OPERA GLASSES

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The Wine-List Inspector: after a night at La Scala, Tim Atkin follows the locals to a restaurant with more than 1,400 bins...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2012

Ask a Milanese to name the best restaurant in a city famous for food, and many will choose Cracco on Via Victor Hugo, just around the corner from La Scala opera house. It’s known for the quality of Matteo Baronetto’s creative cooking, but the wine list—put together by the former world-champion sommelier Luca Gardini and now overseen by his successor, Massimo Di Chiaro—is also first class.

Cracco’s list is one of those leatherbound, bicep-building tomes that seem to be almost obligatory in Michelin-starred restaurants. I sometimes feel they are intended to impress rather than inform, but that’s not the case here. The list is certainly long, running to more than 1,400 bins, but there is very little duplication, and a host of palate-watering verticals of different wines.

Mature bottles are part of what makes Cracco’s list so enticing. Fancy trying a 1968 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, a 1983 Fonseca Port or a 1940 Yquem? They are all here. But it’s the breadth and precision of the selection that really matters. Leafing through its pages, I found myself nodding in approval on numerous occasions. Even the trophy wines are from good vintages, while those poured by the glass must be some of the most up-market in Italy. But Cracco has resisted the temptation to cover the entire vinous globe. Sweet and fortified wines from Austria, Portugal and Hungary aside, its list is almost exclusively French and Italian, and in that order.

The problem—if that’s the word—with long lists is that they need someone to help you navigate them. Fortunately, Di Chiaro is a well-informed guide. With the dégustation menu, which included tricky dishes for matching with wine—such as sea scallop, green asparagus and smoked tea, or crunchy sugar cannoli, gianduja and beer—he served five different wines by the glass.

I asked that they should all be Italian, but otherwise left the choice to him. We had the tangy, bone-dry fizz of the 2006 Faccoli Franciacorta Dosage Zero to start, followed by the minerally, Chablis-like 2010 Benanti Etna Bianco di Caselle from Sicily; the rich, spicy 2008 Vigneti Massa Colli Tortonesi Sterpi, made from the rare Timorasso grape; the elegant, red-fruits scented 2008 Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore Grumello Sasso Rosso; and, with a chocolate and water melon sorbet to finish, the sweet, dried fig-like 2008 La Biancara Recioto di Gambellara.

In short, this is a must-visit establishment, with an equally impressive wine list. As with opera, the Milanese clearly know their restaurants.
ristorantecracco.it; around €250 for two

THE COMPETITION

Rovello 18 (its name is its address) is five minutes from La Scala, but is more than worth the post-opera stroll. This is a welcoming, wine-lovers’ trattoria, with bare wooden floors, modern art on the walls and one of the best lists in the city. There are 620 bins, mostly from Italy and France, but with odd bottles from Slovenia, Georgia and Lebanon. Old vintages (many from the owner’s personal cellar) are a speciality and the prices are very reasonable indeed.

Trussardi alla Scala, on the other hand, is so close to the opera house that you’re almost in the stalls. Whether you choose to have a drink at the bar—a great posing and people-watching spot—or eat in the airy first-floor restaurant, you’ll love the experience. The list is excellent, with a focus on Italy and Burgundy, but covering the world from New Zealand to Israel. The 230 wines of the day are housed in a glass cube; if you want something from the longer list, be prepared to wait.
Via Rovello 18, +39 02 72 09 37 09; trussardiallascala.com

Tim Atkin is a Master of Wine who has won more than 20 awards for his wine writing

Illustration Chris Price