Story by Babbie De Derian

Il Gattopardo Entrance

An Italian Wine Dinner at Il Gattopardo
elevates my appreciation of elegant volcanic wines.

If you relish and appreciate everything Italian, as I do, what could be more pleasing to the palate, on an early June evening in New York City, than dining on exceptional authentic Italian cuisine paired with a selection of intriguing white and red Volcanic wines at the elegant Il Gattopardo Restaurant on West 54th Street.

Il Gattopardo Atrium

The restaurant's private dining room with its high vaulted skylight ceiling was the perfect venue for Consorzio Tutela Vini Vesuvio's Wine Tasting Dinner, organized by Gruppo Italiano (GI), one of the most respected culinary and cultural organizations in the country.

Gruppo Italiano (GI) was officially formed in 2017, as an evolution from the original Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI), a non-profit association founded in 1979 to promote authentic Italian cuisine’s image through member restaurants. Throughout it’s history, GRI made great strides in enhancing the perception of, and passion for, Italian food and wine throughout the hospitality industry in the United States, and now, Gruppo Italiano begins a new era in developing a stronger and expanded presence of Italian culinary products, wines  and services in the United States by fostering them through education, events  and culinary scholarships.

Vesuvio Tutela

The Vesuvio Wine Consortium"s 114 wine grower members produce 35 types of wines on 400 hectares of vineyards of the most famous volcano in the world. Its most important role is to implement brand policies through valorization, promotion, protection and supervision.

The production area of the “Vesuvio” DOP includes the entire territory of the municipalities of Boscotrecase, Trecase, San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, as well as part of the municipalities of Ottaviano, San Giuseppe Vesuviano, Terzigno, Boscoreale, Torre Annunziata, Torre del Greco, Herculaneum, Portici , Cercola, Massa di Somma, Pollena Trocchia, Sant'Anastasia, Somma Vesuviana enclosing the whole area of the Vesuvius National Park and investing all the municipalities of the immediate area of Monte Somma and Vesuvius.

Gianfranco Sorrentino, owner of Il Gattopardo Restaurant Group is Chairman and President of Gruppo Italiano. He has had an impressive influence on the culinary world with more than 30 years of experience in restaurant management and ownership which include: Quisitana Hotel in Capri, Dorchester Hotel in London, Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo, Bice Restaurant in New York, Sette MoMA Restaurant at The Museum of Modern Art of New York, Union Bar and Grill in Great Barrington, MA, Mozzarella & Vino, and The Leopard at des Artistes, located in the New York landmark Hotel des Artistes.

Lacryma.Bianco Cantina del Vesuvio

The evening began with a welcoming informal wine tasting.  When dinner was about to be served we moved into the dining room. There were no assigned seats, which I thoroughly appreciated, and I sat  at a table with a mix of interesting wine professionals, including Gabriele De Falco, a 3rd generation member of the Russo family, wine makers since 1930, who poured his Black Label Line of Cantina Del Vesuvio. Gabriele told me,   "We have the capacity to produce one million bottles, but are only producing 4,000. The future of wine is with the specialist. People who want to discover places where wine is made".

Italian wine makers take great pride in their stunning estate vineyards and in cultivating the finest vines to obtain the best grapes, whose harvest, fermentation and maturing are always supervised by the expert, scrupulous eye of a fruit maker, a winemaker and a cellar manager.

Il Gattopardo dish with wines

Visiting wine makers introduced their pours. The restaurant's Chef Vito Gnazzo created a special four course menu of Campania inspired food that complimented and enhanced the four white and four red volcanic wines served throughout the evening.

For the 1st course, a delicate blend of eggplant and spices, we were introduced to a selection of lovely white wines with a range of acidity. 

For me, the Lacryma Christi Del Vesuvio bianco served with the 2nd course, a creamy rich pasta pomodoro, was a real find ... very complex for a young wine and extremely elegant with a silky sultry peppery note. 

Il Gattopardo Codfish Dish

The 3rd course, codfish simmered in a savory broth, was paired with a tasting of four red wines. The Cratere Rosso, one of my favorites, was elegant and dry on the palate with a beautiful fruit character similar to a pinot noir. Equally pleasing was the Territorioo de Matroni a lovely soft red, grown in wet and cold vegetation.

Lacryma Nero Olivella

By the time the desert course was served, I had followed the winemaker's trail through a wide variety of very diversified aromas, flavors and tastes.

White and Red Wines Served:

Vesuvio " Lacryma Christi" Bianco DOC - 2017 - La Cantina del Vulcano 13%
Vesuvio " Lacryma Christi" Bianco DOP - 2018 – De Falco Vini s.r. l.2,5%
Vesuvio " Lacryma Christi" Bianco DOP “ Cratere Bianco”– 2018 – 
Cantine degli Astroni
  - 12,5%
Vesuvio " Lacryma Christi" Bianco Superiore DOC - 2017 - 
Cantina del Vesuvio13%

Vesuvio " Lacryma Christi" Rosso DOP - 2018 -" Munazei" Casa Vinicola Setaro13%
Vesuvio " Lacryma Christi" Rosso DOC " Lacrima Nero" - 2017- 
Az. Agricola Cantine Olivella
 13 %
Vesuvio " Lacryma Christi" Rosso DOC – Territorio de’ Matroni – 2016 - 
Cantine Matrone 13%
Vesuvio " Lacryma Christi" Rosso DOP- “Vigna Lapillo” - 2015 - Az. Agr. Sorrentino Vini 13%Gir

An added highlight of the evening was a highly informative and fascinating  presentation on the ancient culture of wine around Vesuvius by Girolamo Fernando De Simone, Contract Professor in Restoration, Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli. "We should thank the Romans Bacchus as our patron saint; they poured wine on tombs of Christian martyrs. Vesuvius’ life and peoples have always benefited from living in one of Italy's most prestigious grapevine growing areas, influenced by its proximity to the sea, sea winds and the most famous volcanic soil region in the world".

When I called Gianfranco the next day to thank him for a truly memorable evening, he told me "At Gruppo Italiano, we promote Italian cuisines and wines through seminars and meetings that are interesting and creative. Our next seminar is actually going to be a panel of important food journalists discussing how food-critic professions have evolved and changed over the years; and if they are still powerful as they were before technology changed the industry".

Gianfranco Sorrentino, always the innovator, follows his own rules: "Work hard with honesty and innovation". He is a charming and gracious host, who needless to say, is as knowledgeable and passionate about wine as he is about food, and a driving force behind Italiano's efforts  to involve not only Italians, but also Americans who love to embrace the Italian lifestyle.

It has been said "If you eat Italian, you can speak better". for me "if you drink Italian,  your food tastes better".

My appreciation to Gianfranco, Chef Gnazzo, the visiting wine makers and the flow of exceptional white and red wines

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