California Girl, the pseudonymous character on this blog formerly known as The Girlfriend, left town last June but just came back for a week-long visit. A dinner party was mandatory, and I had some California wines made from Italian grapes that I was dying to try. An Italian menu seemed like a natural fit, with one small hitch: California Girl does not eat tomatoes in any form, and she's not big on pasta. Now there's lots of Italian cuisine that doesn't involve tomatoes or pasta, but it was still a unique challenge.
For the evening's wine lineup, I had three wines from Rosa d'Oro of Kelseyville, California, plus an unrelated Italian sparkling wine in the middle. Rosa d'Oro is is Italian for "Golden Rose", and the Buttitta family has been growing grapes in California since the 1950s. In addition to wine, they also produce olive oil and single-grape vinegars, though the latter are currently sold out. Think about the bragging rights at a dinner party when you can whip out the Dolcetto vinegar.
The Rosa d'Oro wines and olive oil can currently be ordered from the website--check back later this year for the vinegar.
After an antipasto course of real bruschetta (just sliced crusty bread that's been toasted, tapped on the hot eye of the stove for grill marks, then rubbed with raw garlic and drizzled with olive oil) and a selection of salami/capicola/sopressata, it was time for the main feast...
As always, click on the photos for larger versions with more detail.
Primo piatto: Risotto with bay scallops, shrimp, and crawfish tails. Pretty easy to make, and using Kitchen Basics Seafood Stock provided great depth of flavor. I kept the risotto and vegetables separate from the shellfish, which I seared off in a skillet with butter before placing on top of the rice.
For the wine, I chose the 2007 Rosa d'Oro Dry Muscat Canelli, $16. Muscat Canelli goes by several different names, including the charming Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, or "white muscat with small berries". It's an old grape, reliably tracked back as far as ancient Greece and Rome. While often developed into sweet wines, here it shows the grape's dry yet fruity side. Light and enchanting aroma of pears, lemon, and flowers. Dry and delicate, but fruit forward with touches of lime and that distinct Muscat duskiness.
Insalata: This isn't Italian, but it was two days before Easter and I figured it might be fun to put something whimsical on the table. Half a quail on a bed of mesclun greens, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, and a small nest of alfalfa sprouts with half a chicken egg. Yes, a whole quail egg would have been more appropriate, but I had chicken eggs in the fridge that needed cooking.
I love to throw in a sparkler in the middle of the meal. This is the NV Rotari Rosé Talento Trento, a metodo classico sparkling wine from near the Italian Alps. It's 25% Chardonnay and 75% Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), giving it that little salmon blush we all love from blanc de noirs. This is crisp with massive bubbles, and has a bright, tart raspberry aroma and flavor to it. Excellent for cutting through the savory quail.
Secondo Piatto: Braciole and baby Brussels sprouts pan-fried in bacon. This is my second attempt at braciole, and since I didn't have the option of braising it in a rich tomato sauce, I roasted it on a rack. It's more rare than you see with a lot of braciole, but I had a choice between rare and tender or another couple of hours until it was falling-apart tender. The stuffing of ricotta, spinach, and fresh herbs is difficult to see here, but it provided great flavor. I served both of the reds with this course, with my fellow diners going back and forth between the two. Opinions varied, but the Refosco was my favorite of the night.
2007 Rosa d'Oro Primitivo, $18. Primitivo is the same grape as Zinfandel and its original Croatian name, Crljenak Kaštelanski. While wines bearing these three names may be made in different styles, the DNA evidence proves that they're all the same plant. This particular bottle was smoky, with a dusty nose full of black plum, a touch of jam, and a bold black cherry flavor that was a hit around the table.
2007 Rosa d'Oro Refosco, $24. You don't see a lot of wines made from Refosco here, except occasionally in blends, but just because there's not a whole section for it in the wine shop doesn't mean you shouldn't look for it. This particular wine had a fascinating aroma of nutmeg, raisins, stewed fruit, and a touch of toast. It had very mild tannins with deep flavors including cocoa and blackberry. Highly recommended.
Dessert was provided by my brother and his wife, and the evening stretched on for a few more hours. Good food, good wine, good friends... la dolce vita.