Colin Tuska of Chicago’s Monteverde on Italian Wine Throughout the Meal - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Colin Tuska of Chicago’s Monteverde on
Italian Wine Throughout the Meal

Originally from Milwaukee, Colin Tuska moved to NYC in 2007 and spent ten years working with notable restaurants and operators including chef David Chang at Momofuku Ssam Bar and Paul Grieco at Hearth and Terroir Wine Bar. He returned to his Midwestern roots in 2017, working at Chicago’s Income Tax Bar before joining the Monteverde Restaurant and Pastificio team as Wine Director in 2022. —Stephanie Johnson

Colin Tuska

What is the list like at Monteverde?

I became their new wine director coming out of the pandemic. Obviously, restaurants had a lot of changes during that period, and I’ve been here for two years. Basically the program’s all Italian, all regions, it covers the whole gamut. We don’t focus on one specific area. The big focal points are Piedmont, Tuscany and Sicily.

I like the way you’ve written your list, with one pithy sentence about each wine.

That was something that came out of the pandemic as well. We wanted something to be like a connective device for people to read, but not get into a book, which you know, some restaurants, they’ll go into a whole entire page about one wine. 

What are your personal favorite categories or regions?

I like white wine in general—I think every meal should start with white wine. Right now, for something that’s seasonally appropriate, I like Laura Aschero’s Riviera Ligure Ponente Pigato. It’s $88 for a bottle, but I feel like the 80s are the new 60s as far as price points go. It’s entry level but it’s by no means a simple wine. The wine is textural and has a really pretty flinty minerality to it that works well with seafood or pesto. Liguria is where pesto is from so it’s kind of a nice little marriage right there.

For reds, I’m a very big fan of Ronchi di Cialla’s Schioppettino. It’s really delicious, drinks like a red Burgundy, very approachable. I think the really cool thing with that wine is it’s a great variety that basically was on the verge of going extinct and the Rapuzzi family prevented it from going extinct.

And then thirdly, another lighter-bodied red wine from Valtellina is Tei from Sandro Fay. It’s mountain Nebbiolo, the wines are just very light on their feet, almost translucent, but kind of dangerous. When I trained the staff, I’m like, ‘Just do not give this to a Barolo drinker because they’re gonna be a little upset with us.’ But it’s a wine that you can just kind of drink through a whole meal. I like lighter-bodied red wines; you can have them with spicy things because they will actually calm the spice, and then you can also have it with fish, or even some red meats because the high acid will cut through the fat. I could list off some Barbarescos I like on the list, but accessibility is super important with our program. You can start out with 70 bucks and get whatever you want.

Do you serve the Valtellina wine lightly chilled?

We have a temperature-controlled wall that is cooler on the left side, so it’s almost like a chilled red kind of spectrum. Our guests appreciate that our wines, and even our BTG wines, are served at the proper temperature. I find it very challenging when you go to a restaurant and you get a glass of wine and it’s 70 degrees or 80 degrees.

You mentioned Piedmont, Tuscany and Sicily as the focus areas for your list. Is there a new category or region you’ve added that’s had a good response?

Yes, Franciacorta. Before I worked here they tried doing Champagne by the glass, but that was never very successful. We started doing a Franciacorta last year by the glass for $25, and people who don’t know Franciacorta, when they taste it they really like it. We also have Bisson Glera, we started working with that last year. When it first started rolling through the summer, tables were getting three or four bottles, they were drinking it through a whole meal. It was awesome to see people drinking that much sparkling wine.

Are there other beverage categories impacting the sale of wine in your restaurant?

Spritzes are super popular. And they have actually helped sell sparkling wine better. We have NA spritzes as well. They’re actually enhancing sales, because as opposed to just having very simple mocktails that you may have had ten years ago, that category has become broader. For people who don’t want to drink at the moment, or don’t want to drink ever again, it’s given them something that they can latch on to and enjoy. You have someone that’s maybe expecting a child but they still want to have a spritz, and they feel like they’re partaking in the event.

Has wine’s share of your total beverage sales increased, decreased or stayed the same?

They went up, fairly significantly. Part of that is that I think people want to celebrate after getting out of COVID. People just want to have fun. But I really deep dive those numbers and they are not just coming from people just enjoying. I also think that the variation of price spectrum we have in our list really gives people everything. We never go up to the $2,000 bottle, but every audience has something they can latch onto.

Is there a category of wine of wine that is gaining ground within your wine sales? Is there something that people just seem to be ordering a lot more than they used to?

I feel like certain demographics are ordering things differently. And I feel like the people around, say, 25 years old are gravitating towards lighter red wines. I feel like orange wine is dropping off. Orange wines and natural wines used to be inexpensive, but now, wines like Occhipinti can be 100 plus dollars on the list; that wine was super accessible at one time. But I just feel like younger people are more savvy about wine than maybe they were 20 years ago. Also, they have their phones and can just look anything up, so they feel like they have more access to information really quickly. And so maybe it’s not as intimidating.

is the Italian wine editor at Wine & Spirits magazine.

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