Peter Morrell meets the man who buys the wine for all the branches of this highly successful family of Italian eateries
As a Carluccio’s regular I’m a great fan of the food at their restaurants. The ingredients are all authentically Italian and the simplicity of the dishes allow the natural flavours of the food to shine.
I recently went along to the Covent Garden branch to meet Michael Stocks, International Operations Manager and the person responsible for seeking out quality Italian wines. A group of us chatted with Michael over a glass of Ferrari Maximum Brut, a 100% chardonnay. It was an elegant sparkling wine with a champagne like character. There was ripe fruit on the palate with floral hints and toasty bread.
Michael explained that he is buying for the estate of 100 restaurants which is daunting enough but with 2000 indigenous grape varieties in Italy there’s lots of scope to discover some real gems. We would be tasting the four wines from the Wine Explorers’ range and matching each wine with food from the Carluccio’s kitchen. We would hear about the provenance of the wines and the grape varieties used to make them.
We started with the Grandioso Board, an impressive range of antipasti which included cuts from the deli, chicken liver bruschetta, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, olives and poponcini peppers. Our wine match with this was interesting, a Lambrusco. It was world away from the sweet Lambruscos of the 70s, this wine, the Vecchia Modena by Cleto Chiarli from Emilia Romagna is made by the Chiarli family who have been making wine for four generations. It was bone dry with lovely fruity aromas of strawberries on the nose which persisted in the mouth and into the finish. In fact Carluccio’s have been the key driver in the renaissance of Lambrusco in the UK.
Our second dish was roast beetroot and butternut squash, with goat’s cheese, crushed walnuts and pesto. This simple but flavoursome combination was matched with a wine made from the Pecorino grape, named after sheep who eat them. It was the Villa dei Fiori from Abruzzo and was an intriguing wine. There were citrus aromas in the bouquet, it was crisp and dry on the palate with a background of almonds and flowers. The finish was fresh and uplifting.
Onto the third course the Penne Giardiniera, a lovely vegetarian dish with courgettes, chilli and garlic, and fried spinach balls with Italian cheese. The companion for this was a Sicilian white, La Segrata, named after a secret wood near the vineyard. It is made by the renowned Planeta family. And is a blended wine made from a mix of Grecanico/Chardonnay/Viognier/Fiano grapes. A fruity nose leads to a dry palate with good minerality and pleasant acidity, the finish is long and fruity.
Our final dish was Lamb alla Griglia, marinated lamb chops, chargrilled and drizzled with mint pesto. Ir was served with mixed leaves and cous cous. This strongly flavoured meat cried out for a robust red and it came in the form of a profound Sicilian wine made with the Frappato grape, the producer is Caruso and Minini. This had leather, spice and red fruit on the nose. There were intense fruit flavours in the mouth with well balanced tannins that gave the wine a smooth character. The finish was strong and persistent.
Italy produces some very interesting wines from local grape varieties and this exciting and well curated range will help you widen your horizon of appreciation for unique Italian wines.
The wines are available at all of Carluccio’s branches and until 1st October you can buy any of these four wines for £10 (conditions apply) using a voucher downloadable from the Carluccio’s website