Italy’s top winemaker teams with Pèpe on Péppoli
When Marchese Peiro Antinori—on a trip to Carmel three years ago from his vineyards in Tuscany to attend the Maters of Food and Wine at Highlands Inn—expressed a desire to dine with his best California Customer, his wine distributor told him, “Then you’ll want to have dinner with Richard Pèpe of Carmel-by-the-Sea.”
It turned out to be an historic meeting between the renowned Italian vintner and the Carmel restaurateur. Since that time, Pepe—owner of Little Napoli—has flown back and froth across the Atlantic, hatching culinary plots with Italy’s most famous winemaker whose family vineyard holdings date back to 1385.
What began as a mutual interest in establishing a restaurant supplied with herbs, olive oil, wines and perhaps produce from its own working farm has evolved into the brand-new Péppoli restaurant at the Inn at Spanish Bay.
Péppoli’s chef de cuisine, Stephen Blackwell, said, “Our pantry is filled with top quality ingredients for our chefs to work with.”
Pèpe is knowledgeable about Antinori wines, having visited all of the Marchese’s estates, and being honored with the greatest allocation of Antinori wines for his two Napoli restaurants of Carmel of any restaurant in the United States—other than Pebble Beach’s Péppoli.
Two years ago, Wine Spectator magazine presented Pepe’s restaurants with its coveted Restaurant Award of Excellence.
Peior Antinori told The Pine Cone, “Richard has promoted our Italian wines as no other restaurant; that’s why he has the allocation he has.” Last year Wine Spectator selected Piero Antinori as “the most important winemaker in Italy.”
“The wine list at Péppoli will be the greatest, the most complete collection of Antinori wines outside of La Cantinetta in Firenze,” he said. “We’ll have a ‘captain’s list’ of fine California wines, and a big collection of French wines as well.”
The three major wine estates of the Antinori family are located in Tuscany’s Chianti Classico district—all of them about 20 miles south of Firenze: Santa Cristina, known for its Tignanello and Solaia vineyards; Péppoli (after which the Spanish Bay restaurant is named), known for its single vineyard Chianti Classico and prized organic extra virgin olive oil; and Badia Passignano, a 12th century monastery with aging cellars.
Other important Antinore wine producing estates are Tenute (Estate) Belvedere on the Tuscan coast; Castello della Sala in Umbria; and Prunnotto in Piedmont. Southern Tuscany estates recently purchased by Antinori are located in Tuscany near Montelcino and Montepulciano, and a Napa Valley estate on Atlas Peak. Peiro Antinori and his winemaker, Renzo Cotarella, will make featured appearances at the Pebble Beach restaurant managed by Manoel Errico, and during Italian festas, new release tastings and winemaker dinners will be held. Guest chef events will be built around visits by chefs form the Marchese’s various restaurants.
The Tuscan-style restaurant, named after Antinori’s 250-acre estate south of Firenze—is a joint venture with Pebble Beach Co.
Péppoli officially opened this week after several months of “soft” exposure without fanfare at the five-star inn. Péppoli fills the space of the former Bay Club.
“Still evolving” is the way Pepe describes the menu, but a lot of research and hands-on cooking in Firenze by Spanish Bay Executive Chef Pascal Rifflart and Pepe have created a menu that chef de cuisine Stephen Blackwell and his line cooks are turning out this a Tuscan authenticity seldom seen in California restaurants.
Authenticity is important to the Marchese The Antinori family of Firenze is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished wine producers and has lived in Tuscany since the 14th century. They celebrated their 614th anniversary as winemakers last year—six centuries spanning 26 generations.
Today, the Antinori family continues to live in Firenze and produce some of Italy’s most renowned wines. The Palazzo Antinori, a 15th century landmark in the center of Firenze and produce some of Italy’s most renowned wines. The Palazzo Antinori , a 15th century landmark in the center of Firenze, is used as residence and offices with La Cantinetta Antinori, the family-owned restaurant, at street level.
A half-acre of herbs
It is at La Cantinetta and also Trattoria Buca Lapi—located in the cellars of Palazzo Antinori and one of the oldest restaurants on record in Firenze—that Cef Rifflart and Richard Pepe learned how to prepare such dishes as osso buco and trippa in the Tuscan manner and to cook bistecca all Florentina over open flame of coals made from olive trees.
Rifflart called the small and very popular LA Cantinetta “a living restaurant in Tuscany. Everything in the restaurant is unique, including the stemware and silver. You feel closely attached to the food and wine there,” he said. Two other Antinori restaurants, styled after La Cantinetta and bearing the same name, have been opened in Zurich and Vienna.
Richard Pepe told The Pine Cone, “People said to me when I came back, “did you learn anything?” I said I learned things I didn’t know existed. I didn’t know there was that much difference between Tuscan cooking and the cooking of Napoli.”
Translating this style of cooking to Spanish Bay’s Péppoli is one of Pepe’s projects. “Now we need to focus with collaboration with the chefs,” he said. Explaining how Péppoli’s menu is evolving, he said, “We started in mid January, with a winter menu. We’re now bringing in new ingredients, transitioning between seasons, knowing what fish are running, focusing on local in-season ingredients, meat and seafoods. We want to fly in Tuscan porcini mushrooms. Harking back to his original operating farm idea”, Pepe said, “My idea is to grow a half acre of herbs in Tuscany and fly them in.”
The Carmel Pine Cone
by Margot Petit Nichols