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Sampling the flavors of the Abruzzi Print
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Those who missed the St. Regis dinner in Bangkok, the Sabatini dinner in Hong Kong, and more recently, the dinner at Marriott Hotel Manila’s Cru Steakhouse, will be happy (or regretful) to know that chef Marcello Spadone did not disappoint. 

The critically acclaimed chef recently won a Michelin star for his 25-year-old restaurant La Bandiera. Mr. Spadone, together with his wife Bruna and Italian wine maker Talamonti’s Rodrigo Redmont, were in Manila on their last stop of a three-country tour of Asia, which also included Singapore and Hong Kong.

The 90-plus diners at Wine Depot’s members-only event at Cru Steakhouse were treated to chef’s signature dishes, as well as enjoyed exclusive treats in the form of items handcarried by the visiting Italians -- including rare cheeses from the Appenine mountains and a recently released Rosé from Talamonti.

Spadone’s repertoire for his very-first Asian tour included signature dishes such as La Porchetta Abruzzese (an Italian pork roast), Pappardelle allo stracotto di papera muta (fresh pappardelle pasta served with goose ragout) and Capretto al Tegame (pan-roasted veal with roast potato).

Both chef and Talamonti wines come from the same region in Central Italy, the Abruzzi. Together, they did a tour of Asia introducing the wines to a market that is becoming increasingly in search of heretofore unknown (at least to Asia) European flavors. Wine Depot hosted the night’s dinner, and upon prodding as to how Manila ended up on the list of stops for the Michelin-starred chef, representatives from the importer and wine distributor said it was simply a question of knowing the right people.

Wine Depot represents the Italian wine maker Banfi in the country, and its Guillaume Blanchard, a frequent visitor to the country, was to have attested to his Italian colleagues about the quality of wine appreciation he has observed among Filipinos. And so the Philippines became one of a three-country tour of Asia for the Italians.

Mr. Spadone, who spoke almost no English, was quite apologetic during his after-dinner speech, saying that some ingredients have been substituted owing to their unavailability in local markets. But the apologies seemed unnecessary to the diners, as they gave the chef a rousing applause of appreciation after savoring his creations. Thecapretto was hardly missed as instead of veal, slices of very tender pan-roasted lamb were served. The chef also ditched the roast potatoes to accompany the lamb, and instead chose the relatively stronger flavors of roasted eggplants.

Paired with the dish was Talamonti’s Tre Saggi from 2008. Made from 100% of the native varietal, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, it is deep ruby in color, and is so perfectly integrated that the reported notes of blackcurrant, hazelnut and coffee took a while to register.

The name comes from the Italian phrase for “The Three Wise Men,” which, incidentally, comes from a famous fresco of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob found in a church in the region, and from the fact that Talamonti’s “three pillars” -- its chief wine maker, Lucio Matricardi, Mr. Redmont (who acts as the company’s sales director) and proprietor Antonella Di Tonno -- collaborated in creating Tre Saggi.

It was also an occasion to taste a new bottle from Talamonti, a Rosé. The Talamonti Rosé Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, a 2011 vintage, was handcarried by the visiting Italians for the dinner. Chosen to be paired with the Rosé is Mr. Spadone’s signature pork roast, which proved right one diner’s lighthearted comment that Rosés are indeed the pork of wines -- not as bold in flavor, but not timid, either. The roast was served together with delicate strokes of balsamic vinegar, pistachios and a single piece of sun-dried tomato to let the diner add sharpness or sweetness to the dish as he preferred.

The young Rosé was pale apple in color, and smelled of jasmine. It met the palate with flavors of cherry, and left with tastes of custard. “It seems to have a bit of acidity to it,” some diners observed. Mr. Redmont explained that high altitudes usually render some elevated acidity in wines (as it does with coffee). The Rosé was grown in select vineyards of the Talamonti property, but still within the Abruzzi. It is made of 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes, on an altitude of 300 meters above sea level. Talamonti produced a hefty 30,000 bottles of the vintage.

Bookending the dinner were similarly excellent dishes from Mr. Spadone, starting with a soup of white kidney bean purée, served with spinach and a fillet of fried black cod. It was a surprisingly hefty pairing with a light, sweet and semi-dry white from 2010, Talamonti’s Trabochetto. It is made from 100% Pecorino grapes, a low-yield variety that almost went extinct with the commercialization of many Italian vineyards.

Cheeses from the Appenine Mountains were brought in especially for the dinners, and were served right after the roast lamb and the indelible Tre Saggi. Mr. Spadone chose a duo of Caciocavallo (a sharp, creamy cheese made from sheep’s milk; it has often been compared to its more famous compatriot Parmegiano-Reggiano in its historical significance) and Pecorino di Farindola (also a strong cheese, also made from sheep’s milk but processed using pig’s rennet, or digestive enzymes). Paired with the cheeses were some orange marmalade, and Talamonti’s Kudos Colline Pescaresi 2008. The blend was of the native varietal Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Merlot -- which made for very intense berries and rich fruit flavors.

Mr. Redmont explained that Talamonti’s wineries are located in an unspoiled part of the Abruzzi, which is a famous winemaking and culinary region of Italy. The vineyards themselves are located in the municipality of Loreto Aprutino, which itself has a unique microclimate (mountains that are close to the seaside) that has produced not only excellent wines but also exceptional olive oil; the town, in fact, has a museum dedicated to olive oil. He also said that the 11-year-old winery operates almost exclusively on renewable energy, and that its wines are 80% organic. This last bit of trivia is hardly advertised on its bottles, which can be a good thing as Talamonti’s wines are relatively more affordable, ranging from P560 for the Trebbiano, and P1,200 for the Kudos. Talamonti wines are available locally through Wine Depot.

 Source: Business World Online, March 7, 2012