Some months ago, I profiled the Brooklyn restaurant Tommaso in my "In the Cellar" column in the New York Sun. After touring the cellar and talking extensively to owner Tommaso Verdillo, my wife and I sat down to a fine meal. My wife enjoyed that dinner and low-key atmosphere—not to mention Verdillo's hospitality—so much, she insisted we return for our wedding anniversary. It was a promise I was happy to make. I liked the food as well, and was anxious to return to Tommaso to raid the wine cellar, which holds many fine Italian bottles as reasonable prices.
I was a bit nervous making the reservation recently, however. I had not heard back from Verdillo after the article came out, and wondered it he had been somehow upset with it. What's more, he took my reservation with a certain curtness. But my wife wanted to go, so we went.
It was a Tuesday night when we went and the place was sparsely populated. To the right of the entrance, I saw my Sun article nicely framed and hung. OK, so he had obviously approved of the feature. The food was again good, particularly the Brasato di Manzo (Brasied beef in Barbera wine). Tom passed by a few times, always uttering a few friendly words. But soon enough, it became clear why he had been so cool on the phone; Verdillo didn't know us from Adam and Eve. No recollection at all. Ah, such is the anonymity of the reporter's life. You're a critical personage one day, forgotten the next. So we wouldn't be fawned over. At least, we could enjoy our anniversary in peace.
Anyway, on to the wine. If I had possessed the moolah, I would have splurged on a Giacosa or Conterno Barolo. This was not possible. But I did have the $65 to own a 1996 bottle of
Produttori Barbaresco Rabaja. The Produttori of a cooperative of several small vineyards and vineyard makers. It's considered the model of coop production. Wine is aged 36 months in oak barrels and 8 months in bottles. In great vintages, nine single-vineyard Barbarescos are produced from nine classic premium sites within the Barbaresco village boundaries: Asili, Rabaja, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Paj, Montefico, Moccagatta and Rio Sordo.
Our bottle was mighty fine. It was impressive from the first sip, and got better over the ensuing two hours. The fruit (plum, cherry) was understated but rich. Behind it were notes of tobacco, dried leaves, tar, mushroom and rose. The structure was sound. The tannins were pronounced and still fairly tight. Though 11 years old, it was yet young. Still, it drank beautifully, particularly with the beef.