Pairing Wines With The Best Of Sicily

At $39, this is an elegant sparkling wine made with 100 percent Chardonnay | Photo from Roberto Viernes

At $39, this is an elegant sparkling wine made with 100 percent Chardonnay | Photo from Roberto Viernes

Someone in the wine business once told me, “You go to France for the wine and to Italy for the food.”

I immediately thought that those are fighting words on both sides of the border if you ever said that to a Frenchman or Italian.

I am not here to be judge and jury for either, but I must share with you a fabulous meal at Taormina Sicilian Cuisine on Lewers Street in Waikiki.

Chef Hiro Mimura put together an inspired menu called Le Sagre, meaning “the feast,” and yours truly paired it with fantastic Italian wines.

The first dish was a Croquette of Salmon with Mushroom Cream. The New Zealand salmon croquette was filled with mushroom sauce goodness that simply oozed out like a soufflé as you cut it. I decided to pair it with the 2006 Ferrari Perle ($39) from Trento DOC, a metodo classico wine (meaning made in the Champagne method) that is made from 100 percent Chardonnay and aged on the lees for five years. The bready, toasty notes in the wine married perfectly with the toastiness of the croquette. And the elegant fruit and acidity of the Chardonnay balanced the creaminess. The Ferrari sparkler was more than impressive.

The Antipasto was a Carpaccio di Filetto di Manzano, seared prime beef from California carpaccio served with arugula, red onion, caper, grape tomato and Parmesan. There was balsamic garlic and chili dressing that was to die for. The dish itself was amazingly balanced, with the vinegar acidity cutting through the protein-rich beef as well as the salty richness of the cheese. I decided on the 2008 Jermann “Were Dreams” ($69) from Friuli. Jermann is regarded as one of Italy’s top white wine producers and this wine proves it. Primarily Chardonnay with a 3 percent “secret recipe” blend of other white varieties, it reminded many of us of really high class white Burgundy with beautiful fruit aromas and just a touch of toasty vanilla, which melded nicely with the seared note in the beef. I could have opted for a red wine, but with the vinegar and bitterness of the arugula, the white was definitely a better pair. At five years old, this wine was still singing a beautiful melody of ripe fruit and minerality.

The Pasta course was Spaghetti alla Chitarra, homemade chitarra pasta (a shape of pasta traditional in Abruzzo made by cutting rolled-out pasta with an instrument that looks exactly like a guitar, hence the name) tossed with crab meat, tomato sauce and mascarpone with lobster tail and claw. This was a rich pasta dish done perfectly al dente. So I opted for a unique and rich white in the form of the 2005 Gravner Ribolla Gialla ($99). This white wine does not look white at all. It looks more like amber; in fact, some guests asked if it was a rose. The color of this wine comes from it being purposely oxidized during the vinification, which is done in amphora. Josko Gravner takes winemaking to the extreme with no additions, and the wine spends an extended time aging. The result is all the “rage” for sommeliers across the country. The wine had some distinct structure, which was rich enough to handle the intensity of the dish. It has a heady note of dried peaches and nuts that only added to the complexity of the pairing.

The Secondo and entrée was an Involtini di pollo farcito fegato grasso e pistacchi salsa di balsamico. This is a highly complex dish of rolled chicken stuffed with foie gras and pistachio with a 10-year balsamic reduction served with pear, tomato and feta salad. In fact, chef told me it also was wrapped in pork fat when it was seared in order to keep the chicken from losing its moisture. Now, with a positively hedonistic dish such as this, I had to find an equally hedonistic wine. The 2003 Quintarelli Amarone Classico ($350) was more than up to the task. This masterpiece from the “maestro” of Amarone was utterly enthralling. The aromas were so complex with flowers, figs, sweet tobacco, dried plums, black berry compote and violets. Listed at 16.5 percent alcohol, this is no wimpy wine on the palate. It was palate-staining in intensity and, at 10 years old, it is still a baby. The two together were like two titans ballroom dancing on your palate.

Last and not least, for dessert, Crema alla caramel-la soft pudding with berries – seven different fruits were used in this dish. And for refreshment, I called upon the 2011 Braida (Giacomo Bologna) Brachetto d’Acqui ($25) from Piedmont. This lightly sparkling red has a pure grapey juiciness that is refreshing at the end of a meal. Its light effervescence cut through the crema, and the berry flavors mirrored each other perfectly.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.