Top Pair: Match Game

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with Will Blunt with photos by Will Blunt and Autumn Stein
Vol. 29
August 2012   
In the countryside of Cortona (in Tuscany, near the Umbrian border) there is a restored 17th century villa, once home to 19th century Italian poet Antonio Guadagnoli. Now in the hands of Silvia and Riccardo Baracchi, this hillside perch has become the country hotel Relais e Restaurante Il Falconiere. Per its Tuscan surroundings, it's cozy and intimate, situated amid vineyards and olive groves. But our favorite part was, of course, the food and wine.

The harmonies here go beyond the fine matchmaking of food and wine pairing. Rarely do a husband and wife team create such comfort, palate decadence, and finesse in a meal. And the view of the Valdichiana Valley only adds to the Tuscan charm.

Chef Silvia Baracchi

Seasonal, local, and fresh, Silvia Baracchi emphasizes the quality of ingredients she uses, explaining that Cortona provides the best in Tuscany. She communicates this passion through her cuisine, and loves to use spices and aromatic herbs from her garden.

Married to the winemaker, Signora Baracchi is a whiz with wine pairings as well. She explains that for this pigeon dish, she keeps it simple and tasty. This allows the elegant spice aromas of the Syrah to shine, carried by the power and structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon. The meat is more sweet than gamey, in part due to the smooth pairing with “Ardito,” one of Baracchi’s finest wines.

Vintner Riccardo Baracchi

When Riccardo Baracchi isn’t out in the vineyards, he’s pairing international wine selections and the family’s vineyard bounty with his wife’s classic Tuscan cuisine. Born on the estate and now passing on the tradition of the winery (established in 1860) to his son Benedetto, Baracchi senior oversees the winemaking and the vineyards. Among the many wines produced, he points out four that are unique in the world, and they are all winners.

Two sparkling wines made in the metodo classico are his sparkling Sangiovese rosé and sparkling Trebbiano. Both are historic grapes in Tuscany, the Sangiovese makes a magical sparkler with notes of roses, violets, cherries and white chocolate; the Trebbiano is fermented on the skin for 10 days, adding yeast flavors and the structure, color, and depth generally found only in Champagne. The Smeriglio Syrah is another important wine in the Baracchi portfolio, Cortona being the best and first DOC that produces Syrah. The “Ardito” is the first wine Riccardo Baracchi made (in 2001), and remains his favorite. A blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, it placed among the 100 Top Wines of 2006 by Wine Spectator magazine.

“Ardito,” Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Baracchi Winery, Cortona, Italy, 2009
Pigeon, Mediceo Liquor, Stuffed Leg, and Juniper-Sage Cherry Compote
Pairing Note

Earth and rich game birds are often associated with dark fruit, woodsy herbs, and spice tones, so a light touch at plating is often a second thought. This dish is the exception. Delicately balanced on a bed of spinach and cherry compote, the pigeon’s rich flavors are matched by a graceful presentation. Color being as important as taste to Chef Baracchi, the cherries from her garden are cooked briefly with a little cinnamon, vinegar, and sugar and visually complement the pink center of the meat.

The bird is marinated for a few minutes in Mediceo Liquore, an herbal, spicy, and highly aromatic local liquor. The pigeon is then pan-cooked with extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, and thyme. So simple, but the resulting flavor is anything but. Rustic herbs and dark cherry flavors offset the gamey complexity of the meat, which offers an herbaceous quality from the liqueur and the delicate flavors of a bird.

The right wine always takes a dish to the next level, and the Baracchi “Ardito” adds a touch of brightness that cuts through the intense flavor of the bird. Plenty of dark earth notes and heaps of baking spice aromas are offset by the deep smoky cherry and red fruit flavors of the wine.

Syrah is a classic pairing with game bird, and the Syrah/Cabernet blend matches this dish in spades. Juniper? Mint? Fresh hay? Our nose was kept busy with a new aroma each time the glass was lifted, and a creamy, almost viscous mouthfeel from the fermentation was persistent, but not overpowering. And as with any great pairing, the wine accented similar notes in the dish, which left our palate to find fruit in the meat and herbal notes in the fruit compote; when tasting the wine, we found black pepper, chocolate, and vanilla. The sad part of a great match game like this? Just when the dishes were cleared, we realize we wanted more.

Related Photos