The chef, the butcher and the winemaker
Red wine with meat, sure it still works even if one should avoid being too conventional in wine and food pairing. When Francesco Mazzei from the Castello di Fonterutoli and the Marchesi Mazzei winery in Tuscany came to Stockholm he brought with him the legendary butcher Dario Cecchini. It became a grand performance of both delicious wines and of the art of butchering and cooking meat. Plus a meat-fight between Sweden and Italy. BKWine Magazine’s Roland Eriksson was there to meet Francesco and Dario.
On a small back street on Kungsholmen in Stockholm you find the meat restaurant called AG. This is where in November I attended an unusual tasting in collaboration with the “World’s Best Butcher” Dario Cecchini, Johan Jureskog owner of AG, and Francesco Mazzei from the Tuscan winery Marchesi Mazzei at Castello di Fonterutoli , all organised by the wine importer The Wineagency. It started with butchery! And ended with a meat duel between Sweden and Italy.
Through a dark garage entrance we were led into a large warehouse filled with people. At the front hung animal carcasses on a rack. At the bench stood Dario cheerfully smiling with red “foppa slippers” (a curious Swedish foot wear), wearing the Italian colours, together with his American wife Kim Wicks. Kim helped to interpret to English.
With a surgeon’s precision Dario sawed, cut and chopped one animal body in record time to different cuts while he constantly talked loudly and gesticulating. When he was finished, he held up two large steak racks in the air and shouted “to beef or not to beef ‘in classic Shakespearean style to the audience’s cheers!
A legendary butcher
It was interesting to meet Dario in real life. A very special man that I have previously read about in Bill Buford’s book “Heat” (2007). Buford is an American journalist who for his passion for Italian food resigned from his job at the newspaper to work for free at various restaurants in roles ranging from a kitchen slave who chopped onion and peeled lamb tongues to finally becoming a full-fledged grill master. He some time spent in Dario’s shop in Panzano, where he learned to refine meat cuts that others at home might classify as dog food.
When Dario was young, he began studying to be a veterinarian, but when he was just 20 years old, his father died. He had to interrupt his studies to become the eighth-generation butcher in the family business in the little village of Panzano in Chianti.
If he had not been so dynamic, his Antica Macelleria Cecchini would probably have remained a small meat shop somewhere in Italy who sold to local customers. In 2001 the mad cow disease was running wild in Europe so to sell meat on the bone was completely forbidden. Dario managed to get the whole village of about 700 inhabitants to participate in a funeral procession to bury the last bistecca alla fiorentina (imagine a T-bone steak of up to 2 kg!) one of the local cuisine highlights and prides!
After that event and after the publication of the book celebrities like Springsteen and Jack Nicholson and food geeks from around the world came to visit the shop and his two restaurants in the village. They faithfully queue, taste, drink wine and listen to Dario’s monologues from Dante’s Inferno!
Dario cares a lot about the local cuisine. The special beef breed in Tuscany is called chianina, but strangely Dario prefer beef from Catalonia in Spain, perhaps because he believes the quality is better in relation to the price? But for him it is most important that the animal has had a happy and good life where it comes from and he says he notices it directly on the texture of the flesh, and when he looks into the animal’s eyes.
He uses everything from the animal and one of the favourites in the shop is a leg of beef filled with chopped bits of bone marrow and spices which is then braised in wine for many hours.
A too successful restaurant?
After the demonstration of the perfect art of butchery it was time to go up to the restaurant for lunch and the wine tasting. Johan told me that he had wanted to renovate the warehouse into a test kitchen and a shop where they could both cut up the meat and sell quality meats and prepared foods. But the landlord refuses.
As I mentioned in the beginning the AG restaurant is hidden away on a small street and it is even a few floors up in the building. It is rustic and modern and meat lovers can look into the meat cooler in the entrance and check out all the raw materials and pieces of meat hanging there. But it feels a little bit as if it had previously been offices or factory premises. The landlord apparently gave AG, very good condition from the beginning but did not expect that the activity would be so successful (named Sweden’s best meat restaurant several years!) so now apparently does everything to stop all further expansion and plans? (Perhaps the classic Swedish envy?).
Wines from Mazzei
The wines to accompany the food comes from the brothers Francesco and Filippo Mazzei with their father Lapo in the background. The family estate since the 1400s is the Castello di Fonterutoli in Tuscany. The winery and wine business Marchesi Mazzei is best known in Sweden for its Fonterutoli and Castello di Fonterutoli brands that as long as I can remember always has competed against the Castello di Brolio, in the same price range, on which of the chiantis is the best wine.
Nowadays, they also have vineyards in Sicily. Dario and Francesco is apparently good buddies, throughout the meal Dario ran around in the restaurant and blew a trumpet, or some similar instrument, before loudly announcing Francesco and his wines. We tasted almost everything from Mazzei’s range except perhaps their best wine Siepi, made from a blend of sangiovese and merlot.
