By Margaretta wa Gacheru (5 February 2019)
Valentine’s Day is around the corner and many couples are wondering what to get their sweethearts other than chocolates and flowers this year.
Why not try wine! What could be more romantic than to get a bottle of red or white wine and celebrate over a meal, a light snack or even a pizza.
But please be advised: there is an entire etiquette of wine, even an age-old culture of what to drink when and with what food.
One doesn’t have to follow those traditions except that they’ve evolved over centuries among people who’ve discovered which wine tastes best with what foods. So why not take a few tips from a wine expert like Stephano Rusticali who’s specialized in the fine art and etiquette of specifically Italian wines.
Countries that are renowned for their wines include Argentine, Chile, South Africa, France and even California. But probably the most highly evolved and longstanding wine culture is Italian since they have been growing grapes and preparing wines literally for thousands of years. What’s more, the Italians produce scores of different wines that come from virtually every region of that Mediterranean country.
Most everyone knows that red wines are drunk with red meats like beef and white wines are served with foods like fish, chicken, desserts and even pizza.
“But pizza is probably better served with beer than wine,” says Stephano who, when pressed, adds that pizza can be served with a light white wine like Trebbiano which comes from around Ravenna where he grew up and once worked in a winery himself.
For convivial occasions, like Valentine’s Day, Stephano suggests a light white wine called an aperitif. Prosecco is a favorite Italian aperitif which is normally served before a meal and often in the afternoon. The other aperitif that he recommends is a ‘Spritz’ which is a delicious mix of Prosecco and Aperol, which has a fruity orange bouquet (smell) and is especially popular among the ladies.
The more robust wines are red, and Stephano has a whole range of both red and white Italian wines at his La Terrazzo Restaurant, Lounge and Art Gallery in The Green House on Ngong Road.
“The price range of wines depends on many factors,” explains Stephano whose wine cabinet is temperature control on every shelf where his various wines rest. “Temperature is critical,” he says, noting that he keeps his wines at optimal temperatures so his bottles might be ten years old, more or less. But age in another factor in the value and quality of a wine.
“Our most expensive wine is Amarone classico which is made with only the best grapes from every plant,” he says, adding that the process of making a wine is also critical. “The Amarone must be stored in a barrel for no less than 24 months, so the quantity produced is small, but the alcohol content is high (16.5 percent) and it’s delicious when served with any cut of beef.”
Stephano’s son Jacopo notes that last week, two Kenyans came in and ordered a bottle of Amarone and then went out on the restaurant’s top floor terrace to share their wine over an appetizer. It sounds like a perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, although a bottle of Amarone (2007) is KSh28,000.
Fortunately, for the more modest wine drinker, there are many Italian wines that are not nearly that expensive. For instance, the Trebbiano is Sh2,500 a bottle and like all of Stephano’s Italian wines, one can take a bottle away or drink it right there either on the Terrace or inside where the views of Nairobi are spectacular both by day or night.
Then there’s the sparkling sweet white wine known as Moscato Dolce which is also perfect as a Valentine treat; it’s Sh3,000. The equally sweet still white wine, Mosceto Giallo is Sh3,200.
And among red wines, the Merlot Trentino is Sh3,000 and the Merlot Cabernet is Sh2,500. From the Veneto county comes a red Ripasso Superior and from Tuscany comes La Braccesca’s Vino Nobile. Both sell for Sh4,500 a bottle. Stephano explains that the thousand shilling differential is due to the manner in which the two sets of wines are processed. The longer wine is stored in a barrel, the richer and more robust the taste. So the Ripasso and Vino Nobile are stored anywhere from 12 to 24 months in barrels while the Merlots are simply bottled; nonetheless, they are still good quality wines.