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La Locanda Tuscan Food and Wine Evening

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I was privileged to be invited to the La Locanda ‘Serata Toscana’ Food and Wine Evening recently.  I’m sorry to admit this was my first visit to this award-winning restaurant.  Tucked away in beautiful rural East Lancashire in Gisburn, just a stones throw from the Yorkshire Border.  La Locanda had been recommended to me by my friend and ‘Quality is Best’ ally Phil Keenan of Bite Network and Slow Food Lancashire.

‘This is no ordinary Italian restaurant’ he pressed the point ‘This is genuine stuff, fresh ingredients, authentic Tuscan cuisine using local and imported products’

‘Sounds good’ I thought

‘… and the wine list! ‘  Phil exclaimed ‘High quality wines at very reasonable prices, and they really focus on their wine list’

My ears pricked up.  Tuscany is the home of great Italian wines, classics like Brunello di Montalcino and of course Chianti.  Home to the noble Sangiovese grape but also the birthplace of modern European dynamic winemaking, the Supertuscans, combining the tradition of local grapes with the powerful characteristics  of so-called international varieties.. Cabernet Sauvignon being the most notable amongst them.

So when Phil asked if I would come along to their Serata Toscana evening I just about stopped myself from biting his hand off… after all I would need to keep my appetite.

The restaurant is set in an old stone cottage-style building in the heart of the village.  Cosy and welcoming the downstairs lounge skilfully hides the ample space with nooks and crannies where you can sit in private enjoying pre or after dinner drinks.

I was immediately greeted by a smiling Cinzia who enthusiastically insisted I try her special aperitif featuring Cinzano and the Extra Virgin Olive Oil produced by Col D’Orcia, tonight’s co-hosts as they are the wine producers of the evening’s wines.  I love Olive oil but in an aperitif?  Wow!  I couldn’t believe the taste , delicious plenty of acidity while the olive oil gave both body and richness of flavour.  This was going to be a night of surprises.  Cinzia introduced to me to her husband and chef Maurizio and the Count Francesco Marone Cinzano.  No the name is not a coincidence, the count of course is the head of the family who own the rights to this famous vermouth as well as that of Col D’Orcia.  Amazingly our brief conversation (after all the Count was in IMG_0025demand, we don’t get to meet too many in our Lancashire restaurants) turned to the subject of living by the sea, though the comparisons between the Fylde Coast and the Tuscan Coast left me feeling somewhat coming off second best, at least as far as the climate is concerned.

Soon we were ushered upstairs where The Count painted a wonderful picture of the care and attention paid to producing their wines.  ‘I am not a wine maker, I am a grape grower’ he told us and gave a real sense that Col D’Orcia see themselves as passing custodians of the land.

Our first wine was a  Banditella Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2012 to accompany a platterIMG_0032 of antipasto.  100% Sangiovese but requiring less aging the Rosso di Montalcino offered a freshness working well with the richness of the meat.  My favourite pairing with this wine was the Lightly Smoked Goose breast.  The intensity of flavours met each other well but in particular the goose protein emphasised the fruitiness of the wine while the smokiness of the goose complimented the gentle spiciness coming from the wines exposure to oak.  A good start!

Second up was a Brunello di Mantalcino DOCG 2011 to compliment the Pici con Ragu’ di Colombaccio (homemade pici pasta with wood pigeon ragu).  I’ll admit my expectations were high as I anticipated this wine and I wasn’t disappointed.  Medium ruby with intense aromas of red cherries and a hint of red currants, slightly floral and smoke and vanilla all lifted from the glass to the nose effortlessly. A similar IMG_0033experience on tasting the wine with a notably long spicy length perhaps given by the 3 years maturity in large Slavonian Oak barrels.  With the Pigeon ragu (which was delicious by the way.. I’ll point you at Phil’s take on the evening in a moment) really allowed the fruitiness of the wine to burst through with red cherries and raspberries dominant and a hint of the rich Maraschino cherry.  What impressed me with this wine was the way it evolved when left in the glass leaving a hint of savoury mushroom.

