Pebble Beach Food & Wine: Pasta, Barolo, & Whales Oh My!
Could there be a more unbridled attempt at organized excess than Pebble Beach Food & Wine? Now in its 11th year, Pebble Beach Food & Wine is an excuse to go big, go bigger and then go home, only to come back and do it again the next day. Seminars abound: so much wine, so much history. It’s hard to choose. Peruse wines from a Barolo producer that’s been around since 1761, splash a few rosés in your glass, or dive into Krug Clos de Mesnil.
Then there are the lunches, the cooking demos, the dinners, the parties, the after parties, and probably the after after parties, which we used to call slumber parties back in my day. It’s a wonder that the Betty Ford clinic doesn’t sponsor an onsite detox center. Come to think of it, that and a Lavazza coffee station are about the only things missing from this all encompassing event.
No matter, as the Fatto A Mano (Italian for made by hand) luncheon, held at the edge of the Inn at Spanish Bay overlooking the whale-spouted Pacific, provided plenty of food — and drink—for thought. In the stiff wind of the approaching storm that turned out to be a dud, glasses of vintage Prosecco attempted to wind surf to Japan.
Efficient wait staff, each one cuter than the next, plied us with trays of appetizers, including marinated octopus, potato and olive, which seemed mighty incongruous and slightly wrong while watching whales spout just offshore. Were they telling us something? Better to go with the orecchiette with broccoli rabe pesto and Calabrian sausage, hand-fashioned by Peppoli Chef Angela Tamura, accompanied by Santa Margherita “Rive De Refrontolo” Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene Brut 2016. Go ahead and say that three times fast.
A vintage Prosecco made in the Methode Champenoise, this stuff was fitting for a kickoff to a lunch that showcased four outstanding local chefs, while out standing on the edge of one of the most beautiful spots on the planet
I happened to be standing there with the woman whose husband was responsible for all the stonework and masonry at Spanish Bay. It’s lovely as an exemplary piece of work, but when you have a personal connection to something, it’s all the more amazing.
So, too, the experience of two incredible pasta dishes, both made by hand, a labor of love, as all those hand-crafted walls and patios. First up, Peter Armellino’s lobster bolognese with hand rolled cavatelli, Meyer lemon rind and Arugula. Chef Peter, whose new place, Pasta Armellino, is marked by the flour cloud emanating from the newly opened restaurant across the street from his Michelin star Plumed Horse, is happy to be back to his roots, making pasta to his hearts content, and yours. He said that because they are individually handrolled, each cavatelli is different, like snowflakes in a blizzard, only tastier. The lemon zest mated perfectly with the 2016 Kettmeir Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige, one of the best pairings of the lunch.
Next up was Matthew Accarrino’s (SPQR) sensationally pillowy potato gnocchi with spring peas, buckwheat and smoked burrata. You’ve heard the description “pillowy” applied to gnocchi, but rarely do you actually get fluffy goose down pillow: the kind you find in the best hotels in Austria. Usually it’s more like fraternity couch pillows that have lost their poof and have taken on the shape of the butts that compress them mercilessly on a nightly basis.
Accarrino said he was looking for a way to make gnocchi that would downplay the rigidity of overworked gluten from regular flour. He scored with this recipe, which uses Yukon gold potatoes, egg yolks and rice four. Each little tube, about the width and shape of a licorice rope cut into 1” segments, absolutely melted in your mouth with the essence of pure potato, vanishing like a good swig of Champagne. You just have to have another.
Next up was a succulent Tuscan porchetta by Emanuele Bartolini of La Balena in Carmel, arguably one of the hottest Italian restaurants on the Peninsula. He marinates it for a day and then cooks it slowly for 5 or 6 hours. Hard to beat the flavors of the fat: we ardently wished for a bottle of Barolo, and vowed to never attend another luncheon without a proper backup.
Peppoli’s Angela Tamura topped it off with a panforte spiced sticky toffee pudding, made with black pepper, figs and dates and orange zest, that had been doused with warm Chianti before baking, creating interesting crusty pools of wine along with the wash of aged balsamic Zabaglione. In keeping with the theme of Fatta A Mano, strips of sawtooth edged fried pasta bits added crunch to the complex rendition of a traditional Tuscan dessert.
At the Giacomo Borgogno seminar that followed, we got the Barolo we craved during lunch, and then some. Ponder the concept of tasting some of the world’s most sought after wines made by a winery that dates back to 1761. Known as “The Father of Barolo,” Borgogno was the first winery to commercially produce Barolo. Traditionally, and it is still this way in many parts of Barolo, the wine, which can be totally obtuse in its rather prolonged youth, was extracted on the skins for months, aged for years in barriques and then shoved into the back of the cellar to work out its antisocial tendencies. Any attempt to color it up should be avoided, as the grape is what it is – the brickier the better. It’s the aromas, the tension, the structure, the play between sweet and acid, tannin and suppleness, that makes it so ethereal. Panelist David Lynch proclaimed, “If you see a dark, inky Barolo, run the other way. Barolo is translucent, almost orange. That’s Barolo.”
Representing Borgogno’s distributor on the panel, Paolo Domeneghetti explained that Barolo was traditionally given as gifts for births, weddings and birthdays: it was never consumed. It was just assumed that it would be something you’d open some day.
Well, that day came for the 8 wines we tasted, with commentary from SOMM’s DLynn Proctor, Gillian Balance and David Lynch. Barolo is nothing like any other grape. As much as it is likened to Burgundy, there is just no there there. Nebbiolo has a far more imperial attitude than Pinot Noir.
Nebbiolo has no apparent interest in ever being suave, sophisticated or elegant: it’s even more acidic, far more tannic, more color-challenged and even more tempertantrumental to grow. And yet, it can become A-mazing with cellar aging. Nebbiolo requires the kind of divine patience that God must have with the human race.
If the 1967 is any indication, Nebbiolo, at least from certain vintages, is so worth waiting for. It has the guts to go as great a distance, if not more, than Pinot. The consensus among the somms was that the 1996, 2010 and 2011 vintages are worth putting in your cellar.
If only we live long enough to see it blossom.
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.