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! There is an entire etiquette of wine, even an age-old culture of what to drink when and with what food.
One does not have to follow those traditions except that they have evolved over centuries among people who have discovered which wine tastes best with what foods.
So why not take a few tips from a wine expert like Stephano Rusticali, the owner of La Terrazzo, an Italian restaurant on Nairobi’s Ngong Road. Stephano has specialised 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 USA.
But probably the most highly evolved and long-standing wine culture is Italian since they have been growing grapes and preparing wines for thousands of years. What is more, the Italians produce scores of different wines.
Everyone knows that red wines are drank 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 favourite 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 women.
The more robust wines are red, and Stephano has a whole range of both red and white Italian wines at restaurant and lounge. “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 10 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 per cent) 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 appetiser. It sounds like a perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a bottle of Amarone (2007) is Sh28,000.
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 is 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.