The restaurant norm seems to be always to place fish and white wine at the beginning of the dining experience so a nice surprise to see our third dish of Cacciuco di Pesce Azzuro con Gnocchi Soffiati (Mediterranean fish stew with homemade light puff gnocchi) arrive with a glass of Pinot Grigio.  Pinot Grigio has become a best-selling neutral white wine in the UK with much of it from Veneto and placed in the IMG_0035inexpensive corner of the market,  refreshing acidity but little flavour or richness… it’s never going to  offend anybody.  So I was intrigued as what to expect from the Pinot Grigio DOC Sant’Antimo 2013 from Tuscany.  First impressions on the nose were stone fruits, pear and citrus and an interesting if somewhat puzzling ‘dairy’ hint as well as something floral.  The palate was more intense than your everyday Pinot Grigio, with a great deal more body than you would expect.  At this point of my tasting The Count explained a dash of Chardonnay had gone into the wine explaining the diary characteristics and that bit of extra body.  The wine opened up and evolved in the glass with flavours intensifying and especially after eating some of the fish stew.  I’m going to be bold here, this worked really well and this is possibly the best Pinot Grigio I have ever tasted!

I was certainly looking forward to the next wine.  The Poggio al Vento Brunello Riserva DOCG 2007  seemed like it might be just up my street.  I have a soft spot for aged wines, Riojas, Bordeaux, even Loire Cabernet Franc has delighted me in the past so I was looking forward to the chance to taste an 8 year old Brunello.  The Red cherries on the nose intermingled with sweet spice of vanilla presented just as IMG_0036intensely on the palate as they did on the nose, and they lingered, a really long finish developing with a hint of mushroom.  An intense complex wine with soft pleasant tannins, a real gem on its own but when tasted with the next dish Coniglio in Porchetta con Fagioli all’Uccelletto (Boneless rabbit filled sausage, sage and prociutto Toscano DOP, served with cannellini beans “all’uccelletto” cooked in a bottle with tomato, sage and garlic), yes  a real mouthful in many ways and those herbs seemed to translate through into the wine.  This was probably the pinnacle of the evening for me but then most of it was spent at high altitude.

The excellent selection of cheeses to follow were accompanied by the Olmaia Sant’Antimo Cabernet DOC 2012 .  This was classic Cabernet, pronounced black fruits on the nose with sweet spice from the mix of American and French oak that had matured this wine.  With those tannins though this was a beast that needed to be tamed and really did need the cheese to appreciate it.  A few more years aging on this wine will see a classic presentation of what is now the world’s most planted grape.  The denomination or DOC of Sant’Antimo has been created to allow the growth and use of non-traditional international grape varieties like Cabernet SauIMG_0041.JPGvignon.

Finally the Moscadello di Montalcino Pascena DOC served with Sfogliatina con Crema al Moscadello (Homemade pistachio and almond puff pastry with Moscadello DOC wine crème).  I’m a sucker for sweet wines and this one didn’t disappoint.  Moscadello, muscatel, moscatel, however you pronounce or say it is an aromatic grape , flowery and intense in the wines it produces whether sweet or dry, but the finest are usually sweet.  This with its elegant floral nose, citrus and orange peel carry through to the palate where the citrus becomes more seville orange.   There was a hint of oxidation with a slight nuttiness that rounded nicely with the pastry in the sweet.  The luscious sweetness is balanced nicely with mouth-watering acidity, a real delight.

All-in-all a delightful evening of great food and fine wines.  The ticket price for this evening was £99 , a real bargain when you look at the delicious food and incredible wines served with them.

La Locanda is not a run-of-the-mill Italian Restaurant serving pizza and pasta.  This is authentic Tuscan cuisine created with care, love and pride.  The wine list is incredible.  The price of the wines tasted on this evening ranged from £28 to £95 per bottle to enjoy with your meal.  They are available by the glass and to take home at a reduced price.  Given the quality of the wines I think those prices compare very favourably with most good restaurants.

I’d heartily recommend a visit and if you have to travel across the county seriously think about staying over in one of the nearby hotels so you can appreciate true Tuscan hospitality.  Take your time, choose your wine and eat and drink the very substance of life with Cinzia and Maurizio.  Salute!

Phil Keenan (Foody Phil) has produced his account of this fantastic evening but as his nickname suggests concentrates more on the food, see his blog and learn more about Slow Food Lancashire here

La Locanda have their own website where you can find out more, get directions and browse their menu and wine list.  http://www.lalocanda.co.uk/

Colin Burbidge is the proprietor of The Lancashire Wine School which is proud to be a member of The Local Wine School network with over 20 Wine Schools operating in 40 locations.  Local Wine Schools do not sell wine with their focus is entirely on delivering high quality Wine Courses and Wine Tasting events.  Wine Tasting For Everyone!

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Written by lancswineschool

July 19, 2016 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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