Above: “chiare, fresche, e dolci acque” (“clear, cool, and fresh waters”). Does anyone remember the famous song by my beloved Petrarch? For those who don’t, it’s canzone 126. The view of the Natisone River, above, from the Ponte del Diavolo in Cividale del Friuli, reminded me of the poem when I visited a few weeks ago.
Five years ago, when we held our first staff training at Sotto before the restaurant opened, the team looked at me like I was crazy.
How on earth were we going to sell wines made from grapes like Aglianico, Falanghina, Gaglioppo, Pallagrello, and Tintilia when our prospective guests had probably never even heard of them let alone knew how to pronounce them?
I’ve known owner and executive chef Steven Samson since we spent our UC junior year abroad together in Italy back in 1987-88. He had asked me to create an all southern Italian wine list. I loved the challenge and I knew that southern Italian wine — from white to red and every color in between — offered all the goods we needed to deliver a world-class carta dei vini. I also knew that it was going to be an uphill battle to introduce Angelenos to a whole new world of wine and to overcome the stereotypes of the “north vs. south” culture war in Italian enogastronomy.
But Californians’ insatiable thirst for the unusual and exotic and their adventurous spirit in wine exploration swiftly brushed aside any prejudices our guests may have harbored. It didn’t take long before the Los Angeles Times called our list one of the “most interesting” and LA Magazine named it a one of the “best Italian wine lists” in the city.
Five years later, mission accomplished. Today, guests regularly order Gaglioppo and Aglianico with unrivaled linguistic mastery (pun intended).
As the next chapter in the history of Sotto’s wine program unfolds, we’ve decided to shift our focus beyond southern Italy to other “undiscovered” regions of Italian viticulture: Friuli in northeasternmost Italy and Liguria on the Italian riviera. Although few in America know the wines (yet!), we believe these regions produce some of the best still white wines and most compelling seafood-friendly reds in the world. They’re perfect for chef Steve’s evolving seafood menu as it will follow the seasons through summer.
I hope you can join me and Sotto’s sommelier Christine Veys on May 25 for a tasting of five of the new wines we are debuting this month at Sotto.
Chef Steve will be serving light bites as well.