Patrick Cappiello is one fourth the team at Pearl & Ash, a progressive American restaurant in Manhattan dubbed by industry folk as "#SabertownUSA." Cappiello, the restaurant's Wine Director, is known to hop on the bar and slice open Champagne bottles from time to time. And when he's not knifing bottles, he's in charge of Pearl & Ash's excellent and vast wine book, which focuses on funky, small production bottles. Below, Cappiello talks suggestions on ordering weird wine.
Q: My husband and I both really love bizarre wines. Stuff that's sort of strange, off-beat, a little on the difficult end — super minerally, or majorly acidic, or tasting like gasoline, or something. But since we're not wine people, per se, we don't always know the right language to use to end up with bottles we're really excited by. Some sommeliers get really excited when we ask for the weird stuff, but lots of times we end up with sort of a standard dry white. How can we ask the question better?
Cappiello: Bizarre wines are a guilty pleasure of mine and almost every other somm. Often we are hesitant to serve them to our guests, because we don’t often know how tolerant to the funky stuff they really are. This seems to be the problem you are facing… I find that it takes developing a relationship over time, so the more times I serve you (the "funky stuff"), the more I am able to push the envelope. Sommeliers are often hesitant to bring the really bizarre wines, because most of the time it’s just too strange, and then the guest either sends it back or chokes it down and has a miserable night. Have faith though, because I believe there is a way to fix this problem! Step one, use your smartphone. Taking pictures of wine labels saves you the effort of remembering what you’ve had and loved. Take it a step further and put the Delectable app on your phone, it identifies and catalogs the wines for reference in the future or to show your sommelier. Step two, don’t get hung up on "wine lingo." Explain the wine you desire to the sommelier in basic terms you are comfortable with. A good somm will be able to translate it to the geeky nonsense we speak… Step three, give a budget. I can’t stress this point enough. I know it’s scary to talk about money, but you will be better off in the long run. Contrary to popular belief, sommeliers don’t want to rip you off!
As far as the types of wines you are describing, I would recommend a few things. Skin fermented white wines: Northern Italy is a great place for this style, but there are some great ones coming from California as well. Try: Scribe, Chardonnay, Skin Fermented, Carneros, California White ($31.99/500ml). And reds from the Jura: This French wine region is the "King of Funk." Hard to find a wine that isn’t bizarre! Try: Domaine de l'Octavin Pamina Blanc ($28.99); Domaine de la Tournelle Ploussard "L'uva Arboisiana" Arbois ($23.99). Also, red wines made from the grape "Pineau d'Aunis" (also known as Chenin noir) from the Loire Valley in France. A personal favorite! Try: Domaine Le Briseau, Coteaux du Loir, Rouge Patapon ($30).