SUMMER WINES: UNCORKING LOCAL WISDOM

Customer Kristy Niro talks wine with Tasting Room owner Anthony Faustini and manager Brendan O’Neill. (Photos by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

By JIM WILLIS

The Green is ripe with wine knowledge. With our celebrity chefs, acclaimed restaurants and a Napa Valley outpost in downtown Red Bank, it would be a shame to keep all that viticultural wisdom bottled up. So to help expand your warm-weather boozing options beyond a cold six of Bud Light or a bottle of Skinny Girl, redbankgreen sat down with three local wine experts, working our way into the red heart of Red Bank from Restaurant Nicholas to Basil T’s to the Tasting Room.

We’ve also got a list of great wine-tasting events down below.

Nicholas Harary, chef and owner of Restaurant Nicholas, Middletown

What are you serving at home when you’re entertaining now that it’s getting warmer?

If my dad’s coming over, there’d better be Heineken [laughs], but we serve wine. Right now in my fridge at home, I’ve got bottle of Arneis, a bottle of rosé and a Sauvignon blanc. They’re all crisp, clean, light fruit [tasting]. I don’t think of oak for a summer time wine.

You mentioned that you could taste 100 wines before finding one good bottle to offer to Nicholas Wines customers. Any advice for the less-experienced buyer to help them find that one bottle of good summertime wine on their own?

First, you want a reputable store. If you walk into a store and they’ve got the big jugs of wine right up front, you probably walked into the wrong place. But if you walk into a wine shop, just say ‘I want to spend $12 on a crisp, white wine that I’m going to be grilling blah blah blah with.’

I say, always be honest. When you try to act like you know [more than you do], that’s where you get in to trouble. You’re better off saying, “I don’t really know what I like but this is kind of what I’m thinking and I want to spend this.” That has to be in the first sentence. Because there’s also a fear in a wine shop or even here in the restaurant that you’re being judged.  I tell people all the time, if you’re talking to me or a sommelier, tell me what you want to spend. I’m not making judgement on you; everyone has their own level. I drive a Dodge Ram truck. I don’t drive a Bentley because [the truck] is what I wanted to buy.  Get the price right up front, so you’re not going to be oversold.

Are you seeing a shift towards wine and away from beer as a common American food accompaniment?

Well, I think that’s probably true. Maybe that’s why we have these craft breweries now, too.  Because the beer drinkers are like, ‘I want more than Bud,’ and now you’re seeing these craft breweries with these really expensive beers, which is great, too.  But one of those heavy craft beers at 2 p.m. on a Sunday? It’s not what I want. And the wine is better with food. I have customers who own those craft breweries, and we can argue about it, but I’m right [laughs]. Wine is better with food.

Victor Rallo, Jr., owner of Basil T’s in Red Bank, co-owner of Undici in Rumson and host of the upcoming PBS show Eat! Drink! Italy! with Vic Rallo

What are you drinking in the summertime? Beer or wine?

I rarely drink beer. I have a beer maybe two times a year. At a Yankees game or on a fishing boat, but 99.9 percent of the time, it’s wine.

 What kind of wine?

I’m a rosato [Italian rosé] lover. If you go to Italy this time of year, from the morning til the sun goes down, all of the Mediterranean people are going to be drinking rosé. They’re a great wine to be drinking in the summer time. They’re easy to drink. You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy them. You can sit at the pool or by the beach with a salad or lunch and enjoy them.

The only thing I’ll add is to make sure it’s the right vintage. Drink it fresh, make sure it’s a 2012 vintage.  As for whites, I love the [Mediterranean] coastal wines. Fresh, crisp and citrus flavors and, again, you’re drinking current vintage like 2011 or ’12.

So a guy who’s going out for a 12-pack of craft brew and maybe wants to try a wine instead, what would you suggest?

Rosato from Italy is anywhere from $8-20. For someone who wants to try a change from beer, a rosato is a good alternative because for the same price as that 12-pack you can get two bottles of rosato.

What if he balks at the pink wine suggestion? How do you get past that?

