Nelson Hua / Morningside Muckraker
Passing through the garden-level entrance of Pisticci on Amsterdam and La Salle, I was greeted by the welcome aromas of an Italian kitchen and a friendly smile from the attentive hostess. Though informed of a likely thirty-minute wait, I was pleasantly surprised to be seated in less than five minutes, at a spacious table abutting the front window.
My first task? Picking up a wine menu, of course.
At enotecas like Mario Batali’s “Otto” on Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue, you might find many pages of labyrinthine small print lacking the slightest indication of the wines’ grape varietals, or even whether you’re ordering a bianco or a rosso. By contrast, Pisticci’s offerings are remarkably approachable. The menu provides the region, classification, varietal, and even tasting notes for each of the thirty options featured. And however paradisiacal the dedicated connoisseur — or, should I say, aficionado — might find the options at a place like Otto, the list I held in my hands at Pisticci’s would suit most knowledgeable wine drinkers just fine.
That is not to say, however, that the average wine lover would find the list either simple or familiar. Surrounding the accustomed pinot grigio and chianti was an assortment of more exotic choices such as fiano (a fruity, nutty white with refreshing acidity), verdicchio (an audaciously dry and floral aromatic white), montepulciano (a tannic and aromatic red) and various nebbiolos and nero d’avolas (some of the rich, warming reds for which Italy is famous).
Beyond these, the list ranges to the lesser-known pinot bianco and müller thurgau (both complex whites grown predominantly in Alto Adige in northern Italy), anglianico, and canonnau (a substantial red wine and excellent companion to food). Approaching the recondite, the selection also includes whites such as passerina and falanghina, as well as reds such as teroidego and negroamaro (which is grown almost exclusively in Puglia – the heel of the Italian “boot”).
For my antipasto, I ordered the Riff Terra Alpina 2013 – a pinot grigio from Alto Adige, and the grilled eggplant topped with ricotta di bufala and mozzarella and served in the house tomato sauce.
As a disclaimer, I almost never drink pinot grigio. With inattentive or over-extractive winemaking, the grape lends itself to an excessively fruity, saccharine mouth-feel that I find decidedly unpleasant. Happily, however, the grape flourishes in the cool alpine climate of Alto Adige, which causes it to retain acidity (and therefore crispness and structure) while also avoiding the overripening that yields excessive fruitiness and unctuousness. The medium-bodied, aromatic wine accompanied my grilled eggplant nicely. While a dominant note of fresh-cut lemon went particularly well with the soft ricotta and mozzarella, the wine was frankly very simple. Since it was one of the more affordable wines available by the glass (and a pinot grigio), this was not a surprise. At least it was a pleasant simplicity!
For my main course, I paired the Prunotto Mompertone DOC 2009 barbera/syrah blend from Piemonte with whole-wheat penne tossed with baked tomato, green olives, and ricotta salata. The medium-bodied, plummy barbera blended impressively with the fragrant syrah to produce an engrossing young wine. With integrated, gummy tannins and gentle fruitiness, the blend served as an excellent companion to the dish.
Unfortunately for some and fortunately for others, only three or four of each red and white are available by the glass, with the rest demanding investment in the full bottle. Until next time, Pisticci.
Taylor Hartstein is the President of the DeVinimus Wine Society at and Captain of Columbia Law School’s Blind-Tasting team.