The food, hospitality, and wine expert writes in about the Italian varietals and wines that inspire her.
My grandparents were from the Abruzzi. My grandmother was a talented cook and my grandfather made wine at our house. He bought Zinfandel and Muscat grapes from California. He pressed the grapes and stored the wine in our basement and was happiest when he served his wine with my grandmother’s food. His whole process of making wine fascinated me, even at a young age. I don’t remember ever tasting his wine, but I do remember how cool it was to watch him create a drink he enjoyed every day with food. His wine was one way to get to know him and his culture, and I loved that.
Vintage Tunina by Silvio Jermann was a revelation. A blend of grapes from a predominantly single varietal wine producing area showed many of the potential of Friuli Venezia Giulia. It is still one of my favorites. Sivio Jermann and Vintage Tunina really changed the white wine scene in Italy. It was one of the first in the region to blend local white grape varieties with international ones and to ferment in stainless steel versus wooden barrels ushering in a new era for white wines from Friuli Venezia Giulia. It has undoubtedly captured my attention and I love its sweet Italian story.
Brunello di Montalcino, the refined and elegant cousin of Chianti, is my Tuscan go to. I love the Sangiovese Grosso grapes that make Rosso or Brunello wines, as I think they are simply more delicious and delightful. They generally have softer acidity, rounder cherry fruit notes, and subtler tannins than their Chianti cousins. Rosso and Brunello are also more appealing if I’m not yet having something to eat with it. To me, drinking Chianti without food seems like I’m missing something. Chianti by itself tends to taste somewhat stringent to me because all that acidity and tannin need a little bread, pasta, cheese or salami to go with it.
When I first started out in the business, I remember Angelo Gaja coming personally to the US market and getting attention for positioning his wines to be recognized like French Burgundy and Bordeaux. His revolutionary practices to the vinification of Nebbiolo made an impact and changed the prestige of his wines and quality Italian wine in general. I fell in love with his Barbaresco, especially the Sori Tildin.
Early in my career I was enamored with the Mourvedre grape, especially from Bandol. I still enjoy those deep, earthy and gamey reds. The ross at that time were a bit more juicy, but it’s been fun to watch the evolution of Bandol and Provence roses in general. Bandol or Provence Rose is still the best wine for a roast chicken in my book!
Sparkling wine has always been important. I was never a big fan of champagne, especially from the big houses (unless it was Le Grand Dame or Bollinger RD) nor the sweet sparklers from Italy like Asti Spumante. Iron Horse Winery in Green Valley of Russian River Valley has been producing estate-grown sparkling wines that for me have a beautiful balance and texture. These days we are so lucky that we have access to so many more options like metodo classico from Franciacorta and grower Champagne in France. Bubbles are definitely a type of wine that I can’t live without and wine drinkers should enjoy sparkling wine more often and not just for a special occasion.
A wine and hospitality expert, Cathy Mantuano has a gift for curating thoughtful beverage programs while evoking an inimitable spirit of hospitality. With decades of service at award-winning restaurants nationwide, she brings her talents to Yolan and The Joseph, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Nashville, as Food and Beverage Partner, overseeing the beverage and service programs at Yolan, as well as Denim, the hotel’s rooftop bar, and Four Walls, an intimate cocktail lounge. A rarity for most restaurants, Cathy has built and oversees an impressive team of four sommeliers at Yolan. With unquenchable thirst for learning, Cathy continually builds her encyclopedic knowledge, especially through travel. She appreciates the discovery of boutique varietals, organic and biodynamic selections, women winemakers, and the world of aperitivi and digestivi. Now living in Nashville with her husband Tony Mantuano, Cathy is the co-author of Wine Bar Food, an homage to the vibrant food and drink of the Mediterranean.