Veneto’s Diversity Offers a Match for Veal

Veal chops, egg plant, and radicchio called for a soft and textural red wine that still had some tannic grip. 

I was leafing through my Italian cookbooks at home and realized that veal is so common to the various regional cuisines of Italy that there might be as many “classic recipes” for veal as there are Italian villages. From saltimbocca alla Romana to ossobuco alla Milanese, veal is an essential component of the Italian table. When I first visited my local meat counter this week, I had in mind making another Milanese staple, veal piccata, a quick and simple preparation of thin veal scallops cooked in butter and garnished with lemon and parsley. However, my dinner plans quickly changed when I caught sight of some thick veal chops. The chops had a gorgeous band of fat around them and I would give them a good sear in a cast-iron skillet.

Due to the delicate flavor and texture of veal, I often find myself gravitating towards Red Burgundy or Pinot Noir for its low tannin, light weight, and high acidity. Tannin is the astringent “grip” that you feel around your gums when you over-brew tea. That same gripping sensation, commonly found in Cabernet Sauvignon, is exactly what refreshes the palate after biting into a nice juicy steak. Tannin also has an affinity for peppery or bitter greens. Think of the combination of arugula and steak in the Tuscan classic “Tagliata di Manzo,” where grilled rare beef is balanced by peppery arugula and accented by the acidity of lemon and the saltiness of Parmigiano. It is almost as if that dish and Brunello di Montalcino were destined to come from the same place. Taking a cue from that dish, I picked up some bitter radicchio in the produce aisle and a wine from Veneto.

The best known wines of the Veneto in northeast Italy are probably the dry red Valpolicella and the dry white Soave. But the Veneto is a prolific and multi-faceted producer of wine, with styles ranging from the uniquely produced dried grape wines of Amarone to ultra-modern (and sleekly marketed) wines produced from international varietals like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have been cultivated here for so long (over 100 years), that the Venetians sometimes forget that those varietals are French! Fausto Maculan, one of Veneto’s leading producers, is a master of French varietals and champions their potential in the Breganze zone in particular. Breganze is an area of gentle hills north of Vicenza in central Veneto, and was once better known for its low-quality bulk wine. In the late 1970s, Fausto withdrew from the rat race of low-price, high-volume production to concentrate on quality, and has since proven Breganze to be a quality wine zone. Maculan’s Brentino 2003, a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, struck exactly the requisite balance of soft red fruit, medium tannins, and pleasant bitterness on the finish.

posted on July 7 2009 by jesse

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