Restaurants, Wine, and the Solo Diner: A Talk with Julien Perry

Posted on: December 17th, 2014 by
ono project seattle julien perry

Chef Eric Donnelly and Julien Perry. Photo by Baydra Rutledge

How important is wine to you when it comes to evaluating a restaurant? I chat with Julien Perry on my Wine Without Worry podcast about this subject. She has an astonishing depth and breadth of Seattle restaurant knowledge from writing about them for, to name a few, Seattle Magazine, Eater Seattle, and Seattle Weekly.

What’s great about Julien (well, many things, too numerous to mention here) is that she’s an enthusiastic wine drinker but not a know-it-all when it comes to the subject. It’s refreshing to hear what she expects (and loathes) when it comes to selecting a wine by the glass at a restaurant, rather than from some cork dork pining for a skin-contact Trousseau Gris.

Julien is also the Co-Conspirator of the One Night Only Project, which puts a chef and a drinks expert (like me, ahem) together for a stupendous night of eating and drinking that will never be repeated. Ever. Having worked an ONO dinner and attended one I can vouch for its amazingness.

We also talk about why we love eating at the bar. And not just when we’re alone but also when with a guest. And, hey, why aren’t all single Seattle people having dinner at the bar? Maybe they’re at home watching Pawn Stars and drinking rosé while their Tombstone pizza bakes in the oven. Oh wait, that’s me. And that sounds like an amazing time. But not better than gabbing and drinking wine with Julien. (DUH!)

Finally, my wine pick of the week.  I hop back on the Malbec from Argentina train after after a prolonged break. Check out the Alamos Selección Malbec 2012. It is a rich and pleasurable red that will cure acute Malbec fatigue.

Here’s the show:

For more thoughts on wine and restaurants, check out my conversation with Hanna Raskin, Food Writer and Critic for the Charleston (SC) Post.

Spring Mountain Cabernet from Smith-Madrone: The Perfect Gift

Posted on: December 14th, 2014 by

Smith Madrone Vineyard

There is something special about Spring Mountain. Leaving behind Napa Valley’s floor, you carefully wind your way up to higher altitudes where a new world unfolds. And it’s not just scenery that is transformed; the distinctiveness of the wines bear out that change as well. I was recently sent a trio of samples from Smith-Madrone that exemplify this mountain environment and distinct ethos. My thoughts on each:

  • 2012 Chardonnay ($32)

Pretty dang toasty, but with a very lime-y liveliness in both smell and finish that really balanced it out. A fascinating examples of Napa Chardonnay that keet me guessing (in a good way) with each sip. I imagine this being a nice wine to revisit in a year or two. OAK IS CHARDONNAY’S FRIEND.

  • 2013 Riesling ($27)

Riesling? From Napa Valley? Fascinating! This dry wine had a fine amount of richness along with proud Riesling character. It’s a bit of a survivor, too, showing well even after being open for a week in the harsh, barren clime of my bachelor fridge. (Between the Tapatio and Sriracha, truth be told. Actually, it would be a great wine for spicy food.) Stuart Pigott, author of “Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story” (read my interview with Pigott), calls Smith-Madrone “the unsung heroes of American Riesling” and puts their bottling in his global Top 20 Dry Rieslings list. ATTENTION ALL WINE GEEKS. 

  • 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($48)

2011 Smith Madrone CabernetI am hard-pressed to think of a better Napa Cab for under 50 bucks. This bottle of Smith-Madrone is a testament to both site and winemaking. And I am quite particular about Cabernet, truth be told. I like it to show true Cabernet character, which I define as having notes of wonderful green things. Like olives, herbs, mint, eucalyptus. Now, I’m not saying it should taste like vegetables, but this is the side of Cabernet that, when leaned towards, gets me excited. This bottle drank wonderfully for three days, was not lacking in richness, and delivered P-L-E-A-S-U-R-E. Stuff this in your stocking or, to be safe, put a case under your tree and enjoy how it develops over the years. On my triple buy scale it gets a BUY BUY BUY.

