Decoding the Wine List: Italian

L.A. wine gurus tell you what to drink and how to pair it at Love & Salt, DeSano Pizza Bakery, Sotto, and Scopa Italian Roots

You might be the default expert always tasked with selecting a wine when out to dinner, or perhaps you’re the lover of wine with little care for the myriad foreign words on a wine list. Whatever is true for you, let your eyes glaze over the menu because we’re asking wine experts from restaurants around Los Angeles to divulge a favorite category-specific wine on their list and some dishes that would make an excellent pairing.

This month’s wine: Italian. They’ve been making wine in Italy since 800 BC, and today there are more than 1,000 different grape varieties planted throughout the country (proving yet again that Italians like to overdo it with more than just food).

To make things much easier for you, we reached out to four L.A. wine pros who all work at new-school Italian restaurants and love a good challenge: introducing you to the Italy you didn’t know existed. Christine Veys, the wine manager at Sotto, bubbles with excitement when she meets someone who claims to only drink Barolo. Her tactic usually involves a little sleight of hand—instead of pouring that Barolo, she offers a taste of an Aglianico from Taurasi, a region in Southern Italy known for producing the “Barolo of the south.” Veys sits back as the black cherry and spicy new-oak flavors spin the would-be Barolo drinker into a dizzy spell, which the customer snaps out of when learning that this wine is less expensive than Barolo. “Yeah, we’ll do a bottle of the Taurasi,” is usually the response.

So set down the wine list and ask for these wine gurus—tell ’em you’re keen to try that pairing you read about on Liquid L.A. Let us know how it goes.

Love & Salt's Guy Gabriele
Love & Salt’s Guy Gabriele

Tenute Costa 2011 Lahnhof Kerner Valle Isarco, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
Pick from Guy Gabriele, co-owner/wine director, Love & Salt

The grape: “100 percent Kerner—an aromatic white grape variety that was created by August Herold in 1929, bred by crossing Trollinger (a red variety) and Riesling. It was introduced in Alto Adige in the early 1970s and awarded the Denominazione di origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1993.”

Back story: “I selected it for the wine list at Love & Salt because I wanted a versatile white wine from the Alto Adige region, and this Kerner is not only an amazing wine, it is also one that pairs well with many dishes on our menu, including all the salumi. It is a wine that I often enjoyed vacationing in Italy.”

Tastes like: “The wine is transparent straw yellow with a golden reflex. The fresh aromas offer a tasty blend of mixed white fruits with hints of apple, grapefruit, and tropical mango. It’s fresh, racy, and fruity, yet milder in acidity and has great body.”

On the wine list: Available by the bottle and soon by the glass.

At Love & Salt, pair it with: “Pair it with our sautéed cauliflower leaves with parmesan-mascarpone polenta, or our wood-roasted escarole pizza with Taggiasca olive, pecorino, and white anchovy. It’s also great with chef [Michael] Fiorelli’s California endive salad, corned lamb tongue panini, or whole roast chicken.”

DeSano Pizza Bakery's Marino Monferrato
DeSano Pizza Bakery’s Marino Monferrato

Zaglia Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 
Pick by: Marino Monferrato, managing partner, DeSano Pizza Bakery

The grape: “Refosco from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in Italy.”

Back story: “I like to drink these styles of wine because they are not the usual Italian grape varieties (Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, etc.), and they remind me of when I used to work in the Dolomite Mountains. Years ago, you could not find Refosco-based wines here in the U.S., but now they are becoming popular, due to their great quality and price value.”

Tastes like: “The wine is deep violet in color, medium-bodied, fruity, and earthy on the nose with strong dark fruit flavors on the palate of currants and plums.”

On the wine list: Available by the bottle.

Pair it with: “This is our bottle of house red wine, and it pairs well with the Napoletana pizza (sausage and broccolini) or with the Capricciosa (artichokes, mushrooms, prosciutto), but to me is also a great conversation wine. ”

Sotto's Christine Veys
Sotto’s Christine Veys

Cantina Giardino 2009 Greco Bianco T’ara rà 
Pick by: Christine Veys, wine manager at Sotto 

The grape: “100 percent Greco Bianco”

Back story: “Cantina Giardino’s macerated whites are the kind of wines that the contadini (farmers) in Irpinia drink, and so should you. The grapes are obtained from families and farmers around Irpinia in the region of Campania. This is the real deal when it comes to natural wine: old vines, no chemical farming, native yeast, minimal sulfites, no filtration or manipulation whatsoever. The grapes undergo maceration in amphora with long skin contact.”

Tastes like: “A complex, layered, psychedelic apple cider. It has zinging acidity and gritty tannins all at the same time. It is highly aromatic with a lingering finish that begs for food.”

On the wine listAvailable by the glass.

Pair it with: “I will go out on a limb and pair it with our fennel-crusted pork chop. That tannic backbone can stand up to the chop’s richness just as well as any bold red like an Aglianico. The aromatics in the wine complement the fennel seeds beautifully. A more traditional pairing with this wine would be Sotto’s grilled mackerel in scapece—the cured lemon and salty nature of the dish is a perfect match with the Greco Bianco T’ara rà.”

Scopa Italian Roots' Taylor Grant
Scopa Italian Roots’ Taylor Grant

Vino di Anna 2012 “Palmento” Vino Rosso, Sicilia
Pick by: Taylor Grant, wine director at Scopa Italian Roots

The grape: “Nerello Mascalese”

Back story: “I have a soft spot for Sicilian wines and it’s not just because I am Sicilian–well, maybe a little. Winemaker Anna Martens of Vino di Anna has stepped out on her own after years of studying under notable producers including Andrea Franchetti of Passopisciaro. This is the first wine made from her restored 250-year-old palmento, where the grapes are foot-trodden. It is impressive how the wine expresses the terroir of Mount Etna while maintaining a personality all its own. Her dedication to her wine and passion for the natural wine movement is something I truly admire.”

Tastes like: “Fresh red fruit–cranberry, red cherry, and pomegranate with a distinct floral note and mineral backbone. A pure, elegant expression of Etna with refreshing acidity and silky tannins.”

On the wine list: Available by the bottle.

Pair it with: “A perfect complement to our eggplant caponata. The bright fruit and fierce acidity balances the sherry vinaigrette, and the minerality plays well with the briny character of the capers.”