Marco Pasanella was a successful interior designer until he decided to quit his job to open a wine shop in 2006 in NYC, Pasanella and Son. That, of course, was just the beginning—then came making his own wine in the Italian town of Camaiore (called Pasanella & Figlio) and writing the fantastic, envy-inducing book Uncorked, detailing the scary, exciting, and unexpected process of it all. Need I even go on?
Our fifth Tastemaker has not only traveled extensively in Italy, but is intrigued by food and wine around the world, from Croatia to Shanghai. He and his wife also have heaps of gumption—opening up shop in the South Street Seaport. When they arrived it was the Fulton Fish Market, now it's an up-and-coming neighborhood. So, we've got guts, foresight, and a passion for food and wine. Oh, and style. They've got a slick little vintage car in the middle of the shop that displays rows and rows of bottles. We lived vicariously through him when we poured over his book. Now we sort of wish he'd plan our perfect Italian itinerary, complete with tips on great bottles to smuggle home.
Here's where he's been, where he's headed, and what he always packs with him.
What's your favorite wine region to visit in Italy, and...any highlights you can recommend?
I love the Maremma, and not just because it's where we make our Pasanella & Figlio wines! This southern region of Tuscany is often overlooked by tourists busy with the region's more famous destinations (Florence, Siena, San Gimingnano, Chianti, etc.). But Italians treasure its unspoiled nature. The Maremma is large and wild and gorgeous. No wonder Sergio Leone shot his Spaghetti Westerns here.
Capalbio is a beautiful hilltop town. Monte Argentario, the peninsula around Grosseto is home to the swanky (and stunning) beach towns of Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano. While you're there, try their delicious Morellino di Scansano, a sangiovese made on the other side of Monte Amiata from its more famous (and way more expensive) cousin Brunello di Montalcino.
Beyond Italy, what's the most interesting wine region you've visited?
I love Condrieu, the Rhone town famous for its white wine in a wine-growing area more well-known for its reds. But to any true oenophile, their aromatic viogniers are amongst the world's most special wines. On one particular visit to this region, I splurged and stayed over at Le Beau Rivage, a chic hotel with flower laden balconies over looking the Rhone. At a table by river, I sipped Chateau Grillet, perhaps the most coveted wine of the area, as I munched on boudin blanc. That night remains one of the best treats I ever gave myself.
What advice would you give a traveler on their first wine trip?
Pace yourself. Just pick a few places. Avoid the big names and their attendant crowds. Get a driver.
Which emerging wine region are you most excited about, and why?
Croatia. Ok, it just happens to be next door to Italy. Some old Italians would even claim that it's part of Italy as Fiume, which the peninsula was at one time. The real attraction of Croatia is the clime. Some of Italy's best whites (with prices to match) come from just over the border. And Croatia has the potential to offer the same quality at drastically lower cost. I love an up-and-comer.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Besides calling home, I get on my bike and ride. It gives me a great opportunity to scope out the area, fast enough to cover ground, slow enough to peer over fences. While riding, I find it easy to make friends and find out the local scoop on where best to eat and drink.
What upcoming trips are you most excited about?
Japan. I have always been fascinated with the culture. And I can't wait to learn more about sake, which I love but about which I am embarrassingly ignorant!
Where are your favorite places to drink wine in NYC (besides your in-house enoteca)?
I love Via Emilia on 21st Street. The owner, William Mattiello, comes from Modena, the Italian city best known for fast cars and lambrusco. He brings in many of his own selections from micro-producers and makes authentic dishes to match.
If you could open a wine shop in any other city in the world, where would you go? (And why?)
If I were hell bent on empire, I guess I would open a location in Shanghai, one of the hottest emerging markets for wine. But in my heart, I'd rather open one in Camaiore, our town in Italy, and offer great small production American wines that the Italians never get to taste!
What is one thing you never travel without?
A toothbrush—especially when tasting tooth-staining red wine.
Photo credits: Photo courtesy of Marco Pasanella; Croatia via Shutterstock