Taste of Wine: Perfect opening and closing to a classic Italian meal

Rico and I review many Italian restaurants. Not only do we have a preference for…

Rico and I review many Italian restaurants. Not only do we have a preference for these lusciously delicious places where the wine and food join hands in pleasing its patrons, but we also have a passion for all of them.

I have never met an Italian restaurant I didn’t like, and for some of them, I have quickly fallen in love.

The first clues to love at first taste are the appetizer and dessert menus. Focusing on these delicacies is as good as it gets. What wins me over as I range through the appetizer choices is a gastronomic flavor that once tried, becomes an indelible favorite.

Prosciutto means ham, but this kind of ham is an Italian delicacy made with only the most flavorful parts, with sea salt seasoning and lots of experience in using the dry-cure process.

Prosciutto has been produced in Italy since ancient Roman times. Prosciutto “cotto” refers to cooked, cured ham, and prosciutto “crudo” is a raw, cured style, preferred by the majority of Italians. They knew that the low humidity and gentle breezes in the Northern Italian Alps were ideal for curing meat and are still held in high regard today.

There are two brands of prosciutto: Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna region, and San Daniele, in the Friuli Venezia region. Only small details separate the two major names. Both will bring happiness to your palate.  Curing or aging of the ham is at least a year before going to market.

Prior to that, the legs of pork are left to rest from 60 to 90 days.  With these two hams, the aroma is fragrant, the muscle color is pinkish and the fat marbling is white. Both have sweet, slightly salty, intense aromas and are delicate to the palate.

Serve either with Italian bread when possible and Chianti Classico wine, or another style of Sangiovese red wine. Try it with figs, melon and fresh Italian cheeses like mozzarella or burrata. Prosciutto rises to the occasion as a filling for tortellini pasta.

Finale: Tiramisu

The Italians call it “dolce.” The menus of America will title it dessert. Only one dessert on my request list will merit the title of dolce — tiramisu.

Tiramisu may be the most famous and loved dessert in the world. The word tiramisu means “cheer me up,” although some translate it as a more appropriately “pick me up,” since it is loaded with coffee and a liquor guaranteed to lift your spirits.

Tiramisu is the most requested birthday dessert on the planet. Taste of Wine & Food’s Rico Cassoni recently celebrated his birthday, with his lovely wife Mary, at Il Fornaio in Del Mar with his and hers tiramisu desserts. Courtesy photo

Ask the restaurateur if it can be served with Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine known as the “holy wine.”

Tiramisu consists of ladyfingers (or “savoiardi” in Italian) bathed in coffee and a touch of brandy. They are layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese. It is then crowned with a dusting of cocoa powder.

This heavenly combination, when finally ready to consume, strikes up the music of a lovefest for anyone that joins in on this sweet feast, shaped to perfection by the chefs at Il Fornaio in Del Mar. They have authenticated this delicious dessert to the peak of its perfection.

Wine Bytes

— The “wows” are coming loud and clear from those that experience the Brunch menu Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Sal Ercolano’s Flora Bar & Kitchen, in the Carmel Valley District of San Diego. Start it out with “Bottomless” Mimosas and other creative cocktails. Sandwiches, burgers, eggs, even those heavenly classic Italian dishes like Lasagna and Chicken Milanese are on the menu for your pleasure. Reserve your place at 858-461-0622.

— The Best of San Diego Party is Fri. Aug. 20 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Legacy Plaza in Liberty Station San Diego. The event brings together the top local restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries and other attractions as seen in San Diego Magazine. Some 100 vendors are expected with live bands. The cost starts at $90, plus a $5.94 fee. Visit esp.sandiegomagazine.com/best-of-san-diego-2021-san-diego-magazine-events-0.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator and one of the leading commentators on the web. Reach him at [email protected]