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An American Lives the Tuscan Dream

New York City wine merchant Marco Pasanella has turned the building where he lives and works into his own tiny piece of Tuscany.

Marco Pasanella loves wine and food so much that he has figured out how to surround himself with them, 24 hours a day. A successful interior designer, he opened the wine shop Pasanella and Son in Manhattan earlier this year when the commercial space below his apartment became available. He hosts wine-tasting parties in the back room and garden, cooking recipes inspired by the Italian dishes he makes for his family. Mary Taylor, who used to work in the wine department at Sotheby's, is his wine buyer, while his wife, Rebecca Robertson, sources the wineglasses and antique corkscrews the shop sells. But the place's laid-back, whimsical sensibility is Pasanella's— like the fact that he keeps a 1967 Ferrari parked inside the store, its trunk full of bottles. How long will the car stay? "We had to move a thousand bottles to get it in," Pasanella says. "I guess I'll drive it out the next time I feel like moving a thousand bottles." Here, he describes his style.

We love your shop. What was your inspiration for it?
We believe strongly in the connection between food and wine. We leave out recipe cards on tables in the shop for people to take home, and we give a lot of pairing suggestions. We started doing the recipes because we found out that something like 94 percent of all wine is consumed within an hour of purchase. So let's help people out.

How would you describe the vibe of your store?
It's really a neighborhood shop. It feels very comfortable and very sophisticated but welcoming. There's this third-place phenomenon, where you have home, you have work and you have this other place, where people want to hang out. The shop is some people's third place. Last night, I basically had to kick people out—"Guys, you can't hang out here anymore, you've got to go home. I need to walk the dog."

Why did you decide to have tasting parties in the shop?
We have a nice outdoor space, and it seemed like a great way to bring people in and have fun. We're planning a grappa tasting with the card game scopa. If you hang out at the bars in Italy, the old men are drinking grappa and playing scopa. So we thought, if we had a grappa tasting, we'd have different grappas and play cards, too. We're also going to do a tasting party where all of the wines have a dog on the label because we have a dog and the dog-run camaraderie is very strong in the neighborhood.

Do you usually serve food at the tasting parties?
Yes, but we try to make it stress-free. Brunello and bistecca alla fiorentina just seems to be a cool combo. Big, meaty and simple. I sometimes prepare a rib eye as a tagliata with rosemary—I'll slice the meat and serve it over a bed of arugula with olive oil and lemon juice. We put it out with some roasted potatoes, maybe grilled asparagus or sautéed mushrooms, or polenta even. For a women's wine night, I'll put out big bowls of salad and charcuterie, plus cheese and some great little sweets that I'll pick up somewhere.

What's your favorite wineglass, at home and at the store?
Personally, I like drinking wine out of those little Picardi water glasses. For tastings in the store, we use Ravenscroft glasses that are just $7 each. That way, if you're drinking wine, you're not freaked about the glass. You're not thinking, "Oh my God! Is that a chip?!"

What wine accessories do you sell at the store?
My wife, Becky, is an eBay-aholic. She's always on the lookout for cool, wine-related accessories. Some of the best ones she's found are a little Rube Goldberg–like; they have about 100 million pieces. And the wooden corkscrews sell like crazy because they're just five bucks. We also carry these great cups from Dutch by Design ($85 for set of four) that have an outline of a wineglass on the front. The rest of the glass is frosted, so it tricks the eye into thinking it's a regular wineglass.

What wines do you serve at parties?
One that I really enjoy is a 2003 La Spinetta Barbera ($24). It has a little rhinoceros on the label. And if we have over really thirsty friends, then we do a 2002 Abbazia Santa Anastasia Nero d'Avola ($15) from Sicily. It's such a nice, welcoming wine—if a wine can be welcoming.

How do you set the table?
This is actually where Becky and I diverge. I like this china that you can buy in Italy at the agraria—a farm-supply place. It's like buying china at the Agway. It's really gritty, made out of terra-cotta that's hand-painted with a little abstract flower design. Becky thinks it's very Farmer in the Dell and that it breaks easily—which it does. But you bought it at a farm-supply place; it's not like it's a priceless antique.

What's your favorite floral arrangement?
We have 16-foot ceilings in our apartment—they used to raise sails on ship masts in here—so in the spring, we get cherry-blossom branches and put them in a galvanized zinc trash can. They're huge and tall, and two big bunches of branches are just spectacularly pretty. I like to take advantage of the height and put the flowers on the floor behind the dining table, where people can still see them but don't have to look around them when they're sitting down to a meal.

What's your favorite wine shop other than your own?
My favorite is one in Lucca, Italy, called Enoteca Vanni (enotecavanni.com). It's the size of a small dry cleaners, and there's a sweet guy in front, and you think, Okay, no big deal. Then if you look interested, he'll say, "Would you like to go downstairs?" And underneath, there's this huge cellar with big stone arches, and there is just room after room of wines—even ones that were stunning to me, like a whole bunch of California wines from the 1960s and '70s. It's like going down Alice's rabbit hole.

Wine Extras

Pasanella and Son take an irreverent approach to wine. The store sells etched berry glasses from Roost ($15) that can be used for Champagne, hosts grappa tastings at which guests play the Italian card game scopa, and offers an eclectic variety of antique corkscrews procured on eBay (pasanellaandson.com).

Published September 2006
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