Codice V 2012
Vermentino di Toscana IGT, 100% Vermentino.
Young, slightly spicy, red-fruity with floral tones, the taste is medium bodied, red fruits, slightly spicy and fresh.
~15 euro, 82 p. (All price indications are based on approximate retail price in Sweden.)
Terra Mazzei 2012
Italy IGT, 45% Nero d’Avola, 35% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Alicante.
Young, medium, red fruit scent with hints of raspberry and vanilla, the taste is medium bodied, young, red-fruity with berries. Made from grapes from both Tuscany and Sicily.
~9 euro, 80 p.
Serrata Belguardo 2012
Toscana IGT, 80% Sangiovese, 20% Alicante.
Young, medium body, slightly closed, red-fruity aroma, the taste is medium bodied, young, with hints of sweet cherries, good length.
~11 euro, 83 p.
Tenuta Belguardo 2005
Maremma Toscana IGT, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc.
Fairly big nose with maturation tones with hints of cherry and black currant, the taste is quite full-bodied, ripe and dark fruity with cherry, blackcurrant and right austere tannins.
~26 euro, 88 p.
Fonterutoli No 10 2012
Tuscany IGT, 90% Merlot, 10% Sangiovese.
Medium, young, red-fruity fragrance with notes of flowers, barrels and vanilla; flavour is red-fruity, young, with hints of raspberry, vanilla and with balanced tannins.
~13 euro, 85 p.
Ser Lapo 2011
Chianti Riserva DOCG, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot.
Medium body, a little closed, dark-fruity fragrance, taste is dark-fruity, young with quite austere tannins.
~16 euro, 85 p.
Chianti DOCG, 90% Sangiovese, 10% malvasia nera, colorino and Merlot.
Medium nose, young, dark-fruity fragrance, with cherry, black currant and barrel, the taste is quite full-bodied, dark-fruity with cherry, black currant, barrels and rather harsh tannins.
~16 euro, 88 p.
Castello di Fonterutoli 2010
Chianti DOCG, 92% Sangiovese, 8% malvasia nera and colorino.
Fairly big, dark-fruity, concentrated aroma, with hints of blackberry, black currant, cherry, coffee and barrels; the taste is full-bodied, dark-fruity with black currant, cherry, coffee, certain elegance and barrel.
~33 euro, 91 p.
Mix 36 2010
Tuscany IGT, 100% Sangiovese from 36 clones.
Big, dark-fruity, concentrated aroma, with hints of lingonberries, cherries, blackberries and vanilla, the taste is full-bodied, young, dark-fruity and concentrated with notes of lingonberries, cherry, black currant and oak.
~43 euro, 90 p.
Effe Emme 2011
Sicily IGT, 100% Petit Verdot.
Young, quite concentrated, red-fruity aroma, with hints of raspberries, lingonberries and red berries, taste is medium bodied, young, red-fruity and soft, somewhat perfumed and spicy.
Will be launched in March 2015, ~35 euro, 88 p.
The Meat Duel, Italy v Sweden
The meal started with med sushi del chianti, tonno del chianti e cosmino com la nostra mostarda mediterrena and fagioli all’olio cecchini, or for us who do not understand much Italian: raw beef, pork is prepared so that it tastes like tuna, a kind of meatloaf, fruit compote with mustard and pickled beans in olive oil. Rustic and very tasty!
For the main course grande griglia di bistecca cecchini e bistecca di AG, which was the meat duel between Sweden and Italy.
On each table was served the two giant T-bone steaks, charcoal grilled and with minimal seasoning. With this plain baked potato with chianti butter (pork fat with herbs and garlic). Why complicate things? Simple food is the best! The Swedish meat was very marbled and came from an older cow that and had been hanging for four weeks, while in Italy they prefer the younger animals whose meat is only capable of a few weeks of maturation.
It was probably a draw. Personally I thought that AG’s meat tasted more. Both steaks were best closest to the bones that one wanted to gnaw passionately on like a Fred Flintstone, had one eaten in solitude! The end of the lunch was a cake, two kinds of grappa and espresso. Dario was still animating the event while downing a glass of his own grappa with a hearty re-fill, both for himself and for everyone else willing and nearby!
In conclusion, “to beef or not to beef”, after having seen and eaten meat in all forms throughout the day, should one let conscience speak, as a good animal lover, and consider becoming a vegetarian?
Roland Eriksson writes on BKWine Magazine on wine tastings with wine merchants and importers in Sweden. Roland is the author of a book on cognac (A Handbook: Cognac, 2007, published in Swedish) and one on rum as well as one on tea.
BKWine Magazine has previously published an article on the Mazzei winery, read it here: The house of Mazzei, an Italian wine producer since 24 generations.
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