Follow up to the entry on the menus for Pope Benedict

Here is a followup to the entry on the menus prepared for the Holy Father’s visit to the USA.  Biretta tip to PS who forwarded the link!  o{]:¬)

Enjoy this from the Wall Street Journal!


Most of us get nervous about serving just the right wine when guests come to dinner. Imagine if you were hosting the pope.

So with Pope Benedict XVI making his first trip to New York as pope Friday, we wondered what he would be eating and drinking during his visit. Because he is a native of Germany, we immediately thought that New York’s famous Rieslings might find their way onto his table. But the Vatican is in Rome, so maybe he’d be eating and drinking Italian. Then we heard that Vatican insiders like to joke that his favorite wine is lemonade, [Actually, Fanta, too.] though there are some reports that he has sipped beer now and then. Surely someone should show him what New York hospitality can be by putting some delicious food and wine before him.

It turns out that the folks who were granted that honor are Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, famous as "the first lady of Italian cuisine," and her son, Joseph, who have virtually cornered the market on all things Italian, sitting atop an empire that includes, separately and together with others, television shows, restaurants (some with Mario Batali), cookbooks, a wine store, a wine book, wineries in Italy and Argentina, an Italian tour company and retail businesses selling sauces and olive oil. Mrs. Bastianich, a devout Catholic, will create the menus and help prepare dinner for 52 people on Friday and 24 people on Saturday. And Mr. Bastianich, part-owner of Italian Wine Merchants in New York City and co-author of a book we’ve recommended, "Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy," will provide the wines from his store and his wineries, including a special dessert wine, not available for sale at stores, named for his mother.

Light and Seasonal

Mrs. Bastianich said the Vatican asked her not to divulge many details about her meals until after the pope leaves. "I have to respect their wishes," she told us in a telephone interview. (We began calling the Archdiocese of New York about the pope’s meals back in February, and the only thing the media office would tell us was that the dinners weren’t open to the public.) Mrs. Bastianich said she and Joseph may eventually list the recipes and paired wines on her Web site because "we want to share the excitement." This much she would tell us: "The pope, of course, is very low-key, so we’ll serve light things, seasonal things.

"He’s not a big wine drinker at all. He does drink orange juice, but will have a sip of wine, I hope, for his sake," she added with a chuckle. The first dinner will be particularly light, she said, because it will be his "first from his travels" from Washington, D.C., to New York. As we all know, travel can be stressful no matter the pains that can be taken to smooth the way. Some of the dishes will be "partly from my repertoire," Mrs. Bastianich said. "He is German, so we will have a little bit of those influences."

Mrs. Bastianich stressed the larger significance of feeding the pope. "Going back to the Bible, it is breaking bread. The table is so meaningful. We will have the opportunity to meet him at the table and to deliver the meal as a basic medium of communication. In all different religions there is the table. In Judaism for Passover there is the sharing of the matzo. For me the table is a place for people to really take time and have communion with their families and friends and to communicate on a human level.

"For me, it is a great opportunity to communicate with His Holiness with the food that I cook. There’s nothing more direct than the ability to do this."

How about the wine? That is Joseph’s department, so we called him and he turned philosophical, too. "I have the great privilege of being involved in a real way in the life cycle of the vine. It’s a cycle that transcends our own humanity and underscores how fleeting our lives are. These vines will continue to make wine long after we’re gone.

"Being able to serve the pope and the weight of the history of that institution is so impressive to me. This is a big deal. It’s an incredible honor. My wines are my favorite things and to be able to show them in this venue is so exciting."

Ten years ago, Mr. Bastianich and his mother purchased a vineyard in Buttrio, in the Colli Orientali region of Italy. The wines that will be served to the pope came either from that winery, Azienda Agricola Bastianich, or from La Mozza, a winery that Mr. Bastianich, his mother and Chef Batali bought in 2001 in the Maremma region of Tuscany.  [Self-promotion?  Why not!  If it’s good,… and they sure know it…]

Respect for the Food

We asked Mr. Bastianich if we could buy a bottle of each of the wines he will serve so we could taste them and he graciously agreed.

The most notable aspect of the wines was their earthiness, a genuine and proud sense of place. The wines were ripe but eschewed pyrotechnics, letting the fruit speak for itself. We felt all of them would be excellent with whatever meals Mrs. Bastianich prepares — or, as Dottie said of Joseph at one point, "He’s showing respect for his mother’s food." Indeed, these wines show again that good wine isn’t just about the liquid in a bottle, but about history, geography, family and respect. Even if the pope sticks with lemonade for dinner, he can still drink heartily of what wine symbolizes.

