Having honeymooned in Italy this summer, I was thrilled to revisit the experience with my husband at this past month’s Ruth’s Chris Steak House Italian Wine Dinner. Part of a series of regional and cuisine-focused events that pair a one-night-only menu with incredible wines, this dinner featured unique, lesser known varietals that few Americans have ever tasted before.
Helen Mackey, Director of Beverage for Ruth’s Chris, shared with the group that although Italy has over 3,000 varietals, most of these never make it into the US, primarily due to limited imports. For this particular event, Ruth’s Chris was able to bring in highly rated varietals and vintages so that guests may have the opportunity to learn, taste, and pair wines with food. As someone who enjoys wine, but is not an expert, this seemed like a great way to try something new and possibly expand our selection the next time we shop for wine.
Our private room was set up with televisions displaying images of vineyards and the diverse landscape of Italy, and brought back fond memories of our trip together. We were seated in tables of six, and as the evening went on, the party became very convivial, with elated diners enjoying the personalized service and decadent food and drink.
The first wine we tasted was a Brut sparkling wine from the Ferrari winery. Indeed related to the luxury car company, the Ferrari vineyard owners are cousins of the automobile makers. Founded by Julio Ferrari in 1902, Ferrari wines are the most popular luxury wines in Italy, with one out of every four people in Italy drinking Ferrari. The sparkling Ferrari Brut was sweet and fruity, providing a festive introduction to the evening. The first course was a savory portobello and herbed polenta napoleon. We savored every bite of this delicious dish, and the unusual apple currant drizzle was a refreshing tie-in to this fruity wine.
Feudi Falanghina is an indigenous white grape to the Campania region of Italy, and was the pairing for our second dish. Zesty in finish, the flavor immediately shows lots of minerality and ash, due to the volcanic soil surrounding Mt. Vesuvius, adjacent to where the vineyard is located. Pale gold with glints of green, this is a medium-bodied wine with tropical flavors, and a citrus zest finish.
The third course, Orecchiette Piedmont, was a surprising and hearty twist on the classic Italian pasta ragu. Roasted fennel and spicy peppers provided a bold flavor to the pasta. Orecchiette means ‘little ears’ in Italian, and this pasta shape is wonderful for holding onto a chunky sauce.This crisp white wine was paired with a simple caprese salad. The last caprese my husband and I had enjoyed was on a mountainside in Capri, so our expectations were rather high. We can both say that this caprese was excellent, with soft, fresh mozzarella cheese and juicy, vine ripe tomatoes, finished with basil oil and a balsamic reduction. Arugula balanced out the dish with a peppery bite, a perfect contrast to the supple flavors in the wine.
A red wine called Fontanafredda Barolo from the Piedmont region, was paired with this dish. Nebbiolo grapes come from a vineyard in the cold northwest of Italy near Torino. The iconic Nebbiolo wine is the Barolo, with a smoky flavor that brought out the spicy, rich flavors of the orecccheite and sausage pasta dish.
Helen informed us all that the “Mac Daddy” of Italian wine is Bertani Amarone “Villa Arvedi.” This wine has a unique flavor profile, due to the vineyard’s process of laying out Corvina grapes on straw mats until they dry out and become raisins, concentrating the flavors before pressing. Once fully dried, the winemakers then crush the raisins, and vinify the juice. Smelling this wine, you’ll immediately notice notes of complex, dark berries, cherry, spice, and a definite raisin flavor. This was a big, bold wine-well balanced, highly drinkable, and the favorite of our dinner party. The Bertani Amarone was paired with a Filet Mignon with Cherry Peppers, served in Ruth’s Chris’ signature sizzling style on a very hot plate, it was everything a steak should be.
The chefs at Ruth’s Chris created an all-new dessert for this dinner, the Sicilian Almond Cake. Light and tender, with crunchy toasted almond slices and vanilla bean whipped cream, it was the best almond cake I’ve ever tasted. Pairing was a Bottega Limoncino lemon liqueur.
I was interested to find out why the chefs chose limoncino instead of limoncello for the dessert wine. In Capri, the Italian locals told us to only buy limoncello liqueur, because the lemon beverages with other names were not authentically Caprese.
The wine experts at this event told us that the lemon liqueur that they served was called limoncino instead of limoncello because of the spirit base. Limoncino is made with Grappa (a grape based spirit) instead of vodka (normally made in Italy from potatoes, and what is traditionally used to make limoncello).
The Bottega Limoncino we enjoyed with dessert was also from Sicily, not Capri, and the grappa blended with lemons to make this liqueur is from Italy’s Veneto region. With grapes being an obvious upgrade from potatoes, this incredible limoncino gives a tangy, citrusy flavor, without the alcohol heat generally present with limoncello. I absolutely loved it, and will definitely add Bottega Limoncino to my home collection to enjoy after dinner.
Ruth’s Chris provided a warm and friendly atmosphere, detailed service, and incredible food at this year’s Italian wine pairing dinner. I highly recommend their special dinners to any food or wine enthusiasts that wish to expand their palates, learn, and enjoy a culinary tour of the world with old friends and new.