From the "Knick-knack paddywhack" dept.
The setting: A hip Italian neighborhood restaurant, once upon a time in America.
The clientele: Well-traveled, well-heeled, conservative but adventurous with food.
The chef: Inspired, deft touch. Hails from the neighborhood; sensitive to the seasons and the spirit of Italy.
The wine buyer: Newish, youngish, enjoys big wines; is not from the neighborhood.
The challenge: fitting the sensibilities of the chef, the expectations of the clientele, the tastes of the wine buyer and trying to make it all work in harmony.
I am setting up this scenario, an amalgam of places I have noticed, from Park Slope, Brooklyn to San Francisco, California (and places in between) in order to try to understand how something like this can work best.
Let’s say this is not a classic Italian place, for which there might be other factors, such as a well established wine cellar, a clientele who are used to certain things and don’t want to see much change in them. After all there is a place for vitello tonnato and Gavi. Or pasta Bolognese with a hearty red wine.
But what if a chef in America passes all the tests and the wine list doesn’t harmonizes with his or her philosophy?
If the wine buyer doesn’t have that frame of reference, he or she will have to turn to other points of inspiration: Wine reviews, high scoring wines, wines that are more recognizable, wines that fit a price point. Wines that resonate with the wine buyer.
How does this manifest itself in the real world? First, I get a fair amount of input from salespeople that their clients (wine buyers) are looking for “Super Tuscans”. That’s like code for an “Italian Silver Oak.” I also get my share or queries looking for a list of “Big Barolos:, which translates out as “Brawny Italian Pinot Noirs”. Furthermore, I get a lot of people looking for “Amarones and Ripassos”, which is deciphered as “Give me something big to go with the Chesapeake Bay scallops the chef just brought in”. That really happened, you ask? You have to ask?
Is this a problem? Do any of you see this problem as I do? Do you have other views, points of reference, comments? Do you have some spots, which you know of, that are getting it right, knocking it out of the park? Please inspire us. I know there are many who'd love to hear your comments.
written and photographed (in Marfa and Big Bend, Texas) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy