Photos By:: Adil Arora
The January ‘13 wine dinner (#206) of the Delhi Wine Club promised to be a double whammy. Firstly, in a major coup, Subhash Arora our Club President ,was able to manage to get the visiting Sicilian wine producers’ delegation under the aegis of the Sicilian Regional Institute of Wines and Olive Oil, to spend an entire evening with the members of our Club. Secondly, the venue for this Sicilian evening was Diva, Delhi’s top fine dining Italian restaurant run by the charismatic Ritu Dalmia – on both counts what a great start to the year it promised to be for our members!
Though Sicily has been producing wines from the times when years were marked with BC rather than AD and is known for its famous fortified wine Marsala, the island’s wines have always lived in the shadow of its more famous cousins from the northern parts of Italy. This is something the Sicilians want to change and they are mounting a concerted drive in India to educate wine lovers and the wine trade in targeted cities nationwide. The game plan is to get Sicilian wine producers to showcase their wines at a series of Sicilian Wine Masterclass sessions around the country using internationally acclaimed wine personalities like the acclaimed wine journalist Michelle Shah, the Master of Wine Susan Hulme and our very own Cavaliere Subhash Arora.
Walking into Diva on a cold Sunday evening, the first thing that struck me was that Ritu Dalmia had blocked the entire restaurant for our wine club dinner (both floors!) –something very unusual for such a top flight dining venue and that too on a weekend when footfalls are higher than most weekdays! This just goes to show not only her commitment to wines but also her large heartedness (who says Marwari always think money only!)
With arrival of the Sicilian delegation headed by their wine brand ambassadorDiego Planeta, the founder of the Planeta Winery, we got down to the serious business of working our way thru 9 Sicilian wines starting with the Feudo Disisa Grillo 2011 IGT – a light wine with a lemony finish and the Planeta Chardonnay – a pleasant chardonnay typical of this varietal with fruit on the nose and a smooth finish. To accompany the aperitifs, we had Bruschetta with Zucchini and the Eggplant Caviar with sesame – unfortunately presentation vehicle of the Fennel Salad and Pate of whipped Potatoes, both of which looked yummy, didn’t lend itself to a stand-up finger food mode so I didn’t try them.
After Subhash’s welcoming remarks and a brief overview by Diego Planeta on Sicily’s wine industry, we all trooped upstairs for the formal sit down part of the evening where another pleasant surprise awaited us. In order to provide the complete Sicilian experience with their wines, the delegation also brought with them Carmelo Floridia, the Chef of the restaurant at Locanda Gulfi Winery, to prepare Sicilian delicacies – evidently adhering to a line of thought which says the wines of a region are best paired with the food of that region.
I was fortunate to have on my table Giuseppe Tasca D’Almerita, a second generation winemaker belonging to Tasca D’Almerita, one of the bigger players in the Sicilian wine market and over a glass of Benanti Pietramarina Etna DOC 2008, it was indeed interesting to update ones knowledge of Sicily and its wines. For antipasti, I chose the Tomato soup with ricotta and basil – a thick rich flavourful broth possibly one of the best I have had in Delhi. It went deliciously with the Valle Dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG-2009 – this fruity nosed soft and smooth wine is possibly one of the few Sicilian wines with a DOCG classification- Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only DOCG appellation in Sicily, we were told)and was my favourite for the evening.
On pass around also were two Sicilian olive oils to go with Diva’s excellent breads. When Giuseppe heard a request from our table for balsamic vinegar and chilli flakes to mix into the olive oil, he was aghast and said “In Sicily we only mix in a few grains of salt and if you must a pinch of rosemary but balsamic with olive oil- only in salads!” I must confess the addition of salt was definitely a taste enhancer and gave the oil a much richer and fuller feel in the mouth.
For the Primo Piatto, we had Macaroni with Eggplant, Ricotta and Basil accompanied by the Castellucci Miano Perricone IGT 2009 and the Tasca D’Almerita Rosso dl Conte DOC 2007. Giuseppe’s impression of Diva went up many notches as he complimented the macaroni which he said was done “al dente- just the way we do it at home”.
It was the main course where Chef Carmelo showed his mettle with a superlative Chicken breast with a Pistachio crust and Caper pesto. It matched excellently with two reds on hand – the Curto Giombattista DOC 2008 and the Gulfi Nerojbleo 2009. Both the wines had a base of the predominant Sicilian grape Nero d’Avola and had good body, medium acidity but were a little high on tannins.
Whilst awaiting the dessert of an Almond chocolate cake with a Marsala sauce, I sipped the Planeta Burdese 2007 – a 70/30 mix of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc. Definitely one of the better wines showcased that evening, the Planeta had fruit both on the nose and on the palate, a good structure and a slightly spicy finish.
On the whole a very enjoyable Sicilian experience and our thanks not only to the Sicilians for bringing their wines across but also to Susan Hulme MW for so eloquently giving our members an insight into the finer nuances of each wine that was served. The inclusion of Chef Carmelo in the delegation was a masterstroke, though one must also compliment the supporting chefs at Diva for dealing so adroitly with a one-off Sicilian menu. And mind you, this when Ritu was in Italy on that day!
We, at the Delhi Wine Club, do wish the Sicilians all the best for their marketing thrust in India and I am sure priced correctly, these wines in time would establish their own niche in the value based segment. Ciao!
Arun Batra is a Delhi based food and wine enthusiast and a long-time member of the Delhi Wine Club.