WINE & SPIRITS
AFTER A LUCRATIVE FINANCIAL CAREER, AN OENOPHILE FALLS IN LOVE WITH ALL THINGS ITALIAN
When Joe Bastianich discusses Barolo, he might as well be talking about the love of his life. "My heart is really with Barolo," said the wine merchant and restaurateur. "Aged Barolo is one of the most powerful wines in the world, evocative of red Burgundy but sometimes even more elusive and mysterious." An awfully busy multitasker, Bastianich, with chef Mario Batali, co–owns restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas; vineyards in Italy; and an Italian wine shop and importing business. Still, he always finds time to swoon over his favorite Italian wine.
"In general, I think people drink Barolos too young," he told me over lunch at Del Posto, his acclaimed two–year–old restaurant in Manhattan's Meatpacking District. "Most great Barolos need 20, even 30 years of aging. Unfortunately, since there's never really been much of a wine aging culture in Italy, people rarely get the chance to taste a great aged Barolo. That's the experience we offer in our restaurants."
Though he was born, you might say, with a pasta spoon in his mouth—his mother is the famous cookbook author and TV chef Lidia Bastianich—his ascension into the food and wine pantheon was in no way preordained. As a young man, just out of Boston College, he worked for a time at Merrill Lynch. In the early '90s, flush with bonus cash, he quit his job and set off for a year roaming around Italy, landing jobs along the way at restaurants and wineries.
"That was like my summer of love, a free–spirited, world–at–my–feet, year–long journey," he recalled. "For a time, I lived in a small Sicilian village where in the mornings I'd help the tuna fishermen tie their nets.