A serendipitous Tuscan dinner brings a bit of Italy to the beach

March 17, 2023

One of the perks of doing what I do is the occasional invitation I receive to attend events that pair food with wine. Or beer. Or bourbon. Or scotch. Or tequila, rum ... even mead. You get the idea. I have to be choosy; if I attended them all, I’d be in ‘round-the-clock detox.

But some of these are hard to turn down, and one of the most memorable was an Italian wine dinner that took place a couple of years ago at Fish On in Lewes. I was reminded of that dinner yesterday when I invited Italian winemaker, hotelier and restaurateur Count Manfredo di San Bonifacio to be a guest on next weekend’s “Beach Eats” show on 92.7FM. On that evening in Lewes, I was pleased to share a table not only with the count, but also Paul Karp, whose Vintage Imports company did the footwork required for us to enjoy Manfredo’s wines here in the States.

The talented chefs back then were none other than Jen Bradour and Raul Rodriguez, who came up with imaginative wine pairings for each of the five courses. Chefs love these wine dinners, as the format allows them free rein to be creative, released from the constraints of the daily menu.

One of my favorites in the Conti di San Bonifacio family of wines is the Prosecco. It has a bright, fruity acidity and a welcome lack of sweetness. On that evening, it paired perfectly with a charcuterie plate that featured Jen’s house-made mortadella speckled with whole pistachios. The second course kicked off with Manfredo’s clean, crisp Pinot Grigio. It stood boldly nose-to-nose with crunchy mini-turnips dusted with sea salt and happily encircled by an amalgam of asparagus, peas and eggs. Both the Prosecco and Pinot Grigio are produced in the Veneto wine region of Italy. Though the area sports an impressive variety of reds, it is also known for refreshing whites.

One of my all-time favorites has always been the garnet-hued Monteregio Sangiovese (the same grape as Chianti Classico, but more full-bodied). It was expertly paired with a crispy soft-shell crab perched on sweet corn polenta. I have to admit that the surprise of the evening was the fourth-course offering of the Sustinet Syrah, known as a “Super Tuscan.” The term applies to Tuscan reds that may include non-indigenous grapes like Cabernet or Merlot. The Sustinet hails from a small vineyard in Maremma on the coast of western central Italy. This 94+ pointer treats the mouth to a cascade of tastes. (That’s as close as I dare go to stepping on wine columnist [and chef!] John McDonald’s toes!) It’s difficult for me to finish all the wines that are poured at these dinners, but the Sustinet glass was empty when it was snatched from my trembling paws. The wine was the perfect accompaniment to smoked lamb in a parmesan broth over fresh bucatini.

The Cape Region’s association with the di San Bonifacio family began serendipitously with the late Matt Haley’s choice to enjoy a dinner at a boutique winery and hotel in Tuscany. Manfredo tells the story in his delightfully broken English: “A server came up to me and said, ‘There’s an American chef in the dining room who wants to see you.’ My first reaction was to go into the kitchen and ask my chef what he did wrong.” Though Matt didn’t drink, it turned out that his companion at the time was loving the di San Bonifacio wines. Matt asked Manfredo where he could source the wines in America, and he was told they were not available. Matt wasted no time contacting his friend Paul Karp from Vintage Imports.

When Manfredo tells the story, he politely recounts that, “Matt reached out to Paul.” Paul’s version is a little different: “Matt told me to import the wines,” he smiles. As the founder and operator of multiple restaurants, Matt was not a shy person. And thanks to his and Karp’s efforts, the popularity of the di San Bonifacio wines has grown around Delaware and now extends into other regions as well.

One of the stars of the show was the dessert course. The brainchild of award-winning Corporate Pastry Chef Dru Tevis, a strawberry olive oil cake was drizzled with a wine and berry compote. It was crowned with pistachios, almonds and an amazing dulce crumb redolent of creamy caramel. The count’s Docet Cabernet launched a roller-coaster of tastes and textures.

Count Manfredo’s family has been Italy for over 1,100 years. In fact, records of the very first di San Bonifacio date back to the year 852. Wines were produced and consumed locally until Manfredo’s generation began to bottle and label them for sale. Thanks to Matt Haley’s last-minute decision to enjoy dinner at a tiny Tuscan vineyard, many local restaurants now carry the count’s delicious wines. Proving once again that in this business of eating, it’s not only what you know, but who you know. Bon appétit!


  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

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