IL Buco Alimentari & Vineria. A Great Place to Host the “European Winery of the Year 2012.”
I had been to other restaurants on Great Jones Street in that well trafficked section of NoHo, namely Five Points, a restaurant my friend invested in. IL Buco Alimentari & Vineria was just up the block. I had read Pete Wells’ New York Times three star review of Il Buco. Pretty impressive as reviews go, one star away from the four stars which only six other NYC restaurants achieved over the years.
Wells had raved about the bread, “Remarkable stuff, with the gradually unfolding nuances of taste that are achieved only through a slow and patient fermentation of dough with wild yeast.” (Yes, wild yeast! I liked the place already.) He was pumped about the salumi board, “…satiny pink and white folds of lonza and capocollo…melting into a lasting impression…” These were “cured and aged in the basement of IL Buco Alimentari e Vineria,” and “among the finest salumi in the country.” I do enjoy a great salumi board. My taste buds have been cured over the years by exceptional sopressatas, lonzas and capocollo, “home mades” served by Nonna Gabriele (maternal grandmother) and cuigini on both sides of my family. I tucked Wells’ February 2012 review in the back of my mind for later use.
It came when I received an invitation. Roberto Paris and Il Buco were toasting Marco Caprai winemaker and proprietor of Arnaldo-Capri Winery on his “Best European Winery” Wine Star Award from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. My schedule was swamped. Could I squeeze in some time to stop by? I was intrigued about going to a cocktail hour in the “simple and convivial spot” that the food critic claimed, “tastes just like Italy.”
What edged me to RSVP “accept” was my experience of NYC’s “I Love Umbria Month.” During the month’s activities celebrating Umbria in various venues around Manhattan, I attended a kick-off press event at Eataly. I was introduced to Caprai wines and a few native Umbrian dishes prepared by Eataly’s Alex Pilas. The Arnaldo-Caprai Winery is from Umbria, the region known as “the green heart of Italy.” In Umbria classic regional fare includes pork, mushrooms and lentils or legumes. From my Eataly experience, I knew the Sagrantino wines from Arnaldo-Caprai, paired beautifully with these items; I had sampled dishes made with pork, lentils and mushrooms at the press luncheon. The Sagrantino di Montefalco, I remembered Caprai’s signature wine had a rich and powerful mouth feel which heightened the earthiness of mushrooms and lentils. It complimented and lightly cut through the moist and fattiness of the pork. Though the luncheon was before Wine Enthusiast awarded Arnaldo-Caprai with its Wine Star award, I really liked the wines I had tasted.
Truly, the award is well deserved. Arnaldo-Caprai Winery is an “acknowledged leader in the production of top quality Sagrantino di Montefalco,” a wine produced exclusively from Montefalco’s indigenous Sagrantino grape. Arnaldo-Caprai wines have been globally recognized for their quality and production excellence. Caprai’s diligence in helping to restore the Sagrantino grape to a glorious plateau is applauded in the wine trade, and the winery has won many awards. The Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s award was no anomaly. Caprai’s exceptional wines were really taking off and wine lovers were appreciating just how good these wines were. A neophyte wine connoisseur, I was rapidly becoming a fan of Caprai’s wines.
Another venue might hold a slap dash ho hum affair I could easily avoid. This was all too enticing. The range of Caprai wines, its white and reds, would be accompanied by SAVEUR Top 100 Chef Salvatore Denaro’s “Umbrian light bites”and IL Buco chef, Justin Smillie’s delicious appetizers. These chefs? Caprai’s wines? Even the little time I would be able to spend there promised to be an absolutely exceptional rendering. I couldn’t afford to miss it.
