I was recently able to attend a dinner arranged by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas and Harvest Importing to promote the wine of the Lombardy (North Central) region. The dinner was held at Carmelo's Italian Restaurant, the longstanding West Houston establishment.
Lombardia wines are not quite as well known in the U.S. as the wines from the Piedmont or Tuscan regions of Italy, but aside from being home to Milan, the capital of high fashion, the Lombardy region is producing some very good wines. I am not a connoisseur, but I do know what I like, and each wine was pleasant to the palate. Carmelo expertly paired them with some classic Italian dishes.
The evening began with a sparkling wine from the sub-region of Franciacorta paired with passed appetizers of bruschetta with eggplant and mozzarella, corn cakes with smoked salmon, and arancini with Gorgonzola. The wine was crisp and dry, but not unpleasantly so, and the pear notes paired particularly with the flavorful Gorgonzola.
The evening continued with a variety of different wines, ranging from a buttery Chardonnay paired with spaghetti with veal ragu to a light, berry-tinted Rose served with Chicken Provencal.
One of the standouts of the evening for me was the Lugna Marangona Tre Campane, a medium-bodied white with a soft finish. Carmelo paired this with a cauliflower mousse with mushroom ragu. The mousse was reminiscent of a scoop of ice cream. I would have eaten a lot more vegetables as a kid if all of it had been whipped with butter and cream into such a fluffy, creamy confection. Another was the Sforzato di Valtellina Cantina di Villa Tirano, a deep, slightly spiced red served with a filet of beef, risotto and roasted vegetables. This was a perfect example of Lombardia, as more rice than pasta is eaten in the region.
The evening ended, as it started, with a sparking wine, this time a fruity Brut Rose with Carmelo's crepes with caramelized apples. The delicate crepe topped with a toothsome apple compote was made overly indulgent with a drizzle of truffle honey.
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Because Lombardia is lesser known, a lot of producers are trying to raise the awareness of the region and its many wines. Local restaurants such as Carmelo's are carrying these wines, and different events such as this month's Italian Expo, where Carmelo Mauro was crowned "Maestro della Cucina 2011," are showcasing these amazing wines.
Lombardy wines can also be special-ordered through retailers such as Spec's and Houston Wine Merchant.