L'Enoteca Tognoni - Bolgheri, Tuscany
You can choose from plenty of fine restaurants in Bolgheri, but only after you've had your first meal at L'Enoteca Tognoni. Consider it a contractual agreement, a sort of gastronomic right of first offer. Once you've fulfilled your obligations at this dearly loved, institutional favorite, you are free to explore the other eating options in town. Or, if you are like me, you'll just come back to Francesco Tognoni's celebrated wine shop and restaurant for the meal after that.
The restaurant is tucked away beyond the fortified entrance gate of sleepy Bolgheri in coastal Tuscany. It's a family-style eatery with large wood tables and comfortable spaces. The walls are entirely lined with shelving, four or five bottles deep, that house one of Italy's most important collections of Tuscan wine. The best bottles from Bolgheri, Chianti Classico, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Suvereto, Scansano and Montescudaio accompany you throughout the evening. Tognoni also has a good set up if you want to drink wine by the glass. This is actually quite rare at restaurants in Italy, but is an important reminder of the fine care and respect given to wine service here.
I was in Bolgheri to taste the new releases this fall. My trip coincided with the last days of harvest and I knew most producers would be in town. I had an idea for a dinner event that I hope to repeat in other wine areas of Italy. I invited all producers to a bring-your-own-bottle meal at L'Enoteca Tognoni. We would be going Dutch, or as Italians call it alla romana (or "eating Roman style") with a special wine-pairing menu created by the restaurant. To my delight, a huge number of producers from the appellation showed up and I enjoyed one of the merriest and most carefree dinners of the year in their company.
The first course served was a delicious passata di fagioli borlotti con funghi porcini. A creamy soup is made with small borlotti beans and topped off by generous, paper-thin shavings of raw porcino mushroom. The mushroom season was particularly generous and delicious this year in Italy. Nothing kicks off autumn better than that first taste of fresh porcino. We lined the wines that everyone had brought down the length of the table. I've listed them below in alphabetical order because we did not follow a formal serving order per se. I started off with sips of the two whites: The 2012 Grattamacco Bolgheri Vermentino and the 2008 Poggio al Tesoro Vermentino Solosole (that would become a Bolgheri Vermentino DOC with the next vintage). Grattamacco makes one of the most popular Vermentinos on the coast and is looking to plant extra acreage in order to keep up with demand. The older white wine was impressive given that the grape is not known for aging. I also tried some of the younger reds like Michele Satta's very delicious and approachable 2013 Bolgheri Rosso (that I had tasted earlier in the day) followed by Fabio Motta's 2012 Bolgheri Rosso Pievi, Fattoria Casa di Terra's 2012 Bolgheri Rosso Mosaico and Giorgio Meletti Cavallari's 2012 Bolgheri Superiore Impronte.
The primo was based on a recipe that I have never previously tasted but that absolutely blew me away. The risotto al colombaccio is pigeon risotto. Meat from the bird was minced and made into a tasty reduction sauce. The short-grained Arborio rice was cooked to al dente perfection. This was one of the most savory and delicious winter risottos I have ever tasted. There was plenty of delicious wine to choose from. Carlo Paoli of Tenuta San Guido was the only producer to bring a wine from far outside the appellation. If he opted to bring his own wine, Sassicaia, I'm sure no one would have complained, but the Louis Jadot 2009 Hospices de Beaune Cuvée Nicolas Rolin made for a great change of pace. Carlo Paoli said he selected that Burgundian bottle as a way of illustrating the style they were gunning for at Tenuta San Guido. I suspect he was pulling my leg as he runs the world's most celebrated Bordeaux-inspired estate outside Bordeaux. Thankfully, spit buckets were brought to the table because after that I tasted Giovanni Chiappini 2011 Bolgheri Superiore Guado de' Gemoli that showed very nicely, the 2009 Guicciardini Strozzi Sòdole, Donnaolimpia 1898's 2009 Bolgheri Superiore Millepassi, Campo alla Sughera's 2009 Campo alla Sughera, Batzella's 2007 Bolghero Superiore Tâm and I Greppi's 2007 Bolgheri Superiore Greppicaia.