More Spring Mountain: Cain Vineyard and Winery: Truth in the Vineyards

5 Things You’ll Learn About Wine Tasting from Anthony Giglio

Posted on: December 9th, 2014 by


Anthony Giglio

Instead of focusing on wine tasting as some sort of elaborate, rigid routine fraught with ritual and stern judgement, wouldn’t it be nice if someone could just break it down for you via a few simple rules that maximize pleasure and learning while minimizing angst and consternation? I was witness to just that when, as an invited media guest at the Taste of Tulalip, I attended Anthony Giglio‘s guided seminar on the wines of the Rhone versus the wines of Washington.

This wasn’t a “smackdown” per se. More like, as Tulalip Resort Casino Sommelier Tommy Thompson stated, a “pillow fight“. In other words, no puffing out of the chests, rather an informal, good time. (Pajamas optional.)

I was really impressed with Giglio’s presentation. I met him at a lunch in New York in 2011 but hadn’t had a chance to witness Giglio in front of an audience as an educator. And an entertainer. In fact, the seminar started with some autobiographical material about growing up in a house where three generations of his Italian family lived. (At the same time.)

And at this home, wine was a part of every meal. (Though it was a “red wine with everything” kind of household.) Giglio told tales of the “Spaghetti Spritzer”: red wine and cream soda. Even if you weren’t into wine at all–though it would be weird if you felt that way and attended a wine seminar– you’d probably be highly amused by Giglio’s presentation. But back to the wine tasting. Here’s what I learned:

1) “The first sip never counts.”

Maybe you just had some coffee or a bunch of Oreos, I don’t know. But the first sip of any wine can be jarring. Though the saying goes, ”You never get a second chance to make a first impression”, at a wine tasting you have the luxury of multiple chances with each glass. Along those lines:

2) “Take three sips of wine before you throw it overboard.”

We discussed the first. For sip number two, you’re getting back in there and recalibrating from the shock of the first. The third sip? That’s the one where you can get all judge-y on the wine. But perhaps you are still non-plussed. Time for some food:

3) “The game-changer is fat plus salt.”

A wine (red or white) may just be too aggressive, a bit unbalanced on its own. But something magical can happen when it shares space on your palate with something salty and fatty. Potato chips would be the classic go-to. Or maybe a well-charred and marbled ribeye with some coarse sea salt.

Now let’s shift gears and head to the NHL:

4) “Acid in wine is a Zamboni.”

Like a squeeze of lemon over a piece of fish, acidity in wine is what cleanses and smooths things out a bit, getting you ready for that next wine power play.

5) “If it’s free, you try it.”

PREACH IT! The best way to learn about wine is to try as much of it as possible. Preferably when you don’t have to pay for it. Take every opportunity you have to attend tastings at a local wine shop. Just remember you don’t have to drink everything you try; the spit bucket is your friend.

Taste of Tulalip Wine Tasting

NBD

Oh, and about the wines we tasted: Some big-time heavy hitters. I was blown away that we were going to sample Chapoutier’s Hermitage “L’Ermite”. White wines from the Northern Rhone, especially the all-Marsanne versions from Hermitage, are some of the world’s best. This 2007 was still super young and more golden than King Midas.

This wine “pillow fight” was a great opportunity to understand the grapes of the Rhone (both Northern and Southern) and see how they are interpreted in the Old World (France) and the New World (Washington State).

The rest of the activities at the Taste of Tulalip were equally impressive. I was gobsmacked by the two rooms hosting “Magnum Parties”, where wines I never expected to sniff in my life were there for me to savor. (The vast majority poured from magnum.) Back vintages of Red and White Bordeaux, Hermitage Rouge and Blanc, Penfold’s Grange, Opus One, and so much more. Whoa! Even this rare jewel: Krug Clos du Mensil 2000. Aka “Magical Dream-Maker”.

