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[Photographs: Maggie Hoffman]

When Liz Nicholson became the wine director at Maialino there was an unused Enomatic machine sitting behind the bar. Since the restaurant pours wines by the glass in huge volumes, it didn't make sense to restock it constantly; the machine is meant to preserve wines over time and serve them in small pours. It's a pretty expensive piece of equipment to keep around as a display case.

20101208lizmaialino.jpgNicholson had started training her staff about Italy's many wine regions, starting in the Valle d'Aosta and moving on to Piemonte. "As I prepared for the Piemonte class," she says, "I had the brainchild that the best way to both ingrain the knowledge in my staff's heads and put the Enomatic machine back in service was to showcase the many different bottlings of the grape." Nicholson was on a mission, she says, "to prove that there are many Nebbiolos worth drinking beyond Barolo."

Try it sparkling, vinified white, or from many different terroirs throughout northwest Italy and you will find a span of styles of wine. Then consider its long life span, and suddenly it takes on a thousand more sides to its personality, depending on how much age the wine has. It is truly one of the most unique and versatile varietals in the world.

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For now, Maialino's Enomatic machine is stocked with eleven different Nebbiolo wines, starting with a bright and light brut rosé (reminiscent of strawberries and stones) and continuing through quite a tour of reds. We particularly love the Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco, which is made similarly to Vietti's Barolo but released younger. And the single vineyard Bovio Barolo Vigna Gattera is a showstopper. But it's pretty hard to go wrong with this list. (Some might find the Erpacrife Spumante a little too funky and strange for their taste, but it's killer with slightly stinky cheese.)

You can try the wines by the glass (and even better, the half-glass) and it's a remarkable learning experience to taste your way through a few of them (or the whole bar, if you've got all night.) You should do it now, though, because Maialino's Nebbiolo bar is on its way out.

The new year will bring a new focus on the northeastern regions of Trentino, Alto-Adige, Friuli and the Veneto. "The intent," says Nicholson, will be "to show that there are a lot of other fantastic wines beyond Valpolicella that these regions turn out."

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You can eat in the bar area (in fact, I prefer it over the more buttoned-up dining room.) Make sure to order the Spuntino di Pancetta and eat them hot while the pork fat is nearly liquid. And as long as we're being indulgent, get a Coppa Croccante, too.

Maialino

2 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10010 (map)
212-777-2410
maialinonyc.com

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