The first time you clap eyes on the Poderi Crisci wine branding you fall in love. Or, if you’re in marketing and branding, you might feel some nausea. It’s a series of contradictions, either botched together in five minutes or carefully constructed to baffle and entertain.
The classic Italian wine styling of including an Italian flag, the distinctive green, white and red vertical stripes forming the central column of the wine label. At the top you have an old-school heraldic crest. So far, so classy and predictable.
But then you come to the wine names or grape varietal and the legal stuff. Usually, on wine labels, the former is second-level centre and the latter is subtlely stowed near the foot of the label (or on the back) in standard, unobtrusive font.
This convention is not for Poderi. Massive, bold, school-fete-signpost font with the text descending down the elongated and tall flag stripes. Just an odd, odd choice. And the font for the Crisci name, just as nuts, round and playful. In short, it’s completely wrong but, yet, somehow, completely right. And that’s why you find yourself looking forward to a trip to their vineyard and restaurant.
Having booked in for the evening, you probably find yourself day dreaming about life at Poderi. You wonder what lies in store at the venue. Most likely, you figure, you’ll find a massive Romanesque fort, perhaps a Flavian amphitheatre, a coliseum with lions and gladiators, or maybe it’ll be miss-matched pre-fabricated tables and chairs surrounded by neon signs that say
… and every surface draped in Italian flags, while waiters with dark swept back hair slither ostentatiously among the tables.
But, predictably, you can’t predict Poderi Crisci. What you get is a Tuscan villa, set in a beautiful valley, with a small-scale and classy but functional room over two mezzanine-levels with sturdy wooden tables. And then there’s the mighty, self-sustaining garden whose produce forms the bulk of the menu.
It’s pretty much idyllic and could be off the beaten track somewhere near Montepulciano. It is off the beaten track, down a mildly beaten track, and at the wrong end of the island for your ferry home you lazy bastards. But, obviously, just as you sit back to wonder at how marvellous it all is, Andrea Bocelli invades your ears and you sit back waiting for Zucchero.
Because of the garden taking centre stage on the menu, there is an at-first worrying lack of meat. This is another surprise, what self respecting Italian restaurant has a dearth of meat? Set menu, degustation, seven courses, only one meat and one fish. HORROR!
Not so, here’s the menu. Memorable bits are many … the ‘sweet and sour crispy garden vegetables’, the Stracciatella – almost burrata-strength mozzarella with some rustically umami seasoned bread and super-tasty tomato/basil. Basically, the best tricolore you’re likely to eat. Hats off to the gardiniere.
Beetroot ravioli and the lightly goaty caprino cheese complement each other and the tuna was appropriately melty. And then there’s the wine. It’s winey. But, they have a Piemonte varietal here, an Arneis (Little Rascal, allegedly), not something you come across very often and it’s a spritely bugger.
Belying the branding and flummoxing your confused expectations, Poderi Crisci wins at life. An identity crisis is just what Poderi does not have, its just you don’t know yet. It’s a homely gaff, the food tastes good, looks pretty and it’s very satisfying in a modern bacchanalian way – you know, that way we all wish we ate every meal, with hands tearing flesh from carcasses or greedily biting massive red apples and letting the juice run into your beard/cleavage (delete as appropriate).
If there was one criticism (and it is tiny), there was a lot of tomato, but everyone likes freshly picked tomatoes, right? It’s a good job they were top-notch tomatoes.
If you’re thinking of going, any time is a good time but some afternoon sun is a boon. Luckily, on Sunday, it’s their four hour ‘il pranzo’ (long lunch). Saunter in at 12:30 and you’ll be polishing off your cheese around 4:30pm, all that for NZ$75 (excl booze). Long live Poderi Crisci.