Though New World wines are undoubtedly punching with the best in 2018, I’ve always been enamoured with Old World reds – particularly Italian. Of course, South America produces some outstanding bottles (Chilean Carmènère, Argentinian Malbec), some English sparkling wines have begun to seriously compete French Champagne and New Zealand is quickly becoming the home of Sauvignon Blanc.
But there’s just something about Italian reds which reaffirms my belief that – as Ernest Hemingway said – “wine is the most civilised thing in the world”. Calabrian Ciró made with Gaglioppo grapes; Piedmontese ‘King and Queen of wines’ Barolo and Barbaresco; Tuscan Chianti typically ensnared in squat bottles, snuggled by straw fiascos; and dry, concentrated Amarone from Veneto, produced with dried grapes. Slightly fizzy Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna even has its moments – not to be confused with Lambrini, unfit to be considered potable.
A new restaurant at the Olympia end of Kensington High Street, Enoteca Rosso has a broad wine list, exclusively focussing on wines produced in Italy. Here, the list isn’t so much a “vaffanculo!” to modern producers, but an extensive love letter to the vineyards and producers of Italy. Divided into 14 regions (including Sicily and Sardinia), the list begins with a strong by-the-glass section, followed by a plethora of democratically priced bottles – beginning at a very sensible £22, stretching up to the £150 mark, with bigger bottles up to £480. An additional selection of fine wines is also served. While young, juicy Italian reds are particularly trendy, this is not Polpo. Instead, Enoteca Rosso clearly champions older vintages. A quick headcount tallies more than 260 wines, with over 30 available by the glass.
During a wet Wednesday evening, the airy former bank is relatively crowded, becoming busier as the evening progresses. Triangular hives shelving hundreds (possibly thousands) of bottles stretch from the floor-to-ceiling, acting as the main interior design feature. Elsewhere, the building has some mosaic flooring, bright lighting and a high coffered ceiling dramatised by the low seating. Milanese Claudio Gelmani seems very much in charge of the front of house operations, and is on hand to discuss the menu at length, with great passion – towering over us like the Empire State building, making me feel as though I’m playing basketball at school again. At a derisory 5’9’’, I spend much of my life looking up at people; but the contrast between my low perch and Gelmani’s monumental stature makes me feel like a first harvest Sangiovese grape, ready to be crushed for winemaking.
Dinner begins with glasses of Piedmontese Ruche’ Di Castagnole Monferrato “Prono Bis”, 2014, elegant with delicate notes of fruit and spice; and Tuscan Cedro Chianti Rufina DOCG, 2015: soft, fresh, slightly vegetal, prominent with sour cherry notes and with a herbal finish. These accompany a steak tartare which showcases Piedmontese Fassona – arguably some of the best beef in the world. A true celebration of the white, muscular cattle, the dish comprises raw beef dice, pressed into a hockey puck. Although simple, like all of the best Italian food, the tartare cries out for some more generous seasoning and a punch of tabasco; though the ‘Nduja flecked mayonnaise, on the side, is absolutely inspired.
Elsewhere on the Northern Italian-inspired menu, an array of charcuterie and cheese boards are served alongside dishes available in three sizes: “small to taste”, “medium to indulge”, “large to share”. Envelopes of ravioli are filled with broccoli and ricotta. The pasta is favourably al dente, but somewhat flabby. Crowning ‘sausage crumble’ acts as necessary seasoning, and the butter sauce is glossy, but it lacks some of the chilli suggested by the menu description. Pappardelle is similarly on the thick side, al dente and embellished with the most comforting wild boar ragù I’ve enjoyed. Richer than LeBron James, the wild boar melts on the tongue and is liberally spiced with cloves and a possible suggestion of juniper. The ragù is even more delightful teamed with a glass of Valpolicella DOC Classico Superiore Ripasso, 2015, from the province of Verona. Well-structured, full-bodied and complex, this is an exceptionally versatile wine. Savours of red fruit are joined by some soft vanilla and tobacco, complete with silky tannins.
From the menu’s meat heading, a small-portion harbours a lamb cutlet crusted with smashed pistachio nuts. The lamb is served pink, but the fat demands to be rendered further. Joining the lamb, an unattractive mound of beetroot and potato mash is Play-Doh pink, but tastes heavily of earthy beetroot, refreshingly contrasting the lamb. This is followed by a dessert of hazelnut mousse peaks arranged into a fortress, convoyed by some flaked almonds, a whisper of mascarpone and a heavy-handed shower of sea salt. Like a pleasingly salty Ferrero Rocher, the dessert is amongst the best thing eaten.
With friendly, laid-back service and a menu of North Italian comfort food, the key focus here clearly lies with the wine: thus making Enoteca Rosso more of a noteworthy wine bar bolstered by a reasonable comfort food offering.
Enoteca Rosso can be found at 276-280 Kensington High Street, London, W8 6ND.