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.
And these wines are available. Every day I find more and more; every day a new wine rep I know comes by and drops off his catalogue and a couple of bottles of wine to taste. But I only want to start with 40 wines on the list (originally I said eight, but I got talked out of that idea pretty quickly). I also have to finalize my decisions so menus can be printed and buttons can be created in the computer system we use for ordering. Sebastian, my chef, is also my tech guy and it would be good if he didn't have to do both on the day we open. But every day new theories on the wine list are expressed by friends and partners. Right now I am wondering if I have to have a Pinot Grigio on there. One of my wine bar friends told me it is the most widely recognized and requested Italian white wine. Am I an asshole if I don't put it on the list? I put pasta al pomodoro on my food menu because it's a widely recognized dish and frequently requested. The difference, though, is that I also love it and I think it is the foundation of Italian food. You can't have Italian food without it. I do not feel the same way about Pinot Grigio.
As I put the menu together, I realize that although I know many of the grapes and wine regions there are some stunning gaps in my knowledge. Where the hell is Soave from other than Northern Italy? Good thing I cling to my copy of Burton Anderson's Wine Atlas of Italy; it's saved me before and it will save me again. Re-reading it, I am again impressed at the depth of his knowledge and amused by the wry observations.