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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Piccino Wine List Seeks Balance, Naturally

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 3:30 PM

click to enlarge White wine made from Pinot Noir
  • White wine made from Pinot Noir

When I first looked over Piccino's leftist-wine-geek wine list, I assumed it was compiled by a follower of the natural wine movement.

Only seven of the 42 wines on the list are from California, and most are from winemakers associated with natural wine: Lioco, Edmunds St. John, La Clarine Farm.

Wayne Garcia, whose wife Shery Rogat owns Piccino -- which our Jonathan Kauffman reviewed today -- says that's a coincidence.

Unlike the natural wine crowd, which cares deeply about not adding commercial yeast, relying on the yeast that occurs naturally on the grapes to do the fermenting, Garcia just wanted a certain flavor profile.

"I'm seeking wines that are balanced in fruit and acid and are not overly alcoholic," Garcia says. "It's a coincidence, maybe, that the natural winemakers are the ones making those."

Piccino's list is not for novices. The only somewhat familiar name is Frog's Leap, which (coincidentally?) dry farms its vineyard in Rutherford. Nineteen wines are from Italy, which makes some sense given the cuisine, but France clocks in with 14, double those from California. It's yet another case where locavorism mysteriously doesn't apply to a product shipped around the world in relatively heavy glass bottles.

"I don't deliberately try to choose obscure stuff," Garcia says.

He owns the wine shop Dig next door, and "my wine shop sells only French and Italian wines," he says. "Many of them are obscure. San Francisco, as far as wine towns go, is about as savvy as they come."

I need to state that I, a wine geek albeit not necessarily leftist, would be delighted to spend several days drinking through Piccino's list. And I could afford to do so. While only six wines sell for $40 a bottle or less, increase your budget to $50 and you get 15 total choices.

There are 13 wines available by the glass, in every one of Garcia's nine whimsical categories ("country quaffing reds," "quirky whites of great personality") save one: "reasonably serious reds." If you want to drink a big red wine with Piccino's tomato-sauce-driven food, Garcia will separate you from your money, to the tune of $60 to $135.

click to enlarge Mumelter Santa Magdalener
  • Mumelter Santa Magdalener

However, what Garcia really wants is for James Butler, the sommelier, to recommend something based on what you're eating.

"The fun is not turning people into wine geeks, but turning people on to wines they might not try," he says. "It's been fun for me to turn people on to Trousseau Gris or the oxidized Savagnin wines from Jura."

I asked Garcia for a couple recommendations for wines to go with two of Jonathan Kauffman's favorite dishes.

With the polpette, "small meatballs porous and fragile, tossed in a bright, sweet tomato sauce, (says Kauffman), Garcia recommends one of two light-bodied red wines: Mumelter Santa Magdalener Alto-Adige Schiava-Lagrein 2010 ($38 bottle; $10 glass), or Ettore Germano Langhe Piemonte Nebbiolo 2009 ($42 bottle; $11 glass). "I love the crunchy fruit minerality" of the Mumelter, he says. Of the Piemonte wine, he says, "That shows the earthy aromas and dustiness that a good Nebbiolo can have."

Kauffman calls the Roman-style semolina gnocchi "magnificent." And my wine geek self loves Garcia's quirky recommendation: Vercesi del Castellazzo Gugiarolo Lombardia Pinot Nero Bianco 2010 ($40 bottle; $10.50 a glass.) It's a white wine made from Pinot Noir, which anyone could do in theory, although Novy's Adam Lee is the only one I know of doing so in California. Garcia says, "It has beautiful aromatics to it but it's super light, yet it has enough richness for the dish. It's the right combination of something broad on the palate with good acidity to it."

I confess, he's speaking my language. Spend enough time there and maybe it will be your language too.

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W. Blake Gray

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