My wife’s complaint rang stingingly in my ear. It was a fair criticism. I had just poured her another of my experimental bottle purchases and it was quite disappointing. For months I had failed to bring home a wine that impressed her Tuscany-leaning palate.
Given that I occasionally write and incessantly talk about Italian wine, it was a blow to my ego. This had to be rectified. Fortunately for me, we had planned an trip to Palm Springs. Several celebratory dinners were on the agenda giving me ample opportunities to find the right bottle.
Palm Springs was bursting at the seams with spring breakers and locals who seemed to finally be peeking out after months inside. The result of this newfound enthusiasm for dining was a complete catastrophe on OpenTable. Nowhere had seating after 5 or before 9. A small old-school Italian restaurant, Al Dente, saved our evening with a reservation outside at a reasonable time.
Lots has been said in defense of red sauce joints. I can’t even define this type of establishment. But as Supreme Court Justice Stewart once said, I know one when I see one. The food is always somewhere between traditional Italian and the heavier American immigrant interpretations cooked by first and second-generation Nonnas across the country.
I’ll just add that these restaurants’ utter lack of hipness and honest portion sizes are increasingly rare and appreciated. While so many other restaurants appear to want to separate you from your money for the fewest possible calories, places like Al Dente still want to feed their diners.
Imagine that. A restaurant where you might find satisfaction.
Al Dente surprised me with a tiny but thoughtful list of wine options. Apart from a helpful set of $9 house reds and whites by the glass, the list had only 10 wines. However, among these was a Falanghina del Sannio from Campania that tempted my mother in law away from Chardonnay. My love for the whites of Campania is well documented.
For reds, the 2015 Contucci Nobile di Montepulciano stood out as the bold move to redress my recent vinous misfires. Priced at $60, I must admit I hesitated and nearly chose a Chianti or a Rosso di Montalcino for less money. But Nobile has potential to be great. There are relatively few producers in the small area and my impression is that the bigger Italian wine houses have not yet come in and diluted the product. Whereas Brunellos are always over $50 retail and are not always worth their pricetag, great Nobiles can be had for $30 retail.
I took the plunge. With the food priced so generously, so why not take a shot? This wine was a classic Nobile that overdelivered. It immediately wowed my wife, who prefers earth, leather, and tannin to wrap around a sangiovese wine’s dark cherry core. Nobile wines are of unique biotype of Sangiovese called Prugnolo Gentile. Wines from this version of sangiovese always seems a touch deeper and more brooding than even good Chianti Riservas.
The 2015 Contucci delivered so generously that we ended up with two bottles on the table by the end of the night. It turns out this wine is imported locally by Specialty Cellars in Santa Fe Springs. Using their site I found the wine at a shop across LA in Claremont for $27.99. Al Dente had barely marked it up by 100%. Score another win for the venerable red sauce joints across the country.