Local Eateries Shine with Wine Lists
Owner and wine connoisseur Marty Levine of Martel offers diners advice and terrific wine selections.
Photos by Ryan Lavine
For every holiday event occurring through the course of one year, there are a myriad of articles zeroing in on what wine would be perfect for that celebration. Maybe its age and a stab at maturity, but I believe we should create our own special occasions, not necessarily coinciding with the ones on all of our calendars. I don’t like to be held back from enjoying a memorable wine just because the “right occasion” is not at hand. The following establishments have made special wine occasions available just by their unique offerings.
Barcelona Wine Bar // I have been drinking and learning about Spain’s great wines for many years now, and it seems I never will know it all. Thankfully we have Barcelona, with its wine bar list, offering many of Spain’s wonderful wines by the glass. Years ago I met their wine director, Gretchen Thomas. Gretchen is now the VP of Beverages for Barteca, which includes Barcelona in its roster of restaurants. For Barcelona, Gretchen did all the hard work for us (if you call eating and drinking through Spain work) and excitedly offered her new-found labels for our enjoyment. The wine program is disciplined and expansive, and designed to include both familiar and off-the-grid appellations. Portugal, Chile, and Argentina are also well represented, and the staff is knowledgeable and genuinely into helping us find the right wine for our food or fancy. At last visit, the by-the-glass list gave me 46 selections to choose from. The “Vinos Blancos” section has crisp, minerally Albarino, not-too-soft Malvasia,
Macabeo and fruity Garnacha as well as the better known Chardonnay, Riesling, and Semillon. In the “Vinos Tintos” section, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cariñena, Monastrell, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah all share space.
Paci Restaurant // Providing you have shown tremendous self-control and had only one glass of wine at Barcelona, it is worth the short drive to Paci in Southport. The recent renovation of this 22-year-old establishment with its addition of an ice cube-sleek “window box” bar has allowed Paci’s wine collection to surface from the low-ceilinged, trap-door-accessed cellar, up to a new, glassed-in, temperature-regulated display room where customers can view one of the best collections of Italian wines in the state. Owner Bob Patchen has stayed true to his belief that Italy can provide more than enough enjoyment without the addition of wines from other countries. Here special occasions can be celebrated with top Barolos, Barbarescos, Brunellos, Tuscans, and Amarones, but there are many wines on the list that are fabulous at half the price of those bullies, making them ideal for celebrating a teen’s haircut, the completion of that 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle or having Uber at our disposal.
Martel Bistro & Bar // The shared border of Italy and France mirrors that of Southport and Fairfield, in that Paci is Italian and Martel Bistro & Bar is French. The look is quaint bistro and the menu is Gallic influenced while the wine list is almost exclusively French. Martel’s wine list does what few others do, pricing wines in direct line with that of the food. The food and wine menus are unpretentious and value-oriented, because classic bistros are neighborhood hangouts, and should reflect that in pricing. Owner Marty Levine has a house in Dordogne and goes there regularly, fueling his wine inspiration. Don’t worry about unfamiliar grape names. If Picpoul de Pinet, Muscadet, Grenache, and Gamay don’t ring a bell there is Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc available. Vermentino, one of my favorite whites and almost exclusively from Italy, was delicious, bottled under the proprietor Anne Pichon. It goes by the name Rolle in southern France and Corsica, but, and I am guessing here, is wisely labeled Vermentino for an American market. A modest 65 or so labels are offered by the bottle, supported by 25 wines by the glass.
Perhaps this scenario will explain my “just do it” approach to opening wine. Recently, before a helicopter ride over Piedmont wine country, I was asked, “Are you nervous?” My answer: If it’s between my obituary stating “Helicopter crash in Italy” or “Died peacefully in his sleep” there is something imminently more readable about the former.