Seriously. #tasteoftulalip

There was also a ginormous room of Washington wines, a wide hallway with international bottles, and a room full of California and Oregon wines. I even got to attend a seminar with famed California Pinot Noir producer Michael Browne of Kosta Browne. He regaled us with tales of being in a youth circus in Eastern Washington (!), which, naturally, led him towards a life in wine. (Huh?)

All of these experiences can be purchased separately. The All-Access Pass is the way to go, though if you just want to spring for the Grand Taste you’d be getting beyond your money’s worth. Either way, I highly recommend you book a room at the hotel or get a designated driver.

As far as the caliber of wines, their rarity and abundance, I was mightily impressed with Taste of Tulalip. Every wine geek should mark their calendars for next year’s event.

Look for me by the Krug.

Top two photos courtesy Taste of Tulalip.

2 of The Best Italian Red Wines For Pizza

Posted on: December 7th, 2014 by
COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria

From Sicily: 2011 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of Nero d’Avola (brawny) and Frappato (lively).

I love beer, white wine, sparkling wine, and rosé with pizza. But the classics never go out of style. Here are two Italian red wines that are dynamite with pizza. Both were consumed at Bar Del Corso, one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle. Even if you don’t get pizza there (which you should),  you’ll still have a great meal. All non-pizza options are creative, fresh, and expertly prepared. (Though can I put in a plug for bringing back the baby turnips?)

First up was the 2011 Azienda Agricola COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Hard to tell from this picture, but it comes in a squat bottle. So it’s already got your attention. This Sicilian red is a blend of Nero d’Avola, which brings some richness to the party, and Frappato, which is the lively, lampshade-on-the-head counterpart. Together, they work like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell:

Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena Premium

Second is what I consider to be the finest wine for pizza and cured meats. Or pizza with cured meats. It’s Lambrusco! The Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena Premium is a dry and fizzy delight. It’s very pale, almost a rosé. And dangerously easy to drink.

You’ll note the wild closure around the cork that seems intimidating, but you just (carefully) pull one of the wings out where they attach to the top of the bottle. (I saw our server do this with no fuss. A quick internet search reveals that, for many, a screwdriver is the preferred tool of choice….)

More Bar Del Corso, featuring a nettle pesto pizza with guanciale

More Seattle pizza, with padron peppers and an Italian rosé

Even more Seattle pizza, in a conversation with Mike Easton from Pizzeria Gabbiano:

International Versus Indigenous Wine Grapes: The Case of Sicily

Posted on: December 2nd, 2014 by

mount etna vineyards planeta

What gets you to explore wines made from unfamiliar grapes? How do you discover something new? Sicily is an interesting case as an island full of indigenous grapes as well as plenty of wine made from non-native, better-known grapes like Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Syrah. I had these questions in mind when I conducted a phone interview with Francesca Planeta of her family’s eponymous Sicilian winery, Planeta. So how to build up interest in Sicily for people who have had little or no previous exposure to the wines? My query and her answer via a transcript of our conversation:

JF: It’s interesting to hear you talk about international grapes and indigenous ones. I was introduced to the wines of Planeta through your Chardonnay, and probably a lot of other people were, too. You focus on both international grapes and indigenous ones. Why do you focus on both, rather than solely indigenous grapes?

Francesca Planeta

Francesca Planeta

FP: “First of all, because indigenous grapes in 1985 were only used for bulk wines, we needed to research and find out more about these wines. As you know, in viticulture, you can’t try every week. You have to wait one year, year by year. A lot of experimentation. There were not many examples on the island — ‘this is the best Nero d’Avola’ — you have to really do it on your own for everything. International varieties were very popular in the New World, so the fact that we were in a warmer climate, getting examples and the right viticulture, the right care consultants. We wanted to start using varieties which were well-known.

“That was actually a good strategy in terms of the marketing, because if we started immediately with the indigenous….La Segreta Bianco and Rosso [Planeta's introductory wines] have always been a blend of indigenous and international. It was very hard at the time for me to sell indigenous.

mount etna vineyard soil

Volcanic soil from Mount Etna.

