Life with Wine: Italy
Allegra Antinori shares her entertaining secrets
Cantinetta Antinori opened in 1957 on the ground floor of the family’s ancestral home in Florence. Palazzo Antinori, as the trattoria is known, is an homage to the medieval tradition whereby aristocratic families sold delicacies from their country estates by offering those dishes through small windows in the wine cellars of their city residences. Over time, what began as a small shop featuring the Antinori’s wines and olive oils evolved into a popular 60-seat traditional Tuscan restaurant.
Allegra Antinori, a 41-year-old mother of two with luminous green eyes, oversees the Cantinetta in Florence, along with outposts in Vienna, Zurich, and Moscow. She also manages hospitality at all the Antinori estates. Her job could be described as demonstrating her family’s commitment to authenticity and finesse through food, drink and generosity.
Allegra believes that wine should be an emotional experience. She wants her guests to use their senses to perceive perfumes, tastes, and textures and respond to wine viscerally, the way they might to a piece of music or a work of art. She fosters environments at the restaurants and estates that encourage this kind of experience by entertaining elegantly without being overly formal or excessive. She greets guests with a glass of wine, sits everyone at one long table, serves family style, and always has something boiling on the stove.
In early October, Allegra brought Cantinetta Antinori to New York City as a pop-up restaurant at the Mondrian hotel in SoHo. The scene was set as if for an opera, complete with faux marble walls, a replica of the Antinori family tree dating back 26 generations, and a long communal table. The 2008 Tignanello, the most important current release in the family’s portfolio, was served with the simplest dish, gnudi, a dumpling made of spinach and ricotta served in a tomato cream sauce. The pairing was revelatory. The pillowy dumpling revealed the Super Tuscan wine to be elegant and expansive. Of course, for many of us, serving tignanello requires stretching the budget. After dining at Cantinetta Antinori, however, the wine feels more accessible knowing that the rest of the evening’s shopping requires little more than spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, and eggs.