Truffles, Wine and Italian Hospitality: The Angelini Family Brings a Bit of Italy to Houston

It happens more often than not: I taste a dish and it transports me to somewhere far away, to another country and another culture, to the place where I'd tasted that dish before. I recently attended a wine dinner that had that same effect, but it wasn't because of the food. It was because of the Angelini family -- Roberto, his wife Daniela, his son Luca, and his daughter Irene, who took me on a trip to Italy through their wine and hospitality.

The Angelini family owns Enoteca Properzio in the small town of Spello in Umbria, the third oldest wine shop in Italy, founded in 1800. The family has been in the business for seven generations -- they are experts in Italian wine, with more than 2,200 labels in their shop. I knew none of this before meeting them at the truffle wine dinner that they hosted at Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel, but I felt their warmth and hospitality immediately when I set foot inside the restaurant.

It was Luca Angelini that greeted me first. Clad in a light-colored jacket and bow tie, the smiling host stood just inside the entrance, coming over to offer a taste of olive oil that they'd brought from Italy. "This is the same olive oil that is served at Alain Ducasse in New York City," he said, as I bit into a crostini drenched in a vibrant, boldly-flavored extra virgin olive oil.

We exchanged pleasantries before I was seated, and this is when the magic began. The Angelinis travel all over the world for three months out of the year, putting on special wine dinners to which they bring their own wine -- carefully curated, top-notch wines from Italy -- hoping that they'll introduce you to something so extraordinary that you'll fall in love and want to order it. That's where Enoteca Properzio comes in.

Any wine that you want can be ordered directly from their shop, shipped directly from Italy to your doorstep in just two weeks. Many of the dinners are held in private residences, homes of people who have been to Enoteca Properzio, or who know the Angelinis personally. In these cases, the chef and matriarch of the family, Daniela, cooks an authentic Italian meal, while Roberto and his children pour the wines and walk you through the unique properties of each.

For the Enoteca Properzio dinner at Quattro, executive chef Maurizio Ferrarese had prepared a special five-course black truffle menu; each dish was finished with black truffles from Umbria.

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The meal was excellent (how could a black truffle dinner be anything less than spectacular?), but beyond the meal were the wines, each and every one the kind that you makes you look in wonder at your dinner companion and exclaim: "Wow! That was fantastic, wasn't it?"

This is what happened even before the first course was served, when I took sip of an organic, biodynamically produced 2012 Grechetto by Tili, a white wine that literally knocked my socks off. I like white wine well enough, but I typically prefer reds over whites, and very rarely do I drink a white that makes me want to buy a case. The Grechetto was one such wine -- smooth and supple, with a fruity-floral bouquet, and a lasting finish that resonated deeply on my palate. Paired with a starter of bufala mozzarella on pappa (potato) pomodoro, topped freshly shaved black truffle, it was the first of several wines that captured my fancy.

That night, the Angelinis poured a dizzying array of wines -- so many that I almost lost track despite having a list right in front of me: a Novelli Sagrantino sparkling Rose; 2011 Redigaffi Tua Rita Merlot; a 2009 Sassicaia Super Tuscan; a 2009 Arnaldo-Caprai 25 Anniversario Sagrantino; a 2004 Tili Sacreterre Sagrantino; a 2009 Fendi Pinot Noir (only 300 bottles produced); a 2011 Oasi Degli Angeli Kurni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo; a 2011 Tili Delicious Sagrantino-Merlot blend; and a Grappa di Barolo.

I fell in love with the 2009 Sassacaia Super Tuscan, known among wine connoisseurs as the definitive Super Tuscan, the Italian grand dame of Bordeaux-style blends. It was my first time tasting it, and when I took a sip I immediately wanted more. I tasted it against the other wines presented that evening -- it stood out as the one that I liked the most -- and it was lush and full-bodied, complex yet smooth on the finish.

The Fendi Pinot Noir (from a winery owned by the fashion house of the same name) and the Kurni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (described as the number one wine in all of Italy), were also noteworthy, but every wine that was poured was of unarguably high quality -- the kind you could collect, give as a gift, or save for a special occasion.

From the kitchen, chef Maurizio offered classic Italian dishes created to enhance the wine experience: An aphrodisiacal, hand-made strangozzi pasta with wild mushroom, black truffle and cheese fondue; a dish of beef three ways, with braised short rib, strip loin, and crispy beef-stuffed agnolotto; aged Italian cheeses (Sottocenere, Pepato, Grana Padano) with black truffle honey; and panna cotta with fresh berries in a mixed berry wine sauce. Each dish was finished table-side with freshly shaved black truffle.

If you missed this dinner, there's always next year: The Angelinis have agreed to come back to Houston for another collaboration dinner with chef Ferrarese during their next annual tour.

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