“With the results we got, that Chardonnay was something quite extraordinary for Sicily. People really got some help to really to get into the world, to know more about viticulture in Sicily, to know more about our terroir. And start then, step by step and then we started to research and introduce other things. I think if we didn’t have those wines, it would’ve been much harder for us and I actually can say that it’s still actually the most popular of our wines. It’s the icon of Planeta, it’s all around the world. For example, I’ve just been in Taromina this weekend on holiday, and most people were from America. And the sommelier was saying, ‘Everyone knows Planeta Chardonnay.’ They maybe will start with the Chardonnay and since you’re on holiday in Sicily you’ll try something else from Planeta, which is more indigenous.”

Find the rest of the interview over on Grape Collective.

For more on Sicily, get to know the authors of The World Of Sicilian Wine.

Images courtesy the winery and Palm Bay International.

Vall Llach: Exploring the Red Wines of Priorat in Spain

Posted on: November 28th, 2014 by


priorat vineyards
It’s hard to look at the grape vines in the rugged region of Priorat in Spain and not think, “How do they make wine here?” The steep hills, the gnarled vines, the “llicorella” (slate) soil. And to call it soil is kind of strange as it looks menacing, like it would slice you in half if you slipped on it. This ain’t no fluffy potting soil.

The folks at Vall Llach in Priorat sent a trio of wines for my consideration and exploration. The region is best-known for its old-vine Carignan and Grenache, in Spain called Cariñena and Garnacha. But you’ll also see some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

And before I got any further, how about these photos? Big thanks to Rebecca Hopkins for letting me use her images. Please peruse more of her work here.

Now let’s get to the lineup:

  • 2011 Vall Llach Embruix ($25): 28% Cariñena, 23% Garnacha, 18% Cabernet, 17% Merlot, 14% Syrah. (15% ABV)
  • 2009 Vall Llach Idus ($50): 40% Cariñena, 30% Merlot, 10% Garnacha, 10% Cabernet, 10% Syrah (15.4% ABV)
  • 2011 Vall Llach Porrera Vi de Vila ($65): 70% Cariñena, 30% Garnacha (15.7% ABV)

vall llach vineyards priorat

Each wine was better on day two and all were extremely savory, rich, and dense. Sips of Porrera had the kind of deepness akin to drinking wine from the ocean’s pitch-black depths, where only National Geographic and your palate can confirm such a place exists.

vall llach priorat vineyardsI know the soil is called llicorella so you may roll your eyes when I say that I detected a lot of very pleasant licorice flavor in all three wines. (The black slate resembles licorice, thus the name.) Look the soil doesn’t taste like licorice. And if you tried to taste it, you’d probably lose your tongue and cut up your gums something fierce. Oh, and when I say licorice I mean black licorice, not Red Vines or Twizzlers. (Sidebar: I prefer the latter.)

I’d also like to say something about the alcohol levels in these wines. They are high, over 15%. I will admit that I tend to be a delicate flower when it comes to ABV in wine. I like lacy, elegant bottles that clock in under 13%. At the very least, under 14%. But none of these wines tasted boozy to me and I’m happy to say I got over myself. (Mark this occasion on your calendar. It may never happen again.)

Finally, for $25, the Embruix is a lot of wine for the money. Anyone looking to expand their global repertoire of intensely powerful reds needs to put it in their rotation.

Want more Priorat? Read about my visit there, as well as Barcelona and Penedes (aka Cava country). Also, get to know white wine from Priorat

Happy Thanksgiving: Sparkling Selections of Washington Wine and Cider

Posted on: November 27th, 2014 by

washington sparkling wine and ciderMy two themes for Thanksgiving refreshment? The first is Washington State. The other? Bubbles.

I couldn’t pass up the chance to snag a magnum of Syncline’s Scintillation Rosé, hailing from the picturesque Columbia Gorge. A big bottle is the way to go for a large crowd.

