Recently, I came across another great New York venue for wine enthusiastsby Barry Smith / May 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
©Chris Tilbury Where can you enjoy a really good bottle of wine in New York? Obviously there are ritzy hotel bars, palaces of luxury, where city lawyers and their clients pay for the privilege of sharing exquisite bottles. But there are also some less well-known locations. One of the most unexpected venues, unfamiliar to all but the knowing, is essentially a pizza-pasta joint. Otto’s Enoteca & Pizzeria is the creation of renowned chef Mario Batali. Situated on Eighth Street, near Washington Square, it boasts a wine list (printed on the back of the menu card) with over 300 prized Italian wines. It is the place where I have experienced two of my favourite “last chance to try” wines. The first was a Barolo made by Eritrean-born Teobaldo Cappellano using grapes from a pre-phylloxera vineyard. In 2006, I sat beside him at a lunch in Pollenzo. “How many of my 2007 wines would you like to buy?” he asked me. “A case?” I suggested. “You can’t. They’ve all been sold,” he said, laughing uproariously. At the time we were drinking a svelte, yet textured 1997 Barolo. It was a thing of beauty and so the pleasure I felt in Otto’s when I discovered a remaining bottle of one of Cappellano’s last wines was immeasurable. Sadly, he is no longer with us. With each sip my companions and I celebrated this remarkable man and his achievement as a winemaker. The 2004 Rosso di Montalcino of Poggio di Sotto was also available at Otto’s. We ordered on the recommendation of the sommelier and it was one of the finest Sangioveses I have ever tasted. When I went back for lunch a year later, the sommelier remembered me and suggested I have their last one. I was tempted but told her that I couldn’t do justice to a whole bottle as I was catching a flight back to London after lunch. “Oh you can take it with you,” she said (this was pre-2006, when it was still possible to take bottles on board a plane). Half empty but re-corked, I took it aboard and drank the remainder at home that evening. This was not the only reason it was memorable. Poggio di Sotto was created by Piero Palmucci who enjoyed so much success that he was constantly besieged with offers to sell the vineyard. In 2011, he finally sold the estate to a large syndicate who continue to make wines. Remaining bottles of Palmucci’s Brunello di Montalcino are rare but I will always be deeply appreciative of the experience of them that Otto’s provided. Recently, I came across another great New York venue for wine enthusiasts—The Modern, the restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The wine list is truly beguiling and I could have spent hours in happy contemplation. My companion declared a fondness for white Burgundy and I didn’t have to look any further. In each appellation there were premier crus, grand crus and village wines of different ages. I stopped at Chablis to gaze at the selection from the two great rivals from the region: Vincent Dauvissat and François Raveneau. And after much hesitation, I plumped for a Raveneau Chablis. As I did so I remembered visiting Dauvissat in 2006. He was extremely vexed that day by an American wine critic’s comment that the wines from Chablis had no ageing potential. This provoked Vincent to uncork a bottle of 1993 La Fôret. We sipped it in reverential silence until Vincent at last said, “Yes, this wine has a raison d’être.” He would have been glad to know that the MoMA’s cellar-keepers got the point. I was too.