What to drink at Lita

Due to open this month, Mediterranean-inspired Marylebone restaurant promises seasonal cooking and Old World wines to match. Sommelier Kristina Gladilina told WLC about her love of Grower Champagnes, and the most challenging ingredients to find pairings for.

This new opening (in the site of an old Carluccio’s on Paddington Street), from the team behind Chelsea’s Wild Tavern and restaurateur Daniel Koukarskikh, takes its name as an abbreviation of ‘abuelita’, the Spanish for ‘grandmother’ – but the style of food isn’t exactly old fashioned. Heading up the kitchen will be Luke Ahearne, formerly head chef of Corrigan’s in Mayfair. Dishes teased for the first menu including grilled turbot, a rib of Galician beef, and rum baba with charcoal cream chantilly.

The wine list curated by Gladilina is similarly modern, though with plenty of nods to the classics.

Given the seasonality of the menu, Lita’s wine list will also be undergoing frequent alterations, according to Gladilina: “I would say that my vision of an ideal wine list is one of constant change, as the market is always offering new names, styles, trends – it is essential to keep up with this in order to stay relevant and to be able to constantly surprise your guests.”

One notable feature of the list, which perhaps puts it at odds with other London restaurants, is it’s overwhelming Old World-ness .

“It would be fair to say that the wine list is mainly focused on wines from central Europe, particularly France, Italy and Spain,” she explained. “Firstly, our cuisine is a mix of different motifs of
Mediterranean cuisine, which immediately sets us up to choose wines of certain styles to complement it in the best possible way – I am talking about that savouriness, refinement and complexity for which the wines of classic European regions are famous. Another, but no less important factor, is that you can only do really well those things that you truly love and believe in – and I happen to be a devoted fan of Old World wines and I never tire of exploring new facets of Burgundy, the Rhône, Piedmont and other classic regions.”

The list showcases that trendiest of sparkling wine categories, Grower Champagnes, with expressions from the likes of Aurelien Suenen, Emmanuel Brochet and Jacques Lassaigne.

“It’s fascinating to watch the changes taking place in Champagne these days, and it’s something I want to share. Throughout its history, Champagne has had a reputation as a celebratory sparkling drink, a symbol of prestige and nothing more – it never occurred to anyone to consider it as a wine proper, which unlike others has bubbles too.”

“Modern Grower Champagnes are a prime example of how stunning and serious a wine from this region can be – textural, layered, intriguing, capable of coping with very different dishes rather than simply acting as an aperitif,” she continued. “For this reason, I like to enjoy and to serve these wines in a wider shaped glass, sometimes even Burgundy-shaped. This allows the full flavour and aroma to come through without being distracted by the bubbles too much.”

Old school

Another notable feature of the list is the number of older vintages, with the selection of mature classics including 1995 Ornellaia and Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande and a ’99 Latour. Finding dishes worthy of wines of such pedigree can be something of a psychological challenge, but Gladilina suggested that less is very much more: “I truly believe that such wines are best accompanied by simple, concise dishes, but absolutely necessary of the highest quality: such as pasta al burro with truffle for a mature white wine, or a good steak on the bone served with coarse salt and no sauce whatsoever, or even just a nice plate of charcuterie.”

Picking one older wine on the list that particularly shines for her, Gladilina opted for a 24-year-old Tuscan: “One of the most precious and interesting wines in our collection in my opinion is Brunello di Montalcino Case Basse 1999 from the legendary maestro Gianfranco Soldera.”

“Firstly, this is one of the vintages produced by the maestro in his lifetime, by his own hand – a real opportunity to touch the legend,” she shared, “and secondly, this is Brunello at the age when it shows its full stature and beauty. Gianfranco Soldera was a true rebel and perfectionist – he produced far less wine than he could in theory – because he hand-picked only those berries deemed worthy of his Brunello and then sent them to a tank where, instead of pressing, he preferred to let the berries burst under their own weight to obtain the most delicate free run juice, resulting in a fine ambrosia of unrivalled beauty.”

A perhaps more unexpected Italian offering on the initial list is the 2016 Barbacarlo Montebuono from the Lombard wine region of Oltrepò Pavese, an area which is quickly becoming the hot spot for Italian winery investment. Asked what drew her to this blend of Croatina, Uva Rara, Ughetta and Barbera, Gladilina shared: “I was lucky enough to be introduced to these wines a few years ago, I immediately fell in love with their authentic character and vibrancy. The late Lino Maga, a very elderly winemaker, when asked if his wine was biodynamic or natural, just shrugged his shoulders and said that he did it the way his grandfather taught him and he had no idea what it was called. I really like this true artisanal approach, without unnecessary labels.”

With Lita’s first menu utilising plenty of punchy ingredients, as evidenced by a dish consisting of  morel mushrooms with wild garlic and lardo di colonnata, finding the right pairing takes a real degree of skill.

“There are a few notoriously finicky ingredients to pair with,” Gladilina revealed. “These are asparagus, tomatoes and artichokes – they can defeat most delicate style wines – so you’ll only have that product dominating your palate, which devalues the idea of pairing with wine as such. But even for these products you can find a worthy pairing – it can be, for example, bright, fresh and crisp wines with some herbaceous and vegetable notes to them.”

Other dishes are rather more merciful from a pairing perspective.

“One of my favourite food and wine pairings from our menu is fresh John Dory fish, grilled whole and served with a rich sauce based on fish stock and salty fingers, paired with Suertes del Marques’ Vidonia white wine from local Listan Blanco grape of Tenerife, which has a lovely salinity, slightly smoky character and a dense texture reminiscent of a serious examples of Savagnin from Jura,” Gladilina opined. “You get two equally powerful and sophisticated flavours and two gorgeous textures complementing each other, which creates a unique gastronomic experience.”

Lita is due to open on 18 March.

Related reading:

What to drink at El Bar de Cavita

What to drink at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels

What to drink at Restaurant Story

This article originally appeared on the drinks business.

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