The experienced eye can look at a wine list and learn a lot about its creator. I was reminded of this after just a few moments scanning the selections at Fausto, Joe Campanale and Erin Shambura’s restaurant at the edge of Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights. Before you get to the end of the glass selections, it becomes clear: Whoever created this thing has done it before.
Not to imply there’s anything stodgy about Fausto’s wine selections. It’s more that Campanale, 34, has racked up an impressive track record in barely a decade of running New York restaurants. After getting his start on the floor at Babbo, during its halcyon years as the city’s go-to spot for Italian wine, he opened and ran wine programs at a string of standouts: Dell’anima, L’Artusi and L’Apicio. But his work at Anfora, his wine bar in a sedate corner of the West Village, was particularly groundbreaking. As the name implies, Anfora made a big deal of the Friulian (and also Georgian, and elsewhere) practice of aging wine in clay vessels, often leaving white wines to macerate on their skins. Amphorae aging and orange wine might seem obvious today, but these were novel notions when Anfora opened its doors in 2010—certainly not something you’d hang a wine-bar concept on back then. At each of his venues, Campanale’s lists provided a tour through nearly every fashionable Italian wine of the era. His curatorial talent seemed beyond his years.
Yet time marches on. After leaving his old restaurants behind, Campanale headed for Brooklyn, and with Shambura, Fausto’s chef, took on an immodest task: opening a restaurant—an Italian restaurant—in the former home of Franny’s, one of New York’s most beloved pizza spots.
To take over for a restaurant that far exceeded its neighborhood roots without straying from them was no small task. But Fausto, with its design inspired by postwar Rome and Milan, seems to have nailed this hospitality double axel, namely by echoing the familiarity of Franny’s without trying to replicate it. That, for instance, is why Shambura kept the old wood-burning ovens but doesn’t serve pizza.
Similarly, Campanale’s wine program doesn’t take what could have been an easy path—simply repeating his past successes. Instead, it shows that wisdom does come with just a bit more age, and at first glance looks like a revival of something New York has done well in past years: the smart, eminently affordable Italian wine list.
At times, that revival feels literal, in a good way: When my wife and I stopped by not long ago, the Rinaldi grignolino I ordered by the glass was exactly what I’d ordered six years earlier, during our first date at Anfora. That could be read as Campanale just playing reruns, but instead the reappearance feels deliberate—a confident statement that good choices don’t have to change just to appease the whims of fashion.
Indeed, there’s just enough referencing of his earlier work that, simply on its Italian selections, Fausto’s list would make one of the city’s great Italian-focused lists today. But Campanale seems to know that that alone wouldn’t be enough. Wine, after all, has evolved a lot in the past decade; among other things, the It Country status that Italy enjoyed in the 2000s has dimmed—replaced by France and a resurgent California (plus Georgia, etc.). The choices at Fausto reflect these changes, by significantly featuring those other corners. And as I’ve noted before, Campanale has included enough naturally-minded selections to satisfy the current obsession with such things; yet unlike some Brooklyn spots (like June, with its natty-to-the-wall list) it never comes across as overtly ideological. Natty hiding in plain sight, I guess.
That, again, reveals both a point of view, and maturity—offering enough diversity to satisfy both the sulfur-skeptic diner who has become a restaurant fixture in 2018, while not striking insecurity into Brooklyn parents who just need a night out. Reasonable prices help on that latter part, with a lot of bottles remaining under $70, thanks to a deft mining of Beaujolais and Piedmontese esoterica.
In other words, Fausto offers precisely what New Yorkers generally want to drink more of in these complicated days, when too many wine programs—restaurants generally—come across as being designed to charm either oligarchs or neo-hippies. (Or neo-hippie oligarchs, in a few cases.) If you’ve been awaiting a New York revival of the smart Italian wine list, Campanale has definitely brought that back. But he’s staked a claim beyond Italy now, to everyone’s benefit.
Francesco Rinaldi Grignolino 2015 | $12/$48
The least-known, perhaps, of the many Rinaldis in Barolo, but an excellent source not only of that stately wine but exceptional grignolino, too. This strawberry-scented grape might be Piedmont’s answer to Beaujolais, and its exceptional drinkability makes it friendly for nearly every drinker—which is why its reappearance by the glass makes a ton of sense.
Belluard “Les Perles du Mont Blanc” NV | $54
Campanale has followed the recent, welcome trend (see: Marta) of Champagne with Italian cuisine. His grower-focused selection hits most of the significant names (Prevost, Pierre Peters) and is, for the most part, well priced. But dollar for dollar, it’s hard not to go with this fizzy wine from Dominique Belluard, the great Savoyard talent, on the French side of the Alps. Although we wouldn’t mind having another lambrusco or two, either.
Gravner “Breg” 2004 | $95
It would be poor form for a guy who ran a place called Anfora not to serve orange wine. Fausto has a tidy half-dozen, including the always-appealing Jolie-Laide trousseau gris from California. But it’s hard to pass up a bottle of Gravner—and certainly at this price, which is barely more than retail for the current vintage. A case study in classical skin fermentation.
Terroir al Limit “Historic White” 2015 | $56
Dominik Huber’s project to show off the unsullied potential of Priorat has yielded some of Spain’s most interesting (and most-sought after) wines. The Historic, a mix of garnatxa blanca and macabeu, is Al Limit’s most approachable and versatile wine—and a sign that Fausto isn’t a place where the gems are secreted away.
D’Angerville Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 | $74
The Marquis d’Angerville estate is one of the best in Volnay—and most respected in Burgundy. This is their take on aligoté, the region’s less-known white grape, which is rarely seen. A perfect way to drink top Burgundy talent for a sane price.
Classic for a Reason
Montevertine “Le Pergole Torte” 2014 | $200
It’s a fair argument that Montevertine is the best producer in Chianti, even if they’ve largely abandoned the “Chianti” name after long battles with the consorzio over its middling standards. Le Pergole Torte is their top wine, one of the world’s best expressions of sangiovese. Sometimes tradition wins.
Rosé Every Day
San Giovanni Chiaretto 2017 | $52
This underappreciated northern Italian pink wine is grown near Lake Garda. It’s hard to find versions from better-known Bardolino, so one from the obscure Valtènesi appellation is a treat.
Steal This Bottle
Ceritas Chardonnay “Marena” 2015 | $90
John Raytek makes some of the best chardonnay in California. When his Ceritas wines do appear on lists, which isn’t often, they’re usually over $100. But I’ve already said too much…
Natty by Nature
Domaine du Haut Planty “Gwin Evan” 2015 | $46
The unsulfured Gwin Evan (formerly Muzkadig Breizh, until the local authorities had a hissy fit) will change the way you think about Muscadet.
Guiberteau Saumur Blanc 2014 | $110, 1.5L
Romain Guiberteau is one of the great modern stars of the Loire, which also means his wines are highly allocated. Finding not only bottles of this cuvée, but magnums, too, is another sign that Fausto is a place that doesn’t wish to be choosy about who gets its best bits.