Exploring Italian Wines at Eataly

By Linnea Covington  |  September 26, 2013
Credit: Virginia Rollison

Italy produces roughly six-billion bottles of wine a year, so it’s natural that when Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich brought their Italian superstore Eataly to Manhattan, they didn’t plan to just offer imported goods, fresh pasta, homemade mozzarella and cured meats to the hungry public, but also a well curated collection of Italian wines to pair with the food. Each eating experience comes in sections - pasta, vegetable, pizza, meat and cheese - and on the menus they also offer wine suggestions. For example in the vegetable sector, it’s suggested you try the 2010 Adriatico Ribolla Gialla with the ferro risotto with broccoli puree. Not only that, the menu also tells guests more about the wine, including where it's from and where else the varietal is grown.

Then, for even more Italian vinos, head to Eataly’s shop next door, which sells over 800 bottles of regional specialties, all carefully marked with the wine’s origin. All of this comes from the minds of beverage-director-cum-general-manager Dan Amatuzzi and the new beverage director, Emily Hand. Together they talked us through their extensive list, shared their favorite regions and suggested some unusual pairings. “With Italian wine there is always something else to learn,” says Amatuzzi. “For us, it’s that never ending journey that keeps it interesting.”

  • Regions in Italy

    The first thing to know about Italian wine is the different regions, there are 20, and in those regions 350 varietals have been recognized. Each of these regions is known for specific grapes, for example in Piedmont you find Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and the sweet Moscato varietal. Tuscany wines are under the moniker Toscana, and include some of the most well known wines you see today including Chianti and Montepulciano, both of which are primarily made with the Sangiovese grape. Of course, these grapes grow in other regions too, and the other divisions more commonly seen consist of Puglia, Lombardy, Umbria, Emilia Romagna, and Sicily, which also grows the popular red wine grape Nero d’Avola.

    “In terms of specific Italian wines, we will start with appellations, and my favorite has always been Brunello di Montalcino,” says Amatuzzi. “It’s the most famous red wine from Tuscany, and to me, the wines have a combination of power and intensity but are also silky, soft and really beautiful.” At Eataly, you can find the 2007 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino at the pizza and pasta section or in the shop, as well as the 2008 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino.

    For Emily Hand, she thinks about more in terms of region than in red and white. “Each Italian region is treated as its own separate entity and the locals are proud of their particular cuisine and the wines that happen to go with it,” she explains. “That hand-in-hand relationship gives you a glimpse of the region as a whole.” One of her favorite appellations is Barolo in the Piedmont region, the place she claims is where she got “bitten by the wine bug.” In the Grand Rossi, or “Big Red” section of Eataly’s wine menu, $188 will get you a bottle of 2001 Lazzarito by Fontanafredda or, for a more economical choice, order the $67 bottle of 2008 Mirafiore Barolo.

  • White Wines

    While many people think of red with and tomato sauce, white wine is grown all over Italy, including Lombardy, Trentino Alto Adige, Fruili-Venezia Giulia, Marche, and Liguria, where they grow Verdicchio, Pinot Bianco, Trebbiano, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, among other white grapes. One of Hand’s favorite white wines is Vermentino, which is grown in Tuscany, Liguria and Sardegna. “It’s a glimpse of what I didn’t get to do a lot of this summer, have sunny, beachy days and lackadaisical evenings barbecuing,” she says. “It’s a really refreshing white wine.” In the wine shop you can find a 2011 La Spinetta Vermentino from Tuscany, 2012 Argiolas Costamolino from Sardegna 2012, and a 2012 Guado al Tasso Vermentino from Tuscany, all under $25.

    “In terms of a white grape that’s equally impressive is Verdicchio, the ingenious white grape of Marche,” says Amatuzzi about this bright and briny varietal. “It’s fresh, clean, and awesome for food since it doesn’t overpower, but also doesn’t lay down.” Which means that even though it helps break down fats and proteins in rich foods like cheese and creamy pastas, it remains light on the palate. Plus, the wine proves pretty affordable and you can find it in the $10 to $15 range, like Conti di Buscareto Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi, sold at Eataly’s wine shop.

  • Red Wines
    As the weather cools down, we start thinking more about warm, comforting dishes and rich red wines. One great option to dive into is Sangiovese, which traditionally pairs perfectly it with a classic wild boar ragu. In this category, one of Hand’s favorites is I Perazzi by La Mozza, which blends Morellino di Scansano (a Sangiovese from Maremma) with Syrah, Alicante Colorino and Canaiolo. They serve this in all the restaurants for $9 a glass, or $33 for a bottle.

    For luscious braised meats, Amatuzzi is a fan of more tannin-heavy wines like ones made with the Barbera or Nebbiolo grapes. For the latter wine, Eataly offers a couple under $40, including the 2009 Castello di Neive Barbaresco and 2009 Rivetto Barbaresco. Both sommeliers also tout the merits of Rosso, a blended wine from Mount Etna, which is an active volcano. “It just captures the essence of that savory, smoky, barbecuing flavor, it’s fantastic,” said Hand. “Plus, they are off the beaten path and, while they don’ t have the pizzazz of other labels, they are still really delicious.” Try Benanti Rossodiverzella, available for $20 in the shop.

    Photo by Virginia Rollison

  • Sparkling Wine

    The old adage that bubbles go with everything remains true, even when dealing with Italian sparkling wine. “Italy has some producers and areas that specialize in sparkling wines that rival those of France,” says Hand. “Once again, they are off the beaten path and don’t have the advantage of having big label.” One favorite producer is Giulio Ferrari in the Trento DOC region in Northern Italy. “[The original] Ferrari started producing in 1902 after learning about wine making in Champaign,” said Hand. “He decided to apply those techniques and found that the grapes and soil in Trentino were comparable, and he could produce a wine of such caliber.” Naturally, she adds, it has its own Italian flare to it. You can find bottles of Ferrari for around $25 to $45 in Eataly, and in shops around the country.

    Another Italian sparkling wine you may know is Prosecco, which by law is made in the northeast Veneto region, though recently the boundaries of this grape’s zone has expanded into neighboring areas. “Prosecco is in a different ballpark from other Italian bubbles,” says Amatuzzi. “They are fun, fruity, easy and simple, and prove refreshing and are usually affordable.” Eataly offers a whole wall of Prosecco in the shop, and on the menus at the restaurants you can find Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobiaddene or Villa Sandi Il Fresco, both for $9 a glass.