The ideal match between wine and San Daniele according to Ian D’Agata

A chat with an international wine guru

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Journalist, taster, scientific director of Vinitaly International, Ian D’Agata has been in the wine sector for more than twenty-five years. A veritable guru that we met for a pleasant and “tasty” chat.

Ian, how did your first approach to wine occur?
My father was a psychiatrist and a wine lover, even if the weird thing was that nobody in our family drank wine if not during celebrations or dinner parties with friends. Consequently, I had never really tasted anything memorable. The wine cellar in our Canadian home, however, was very well-stocked, and one fatal day, when some North-American friends came to visit us and asked to taste some Italian wine, I happened to offer them a 1971 Barolo my father had always spoken well of. For Barolo, 1971 was the century’s best vintage, so the wine was fabulous, to say the least. That was the moment that changed my life forever, because I had never tasted anything similar before. This is how my passion for wine began.
Among the first five memorable wines of my life, besides that Barolo, there was a Picolit: I still remember the first time I tasted it as if it were yesterday. A fantastic wine that roused such a passion for this vine in me that, ever since I was 20 years old, I have been spending my life tasting every type of Picolit, including older vintages from the 70’s or 80’s that I bought for their labels. In fact, I have a large collection of Picolit labels and, what’s more, I keep a “historical record” of the many Picolits produced in the past that no longer exist. Significantly, I chose two old-time labels, a Nebbiolo and a Picolit. for the cover of my latest book, “Native Wine Grapes of Italy,” published by the University of California Press.

How did you discover Prosciutto di San Daniele?
My maternal grandmother was from Gorizia and I spent my summers in that area for many years, so I came to know all the specialties of traditional Friulan cuisine, such as prosciutto di San Daniele, Gubana and Putizza. Throughout the years, due to my work, I have had the opportunity to taste many prosciuttos, but San Daniele remains my favourite, maybe due to genetics …

How do you prefer Prosciutto di San Daniele?
I love San Daniele alone, even without bread, because it is so savoury, fragrant and sweet. Absolutely unique. And I love it with a “tajut,” a glass of white wine.

What kind of wine would you choose to accompany San Daniele?
Definitely Friulano, which I believe is the perfect match for prosciutto di San Daniele because there is a wonderful combination between the tastiness and slightly gamy aroma of the prosciutto and the slightly grassy aroma of Friulano: it is a working match. Moreover, Friulano has that bit of body that enables it to pair very well with the prosciutto.
Besides Friulano, I also adore matching San Daniele with Pinot Grigio and Ribolla Gialla. Ribolla Gialla, in particular, is a high-acid wine and thus has the ability to cut through the fatty element. With this I do not mean that prosciutto is greasy, but rather that Ribolla Gialla makes it even more fluid. It has to be a good Ribolla, though, otherwise the match is awful.

Would you match a red wine with San Daniele?
I almost always order slightly more structured and acidic white wines, because I believe that sometimes red wines are too powerful. The red wines from Friuli such as Schioppettino, Pignolo, Refosco or Tazzelenghe tend to overwhelm the prosciutto. If I were to choose, I would opt for a rosé, a light Tazzelenghe or a light Refosco, to be slightly chilled before tasting.

What flavour or aroma is indelible in your memory?
If I think of wine, I would say the aromas of citrus and rose petals, while the flavour that comes to mind is red cherry. As a taster, I believe that balance is the most important aspect for both wine and prosciutto, as well as many other products. A great prosciutto or a great wine is always characterized by great balance. More than its aroma, flavour or any other characteristic, more than its terroir or sense of place, a great prosciutto or a great dish has to be well-balanced. There has to be harmony between sapidity and sweetness, acidity and bitterness. When these elements are balanced, we are in the presence of a great product.

What is your favourite dish?
Difficult question to answer. I’d say three dishes: undoubtedly prosciutto and melon, then mozzarella di bufala and tomatoes, and Putizza, the typical dessert of Trieste that I love. As you can tell, I could live on starters and desserts, but among the first courses, I’m mad about Cjarsons, the traditional Carnic dish.

Can you give us some advance information on the area dedicated to wine at the upcoming Expo in Milan?
As the scientific director of Vinitaly International Academy, I will be organising some of the wine tastings, as well as university and scientific conferences during the six months of Expo. At Vinitaly, though, we are a good team with many really brilliant, competent “heads,” who contribute wonderful ideas. Personally, it is a great pleasure and a real honour to be part of the project. And I hope that Expo, which is a great opportunity for our country, will be useful for our producers and visitors, and memorable for all!