And, of course, how could I forget Finnriver from the Olympic Peninsula? I love their Artisan Sparkling Cider, which is made in the same method as Champagne. So light, elegant, and refreshing. Perfect for greeting your guests or throughout the meal. The cider’s modest 8% alcohol means it’s a good choice for a long day.

And hey, don’t forget I spent a month at Finnriver Farm and Cidery. Read all about my stay there. (It was magical and memorable.)

Want to know more about Syncline? Check out my interview with Winemaker James Mantone on Grape Collective.

Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful to have a super-fun family who will be happy to enjoy these bubbles with me.

syncline and finnriver

Magnum of sparkling wine, y’all. So I got two bottles of sparkling cider to make it even. And, yes, that’s my reflection, light switch, and pile of books.

20 Wine Bloggers Talk About Thanksgiving: 2006-2014

Posted on: November 22nd, 2014 by

I’m going back in the time machine and rounding up some of my top Thanksgiving wine posts as well as taking a trip around the blog-o-sphere to see what my fellow scribes have historically opined about when it comes to the most venerated of American eating and drinking holidays. Let’s do this! Starting with me, of course.

Deep-Fried Turkey and Zweigelt

I also highly recommend a big 1L bottle of Zweigelt, Austria’s signature red grape. Pair it with deep fried turkey and not burning down the house.

Foodista fueled a pumpkin kick, pairing wine with vegetarian savory and sweet recipes involving the festive orange gourd. I also had a trio of under $10 picks as well.

Need a vegan Thanksgiving dessert? I highly recommend a surprisingly sweet and parsnip pie that also makes an incredible breakfast. (Paired with a spirited apple wine. Oh, and never mind that turkey carcass over to the right….)

Thanksgiving without rosé? No way. Try this pink wine with an unusual blend.

Head back to 2008, where I sung the praises of two South African wines from Mulderbosch. (I still recommend these wines.)

Whoa, let’s go back to 2006, when I was more fixated on gratuitously putting swears in my blog posts, saying “for reals”, and apparently drinking everything in site. I do recall there was a tragic amount of corked Champagne.

But enough about me. Especially because I’m afraid what I’ll find if I look back further in the history of my blog. Let’s check on other bloggers. Cue Kenny Rogers “Through The Years”:

Whitney A. has a video for you (2014):

Meg of Maker’s Table dives deep. And if all that information freaks you out a bit, don’t fear. She concludes, “After all, Thanksgiving is not really about the wine, but it is—consummately—about tradition.” (2013)

Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi warms the heart of this former retail wine pro with his “10 Things Your Mother Didn’t Teach You About Thanksgiving Wines“. (2014) Especially point #2: Trust your salesperson. He explains:

“No one ever got rich working in a wine shop. People who work in wine shops are generally passionate about wine, food, and conviviality. And they’re generally nice people who care more about eating and drinking well than making money. Yes, it’s true that some will try to ‘upsell’ you. But, for the most part, wine salespeople just want you to go home with a bottle of wine that you’ll like. Treat your salesperson politely and respectfully and you will be rewarded in kind.”

AMEN!

W. Blake Gray of The Gray Report is adamant about drinking American wine on Thanksgiving. (2013) And also took umbrage at Eric Asimov’s European-heavy suggestions. (They duke it out a bit on Twitter.) Blake reasons that if “…Thanksgiving means something to you beyond football and shopping, I don’t see how you can separate the land from its bounty.”

Mary Cressler of Vindulge is smoking a turkey and drinking bubbles. (2009, updated 2013) “I always begin any dinner or event (whether Thanksgiving, a holiday party, or brunch) with sparkling wine,” Mary says. Can you understand why I like her?

