Perfect Pairings brought to you by Unwined
Story + Recipe by Brian Acton
Giampaolo Venica doesn’t mince words. He is a winemaker with a clear vision, unwavering in the face of trends. This should be unsurprising given that his family’s winemaking history in the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia—an undulating land situated in the northeast corner of Italy, sandwiched between Italy’s Veneto to the west, Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east—dates back to at least the 1930s. They’ve seen trends come and go, both within their region and across the world of wine. Just in that time, with the advent of modern winemaking technology, they’ve seen their home region shift from a focus on red wine production to producing highly sought after cool crisp whites; while the wine world itself has bounced seemingly aimlessly from fashion to fashion—barrel fermented Chardonnay, ABC (anything but Chardonnay), Grüner Veltliner, 200% new oak and so on.
His new project under the Dalia Maris label calls into question the dictum underpinning many modern white wine production techniques, namely that, above all, a white wine must first be refreshing. This typically translates into low alcohol, high acid wines. Obviously, there is merit to this approach, as anyone who has enjoyed a taut Sancerre or a flavorful but brisk Kabinett Riesling on a summer afternoon can attest to. But, not every grape variety or terroir is best expressed through a wine that is picked early, fermented in stainless steel and has a final alcohol of 12.5% or less. What this thinking seems to say is that white wine is for refreshment, while red wine is for complexity. This, however, cuts the wine drinker off from a whole world of enjoyment.
Fun Wine Fact: Corked bottles don't provide a perfect seal, which can lead to a spoiled product. Bottle sealing wax, as demonstrated above, prevents the product from absorbing air and bacteria into it while it is being stored. The bottle sealing wax protects the cork from deteriorating, too. Moisture in the air can speed up the deterioration of the cork.
While seemingly radical, especially given that linear, bright whites put his native Friuli on the map with wine drinkers, Giampaolo’s thoughts dovetail perfectly with those expressed by Jean-Emmanuel Simond, wine writer for the French "La Revue du vin de France." In his recent interview with former sommelier, Levi Dalton, Simond decried this trend for low alcohol, high acid white wines for compromising a wine’s ability to gain complexity with age—a hallmark of a truly fine wine.
I should also note, yours truly began this series of installments criticizing such fashions while advocating pairing richer white wines from the Rhône Valley with fall cuisine.
The wine I’d like to recommend to you today is the 2020 Dalia Maris Bianco “Cru B” ($75). Cru B is a field blend of 80% Tocai Friulano and 20% Ribolla Gialla sourced from 60- to 80-year-old vines planted in the Buttrio cru in Friuli’s Colli Orientali zone. It is here that Giampaolo’s thoughts reveal themselves to be based on keen insight rather than merely the expression of contrarian impulses. While the international varieties, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon blanc, express themselves uniquely in Friuli’s terroir when farmed and made for freshness, the region’s native varieties, such as Friulano and Ribolla Gialla, find their true typicity at a higher level of ripeness. Giampaolo therefore looks to France’s Northern Rhône region as his model for viticulture and winemaking, rather than the ever fashionable and leaner in profile Burgundy. From 2017 to 2019, he flew to Hermitage in the Northern Rhône to work with the renowned Jean-Louis Chave after completing harvest at home to try to refine his vision.
The end result is one of the most spectacular Friulanos you can hope to have; a triumphant expression of the Buttrio cru, which is one of the warmest sites in the Friuli with unique clay soils. This site yields richer, fleshier wines, making it the perfect site for Giampaolo to actualize his vision. The 2020 wine spent 12 months in oak barrels, the very barrels in which Chave’s coveted Hermitage Blanc is raised, and the rest in stainless steel before being bottled in July of 2022. The 2020 wine is perfectly balanced with a nose effusive of white flowers, baked apple, custard and baking spices and a creamy concentrated palate brimming with ripe orchard fruit—all buoyed by an expressive mineral finish. To pair, I’d recommend a dish that matches the creamy richness of the wine, which allows its fruit to shine and its acidity to cleave through the dish—clearing up your palate for the next bite. In particular, I’d recommend pasta with salted cod, prosciutto and cream. If you want to pay homage to the wine’s homeland, serve the dish over polenta instead of pasta, spike the cream sauce with raisins, a cinnamon stick and ditch the peas.
RECIPE: CREAMY SALT COD PASTA
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin)
- Salted cod fillet (Baccalà), about 8 oz, rinsed
- Medium onion, chopped
- 2 to 4 garlic cloves, sliced as thinly as possible
- 1 cup of white wine (dry)
- 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 green onions, sliced thinly
- 4 oz prosciutto, diced
- 1 cup peas (frozen)
- Flat-leaf parsley, minced (to taste)
- Zest of a lemon (to taste)
- 1 lb dried tubular pasta, such as penne or rigatoni
Place the cod filet in a pot of cold water and place the pot in the fridge. Soak the cod for two days, changing the water at least once. Pat the fish dry and cut it into chunks.
In a deep skillet, heat four tablespoons of olive oil, onion and half of the garlic over medium heat until the mix is softened, but not browned. It should take five to eight minutes. Add the cod and cook it until the onions begin to brown (approximately five minutes). Next, add the wine, stir it in and cook it until the wine is almost evaporated. Then, add the potato with two cups of water. Bring it to a simmer and continue the simmer until the potato is tender (about 10 to 15 minutes). Then, transfer the contents of the pan and one cup of the liquid to a blender and blend it until smooth.
Sauté the remaining garlic and scallions in the remaining olive oil over medium heat until they are softened, which should only be a few minutes. Add the cod puree, peas and prosciutto. Simmer it until the peas are warmed through.
Add the al dente pasta (check the pasta after about five minutes before the time suggested by the package instructions). Thin the sauce with pasta water, if necessary, and top it with parsley and lemon zest.
WHAT IS POLENTA?
Polenta is a dish of boiled cornmeal that was historically made from other grains. The dish comes from Italy. It may be served as a hot porridge, or it may be allowed to cool and solidify into a loaf that can be baked, fried, or grilled.