Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cavallotto Barolo Winemaker Dinner at La Pizza Fresca Ristorante, New York City

As New York Magazine sees it, "Most pizza places don't have an award-winning list of Italian wines that top out at $2000. Similarly, most oenophilic haunts don't offer certified-authentic Neapolitan pizza. La Pizza Fresca Ristorante, no ordinary pizzeria, does both." And this was the venue for the Cavallotto Winemaker Dinner jointly hosted by La Pizza Fresca and Morrell Wine and Spirits on November 7th.

About 60 people attended the event. The winery was represented by Alfio Cavallotto, one of three 4th generation children working at the estate.

La Pizza Fresca has a relatively narrow frontage but compensates for that fact with significant depth. You enter the restaurant into an abbreviated foyer which immediately gives way to a bar and an initial seating area which you traverse to get to the main dining room. The kitchen lies in the deep recesses of the building, beyond the dining room.

The front area of the restaurant was noisy and busy on the night of the dinner. Pleasantly so. I sought out someone to find out where exactly we were to be seated for the dinner. The young lady asked my name and, after consulting a list, gave me a glass of white wine and led me back to my assigned seat.

The wine that I was given as an aperitif turned out to be the Cavallotto Langhe Chardonnay 2014, a wine made from grapes grown on the hillside between the estate's two crus. The wine was fermented for 45 days in stainless steel autoclaves and aged sur lie -- with daily batonnage -- for 9 months. The wine was aged for an additional 6 months in bottle before being released to the market.

This wine did not show the richness that I associate with sur-lie aging or the rusticity and body that I have observed in international white varieties planted in the region. This wine was austere; thin and acidic with a dose of minerality and a distinct lime character. This wine would probably have been more appealing if it had been accompanied by a food item.

After the attendees had introduced themselves, and indulged in some "Barolo banter," Bradley Bonnewell, Wine Director at La Pizza Fresca, went to the front of the room to kickoff the proceedings. He introduced himnself and the restaurant, lauding its age (it has been in business for 20 years), its pizza (it has been certified for authenticity by AVPN, a Naples-based certifying authority), its imported bufala mozzarella (used on the in-house pizza), and the wine list (1600 selections, 30,000 bottles spread over three sub-lists). At the end of his presentation he introduced the Cavallotto representative, Alfio, one of three 4th generation children working at the estate.

Bradley Bonnewell, Wine Director at
La Pizza Fresca

Eric Guido of Morrell listening intently to Brad

The farm was established in 1928 (according to Alfio) and, until 1946, the family functioned as grape growers. In 1946 the estate became the first of the Castiglione Falletto growers to bottle its grape production and, two years later, was the first to produce Barolo on its own account. I covered Alfio's discourse and more in my post on the estate's grape-growing environment. Dinner service began upon the conclusion of his presentation.

The first course was a Carpaccio di Manzo, the componnets of which were beef tenderloin, parmigiano reggiano, arugula, sicilian extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. This dish was esthetically as well as palate-pleasing. Clean and tasty.

Carpaccio di Manzo

It was accompanied by the Barbera d'Alba Vigna Del Cuculo 2012 and the Barolo Bricco Boschis 2010. The grape sources for both of these wines have been described previously, as was the wine-making process. The Barbera exhibited some pungency and hints of rose, phenolics, and waxiness on the nose. On the palate, sharp, bright fruit, good acidity and weight, and drying tannins.

The 2010 Barolo Bricco Boschis displayed a nutty character along with charcoal, tar, roses, spice, savory herbs, red fruit and baking spices. Unfocused on the palate at this time. Savory fennel note. Unspectacular finish.

The second dish was a Ravioli di Vitello, made with hand-made pasta, veal, porcini, and mascarpone. By this time all pretensions at pairings had broken down. The wines were being brought out in pairs and the food was on one track and the wine on another.

Ravioli di Vitello
The second pair of wines brought to the table were the 2011 and 2012 Barolo Bricco Boschis. The 2011 had a phenolic character accompanying tamarind and spice. Tamarind on the palate. Silky tannins. The 2012 had tar and beautiful elegant roses on the nose. On the palate, more concentrated than the 2011. Full-engagement mouthfeel, big fruit core, and excellent finish.

The next two dishes were pizza: Pizza Savoia (pancetta, cremini, fontina, bufala mozzarella) and Pizza Margherita (San Marzano tomato, bufala mozzarella, and parmigiano reggiano).

Pizza Savoia

Pizza Margherita

The final dish was the Manzo Brasato al Barbera the components of which were barbera-marinated boneless beef short ribs and olive-oil crushed potatoes. This was, for me, the dish of the night. It had a great earthy flavor and was fall-off-the-bone tender.

The final three wines were the 2008, 2009, and 2010 Barolo Riserva Vignolo. The Nebbiolo fruit from this, the second of two crus owned by the estate, is only used to make a Riserva wine, attesting to the high regard in which this property is held. The 2008 and 2009 wines struck me as rather similar except for evolution. Bacon fat, tar, and roses on the nose. Great attack on the palate with a concentrated core of fruit. The 2010 had a phenolic character but that did not deter the aromas of tar and roses. This is a structured wine. A little green in the tannins. Great round mouthfeel and lengthy finish.

There was a clear distinction between the Riservas and the cru Barolos with the Riservas imparting a lot more pleasure at this time.

At the conclusion of the formal tasting, a small group of hard core Barolo fans refused to leave the building. We stood around talking and then decided to order something off the vaunted La Pizza Fresca list. The wine we opted for was the 1964 Barolo Giacomo Conterno. This wine was decanted. When poured into the glass, it displayed a delicate golden color, as of a faded tawny port. Heavenly on the nose. First scent as of an elegant rose. The tar was also delicate and faded into a hint of molasses. Burnt orange. Savoriness and spice on the nose as well as on the palate. A very textured wine with an exceedingly long finish. We meditated on this wine.

Clifton Hyde of Morrell, Alfio Cavallotto, and
the author
I had a very enjoyable evening and made some new Barolo friends. The organization of the tasting was not as tight as I would have liked. Alfio started out at the center of the room but then folks to the left could not hear him so he went to the front. So then we could not hear him. Some type of audio aid should have been provided, given the size of the crowd.

The decoupling of the wine from the food was also of some concern because things were being brought to the table in competition with each other. I have no problem with decoupling; that is the way that I do my tastings. But I do the tastings first (so that we can concentrate on the wines) and then the meal after (accompanied by wine but in a more relaxed fashion).

I would have liked Alfio to have spoken at least three specific times during the course of the evening: at the beginning; before or after the Bricco Boschis wines; and before or after the Vignolo wines. He spoke twice and, as I mentioned, I heard lees than half of what he said.

That being said, the wine, food, comapny, and locale all contributed to making this a wonderful evening.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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