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Interview with Restaurateur and Winemaker Joe Bastianich

Joe Bastianich is the proprietor of numerous restaurants across the country.  Along with his portfolio of elite eateries, he is also well-heeled in the crafting of fine wines, and his winemaking properties include three wineries in Italy and one in Argentina.  Born and raised in Queens, his family traces its roots to northeastern Italy, in the region of Friuli.  It was here, in 1997, that he began his first winemaking venture.  Since its conception, the wines from the Bastianich estate have received rave reviews, and this success has led to three other estates:  La Mozza in Tuscany (2000), Brandini in Piedmont (2009), and Tritono in Mendoza, Argentina (2003).

Thirteen years later, I discuss with Joe the past, present, and future of his winemaking days.

DA:  Wine has long been a constant for you and your family.  When did you decide to enter the winemaking industry?

Bastianich Friulano 2007

Bastianich Friulano 2007. The etymology of the grape name correlates to the official name of the region: Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

JB:  I’ve always felt a deep connection to the land and the soil, and living in Italy in my youth helped solidify my feelings towards one day making my own wine.  Working in restaurants and eventually owning restaurants was kind of a backdoor way to enter the winemaking industry.

DA:  Many wineries in Italy are family-run estates, with the next of kin often learning the trade and assuming the primary duties of the winery.  Is this something you hope that your children continue one day?

JB:  I’d be flattered and honored if they chose to enter the field.  Whatever they choose to do with their lives is up to them.  There has been some early interest in wine so far, so that’s good.

Freshly picked Sauvignon grapes during harvest en route to the winery for pressing

Freshly picked Sauvignon grapes during harvest en route to the winery for pressing

DA:  Pinot Grigio is undoubtedly the most popular white Italian wine consumed in the United States, if not the world.  For a region such as Friuli that excels in white wine production, what should enthusiasts try in place of Pinot Grigio?

JB:  There are so many indigenous varieties in Italy; they are all excellent and approachable.  Grapes like Arneis, Friulano, Trebbiano, Verdicchio, and Vermentino are all great wines…to name a few.

DA:  Sangiovese is Tuscany’s most important black grape, producing wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  What many people don’t know is that Sangiovese is also the base grape variety used for wines produced further south in Tuscany, called Morellino di Scansano.  Your Tuscan property, La Mozza, is one of the leading producers of Morellino di Scansano.  How would you compare Morellino wines to Chianti?

JB:  Morellino, in essence, is the new Chianti.  The wines are good representations of the soil and the climate of southern Tuscany.  The fruit of Sangiovese is also recognizable and approachable to the beginning wine drinker.  The weather in and around Scansano is consistently more arid and drier than in Chianti and thus, the wines are more consistent from year to year.

DA:  Is it difficult to grow grapes in Argentina?  It’s said that many wineries must irrigate in order for the vines to receive enough water.

photo courtesy of Kelley Campbell

photo courtesy of Kelley Campbell

JB:  Many of the vineyards, especially in Mendoza, are located on a high-plain dessert with intense temperature fluctuations.  Irrigation is necessary.

DA:  Malbec is grown in many of the premier winemaking countries such as France, Argentina, Italy, and Spain.  Is it an easy grape to grow?

JB:  It’s conducive to the area.  It’s a good example of a grape native to Bordeaux (France) that has acclimated to another climate, producing new wines.  All the while, it still is expressionary on its own accord.

DA:  You have a book forthcoming, care to elaborate?

JB:  “Grandi Vini:  An Opinionated Tour of the 89 Greatest Italian Wines”.  The book is an in-depth summary of the greatest 89 Italian wines.

DA:  You’re credited with being a talented musician.  Are there similarities with writing music and producing wine?

JB:  They are different for the most part.  Creating music involves creativity and channeling emotion.  Winemaking is more of a custodial role.  Winemaking is more prodding a natural process and trying not to get in the way of something that happens naturally.

The flagship wine of the La Mozza estate in Tuscany is a blended wine called, “Aragone”.  The name of the wine is a reference to the Aragon family of Spain, who controlled the area throughout the end of the Reinassance period and beyond.  First produced in 2004, the wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Syrah, Carignano, and Alicante.  On the nose, the wine reveals aromas of blackberries and currants with subtle toffe notes.  On the palate, the wine is rather soft with silky tannins and elegant fruit, ideal for a classic Tuscan dish of Pappardelle al Cinghiale (pasta with wild-boar ragu).

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