A week ago today I was recovering from my Tuesday evening because last Tuesday I was fortunate enough to be invited to the #ZeniTO wine and food event which took place on Tuesday May 15th at Nota Bene on Queen Street West. When you’re invited to a dinner and wine pairing at Nota Bene in Toronto, hosted by Zeni wines and iYellow Wine Club… you say yes. Though I took a ton of notes and did a full tasting note for all 5 of the wines (I will get into some of that in the latter part of this post) the main thing was I had a great time. Sure my wine glass was constantly full courtesy of the wonderful service, but overall I had a great time. But here’s the thing… I knew I was going to have a great time. As I have written before when you go to an iYellow event you have a great time… every time. So let me start this post by saying if you haven’t joined iYellow yet then stop reading, leave this site now, go to www.iyellowwineclub.com, and become a member. It’s free and you won’t regret it. Just be sure to minimize this article and come back to finish reading it.
I posted the menu and the wines on this blog the day before the event and you can take a look at it here #ZeniTo menu. A 5 course menu was customized by Chef David Lee to be paired perfectly with the wines. Though some of the dishes aren’t my personal favorites (see bone marrow) the beef carpaccio was the best I’ve ever had, and the dishes were in fact paired perfectly with the wines. So to my foodie friends and followers out there I would certainly give Nota Bene my recommendation as I left there with a desire to try their regular menu and I went home and told my wife we should pay them a visit. (http://notabenerestaurant.com/)
*all pictures credit to Jolene Aiello
But let’s be honest this was a wine event. Led by winemaker Fausto Zeni we drank and enjoyed 5 beautiful wines from the Zeni portfolio. The wines ranged from $15 on the low end to probably over $60-$80, if it was available in Canada, on the high end. I was lucky enough to be seated at the true wine guru section of the room with @theyummygrape, @saradamato, and Graham Duncan the wine critic for NOW magazine. When it comes to a wine dinner I was in great company and it made for great wine conversation. However since this blog tries to take a simplistic approach to wine I will avoid rehashing our entire conversation.
*All pictures credit to Jolene Aiello
To help put this all into perspective let me start by introducing you to Zeni wines (@zeni_bardolino or http://www.zeni.it/index.php). They are a family owned winery in the heart of the Bardolino region, in the Verona province, in Italy. First started in 1870 they specialize in Amarone della Valipolicella. The most interesting part however is what struck me more than the wines themselves was just how much the family ties were demonstrated. The final wine of the evening was the Zeni Amarone, named for the former owner and winemaker (and father of the current owners and winemakers) who passed away. Fausto was nearly brought to tears when describing this wine to us. It meant a lot to him to be serving the wine that honours his fathers name and it was a joy to see. My favourite thing about those who operate outside of big corporations is that the passion they have for their craft is usually evident in the final product and it certainly was in the Zeni wines. Sampling these wines that the winemaker is so passionate about is a true joy.
(The wine line-up)
As we moved through the wines it became clear that Zeni is a top winemaker. Across wines 2 through 4 (the Valipolicella Ripasso, Amarone Classico, and Amarone Barriques respectively) the Ripasso was my least favourite but was perfectly paired with the beef carpaccio. Once we hit the Amarone Classico you started to notice the great red wine acidity that Italy is famous for. If there was a negative it was that in all three I was a bit overwhelmed with the alcohol content (I think all came in at 16% or very close). But that in itself speaks to how ripe the fruit gets in this region. Plus as I mentioned off the top all 3 were beautiful and well crafted wines which at 16% abv is a testament to the winemaking team. But the best wine came in at the end (surprise, surprise) with the aforementioned Nino Zeni, another Amarone della Valipolicella. A 2000 vintage, they only produced 1,870 bottles so we were privileged to have tried it. A full bodied and classic Amarone, this one would rival anything you could get in the LCBO at any Amarone price point. If only it was available there. It didn’t hurt that the wine was served with a hard cheese brought in from Italy by Fausto himself and dried Muscat grapes. Beautiful. My mouth is watering just reminiscing about it.
(The Zeni Amarone)
However with all that said I still rank the very first wine we tried as #1 for me on the evening. The Costalago IGT, 2010 vintage. Why you ask when we sampled such wonderful wines after it? Well for starters it is only $15 and available at the LCBO (#220848, though currently sold out). At $15 this wine would be very hard to beat and could easily compete with many Italian wines priced much higher. Furthermore it proves there is a misunderstanding in the marketplace that you should only buy Italian wines labelled DOC or DOCG… which is complete BS. Some of the best wines are in the IGT classification and that is often where you find the best bang for your buck. This wine proved all of that for me and as a result it climbs to the top of my list and becomes my #1 recommendation at the end of an evening tasting fantastic wines.
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