Ben Carter of Benito’s Wine Reviews talks capon castration and Italian rosé. (2008)

Frank Morgan from Drink What You Like beats the local drum, choosing a red blend from Virginia to enjoy with his turkey. (2008)

Fredric Koeppel over at Bigger Than Your Head goes unusual, with an Auxerrois from Oregon. (2013)

Head to WineOhTV where Monique Soltani reveals (surprisingly) a sweet wine for turkey. And nails the pronunciation of “aperitif”. (2013)

Sean Sullivan of Washington Wine Report advises steering clear of red wines with big oak or tannins. He deadpans, “No need to kill the turkey twice.” (2013)

Clive Pursehouse from Northwest Wine Anthem has a trio of, wait for it, Northwest wines. Also, he posted this at 6:04am. Dude’s up early, probably because his handsome regimen is rigorous. Or because he’s a father. (2013)

What does a Wine Harlot drink? First Nanette Eaton quotes Tolstoy, then moves on to suggest Vouvray among other things. And leaves you with this advice: “No matter what adult beverage you bring, make sure you bring an ample supply, the Wine Harlots motto is ‘excess is best.’” (2012)

Melanie Bianco Ofenloch, aka the Dallas Wine Chick, packs up 18 bottles of wine for her family’s enjoyment. I have one word for that: hero. (2012)

Considering brining with wine? Grapefriend’s Alyssa Vitrano has four words for you (and Martha Stewart): SAVE WINE; DON’T BRINE. (2013)

Although blogging in 2014, Aaron Nix-Gomez of Hogshead unearths an ad for Gold Seal Champagne from 1912. It features a smartly dressed woman with a coupe in one hand and a the reins of a giant turkey (which she is atop) in the other. And an axe-wielding airborne cherub ready to behead said giant fowl. So yeah, it’s pretty amazing.

Joe Herrig of Suburban Wino almost didn’t get to enjoy Thanksgiving in 2010 due to a sinus infection. But a doctor offered him two shots. What was going through Joe’s head? “Two fleeting pin pricks in exchange for rich, meaty mouthfuls of drumstick; buttery, fluffy potatoes; a nose full of cranberries in a fresh glass of Brouilly; the honeyed nectar that is slightly-chilled Sauternes, served with a slice of warm apple pie…” What happened next? “Needless to say, my pants were around my ankles. A shot of cortisone in the left cheek, and a shot of antibiotics in the right….24 hours later, I was on the mend, and digging into a 3-day bender of Crestor-ic proportions.” He even made a video. Not of getting the shots…. (Excellent use of “Roly Poly” by Bob Willis and His Texas Playboys, BTW.)

Alfonso Cevola of On The Wine Trail in Italy takes us back to Thanksgiving in 1976. He had an amazing mustache. He discovered the wines of Ridge. And tells what it’s like to have worked Thanksgiving Day at a restaurant full of wealthy conservative types lamenting the election of Jimmy Carter. It’s a very thoughtful rumination on family. (2011)

One more trip via the wine blogger wayback machine (vintage 2008) , Alder Yarrow at Vinography penned the provocatively titled “Stop The Thanksgiving Wine Recommendations!“. But lest you think him a wine curmudgeon (there is only one Wine Curmudgeon, Jeff Siegel), his post ends on a fine note:

“There are no perfect pairings for everyone, only perfect pairings for you. So relax, experiment, but above all, enjoy your Thanksgiving and make sure it includes lots of wine.”

Finally, Elaine Chukan Brown from Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews recommends not a bottle but that we all be grateful. I also learned about the genesis of her love of, and for, pie. As well as her childhood furniture-rearranging habit. (2012)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Adventures With Spit Buckets and More Life Lessons at Wine Tastings

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by

What have I learned attending a decade-plus worth of wine tastings all over the country and world? Well, I’ve certainly accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience. But I’ve also developed some, shall we say, neurotic tendencies. Here is one circumstance that, at some point, will strike all wine tasters. Both casual and veteran:

wine spit bucketWhen spitting a wine into a bucket, you will eventually get splashback onto your face.

