[Free stuff by Wilfrid: July 31, 2010]
Would it be fair to describe Spina as an Avenue B sleeper? This Italian yearling, in the space which housed Uovo, then briefly Panificio, serves fresh pasta (made in the dining room) and well "curated" meats and cheeses.
But one of the first things I noticed when it opened is that it takes New York State wines seriously.
So it seemed entirely congruous for Damiani to show its wines in Spina's cool dining room one hot afternoon recently, and I jumped at an invitation to taste. Spina's engagingly affable sommelier Rob Terek has a memory like a steel trap, and descended on me when I arrived to tell me which of the Damiani wines I'd drunk when I dined at Spina many months ago. I am sure he was right. I do remember that he was very persuasive about the quality and competitive pricing of certain New York reds, a type of wine I'd spent years overlooking.
Damiani Wine Cellars is located in the Finger Lakes. It makes wine from the vineyards owned by Lou Damiani and his partner Phil Davis (who presented the wines at Spina), as well as blending wines from grapes sourced from other local wine-growers. Surprisingly to me (although I may just be slow), Damiani was a red wine maker from the get go. Whites were a later addition to their portfolio.
Of the three whites I tried here, the Riesling was the star, a burst of fruit flavor, plenty of mouth prickle (if that's the term) and an interestingly long finish. The Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer were light, quaffable. I was very happy with the sparkler, a Pinot Noir-Chardonnay blend, estimated around $25 retail.
Spina had set out appealing snacks on the bar, featuring splendid fresh goat cheese brought down by Phil Davis himself. I chewed cheese and salami before tasting the reds. I am impressed that such a range of red varietals can be grown with any success in a relatively small area with - if I understood Phil correctly - fairly consistent terroir characteristic (soil, climate, and so on...). At this tasting, we cruised through two Pinots (the Reserve a single vineyard wine), a Merlot, a Cabernet Franc, a Meritage and two Cabs.
The regular Pinot is a big seller for Spina. Like the Methode Champenoise, Spina puts it on its list for barely twice retail - $48 - which makes it an attractive proposition for diners. It's a restrained, polite Pinot in the French rather than new world style, with distinct minerality underlying the fruit. I'd as happily drink this as the more expensive Reserve, although the latter might be well be more interesting with a few years on it (all wines tasted were 2007 or younger).
Of the remaining reds, the Cabs were the revelation. The Barrel Select especially was an eye opener, the wine which made me step back from the table and reflect. With structure, and big bacony secondary flavors following up the fruit, could easily pass for a good Bordeaux. The only problem is, good luck finding it. I have looked and still don't know where it retails (if I find out I'll tell you).