Wine and food are intricately linked in most parts of the world; in Italy they are fervently wedded. And I whole-heartedly agree with the Italians, “Wine and Bread are as essential to an Italian dinner as a fork and knife (if not more).” Along with olive oil they make “Santa Trinita Mediterranea”.
Portobello Restaurant, located downtown Disney Springs recently celebrated the glorious Epcot Food & Wine Festival festivities with their Signature wine-dinner with none other than the James Beard award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano (Chef-partner at the coveted Spiaggia in Chicago).
Toscano to the Italians, Tuscany is the land of Renaissance, marriage of modern and old world charm, stage for exquisite food and world-class wines, burnt-orange vistas, rust-colored hills, pristine and picturesque landscapes, charming trattorias and pizzerias, simply a place to fall in love!
Fall and winter, is eating season in Tuscany: big red wines, mushrooms, black truffles, chestnuts, and hearty pastas with meat sauce. Tuscans, like rest of Italy eat what’s in season, and the best stuff ripens between October and March. Portobello’s signature Tuscan dinner couldn’t fall at a better time.
From antipasto, primi, secondi, contorni, to dolce, Portobello and Chef Mantuno took us on a quintessential culinary adventure of Tuscany. Bravo chef!
Antipasto and wine are foodie soulmates and no one takes antipasto as seriously as the Italians. Antipasto, which literally means “before the meal,” a beloved combination of delightful small bites of accompanied by wine, shall we say a casual pick me up before indulging in the main meal.
We initiated our Tuscan experience with a refreshing glass of Prosecco. Followed by Passed Antipasti of Crispy Eggplant Fries, Pizza Bianco with pecorino, ricotta, arugula, and Crispy Pesciolini with Lemon.
The 2014 Vermentino, Cantine Bruni, Tuscany, Italy – a dry, floral white wine that held it’s own ground with it’s distinct texture. Vermentino is an invaluable partner to Tuscany’s coastal seafood dishes. (Seems like lately I am smitten with Italian white wines.)
Our culinary tour continued with a delectable array of Formaggi offerings from artisan producers directly imported from Italy. King of Italian cheeses Parmigiana-Reggianno, fennel infused Finnochiona, aphrodisiac truffle cheese Tartufino, sweet blue veined Gorgonzola Dulce, and bright and buttery fresh Pecorina, served alongside freshly baked Italian breads, nuts, and fresh fruits.
The 2012 Non Confunditur, Argiano, Tuscany, Italy (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Sangiovese) juicy, ripe, medium-bodied, soft tannins transitioned us from Italian whites to red wines.
Italian wines have the grip and edge to slice through the dauntless flavors of Italian food. Sangiovese, considered one of the greatest red grapes of Italy, reminds me of a big bowl of pasta mixed with tomatoes, mushrooms, savory herbs, and balsamic vinegar.
The baby Brunello, 2013 Rosso di Montalcino, Argiano, Tuscany, Italy with ripe red fruit, earthy and dusty finish was ideally suited to the Pasta Station.
Pasta being the most famous Italian primo, and in Tuscany, Pappardelle is king. Portobello’s fresh-cut, tender Pappardelle with Nona’s Pork Ragu was an exemplary example of fresh ingredients and simplicity. Tender pork, sweet tomato sauce, hand-rolled pasta, cooked within a minute. So simple but oh so good!
Glorious hunks of porterhouse, flame-licked to perfection, drizzled with woodsy rosemary oil. It’s edible ecstasy for the omnivore. Served with quintessential Tuscan beans poached in citrusy olive oil, grilled farmers market vegetables. If this plate doesn’t literally transport you the to Tuscan countryside, not to mention a food induced coma. A sip of the wallet-friendly 2012 Le Sughere, Frassinello Super Tuscan (superhero of Italian wines), approachable, juicy, and bright will certainly do the trick.
How can such few simple ingredients taste so divine? That’s the genius of Tuscan cooking. No masking flavors with fancy sauces or fried accompaniments. It’s purity of flavor, fresh ingredients, homemade egg pasta, mammoth cuts of meat grilled over wood coals, beans simmering in stoneware pots.
In Tuscany, white beans are more than just ‘the poor man’s meat’; they’re a way of life.
The customary finale to any Tuscan meal, almost always with a plate of Cantucci -twice baked almond crescent cookies called Biscotti is a small glass of sweet dessert wine Vin Santo. Radiant amber in color, the 2008 Vin Santo ” Sangallo ” Fattoria del Cerro, Tuscany, Italy, showcased delicate notes of orange peel and honey.
Of course Italy’s most famous sweet, the dreamy gelato, a refreshing respite to our glorious Tuscan adventure made an appearance with house made flavors of Blood Orange, Pistachio, and Chocolate gelato and sorbet. Bellesimmo!!!
The delightful wines for the night were generously provided by Italian wine expert Mr. Pierluigi Gaeta, Florida district manager for Vias Imports.
Chef Mantuano with his darling wife Cathy Mantuano co-authored the Wine Bar and Food Cookbook: Mediterranean Flavors to Crave with Wines to Match. Click HERE to purchase.
Next time you are craving the passionate culture and exquisite cuisine Italy has to offer, reserve a table at Portobello – 407-934-8888.