I know, it’s so gross. But it even happens to a pro like me who has spit out more wine than he has consumed over a legal drinking lifetime. (Ok, that’s a lie.) I, on numerous occasions, have suffered the indignity that begins when leaning in to expectorate, say, a fine red Burgundy.  Concurrently, I anticipate making a pithy and insightful statement on the profundity of Gevrey Chambertin to a wine luminary who made the trip across the pond just to pour this bottle. Actual result? I flee in shame as I coat my glasses with a Burgundy cuvée augmented by the saliva of dozens of strangers and little bits of chewed-up food dislodged by swishing and spitting.

But wait, there’s more! Head over to Grape Collective for the rest:

5 Unavoidable Realities You Endure at Wine Tastings

Thanks to Carrie Dennis of Thrillist for the use of the illustration. 

Exploring The Red and White Wines of Northern Italy

Posted on: November 17th, 2014 by

Bastianich

You ever insisted on something being true even after, time and time again, all your suppositions prove misguided? This happened to me while I was treated to a wine-tastic meal by Wayne Young. He’s the Sales, Communication, and Marketing Manager for the wines of Bastianich and La Mozza.

We started out exploring the Adriatico series of white wines of the former winery, a trio of Sauvignon Blanc (2012), Friulano (2011), and Malvasia (2010 and actually Croatian). All these wines had a wonderful presence on the palate that kept me asking if each wine saw some time in oak. It’s not that they were buttery, cotton-candy type of oaky. There just seemed to be something beyond the work of the stainless steel tank happening.

Here’s pretty much how it went:

ME (timidly): “Is there some oak on this Sauv Blanc, maybe a little used, neutral oak?”

WAYNE: “Nope.”

ME (more assertively): “Surely, however, this Friulano is imbued with some of the richness-giving powers of judicious oak use.”

WAYNE: “Again, no.”

ME (going off the rails): “HA HA. THAT’S VERY INTERESTING. BUT IN ALL SERIOUSNESS I KNOW WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT SUCH A LUSHLY TEXTURED MALVASIA HAS GOT TO HAVE BECOME VERY INTIMATE WITH SOME OAK AT SOME POINT IN ITS LIFE.”

WAYNE (slowly backing away): “I’ll e-mail you the tech sheet. Uh, I think I hear my car being towed.” (Exit stage left, post-haste.)

Ok, it didn’t go down quite like that. It was more like this:

Wayne regaled me with a tale how he came to make wine in Italy and how he returned to his current role. I also calmly asked, if it ain’t oak, what the heck is going on with these white wines? A red wine grape, Refosco, was discussed. A quick trip to Tuscany was undertaken. Finally, more geekiness was achieved by considering the Picolit grape. Here’s my interview with Wayne conducted via e-mail and after I had returned to the world of the sane.

JF: Along the wines of “Go west, young man”, Joe Bastianich told you to “Go make wine.” Except you went east, to Italy. How did this brief mandate transpire and tell me a little bit about your resulting winemaking experience.

WY: “Basically I was burning out on the restaurant and sommelier work in NYC. Nights and weekends were getting me down and I needed a change. I had a good rapport with Joe as my boss so I decided to tell him I was looking to leave. He basically asked me if I wanted to “Go make wine”. I had no idea what I was in for. It was the first vintage of the winery and we were making our wine in our Friend Valter Scarbolo’s small cellar. It was the wettest, physically-hardest and longest in terms of hours-per-day work I have ever done in my life. Nonetheless, there is something deeply satisfying about it. The fact that you survived, the idea that you had a direct hand in the creation of something great and enduring. And I learned so much about the mechanics of making wine, the effort required, the attention to detail.

