Poggio alle Gazze, a white wine by Frescobaldi’s Ornellaia, knows who to hob-nob with, as this wine takes us on a European trip for some exquisite Mediterranean pairings.
By: Isabelle Kellogg
Posted on: October 19, 2022
Wine industry professionals like to compare notes about vineyard visits, vertical tastings and cellar tours, but what captures my attention is a restaurant where the sommelier and the chef conjure up a tasting menu to tantalize my senses and broaden my wine knowledge. On the cusp of autumn, during a trip to Europe, I made side trips to the magical island of Capri and Zurich, Switzerland’s banking capital, to eat at two world famous restaurants, Il Riccio in Anacapri and Ristorante Ornellaia in Zurich, both featuring wines made by Ornellaia, one of the world’s most respected Tuscan wines under the leadership of legendary Frescobaldi family. The tastings at each restaurant were created around Ornellaia’s white wine called Poggio alle Gazze.
In 2021, Ornellaia selected nine award-winning chefs to create Mediterranean style recipes (be forewarned, the recipes require culinary skills and ingredients best achieved in a professional kitchen!) for a richly illustrated cookbook called “Conversations by the Sea” that explores food pairings with Poggio alle Gazze, a white wine created by Ornellaia’s wine maker Olga Fusari from grapes in the Bolgheri region near Tuscany--the epicenter of red wine.
With a straw yellow color like the setting sun, Poggio alle Gazze is an Italian style Sauvignon Blanc, full of finesse and aromatic complexity (i.e. passion), combining woodsy, white peach, sage and herbal aromas with lively freshness and acidity, thanks to Olga’s exacting vinification expertise in a territory known for its red wines.
Capri’s breezy life
At Il Riccio’s dining room, perched over a deep and steep cliff (Capri is one huge rock) overlooking the Bay of Naples, we started with the Mille Feuille of Scallops with Smoked Ricotta, Avocado, Hazelnuts, Caviar and Sea Urchin Salsa, which requires dozens of prep steps and ingredients before its final plating. Then came a colorful array of delicate seafood appetizers, prepared in their complexity by Chef Salvatore Elefante and his culinary staff. Every bite was further enhanced by sips of Poggio alle Gazze. The restaurant’s specialty, Pasta with Sea Urchin, was briny, salty and crunchy, also an excellent pairing with the wine. Il Riccio at the Capri Palace is open from mid-April until mid-October. Yes, Capri closes for the winter season!
The dining room staff is as lively as the bright blue and white décor. This is not a somber restaurant to any extent! It breathes Italy. Guests are feted with birthday chanting by the staff and the sommelier, Pasquale Sommella, moves nimbly between tables in his bright blue suit, excited to share his wine knowledge in a most endearing manner. Il Riccio could be misconstrued as a pretentious restaurant based on its menu prices, but its cheerful décor, welcoming staff and super fresh ingredients (fresh-from-the-sea) made the three-hour lunch like a day at the beach ending with a huge room full of desserts (you can’t hold back) and gelato called The Temptation Room and a sip of Ornellaia’s exclusive Grappa.
The restaurant’s specialty, Pasta with Sea Urchin, was briny, salty and crunchy, also an excellent pairing with the wine.
To work off some calories, we headed back to Capri on a hair-raising trip by taxi to shop at Eco Capri, a delightful local boutique specializing in island-inspired textiles, accessories and home décor items. Delightful!
The subtle sophistication of Zurich
Zurich doesn’t often show a lively side, and after leaving Italy, we were keen to visit Ristorante Ornellaia which opened in 2018 as the result of the business relationship between Giovanni Geddes, CEO of Ornellaia, and Bindella, a Zurich-based Swiss restaurant and wine importing company. Before dinner, we checked into the stylishly decorated Ameron Hotel on the banks of the lake of Zurich and took a brisk walk to the Le Corbusier house, a colorful Lego-like cube cleverly constructed from modular units by the famous architect.
Ristorante Ornellaia’s interior imitates the look of an ancient Italian palazzo with walls of earth-tone travertine from Tuscan quarries, a very high ceiling and niches for sculpture. Overall, understated and not flashy. A glassed-in kitchen spans the length of the restaurant into which you can watch the culinary choreography taking place during meal services.
I got a few minutes before dinner service with Chef Antonio Colaianni who told me that becoming the chef at Ristorante Ornellaia in Zurich was a challenge with an excellent outcome because he approached the position from the point of view of giving the cuisine a friendlier, less stuffy, appeal while adding refinements to certain aspects of Italian cooking, but all of it inspired by the Mediterranean.
“I make sure to use as many Italian ingredients as possible, given the proximity of Italy to Switzerland. Ingredients from Italy really taste different!” he confessed. He is charming and full of energy. Our tasting menu was exquisite from start to finish and each item was plated with delicate precision and included the Chef’s recipe for Arctic Char recipe which appears in the cookbook. As the menu progressed to the entrée of bite-sized nuggets of lamb prepared three ways (roasted, pan seared and rubbed in herbs), we drank a 2012 bottle of Ornellaia red wine.
The Arctic Char.
Next on my Ornellaia discovery is the upcoming event at The Guggenheim to celebrate Ornellaia’s Vendemmia d’Artista Auction in partnership with Sotheby’s that supports the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s innovative “Mind’s Eye” program and will feature the 14th edition of Ornellaia’s Vendemmia d’Artista, a bottle created by Swedish artist duo Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg for the 2019 vintage of Ornellaia.
In addition to a career in communications and marketing focused on the luxury lifestyle sector, including co-authoring and lecturing a case study on French heritage jeweler Mauboussin with Harvard Business School, Isabelle continues to share her experiences about fine art, wine, travel, jewelry and culture as a freelance writer for internationally based digital publications.