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WHEN you speak of a wine connoisseur or an expert, the image usually conjured is that of a stiff-upper lipped gentlemen or lady with their nose half-in the wine glass.

Rarely does it evoke the image of a robust woman with vivacious personality and an infectious laughter, but of course Erika Ribaldi begs to differ.

Being winemaker Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi’s area manager (Asia Pacific), Ribaldi, 36, is a walking dictionary where wine is concerned.

However, the Italian defies all convention when it comes to her appearance and educating people on wine appreciation.

Speaking at the recent Frescobaldi wine dinner at Nerofico in Petaling Jaya, firstly Ribaldi told us to leave the pretensions at the door and learn to enjoy wine, for what it really is.

Despite her competent and meticulous knowledge of wine, Ribaldi did not bore us with technical details but regaled us with interesting anecdotes between meals.

Prior to the starting our six-course dinner, she told us a little story about her love affair with wine.

Having graduated as a winemaker at 22, she was trading top brand wines by the time she was 24 in New York.

“It was natural for me to sell wines, as I know both the technicality and the commercial strong points of the brands, where they came from and the people making them,’ she said, inadvertently highlighting her plus point — the personal touch.

Ribaldi eschews highbrow approach to wine and told everyone present at the dinner to just savour every drop of their wine without thinking much about the literals.

“You taste it and let the warm feeling envelop you. You don’t have to analyse much about a wine’s origin or be too snooty about it. Drink up and have fun,” she said between guffaws.

3D3F0927195F41C88032370795E5F7B5No complaints: The Remole Toscana IGT 2009 was paired beautifully with the Seared Spring Chicken with Roasted Pumpkin and Honey and Apricot Sauce.

As she told us about her French husband, whom she teased for having a posh taste in wines, our starter arrived.

The Tuna Tartar served with Oyster Shot was served with the Albizzia Chardonnay di Toscana IGT 2009.

The wine appears a deep straw yellow with a striking luminosity and its rich and full-fruited impressions were a good boost to the Tuna Tartar that had a rather mellow flavour.

As we tucked into the starter, Ribaldi was in her element, walking between tables and speaking at length about her greatest passion, wines.

Later, the entree, Paccheri with Lobster Ragout and King Prawn Corn, did its part without overwhelming the senses and was paired well with the Pomino Bianco DOC 2009.

The delicate floral notes enhanced the dish and defined a perfect entrance.

At this juncture, Ribaldi came to our table and proceeded to introduce the Remole Toscana IGT 2009 that accompanied our first main course, Seared Spring Chicken with Roasted Pumpkin and Honey and Apricot Sauce.

Ribaldi explained that the red wine was known for its rich and appealing depth that reveals a multi-faceted aromas of red and dark fruit with spicy notes that speak black pepper and liquorice.

With its velvety and warm texture, the wine was a faithful partner to the chicken that was tender and juicy. Every morsel was gratifying and the wine scored top points.

As with such filling meals, we took a short break with a Mango Sorbet mixed with Currant Vodka.

Nerofico restaurant manager Michele Griffo, was quick to announce that this was their personal concoction and was a hit with the customers.

As we slowly reeled from the shot, the second main course made its appearance with another good wine.

Grilled Lamb Chop in Crust of Pistachious, Grilled Tomato and Onion Red Wine with the Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni IGT 2008.

The lamb was slightly salty, however, the crust helped in remedying the flaw.

Known as the estate’s iconic wine, the Tenuta is almost opaque-purple hue with intense notes of various berries, ranging from rasberry, strawberry to dark cherry.

A tasty acidity fuels a lengthy progression and concludes with a lovely fruit finale, not a bad choice for full-flavoured meat dish.

As we tried to finish off the second course, some of us with flushed faces and grinning unabashedly, Ribaldi briefly spoke about the Frescobaldi wine legacy.

Boasting 700 years of history, it was started by Florentine family with thirty generations dedicated to the production of great Tuscan wines in five estates in Tuscany, Italy and a distribution network in over 65 countries.

They believed in merging tradition and innovation, she added.

“With the goal of being the most prestigious Tuscan wine producer, Frescobaldi firmly believes in respecting the local land, focusing on the highest quality for its grapes, and investing in communications and in the professional calibre of its personnel,” said Ribaldi.

As her talk ended, our final meal of the day made its way through.

We managed to push aside our gnawing diet plan and plunged happily into our dessert, the Millesfoglie served with Caramelised Banana.

While some of us struggled with the dessert’s pronunciation, we unanimously agreed that it was delicious to the last bite.

Bursting at the seams, most of us struggled to even sit comfortably.

Nevertheless we did not refuse the continuous pouring of wine, what with Ribaldi cheering us on.

“Drink what you like and enjoy it unapologetically. It’s the epicurean pleasure, not the price, that makes wine worth the time,” said Ribaldi, raising a toast.

Glazed expression greeted me at every corner, but I have to say with good food and fine wine there was a nary a sad soul as we continued drinking and laughing until late at night.

This is the writer’s personal observation and is not an endorsement by StarMetro.

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