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Beverly Hills Italian Wine vertical tasting from 1964 on at ViaAlloro restaurant

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It was a great day for an Italian food and wine pairing at the stylish Via Alloro restaurant on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. The late October skies were clear and the day was warm as I entered for a three-hour lunch featuring a vertical pairing of the famous Bertani Amarone wines from the Valpolicella area near Verona in the provence of Veneto in Northeast Italy.

We would be sampling great vintage years from the past five decades including 1964, 1973, 1981, 1990,1998 and the top rated 2006, which Robert Parker recently award a 93 score.

Major wine writers and buyers sat across the table as Bertani winemaker Andrea Lonardi led us through the progression of decades, an enlightening way to learn what aging does to a particular wine. It was revealing to taste what was lost and what remained as we passed through the decades. I found that the peak year for me was 1998, but that I loved the flavors and aromas of the 2006 best. Over the years the cherry and prune notes of the wine remained as the skeleton on which other flavors of chocolate, raisins and berries draped themselves in various combinations.

These are not inexpensive wines and the value escalates as you go back in years, from about $130 a bottle for the just released 2006 to over $450 for the 1964.

The wines were beautifully paired with dishes prepared by Tanino Drago of the famous Drago family of restauranteurs in Los Angeles.

Primo course was a mixed salad of bitter greens and radicchio, asparagus, shaved Parmesan cheese, roasted almonds and a balsamic vinaigrette. Secondi was a delicious mushroom risotto and fresh made jumbo rigatoni in a tomato, basil and Parmesan sauce. For the main dish I had lamb shank on a bed of potato and polenta and dessert was a molten chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and whipped cream with a cup of cappuccino. Needless to say, it took the full three hours to enjoy this meal (and not being Italian, I couldn't finish all of the main dish and took half of the lamb shank home for another day).

It was one of those meals that goes into the top ten all time gastronomic indulgences. It was a memorable day under the mild, clear blue October skies of Beverly Hills and the warm embrace of great Italian food paired with great Italian wine.

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