Why Philly’s Top Restaurant Loves Ribera and Rueda Wines

In the past five or so years, Philadelphia has transformed into a gastronomic beast — a powerhouse food city where restaurateurs and chefs go not to make a name for themselves, but to put out grub that’s as impressive as anything coming out of New York, Barcelona, Rome … insert the name of your favorite food city.

White wine drinkers that like aromatic and bright wines will easily see the beauty of Verdejo. The same goes for red drinkers who like powerful, full bodied and earthy wines. Ribera del Duero is both familiar and exciting.

No establishment fits that mold better than Fork Restaurant, which underwent a culinary revamp of sorts when it brought New York City alum Eli Kulp to run its kitchen. Having come up through the acclaimed Torrisi Italian Specialties kitchen in New York, Kulp immediately made his mark at Fork, transforming the menu which led to a spot on Food & Wine’s 2014 Best New Chefs list and helped Fork become the very best restaurant in a town (and state) of many, many great restaurants.

With great food comes great wine responsibility, which is where general manager and resident sommelier Joey Campanella … along with Ribera del Duero and Rueda come in.

Fork’s wine list is about as funky as they come, reaching to all parts of the globe and hand-picking bottles with the sole purpose of pairing well with Chef Eli’s food. Familiarity comes a distant second — it’s all about the quality and pairing abilities here. Case in point: Of five whites and five reds offered by-the-glass, you’ll find a Rueda and a Ribera on the list.

The dining room at Fork Restaurant in Philadelphia.

The dining room at Fork Restaurant.

“I think both Rueda and Ribera del Duero will appeal to a lot of wine drinkers,” Campanella tells us. “White wine drinkers that like aromatic and bright wines will easily see the beauty of Verdejo. The same goes for red drinkers who like powerful, full bodied and earthy wines. Ribera del Duero is both familiar and exciting.”

Campanella wants to take the diners of Fork on a bit of an exploratory journey along with the food. Kulp’s food is about the furthest thing possible from everyday grub, so everyday wine is out of the question.

“It’s easy to fill your list with California chardonnay and Burgundy, but what’s the fun in easy? If we are doing our job right, our guests will trust us when we recommend something a little bit more off the beaten path,” Campanella proudly says. “Also, the experience of having a new wine or varietal can make a wine (or even the meal) a lot more memorable.”

Want a memorable pairing? Campanella says Chef Eli’s chickpea postage stamp ravioli (see: tiny ravioli) with spiced lamb schmoozes beautifully with their Los Navales Rueda because “the acid in the wine lifts the richness of the chickpea puree bringing out the wine’s fruit,” and that its “bitterness is a perfect foil to the sweet and bitter raw artichoke.”

Fork Restaurant's chickpea ravioli with spiced lamb.

Fork Restaurant’s chickpea ravioli with spiced lamb.

Or, perhaps you’re feeling a little red. Order yourself a glass (or bottle) of the Valdehermoso Roble to pair with Fork’s famous roasted duck. “The dish has tender baby spring vegetables and a rich, almost sticky duck jus. The tannins in the wine slice through the rich duck fat elevating both the wine and the duck meat to new heights,” Campanella says.

Campanella, a stickler for wine detail, specifically chose a “roble” (a style of Ribera del Duero that spends much less time in oak than, say, a Crianza or Riserva) to suit the food. “Not many of our dishes are right for wines with a lot of oak on them,” he says — a common problem for pairings, as the oak in a wine bombards your palate and can overwhelm a dish. “Also, in terms of value, heavily oaked wines are often more expensive making them harder to offer by the glass at a reasonable price.”

When a guest dines at Fork, they know they’re about to have not just a great meal, but also one that might require a little bit of letting down their guard and opening up their mind, which is exactly what the restaurant prides itself in.

Don’t be afraid! What’s the worst thing that can happen when you try a new wine?

“We love the challenge,” Campanella says, adding that “our goal is not to impress guests with how much we know or how esoteric our wine list is. Our goal is for every guest to have an evening that exceeds their expectations, whatever they may be.”

What’s the one bit of advice that Campanella has for diners and wine drinkers in general?

“Don’t be afraid! What’s the worst thing that can happen when you try a new wine? If you don’t like it, then we will bring you something else. And it’s totally acceptable to ask for a taste of something by the glass before committing. But, chances are, you’ll find another cool wine (probably with a cool story) to add to your portfolio. I wish I had the hard job of trying new wines.”

Vist ForkRestaurant.com for more info.

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