On a recent balmy May night, Mickey Bakst and his troupe of artisans brought traditional Umbrian food and wine to Charleston Grill. Special preparations of beans, grains, modest portions of grilled meats, and, of course, truffles were on display during this exceptional evening with delicious food expertly prepared by Chef Michelle Weaver.
Upon stepping into the outdoor piazza, I was handed a glass of rosé along with a list of the wines for the evening. The periphery of the patio was lined with multiple tables of goodies, including grilled herbed artichokes, roasted country vegetables drizzled in olive oil, mozzarella with tomatoes and faro, and silky smooth prosciutto with melon. This spread alone would have left anyone satisfied, but it was further enhanced by the expertise of Rick Rubel, sommelier for Charleston Grill. Rick sourced some outstanding wines from Umbria to couple with the plates and was eager to share his pairings with guests.The opening rosé, Vaitiano by Falesco, was a delightful blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Aleatico. The coolness of the drink was a hit, topped only by the sheer delight of the raspberry and strawberry flavors commanding much of the palate. An Orvieto, made by Argillae, was poured next. Crisp, dry, and easy on the palate, this choice was a dream with the green beans and the roasted country vegetables. Arnaldo-Caprai’s first wine of the night, Grechetto dei Colli Martani Grecante, matched perfectly with the artichokes. As a wonderful personal surprise, Rick kept the big-gun white behind the table and hidden from view so that he could see my face when I tasted it for the first time. Paolo Bea is a winemaking guru, and his Arboreus is made from Trebbiano Spoletino. This white wine is unique in that the juice and skins bathe together for twenty-one days. This process enriches the wine, providing deep golden colors and a heavenly taste of honey and apricots. I did not want the sensation to end. As for my look—I am guessing some form of ecstasy with my eyes rolling back into my head. It was that good.Next, it was time for the reds. Falesco’s Merlot, aged in French oak, adds a slight richness to the sweet black fruit typically evident on Merlot’s aromas. This set the stage for the big boys of the evening. The classic grape of Umbria is Sagrantino di Montefalco, and Rick brought three different producers. From Colpetrone’s complex tannins that were defiantly “out there” to Paolo Bea’s Pagliaro with its powerhouse intensity, the wines continued to get bigger and better. Then came the eight-hundred-pound gorilla: Arnaldo Caprai’s twenty-fifth anniversary wine, Anni, now known to me as the creation of all creations! Rich and fragrant, the wine delivered everything you could imagine on the taste for a red.
There I was, feeling utterly content, when Mickey Bakst boomed over the din that it was time for dinner. Are you kidding me? More? Well why not?! And the evening just got better and better.
Salad arrived with fava beans and arugula complemented by the addition of coppa and a light drizzle of olive oil. Bianconi Assisi Grechetto was the wine pairing, and it worked splendidly with the salty coppa.
The main dish arrived before we saw it on the table: aromas of mushroom and truffle wafted through the dining room and then bam! The plate of roasted pigeon, mushrooms, truffle, and pappardelle appeared. Hearts began to race. Rick came around and poured Altarocca Librato, a red wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. One sip and the dark red fruit with hints of tobacco set the stage for a mouthful of bliss. A cut of the pigeon revealed succulent meat that, along with the mushrooms and sauce, was almost beyond description. Sip, bite, sip, bite—this process was repeated several times and each time a distinct new flavor surfaced.
Of course, there is always room for dessert. Hazelnut semifreddo, chocolate ganache, and meringue kisses were plated to look like a bocce ball court. Creamy, soft chocolate with nuts and meringue was well accompanied by the dessert wine Castello della Sala Muffato della Sala, an original wine based upon what Orivieto would have tasted like at the turn of the century, with a honey color and notes of apricots and crème brulée—you get the picture. Certainly, it was a delicious end to a marvelous evening.
Perfectly timed and executed, the staff at Charleston Grill has something here—something that any foodie or wine guru should be sure to attend. The next wine dinner by this talented group will be on Wednesday, June 6th, and the focus will be South Africa. They will be roasting a whole goat in the outdoor piazza. I can’t wait—how about you?