The filetto di maialino di cinta senese in crosta di pancetta e spinaci brilliantly combined a sweet and succulent core of tender pork medallion with a crunchy exterior of crisp-fried bacon. Cinta Senese is a small breed of pig from Tuscany and is the base for the region's most noble charcuterie. It was served with a side of baby spinach leaves. About this time I noticed that the bottle of 2009 Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia brought by Axel Heinz of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia and Masseto was almost empty. I poured the precious wine in my glass, but Axel grabbed a bottle of the 2008 Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia straight off the Enoteca shelf and we were treated to that beautiful wine as well. Both wines are absolutely unforgettable, although I had a slight preference for the 2009 vintage that seemed more open and intense. Of course, that bottle had been open for more time and had reached a slightly warmer serving temperature that added to its generosity. Cipriana surprised us all with the nicely evolved 2004 Bolgheri Superiore San Martino. The evening concluded on a very high note of Syrah, which is fitting given that this variety is gaining increased popularity in the appellation. Fattoria Terre del Marchesato presented its 2004 Syrah Marchesale. I clearly remember how impressed I was when I first tasted that wine years ago. On this night however, I found the wine to be less finessed and complex than I had remembered. Michele Satta and his son poured the 2008 Syrah. This is a dreamy and downright delicious wine that shows beautifully polished tones of dark fruit, spice and cured meat. The biggest surprise of the evening was Tenuta Guado al Tasso's 2008 Syrah Walfredo. I was vaguely aware of the Antinori family's project with this grape in coastal Tuscany, but had never actually seen a bottle. In fact, I can't even find the wine on the Marchesi Antinori website. I asked General Manager Renzo Cotarella if I could taste the wine (2008 is the first vintage made), but he was concerned that an official review would create market confusion as the wine is in a sort of test-run phase with production numbers that are not fit for an overseas commercial release. I am grateful to him for forwarding this bottle for me to taste informally at this dinner. Walfredo is an object of profound beauty and delight, and I hope that this important estate puts its weight behind this wine. The evening concluded with a sweet note. The flan al cioccolato su crema inglese was extra rich, creamy and opulent.
It's hard to see the people at the far end of the table in the photo posted here. Here is a list of who attended my dinner: Winemaker Nicolò Carrara and Marketing Director Francesco Lippini of Tenuta Argentiera; Proprietor Franco Batzella and his lovely American-Vietnamese wife Khan Nguyen of Batzella; Commercial Director Rita Tonini and Winemaker Francesco Gagliardi of Campo alla Sughera; Proprietor Giuliano Frollani and Winemaker Diego Mugnaini of Fattoria Casa di Terra; Proprietor Giovanni Chiappini of Giovanni Chiappini; Consorzio di Tutela Vini DOC Bolgheri Director Riccardo Binda; Winemaker, Proprietor and Consorzio di Tutela Vini DOC Bolgheri President Federico Zileri Dal Verme from both Castello di Bolgheri and Tenuta Argentiera; the very charismatic Guido Folonari Proprietor of Donnaolimpia 1898; Proprietor Fabio Motta of Fabio Motta; Winemaker Carlotta Binda of Giorgio Meletti Cavallari; Winemaker and Director Luca Marrone of Grattamacco; Winemaker Marco Ferrarese of Tenuta Guado al Tasso; Sister Proprietors Irina and Natalia Guicciardini Strozzi of Guicciardini Strozzi - Villa Le Pavoniere; Commercial Director Paola Corsini of I Greppi; Proprietor Laura Fabiani of La Cipriana; Proprietor Michele Satta and his son Giacomo of Michele Satta; Winemaker and General Manager Axel Heinz of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia and Masseto; Winemaker Lorenzo Fortini and Director Marrico Toni of Poggio al Tesoro; General Manager Carlo Paoli of Tenuta San Guido; and Proprietor Maurizio Fuselli with his son Alessandro of Terre del Marchesato.
More articles from this author
Locanda Margon: A Mountain Hideaway for the Best Italian (Sparkling) Wine and Food
Italian food and sparkling wine find an ideal intersection in Trentino.