Unlike his cheery, black-mustachioed video-game brother, Mario Batali is battling a very bad image as presented in Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford. Apparently Batali, according to Buford, is an insecure, over-testosteroned p---k who shoves food in his kitchen staff's mouths and forces them to repeat his words that it's what America is craving. Nice guy.
In a recent New York Times article, writer Julie Moskin compared a risotto made with a $70 Barolo (as called for in Mario's recipe) with one made from a bottle of Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (closer to what Mario actually uses in his restaurant). In a blind tasting by the NYT dining staff, the Charles Shaw won hands down. The Barolo version was described as "'least flavorful,' 'sharp edges' and 'sour.'"
I decided to try this experiment in our own GoodStuffNW test kitchen, using a cup of 2004 Mas Donis "Montsant" as a substitute for the Barolo and my two faithful test kitchen staffers as judges. Again, the cheaper wine was judged as "great" and "really great." 'Nuff said. You can download a version of the NY Times recipe here and try it in your own test kitchen.