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Tim Atkin

The Wine-List Inspector

Italian restaurants in New York: Del Posto stands out for wine, food and theatre

Tim Atkin | January/February 2012

With its long cocktail bar, high ceilings and candle-lit staircase, Del Posto is as stylish an Italian restaurant as you’ll find in New York. It opened only six years ago, but this ambitious project in the Meatpacking District feels much more established than that. It’s smart and jazzy, but relaxed too. 

Its owner, Joe Bastianich, was born into the New York food-and-wine world (his mother, Lidia, created Felidia on the East Side), but has developed extensive business interests of his own, including 20 restaurants, cookbooks and three wineries in Italy.  

The creative, flavoursome food at Del Posto deserves the praise it has received. But what about the wines? The aim is to showcase “the most complete Italian wine list in the world”, but have Bastianich and his wine director, Jeff Porter, succeeded? After a Negroni at the bar, we sat down to find out.

Most customers buy their wine by the bottle, leaning towards classics such as Barolo, Amarone and Brunello di Montalcino, but I wanted to test Porter’s skills. We chose the $115 five-course menu and opted to pay an additional $95 each for five glasses picked by him. Some of these came from the list of 40 wines by the glass, but others were opened to match a specific dish. 

The diversity was impressive. We had ten different wines from sources as varied as Friuli, Trentino, the Abruzzi, Puglia, the Maremma, the Marche and the Veneto. Some of the choices were daring: a cherry, stone-fruity Sicilian Cerasuolo with halibut, a sparkling, dry Balter Trento Brut with a bitter herb and lettuce salad, and Maculan’s fresh, orange peel-scented Dindarello Moscato with a fig and celery sorbet. Others were more classic. 

One of the red wines clashed—and was replaced immediately—but Porter never stopped challenging us with different aromas, flavours and textures. His enthusiasm and knowledge added to the sense of theatre, as did the ever-changing array of glasses.

The rest of the list has depth as well as breadth, covering all of Italy’s 20 regions. Any restaurant that can boast 13 vintages of Giacomo Conterno’s brilliant Monfortino Barolo, dating back to 1939, or eight of Antinori’s Solaia, means business. There is an impressive number of smaller and larger formats, too, right up to a series of Texan-style, six-litre Imperials. 

Some of the top names aren’t cheap—this is one of Manhattan’s best restaurants, after all—but there are enough wines by the glass, as well as bottles under $75, to keep (relative) bargain-hunters happy. The cellars alongside and beneath the restaurant are cool and well-stocked, and the wines match the style of the food. There aren’t many Italian restaurants this good, even in Italy. 

$210pp for five courses and wine; delposto.com

THE COMPETITION

The best thing at A Voce Columbus is arguably the third-floor view over Central Park, but Missy Robbins’s modern Italian food and an extensive, well-chosen wine list are not far behind. The selection is made by a Frenchman, Olivier Flosse, and its focus is on Piedmont and Tuscany, with other Italian regions in the background. Wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux and California, many from top producers, are also a speciality. 

If you’re after something more traditional and homespun, head out to Manducatis in Queens, where Vincenzo and Ida Cerbone have been serving hearty Italian cuisine since 1977. Frustratingly, their wine list is classified in alphabetical order rather than by region or style, but do persist, because there are well-priced treasures among the selection of more than 400 Italian wines, some dating back to the 1970s. Their son Anthony holds the key to the cellar and gives good advice. 

avocerestaurant.com; manducatis.com

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