Chef Frank Prisinzano Talks Oddball Italian Varietals, Terroir, and Perfect Pairings


Food and wine are natural companions, so I’m polling some of New York’s most illustrious chefs to find out what kind of wine they are drinking off and on the job. After establishing they actually drink wine (a surprising number prefer beer!), I’m asking a few questions to find out who’s got a penchant for Piedmont, which chefs dislike oaky Chardonnay, and why there is no right or wrong way to enjoy wine.

In today’s installation of this series, I chat with Frank Prisinzano, chef and owner of Frank, Lil’ Frankie’s, Supper, and Sauce.

Read more of this series:
Wolfgang Ban of Seasonal, Edi and the Wolf, and The Third Man Talks Wine

Anita Lo of Annisa

Do you drink wine at home?
Every day and twice on Sunday. After a long day of work I’ll have bubbles or a beer but I crack a bottle every day. It’s my job, and it’s what I love.

What types of wine do you like to drink? Any grape or style preferences?
Sure. Ninety percent of the wines I drink are Italian. The remaining 10 percent is split between France, Austria, and Germany. Italy has an enormous amount of indigenous varietals, and in my opinion, it leaves the rest of the world in the dust. For example, Nebbiolo can only survive and prosper in a tiny area of the world (Piedmont) and has evolved over hundreds of years in that same terroir, resulting in a wine of extraordinary character and almost impossible uniqueness. There are many grapes like this throughout Italy that survive nowhere but their birthplace. Some other standouts for me are Ribolla Gialla, Nero d’Avola, Negroamaro, Dolcetto, Aglianico, Fiano di Avellino, Corvina, Garganega, Cortese, and I can go on and on. I love pretty much everything Italian as long as it’s not styled with new world wood.

Are there specific bottles you love or drink on repeat?
Oh God! So many. Primofiore from Quintarelli, Ribolla from Gravner, anything Gaja, Elio Altare, or Cordero di Montezemelo (especially Barbera Funtani). I probably drink Medici Ermete Lambrusco the most, but I also enjoy Tenuta Mazzolino and Rosa del Golfo.

Do your preferences carry through to your wine lists?
Of course, at my restaurants the wine lists are all 100 percent Italian, as is the food, so it’s all in perfect harmony. We don’t even serve the top wine requests like Cabernet, Merlot, or Chardonnay unless they scream of their terroir. I have a very educated staff and we have been pushing oddball Italian varietals since day one, so we are really championing Italy and its micro-regional genius.

Where do you shop for wine?
Mostly Astor and Discovery Wines.

Do you ever buy wine by the case?
I pretty much always buy wine by the case. I keep a simple Salvalai Pinot Grigio in the house, along with an Ombra Prosecco imported by Omni Wines. I also always keep a case of a Calabrese wine, Savuto, from Jan D’Amore Wines.

Is there one perfect wine and food pairing for you?
Many! Here are a few:

Medici Ermete Lambrusco “Solo” with prosciutto di Parma, parmigiano-reggiano, and mortadella.

Monfortino Barolo, fonduta (fontina cheese fondue from Piedmont), and Alba white truffles.

Pieropan Soave Classico and my spaghetti Limone.

Quintarelli Amarone and Gorgonzola cheese.

Cordero di Montezemelo Barbera d’Alba “Funtani” and bagna cauda (Piedmontese dip of anchovies, garlic, and butter) served over fire-roasted yellow peppers.