It’s no small feat to become a sommelier at Mario Batali’s Babbo at the tender age of 23, but Joe Campanale did just that, and he hasn’t stopped impressing the food community ever since.
Together with restaurateur August Cardona and chefs Gabe and Katherine Thompson, the now 31 year-old Joe Campanale has made the Epicurean Group a triumphant success that it is, as Beverage Director and partner of the admired Italian establishments, which include dell’anima, L’Artusi, Anfora and L’Apicio. “We all have very similar ideas on hospitality but very different personalities and skill sets,” Campanale says of their 8-year-strong collaboration. “We all know at this point, we can trust each other.”
To be sure, the team can trust Campanale to devise killer wine and cocktail lists, which is certainly the case at their newest venture, Alta Linea, a seasonal, outdoor bar in front of the High Line Hotel. Inspired by the Italian tradition of aperitivi — similar to happy hour — Campanale’s breezy summer menu includes all manner of Spritz’s, like “The Punto” with Cocchi Americano, Punt e Mes, soda, sparkling wine and grapefruit, and in partnership with Kevin Natural Slush Co., the delightfully refreshing Frozen Negroni, featuring sorbet, fresh fruit and sparkling wine.
“We have a great selection of Italian aperitifs like Campari, Aperol, Cynar and Contratto Bitter, which I have recently fallen in love with. Also a big selection of vermouths, as I think that the idea of sipping a vermouth on the rocks in a beautiful enclosed outdoor garden in the summer sounds awesome!” Campanale adds. “We’ll have all-organic, small-production wines from the north of Italy as well, plus a few of my favorites from the center.”
We also spoke to the vino and spirits expert about the prized bottles in his personal collection, his favorite rosés of the season, and his early career as a budding food writer!
What sparked your passion for wine and spirits?
Initially my uncle’s interest in wine got me curious. He bought and collected wine in the 80s and 90s when it was possible to afford top flight Bordeaux on a pharmacist’s salary. He shared some incredible bottles with me and I loved the way he cared for them and carefully aged them. Then while studying abroad in Italy and meeting grape growers I really fell in love.
You wrote articles earlier in your career. Do you still write at all, either professionally or for fun?
I love writing but I find it takes me a very long time to get anything that I feel ok with. Because of that I haven’t done much lately but I’d love to write more, especially about Italian wine.
How does your beverage program at Alta Linea expand on/complement/differ entirely from the beverage programs at your other restaurants?
The wine list is much smaller. Some of the lists I really love around town are not huge, like Franny’s, Vinegar Hill House and June, but they are very well-edited. It was a fun challenge to put together a small list but ultimately I came away with a wine list where I would gladly order any wine if I saw it on another list.
Take us through your ultimate meal (with pairings) at Alta Linea.
I don’t think that people will really do that here. It’s a fun outdoor communal sort of place where I think that folks will order a bunch of dishes and share them. For drinks I’m hoping that people start with a light cocktail like a frozen negroni or something from our vermouth or spritz lists and then have a bottle of a cool white wine like the Foradori Manzoni Bianco or maybe a magnum of rose?
Have you ever taken (or considered taking) the Master Sommelier exam? On a separate note, have you seen the documentary, Somm? And did it give you panic attacks, as it did us?
Before I opened dell’anima, I did a bunch of wine education and took a ton of wine tests. I received the following certifications: Diploma in Wines and Spirits form the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, Certified Wine Educator from the Society of Wine Educators, Advanced Blind Tasting from the American Sommelier Association. I also did the first 2 of 4 levels from the court of Master Sommeliers (Intro and certified Sommelier). After opening dell’anima, I decided that I didn’t have time to do as much book studying, even though I enjoyed it and stopped with all of those exams.
Besides your own restaurants, what are some of your favorite places to grab a drink and a bite in the city?
I love this city because there are so many good places to eat and drink! Other than what I mentioned above the wine lists at Rebelle and Gramercy Tavern are really fun. I’ve enjoyed grabbed brews at Threes Brewing and sitting in the courtyard at Bierkraft (especially since moving to Park Slope.) I also love Glady’s and Barboncino in Crown Heights. I also have to admit that the food at Gato is incredibly delicious. But my favorite place to eat these days is the Russ and Daughter’s café.
Who are some other beverage directors in NYC that you really admire, and why?
Sooo many! Juliet Pope is always first on my mind since she is so kind and so good at what she does. Pascaline Lepeltier from Rouge Tomate, Ashley Santoro from Narcissa, Mike Madrigale from Bar Boulud/Boulud Sud, Jason Wagner from Fung Tu and especially Thomas Pastuszak from The Nomad.
What do you have in your at-home wine rack right now that you’re most excited about?
I recently splurged on a case of 2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, my favorit eBarolo producer. I also have some rare though not very expensive French wine like De Moor Chablis, Vatan Sancerre (though this has gotten pricey!) and a bunch of cru Beaujolais which I love to open on any given night.
It’s rosé season! What are some of your favorite rose’s right now (at both ends of the price spectrum).
So many good rosés now. From California I love Matthiasson, Copain Pinot Noir, Bonny Doon Vin Gris, Sinskey Rosé and especially Red Car. Italy has some really special ones like Montenidoli Canaiolo and Graci Etna Rosato.
What do you consider to be the greatest professional achievement in your career thus far?
Working with an amazing team to keeping dell’anima open for almost 8 years!
What’s your ultimate career goal? What’s the brass ring you keep reaching for?
I’d just love keep the restaurants going and help the folks in our company continue to grow and give them more opportunities.