One of the factors that make dining at Fresco Italian Café (see Dining) so pleasing—and there are many—is the restaurant’s wine list. If you’re a restaurateur putting together your own wine list, or just someone who appreciates a good one, Fresco’s would make a great model. In my opinion, it’s exactly what a wine list should be.
It’s not the lengthiest or the largest wine list in town, nor is it stocked with verticals of Château Lafite or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. But the Fresco wine list is lengthy enough. It’s sized perfectly, considering the scale of the restaurant and its menu, not to mention its limited wine-storage capabilities: Fresco is situated in an old, small house, which adds to the restaurant’s charm. But there’s no room for a 15,000-bottle cellar, nor is there any need for one. There are plenty of wine options for Fresco diners and thanks to savvy choices by owners Mikel Trapp and Mark Stamler, along with sommelier Jimmy Santangelo, Fresco’s wine list is a perfect fit. That’s what I look for in a wine list: how well it fits the mission, scope and menu of a particular restaurant. It’s not just about numbers.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve run into Trapp on occasion at the monthly wine-store megasales. He scours the sales for good bargains, which is one way he and Santangelo can keep the wine markups at Fresco out of the stratosphere. There are plenty of good bargains on the Fresco wine list—E. Guigal Hermitage Blanc for $50, for example. And that’s another thing to love about this list: You don’t feel like you’ve been mugged when you order a bottle of your favorite Sangiovese. For example, a bottle of Luna Sangiovese at the wine store will run you about $25. Fresco charges $50 for that wine. In a town where I frequently see wines marked up 250 percent to 300 percent, that’s practically a steal.
Another aspect of Fresco’s wine list that I find seductive is the wine flights. It puzzles me why only a handful of restaurants in the entire state offer wine flights. Customers love ’em, and they’re a great way to introduce interesting wines to folks who might then just go on to buy an entire bottle of something that rocked them. Fresco offers three wine flights, which change periodically: “ABC (Anything But Chardonnay),” “Winter Solstice,” “Light to Dark” and “Italy: North to South.” The flights run in the $10-$12 range and each consists of three 2-ounce pours. The Winter Solstice flight takes you from a light Saintsbury “Garnet” Pinot Noir to Piedmont’s Castelvero Barbera, and then on to the massively dark and muddy Rosenblum “Heritage Clones” Petite Sirah. The best part of any wine flight at Fresco is hearing Santangelo describe the wines in ways that only he can. He’s sort of our own Gary Vaynerchuk.
I’m someone who’d typically rather order wines by the glass to match different courses during a meal than seek out a bottle that hopefully will play nicely with everything on my plates. So I very much appreciate Fresco’s healthy selection of wines by the glass and by the half-bottle. And these wines aren’t just perfunctory. They include exotic by the glass selections like Terredora di Paola Falanghina, Planeta “La Segreta” Bianco, Produttori del Barbaresco and Salviano Turlo, most priced in the $6-$8 range. Fresco’s vino is about value and variety.
Sips: Fresco’s Jimmy Santangelo is also founder of The Virtual Sommelier, an operation providing private sommelier service, wine education classes, cellar consultations, in-home wine events and more. Check it out at TheVirtualSommelier.com.