Last weekend, my wife and I had the chance to enjoy a really nice meal out with our very good friends. We chose an Italian restaurant known for fresh ingredients and earthy dishes. I knew they would have a long list of interesting Italian wines, but I didn't want to interrupt the flow of the evening by hunkering down with the wine list in solitary isolation. I find this to be a problem sometimes because I want to spend time making an educated decision on the wine for a special occasion but I don't want to it to take forever while our glasses sit empty and our server gets distracted.
In order to avoid such a scene, I decided to spend some time looking over the wine list in advance. The day before our dinner, I checked out what their current offerings were and had two whites and two reds picked out that were sure to be crowd pleasers. And knowing my group and the dinner selections they would likely be making, it made all the more sense to have some ideas on wine before we even sat down at the table.
Fortunately this restaurant had their wine list pretty well up-to-date on their website which made things really easy. Most restaurants don't have this posted, but will often have a printed list that can be faxed out. When restaurants can't even provide that, your only opportunity to preview the wine list is to stop by in advance and take a look. For special occasions, this makes a lot of sense. For important dinners, it allows the evening to flow and makes the host look good.
The wines we enjoyed at the Italian restaurant were really good. We started off with a half bottle of white wine and finished with a bottle of red. Prior to heading off for dinner, we had a bottle of Prosecco bubbly and some bite-sized appetizers at home.
The white wine was Bucci Verdicchio 2003, and my tasting notes are as follows:
Creme brulee and floral, perfumed nose
Very nice texture on the palate; consistently smooth and thick
Finish is like a medium-dry Sherry from Jerez, Spain
This is an interesting white Italian. It was an excellent accompanyment to our various antipasti and other appetizers. The texture was intriguing and the finish captivating. The Verdicchio grape is a lesser-known varietal planted in a small region in Central Italy, East of Umbria. Not all wine shops will have it represented. For the money, it was enjoyable, at $24 for the 375mL bottle.
The red wine was Contratto Tenuta Alberta Barbaresco 1996, and my tasting notes are as follows:
Huge nose of candied cherry, plum, and exotic spices
Velvety-smooth palate, round but firm
Notes of earth, mushrooms, and tobacco on the long, smooth finish
This red was a crowd pleaser. All four of us enjoy good Italian red and are becoming fond of Piedmont reds (within our budget constraints, of course). These wines can take a long time to mature and can break the bank. We paid $90 for this wine at the restaurant, which was worth every penny. It had such a nice bouquet that it was enjoyable just to smell it. As the layers emerged, the wine evolved in the glass and showed different characteristics that boosted our enjoyment of the meal. This is what good wine should do!
I'm glad I had the chance to preview the wine list because it would have been frustrating to figure all this out at the table. When you have the opportunity to do this, take advantage of it. When should enhance a meal, not get in the way of it or cause distress and anxiety at the table. Raise a glass!