Lunch at Zampa

Margaret and I rode the train downtown to visit Joe in his new digs. He’d recently moved his architecture firm from Bleeker St. near the Bowery to W. 13th off 8th, not far from the meatpacking district. After a brief tour, ending on the roof, with its river views, we strolled across the street to Zampa, where Joe was already a made man. It is a small pleasant Italian eatery, specializing in cheeses, cured meats, pastries, and lovely meals from the kitchen – just the sort of place Joe loves.

At a table in the back, near the kitchen, we were greeted by the co-owner, Lauren Schaefer. If I got the story straight, Joe’s partner, George, wanted more variety in rosés than Zampa offered. One day this winter, to be helpful, George brought over a Provencal rosé he really liked. Lauren was obliged to point out that the wine was French, not Italian. So it was that we ordered the Italian rosé, or rather rosato, or more precisely, as it said on our bottle, chiaretto, meaning light red. Just to nail it down, the winemaker called it Ciaret, a Piedmontese variant.

The wine was 2009 Luca Ferraris Monferrato Chiaretto, “very near,” said Joe, “to where my people come from.” The wines that carry the Monferrato DOC can pretty much be anything. This shouldn’t surprise drinkers of Italian wine, where ancient practices of farmer thrift produced Amarone, and white wine is allowed in Chianti, and the grapes don’t even have to be Italian anymore, as in Super Tuscans and other IGTs competing head-on with DOCGs. In the case of Monferrato, no IGT is necessary.

Our wine was a blend of indigenous grapes of the Piemonte, made using the saignée method. When the grapes are pressed, the pinkish liquid is drawn off, or bled, as it were. Winemakers in Bordeaux might do this to make a more concentrated red in an off year. Winemakers in Italy might do the same thing, only they’d vinify the drawn off juice into a chiaretto, such as we were drinking. In our case, the wine is a blend of Dolcetto, for acidity, Barbera for fruit, and Ruchè, an obscure varietal contributing tannic structure. It is that structure that is mostly missing in French rosés, except those, like Mas de Gourgonnier, winner of last year’s Rosé Derby, that are allowed to blend in Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wine was tawny pink with an orange tinge, probably due to its age. It showed a range of flavors, from berries to white fruit, and had a dry, satisfying finish. I was totally happy with it as accompaniment to Lasagna Bolognese, made with beef, pork, Béchamel and parmigiano. The flavors and texture took me back to our travels in Florence and Rome, and the trattorias of yesteryear. Joe had the day’s special baked polenta with mushrooms; Margaret had a pear and walnut salad on baby arugula with gorgonzola vinaigrette. Neither complained about the wine either.

We were ready to pass on dessert with our coffee, but we ordered a hazelnut delectation instead, and with it Lauren poured a taste of Moscato. I didn’t see the bottle, but it was a lovely sweet sparkler to top off a very sweet meal at Zampa.

Back on West 13th St., we bid grazia-arrivederci to Joe. He went back to work and we went west. It was a beautiful, if a bit too windy, day. Feeling well-met and well-fed, we walked a bit on the High Line, before cabbing home for a nap.

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