When I was invited to an event co-funded by the European Union, “wild” was not the word I expected to use describing it, but here we are.
Packed into the dining room of Il Ponte Cucina, a glass of wine was immediately thrust into my hand as soon as I came through the door, my coat practically vanishing from my shoulders. Where I anticipated a formal and dry event, the night was anything but. The campaign was founded to increase awareness of wines and fruits from several European areas with protected geographical indications for production. Featured were fresh kiwis and cherries from Greece, and a variety of wines from Abruzzo, representing the Consortium for the Protection of Wines of Abruzzo, the Union of Agricultural Cooperative of Kavala (Kavala COOP), and the Agricultural Cooperative of Rachi Pieria “Agio Loukas”.
I must say that despite all the fuss and complication a PGI/IGP can bring with them, I’ve come to appreciate them more and more in this age of dubious goods and wildly sporadic quality in produce. With so many poor imposters afoot just in the humble canned tomato aisle, seeing the seal for true San Marzano tomatoes is something I can at least trust. I’ve always wanted to see a bit of it here in Canada (imagine the potential we could have for a designation like “Alberta Straight Rye Whisky”). Excited to get to the goods, I grabbed a kiwi and sat down to get to know the wines.
The whites were the standout, fresh and aromatic across the board, with good weight and balanced acid, all the big boxes checked. I quite fancy Passerina, a lesser-known but excellent white varietal, floral and citrus orchard fruit driven, named after the sparrows that voraciously feed on the grapes in the late harvest month, much to the despair of winemakers.
I feel the best sites in Abruzzo hail from the northern coasts, up just near Marche, where I would find some of my favourite white wines in all of Italy (maybe a future article about my profound love for Marche in the future), and find an excellent balance between tension and richness, with Passerina being capable of producing very ripe wines that still maintain good acidity.
All wines for the event were served blind, as they intend to represent the region and not a specific producer. Of course Montepulciano D’Abruzzo also made an appearance. Sticky, dense, very warming with fruit leather, amarena cherry, low acid and gently sweet with super soft tannins. Montepulciano D’Abruzzo still represents good dependable value for full-bodied, approachable reds.
Finally, the fruit. This is what I had been waiting for. It seems absurd to me that I didn’t realize sooner, but once I started working at a vineyard a simple truth clicked for me; wine is fruit. Not only are grapes of course fruit, but the notes and character of wine is dominantly fruit. I spend so much time seeking out wines with those perfect peach and apple notes, sometimes I forget I’m allowed to just go eat a damn peach. I’ve made it a personal mission in the past months eat as much fresh, in-season fruit as possible, not just to train my palate, but to appreciate every apple and nectarine to its fullest. There is seriously nothing like a truly glorious piece of fruit.
I can vividly remember particular fruits, for example when I was attending University of Waterloo, I was walking home after grabbing groceries on a chill October night, talking with my Mom on the phone. Our conversation about next semesters courses was completely derailed for a full 15 minutes by a Honeycrisp apple; “Mom sorry I missed what you just said but this is a REALLY GOOD APPLE” (as you may judge from my cider article, I kind of have a “thing” with apples).
It’s an understatement to say that I was excited to try Greek fruit, especially the “Cherries from Rachi Olympus”. The Agricultural Cooperative of Rachi Pierias, “AGIOS LOUKAS” constitutes one of the biggest (regarding production) and most reputed cooperatives in Greece. Founded in 1978, today it has 250 members, and its cherry grove has expanded to 200 hectares. Each year, old trees are strategically replaced by new ones, while new cultivars are also planted. The cherries were uber-red and plump, with a rich flavour almost vanilla-esque. The Kiwis of Kavala COOP were bright, juicy, a vibrant in colour, and would be making an immediate appearance in the first dish of the night.
The dinner, a 4 course meal (5 for me, I nabbed a 5th dessert of an early departee) centred around featuring the Greek Kiwi’s and Cherries, was quite generous. A Kiwi salad with bitter greens, followed by kiwi risotto, certainly a first for me, into roast duck with cherries, and cherry panna cotta plus a cherry/lemon sorbet in the end.
Il Ponte Cucina’s crew expertly handled a full room of ravenous winos, with food coming hot and on time, certainly a challenging task considering essentially the entire restaurant being sat and rung in all at the same time. Indeed it was a bit of a shock to get full plates of food hot food, versus the small bites of lukewarm fare usually served at wine events.
Halfway through the event, I experienced a powerful moment of cognitive dissonance. There I was, hardcore and silent at the shared table, notebook in one hand and camera in the other, furiously scribbling down every tiny detail, snapping everything even remotely interesting, and I was annoyed. Everyone around me just seemed to be having a good time, how dare they!
Slowly and surely, I was coaxed out of my stiff writers shell to eventually interact with my table and actually let loose. It hit me in a sudden rush that this right here was the point of it all; the laughing, the drinking; the toasting, the feasting, meeting people you’ve never met before and bonding over a love of good meals and good times. In the past years, my fervent drive to become competent and serious in my field has resulted in a disconnect between my current motivations and the reasons I started the job in the first place. The formal and professional tasting has its place and merits, but this was a welcome surprise, especially after so long in my post-Covid shell.
I should do this more often.