When San Francisco allowed outdoor dining to resume last summer, Gianpaolo Paterlini never seriously considered it as an option for Acquerello, his family’s destination restaurant in the Nob Hill neighborhood. Acquerello’s white tablecloth service and 2,000-bottle wine list, known for verticals from Barolo icons like Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi and Brovia, didn’t translate well into outdoor café dining. Besides, in the months following the March shutdown, Paterlini had already discovered Acquerello’s inherent advantages: a deep cellar and a loyal following. “We’re very lucky that Acquerello is built on regulars. Our clientèle is largely made up of older people who don’t want to leave the house but want to have expensive dinners.”
Paterlini and his team created Acquerello at Home, a weekly four-course menu for $75-85 with an option to add a bottle of wine. He delves into that deep cellar to select different bottles each week that are the “best common denominator” with most of the courses. “I just choose bottles that we can let go of. We’ve had to buy some things because of quantity.”
The selections are quite different from the Barolos and Brunellos that would typically appear on Acquerello’s top ten best-selling list. His top-selling bottle was Poliziano 2017 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano at $55. “We always had Asinone on the list before [Poliziano’s higher-priced single vineyard bottling]. During normal times, our problem is the opposite of most restaurants—some wines are not expensive enough to put on our list. A wine like the basic Vino Nobile priced at $55-60 would just sit there, but now it works well. It’s been fun to play with wines that are a little less expensive than we’d normally do.”
The Acquerello at Home program has also given Paterlini a chance to experiment with other wines that wouldn’t move from the wine list in normal times, like the Dominio di Bagnoli Friularo Classico Vendemmia Tardiva (# 6), a late-harvested wine based on the obscure raboso variety from Friuli, and Locanda Scarpone 2018 Colli Aprutini Pecorino, a white wine from Abruzzo.
Unlike some markets, in San Francisco restaurants were able to offer retail wine sales even before COVID, and Paterlini had always wanted to do something in that sector—but not a typical wine club. “To me, wine clubs are total bullshit; you pay this monthly fee and get a bottle of red and white, with no theme and no guarantee of quality,” he said. Looking to do something more unique to his restaurant and cellar, he created Acquerello Wine Experiences, a curated retail program with trios of wines linked by a theme. “Two wines offer a snapshot; three broadens the focus and allows us to explore themes more than two bottles would.” Paterlini puts out a new trio each week, with notes on the theme and on each producer. Themes have included sub-$100 offerings like Discover Liguria (Punta Crena 2019 Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato Vigna Ca’ da Rena, Bisson 2019 Portofino Ciliegiolo Rosato and Tenuta Anfosso 2016 Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore), as well as higher-end trios like Barbaresco from Neive (Castello di Neive 2007 Barbaresco Albesani Santo Stefano, Cantina del Pino 2006 Barbaresco Albesani and Paitin 2004 Barbaresco Serraboella Sorì Paitin).
While Paterlini has dipped into his cellar for Acquerello Wine Experiences, he has been careful not to gut it. In fact, the retail program has allowed Paterlini to take most of the allocations he has been offered and to continue building his verticals, particularly with the superb 2016 Barolos. “We are determined to have a great wine list once this is all over,” he says.
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