Thursday, July 14, 2016


Wine Spectator, said to be the leading authority on wine, recently announced the winners of 2016 Restaurant Awards with Howard Beach’s Vetro Restaurant getting another “the Best of Award of Excellence” (two wine glasses).


These awards recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, appeal to a wide range of wine lovers, as well as being appropriate to their cuisine.  According to Wine Spectator, “To qualify for an award, a wine list must present complete, accurate information, including vintages and appellations for all selections. Complete producer names and correct spellings are mandatory, and the overall presentation of the list is also considered.” There are three awards:  Award of Excellence; Best of Award of Excellence and Grand Award.   
PJ Connelly is both the General Manager and sommelier of this multi-award winning Italian Restaurant that warrants their gold stars just for the décor.   Located at 164-49 Cross Bay Blvd., Vetro sits along the canal.  The main floor has both indoor and outdoor seating as well as a lounge with a bar. In fact, this is where their Wine Emotion Dispensing System is located.  It keeps the wine fresh and temperature controlled after opening.

If the wine menu doesn’t impress you, take a look at the wine cellar room.   One long wall houses the red wines as most of the wine offerings tend to be red or rose, a preference of customers.  That doesn’t take away from another wall of white wines.  Private parties and events are held in this room for the atmosphere alone. 

PJ launched me through a wine tasting.  First let me say that I am not much of a wine drinker, although I have done many wine tastings both in restaurants and at wineries including some in Italy and South Africa.  I prefer to use a spittoon when I am sampling several wines.  This is much different than ordering a “flight of wines”.  Secondly, I tend to steer away from reds as I have a sensitivity towards the tannins. 

We began with a Veneto region Prosecco di Treviso Brut by Villa Jolanda. This light sparkling wine is meant to be drank young and fresh with less acidity than a champagne.  

For those who have not experienced a wine tasting here are the steps.  Wine must never be poured as a full glass as it is best to have room for air.  Hold the glass from the top of the stem so that the heat from your hand does not interfere.  Look at the wine to view the clarity.  Swish the wine to not only allow more oxygen but view how it falls along the glass.  This helps to get a sense of the weight of the particular wine. Tip the glass to your nose and yes, you can put your nose into the glass.   Take a deep breath to determine what is called “the nose” or “aroma”.  Do you get floral, citrus, fruity, earthly?  Now sip less than a mouthful and swish it as if you were swishing mouth wash.  If you are doing the spittoon scene, you will still get enough wine to go to the back of the tongue and in the throat.   When a waiter presents wine for tasting, do the same with a mouthful and simply swallow. 

In this tasting we are going from the Iightest to the fullest.  I was curious as to whether having a Sauvignon Blanc from Italy (Friuli) would taste any different from one coming from New Zealand.  They each had both a different nose and taste, one being more fruity.  

PJ said Italian wines beg to have food.   Twist my arm, I was able to sample two homemade Pastas of the Month eating small amounts after each wine tasting.  Gnocchi with Veal and Chicken Ragu made with potato, flour, eggs and extra virgin olive oil plus onions, garlic, fresh herbs, white wine and tomato. 

The second was Spinach Gnudi made with ricotta, fresh spinach, eggs, grated aged Parmesan cheese and flour plus shallots, butter, wild mushrooms cream and truffle oil. 

Back to the wines with La Segreta by La Planeta made using Grecanico grapes from Siciily.  This showed how the weights differed lasting longer on the palate.  A floral Sicilian wine that is “mineral” and “earthy”.   PJ now reveals the secret of wine and food having a balance of fat and acidity.   

We are now going to a rose.  Red grape, with a nose of a red wine, young and fresh with just a kiss of tannins as the skins are removed from the juice.   Some rose wines can be a light pink or even close to red.  I had sampled Rosato by Olianas from Sardegna.  

So far, the wine was not going to my head nor having what I term an alcohol burn in the back of my throat.  That’s good.  Let’s see how I do with the red wines beginning with Barbera d’Asti Le Orme by Michele Chiarlo from Piemonte in Northern Italy.  PJ says that the grapes from here are the lightest, having a cool climate, refreshing and easy to drink.  Notes of cherry and plum.

When it comes to the area of Veneto, there are grapes that you can’t find anywhere else.  Valpolicella made by Allegrini is the perfect pairing with a Margherita pizza.  They pour the wines over the wine skins.  The same grapes are used for Amaroni.  This one has the sweetness of cherry with some acidity.   Out came the very thin crust pizza with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella.  Wonderful combination.  

Onto the next from Toscana, Monna Nera Sangiovese I.G.T.  by Cappezzana a blended and earthly wine.   Another wine, also from the same region, Lucente by Luce della Vite  is from the same grape.  Spectacular floral with a rich nose.  The fruit is more concentrated, tannins dry but balanced.  I am told that grape growing depends on the soil and proximity to the sun. 

I was here the evening before with friends Andra and Crystal both into wines. Andra quite a connoisseur had chosen Amicone “Baby Amarone” for it being full bodied and flavorful.   I had to end the tasting with this one from Northern Italy.  They process the dry grapes making them sweeter almost raisin-like.   I could see the weight coating on the glass when swished.   I did not use the spittoon for this one!

When I do have a glass of wine, I usually enjoy it before a meal or without food.  I can see how it does pair with an edible.   Not all wines have to be from Italy to enjoy the bill of fare at Vetro.   A Cabernet Sauvignon from California would go best with a rib eye with gorgonzola cheese and fingerling potatoes. 

In conclusion I was surprised to have found that none of wines, especially the reds, were not too dry for my palate.   This was by far the best wine tasting I’ve ever experienced and have to credit it to PJ’s knowledge.   He tells me that although Vetro does provide flights of wine, he is looking to have wine tasting events.  

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