With a lot of attention given to vineyards found sprawling throughout the Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara, I tend to forget about the other varietals. These “other” varietals are not the full-bodied zinfandels and inky petite sirahs found throughout California. I’m talking about the rare and undiscovered wines that have existed for centuries—the ones so few of us have had the opportunity to enjoy. I’m talking the wines of Italy, a complex and often hard-to-understand wine-producing country, which happens to be home to hundreds of different varietals and regions. These mysterious wines can be found all over Italy, tucked away in tiny villages surrounded by mountains as old as time, or grown side-by-side with blossoming olive trees on a warm rolling hillside.
Here’s a little secret: they can be found on almost all worldly wine lists, usually for a fraction of the price of a 100-point pinot noir. Italian wines offer flavors that can be simple and refreshing, and tastes that stand toe-to-toe with the greatest wines of our time.
Below is list of my favorite Italian restaurants in Orange County. Each of these fosters an Italian wine list, some small and precise, others enormous and grand.
Capone’s Cucina: In Huntington Beach, Capone’s has been around since the ‘90s. Its charming wine list focuses on bottles from Piedmont and Tuscany, offering prices that are extremely reasonable for the quality. Single vineyard Barolo and brunello di Montalcino are just a few of the selections offered.
Pizzeria Ortica: Celebrity chef David Myers’ Pizzeria Ortica is in Costa Mesa. The main cuisine here is—you guessed it—pizza. With a boutique wine list, Pizzeria Ortica is not afraid to bring obscure selections to the table. Keep an eye out for such gems as aglianico from Basilicata and lagrein from the Alto Adige.
Andrea at the Pelican Hill: Looking for a splurge meal? Try Andrea, tucked into the Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach. The wine list is by no means humble, but it offers the best that Italy has to offer—from Super Tuscans to amarone della Valpolicella, it lists them all!
Pizzeria Mozza: Just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, Pizzeria Mozza offers one of the greatest Italian wine lists around. Sommelier Patton Penhallegon specializes in sourcing from such fine importers as Gran Fondo Wine Co., Rosenthal, and Kermit Lynch, bringing the most allocated wines to his list, all at extremely competitive pricing.