes without saying that regional wines and food click together. Tangular: Tangy and angular is the way to describe many of the red wines from Piemonte, and their flavors work well with foods from northern Italy, like Friuli. The heavy tannic Piemonte wines pair better with proteins that have some fat in it. Full white wines, like those from Friuli-Venezia-Giuli (Friuliano, Malvasia, Ribolla, Pinot Blanco), carry more heft and richness than many other white wines. In addition, they are super food friendly. They are balanced, have bright acidity, and possess flavors laced with pure varietal character. Bobby loves drinking indigenous wines, because, “Italy is where it’s at for an obscure native drinking experience. You can drink something that’s both delicious and an enological living artifact.” Finally, Bobby says, “Remember, our palates are only used to the thresholds that we get them used to. If you don’t eat spicy dishes, then a plate of Mexican food seems a lot hotter for you than to someone who grew up in Arizona.” In other words, if all you ever drink are California Cabs, then everything else will seem less “wine-like”, if it doesn’t taste like a California Cab. The best way to get better at pairing Italian food with wine is to drink more Italian wine with Italian food.
My wife and I love going out to eat. In most restaurants, especially the restaurant chains, the wine selections are limited to a few white and a few red wine choices. When that is the case, the diner is pretty much limited on the food and wine pairings to simple, generic white with chicken or fish, and red with steak or pork. It is easier to accomplish effective combinations at home with a group of wine savvy friends where each person or couple is responsible for one dish and one bottle of wine to pair with it. This can be extremely satisfying, especially when creativity on the part of both the dish and the wine are present. Every memorable dinner party I have been too has been one where the host or participants have made an extra effort to properly pair both food and beverage. In most large cities around the world there are restaurants like Frasca, where the food and wine interaction becomes almost an art form, and the pairings are expertly accomplished, because the knowledge base of why certain flavors accentuate each other so well is emphasized. So pick a major event, be it a birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, or whatever else that might have significance to you, and treat yourself and your loved one to an explosion of the senses, whose memory will linger – both on the palate and in your reminiscence. That’s all for now.