Italian wines’ vibrancy perfect match with the clarity of its cuisine


Often one or two flavours dominate, sometimes three but rarely more, and it is the mantra of simplicity that makes Italian dishes so attractive

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When it comes to wine and food, mentioning the word “Italian” is likely to draw a crowd faster than a warm piazza on a Saturday afternoon. There’s something about Italy’s cuisine that does not intimidate the average food and wine enthusiast in the way some countries’ food and wine traditions do.

Perhaps it’s the Italian propensity for showing up late and staying late that sets a tone for informality. More likely, it is the simplicity of the food and the clarity of flavours served on one plate. Often one or two flavours dominate, sometimes three but rarely more, and it is the mantra of simplicity that makes the dishes so attractive.

The pandemic has kept us close to home for over a year, and I know many of you have been experimenting in the kitchen and brushing up on your wine knowledge. If you have been watching the Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy series on CNN, you probably have already planned your next trip to be to Italy. For now, your choices are limited to home or takeout, and that’s where the Italian way of cooking comes in.


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If Tucci teaches us anything, it is the ease with which he explores Italy’s very local food and wine while effortlessly blending in the people’s story and the culture of the region that shapes it. We suggest you can do the same with a little research and planning in your own home.

I’ll leave the recipes and reading lists to you. If you need a jump-start, watch one of the episodes online, but we can help with some menu ideas and the wines.

Thankfully, B.C. has a very strong selection of Italian wines in retail stores to help transport you to that small piazza in Bologna or a patio overlooking the Tuscan countryside. The rest is up to you.

To get dinner underway, think about serving a selection of antipasti with sparkling wine. Prosecco is the current darling of Italians, but a high-quality sparkler can charm any crowd. A super value is Ferrari N/V Brut Metodo Classico $33.99, a stylish blanc de blanc fizz that brings green apple, honey and almonds to the nose and palate. Like the great Italian dishes, it has a simplicity that makes it complex.

Make pasta your primi course and keep it simple. You can buy fresh pasta at most specialty markets. Decide on the saucing, and you are ready to go. Linguine with pesto is both satisfying and easy to prepare, and it’s wine-friendly. Think about matching this dish with white wine, and our suggestion is Argiolas 2017 Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna, $17.99 — delightfully crisp floral, ginger notes, bitter quince and ripe yellow apples. From much farther north, Rocca Bernarda 2017 Ribolla Gialla, $25.99 is awash in green apples, lychee, lemon, fennel and wet stone. For the dinner discussion, the winery has a history that dates back to 1559.


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For the secondi or main course, Bistecca alla Fiorentina could not be simpler to prepare. Rub the steak with good olive oil and generously season it with salt and pepper. Toss it on a pre-heated grill and prepare it to your taste. Contorni or vegetable dishes are served alongside secondi dishes. You can grill the vegetables ahead of time to let the dry heat concentrate the natural sugars and give them a bold and rustic look. All you need now are some big reds.

2018 Le Volte dell’ Ornellaia, $32.99 has all the requirements to take on the bistecca with its mix of two-thirds Merlot, 20 per cent Sangiovese and 12-14 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. Equally up to the task is the Antinori 2018 Pèppoli Chianti Classico, $26.99, with its black and red cherry, earthy, woodsy flavours and polished tannins.

If Tucci has taught his viewers anything, it is to pick up a history book before you eat and add some extra depth to an already terrific story. Finally, you may want to consider one or all of a dolce, caffe and digestivo to finish off the night. After all, the days are getting longer.

Weekend Wine Picks

Devil’s Lair Honeycomb Chardonnay 2019, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia

$24.99 I 90/100

UPC: 9310194002461

The Honeycomb Chardonnay is a compilation of all things we want in a modern Chardonnay while at the same time eliminating all the things we dislike about old-style Chardonnay. The nose engages with a fragrant, ripe freshness, citrus and just the right amount of lees and reduction. The palate is bright and juicy with delicious mineral, honeycomb and stone fruit covered in citrus before a clean lip-smacking finish. Our bottle disappeared in minutes, and we needed a second one for dinner. Watch out B.C., this is competition.


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O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars Riesling 2019, Lake Country, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

$22.00 I 88/100

UPC: 681714160015

Winemaker Stephanie Stanley heads up all the aromatic wines at O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars and has all the right stuff in this Carrs Landing, Okanagan Valley Riesling. A second tasting five months down the road confirms the bright lemon-lime fruit flecked with pear, grapefruit, honey and floral notes. The style is cool and minerally with a fresh undercurrent of acidity. It is a Riesling that is more cool kids than oldtimer; you can serve this with spicy chicken wraps, Asian curries, Mexican vegetarian and, well, most anything you like. It is tasty and affordable but best served with food.

