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Monday, October 17, 2016

More Than An Italian Deli: It's Issimo!

Issimo!  Walk through the door into a wonderland of Italian delicacies, a hundred varieties of succulent hams and sausages, cheeses from the soft and luscious to the hard and enveloping, verdant basil pesto, shimmering green olives, wines from a thousand vineyards, liquors, and bulging gift baskets that scream “You deserve this!”

Yes, it’s all here, wrapped in the warm atmosphere of old-world hospitality and comfortable service.  You may be in Germany, but you just stepped across the border into the Mamma Mia! wonders of an Italian gourmet paradiso.

Issimo, which should really be called Bellissimo (lovely), is owned and manned by two Italian brothers, Franco and Vincenzo, aided by a host of always smiling, always delightful young ladies.  Stride to the deli counter and even if it’s your first trip, Franco will treat you as his favorite customer.  Not sure what you want?  Samples abound and if not, just ask.
Signor Franco at work

So of all the delectable deli selections, which do I favor?  Way too personal a question, but today I’m in a sandwich mood, pecorino cheese dotted with peppercorns, tender truffle filled ham, emerald green, almond stuffed olives, and paper thin slices of red, spicy salami, similar to oversized Spanish chorizo.  Oh, yes, and a couple of bottles of Bulgarini Lugana, and a bottle of Iris’ rose tinted Isabella Spagnoto Prosecco.

Ok, so it’s a fab deli…what else?  Oh, it’s much more than that.  You’ve come to the home of the best party platters!  And what about those sumptuous gift baskets?  Dried pasta, sauces, jams, jellies, and of course a couple of bottles of wine.  All of them direct from the fragrant farms and vineyards of Italy.

Jessica behind the bar.

Down a short hallway, behind the deli is a whole different Issimo, the bistro Issimo.  On a sunny day, I often sit outside on the porch and sip an espresso, a glass of wine, or dine like a king on one of Issimo’s light lunches.  If the skies are drizzling, I go inside and join friends at the mahogany bar for more of the same.

Tucked away behind the bistro, in the back room, featuring shelves and shelves of delicious wines, is a long, dark wood table for wine tastings that are a hell-of-a-lot more than simple wine tastings!  An Issimo wine tasting is an eating, drinking extravaganza, and one you’ll want to share with a dozen or more of your closest friends. Vincenzo, with his all-encompassing knowledge of Italian viniculture, will be your guide.

Vincenzo, our guide to the pleasures of Italian wines

Aferdita sets the table and oh what a table!

At a recent wine tasting, we began with the Prosecco I mentioned earlier, moved on to a Pinot Bianco (2015), the Indolente Bianco (2015), followed by Amir DOC Reserva (2008) and finishing with Singe 1974 DOC (2013) Primitivo di Manduria.

A note about Primitivo.  Often described as Zinfandel, Primitivo is actually a genetic cousin and unlike its light colored and often denigrated American kin, Primitivo is dark red, fruity, and dry to semi-dry.  Surprisingly complex, it’s my favorite Italian red.  One of those wines you sip over dinner and conversation, accompanied by satisfied smiles. “OH yeah! And by the way, I’ll need a couple of bottles to take home.”  

According to Vincenzo, Primitivo is the oldest grape varietal in the world.  Mellow, smooth, rounded finish, it’s no wonder it’s still around.

Another little tidbit imparted by Vincenzo:  Italy grows 348 varieties of grapes, while Germany has 40 and there’s a big reason.  The climate in Italy ranges from the very sunny, Mediterranean south to the much cooler Alpine north.

The wines we tasted came from tiny vineyards, which may produce only a few thousand bottles.  Doesn’t sound tiny?  A big producer like Gallo produces millions of bottles more than Germany’s total output. 

In whatever country, the small vineyards appeal to my romantic instincts.  I picture small farms, with a few acres of gnarled vines covered in fresh green leaves, with tight bundles of dark purple grapes peeking through.  In the stillness of the countryside, hawks soar overhead, mountains rise majestically in the background, and dedicated vintners in muddy boots nurture wine instead of industrializing it.

Sylvia kept the wine flowing.

Back to Issimo:  At the normal wine tasting, you get a sip here and there, with not enough juice to let your taste buds pair it with the food.  But, as I said, Issimo’s wine tastings are not like any other.  Vincenzo, Sylvia, and Aferdita replenished our goblets throughout the two-hour meal.

Bellissimo indeed!

By the way, one vine can produce 2.5 Kilos (5.5 lbs) of grapes, or two bottles.  At an Issimo wine tasting, you’ll strip several vines.

Never been to Issimo?  Here’s the web site. (Closed Mondays)

‘Bout time you find yourself a cutie, or someone else’s, and head to Issimo.  Ciao Baby!  And a little more Primitivo, per favor!

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