Taste of Wine: Precious prosciutto pairs best with Italian wines

Taste of Wine: Precious prosciutto pairs best with Italian wines
Marina Kitchen Executive Chef Aaron Schmidt demonstrates the art of prosciutto slicing drawn from an authentic Italian-made, $10,000 slicing machine. It makes a perfect cut every time. Photo by Frank Mangio

Have you gone through life thinking that Italian sliced meats are nothing but salami, mortadella or, heaven forbid, pepperoni?

You’ve got to quit going to Subway for your Italian meat sandwiches. I was at a nice restaurant in La Jolla last week with friends and on the menu was a Pizza Margarita with an add-on option. It offered to add prosciutto for an extra $5.

I broke into a sweat while agreeing to this option. Prosciutto, when not a top-quality Italian name brand, can be a rubbery, fatty mess. Done right, as they do at prosciutto di parma in Italy, it is an amazing paper-thin sliced ham that will have you at hello. It is best when supporting such delicacies as figs, goat cheese melon, scampi and of course, pizza. This prosciutto added to my pizza blew me away. It was that good!

Prosciutto is much more popular in Italy where you can find it on just about any menu from a village snack shop to the most posh restaurant in Rome or Milan.

It resembles the maturity of complex wines in that there is a waiting period before being allowed on the market, as there is with Italian premium wines like Brunello, Amorone or Barolo. From pig to table, there is a nine-month period to the dinner table. The Italian government allows a Denomination of Protected Origin-certified label as a symbol of quality, and now we get to the leader, prosciutto di parma. Livestock must come from certain districts and be fed certain grain to be allowed this designation. 

OK, so you can’t be going to Rome or Milan anytime soon. If you’re in San Diego and you want some magnificent prosciutto, I can recommend Marriott’s Marina Kitchen.  They purchase the best meats and they have invested in the highest quality slicer on the market, a $10,000 machine that makes a perfect slice every time.

Let’s swing the spotlight on to the wines that are pairing mates to prosciutto. Make it from Tuscany and focus in on the Sangiovese grape found in Chianti Classico, Rosso Montepulciano and Brunello. These wines complete a dish of prosciutto like no other.  From balancing the subtle salty acidity to the ever-so-lightly-sweet flavored fattiness, you need a wine big enough to matter, but not so big that it dominates the savory flavor of this custom made premier pork taste. Sangiovese from Tuscany can handle this challenge with its big, ripe strawberry/cherry flavor, firm tannins, and high acidity. Some names to look for include: Banfi Rosso di Montalcino, Bocelli Sangiovese, Fonterutoli Chianti Classico and Il Poggione Brunello. 

Learn more about prosciutto at prosciuttodiparma.com.

Wine Bytes

• The place to be is the Gaslamp District downtown San Diego for the biggest party of the season from 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 10 for the Beads, Bites and Booze tour. Let the good times roll! It’s a tasting tour filled with 20 delicious downtown bites and 20 Mardi Gras-inspired sips through the district. Tour restaurants from Coyote Ugly to Fields. Collect fun beads from each participating restaurant to qualify for a VIP after party for music, dancing and entertainment. Tickets start at $25. For more info and tix, visit sdmardigras.com.

• Pala Casino is offering a five-course ZD wine dinner in its Underground Cave at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15. Reception at 7 p.m. ZD  is one of Napa Valley’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon wineries and its cab will be matched with a Tornedos of Beef Tenderloin for the main entrée. ZD is entering its 50th year of award winning wines. Cost is $85 per person. For reservations, call (877) 946-7252. Ask for the February wine dinner.

• The fourth annual Napa in Newport to benefit children with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy will be at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel starting at 4:30 p.m. March 3. More than 40 Napa Valley wineries will participate in the grand tasting along with culinary creations and vintner hosted dining tables. Premier wineries include: Joseph Phelps, Bryant, Darioush, Quintessa, Plumpjack and ZD Wines. Price includes a gourmet dinner and access to auctions including a rousing live auction with memorable experiences. For more information and to purchase tables, go to NapaNewport.org.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading commentators on the web. View his columns at thecoastnews.com. Reach him at mangiompc@aol.com.

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