Click the image for a PDF of my wine list at Sotto in Los Angeles. Wine lists are among the most technical paradigms of vinography. Wine blogs are among the most idiosyncratic.
Not without a chord of disdain, the wine blogger at The Gray Report singled out my list at Sotto this week as the apotheosis of wine esotericism. In the world of wine blogging, I’m always up for taking one on the chin (although I suspect that The Gray Report has a different bone to pick with me).
The Gray Report’s post comes in the wake of a week full of Jeremiads wherein wine and restaurant pundits bemoan lists they deem deceitfully cryptic.
On Tuesday, Eric the Red offered a catalogue of their lamentations in a New York Times piece entitled “Should a Wine List Educate or Merely Flatter You? (How Adventurous Should a Wine List Be?)”.
His conclusion: “The enemy isn’t obscure wines or challenging lists. It’s fear of wine.”
When the owners of Sotto asked me to create an exclusively Southern Italian wine list for them in 2011, their proposition couldn’t have come at a better time: I was just about to leave for Apulia where I had been asked to be a judge in a competition devoted exclusively to native southern Italian grape varieties. And, of course, I already had a lot of experience in southern Italian wines: the last three years I lived in New York (2005-2007), I worked for Nicola Marzovilla, who was the first U.S. restaurateur to launch a southern Italian wine list in the late 1990s when he opened I Trulli (I was also a fan and patron of his restaurant and list for many year prior).
The list I’ve created at Sotto spans a spectrum of approachability and connoisseurship. It includes icons and classics of southern Italian wine as well as light-hearted, easy-going international-style wines.
I’ll let the list speak for itself.
I can report that Italians who visit us (especially southern Italian winemakers) have had high praise for our list’s equilibrium and its breadth (however contained).
And while many Americans may find the list challenging, I’m confident that our by-the-glass program and our liberal tasting policy make it relatively easy to find a wine that suits the meal and the guest — regardless of their knowledge of the wines.
I curate the list remotely (from Austin), visitng the restaurant every month, training and tasting with the staff and working the floor (I’ll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday nights next week, btw). And even when I’m not there, wine captain Rory Harrington (my colleague and good friend) is nearly always on the floor. He’s one of LA’s leading wine professionals and he and I are in daily contact (literally). When and if there is a question about the wine that he can’t answer (and there rarely is), he just shoots me a text and get him the info he needs (like the difference between Lettere and Gragnano? the answer: same grapes in both, Piedirosso and Aglianico, but higher elevation, volcanic soil, and more minerality in the former; lower elevation, sandier soils, and more generous fruit in the latter). He and I have co-curated the list since the beginning.
To The Gray Report, I say: before calumniating my list from afar, dine at the restaurant. (Or are you really pissed about something else?)
Your trepidation belongs to our parents’ generation, to those who lived in the pre-Child and -Beard era (hello, Steve Cuozzo!), when restaurateurs and sommeliers were viewed as dukes and dauphins.
Whether I’m there the night that you visit or not, I know this can all be settled over some tarallucci e vino…