Chez Parker: An Italian Festival

When I was in Paris I treated the great Italian chef, Tom Cerillo (better known as Tommaso, of Brooklyn's restaurant of the same name), to several meals at French bistros. In exchange, he agreed to provide some of his food (my favorite dishes) to my home for a dinner party with a group of Italian wine and food loving friends. He is a great chef, so this was a feast. The two dishes of stuffed peppers, the duck paté, Tommaso's sensational gravlox, wonderfully light mushroom-stuffed raviolis, and superb pork were the perfect foil for two flights of Italian reds, one young, and one just reaching full maturity.

We began the evening with a magnum of the gorgeous non-vintage rosé Champagne fromBillecart-Salmon. Its delicate pink color was followed by a dry Champagne with loads of flavor. Consistently one of the finest rosé Champagnes in the marketplace, it sells at a realistic price, making it even more attractive.

All of the wines were double decanted approximately six hours prior to dinner. Interestingly, none of the 1990s showed any sediment, and to my surprise, were tight and closed. This was annoying given previous experiences I have had with this vintage. By dinner, they were singing. Nevertheless, they are extraordinarily young wines that need more time than I would have anticipated, at least based on this tasting. At the same time, the 1982s smelled great upon opening, and were even better six hours later. Extremely backward, the 1990 Barolo Monfortinoneeds at least another 5-10 years of cellaring. The 1990 Barolo Monprivato exhibited a gorgeous perfume of cherries, kirsch, and tobacco. Still young and vibrant, it remains an adolescent in terms of development. The densest-colored, richest offering was the 1990 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Francia (which was bottled 4-5 years earlier than the Monfortino). The dense, chewy, muscular Francia is still young, and in need of another 3-4 years of cellaring. The 1990 Barbaresco Gaja stood out as different, but it revealed plenty of tar, rose petal, and black cherry fruit in its dense, concentrated personality. It can be drunk now, but it remains very young, and just approaching adolescence.

The 1982s were at their plateau of full maturity with no deterioration. A surprise was the B. Giacosa 1982 Barbaresco Gallina. I had drunk most of a case when young, and thought this wine might be starting its decline. Not so. It is beautifully perfumed, rich, full, and still intact. Even better was the 1982 Barbaresco Santa Stefano, a wine that has just hit its plateau of full maturity, yet seems capable of lasting another 10 years. Ceretto's 1982 Barolo Bricco Roccheseemed out of place in this flight. It was certainly very good, but hardly a profound wine. It was made during a period when Ceretto's wines were not as spectacular as they have been over the last 5-6 years. Lastly, the colossal Bruno Giacosa 1982 Barolo Rionda de Serralunga is an extraordinary wine. Dense and full, with tar, tobacco, black cherries, kirsch, and sandalwood notes in a massive, full-bodied style, it is just hitting its peak of maturity. A fabulous wine, it is potentially one of the longest-lived efforts from this vintage.

The oldy but goody was the 1971 Gaja Barbaresco. The next to last bottle in my cellar, its cork totally crumbled when I attempted to extract it. Such situations are not uncommon with 30-year or older wines. My solution is to resort to the "ah-so" cork extractor since the interior of the cork has been pulverized. Even that didn't work, so I simply pushed the cork into the bottle and ran the wine through a funnel/strainer. The wine was still intact, and probably could have merited a low 90 point score, but there was a hint of corkiness in the flavors. Some of the sweet cherry and tobacco characteristics were present, but there were enough cork notes to make drinking it unpleasant. My guests enjoyed it more than I did.

We finished the evening stuffed, happy, and with a sensationally vibrant, young 1970 Graham's port, which had also been decanted six hours earlier. It still possesses a dense purple color. Compared with other 1970 ports I have had over the last several months (i.e., the Fonseca and Taylor), it is not as complex, but rather wows the taster with its extraordinary display of fruit, depth, sweetness, and concentration.

By the way, for visitors to New York City, I enthusiastically recommend the restaurant Tommaso in Brooklyn (1464 86th Street, Bensonhurst (Brooklyn) Tel. 718-236-9883).

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