One of the tasks I've taken on in opening my very own restaurant and being involved in everything from soup to nuts is the wine list. I started out by asking a friend of mine who had been the wine director at Lupa to help. He started it, set up all the tastings, made decisions with me, and spread it all out in an Excel document, but then he up and moved to Portland, Oregon, so I've been busy finalizing it and organizing it and costing it out and formatting it and following up with all the reps about the particulars of supply and demand.
I started with the idea that I wanted simple, uncomplicated Italian wines that were not "Parkerized" (manufactured to generate a high score from the critic Robert Parker and command exaggerated price tags). Those wines bore me: They all taste the same to me, whether they are produced in California or Sicily or Australia. I wanted indigenous varietals that were not overly aged in French oak casks, ideally no French oak at all. It's not a line in the sand, but a starting point in what I want to taste and what I want on the list.
Wine is like Italian politics—the minute you think you have
a grasp on it, it changes again.
But of course immediately I hit a snag. I want Brunello di Montalcino on the list—it's a wine I grew up with and a wine I love even though it is so expensive these days I don't think I drink it outside of Italy. But a lot of Brunello is aged in small French oak casks for some amount of time. But I have to have it on my list for all the reasons listed above, so I tasted and tasted and found two that taste like what I think they should taste like, austere and tannic, not soft and fruity.
My objections to the oak casks are twofold. One, they are not traditional in Italy, so the minute a winery starts using them I am suspicious that they are more interested in a wine that fits a marketable international flavor profile than making an honest wine that reflects the tradition of their terroir. Two, I don't like oaky wines very much. I think a skilled winemaker can make a very good wine using barriques, but too often it's an expensive trick. It's sort of like putting foie gras and caviar everywhere on your menu.
I am looking for wines that remind me of what we drink in Tuscany, at the picnic table under the chestnut tree over long drawn-out lunches in the heat of the summer where afterwards you want to wander off and fall asleep under a tree in the field as the day's heat passes. Wines that go with the food and the environment, and that you can drink large quantities of without regretting it later. Not wines that require decanters and crystal glasses and all the ritual that goes along with it.