From the Road

Sitting still thinking of Perbacco

November 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Here and now, in McMinnville Oregon, wineries are in the throes of it.

Harvest. Crush.

Fall flutters through the streets while  forklifts grunt and moan moving fermenters and bins, oblivious to leaves and blowers. I have been watching our gang at the winery, day and night nonstop for the past couple of weeks, getting all the fruit in this year in record time and now getting ready for the hard slog through fermentation and all that goes with it. It seems terribly unfair to even think about the phrase ‘sit still’. However, I am forcing myself to say it, here and now, because I’m going to have to do it – to sit still. The very thought!

It has been a hard year, entirely too many airports and baggage claim areas, a cracked laptop screen going through security last month wasn’t any fun either, figuring out how to use an iPad right afterwards was interesting! Swings and roundabouts, the storm, the calm.

This is the time of year when our distributors are run ragged trying to get holiday sales and events set up, so this is also the time of year when they DON’T want to see winery folks coming into their markets, so we have to literally, stay put.

There are many good things that can come from this. I will have time to write blog posts – at last! I hope  to recall some of the bright spots through the year and share them with you – but where to begin?

Without any hesitation, one of  the brightest (and accidental! always the best) interludes in my year was when a delightful Italian friend in New York sent me to a small East Village (Greenwich) Italian restaurant called  ‘Perbacco’.

I sat into a corner table in the dimly lit restaurant and relaxed into it, it had been a long day getting to the East Village from 5th street in McMinnville.

The interior is small, rustic and intimate meaning yes, I could hear conversation, it was gentle, ambient but dynamic and there was another sort of intimacy around, it seemed like everyone was glad to be there, as if they knew something I didn’t.

My friend Francesca made me promise to try an appetiser she adored, the Parmigian crème brûlée. I checked that it was still on the menu and there it was, so I had somewhere safe to start. For salad, they had on offer a salad of frisée, fried peaches and blue cheese. My waitress insisted I try it, I think she knew she had a foodie on board, and then she suggested I have the risotto special so OK, I did.  Order up.

When the appetiser arrived, it was such a surprise; the texture, the salt level, the sweet-and-sourness from drizzled reduced balsamico. I was rooted to the spot. Of course, I had ordered a glass of wine upon entry, I was enjoying a Falanghina from their BTG list. Nice medium weight, good acidity, pretty stone fruit presence, all just as one would expect. I feared for its integrity though when I realised what was going on with the brûlée. Those of you who know about the ZiNG! thing (the food and wine pairing method we espouse & teach) will understand. I had a lot of salt there (the cheese in the custard) and of course, umami too (in both the aged parmigian and egg) so I had a feeling I was going to need a little more acid power in hand for a ZiNG! to happen. I looked down the list again, enter Orvieto – fabulous! Light, linear, bracingly acidic – it gave the dish a bridge to dance on, it was really wonderful. Hurray for Trebbiano & Grechetto!

OK, now we got to the salad and I already have two wineglasses on the table. My little waitress friend looked at me happily ‘buon appetito!’ again and put down the plate. Beautiful! Wafer thin-ly sliced peaches layered with delicate frisée two or three stories high, in the basement there were gorgonzola crumbles, all around drizzled with more delicious reduced balsamico – and then the whole thing suddenly said ‘sugar’.

Oh no! The lurking sugar thing (for the ZiNG!’ers out there). What was I going to do wine wise? I tried the Falanghina – it was totalled. I tried the Orvieto – it too, totalled. I knew I needed some sugar for balance, what to do? The waitress caught my distress (good eye) and started over to me with the wine list.

As is the case in many, many restaurants, the need for a wine with some residual sugar to use in food & wine situations just like this one, is WAY under emphasised but that’s another discussion and another reason why I love Oregon Pinot gris so much. However, on this night, I suddenly saw my saviour…prosecco! I ordered a glass, triggered a shocked expression in the waitress’s face ‘are you sure? people – um, they order the prosecco at the end?’ I smiled and thanked her but yes, I was sure. It came, it fizzed and it conquered. One more time, thank goodness for a small understanding of chemistry and the inner workings of food and wine togetherness. And then there were three…wineglasses that is, on my little table.

Then came the risotto. It was beautiful, different, served up spooned out flat, about an inch deep, around the plate. I should have noted exactly what the rice was but I didn’t (mea culpa) it was a tawny colour and had small beans cooked throughout, which really added to the texture but oh my goodness, the garni!

There were broken toasted almonds scattered on about one-third of the dish, then toasted crumbs from something that tasted vaguely brioche like, almost sweet, but then, and I was fascinated by this – there were tiny, and I mean tiny like six to eight per fingernail tiny – cubes of balsamic gelée sprinkled like gemstones over the rest. Wow.

I tasted it, the waitress looked at me expectantly, I’m sure wondering where the wine road was going to go at this point, so I asked her if she would ask the young man up front (who appeared to be an owner) what he recommended  with the dish. Soon I had a glass of Roero Arneis ’08 on the table to have with my risotto, and it was an absolute triumph, a ZiNG! if ever there was one! Oh dear – and then there were FOUR  (glasses with wine in them on the table) but who’s counting at this stage?

I have since discovered that the word or phrase ‘perbacco’ means ‘wow’ (or words to that effect) in Italian. Possibly why I am sitting, still, thinking about it.

Have a look : Perbacco

Till next time!

all the best,


p.s. Oh! by the way, we are presenting another ZiNG! workshop on December 4th at our fabulous winebar downtown on 3rd in McMinnville. Please e-mail Maria for a seat if you’d like one to: Numbers are fairly limited, so let us know as soon as you can.

We plan to start around noon.

$35 per person will change your food and wine life forever.

See you there!

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