Joe Denton knows a thing or two about unusual Italian wines. As co-owner of New York’s beloved ‘Ino and ‘Inoteca restaurants, Denton helped select the over 600 wines they serve, many from Italy’s best organic producers. We recently caught up with Joe and he shared with us some of his favorite winemakers, the philosophy behind his wine list and his enthusiasm for biodyanmics (though he concedes the kookiness of the whole cow horn thing).
How many organic wines do you carry at ‘Inoteca?
We try to carry as much as possible. It’s a direction a lot of winemakers are moving towards, from Italy and around the world. Between ‘Inoteca on Third Avenue and the one on the Lower East Side we always have thirty to forty wines that are either organic or biodynamic.
A lot of our winemakers have been practicing organic for many years, but they’re not certified because it costs so much money. And since they’ve already been doing it so long, they don’t always feel they need to spend extra money just to put it on the label.
Do you mark all the organic selections on the wine list?
We don’t, but that might be something to look into because there are definitely a lot more people who are asking which wines are organic and biodynamic. Mostly, people ask for organic, though, because they don’t know what biodynamic means.
Did you seek out organic wines when putting the wine list together?
It just kind of happened. We have around 500 wines at both locations so we were bound to have some that were organic. It’s not like we’re searching for them, but if we like it, we’ll definitely put it on the list.
We try to find wines from every region and to put as many different varietals as possible. And if we have three Montepulcianos on the list we want them all to very different so we can represent all the styles within a single varietal.
Do you have some favorite Italian organic producers?
Castello di Rampolla, a Tuscan winemaker. They make an amazing Chianti. They make Sanmarco. And that’s biodynamic and organic. Edi Kanti from from Friuli makes great white wines like Malvasia. Gravner in Friuli is also amazing. He makes his wine in terracotta vats and buries them in the ground. He does open tank fermentation so his wines have the structure of a much older wine. It has tannins and oxidizing on purpose. It’s a white wine that tastes like a red. It’s really particular, but really fun.
Do you taste a difference between organic and conventional wines?
If I were to try two biodynamic wines and two conventional ones, I don’t know if I’d be able to taste the difference. I’ve never tried before so that could be kind of interesting. Ultimately, all winemakers make their wine differently so I think it’d be difficult to tell.
Do feel like there is a benefit to farming biodynamically as opposed to organically?
I do, just because all of the biodynamic wines I’ve tried have been phenomenal. I think the method of farming does have something to do with it. It may seem a little wacky, with burying the cow horn full of manure in the dirt for a year then spraying your crops with it or harvesting your grapes when the moon is full. It’s all very kooky, but it makes fabulous wine.
Some of Joe’s favorite Italian producers:
Cantine Ceci “La Luna” Lambrusco
2007 Di Giovanna Nerello Mascalese ‘07
Edi Kante Malvasia ‘05
Le Terrazze Sassi Neri Sanmarco
Castello di Rampolla (any vintage)