Tableside with a Somm: Craigie on Main
The Herb Lyceum at Gilson's
Oryza 75 (PAGU)
Curious about restaurant wine lists? Each month, Boston Globe wine columnist Ellen Bhang chats with a sommelier about a few terrific bottles and recommends food pairings. You’ll come away a savvier sipper.
Carl York talks about wine with the gravitas and swagger of a seasoned pro. It’s no wonder that his wine list at Craigie on Main advances a definite point of view.
“Tony’s food is pretty opinionated,” says the Cambridge restaurant’s director of operations, speaking of chef-owner Tony Maws’ innovative, French-inspired fare. “So I do that too when it comes to the beverages.”
Populating a 300-plus bottle list comes down to having a specific vision. While York includes pours that he calls “a little nerdy,” the wine program exemplifies distinctive Old World authenticity. “I feel really obligated to represent classic regions that are historically relevant and important,” says the sommelier.
One of those bottles is a 2013 Weingut Peter Lauer “Unterstenberg” riesling, from Germany’s Saar region, not far from where the Saar and Mosel Rivers meet. There Florian Lauer continues the traditions of the enterprise’s namesake vintner—his grandfather—growing the noble white grape on the hillside of Ayler Kupp.
When this bottle arrives at the table, attentive guests inquire about the front label, which reads “Unterstenbersch.” York explains: Due to the particularities of German wine law, the winemaker, for years, was prevented from using the historic site-specific name of Unterstenberg. Instead, he used a dialect form of the word—“Unterstenbersch”—to be rules-compliant. That was a wink and a nod to German riesling enthusiasts, who knew the vineyard site to which he referred. “The wine is delicious,” says York, explaining that its residual sugar is balanced by precise acidity, allowing it to drink beautifully dry. It’s excellent with what York calls the restaurant’s “ever-changing” ceviche. A recent version featured Florida pink shrimp, salmon belly, minced chili pepper, and plenty of lime juice to “cook” the pristinely raw seafood.
A handsome 2010 red, from producer Antonio Vallana e Figlio, hails from the Boca appellation in Alto Piemonte. In this corner of northwestern Italy, about a hundred miles north of Barolo, the wine’s nebbiolo grape goes by the name spanna. “It has the fragrance of rose and tar,” says York, describing it as a “lighter, medium-plus body” version with a splash of vespolina and uva rara. York admires the family’s fourth- and fifth-generation winemakers, who honor their heritage by being meticulous in the vineyard rather than manipulating wines in a laboratory. “It’s entirely cliché, but it’s good with beef,” he says of the red. “I can’t come up with a ‘wine geek’ quip that makes that not true.” Chef Maws’ ribeye—with marbling made nutty from aging—certainly fits the bill.
Portuguese winemaker Filipa Pato grows bical, an indigenous white grape, between the Dão region and the Atlantic Ocean in Bairrada. She farms biodynamically and practices minimal intervention in the cellar to craft a 2014 “Post-Quercus” Vinho Branco. It offers a bit of grip, leading York to suspect that the juice from the crushed grapes soaks with the skins before the wine is routed into clay amphorae for aging.
“Whether it’s at the restaurant or at my house, I always think about skin-contact whites for those times when you say, ‘You know? I want a red, but this dish wants a white,’” York says. That textural element makes this pour outstanding alongside Maws’ pork dishes, one of which recently showcased cuts of brined-then-roasted shoulder, cured belly, and a crisp-fried rib.
York, who dislikes describing any wine as masculine or feminine, characterizes Pato’s pours as “pure” and “made with a lighter hand” than those of her famous winemaking father Luis Pato. “I’m fascinated by her wines and her story,” enthuses York, noting that the winegrower’s tagline translates as “authentic wines without makeup.”
The wine pro could be talking about all of the pours in this trio—astutely chosen, genuinely delicious, and unmistakably Craigie on Main.