Would like to know what those wines were?




Here are the wines that will be served, all from Italy, with the prices we paid and some comments from Joseph Bastianich and from our own tasting.
Bastianich Tocai Friulano 2006
(Colli Orientali del Friuli), $15
Made from the most prolific indigenous white grape in Friuli. If you think of Tocai Friulano as a fun, simple quaffer, this would change your mind. This has serious earthiness that gives it significant weight in a nicely rustic sense. In fact, this is a white wine that we would decant because we found that its core of fruit showed better with air and warmth. It would be good with grilled fish, but, because of its weight, might be better with veal.
Bastianich Vespa Bianco 2006
(Venezia Giulia), $30
The winery’s flagship white, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Picolit. It’s pleasant and floral, easy to drink, with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc crispness and Chardonnay mouthfeel and a hint of honey. Good with sardines.
La Mozza Aragone 2005
(Maremma Toscana), $35
La Mozza Vineyard’s premier wine. It’s made from a fascinating blend of Mediterranean and Rhône varietals including Sangiovese, Alicante, Syrah and Carignan. Mr. Bastianich said the region is "very hot and arid" and these grapes make a "very powerful wine, kissed by the Tuscan heat without being jammy and too extracted. The Rhône varietals give it a liveliness." We found that this had blackberries, cherries and warming alcohol on the nose and were prepared for a wine of some heft — but were pleased and surprised when we sipped it to find a soft, velvety wine that was lovely. There are hints of lilacs and some roasted earth, but mostly it tastes like fresh, ripe-from-the-sun grapes, made more by God than man — perfect for the pope.
Bastianich Calabrone 2003
(Venezia Giulia), $75
The Bastianich estate’s reserve red. It is only made in great vintages, Mr. Bastianich told us. It is a blend of Merlot, Refosco, Pignolo and Cabernet Franc. Some of the grapes undergo appassimento, or drying, which increases the intensity of their flavors. "It’s kind of a real extreme expression of what a cold-weather wine can be like when it’s great," he said. Sometimes the red wines in this region can be "vegetal and stemmy," he added, "but these wines are more like tar resin, fresh tobacco and cedar and have woodsy flavors that are super-appealing." In the glass, the wine looks brand new, with lively purple highlights, and smells raisiny. It reminded us of Amarone — intense and raisiny — but the trick of this wine is that it has plenty of flavor without an excess of power.
Bastianich Perlidia Plus Passito 2003
(Venezia Giulia), $75 (half-bottle)
A dessert wine made from super-ripe Tocai Friulano grapes that were partially dried to enhance their sweetness. Mr. Bastianich said only one barrel of this was made and was served in magnums to celebrate his mother’s 60th birthday. "We put some in small bottles so that she can have one every year. It is not something we are going to make ever again." This is quite a remarkable wine. It tastes like rich, sweet earth, without too much sweetness and with abundant acidity.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. tertullian says:

    I might have suggested including a prosecco, in celebration of the trip’s success.

  2. Gordon says:

    I think these little stories are delightful. Reminds me of a bottle of wine I saw in a famous Italian deli in Edinburgh. It was a £109. They kept Those ones in glass cases(& there it stayed!)

  3. Gavin says:

    If we left the USCCB in charge, would he be fed McDonald’s and Budweiser? OH WAIT, he’s foreign, give him Heineken!

  4. Liam says:

    But it would have been good form to include at least one native wine from the USA. I am sure there is at least one native wine that would have been suitable. That is, normally when someone is travelling, they are not travelling to have their own *home* cooking, as it were, but to have the flavors of the land they are travelling to.

  5. TNCath says:

    Fr Z: “[Actually, Fanta, too.]”

    Specifically Orange Fanta. Saw him on several occasions at the now defunct Ristorante Da Armando. I hated to see Armando retire. He had some of the best cannelloni in Rome.

  6. TNCath: Yes, but the restaurant stayed in the family and, if anything, it might be better now. Great seafood! I was there not too long ago and was impressed.

    Years ago I had a couple meals with Papa and he did, in fact, have Fanta.

  7. Mville says:

    When one might expect him to be looking exhausted, the Holy Father was looking quite hale and hearty in the New York stage of his trip. Perhaps the loving attention given to the menu and the preparation had something to do with his stamina.

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