Domaine Martin Jund Edelzwicker N/V, Alsace, France

$31.99 I 89/100

UPC: 626990446453

Maison Martin Jund has roots in the Colmar region that date to 1630. The latest family iteration has been farming fruit that is organically certified since 1997. Just off-white, this dry blend of Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer labelled Edelzwicker is an ode to an ancient term that designates any blending of white AOC Alsace grape varieties without any indication of percentage. The vintage year on labels is not obligatory. The term Edelzwicker comes from the German words for edel (noble) and Zwicker (blend). On the palate, expect a subtle oily, yellow fruit affair that appears fruity on entry but finishes with a twist of bitterness that pulls it all together. It is a delicious Old World style that is food-friendly and is listed at a great price, considering it is sold in a one-litre bottle.


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Amalaya Malbec 2019, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, North, Argentina

$21.99 I 90/100

UPC: 007798104763039

When I see this wine at retail or on a restaurant wine list, I know that no matter what else happens, I’m going to be able to secure a solid bottle of wine at a bargain price. Perfect under screw cap, it consistently tastes like it smells: An alluring mix of red and black fruits with a dusty, stony mineral underside. It is wonderfully dry and fresh, the palate juicy and round, the tannins light but structured. The esperanza por un milagro (waiting for a miracle) Amalaya is grown at some of the world’s highest vineyards (1,800 metres). It is mostly Malbec mixed with 15 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat, and it is an absolute bargain at $21.99. Back up the truck.

Il Fauno di Arcanum 2017, Tuscany, Italy

$39.99 I 91/100

UPC: 850202002247

There is no denying 2017 was a super hot year in Italy. Still, for some reason the super-Tuscans led by Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot managed to make the best of the sunshine. Fresh, dense and power-packed, this is a delight to drink even now, although I would suggest it is a wine that deserves a decade in the cellar. And at this price, that makes it a superstar for the cellar. Spicy licorice spills out of the glass along with powerful black fruit notes, thankfully held in restraint by the touch of French-born winemaker Pierre Seillan. The textures are equally expressive — stock up.


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Tableau Bar Bistro mushrooms on toast created by Executive Chef Bobby Milheron.
Tableau Bar Bistro mushrooms on toast created by Executive Chef Bobby Milheron. Photo by Leila Kwok

Recipe match: Mushrooms on toast

Move over, avocado. This recipe for mushrooms on toast is sure to give the green stuff a run for its money. Created by Executive Chef Bobby Milheron of Tableau Bar Bistro in Vancouver, the simply delectable dish layers multiple types of mushrooms on a crispy piece of bread thanks to a mushroom cream and mixed roasted mushroom topping.

Mushroom cream

2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream

10 sliced cremini mushrooms

2 sliced shallots

2 sliced garlic cloves

2 sprigs of thyme

2 tbsp (20 mL) butter

1/3 cup + 1 tbsp (100 mL) Sherry wine (Harvey’s Bristol Cream)

3/4 cup + 1 tbsp (200 mL) Chicken stock

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

In a heavy bottom pot over medium heat, melt the butter and slowly roast the cremini mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper while they are cooking.

After several minutes, add the shallots, garlic and thyme, continue cooking till very soft and lightly caramelized. Deglaze with the Sherry wine and cook until nearly dry, then add the chicken stock and reduce until 100 ml of liquid remains. Add the whipping cream and reduce by 1/3.

At this point, check the sauce for seasoning and add any additional salt or pepper. Blend the sauce till smooth and use immediately or chill and reserve (can be made up to four days in advance).

Roast mushrooms

10 Cremini mushrooms, quartered

1 lb (454 g) Oyster mushrooms, torn into strips

1/2 lb (226 g) Maitake/ hedgehog/chanterelle mushrooms, quartered (can be substituted with cremini)


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2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

2 sprigs of thyme

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Toss all the mushrooms together in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Roast in a 425F oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden.


4 slices artisan sourdough bread

12 slices of La Sauvagine cheese

1 tsp picked thyme leaves

1/4 cup (60 mL) micro-planed or shaved Parmesan

Warm the roasted mushrooms in the mushroom cream and adjust seasoning. Toast or grill the sourdough bread and melt the La Sauvagine cheese on one side. Spoon the mushrooms and cream evenly over the four slices of bread and top with shaved parmesan and thyme.

Serves four.

Recipe match

Cheese and mushrooms “uuuuh-mami.” The comfort match is Pinot Noir or soft Italian reds.

Tormaresca Trentangeli Castel del Monte 2017, Puglia, Italy, $19.99

Black raspberry, licorice flavours streaked with brown spices and dried herbs are the perfect foil to this cheese and mushroom delight.

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, $27.99

Intense red and some black fruit, with a strong, savoury, peppery undercurrent, will mesh perfectly with the mushrooms and cheese flavours.

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