“Then it was over and I decided to stay through the season and work more in the vineyards, which was less of an enlightening experience (and honestly I wasn’t very good at it.. I was too slow!) but the most important thing was the nervous excitement and anticipation of the NEXT harvest during the slower summer period! How could I be excited about getting my ass kicked 7 days a week for a month or so? But there it was, and I attacked the nested vintage ready for what it had to offer and it fought back with the single most difficult and physically demanding harvest I have ever done. 1998′s harvest lasted almost 40 days from first grape to last, due to cool weather and bouts of rain. 1999 was a hot year and almost everything ripened at the same time. First grape to last was about 3 weeks, half of the previous year, and there were nights where we worked non-stop, 2 of us staying until 5am and 2 of us leaving at midnight only to return at 6am. It was grueling, but again, I had survived and after that vintage, everything seemed easy.

“I went on to do 2000, 2001 and 2002 in the cellar. After 2002 I felt as if I had done and learned all there was to do in the cellar as a cellar-hand. I knew press and filter inside out, know the foibles of every tank and pump. Yet, I was not educated enough to look at lab analysis and understand what was going on. It was then that I either needed to start studying enology or think about moving on.

“Again, a conversation with Joe led to the idea of my working in promotion, PR and Marketing, which is where I find myself today.”

The lineup of “Adriatico” wines I tasted with you (Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, and Malvasia) all had a richness and texture that I kept guessing had something to do with oak…but that’s not the case. How is it that this trio of wines have a viscosity to them without the benefit of barrel-aging?

“For the Friuli wines (Sauvignon and Friulano) it’s all about the soil! The ponca we have here is the key to the weight and longevity of wines from Friuli Colli Orientali (and Collio too). Calcareous marl, with calcium as it’s most important element gives the hillside wines here the body you felt in these wines. Clay and rock, good drainage, great exposition, ripe fruit.. all of this contributes to the weight you feel in these wines. There may also be a small portion of skin contact with Sauvignon and Friulano, and some vats may rest on the lees for a little longer, but really I think the soil is key.

“The Malvasia is slightly different since it is made in Istria. There is a type of soil there called ‘terra bianca’ which is a chalky soil that is ALSO calcium rich. This is the key element in the creation of great white wines.”

I found the Vespa Rosso to be very refreshing and was curious about the role that Refosco plays in the wine. What makes this grape unique and what does it bring to the table?

“Refosco is the perfect foil for the Merlot in Vespa Rosso. Merlot in Friuli is beautifully round, fruity and polished. But it lacks a little character, a little acidity and tannic structure. Refosco is an acidic variety with good tannins. It definitely gives the Merlot the “nerve” it lacks, along with a little wild berry and some leafiness that adds complexity… That’s the beauty of blends. Refosco also has incredibly stable colour. I have opened bottles of 10-year-old Refosco that have the fresh colour  like they were bottled yesterday.”

The Maremma area of Tuscany is best known for its “Super Tuscan” wines composed of Bordeaux grapes and sometimes Syrah. The La Mozza Aragone, though, has a good chunk of Alicante. Along the lines of my question about Refosco, why Alicante?

“It’s adaptability to the hot, dry climate of the Maremma is key. It needs a long hot season to grow well and ripen, and that’s what we normally have here. We also wanted to spiritually connect with Spain, Sardinia and Southern France, in keeping with the ‘Super Mediterranean’ blend concept of Aragone. We wanted to be different and not do another Bordeaux blend in Tuscany.”

Ok, one more grape nerd question. The Vespa Bianco is primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but there’s also a percentage of Picolit in the mix. You called this unfamiliar grape the wine’s “secret weapon”. Tell me why.

“Actually, Sauvignon is ‘Friuli’s Secret weapon’ according to Bobby Stuckey. Picolit is only known as a dessert wine, but vinified almost dry it is very interesting. Picolit is ripe, with very good acidity with this honeyed aroma that I think really comes out in Vespa Bianco. It adds richness without flabbiness, adds complexity without weighing the wine down, which is already pretty big and structured! We always remark on how Vespa Bianco is never complete without Picolit. I taste through with the enologist and consultant during all of the blending sessions and it’s only when we start getting near the end and we begin blending in the Picolit that the try character of that vintage’s Vespa Bianco begins to become apparent. The wine would not be even close to the same without it… Amazing what a difference 10% makes!”