I recently had the pleasure of tasting Masciarelli wines paired with the Italian cuisine of Pane Caldo Restaurant and it was both a tasty and enlightening experience. Pane Caldo has a long standing on East Walton Street in Chicago's Gold Coast. It's a quaint but classy establishment with great northern Italian dishes and an amazing wine list. I (fortunately) found parking in front and was directed to a private dining room a couple of doors down. The space seemed perfect for private events with a large banquet table, open space, ample lighting, a restroom and coatroom. I was greeted by Angela Acquaviva of Masciarelli and Betsy & Pete of Vintage Wine. Let's get to the tasting!
We started off with an explanation of Azienda Agricola Masciarelli. Gianni Masciarelli began a journey over 30 years ago to become a great winemaker in his home of Abruzzo. He traveled through France to learn of advanced techniques which greatly influenced him and his wines. When he returned home he was ready to take his family's vineyards and increase the quality level of their output. He wanted to do this by putting indigenous varietals like Montepulciano and Trebbiano of Abruzzo on the world map. Gianni did this by lowering production, adding a good mix of new French oak and aging. Today Masciarelli has 13 vineyards throughout Abruzzo. Unfortunately for most of America, the only wines we've seen from Abruzzo are extremely light reds of Montepulciano grapes and whites of Trebbiano (except for Orvieto DOC wines which can be much higher quality), until now. The family dealt with the unfortunate recent passing of Gianni in 2008, and continues to produce great wines in his honor.
While we were learning about Masciarelli, we tasted through a 'vertical tasting' (a tasting consisting of multiple vintages (years or harvests) of the same wine) of Gianni's famed Villa Gemma Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Vintages started with recent selections and went as far back as 1999. The youngest were very full of fresh dark fruit, big gritty tannins and high acidity- both indications that the wine still needs aging. The further we went back in vintage, the more wild gamey notes came through, along with herbal scents, with the tannins gradually softening. This wine was truly amazing compared to other Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines I've tried- it's aged in both barrel and bottle for over 5 years! Gianni started this label in 1984 and it is only produced in high quality years and will be available in wine shops for about $90.
It was then time to enjoy some cuisine with the wines and we started with Castello di Semivicoli Trebbiano d'Abruzzo paired with seafood in white wine and saffron. This worked well as the fresh seafood and lively sauce mixed with the wine's young fruit and zippiness. Next we went on to Marina Cvetic (a label named after Gianni's Serbo-Croatian wife who works with the winery) oak aged Trebbiano paired with mushroom risotto. I normally would recommend Pinot Noir, Barbera or Nebbiolo with this dish, but the rich Trebbiano was very unique. It's weight and sour creaminess stood up to the risotto and the rich mushrooms. For a final course we had filet mignon with a red wine sauce matched up with the Marina Cvetic Montepulciano which was an excellent pairing- the slight game and tannins that the grape brings with it was excellent with the beef. And there was more Villa Gemma left to tackle our chocolatey desserts.
In summation, it was a fantastic experience with varietals I've never known to produce truly great wines, at a fantastic restaurant with outstanding food, service and ambience. I'll be visiting both in the future- salute!