Poetic Pairing: Dante’s Italian Wine and Aged Beef

April 8, 2015

It was an evening of pure gluttony - four courses of tender, succulent aged beef; each dish perfectly paired with an Italian craft wine from Valpolicella, one of the country’s finest wine growing areas. In fact, the grapes of one of those wines hails from the most historic estate in Valpolicella, once owned by descendants of the 14th century poet Dante Alighieri.

“And that you may the less marvel at my words,
Look at the sun's heat that becomes wine
when combine with the juice that flows from the vine.”

~ Dante Alighieri
Purgatory, Canto 25: on the terrace of gluttony

The evening’s dinner was set at The Metropolitan Grill, a classic steakhouse located a stone’s throw from Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The Met, housed in an historic 1903 building, is rich in tradition, from the tuxedo-bedecked maître d’ and drool-worthy display of prime cuts of beef to dark mahogany walls and plush tufted banquets. It’s where classic cuts like filet mignon, Chateaubriand, Delmonico, and porterhouse are carved tableside. Ladies, wear your best heals, gents, put on a jacket and tie - this is one classy joint.

The Italian wines paired with our dinner that evening were introduced by Raffaele Boscaini, a 7th generation wine producer in the Veneto region. The Boscaini family, owners of Masi Agricola, have been winemakers and vignerons in Veneto, an area known best for Amarone and Recioto (or Recioto della Valpolicella, a sweet dessert wine). The name Masi is from Vaio dei Masi, the small Valpolicella valley the Boscaini family purchased at the end of the 18th century. Skilled at both Amarone and Recioto, the Masi family has honed their artistry, combining historic winemaking techniques (known as the Appassimento technique, or drying of the grapes) with modern technology - resulting what Masi president Sandro Boscaini refers to as “modern wine with an ancient heart.” In 1964, the Masi family created the “Supervenetian” category of wines with the release of Campofiorin, a double fermented wine inspired by techniques used in making Amarone.
We began our tasting with jumbo Alaskan weathervane scallops wrapped in Prosciutto along with a smoked and thinly shaved tenderloin carpaccio served on golden crostini with Dijon mustard, capers, chopped egg, and red onion. Both were paired with Masianco Pinot Grigio e Verduzzo delle Venezie (2012), a Supervenetian white wine that is full of personality. Its tropical fruit aromas and traces of honey and citrus make this a perfect aperitif to serve with hors d’oeuvres as well as light meats and fish.

Executive chef Eric Hellner introduced the first course, a slow braised Wagyu short rib cake served with a Merlot demi-glace and braised red cabbage, which was paired with two Supervenetian Campofiorin wines. The 2010 Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese (the original Supervenetian) is made from local Veronese Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes which are double fermented. A small percentage of semi-dried grapes (of the same varieties) are added, imparting deep notes of plum and cherry and spices, such as cinnamon and vanilla. It has bright acidity but finishes softly on the palate. This well-rounded wine is easy to pair with richly sauced pastas, grilled and roasted meats, and bold cheeses. Also paired with this course was the Brolo (equivalent to the French ‘clos’) Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese (2009), a cuvée version of Campofiorin that is rich, complex and velvety. Its extra complexity comes from the Oseleta grape, a rare grape that was rediscovered by the Masi family. This small grape is used in blending and imparts dark berry notes, minerality and gentle tannins.  

Our entree course was a 42-day aged boneless ribeye. Chef Hellner hand-selects each cut of Washington Prime and Idaho American Wagyu beef, which he then custom dry-ages. The steaks are then seared over imported Mesquite charcoal, imparting a deep smoky flavor and sealing in the succulent juices. This unctuous steak was served with the 2009 Costasera Amarone della Valpolicalla Classico, a complex dry wine that is full of the flavors of dried fruit, chocolate, and traces of balsamic. Known as a “wine for meditation,” it’s a great sipping wine on its own, with dinner, or even after dinner. Pair it with hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano and grilled or roasted red meats. Alongside the 2009 was the 2008 Riserva di Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, also a blend of Corvina, Rondella, and Molinara, but containing the addition of 10% Oseleta. This beautiful wine has the deep aromas of baked cherries and plums but with notes of coffee and cocoa. It has a long and elegant finish that lingers on the palate. Though ideal with succulent red meats and aged cheeses, it makes for a wonderful after dinner wine as well.

For our dessert course we were presented with a gorgeous selection of cheeses: Fourmet de Amber, Washington's own Cougar Gold (an aged white Cheddar), and Humboldt Fog, alongside honey comb and quince paste. These were paired with Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC (2007), the grapes of which come from the Alighieri family estate. The best bunches of grapes in this wine are selected and dried on bamboo racks in farmhouse lofts until their weight has reduced by approximately 40%, only the Corvina grapes being affected by botrytis, or noble rot, a mold that imparts a distinctive sweetness in wine. This rich and noble wine pairs magnificently with game meats like quail, red meats, and strong hard cheeses such as parmesan. It also is an exceptional after dinner wine.

More pairing suggestions for you own dinner party (see all the Masi wines here):

Modello Bianco delle Venezie
A light and floral Pinto Grigio with faint green notes. A great aperitif that also pairs well with light pasta dishes, white meats such as poultry, and vegetarian dishes.

Campolongo di Torbe Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG
A deep red Amarone wine that is excellent to sip on its own or paired with red and game meats, and mature cheeses such as gorgonzola.

Tupungato Passo Doble Rosso di Argentina
This wine combines the double fermentation technique with the terroir of the Uco Valley in Argentina. If you like Malbec, you’ll love this deep red wine with its complex notes of licorice and baked fruit. It’s a versatile wine that pairs with a variety of foods. Try it with grilled meats and bold cheeses.

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Editorial disclosure: Foodista was generously hosted by The Metropolitan Grill and Masi Agricola in exchange for our honest review. No other compensation was received for this post. 


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