From the day we opened Bellavitae, Casanova di Neri was one of the most important wineries on our wine list. We went through cases and cases of Giacomo Neri’s wine, from the Rosso, to White Label, the Tenuta Nuova, Pietradonice, and finally the Cerretalto. Giacomo was a frequent guest at Bellavitae and our guests loved his wines!
Wine Spectator magazine named the 2001 Tenuta Nuova Brunello di Montalcino the best wine in the world a few years ago. How can you top that? With the 2006 vintage, which James Suckling describes:
“a perfect wine with everything in proportion from the ripe fruit and fine tannins to the bright acidity and rich alcohol . . . 100 points.”
Click here to watch a quick interview and tasting with James Suckling and Giacomo in his dinning room in Montalcino. See Giacomo’s emotional response when James tells him the wine is perfection.
“So much ripe fruit here with currants and sultanas, yet fresh and very clean. Dark berries too. Incredible ripe Sangiovese character. Full body, with masses of fruit and chewy tannins. Plus, there’s black licorice and dried berries. Give it time to soften. What a bottle. Will it ultimately be better than 2001 Tenuta Nuova? Yes. Best after 2013”
I believe that Giacomo has been a successful winemaker because he’s a farmer at heart. The great wines are first made in the vineyard, not the cellar. Casanova di Neri isn’t always easy to find, as the vintages usually sell out. I see that wine.com has the 2005 Tenuta Nuova vintage still in stock. To purchase, click here.
Authenticity is the transformative force right now. The best wines made today — the most persuasive wines — come from the regions, the zones and, above all, the producers and consumers where the demand for authenticity is strongest.
Conversely, many of today’s shallowest, most facile wines are created by winegrowers — and sometimes celebrated by wine critics — who dismiss, disregard or are even contemptuous of authenticity.
Those who refuse to acknowledge authenticity — either as producers, critics or consumers — are certainly numerous. But look around: Are they convincing anyone? Growers who use reverse osmosis and spinning cones to deconstruct and reconstruct their wines are furtive, not evangelical, while those who pursue authenticity are winning the proverbial hearts and minds and, not least, palates.
Today’s transformation of fine wine is rooted in authenticity. Because without a belief in, and an adherence to, authenticity, why bother?
It’s been nearly six years since we signed our lease on Minetta Lane and prepared to open Bellavitae. Looking back, many of our concepts seem cliché now, but at the time, we were one of the pioneers in New York’s restaurant scene. Perhaps we were not always the first with these ideas, but Bellavitae undoubtedly influenced the city’s dining experience. The sincerest form of flattery comes to mind, as many of our original concepts are ubiquitous now, such as:
The Chef’s Bar (we called it “the sushi bar” until the day we opened)
Cooking in a wood-burning oven (although we never did pizza)
Using only seasonal, organic, and local produce whenever possible
Dishes prepared for sharing, especially appetizers, in a non-tapas restaurant
A high-quality wine selection at every price point
When the recession hit in late 2007, we immediately began to change our model to reflect the new business environment (a Wall Street background helped). I began to wear many more hats than before, and soon I was working well over 14 hours a day – every day. Over the next two years, we found ourselves in a position where, in order to continue the restaurant in our current space and within negative economic conditions, we would need either to significantly raise our prices or lower our quality – neither of which appealed to me. So in July of this year, I decided to close our location on Minetta Lane.
Our Amazing Guests
Thousands of people have visited Bellavitae over the years and, of course, scores of relationships now bless our lives. The remarkable diversity of guests who came to Bellavitae reflected one commonality: a love of good food and wine in the Italian style, prompting an almost cult following that has been simply magical.
We had the opportunity to develop friendships with many in the food and wine world; and were honored to serve numerous influential individuals, such as:
Rose Levy Bernanbaum
Anna Tasca Lanza
Mary Ellen Ward
I’ve never been star struck, but it was always fun to have famous people in the restaurant, many of whom became regulars. Previously, I respected their privacy by not publicizing their patronage, but now it seems appropriate to include them in my reminiscing:
Authors / Publishing World
Journalists / Columnists
The New York Giants
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Mary Louise Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker
Billy Bob Thornton
Occasionally we held events at Bellavitae, and three stand out:
Judy Rodgers from San Francisco’s Zuni Café held a private dinner at Bellavitae and cooked some of her favorite dishes. Her cookbook remains one of my favorites and I’ll always be grateful for her kind invitation to visit Zuni and cook for a few weeks before we opened Bellavitae.
A Night in Sicily was a memorable evening when Anna Tasca Lanza prepared dinner for guests and paired wines from the Regaleali estate with dishes that came from her various cookbooks. We named one of the dishes from that event in her honor, and the dish remained our menu’s number-one bestseller until the day we closed.
Perhaps the most memorable event was in the spring of 2007 when we invited the Tre Bicchieri winners to Bellavitae after their annual tasting at the Puck Building. We prepared a great Italian feast and they brought their award-winning wines – and what a night it was. I don’t remember the menu now, but I do remember most of those who attended, and I’m not sure there has ever been a collection of such prestigious winemakers in one place outside of Italy that wasn’t some sort of promotion. This was all about having fun. I don’t think the following is a complete list of those who attended, but it sure is an impressive one:
We simply had wonderful food, award-winning and incomparable wines, and great camaraderie. How Italian is that?
On Becoming a Chef
What I’ve learned most through our experience on Minetta Lane is how difficult it is to prepare simple food in a restaurant setting. The quintessence of traditional Italian cooking is its simplicity, along with proper technique and using the highest quality ingredients.
Eating in the Italian style is about celebrating the garden rather than “sophisticated” manipulation in the kitchen. In traditional Italian cuisine, there are no complex sauces to hide behind, no short cuts on technique, and nothing available to mask improper balance or inferior ingredients. Nevertheless, after six years, the ability to perform this challenging task consistently became almost second nature to us and it’s a skill that I now proudly think of as proprietary; it is perhaps my greatest personal asset.
There are too many individuals to thank for me to include in this post, and I hope to reach out to each person in the near future. The many people who have come into my life because of Bellavitae touches my heart and will always be a part of my soul. From staff to guests and to all of those listed above, I will be forever grateful.
I don’t think of Bellavitae as a destination, a restaurant, or even a way of life. It’s simply a way of enjoying Italian food and wine. So keep an eye on this blog, as I will continue to write about Italy’s greatest gift to the world.
So what happens next? All I can say is look for Bellavitae in the future – and look in unexpected places.