March 1, 2009

Double Feature

This past week brought two events: a wine tasting club field trip to Salt, and a dinner at Barbra-Jo's presented by Anthony Nicalo of Farmstead Wines.

The evening at Salt was put together on short notice for our tasting club, with little idea of how it would all work out. Fortunately, all thirteen of us were accommodated nicely at their large table in the main dinning room. On the fly we managed to decide on a format; select two bottles at a time to be poured, let the server take care of the rest. We were served platters of cheese, charcuterie and condiments. The wines were mostly good, with a few surprises. Notably, a 1er cru Chablis (elegant with developing complexity, though lost when paired with most of the food), and a primitivo (known in North America as zinfandel) from Italy. Up until Thursday, I had not found a zinfandel that I really cared for. This primitivo, on the other hand, was perfumed and bold, but still balanced (even at 14.5%). Its given me a reason to keep on looking for a good zinfandel. In all, the evening at Salt was light hearted and filled with good conversation. (For tasting notes please click here.)

In contrast, the dinner at Barbara-Jo's was much more focused. The wines were more challenging, and correspondingly a more challenging set of ideas were presented. Anthony Nicalo began by talking about the idea of a vigneron. In France, as in many other places in the Old World, the act of growing grapes, and making wine is encompassed in one title. The English bastardization for this term, in use in 17th century England, is vinaroon. This reminded me that, too often the act of thinking and doing are separate. Like any craftsperson, a vinaroons responsibility is to make thoughtfull choices through actions. The wines that Anthony presented to us were all produced by producers that were also growers, people who had complete control over the decisions and execution of their product (and often made choices to grow organically or biodynamically and vinify with minimal intervention).

My descriptive abilities are bound to fail when talking about these wines. However, I will offer that these wines provided me with a new sense of the complexity possible in wine. They all had personalities that stayed with me thoughtout the evining, and complimented the meal beautifully. Although all the wines were outstanding, the Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive was sublime, and probably the best desert wine I have ever tasted.

As a parting thought, Anthony evoked Wendell Berry, saying that we make chocies about how agriculture is practiced, by the food that we buy and consume. It follows, therefore, that if we care deeply about quality food, sustainably raised, we should pay the same attantion to the wine we drink.