Teesside wine lovers dined in style during Cafe Lilli’s popular annual tasting event this week.
More than 70 guests were treated to a sumptuous five-course evening meal and five wines from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of North-Eastern Italy.
Nicholas Tatham – master of wine for Continental Quattro Stagioni (CQS), a specialist food and wine supplier based in Huddersfield which represents about 50 Italian wine producers – talked diners through each wine, giving interesting insights into their background and how they’re made.
Cafe Lilli owner Roberto Pittalis, who hails from the Italian island of Sardinia, prides himself on personally visiting vineyards during the summer before hand-picking a different producer every year for his annual event, which always sells out quickly.
This year he opted for Antonutti, a fourth generation family firm which has around 68 hectares of vineyards in the Friuli region, and has recently started exporting to the UK.
“To have someone like Nicholas here is quite a rare treat,” said Roberto, who opened Café Lilli on Norton’s busy High Street 14 years ago.
“Although his knowledge of wine is truly international, his expertise in Italian wine is exceptional.
“You can put 10 or 15 different wines in front of him and he’ll tell you the region, the province, the vintage and the grapes. His connection between memory and the palate is unbelievable.
“The combination between food and wine is very important, and some of our regulars are wine lovers who travel the world to try different wines.”
During Tuesday night’s event, Cafe Lilli’s starter – Jerusalem Artichoke Veloute with Pecorino and Smoked Pancetta – was matched with Sauvignon before a fish course of Red Gamberoni Langoustine and Smoked Mackerel Croquette was complemented with the “flowery and fresh” Ribolla Gialla.
The main course of Beef Cheek and Northallerton Buffalo Steak was teamed with the ruby red Pinot Nero followed by a cheese course matched with the “lively and well balanced” Merlot. Finally the Chocolate and Pistachio Baklava dessert was served with the “pleasant and fresh-tasting” Poppone.
Wine connoisseur Nicholas, who travelled to Norton for the first time from his Wiltshire home, said: “I’ve never been here before, I’m sorry to say, and it’s always great to find lovely places like this with an appreciation of good wine. People think wine-tasting is a Southern thing, but there’s great interest in it up here, too.
“We represent around 50 wine manufacturers in Italy but Roberto is a big fan of this producer, having visited them personally, and Antonutti’s variety is modern Italian wine-making at its best.
“We’re not talking ultra expensive wines, but they’re very true to their region and to the grape varieties without all the bells and whistles.”
Café Lilli, with its staff of 27, has built up a loyal customer base and welcomes new customers daily, offering a fusion between modern cuisine with an Italian influence.
Bookings aren’t available after 7pm on weekends, but you can just pop in and have a drink whilst they prepare your table after this time. Bookings are available all night Tuesday–Thursday. Call 01642 554422 or visit www.lillicafe.co.uk