Hoosier Wineaux: Eating in Puerto Rico results in an excellent wine pairing

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By: Frank Piaskowy

Flavor 574 photo/Frank Piaskowy

This April has been a time of transition for me.

After a 38-year career that has taken me from Clintonville, Wis., through Crystal Falls, Mich., to Goshen, I am retiring from medicine. At the same time, I have begun part-time seasonal employment with the South Bend Cubs (look for me at Four Winds Field on game day).

Fortunately, I continue to travel and explore the world of wine. I am currently attending to last minute details for a trip to Poland next week. Last month, Barb and I attended a conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We were introduced by friends — who had a destination wedding in Old San Juan several years earlier — to La Cucina di Ivo. It is a family-run restaurant with a beautiful patio for alfresco dining and a nice selection of wines to complement flavorful and aromatic Italian cuisine. The proprietor and chef is Ivo Bignami who grew up and trained in Milan, Italy.

A former partner and his wife, Don and Bev Smith, joined us for dinner one evening. Our server happened to be one of the chef’s sisters. While the menu was small, the array of specials was impressive. For example, five different versions of risotto were offered along with a myriad of fresh pasta and seafood options.

Tuna carpaccio and caprese di buffala were appetizers the four of us agreed to share. I was elected to select a bottle of wine. Knowing the diverse preferences of the group presented a dilemma. Bev is not much of a drinker, Don is more into beer and Barb generally prefers white wine. I consider myself a mixed bag kind of guy depending on the meal, but I frequently lean more toward reds.

Considering the addition of soft cheese, seafood and greens into the equation, the wine choice was even more challenging. Should I go with a Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino? Maybe a Docetto or a Pinot Noir would work well.

I continued scrutinizing the wine list page after page until my eyes settled on a Rosé. The producer was MASI, a well respected name from the Veneto region in Northeast Italy.

To my delight, Rosa dei Masi is vinified primarily from the Refosco grape, with a small percentage of Merlot. For my daughter’s rehearsal dinner in 2009, I was able to have the Conte d’Attimis-Maniago Refosco served. I vividly recall how well the wine paired with the meal from appetizers through dessert. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was told by my son-in-law’s family that his grandfather had worked at that winery for many years.

Choosing the Rosa dei Masi was a no-brainer. It was fruity yet elegant and complex. I was impressed by lively flavors of raspberries and wild cherries, in addition to refreshing acidity. It’s the acidity that makes Refosco wines so versatile with food.

Affirmation of the wine choice came when we didn’t hesitate to order a second bottle to enjoy with our entrees — herb crusted chicken breast (Bev), mussels topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, herbs, garlic and butter (Barb), zuppa di mare (me) and veal scaloppine with Porcini mushrooms (Don). No one was disappointed with the pairing.

Despite having no appetite for dessert, the evening was a rewarding experience with good food, good wine and good friends.

VIGNETTES:

  • La Casita Miramar provided another memorable meal during our stay. The restaurant features freshly prepared Puerto Rican cuisine. From the wine list, I ordered a Camino de los 7 Lagos white Bordeaux from Patagonia. It paired nicely with my grilled swordfish in a Beurre blanc and white wine sauce with white raisins and olives. Yum!
  • Walking around Old San Juan one afternoon we came upon La Boutique Du Vin Wine & Charcuterie in the Plaza de Armas. It is a new wine bar where California and Spanish wines dominate the inventory. I was told their other location between Old San Juan and the airport, has a greater selection. Their wine educator, Maria Sifre, happened to be in and shared her passion for wine. I took the opportunity to taste several wines including a Spanish Godello. Not too surprisingly, serious wine appreciation exists in this Caribbean paradise.
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