I can’t help myself, I know this story is all about a great Italian wine and food pairing, but first I just have to tell you that I TOURED ONE OF WINE SPECTATOR’S 74 GRAND AWARD WINNING WINE CELLARS – OVER 90,000 BOTTLES – WITH VALENTINO’S PROPRIETOR, PIERO SELVAGGIO.
Take a deep breath. It happened like this: I tagged Valentino’s in my Facebook status update because I was going there that night for dinner. Valentino’s, and Piero, tagged me back. Then between courses at the dinner, and bolstered by some amazing wines, I went right up to Piero himself and asked, “Hi, I’m your Facebook friend Eve, any chance of seeing the cellar?”
Piero took me by the hand, led me through the busy kitchen (though the chefs took the time to say hello and smile broadly) and up a narrow staircase – so narrow I had to go up sideways with Piero motioning for me to grasp the handrail.
Once on the second floor, we were met with a small hall lined with framed Wine Spectator covers of Piero, James Beard awards, his latest Grand Award designation…I was already so overwhelmed.
Then, one large room, with built-in large wooden boxes bisected with boards, held the start of the treasure trove. After that came hall after hall – going further back into a greater beyond than we had time for – were more and more boxed sections of wines. Piero pointed out special selections dedicated to the best from Italy, California…before we had to turn back.
But Piero made sure I saw the Pièce de résistance: the private dining room set for dinner, lined from floor to ceiling, on all four walls, with cellared wines.
When I reluctantly returned downstairs, overhearing Piero telling his maitre d’ that I had “kidnapped” him, I was already planning how to get back and…into that private dining room.
It all began with…
Dear friends, guests and press,
It is with great pleasure that we would like to invite you to a delightfully delicious evening of wine tasting and dinner at Valentino Restaurant…As guests of Briziarelli Estate, you will experience the best wines from Briziarelli paired with 6-course dinner prepared by Nico Chessa of Valentino…We look forward to seeing you at Valentino.
PS: Umbria is an up and coming wine region where the Sagrantino di Montefalco grape varietal is one of the most sought after gem of central Italy. The wines of Briziarelli are an example of great wine making in this ever-growing wine region.
IL MENÙ AND MY WINE NOTES
Stuzzichini dello Chef con Salumeria
Carpaccio di Vitello Scottato con Olio Extra Vergine Umbro e Alloro
Seared Veal Carpaccio with Umbrian Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Laurel
DUNA ROBBA 2010 – Lovely garnet-colored wine giving off aromas of mushroom, plum, black pepper and mint. The mouthfeel was full, chewy, filled with ripe fruit and rich tannins. 85-87 Eve points.
Penne Artigianali del Norcino
Artisanal Penne with a Variety of Sausages
UNO NOVE ZERO SEI 2007 – Nice purple color and then a blast of red and blue fruits that included cherry, plum and blackberry, along with black pepper, wet wood, slight mint and mushroom. On the palate I got dark, biting tannins, very palate drying and excellent with the dish. 87 Eve points.
Agnollotti “In Carbonara” al Tartufo Nero
Agnollotti Pasta “In Carbonara” with Fresh Black Truffles
ROSSO MATTONE 2008 – Deep, dark ruby color followed by a nose both floral and fruity, in a setting of richly soiled forest floor. The taste was a combination of dark chocolate, cigar, dry dark fruit and deep tannins. 89 Eve points.
La Porchetta Ripiena col Finocchietto e le Patate Arrosto
Roasted Stuffed Suckling Pig with Wild Fennel and Roasted Potatoes
VITRUVIO 2007, 100% Sagrantino D.O.C.G. – This proved to be my favorite of the evening, close to that coveted above 90-point range even after a few refills. A dark purple color stretching out into a black edge, with aromas of stewed dark fruits, cigar, bell pepper and milk chocolate. The taste was of deep drying tannins, dark and dry fruit, very smoky with a nice black pepper lingering on the finish.
I Formaggi dell’Umbria
Cheeses from the Region with its Traditional Condiments
Semifreddo di Nocciole e Cioccolato con le Banane Caramellizzate
Hazelnut-Chocolate Semifreddo with Caramelized Bananas
Società Agricola Briziarelli SRL
Piero Selvaggio, Proprietor
Nico Chessa, Executive Chef
In regards to my references to the color of the wine, please note that the dining room lighting was low.
YOUR VALENTINO EXPERIENCES
In putting up my Facebook status as “I’m going to Valentino’s Santa Monica tonight, do you have a Valentino experience to share?” I got:
Elaine Scott Harris: Valentino is one of THE BEST in the US . Please say hello to Chef Nico for us!
Rob Barnett: Took my wife there for her birthday a few years ago and we had a great dinner.
Tracy Cervellone: I don’t get to LA often enough, but this is one of my favorite places of all time. Truly world class.
Louise Castaldo: I had my 50th birthday In that room, it’s absolutely AMAZING !!!! you are going to have so much fun, it’s an experience I will never forget and the food and service is outstanding !! you will die when you walk around that cellar the wines they have are unbelievable, I forget what it is but they have a bottle locked up worth $30k (you can touch it) I can’t wait to hear what you think.
Denise Lowe: JD and I worked a few events with Ian Blackburn at Valentino – and then stayed for dinner. It’s an amazing place. Enjoy!
Michael Fraschilla: The best meals we ever had at Valentino’s was when we asked the chef to make what he/they want to prepare for us! Not sure if they still do that for diners but you should inquire! FYI – You will have a field day with the wine list Eve… 2,000 labels – It is like a small book and is VERY heavy on representing Italian wines. You’ll think he has every wine from Italy ever made! As for our most interesting experience of “meeting” someone while at Valentino’s., that was dinning next to Liz Taylor and her fiancé at the time, Victor Luna.
Valentino, established in 1972 by owner Piero Selvaggio, is widely considered the finest Italian restaurant in the nation and “a restaurant classic.” Our intimate dining rooms, legendary wine cellar of over 2,500 selections, and the consummate graciousness of owner Piero Selvaggio, set the standard for fine dining excellence.
Valentino Santa Monica , the flagship of Valentino Restaurant Group, has endured throughout the years many changes in taste, style and much more, however still remains true to its original vision of Piero Selvaggio: To provide its discerning clientele a dining experience with no equals, a cut above the rest.
We promise the ultimate experience in food, wine and service. For almost 40 years Valentino has showcased authentic artisanal cooking, using the best of Italy’s traditional and contemporary culinary styles and the finest ingredients, setting the standards of excellence for Italian cuisine in the USA.
Fine dining for Piero Selvaggio has been the meticulous work and passion of a lifetime, copied by many, exceeded by no other Italian restaurants yet.
Valentino is the proud recipient of the coveted *Grand Award from Wine Spectator every year since 1981, and was declared the best Italian restaurant anywhere in the world by the influential Italian magazine, Gambero Rosso, as well as being always well spoken of by every food & wine writer in the country, with many more accolades, which are too numerous to even begin to describe!
Five spectacular private rooms can accommodate from 10 to 85 people for entertaining in elegant style, ensuring an evening that is truly memorable, whether it is a business meeting, a special birthday, anniversary, wedding celebration or just a gathering for a perfect dinner among friends.
*One of only 6 restaurants in the nation that has consistently, year after year received the Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1981.