Ray Isle
May 21, 2007

One thing about Paul Grieco, co-owner of Hearth, in the East Village, and the newly opened midtown spot Insieme, is that he can suggest the most peculiar wine-food combinations, make them seem entirely reasonable, and then—voila!—it turns out they are entirely reasonable. I don't know if this is good wine service or something more on the order of a kind of vinous prestidigitation, but either way it's impressive.

The other night I went to Insieme and said to Paul something along the lines of, "We're going to have the linguine con vongole [stupendously good linguine with clams-Marco Canora must have signed a deal with the devil on this one], the culingiones con fave [potato ravioli w/ fava beans, pecorino, fennel and mint; a true essence of springtime dish, and probably more effective than Prozac at lifting lingering wintertime depression], the cacciucco [a tomato-based fish and shellfish stew w/ spicy peperoncini, ideal cuisine after a ten hour shift on a fishing boat off the Atlantic coast, but tasty in midtown Manhattan, too] and the lamb [saddle, breast, chop & sausage, all surrounded by thumb-sized morels-and anything served with an abundance of thumb-sized morels is OK by me]." After which I took a breath, because it was a very long sentence indeed. 

Paul said, "Great."

I added, "Oh, and we want to drink something white. That would go with all of those things."

Paul said, "You're having lamb and you want to drink white?"

I explained that Cecily, my wife, who in all other respects embodies her family's general attitude that to be game for anything is to have one of the highest character traits found in humans, is laid low by red wine. It gives her migraines. She handles this bleak fate with grace, but is nevertheless stuck with a largely red wine-less life.

Paul said, "What about the 2002 Savagnin from Jacques Puffeney?"

Which gets me to the point of this ramble. I'm trying to think of a cognate outside the wine world for the basic outré-ness of this suggestion. It's sort of like a car salesman saying to you, "Well, of course I could sell you this Toyota Camry, but I really think you'd prefer a 1953 3-wheeled BMW Isetta. Like this one." The thing is, Puffeney's Savagnin really is an odd wine—oxidative in style (typical for Savagnin from the Arbois), with a lightly bleachy, nutty scent recalling fino sherry as much as it does any other white wine, incredibly focused stone-fruit flavors and fierce citrusy acidity, and a weird facility for seeming both quite old and quite young simultaneously. Pour it for your friends without warning them first, and they'll holler at you, "What's with this crazy juice, you freakin' madman?" Trust me. They will.

And yet, in this instance the Puffeney was, as Paul had suggested it would be, bizarrely successful with the equally odd range of dishes in our dinner: dense enough for the lamb, zesty enough for the cacciucco, light enough for the culingiones, and—oh man—just plain perfect with both the plump, sweet, briny clams and the subtle bite of garlic and hot red pepper in that transcendent linguine con vongole.

Someday Jacques Puffeney will be living in a palace and riding in a golden chariot while the masses sing wild praise of his remarkable wines. However, that may be a while. Until then, I'd suggest heading over to Insieme and ordering a bottle off the list, myself.

 

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