The wine department at Babbo shares one essential goal with the kitchen: to offer flavor sensations our guests can’t find anywhere else. In the kitchen, that means combining regional food products, Italian and American, in new and inventive ways. With wine, it’s all about finding the bottles that not only complement Mario Batali’s food but stand on their own as examples of Italy’s incredible gastronomic diversity.
The all-Italian wine list at Babbo is ever-expanding and ever-changing, just like the menu. Wine is produced in every corner of the Italian peninsula, and Babbo showcases the specialties and peculiarities of each of Italy’s 21 regions. There may be no other country in the world with as many new and exciting wines arriving on the market, and although this is old news to some, many diners are just discovering how great Italian wine can be. We want Babbo to be a place where discoveries are made, and discussions ensue. Here’s a quick look at the Babbo approach to wine.
Babbo’s wine list boasts over 2,000 selections, and that number is constantly growing. Our objectives are simple: (1) To represent all of Italy’s winemaking regions, with as many diverse styles of wine as possible; (2) To offer selections of older vintages of great wines; and (3) To refrain from discriminating based on price or style. Beyond that, we’re out to assemble the definitive selection of great Italian wines. Period.
One of the signature features of the Babbo wine program is the quartino, a new (and now widely imitated) approach to “by-the-glass” wine service. Conceived of by Joe Bastianich, the quartino is designed to evoke the casual, osteria-style wine service of Italy, while also offering guests an opportunity to experiment—and to drink better wine—while doing so.
A quartino is a small decanter that holds a quarter of a liter. That translates to one-third of a 750 mL bottle, or about a glass-and-a-half. If you don’t wish to order a whole bottle of wine, or if some people in your party want one type of wine and others something else, then the quartino offers flexibility. Often guest split a quartino or two of white wine with their appetizers, then move on to a bottle of red with their main courses.
Why not just pour wine by the single glass? For one, the quartino allows the guest to control how much wine he or she drinks at a particular time. Part of the fun of drinking wine is swirling it around in the glass, smelling it, sipping and savoring it slowly. You can’t do that if the glass is filled up to the rim. The quartino puts the control in your hands.
Then there’s the question of quality. It is not unusual for us to open older vintages of Barolo or high-end “super-Tuscans” and serve them by the quartino. This is perhaps the ultimate benefit of the program: It offers you a chance to try something you haven’t tried before, or to taste a wine you might not choose to purchase a full bottle of.
There may be no better way to experience Babbo than to try one of our two seven-course tasting menus. One is focused on pasta and the other is a more “traditional” mix of courses. In each case, these menus are offered with matching wines for each course, a great way to experience the full spectrum of flavors Babbo—and Italy—has to offer.
Our mission at Babbo is to be authoritative yet accessible, whether the topic is food or wine. Yet we are very serious about wine service. We only use the elegant stemware of Spiegelau, because there are few things more disappointing to a wine lover than drinking a great wine from a clunky glass.
Diners often look on curiously when we take a small amount of wine from a bottle, rinse out a series of glasses with it, then place the rinsed glasses on the table to be filled with the wine. This “priming” of the glasses is a little extra touch that we feel greatly enhances the wine-drinking experience. The point is to rid the glasses of off odors or other impurities, so that all you smell and taste when you take a sip is the wine.
Wine temperature, too, is something of an obsession for us. We store our extensive wine collection in temperature-controlled cellars, so that when we serve a fine, aged red wine it’s at cellar temperature—not room temperature. With whites, meanwhile, we prefer to leave them out on the tables once they’ve come out of the refrigerator. As the wine warms up slightly, it’s full spectrum of flavors come out.
Finally, we always have two sommeliers in the dining room at all times, to answer guests’ questions and offer suggestions. Our wine list is long, but it shouldn’t be intimidating, and that’s why there’s always a wine professional nearby to help.
So if you love wine, and especially Italian wine, take a look at the attached list. Maybe you can shave some time off the decision-making process by perusing it before you come in. But by all means let us know what you think, what you like, what you’d like to see. As long as the list is, and as serious as we are about the wine program, we ultimately want it to be fun, unpretentious, enlightening, and, most of all, an integral component of your meal at Babbo. What’s a good Italian meal without Italian wine?