I climbed the stairs to IL Buco’s private room with happy anticipation.The crowd kept coming. I mingled in to where Roberto Paris was pouring. He suggested I start with the white, the 2011 Colli Martani Grechetto DOC Grecante. The wine is made from 100% Grechetto grapes. At my first sip there was the pop of crispness and vibrancy on my tongue, refreshing to the palette. A lovely aperitif (one may also have it with fish, veal and poultry) I enjoyed it with Chef Salvatore Denaro’s incredible Grilled Spring Onions Wrapped in Fresh Pancetta, then I moved on to the Umbrian lentil soup the chef was proudly stirring. It was perfectly seasoned to show off the earthy taste of the legumes with just enough cooking time for a savory, luscious texture. Servers were coming around with trays conceived/prepared by Justin Smillie, Crocchette di Baccala, crispy house salted cod, aioli, and there were skewers of Mushroom & Artichoke.Wine and these bites were in the fold.
Back to Roberto Paris for the first of the reds, the 2010 Montefalco Rosso DOC a combination of Sangiovese, Sagrantino and Merlot grapes, followed by the more powerful and full bodied Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiano DOCG with 100 % Sagrantino grapes. I enjoyed the Rosso with a taste of the Salumi della Casa, definitely home made and yum yum lovely. Though I was becoming full and didn’t sample them, it was apparent the Rosso was great with the imported cheeses, spreads, compotes, Taralli, olives and fabulous house made whole grain breads (to die for) from Chef Justin Smillie’s Alimentary Table. The plates came in chock full of salumi and treats, and left swept clean by guests; again and again the servers came and went. Our appetites expanded, the conversation grew louder and I would soon have to leave, but not before tasting the best of the best and assessing what I had experienced thus far.
I thought the Rosso good, but I prefered the 100% Sagrantino grape wines. The Collepiano DOCG was perfect with the Panini sandwiches made on that fabulous and earth shattering Il Buco bread. (I love rustic, chewy bread.) One panini was with tender and juicy Slow-Roasted Short Ribs, gorgonzola, onion and agrodolce. The other was Roast Porchetta, arugula, salsa verde. The Collepiano DOCG is recommended for a roasted meat with juice and fat and after tasting the short rib panini, I knew why: explosive ruby red piquant flavor that cut through any heaviness of the meat and melded with the gorgonzola, onion and agrodolce. I tried the porchetta with the Sagrantino Di Montefalco 25 Anni. Striking, strong but smooth and soft velvet with a nice finish. Was that a hint of blackberries for the nose? I understand better how the tannins in the Sagrantino compliment and slice their flavors through succulent roasted meats. But I could even see myself enjoying a glass with a really great imported cheese as well.
I looked around. Time to leave. Was it possible the invited devoured the pork faster than the short ribs paninis? These chefs knew the Caprai wines and had done their homework with the menu which was exceptional. As I waited for my coat, I glanced around. Rats! Guests were eating pasta and I was missing it. I asked a woman and her partner who were chatting and smiling as they plopped what looked to be rigatoni shaped wedges with a light cream colored coating in their mouths. “Delicious, pasta…with pumpkin,” the woman said pinging some lovely light orange-yellow veggie on her fork for me to view. An obvious innovation. I would call Il Buco tomorrow and ask for the specifics, since I was already running late. (I found out it was Chef Denaro’s own take on Amatriciana* the traditional Roman dish usually served with Bucatinni.)
I finished the last of my Sagrantino Di Montefalco and savored its multiplicity of flavors on my tongue, the last a distilled earthiness. I envisioned the Franciscan monks that had kept those sacred vines growing in their monastery of St. Leonard in Montefalco in 1700. I guess I was a bit addled, and could have used some pasta to help with the wine’s power.
I said my goodbyes and slipped away from the fading din of conversation and exclamations about the full body of the Sagrantino De Montefalco. I left as I came in, happy with anticipation. I looked forward to returning to IL Buco with friends and ordering their roasted pork with a glass of Sagrantino De Montefalco 25 Anni. But before I came back, I’d have to lose the 2 pounds I gained eating this fabulous food and enjoying the equally wonderful wines.
*The traditional preparation has tomatoes, guanciale and garlic BUT rather than tomatoes Chef Denaro used Hokaido pumpkin (a very delicate, perfumed pumpkin.)