The lights were turned down low as I walked into Cibo Trattoria at Seymour and Nelson St. on Wednesday, May 6th, 2015. Everyone was already seated, and there was a hum in the room. Across the restaurant, David Tremblay (Sales Manager for South by Southwest Wine Imports) leaned into the table engulfed in a conversation about wine with Lionel King (Sales and Territory Manager for Bonvida). Future sommelier, Joshua Decolognon, listened intently. Robert Stelmachuk, Wine Director & General Manager of Cibo, briskly walked over to take my coat. “I almost broke a heel on my stilettos!” I stated. He responded, “I was getting nervous that you weren’t going to make it!” Oh no, Robert, I made it. After all, how could I pass up Veneto-inspired cuisine paired with Veneto wine? This was the first dinner in a series at Cibo that is region-focused. If you haven’t put two-and-two together yet, tonight the focus was on northeast Italy.
Shortly after I was seated and had been introduced to the company at the table I was sitting at, our first glass of wine appeared before us. The Monte Del Fra Bardolino 2012 (Chilled) was a pleasant surprise to see in front of me. It was to be paired with Cache Creek Ox Tongue with Smashed Favas, and Pecorino-Mint Pesto.
The pairing was delightfully delicate. The combination of herbaceous and green characters in the pesto balanced well with the sweet essence in the wine. The soft texture of the ox tongue was almost synonymous to the velvety body of the Bardolino. Cherries, red berries, rose petals, and vanilla cola were all gracefully present. This wine was surprisingly light, and I was curious about why a red wine was starting this five-course meal. More to come.
The second course was a Tortellini In Brodo paired with a white wine! The morsels of pasta were stuffed with Martinez Ranch Braised Lamb Neck accompanied with Spring Peas, Fresh Horseradish, and vinegar. The wine was a medium bodied classic Veneto white — a 2009 Ca’Rugate ‘Monte Alto’ Soave Classico.
The broth was earthy, dense, and complex, but light in body. Initially, I was doubtful upon first taste of the broth that it was going to balance out with the wine. Soave is known to be lighter in body and rarely oaked. This particular Soave, however, had seen some oak. It was surprisingly complementary. The succulent lamb carried umami notes that married nicely with this Garganega-based vino. The citrus and wet stone notes held there own in the face of the lamb. I was impressed, indeed.
Of this pairing, Robert Stelmachuk noted, “This one [wine] is oaked for structure…it can stand up to richer foods.”
At this point, I was already curious what game Executive Chef Faizal Kassam & crew would bring to the table next.
Course three was a Risotto Nero with Octopus, and Bone Marrow Gremolata paired with Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico 2012. The wine boasted a comfortable toastiness with hints of cherry cream. My notes say it “smells like velvet”. I can only infer at this point that it smelled smooth. During his introduction to this course, Stelmachuk stated the wine was “simplistic, juicy, uncomplicated wine. There is no oak on this wine which let’s it play incredibly well”. With soft tannin, and violet and ripe raspberry notes, I was already intrigued. How was this going to do with squid-inked rice and tentacles? I’ll let you use your imagination on this one.
The discoveries were not over just yet. Grilled Fraser Valley Quail on top of Red Wine Lentils, Radicchio, and Salsa Peverada was up with the Ilary Cordin Amarone Della Valpolicella 2006. The sauciness and spiciness of the red lentils communicated nicely with one another on the palate. The acid in the food was softened by the wine to help bring out the salty & savoury notes of the risotto. The wine itself was of medium intensity and showed developing characteristics. Cola, pitted ripe cherries, milk chocolate, mocha, red licorice, and a sprinkle of black pepper all complemented the medium (+) body of the wine. Vibrant.
Dessert was an interesting choice. I totally get that a lot of times you gamble on how a dessert and wine will pair. The rule of thumb: always make sure your wine is sweeter than your dessert, or else your wine will seem bitter, astringent, or tannic. The Walnut & Caramel Tart with Honey, Coffee, and Cream was just lovely. The caramel oozed over the tart crust, begging you to wipe it up with your finger. (Of course, I didn’t. But let it be known that if I was at home, I would have wiped my finger on that plate.) The wine – Masi’s Amabile Degli Angeli Recioto Classico 2007 – was a beauty on its own, but just [<->] this close to being not sweet enough for the tart.
When I asked Robert why he decided to start with a red wine and then go to a white, he said, “People get stuck in a rut. I wanted the option of giving you something different. The whole premise of this was to have white wine before red wine.” He went on to say that with all of the “rules” surrounding food and wine pairings, he wanted to break the tradition and exhibit some perfect examples of why one can play with these “rules”. Bravo, Robert, bravo.
If you’re interested in attending other region-focused dinners at Cibo Trattoria, you’re in luck! There are more!
- June 2 – Sicily
- July 8 – Tuscany “The Anti-Chianti Dinner”
- August 2 – The 2nd Annual “Bottle Royale” – B.C.’s wines vie against international selections.