Over Racines’ five years in business, owner Arnaud Tronche has steadily grown the list to more than 2,800 selections, which he oversees with Sommelier and Managing Partner Pascaline Lepeltier, MS. With a new chef, Diego Moya, on board, this longtime natural wine destination is on a roll: His menu of creative, shareable small plates allows you to construct a leisurely meal while you work through the remarkably deep wine list, which ranges from classic to very experimental.
From The Sommelier: “We taste so much wine all the time, from very conventional to really extreme winemaking. We have to stand behind all our wine: Why do we work with this farmer? Why do we work with this winemaker? Is this someone doing the real thing, and not some marketing stuff? [In the natural-wine world] there is a lot of bullshitting and I think it’s our job to see behind that. Maybe find the discreet guy who’s not as loud but is someone you really want to support. But ultimately it’s about creating that explosion in the palates of people, so they say ‘I never thought I would taste sometthing like that—where’s it from?’ ” —Pascaline Lepeltier, Racines
Dish We Loved: Dry-aged pork porterhouse with borlotti beans and Castelfranco radicchio
Executive Chef Diego Moya and Wine Director Pascaline Lepeltier
Diego, you started at the beginning of 2019. What was it like coming into a restaurant that was already such an established wine destination?
Moya: The ethos of the wine list is how I feel about vegetables and other produce. With minimal-intervention wine, you can find a lot more nuance. I like to put twists on things, but for the most part, I’m interested in the product and how it tastes.
Lepeltier: We have the same theories about this. We’re at the end of the chain of farmers today, and I think there’s some responsibility to show that respectful farming can be transported to a restaurant in the heart of Manhattan and still be affordable to the guest.
Your wine list highlights a lot of less-known producers and regions. How do you make guests comfortable who are intimidated by it?
Lepeltier: With a big smile! The whole idea is to make them feel there’s no pressure. You like Argentinian Malbec, maybe I don’t have that but I’m going to have something else in your price point that you’ll love.
With so many small plates and interesting flavor combinations, what is your approach to food and wine pairing?
Lepeltier: It’s amazing to work with a chef that loves wine… With Diego, from the texture, spice, acidity, seasoning, I can see right away wines that can go with his dishes.
Moya: I think food and wine are the same thing, they’re both food. I’ve worked in fine-dining restaurants where there was so much work done to balance the wine and food, and here we’re able to have fun with it in a more leisurely way.
A dish like your cabbage with Banyuls vinegar and duck fat could be a wine minefield…
Moya: The reason it pairs well with wine is the inclusion of the fat. I also like it with just the vinegar, but the fat rounds it out and lets you bring in a lot of different wines.
Lepeltier: It’s a fun dish to pair with, and you can go sweet or dry. We have a skin-contact Pinot Gris from Alsace that I like with it. Pinot Gris and cabbage is a typical pairing in Alsace, and with duck as well. There’s a reason traditional pairings work.