Passing through Las Vegas on the way from Colorado to San Francisco recently, my wife and I stopped for dinner at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare. We just wanted a light dinner, and ordered some grilled prawns, an octopus and potato salad, a whole fish and some vegetables.
For this simple repast, I figured a nice straightforward wine from a classy winemaker would be just the thing, and because my wife is temporarily not drinking for medical reasons, I asked what they had by the glass. When the sommelier offered Schiopetto Tocai Friulano 2005, that was all I needed to hear.
And, indeed, the wine was just what I wanted. It had all the effusive fruit you could want, tamed by a shot of distinct minerality. Though dry, it had a silky texture that emulated a sense of sweetness. The finish hinted at flowers and almonds. This should be perfect with our seafood.
Then the sommelier appeared with another glass and a bottle of Gaja Alteni di Brassica 2005. I hadn't tasted the wine in years, but I remembered it as being an intense glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Like most Gaja wines it costs a lot more than its peers, but I prefer New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at one-fourth to one-eighth the price of Gaja's. Also, I remembered the wine as being marked by oak and on the vegetal side, not my style.
But it tasted lighter than I remembered, more elegant. The oak was subdued, and a hint of celery was about the only thing about it that wasn't driven by fruit or spice. But I wondered how the oak would do with the food.
Which one would you bet on? Come on, we're in Vegas, put down your chips.
I would have bet everything on Schiopetto. I expected the Gaja to overwhelm the grilled prawns and the octopus salad, but in fact it linked up with those dishes even better than the Schiopetto did. On the other hand, I enjoyed drinking the Friulano better. I just liked its balance and the fruit. It tasted just fine with the appetizers, and made a seamless match with the whole fish, which had been roasted in a fennel- and orange-scented salt crust. Those flavors accentuated the vegetal side of the Gaja.
Overall, I give Schiopetto the nod, but the taste of the Gaja with the octopus was the highlight of the meal. I may not choose to spend the big bucks for his wines often any more, but I also learned that this bold wine can still perform the main job wine is intended to do—go with food.