We’re continuously surprised by Dave Phinney’s wine making here at Corkhoarder. Have been fans of his Orin Swift label for years. As he parted with some of Orin Swift, he brought in his Locations project. Currently offering a red blend from France, Spain, and Italy. We opened our France (F-1) bottle recently and it’s quite a bit different than his D44 bottle under the Orin Swift label. Softer tannins, bigger fruit, and chewy. The Spain and Italy shouldn’t disappoint if this is the standard.
Notes from the Catacomb Cellar: Get ready to storm the cellars for this one! Grab it - open it and discover the explosion of exotic spice, blackberry & sweet cherry pie all rolled up in this elaborate wine trap. Gorgeous overtones of sweet pipe tobacco brimming in a weighty mid-palated texture that puffs up the chest. There is an inkiness about this wine that is both in sight and in the flavor that I totally resonate with leading it to the finish. The end of this wine is screaming to be longer - but perhaps the shortness was purposed & planned for you to keep sipping. Just for the record, I drooled this wine until it was gone…did I need the long finish? Harldy. An epic ambush of a wine!
Memory Rapture: Tasting this wine screamed TATTOO INK & totally took me back to when I went to go get my first tattoo with my old friend Ted Larsen. We were both playing in punk rock bands in Canada at that time and knew that it was time to get some ink. Now I needed to get psyched up before just walking in to the tattoo parlour & Ted knew that the only thing that would get my blood pumping was listening to the band Grim Reaper. Metal shredding face melting guitar and wailings.
Every time I taste this wine - I will think of getting my ink with no regrets!
If I could introduce the Abstract Wine Maker David Phinney to Steve Grimmett of Grim Reaper I would…
We are reprinting our wine list at my restaurant. This is significant for two reasons. The first reason is that it is because of a change to our core list, which is the list of wines that all of the restaurants in our chain must have. The second significant thing about this turn of events is that it marks the absolute best time to bring new, non-core wines on the menu. I was ready for this. Over the past six months I have tasted a lot of different wines in a buyers group I took part in. You have to taste through a lot of wine to find the real gems. (A real gem is what I would describe as a wine that over delivers on quality in relationship to its price.) I also did a fair amount of exploring in the wine world on my own dime. When my manager asked me if there was anything I wanted to add to the “recommended” page, I was very excited. Typically, the wines that do well there are reasonably priced, and because the financial risk is low, the likelihood that guests will think outside of the box (their box) is increased. This is my favorite kind of situation as a Sommelier. I love it when guests discover a wine that they never thought they would like and they are taken aback. It makes the restaurant look great, and I can be sure that they will be back and asking for another recommendation. It is often times the beginning of an important relationship based on discovery.
I lined up meetings with distributors and importers. We tasted some memorable wines that were not at all expensive–they would be less than $50 on our list, and a few higher end wines that were also very good. For the three I was most excited about, I arranged for sample bottles from the reps and I poured them for my manager blind. The first was a New Zealand Chardonnay that I had been impressed with twice already. Vibrant, crisp, and with a round, waxy quality to it that balanced it out. The second was a Mencia, which I found to be incredibly floral and aromatic. I had never had a wine like it–orange blossom, primrose, lychee, and a kind of elevated red raspberry–bone dry and succulent. The third was a Cab Franc from Saumur Champigny. I had tasted it blind in a few situations, and it revealed itself to be a wine of complexity and subtlety. One of the hostesses that showed up to every one of my tasting groups really liked the reds, the Mencia in particular. Days later, my wife would say that the Mencia was the best wine I had ever brought home. My manager did not like any of them. As disappointing as this was, I can at least understand why.
Personally, I just can’t get excited about the latest Napa Cab anymore. (Pardon my generalized smear on a wine region. It isn’t something I am proud of. In part, I just get so inundated with them at work that I just stop tasting them with the level of awareness and focus necessary. Certainly an opportunity for growth on my part.) There are undoubtedly some great ones, but more often than not, I think they are just really ripe fruit with lots of new oak and a well known name and a high price tag. And since those are the cues that people have grown accustomed to, the conditions under which they have learned that the wine experience they were having was “great,” it is relatively easy to sell a wine as a quality wine with just a few broad brushstrokes. Also, as a sort of unintended consequence, wines that don’t hit all or most of those cues are usually looked down upon. So how do you sell a Mencia from Galicia to these types of guests? Or your manager? Not without a plate of chorizo it seems. I mean it. So so so much comes into play here. I mean, it would be an accomplishment to sell Mencia in the area that I work. No one is going to order it of their own accord, and tasting a guest on it without food already in front of them is pretty dicey also because most of my guests are thinking of wine like a cocktail or a beverage existing in a vaccuum. A touch of bitterness or green, too much acidity or dryness, these are all things that will raise eyebrows. And my manager, ever in touch with what our guests are looking for, had pretty much the same reaction as they would.
And so my question, how do you sell Mencia from Galicia to this market, becomes an exercise in frustration. It is the bane of my ever expanding wine knowledge’s existence. It is a cultural divide, even. It allows me to feel superior and dissatisfied. It can lead to more and more off the beaten track wines: orange wine, wines of the Jura, Sherry. I’ll drink them on my own and snicker at the wine buying public from inside my enormous, cave-like Riedel glassware. If they only knew what I know.
Well, that is one way of dealing with it at any rate. That isn’t the path I want to take. Because the answer to that question, how do you sell Mencia from Galicia to this market, is actually the key to success. If I can open people’s eyes to Mencia, an indigenous Spanish varietal that most people have never heard of, then what could I not do? Here is what I believe most: good wine is good wine and everyone can recognize when it is good. Maybe there are people, a lot of people, that have been taught that “good” wine only fits a certain flavor profile or winemaking style. Maybe there are people that believe that wines have to be at least $100 to be of any quality. But if you or I can find a way to get past these preconceptions and slip something of unexpected beauty and quality into their glass, everyone wins. It is a rare and special thing to introduce someone to a new experience that they never thought they would enjoy. It is one of the nicest things you can do.
It is with that firmly in mind that I tried Dave Phinney’s new wine, part of his “Locations” series. It sounds like some sort of greatest hits blend: Grenache from Priorat, Tempranillo from Rioja, Carignan from Ribero del Duero. How could it be anything but great, right? Well maybe it is good that Dave Phinney is making such an effort to get people to drink Spanish wine. (He is doing the same for France and Italy, and I am oh so sure that Portugal, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and Germany are to follow.) I happen to be in Central Spain right now as far as my studies are concerned. There are some great Spanish wines out there. I don’t think that “E” is one of them, sadly. The thing about Rioja and Ribera del Duero and Priorat (although some may disagree there) is that they have an incredible sense of place and history. The Phinney wine tastes, to me, like it could have been made anywhere. I am also cynical enough to note that, as a table wine, the regulations are so lax that there is nothing to stop him from changing the blend or using which grapes he sees fit from year to year should he need to increase or decrease his production. (I am sure he is hoping for an increase.) He is really selling SPAIN (!) more than he is selling a wine of any particular character. But I am okay with that. Because maybe it opens the door to Telmo Rodriguez or any one of a number of high quality Spanish producers. My guests would thank me for introducing those wines to them…