PHUKET: There is Italy, and then there is Sicily, the country’s most southern region that is, in many ways, closer to Africa than to Europe. There are Sicilian wines, and then there is Donnafugata – the region’s ambassador and symbol of quality. There are wine dinners, and then there are wine dinners at Regent Cape Panwa. The latest, which paired the Sicilian-to-the-bone wines of Donnafugata with the impressive cooking skills of Executive Chef Justin Baziuk, was an evening to remember.
Sicilian summers are hot – African hot. The island holds Europe’s record for the highest temperature ever recorded of more than 48° Celsius. The average temperature is a bit lower, especially during winter when it plunges to 9-15°C. However, it’s still a place for the heat-loving crowds. And heat loving vines.
“Sicilian wines, due to hot weather, are rich and fruity and of great diversity, and include a great number of amazing sweet wines,” explained Francesco Neirotti, Italian Wine Manager at Bangkok Beer and Beverages Co Ltd, the company that supplied the Regent’s Donnafugata dinner with wine.
These big, flavorful wines need big, flavorful dishes to match their grandness, and that’s exactly what Regent’s kitchen delivered.
“Chef Baziuk received the wines a month before the actual dinner and took the necessary time and effort to come up with perfect matches for each of five Donnafugata bottles served tonight,” explained Neirotti.
It all begun with soft-cured Tasmanian salmon served with a glass of white wine made from Zibibbo grapes, maybe better known as Muscat of Alexandria. The phrase “it melts in your mouth” is normally heavily overused, but there is no other way do describe what happened with the delicate, yet flavorful fish the moment it touched the palates of Regent’s guests.
Two red wines followed, both built around the famous Sicilian grape of Nero d’Avola. The first one, in which d’Avola met its French counterparts Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was served with a soup. If there were a fish soup out there that deserved to be matched with red wine, this was it. The smoked yellow-fin tuna vichyssoise was intense, not to say heavy, and its comfort food characteristics were further enhanced by the full-bodied red wine.
After a short break that took the form of a butterfly-pea-and-vodka sorbet served in Chef Baziuk’s signature dry-ice-induced mist, what landed on our tables was sous vide dorper lamb, which was slowly steamed to perfection using low temperature and airtight plastic bags. Such a flavorful, rustic yet elegant dish called for another full-bodied wine which gave Nero d’Avola a second, and last, chance to perform in our glasses that evening.
After this impressive main dish came the turn of sweets, both on the plate and in the glass.
“Sicily produces amazingly complex sweet wines, and the ones served tonight are among the most awarded sweet wines in the world,” ensured Neirotti.
The lighter of the two dessert wines came from the Moscato di Pantelleria DOC and found its match in the refreshing citrus sorbet of pomelo, pink grape fruit and blood orange served with passion fruit curd.
This welcomed, energizing intermission was well in place before what, for many, turned out to be the main attraction of the evening. Few wines would be able to tackle the mesmerizing sweetness of the Valhrona Manjari 64% cocoa chocolate, the straw wines of Passito di Pantelleria DOC being among them. The one from Donnafugata vintners must be one of the most original sweet wines out there.
Made from sun-dried Zibibbo grapes, salmon pink in hue with a deep scent of dried apricots, it was honey sweet yet tangy enough for the chocolate-based dessert.
Donnafugata, “flying women” in Italian, deserves to fly high among Barolos, Brunellos and other superstar wines of Italy, and food events of the quality that Regent Cape Panwa embodies will sure help it take off in Thailand.
— Maciek Klimowicz