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Pairing Sparklers with Casual Fare

Katie Morton’s strategy for choosing antipasti-friendly sparkling wines at Danny Meyer’s Vini e Fritti

Katie Morton
Photo courtesy of Vini e Fritti.

At the core of Vini e Fritti’s beverage program is the art of the Italian aperitivo. Our aim is for guests to “do as the Romans do” and adopt the custom of whetting the palate by enjoying appetizers and other light bites along with a preprandial beverage. The aperitivo concept drives our food menu—offered in both English and Italian—which divides our offerings into the categories Fritti (fried), Non-Fritti (not fried), Panini (sandwiches), and Dolci (desserts). The drinks menu is similarly formatted, with offerings listed under Aperitivi (aperitifs), Spumante al Bicchieri (sparkling wine by the glass), Vini al Bicchieri (wines by the glass), Birre (beer), and Digestivi (digestifs).

I like to recommend a spritz cocktail from the Aperitivi section to start because it’s the most refreshing. The bubbles in the drink cleanse the palate after eating rich, fatty foods like cured meats. One of my favorite spritzes on the menu is made with Cynar—an Italian bitter predominantly made from artichokes—in place of the traditional Aperol. Our Cynar Spritz offers darker and more caramelized flavors—like cinnamon and cardamom—that are great for the cooler months. Champagne is my other common go-to suggestion for a first drink, as it’s high in acid and offers a texture that makes it an ideal match for breaded fried items.

To wind things down after the meal, our Digestivi section features a diverse array of amari, which are bitter liqueurs. When creating the selection, we chose what we were most excited about, which wasn’t hard because there is a wealth of both Italian and domestic bitters to explore. The Italian amaro Sibilla, a personal favorite, is made with smoked honey from the Sibillini Mountains in the Marche region. It’s the perfect intersection—where sweet, bitter, and smoke meet simultaneously.

Lastly, for vermouth, we center in on the Vermouth di Torino (Vermouths from Turin) style. Erik Lombardo, who designed our cocktail list, uses a spirit called Punt e Mes in place of a traditional sweet red vermouth in our VF Negroni. Somewhere between an amaro and a vermouth, Punt e Mes has a pronounced bitter flavor that’s great in this cocktail.

The experience at Vini e Fritti is what you make it: You can have a pretheater glass of wine or spend a couple hours with friends, catching up and ordering small dishes to share as the night goes on.

Here are five of our most popular bottles of wine that I sold last night (prices listed are those we charge at the restaurant):

1. René Geoffroy Expression Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne, France; $98

Produced in the Vallée de la Marne, this rich sparkling wine shows a great deal of freshness. This was a key component I looked for when selecting Champagnes to pair with the fried antipasti we serve. I like to pair this one with our Mozzarella e Alici in Carozza, a fried mozzarella sandwich that’s covered in breadcrumbs and has a healthy dose of anchovy fillets inside. I had fun introducing this wine last night to a number of guests, both experts and novices. Initially, it seems very rich, but the finish is fresh. In fact, when the staff at Vini e Fritti first tasted it, their eyes lit up. Once people taste this, they begin to understand that Champagne can be rich in flavor but also light on its feet.

2. André Clouet Grand Cru, Bouzy, France, 2008; $85

Last night I offered this bottle to a group of women who knew they loved the classic and toasty styles of vintage Champagne but didn’t want the price tag that can sometimes accompany it. The value that this Champagne provides is pretty hard to beat. With almost 10 years of age, the vintage truly delivers in flavor—and is an ideal pairing for a lightly fried sweet vegetable like our Fried Delicata Squash.

3. Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena Premium, Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Italy; $45

This Lambrusco has a lighter tint, similar to that of a rosé, and is easy to drink with or without food, though it pairs wonderfully with our Salumi, Grissini, and Olives dish. This label truly sells itself: It’s easy to drink, lower in alcohol, and ridiculously refreshing. That’s the kind of thing to drink after a long day at the office, so I poured this for a number of the after-work crowd last night.

4. La Caravelle Brut Rosé, Champagne, France, NV; $65

This is a fresh and affordable rosé Champagne made by a lovely couple, André and Rita Jammet, who used to own a very famous restaurant in New York also named La Caravelle. I refer to this label as the gateway to rosé Champagne and recommended it to a four-top after a guest expressed the wish to treat his companions to a crowd-pleasing bottle. It doesn’t hurt that our Gnoccho Fritto con Prosciutto e Parmigiano made for a sensational pairing. 

5. Ulysse Collin Les Perrières, Blanc de Blancs, Congy, France; $115

Many sommeliers are in love with the wines of Ulysse Collin, and I am no different. This label is 100 percent Chardonnay, grown on silex soil, which makes it racy and mineral-forward. It’s also a nice introduction to the nuances of the variety. Last night I met a couple who’d recently been bitten by the Champagne bug, and they were beginning to explore smaller Champagne houses. I presented this label to show that not all prestige wines are made in well-known Champagne villages.

—As told to Shanika Hillocks


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Katie Morton is the wine director of Marta, Caffe Marchio, and Vini e Fritti, Union Square Hospitality Group’s Roman-inspired restaurants located in The Redbury New York hotel. She joined the Marta team after spending two years as the assistant wine director of Marta’s sister restaurant, Maialino. Before her affiliation with the Union Square group, Morton worked as a sommelier at the three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park and was a member of the opening team of The NoMad.

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