A warm summer’s evening, sitting at a table at the edge of a vineyard, eating dinner by the gentle glow of candlelight, drinking locally-made wine. Sounds like a dream? I stumbled upon this opportunity when I was visiting Bologna, Italy a couple of weeks ago. After I had checked into the airport, I dropped by the local tourism office (ufficio turismo) to see what information I could gather about what would be going on in town when I was there.
I found a flyer for an event called “Tagliatellata” at Borgo delle Vigne in Zola Predosa, a suburb of Bologna that was organized by City Red Bus. For 28.00 Euros, I could get on a charter bus with a group to head into the hills outside of the city for a dinner of traditional regional cooking hosted by one of the “Apostles of Tagliatelle” (Gli Apostoli della Tagliatella), the owner of the vineyard, Carlo Gaggioli. The Gaggioli family runs the vineyard and a small hotel where guests can stay on the property (agroturismo) as well as a restaurant.
So, I met up with the other participants at the statue of Neptune in front of Palazzo Re Enzo, a standard meeting point in the center of town. We boarded the bus to head out Porta Saragozza, one of the medieval exit points from the city, and towards our destination. Part way through the journey, Sr. Gaggioli joined us at a stop and filled us in on the gastronomic history of the region as well as what we’d be sampling that evening.
After we arrived, we were treated to a tour of the cantina, the wine making room. As well as a chance to speak more with Sr. Gaggioli about his wine. Most of his production is for Pignoletto, as he put it “Il vigno dei colli Bolognese.” (The wine of the hills of Bologna.) I don’t know that I’ve ever tried it, which isn’t a surprise as he explained most of its consumption is in Italy with a small percentage of it being shipped to Germany and Switzerland. They have already taken in the grape harvest for this year (la raccolta). F0r 2011, he revealed, the result will be a small vintage, but a good one (un vino piccolo ma buono).
By this time, I was getting a bit hungry and was ready to try some of the food and wine that we’d been hearing about on our trip up to Borgo delle Vigne. Long tables had been set up in the garden area between the hotel and the restaurant so that we could enjoy the beautiful late summer evening. First up was a glass of the Pignoletto, a light, straw-colored white wine that had a bit of fizz and acid, perfect for the rich, meat-heavy dishes that grace the tables of Bologna.
To go along with this, we were treated to one of the symbols of la cucina bolognese: Tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese. As one of the Apostles of Tagliatelle, Sr. Gaggioli is one of the people who is striving to preserve the culinary traditions of the region and to uphold the production of pasta made by hand according to the specifications filed in the Chamber of Commerce in Bologna and represented by a replica of a piece of this pasta in gold (width is 8 mm cooked, about 7 mm uncooked).
These delicate golden strands were dressed with a slow-cooked, rich meat sauce. The blending of pork and beef along with broth, wine, a bit of tomato sauce, and very little else, put together in a specific cooking sequence builds layer upon layer of flavor that really doesn’t need much embellishment. Fresh, handmade pasta and a dusting of Parmegiano-Reggiano, and this is the perfect primo (first course). Again, this is another recipe that has been officially agreed upon and filed with the authorities. The Italians take these food traditions very seriously.
The next wine we were served was another that I’d never tried before. The Sparkling Barbera was another wine with some acidity to it but was light enough to be a summer drink with a clean feel on the palate. As one of the people who works at the vineyard explained to us, it would be a good wine to go with richer, fattier dishes. Before I moved to Italy, aside from drinking the occasional glass of champagne, I never would have tried any sparkling wines to go with food (maybe it was the leftover influence of the wine cooler/wine spritzer phase that was going on when I was learning to drink). After living in an area that boosts a wide array of heavier cuisine, I can appreciate the balance that these wines supply to a meal.
To go with this wine, we were brought baskets of another regional specialty, and a favorite of mine, Tigelle and Crescentine. I’ve also seen crescentine referred to elsewhere as gnocchi fritti (literally “fried gnocchi’). To eat these, slice them open (or pull them apart) and fill them with local meats and cheeses. We were brought a plate of mortadella, proscuitto, and dried sausage along with a local white cheese. I think it might have been a version of scamorza, but I couldn’t be sure.
The fatty crescentine made the perfect, slightly doughy envelope to encase the creamy, slightly sharp cheese and the porky meat. Fortunately, we were given a few baskets of these to devour. At one point, a pot of plum jam, made from the fruit grown at the vineyard, was put on the table, too. Following the lead of one of my dinner companions, I filled a corner of one of the crescentine on my plate with the jam. The strong fruit flavors were a perfect match for the fried dough.
Sensing our interest in knowing more about the locally-produced wine, one of the people who works at the vineyard brought over to us some of their Merlot. The flavors of the cherries for which the region is known, came through so clearly with every sip. There were also hints of minerality as well, some from the aging in steel and some from the soil. You can also see in the background of this photo the plate of the meats that we enjoyed with our meal.
From the more traditional dishes of Emilia-Romagna, we ended our meal with a take on a sweet that seems to grace the menus at every Italian restaurant, some with more success than others. The Tiramisu alla pesca (Peach Tiramisu) had big, sweet chunks of ripe fruit embedded in a creamy mascarpone filling dotted with slivers of sponge cake. It was surprisingly light with just the right amount of richness to be a satisfying end to a great meal.
For dessert, we were also treated to a glass of another wine made from the same grapes as the Pignoletto we’d enjoyed earlier in the meal. Passito is a sweet wine, with the grapes having been dried to concentrate their flavor, that was a perfect finish to our dinner. It was really nice to have a chance to see the variety of wine production from this one vineyard and to be able to sample some of the varietals that they make.
After coffee, it was time to say good-bye to Borgo delle Vigne and their wonderful hospitality. It had been an educational and amazing meal. The majority of the participants were Italian, some from Bologna, some who were visiting from out of town. One couple was there from Naples, spending time in the city with their son who had studied at the University of Bologna and then had stayed in the city. There were also a few regulars as our guide pointed out. Several were groups of women choosing this as their “girls night out.” I would love it if I could do dinners like this with my friends. The next time I’m in Bologna, I definitely plan to check in with City Red Bus to see what other trips they have organized.