Obscure Tuscan Fun

| 02 Mar 2015 | 04:31

    think tuscany: rolling sun-kissed vineyards topped with old castles, enchanting villages trickling down the hillside, fruitful sprawling vines, clouds and blue sky for days. think felice, which literally means "happy."

    "happy" and "wine" are the perfect blend, a hint at what's inside this cavernous space that imports some of its wine directly from the vineyard of owner and full-blooded tuscan wine producer jacopo giustiniani.

    it is often difficult to create a wine bar that's sophisticated and instructive but not pretentious-something that won't intimidate the novice, yet concurrently tempts the oenophile. felice, which opened in december 2007, succeeds in doing just that. general manager jake nevius said the combination of "obscure varietals along with really great food in a non-pretentious atmosphere" is what drew him from the beginning. one of the best parts of his job, he says, is educating guests about the various varietals on the extensive wine list.

    décor was inspired by designer robert mckinley, who has worked with local spots such as pm, gold bar and cain. the family-style wooden table in the center of the room exudes character and feels like tuscany.

    if you're starting with wine by the glass, choose your color: vini bianchi, vini rose or vini rossi, and let the swirling, sniffing and tasting begin. if you're venturing out for a bottle, pick your region, which includes abruzzo, campania, friuli, lazzio, piemonte and puglia, with prices starting at a very fair $34 and rounding out at $110.

    if you're feeling uber-adventurous, try a bottle from la riserva di felice, which starts at $105 and rises to a handsome $270 for the gorgeous and well-loved super-tuscan, tenuta dell'ornellaia 2005.

    a stark, modern, travertine bar is an ideal place to sample a few different varietals at once with a wine flight: three half-glasses of any wine by the glass, priced at $21. be sure to try the triente, pala 2006 made from the cannonau grape and produced in sardegna ($11). it boasts strong black pepper notes, white baking spices and over-ripened cherries. also try the $13 glass of sangiovese/merlot blend termed quinis, produced by the owner himself. within the glass, scents of the tuscan countryside emerge, complete with gripping tannins, hints of wood and stewed fruits.

    for oenophiles, a crisp ribolla/tocai blend ($52) or a bottle of the newcomer cialla bianco, 2001 from friuli-a blend of ribolla gialla, verduzzo friulano and picolit-should satisfy a well-honed palate. cialla bianco is nicely layered and features balanced plum, prune and honey notes, as well as a cutting acidity.

    as you sip, feel free to guess how many bottles of wine can be held in the enormous glass jugs hanging overhead. i'll give you a hint: each one holds 54 liters, and there are 750 milliliters per regular sized bottle of wine. you do the math.

    on the gustatory side, the ravioli della casa ($15) makes for a mouth-watering combination. served perfectly al dente, this delicate pasta is so homemade that you can taste the dough. spinach, ricotta and a delectable butter sage sauce top it all off. it is too perfect to pass up, thanks to chef simone parisotto, former chef of emporio armani cafe in italy and monaco, and current chef at sant ambroeus in southampton. also try the tartare di salmone ($16) with citrus, avocado and caper, and the tagliere misto di formaggi e salumi, a chef's selection of four cured imported meats and cheeses ($25).

    felice, on the southeast corner of 64th and first, gives us the chance to escape from the busy streets of manhattan and reminisce about tuscany. pull up a chair for brunch, lunch or dinner, mingle at the family-style table or relish a refreshing grappa al fresco. salud!

    -- felice wine bar 1166 first ave. (at 64th street) 212-593-2223, www.felicewinebar.com entrees: $14 to $29 wines by the glass: $8 to $18