A single grape can contain a microcosm: the flavors, the light, the soil and the rain of a corner of the world.
A single tiny grape may enclose a macrocosm of flavors: the sunlight, soil and rainfall of one corner of the world transformed and held under its taut skin. Perfectly content to be told this by a winemaker, we may raise a skeptical eyebrow when a chef waxes poetic about the possibilities of grapes as ingredients. From his priveleged position at the heart of the Valpolicella, Bruno Barbieri has developed an affinity for grapes. A fateful encounter with vintner Carlo Speri brougt local varieties into his kitchen and from that first taste, there was no turning back.
With the help of Speri, the chef was soon discovering the extraordinary flavors of the auctochthonous varieties forgotten by the winemaking industry, but not by this particular winemaker. Bigolona, Cabrosina, Dindarellla, Oseleta, Pipion, Rossanella, Rossignola… these are but a few of the ‘survivors’ identified by Speri and transformed by Barbieri into 28 extraordinary dishes. A quick scan of the titles demonstrates that the surprises are many and the pairings intriguiging: Marinated Scampi with Grape Granita, Risotto all’Amarone, Tuna Bites with Dindarella Grapes, Zuccotto with Rossignola Compote, Grape Terrine with Almond Fennel Ice Cream…
Though many books have proposed collaborations between chefs and winemakers, such teamwork rarely goes beyond a series of suggestions for pairing wine and food. Speri’s willingness to surrender the substance of his art to a transformation so radically different from his own and Barbieri’s willingness to go all-out for ingredients that come into the kitchen just once a year, represent a truly singular effort. But why should a grape be considered any less than a truffle, that other fickle ingredient that appears only in Autumn?
Whether viewed as an impassioned appeal for biodiversity or a fortuitous meeting of minds, The Good Grape returns us to the vineyard as Eden where all of the grapes are food for thought.