Joe Bastianich has a new memoir, Restaurant Man, due in Spring, a multitude of thriving restaurants across New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a hand in the market called Eataly, a few NewYork marathons and Ironman competitions under his svelte belt, and a winery, to name a few of his myriad projects. Despite his fast-paced schedule, we caught up with him recently to talk about the new SlowWineGuide hitting our shores this January–don’t miss the launch party and first stop on the national tour this January 30!–his penchant for Slow Food-approved winemaking (these days that’s called low-intervention) and why you should drink a bottle of wine a day. Slowly, of course.
Edible Manhattan: My editor just informed me that America is the largest national Slow Food chapter after Italy, and NYC is the largest city chapter after Rome. Do you think all Americans are ready to embrace low-interventionist wine, too?
Joe Bastianich: The concepts of organic have been so abused over the years, and sustainable is so vague, and then there’s “biological,” and there’s all these words we throw around, and I think it’s a very difficult and challenging concept to explain to consumers. So I think the Slow Wine guide will be good.
EM: How have you noticed that the Italian Slow Food movement has caught on in here with your eaters and drinkers? Do you think it’s meaningful to them?
JB: I think that the SlowFood movement in and of itself is a bellwether for an entire global tendency towards everyone consuming more in that kind of a sensibility–they’ve certainly been the leaders and the great communicators of what needs to be done. But the groundswell goes way beyond Slow Food now.
EM: Americans recently overtook France in wine drinking, becoming the top wine-consuming country in the world. Why do you think that is?
JB: About time! I’m a great proponent of the one-bottle-a-day rule. I think that everyone should drink one bottle of wine a day for general health in maintenance. And I think that one bottle is completely appropriate for your moderate consumption. And if everyone in this country did that, we’d double the consumption in no time!
EM: What have you learned since you started your winery in Italy back in ’97 — and why did you want to do it?
JB: I mean, it’s so many different things but obviously for me going back to Friuli and re-appropriating some of the family vineyards was pretty much kind of like turning back into my own cultural heritage and places where my family was from and it was very moving personally. But what it’s taught me is that what we want to communicate now is that wine is very much an agricultural product and drinking a glass of wine is an agricultural act, to paraphrase Wendell Berry. Our roll as winemaker is even the wrong term – we’re really guardians of a process, and all we do is tend to the vineyard and keep the cellars clean and make sure the natural processes happen in a natural way, and that the result is something that is very expressive of the earth and terroir and varietal it comes from.
EM: Is it odd to go back and forth from this to the fast-fast nature of the restaurant world?
JB: The world that we’re used to with restaurants is one of ultimate immediacy and control. We write menus and build places and what we don’t like we change and fix right away. Winemaking is something that is taking part in the annual cycle of viticulture and nature. You’re on a lifelong ride, and as you say it’s a very humbling experience, because frankly one life isn’t enough to live in the life of wine. It’s one of the few things in the world that you can only participate in it partially. You can’t even really become fully immersed in it in one lifetime.
EM: What’s are a few of your favorite grape varietals these days? Any darlings that people should be trying at the SlowWine party at the Metropolitan Pavillion?
JB: I love Chardonnay in the right context. I love Chardonnay from Chablis in Burgundy, I sometimes love Chardonnay in California. I love it in Friuli. I like some interesting Verdicchios lately. It’s another one of those Italian indigenous varietals that has a lot of nobility. And you can make great, long-lived wines with it. (See below for a list of Slow Wine guide wines for sale at Eataly.)
EM: If you were a wine, which one would you want to be, or which single grape varietal or blend best represents Mr. Joe Bastianich?
JB: Oh, Jesus…
EM: Okay, if someone were going to pour a bottle of wine on your grave, what would you like that to be?
JB: I think that aged Barolo and Nebbiolo is one of the really compulsive, ethereal experiences. It’s very elusive and very fleeting, and when it’s great? It can be truly great. So that would be the wine I’d deem a gravesite wine.
JOIN EDIBLE MANHATTAN AND SLOW FOOD ON JANUARY 30.
A sampling of Italian Slow Wine-designated producers is embarking on a cross-country tour that will visit New York on January 30. Get your tickets here, and receive a copy of the new SlowWine guide with the price of admission.
The following wines from the Slow Wine guide are available for sale at Eataly:
Librandi (from Calabria)
Le Vigne di Zamò (from Friuli Venezia Giulia)
Nino Negri (from Lombardia)
Villa Bucci (from Le Marche)
Elvio Cogno (from Piemonte)
Borgogno & Figli (from Piemonte)
Casa E. Di Mirafiore (from Piemonte)
Planeta (from Sicily)