“The Last of the Produttori”: Dinner with family at Manducatis
Brunello di Montalcino 1997 Mastroianni
Barbaresco Rabajà 1982 Produttori del Barbaresco
June 18 bis, 2007 – On Friday, June 8 (the night before my Fortieth Fête), my brothers Tad and Micah treated me and my mom Judyto dinner at one of my favorite New York City restaurants, Manducatis, in Long Island City, Queens.*
Owner and good friend, the erudite and musical Anthony Cerbone, has been collecting fine Italian wine since he became the restaurant’s sommelier many years ago. Legend has it that his father Vincenzo began filling the cellar with excellent vintages of Piedmontese (Langhe) wines in the 1970s when few wine connoisseurs were interested in Italian labels. Vincenzo’s famous friendship with Lou Iacucci is often cited by Italian wine experts as the early catalyst (and undoubtedly the precursor) of the current renaissance of Italian wine in the U.S.
Anthony’s wine knowledge is immense and I have always considered him one of my wine gurus. Although his collection of Piedmont vintages from the 70s and 80s is not as large as it was when I first began frequenting Manducatis in 2000, there are still many gems left in his cellar.
For my pre-birthday celebration, he produced a Brunello di Montalcino 1997 Mastroianni, which drank beautifully (Mastroianni is somewhat modern in style and Anthony opened this 10-year-old bottle arguably at its peak).
Next came a Produttori del Barbaresco cru (Rabajà) from the storied 1982 harvest. Winemaker Aldo Vacca of Produttori del Barbaresco has called Rabajà the “quintessential” cru of the appellation, “the most complete and balanced” single-vineyard expression of the appellation. The wine was powerfully gorgeous and could easily have spent another 5-10 years in bottle. Anthony told me that the bottle had been purchased in the mid-1980s and had rested in the restaurant’s cellar since that time (note the label damage in the image above, due most probably to mold, a good sign when you’re looking for wines that have been cellared in cool, humid conditions). The wine showed classically elegant tar and rose petal aromas and flavors — simply one of the best I’ve ever had. Anthony told me that it was one his last 1982 Produttori.
I owe a hearty “thank you” to my brothers Tad and Micah an my adoptive Neapolitan fratello Anthony who was kind enough to share this special bottle with us on the occasion of my fortieth birthday celebration.
*No one really remembers why the restaurant is called “Manducatis.” I believe that the name is an allusion to Psalm 126 (or 127 depending on the critical apparatus). In this “gradual canticle” (or “song of degrees” or “song of ascents”) attributed to King Solomon, the singer reminds the listener that all toil is useless unless “the Lord builds the house.” In other words, unless you believe in God, you will live your life in vain.
The line in the Latin Vulgate:
qui manducatis panem idolorum [alternatively doloris]
A literal translation:
you who eat (are eating) the bread of pain [toil, grief, sorrow]
Song of Ascents, of Solomon.
(from the New American Standard Bible, 1995)
Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
Although it is possible the name of the restaurant was intended ironically, it is more likely that the name reflects the author’s faith. One possible interpretation: “you will eat our bread not in vain.”