POPE FRANCIS is a popular Pope, and while he answers ostensibly to God, he is like a normal celebrity: he has pictures taken with other famous people, people pay attention to what he wears, and he has to deal with some of the intricacies that other celebrities face. When he visited the Philippines in January of 2015, crowds swelled to the thousands to greet him. Like most celebrities too, what wine he consumes is of some interest, and on June 12, guests at Chef Jessie’s in Rockwell were treated to glasses of the very same wine that Pope Francis drank during his visit.
Chef Jessie Sincioco, president and CEO of the Chef Jessie restaurants, recalls what she served Pope Francis. She presented the papal nuncio — who recommended her to the Pope — with a menu composed of Filipino dishes. The papal nuncio politely declined this menu, saying that they must not risk giving the Pope anything unfamiliar, lest they upset his stomach. Ms. Sincioco then composed another menu with Italian and Argentine favorites, which the papal nuncio approved.
According to Ms. Sincioco, the Pope’s favorite dish was a roast beef, and he wanted it “alive,” meaning very rare and bleeding. “Someone up there must really love me,” said Ms. Sincioco, reminiscing that she had slow-cooked a slab of beef for eight hours, and having a middle piece that was rare, as per the pope’s request, was a sheer stroke of luck.
This slice of roast beef, resurrected at the July 12 dinner as a Filet Mignon with a morel sauce, was paired with Menhir Salento’s Primitivo Quota 29, which had a scent of coffee and roses, and had a powerful flavor that was almost savory. Not quite the Pope’s wine — we’ll get to that.
The Pope favored a Negroamaro N.0 IGP from Menhir Salento, and this was paired with a fillet of sea bass in a tomato soup. The Pope likes his wine strong, this one has an opening note of wood and tobacco in the wine’s scent, and a strong tannic note in its taste. The pairing was risky, as it could have killed the delicate flavor of the sea bass, but instead, they temper each other in a teetering balancing act, for it cuts through the acidity of the tomato sauce, while the tomato sauce makes the wine more gentle. Brava.
Most of the dinner, prepared by chef Musaro Rocco Roberto (a chef brought in by the wine company from one of its restaurants) and Ms. Sincioco, was centered on this balancing act. A fragrant and light Fiano Pass-O Bio IGP Puglia from the brand was used, for example, to give liveliness and joy to a simple dish of tubettini, beans, and cheese, while a piquant Negroamaro Rosato Novementi (a bit like a rosé), was used to complement a squid.
Adriano Stefanutti, the wine’s importer and distributor for the Philippines through his company iPhor Trading Inc., said that the grapes are indigenous to the Puglia region, and even possess a quality where if they were attempted to be grown anywhere else, they would die — giving the wines an almost sentimental quality. In describing the people of Puglia, he says, “They have a temper, [but] they have an open character.”
“This is the character of the wine as well: very strong, but at the same time, there is a sweetness to it.” — Joseph L. Garcia