A new scoop on fine wine

Newark’s Caffé Gelato takes frozen drinks to a cool new level, with wine-flavored gelati and sorbetti.

Last week, Ryan German and Tanner Dunlop began serving six wine-inspired gelati and sorbetti at the East Main Street eatery.

The offbeat, anything-but-vanilla flavors include black cherry merlot berry, black currant Chateauneuf-du-Pape, cracked pepper zinfandel, champagne strawberry, dark chocolate cabernet and honey apple chardonnay. The frozen confections will be available at the restaurant throughout July as intermezzo sorbettos or as desserts. A one-ounce sampling of all six is $6.99.

Gelato is Italy’s slightly different version of ice cream. Gelati tend to have less butterfat and are served slightly warmer than ice cream. While both gelato and ice cream are served well below the freezing temperature of 32 degrees, gelato is often served 10 to 15 degrees warmer. Because it is less solidly frozen, connoisseurs say the rich and creamy taste is enhanced as the gelato melts in the mouth.

Only two flavors — the dark chocolate cabernet and the cracked pepper zinfandel — are gelati. The other four flavors are actually called sorbetti, the Italian term for sherbet. This palate refresher never contains milk.

About a month ago, German, who owns the North Italian/Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and gelato parlor, and Dunlop, the cafe’s executive chef, began searching for a way to celebrate the eatery’s fifth anniversary. Caffé Gelato, which has a diverse cellar of more than 100 wines, also recently received its first Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

German decided to combine his love of both gelato and wine and started pulling about a half-dozen bottles of wine off the shelf. Dunlop then read through the tasting notes of each wine and the pair began experimenting.

“We messed around with a lot of flavors,” Dunlop says. “We were trying to bring out the flavors in the wine.”

Wines from California, Chile and France were simmered down, mixed with a variety of fruits and spices and then frozen. Initially, not all of the gelati that were churned out were winners. It took several tries to hit upon the right combinations.

“There are no recipes written down anywhere for this,” German says.

The pale pink-hued champagne strawberry, made from Domaine Chandon Brut Classic sparkling wine, is “an age-old combination,” German says. “The same with dark chocolate cabernet.” The velvety soft, mahogany-colored chocolate gelato uses as its base Mirassou cabernet sauvignon, a California wine that has hints of raspberry and plum flavors.

Because zinfandel tends to have peppery edge to it, Dunlop decided to sprinkle in a little black pepper into the gelato they made with Rancho Zabaco zinfandel, a dark, robust Sonoma County wine that has spicy, blackberry notes. But, because the chef didn’t want to overwhelm the gelato’s taste, he decided also to crush in less pungent pink peppercorns. Pink peppercorns aren’t true peppercorns, but dried berries from a rose plant.

“It’s kind of sweet, but it’s got a bite to it,” Dunlop says of the gelato, which has a slight crunch from the peppercorns.

The pair call the black cherry merlot berry, made with Casa La Postelle merlot, their biggest success. “It just stood out. You can really taste the wine in that one,” Dunlop says.

“We’re going to try and make merlot popular again,” jokes German, referring to the drubbing the wine received recently in “Sideways,” the Academy-Award nominated movie. “We’re not scared.”

Unusual ice cream and gelato flavors have been gaining fans in recent years. Several New York gelato parlors have been scooping up wasabi, black sesame and lavender flavors.

And experimenting with flavors is nothing new for German, who opened Caffé Gelato in 2000. Take his green apple gelato; the confection hasn’t won over many customers, but because it’s a favorite of a regular patron, the restaurateur still keeps a few quarts of the gelato on hand in the freezer.

German and Dunlop also have been playing with an olive-oil flavored gelato recently. They say they may use the gelato to top a savory dish or perhaps a bowl of gazpacho.

The limited-run wine-inspired gelati also won’t be scooped into cones or be available at the take-out gelato parlor, which charges $1.99 per scoop.

“They’re too expensive,” German says. One gallon of wine-flavor gelato, which uses about 1 1/2 bottles of wine per gallon, costs the eatery about $30 to $40 to make.

By PATRICIA TALORICO
The News Journal

Contact Patricia Talorico at 324-2861

Originally published online July 13, 2005 at Delawareonline.com
Copyright © 2005, The News Journal
Reprinted by permission.