Retired oncologist Vincent Caggiano has another career: overseeing the 200-bottle wine list at Biba, the Italian restaurant in midtown owned by his wife, Biba Caggiano. Here, he talks about his approach to wine selection and explains why he has the world’s best job.
Tell me about your role in selecting wines for the restaurant—I composed the restaurant’s first wine list when we opened in 1986. My role is more or less to provide guidance and set the style and the tone. I don’t actually pick the individual wines, but I try to expose our manager and our bartenders and our wait staff to the various styles of wines. I more or less feel like the coach; I set the goals. I tell them we want to cover these bases.
What guides your decisions?—My philosophy has been that we should limit the wines we have in the restaurant to about 75 percent California wines and 25 percent Italian wines. If anything, I’ve tried to instill that the wines we carry should be diverse in character; we shouldn’t have wines of all the same type.
Do you and Biba collaborate on the wine selection, or does she leave you to your own devices?—She leaves that to us, but I often ask her what’s coming new on the menu and keep in mind whether that will affect the wine list. She lets us have full rein on the wine list. She’s been happy, and I’ve been happy.
You spent your professional career as a physician. What are your thoughts about the connection between wine and good health?— I think there’s some good evidence that a glass or maybe two—but no more than that—is good for your health. There are substances in red wine that help prevent hardening of the arteries. I’m an advo-cate of wine with meals.
Tell me about Doctor’s Corner, the e-newsletter that you write for the restaurant—The term Doctor’s Corner was coined because we like to try wines three or four times a week, and often I’d be sitting at the corner of the bar, and there’d be three or four bottles of wine and lots of glasses. People got so used to seeing me there that they started to call it the Doctor’s Corner. So I used that phrase for the newsletter. In past issues, I’ve written about visits to wineries or wine festivals. I don’t like to go into the jargon of wine tasting; I just like to say that we sought out some good wines, and people will get the idea they may eventually see them on the wine list.
What’s the most rewarding part about shaping the wine selection at Biba?—The most rewarding part is eating and tasting the wines to see what wine goes with what food. I always say I probably have the world’s best job. Well, it’s not a job; it’s something I fell into because of marriage.
Did you eat and drink much differently before you met Biba?—Of course. I was younger; you eat differently, drink differently. We’ve just built on what we’ve had and that’s it.
You must have known you had a good thing when you met—I’ve never complained.