[Rosato] is just a red wine that hasn’t been left in contact with the skins of the grapes for as long a time. Get past the color. They’re not a feminine wine. All over Italy, they drink it; it’s not a woman’s wine. It’s an everyday summer wine. [The Italians] drink them fresh, they drink the current vintage til it runs out. By October, rosé is over. Just pour it for them. Cut a piece of cheese and put it with a piece of prosciutto. Let them eat the food with the rosé. Pair it and then compare that experience to a beer and cheese and salami experience. [The rosé] is a better experience because it goes together with the food. The experience of food and wine together in the Mediterranean culture is different and I don’t think you get the same experience from a beer and food pairing.

I know you’re an avid cyclist. What about staying fit and drinking something like light beer in the summer time instead of wine?

Look, maybe the calories are going to be about the same in wine or beer, but the proof is in the pudding. American society on a whole is a beer-drinking society compared to a wine-drinking society. And you look at the shape of the American. There’s a lot more people that are out of shape than in [Mediterranean] Europe. . . In Italy and France, they don’t drink a lot of beer. They drink wine with food. They don’t go out and drink four bottles of wine while they’re sitting somewhere eating potato chips and pretzels. It just doesn’t go together. It’s a cultural and historical way of eating, and it’s healthy.

Oftentimes in the U.S., people choose an unhealthy alternative because it’s easier. It’s easier to go out and get a 12 pack of Bud or Miller Light or Heineken because it’s easier than to take a little bit of time to find a nice bottle of wine. I think wine is worth the effort, and with Google at your fingertips, buying wine is easy… If you’ve got an iPhone in your pocket, as far as I’m concerned, everyone is a wine professional now. You go to Google and type in “summer Italian white wines” or “summer-style French or Spanish wines.”

Beer is seemingly easier, but as far as the gratification, wine can be so much more gratifying. Especially when there’s food —  it’s undeniable, wine needs to be on the table.

Anthony Faustini, owner of Faustini Winery in Napa Valley and the Tasting Room on Broad Street in Red Bank

What are you drinking at home now that the weather’s turning warmer?

When entertaining, it’s mostly wine, but we like to serve summer ales and Champagne [style] wine too. Because people like something bubbly by the pool. When I’m hot and I want a refreshing drink, I like beer, too. But if I’m having cocktails with friends and being social, I’m going to want a glass of wine. [I like my summer wine] to be clean, fresh with citrus fruit, so a white or a rosé.

Do you get the “Hey, I’m a guy, I’m not drinking pink wine” bit when you serve rosé? 

[Even among experienced wine drinkers] you’re still going to have the one or two people who say I don’t want to drink pink wine and they’ll want a big [red] Cabernet or big [red] Zinfandel with their burger or their barbecue, and that’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that. I say drink what you love and love what you drink. But at the end of the day, if you’re looking for something cool and refreshing, you’re going to want [a white or a rosé].

Advice for the beer buyer who may want to try a bottle of wine instead with his next BBQ?

Come in and talk to us. We know wine, and not just our wine. When you come in here, you’re talking about wine and food, and that’s an easy conversation to have. It’s not about vocabulary. People get intimidated by the [wine] magazines but it’s really just about “What do you taste? Do you like it?” Come in, tell us what you’re going to eat…

We encourage questions, and are offering different classes so that people can discover that wine is not snobby. It’s a great thing. I want people to come in here and ask questions and be social. Wine is about being social and having the knowledge base evolve together with the other people you’re drinking with.

Pencil in these dates below for hands-on events and tastings of summer wines:

• June 12, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Undici in Rumson: Complimentary Rosato Tasting and 21 Wines Book Signing. Italian cheeses and salumi will be served. This is a complimentary event, so no reservations are required.

• June 19, 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Tasting Room in Red Bank: Pinot Noir and cheese-tasting with owner/winemaker David Rossi of Fulcrum Wines.

• Thursday, June 20, 7 to 9 p.m. at Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank: A “walk-around” tasting of 12 summer wines. $75 per person ($50 of the fee applied toward a wine purchase). Call 732-345-9977 for reservations.

• June 20, 6:30 p.m. at Salt Creek Grille in Rumson: Wine vs. Beer Tasting Dinner. $75 per-person Call 732-933-9272 for reservations.