Sotto Restaurant: An Exploration into Southern Italian Wine

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e were first introduced to Sotto Restaurant by a chance email inviting us to a wine tasting with Wine Director Jeremy Parzen. Our tweetup with fellow bloggers @tricerapops, @letmeeatcake and @ubriaca, to name a few, was framed by décor that could only be described as Italian wine cave chic. The rustic sophistication of Sotto complimented both the food and the wine. Our first visit turned out to be a 2 hour tour through some Italian history and wines that we’d not only never tasted before, but grapes we’d never even heard of. Jeremy has been writing professionally about wine since 1998 and has written articles for some of the most influential food and wine magazines in both Italy and the US. He was full of quotes & insights on the symbiotic relationship between food and grapes in Italian culture.

Plates at Sotto Tasting

“If it grows with it, it goes with it.”

Given that stellar first introduction, we had to return. We chose to do so, last minute, on a Saturday night. Generously, Restaurant Manager Natasha helped us find a table to enjoy our second visit. As we sat down, we were immediately remembered by the Wine Captain Rory. I did something I hardly ever do: I gave Rory a few vague characteristics of wine that we might like and let him have at it. He brought back a Masserei Nardo Rosato, a dark pink rose of Negroamaro.  It was light but structured, floral but definitely had a kick to it…It was perfect. The beauty of this place, as Jeremy had alluded to, is that most any wine you would pick off the menu would pair well with most any dish that you would order. Our courses included black mussels with capers and a tomato passata, a rabbit ragu fusilli and one of their incredible Neapolitan style pizzas with olive pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella and arugula. Each of these dishes matched perfectly well and in very different ways with our dark horse of a rose.

After we were quite full of food, Rory came back with two wines for us to taste. They were two Ciro wines, one rosato (rose) and one Rosso (red). Both wines were made from the Gaglioppo grape, which we fell in love with during our first visit to Sotto. Gaglioppo is grown almost exclusively in southern Italy mostly near Calabria. The grape creates wines that are fuller than your average southern red, higher in alcohol, and depending on the winemaker, possess some crazy flavor profiles. These two wines were splendid, the rosato was lighter than our first rose but with much more fruit and floral notes in both the nose and the palate. It was like a pretty little pink fairy dancing on your tongue while yelling at you in Italian.

Ciro RossoIf you’re tired of drinking the same old red wine and have somewhat of an adventurous palate, try a Gaglioppo Rosso. These wines produce some of the more interesting flavors I’ve ever had in a red wine. Try these descriptors on for size: nutty bramble, cherry Sucrets and Band-Aid. Those were just the first few things that came to mind. The 2008 Ciro Rosso Classico Superiore is a bit young and needed some more time in the bottle, but the Ciro Rosso Riserva that we had tried on our first encounter was much more smoothed out. It had been approachable with great dark fruit and cola that complemented the other (somewhat crazier) notes.

The last wine that Rory brought for us to experience was something right up our alley, a Primitivo di Manduria. It’s a dessert wine made from the Primitivo grape (as you might recall the older brother to Zinfandel). It’s an unfortified dessert wine that’s naturally sweet due to the length of time the grapes are allowed to ripen and dry on the vines. Unlike other dessert wines in this category, this wine was not syrupy or heavy. Instead, it was delicate and light with a sensual mouthfeel of figs and blackberries. It’s that wine you might imagine pouring all over yourself in a fit of joy at some bacchanalian festival.

“Italians would rather go hungry than eat without wine.” ~ Jeremy Parven

The conclusion to our three-part adventure with Sotto restaurant came when I took Rory up on his offer to taste some of Frank Cornelissen’s wines that he had just received. These wines are made, like all the wines at Sotto, in the natural way. There are no added sulfites, so the evolutionary nature of these wines is something to behold. We started with the Susucaru Rose containing Nerello, Mascalese, Sangiovese, and other red grapes. The native yeasts in this wine created a wonderfully dry and refreshing flavor. It’s got dirty funk on the nose, raspberry hints on the palate and even a little tannic structure. It developed by the minute, getting drier, morphing into all kinds of interesting textures and tastes. The Susucaru Rose was like no other rose I’ve ever tasted.

The second wine Rory poured was the Munjebel, which is made again from Nerello but is a dry white. If I thought the rose was dynamic, this thing took us to a whole other level. Firstly, it had been open for 3 days. Yeah. Not what you usually want to hear from the wine specialist. The Munjebel had such incredible nutty, baking spice flavors that it was easy to ignore the fact that it looked like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The wine also had a nice lemon flavor on the back end. If Long Island Iced Tea had a semi- slutty but still virginal cousin, this would be it. Again, this wine changed by the minute, turning to give us rusty sherry notes on the nose, but maintaining its balance of acid and fruit. There is definitely something to be said for this style of wine making and these wines. Sotto challenges our notion of what wine should be and gives us a better understanding of what we want wine to be. But don’t take our word for it, go try them for yourself.


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