Port and cheese are perfect partners? Red wine should always be served at room temperature? There are many myths about wine, some more obvious than others. When it comes to wines in East Africa, especially in Ethiopia, very little is known about the region’s palette or viticulture – so much so that the topic is almost a myth in itself.
The wine culture in Ethiopia is still considered relatively young compared to countries where their traditions of viticulture have become an integral part of their national identity, such as France or Italy. Vineyards in the Rift Valley are mostly unknown out of the country, but Ethiopia’s small-scale estates – first launched in 2007 by the Ethiopian government and the French group Castel – rustic terrains and untouched market are finally luring curious winemakers and enthusiasts to Ethiopia, a nation home to 90 million people.
Thanks to the growing number of wine importers and maturing palates in the country, Ethiopians, aside from the socially elite, are slowly becoming discerned wine consumers. And with the arrival of the new Gusto Ristorante in December 2013 in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, the country finally has an appropriately forward-thinking culinary destination – and looking – place to indulge in both food and wine.
INTRODUCING GUSTO RISTORANTE
There’s nothing modest about the new Gusto Ristorante. From its slogan “Perfection of taste,” to the management’s aspirations of someday being a Michelin award-winning restaurant – Gusto is not only looking to make a positive impact in the Ethiopian culinary scene, but also offer a great restaurant experience, one that can rival even the best globally. Opened last December, in front of the Ministry of Immigration located on Churchill Road, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Gusto is a tribute to the owner’s appreciation to Italian cuisine and epicurean ambitions.
Though the space is unified by a singular modern aesthetic – slick and minimalist – the space offers a warm, inviting and spacious experience that is unique in Addis Ababa’s burgeoning hospitality scene. The furniture infuses the restaurant with a contemporary yet refined edge, and the soft glow from the indirect ambient lighting brings visual drama, whilst a backlit bar provides a central focal point without taking away from the incredible Addis Ababa skyline, visible from its expansive floor-to-ceiling windows.
Executive Chef Vito Bellomo from Puglia in southern Italy serves rustic and uncomplicated food. However, the young nature of the local wine market definitely inhibits creative wine pairings. The staff seemed to be confident, but still lacked some finesse – a sign of a young restaurant mitigating expected growing pains. That being said, my wine-pairing dinner experience at Gusto recently, hosted by Fantinel Winery – a leading Italian Friulian brand – was definitely one of the most memorable since my first visit to Addis Ababa eight years ago.
ENTER FANTINEL WINERY
The first-ever wine-pairing dinner at Gusto was an exclusive experience for only forty guests. Our host was Fantinel Winery – a brand with a storied family heritage and artisan touch – which has transformed from a small cellar into a leading player in the Italian Friulian wine scene through its portfolio of superior quality wines. Well-curated wine and food pairing events are rare to come-by in Addis Ababa, and on this evening, Fantinel managed to impress even the finest palates in town – those of hoteliers, restaurateurs and international wine aficionados.
The evening began with a shaky start thanks to a welcoming cocktail, which was more ice than substance. But a refreshing flute of Fantinel Spumante Prosecco Extra Dry DOC quickly erased any doubt of the evening’s sophistication and decadence. With its fine bubbles and delicate floral essences, the Prosecco showcased a plethora of flavours, all soft and refreshing in nature, which was complemented by the Prawn Brosciutto with Smoked Salmon.
The hand-made Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushroom was too subtle in flavour for the ruby-coloured Fantinel Tesis Merlot. Though the Tesis Merlot had a distinct flavour of undergrowth fruits, the saltiness and earthy flavours of the pasta did very little to bring out the soft notes of the oak barrels of the wine.
My definite winner of the evening was the Fantinel La Roncaia Refosco paired with the Grilled Rib eye Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce. The La Roncaia Refosco stood up to spicy and more complex dishes, which cut through the fattiness of the aged beef and creaminess of the sauce perfectly. Subtle notes of berries and acidity from the wine also balanced well with the slightly-caramelized roasted vegetables. Each taste set off an echo chamber of spice, saltiness, sweetness and tartness in my mouth. The Grilled Rib eye Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce is a lovely dish on its own, but together with a glass of La Roncaia Refosco, where its dark-skinned grapes are harvested from the hills of Nimis in October and a certain amount is allowed to dry partially before vinification and ageing in wood for over 18 months, the main course pairing was absolutely faultless.
Fantinel is currently available in six countries in Africa. According to Mauro Pavesi, Brand Manager of Africa, Fantinel is looking to increase its market share on the continent: “By the end of the year, Fantinel should be doubling the amount of countries in Africa, raising our availability to 12 countries.”
The exclusive dinner at Gusto is just the beginning for Fantinel in Africa with a much-anticipated launch in Nairobi, Kenya in the coming weeks.
To say I can’t wait would be an understatement.