Tableside with a Somm: Branch Line
Pigeon French (Les Sablons)
Curious about restaurant wine lists? Each month, Boston Globe wine columnist Ellen Bhang chats with a sommelier about a couple terrific bottles and recommends food pairings—you come away a savvier sipper.
Every evening, Charlie Gaeta looks forward to having a particular conversation with guests. It happens like clockwork.
“At least once a night, someone will take a look at the wine list, flip it over, then put it down, saying, ‘I don’t know any of these wines.’ That’s music to my ears,” he says.
The wine director of Branch Line, a restaurant tucked inside the Watertown Arsenal and co-owned by Andrew Holden and Garrett Harker, describes his list as “a deep study of Mediterranean France and Mediterranean Italy.” The hundred-bottle endeavor, recently lauded as “Best Wine Program” by Boston Magazine, is divided into breezy categories with headers like “Pres de la Mer,” which translates as “near the sea,” and “Portofino to Provence,” referencing the coastline from Genoa to Marseille. The lineup includes some well-chosen Burgundy and Champagne for good measure, and a dozen-plus pours from the island of Corsica. Who does that? This wine pro does.
People often ask Gaeta how he came to work in wine. The Lynn native shares that he started out in investment banking, researching foreign equities. “I was fortunate to go to lots of restaurants that were opening up,” he says, recalling how he spent his early twenties as a budding gastronome in New York and Boston. A couple of years in, he realized he was envisioning a different career—as a sommelier. He left his Bloomberg computer terminal to work in restaurants. “It was the best path to understand food and wine,” he explains.
Fast forward ten years, and Gaeta’s command of wine—conveyed with unmistakable joie de vivre—is evident as he talks about two of his favorite of-the-moment selections.
A 2015 Bianco Zibibbo Vino Secco, from Azienda Agricola Serragghia, hails from the volcanic island of Pantelleria, closer to North Africa than Sicily. Crafted by Milanese architect-turned-winemaker Gabrio Bini, zibibbo grapes (the regional name for the varietal muscat of Alexandria) are organically farmed to make this skin-contact white. “It’s remarkably fresh, even with its time in amphora,” Gaeta says, referring to how the wine ages in a clay vessel. The textured white, which he describes as “ripe and aromatic, with a heady florality,” is excellent with the restaurant’s signature herbaceous and salt-kissed rotisserie chicken, or with a hefty pork blade steak sporting wood-fired char.
Another lovely selection is crafted at the western end of Liguria, along the Italian Riviera. Winegrower Danila Pisano restored her family’s ancient estate, including its terraced vineyards, perched at elevations of 800 feet above the municipalities of Soldano and Perinaldo. Her 2015 Localita Savoia is made from certified organic rossese di Dolceacqua, an old-vine varietal related to tibouren in the French South.
Gaeta describes this Italian red as “lighter-bodied and fruit-forward.” It sees no new oak, and is served delightfully cool, at cellar temperature. A versatile pour, it pairs beautifully with fish—try it alongside the restaurant’s grilled branzino plated with olives and green harissa. It’s also an excellent match with a platter of roasted eggplant and chickpeas, sauced with a red pepper and Marcona almond romesco. As with all of his selections, the somm captures the distinctive bottle in a few words—this time with a nod to the grape of Beaujolais.
“It’s like gamay hang-gliding around the Ligurian coast,” Gaeta says. “It’s a red to drink all summer long.”