Long before Delhi’s foodscape became cluttered with a slew of Italian restaurants, there was one name which stood out whenever there was any talk of Italian cuisine in the capital and that name was San Gimignano at The Imperial. It still remains a favourite with the purists of Italian cuisine and its loyal fan base has remained unchanged over the years.
This fine dining Italian restaurant at the Imperial is named after the charming Tuscan town of San Gimignano, famous for its beautiful towers and for its distinctive white wine called the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the only white wine from Tuscany to have reached the lofty DOCG status in 1993. The restaurant has one of the finest wine lists in the country and was even awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 2011 for the same. Though most of the wines can only be ordered by the bottle and may be out of reach for many diners because of the high prices, San Gimignano has recently launched a tasting flight of Italian wines by the glass which can be paired with its delectable Tuscan Italian cuisine.
The wines on offer are a sparkling, three whites and one red. The sparkling is a Danzante Prosecco, an extra dry style Italian spumante with a rich bouquet, hints of white fruit and refreshing acidity. Prosecco is a very forgiving and food friendly sparkling wine and works as a delicious aperitif. It has a fairly neutral palate and pairs well with most of the antipasti or starters in the menu like Proscuitto di Parma con Melone, thinly sliced Parma ham with melon pearls, Cuciucco Di Gamberetti, a traditional shrimp dish, and even with the soup Crema di Parmigiano Olio di tartufo bianco, a light Parmesan cream soup which is a speciality of San Gimignano, and pasta dishes like Risotto con Fungi Porcini, a creamy risotto with porcini mushroom.
There are two still white wines Castello Banfi Le Rime IGT 2012 and a Masi Soave Levarie DOC 2012. Castello Banfi is an award winning estate in Tuscany known for its outstanding Brunello di Montalcino and Super Tuscans. The Le Rime from this estate which is available by the glass is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, has a plush texture with hints of pear and white flowers and moderate acidity. It pairs very well both with the Insalata di Cesare or Caesar Salad and the Gnocchi. The other still white Masi Soave Levarie DOC 2012 is a modern style Italian wine made from traditional Veronese grape varieties Garganega and Trebbiano, has a mild, almost closed nose of pear and spice, and is smooth on the palate with a crisp finish. Its limey citrus flavours match perfectly with the Carciofi Ripeni di Granchi, blue crab stuffed artichoke. The vegetarians have an option of omitting the crab and going just for the artichoke which is a must have dish at this restaurant. The wine, which I would categorize as a good quaffing variety, accentuates the flavour of the dish without overpowering it and there is a great balance between the two.
Another great white available by the glass is the Bellavista Curtefranca 2009, a beautifully textured Chardonnay laced with expressive fruit aromas and almost caressing finish. The recommended pairing for this is the Scaloppine di Pollo Ai Capperi e Limone, sautéed chicken scaloppini topped with caper parsley, the most popular dish in the entire menu.
The only red wine from Italy included in this tasting flight is the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012. For those who are only familiar with the Chiantis, Brunellos and Barolos among the Italian reds this is a great chance to try a Valpolicella, a blend of three indigenous red wine grape varieties Corniva, Rondinella and Molinara , grown in the Veneto region of North east Italy. The wine has a rich nose of leather bacon and tobacco and on the palate it has ripe cherries and spicy pepper. I was advised to try it with the Brasato di Toscana, traditional red wine braised tenderloin served with polenta, green peas and carrot pearls and it worked beautifully. Any dining experience is always enhanced when there are experts to guide and suggest about food and wine pairings. The assistant restaurant manager of San Gimignano, Hanuman Sigh Rawat, who impressed me with his knowledge of wines, is always present to assist the guests in making the right choices according to their individual palate.
The wines by the glass are priced at San Gimigiano between Rs 800 to 1200 while the dishes range from Rs 1000 to 3500. There is an option of alfresco dining at the courtyard which is done up in garden style furniture and has a lovely ambience. However be prepared to shell out a substantial amount as this fine dine experience does not come cheap. But then as the Italians say Un pasto senza vino e’ come un giorno senza sole, a day without wine is like a day without sunshine.
– Lavina Kharkwal