When pondering the deep fried pork foot (perhaps preceded by a scotch egg, beef and Stilton pie, and parfait of chicken liver) at The Breslin, two questions come to mind: 1.) Am I going to die? 2.) What kind of wine (assuming bourbon or beer is not in the equation) am I going to drink during this glorious, caloric meltdown? Thankfully, the second question is answered with ingenuity by Wine Director Carla Rzeszewski, a former student of both Master Sommelier Laura Maniec and the Prime Minister of Weird, Paul Greico.
When Rzeszewski took over the list at The Breslin, she inherited a collection of commercial afterthoughts, but she drew on the creeds of her two mentors to challenge the clientele (even if they are an unpredictable, motley crew of aging frat boys, tourists, and those just looking for a pig fix) to look beyond the Santa Margherita in mirrors. She’s fashioned an eclectic short list that leans on her preference for small-production wines, often those with a non-interventionist bent. France, Italy, and the U.S. share the spotlight here, with the latter category avoiding predictability in favor of lesser-known producers like Kalin Cellars and Donkey and Goat that have come to represent CA’s small (but expanding!) artisanal faction. This makes for one of the more interesting domestic collections around.
The rest of the list globe trots, offering Austria some stage time (as well as South Africa, Australia, Chile, and Greece), but gives only one slot to Germany, which makes one wonder whether the list meanders just a bit too much. And another debatable decision: aware of how multifarious and often obscure the list can be, Rzeszewski has chosen to provide her own tasting notes for some of the list’s biggest head-scratchers. On the one hand, we’re inclined to feel that notes do not belong on a wine list if there is a sommelier present, but on the other, we realize that it can be a relief for those looking to navigate in a nonverbal manner. Here they’re sort of disarming, albeit fumbling and a bit redundant at times, but hey, if they keep shy clientele from having a breakdown over Romorantin, so be it.
The pricing here is on the higher side, but there are still plenty of wines under $75 that, despite being a grip more than double the average retail price, will not disappoint, particularly if you’re willing to be adventurous. So, do this: order yourself some Bornard Pétillant Naturel from the Jura or a 13-year-old CA Sauvignon Blanc modeled after Château Margaux’s Pavillion Blanc from Kalin Cellars (or anything else that makes you go “huh?”), and do your best to remain calm while the pig’s foot tempestuously ushers your blood pressure into the red.
Bang For Your Buck
Tant-Mieux Pétillant Naturel Rosé NV, Philippe Bornard $60
A Pétillant Naturel—or more affectionately, PetNat—wine from the Jura. This 100% Poulssard (or Poulsard) rosé sparkler is made by allowing the still wine to ferment to around six degrees of alcohol, then transferring it to the bottle to complete the fermentation without adding any sugar or yeast. The resulting wine is lower in alcohol (around 9%) with a tiny bit or residual sugar in its yeasty, chuggable glory. Adult soda.
Rosé ‘Isabel’s Cuvée’ 2009, Donkey and Goat $49
Donkey and Goat are putting out some of the most interesting wines in CA. Hailing from the Sierra Foothills in El Dorado County, husband and wife team Jared and Tracy Bradt learned their techniques from Texier—one of the Northern Rhone’s most exciting producers. They’ve taken his non-interventionist approach to CA, a place where these sensibilities are scarce. This is 100% Grenache Gris that are sourced from 90+ year-old vines, barrel fermented with native yeasts, and bottled unfiltered. The result is cloudy and wildly aromatic, and with only 168 cases made per year, endangered status is applied.
Cour-Cheverny Blanc 2007, Domaine de Montcy $50
Cour-Cheverny is a tiny appellation (only 48 hectares) in the central Loire Valley, where the kooky Romorantin grape finds its home. This variety has been grown here since the 16th century and has only recently found its way into the international consciousness. Domaine de Montcy is one of only a handful of producers imported to the U.S., and it’s a great intro to the singularity of this grape.
Savennières ‘Roche aux Moines’ 2003, Château de Chamboreau $78
100% Chenin Blanc from a warm year makes for yet another excellent wine from the Loire Valley. This avoids the slovenliness often associated with the vintage and instead maintains direction, offering a mineral-driven, broad quaff with classic Savennières wet wool and honey. Built for salt.
Chinon ‘Bonnaventure’ 2006, Château de Coulaine $55
This small, family owned estate (est. 1300) puts out glorious Cab Franc guided by a non-interventionist hand. The estate only produces Cabernet Franc, and we salute the wisdom to hone in on what you know.
Heideboden 2007, Nittnaus $60
One of the most exciting producers of red wines out of Austria, Hans and Anita Nittnaus have been able to coax a distinctiveness from their wines that had me doodling in my diary at a recent tasting. This is one of several blends they produce: an unfined, unfiltered blend of Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, and Merlot. Big, forward fruit and dust. Pig friendly.
Nero d’Avola ‘Nero di Lupo’ 2007, COS $69
Nero d’Avola has had a rough time in the reputation department. Those who still believe that Nero d’Avola is nothing more than mass-produced goopy plonk shipped to France as a “beefing” agent have yet to meet COS (among others, of course). This is one of the great varietally pure Neros out of Sicily. Goop-free and high-toned with plenty of peripheral dirt.
Off The Beaten Path
Sauvignon Blanc 1997, Kalin Cellars $89
This winery of dollhouse proportions (est. 1977) is located just north of San Francisco in Marin County, and its owners—husband and wife microbiologists—make wine with minimal manipulation, no filtration, etc., then release them only when they’re ready to drink. This big-boned SB sourced from their holdings in Potter Valley (CA’s northernmost appellation) was barrel-fermented for 11 months and bottled in 1998. This is a big, wild wine perfect for this cuisine.
Tocai Friulano ‘Subida’ 2008, Palmina $55
In general, the entire “Cal-Ital” movement is pretty absurd. Growing Nebbiolo in California is NOT a good idea. However, Palmina manages to escape our ridicule at almost every turn. How they manage to make Tocai (native to Italy’s Friuli region) taste this good in a climate so foreign is something worth curtsying to.
Grillo 2008, Tenuta di Serramarrocco $45
Grillo is a white grape indigenous to Sicily (also known as the primary grape in the region’s sherry-like Marsala wine) that’s recently found favor as a stand-alone variety. High in acid, fruit forward, and brilliantly aromatic.
Dolcetto di Dogliani ‘Papa Celso’ 2007, Marziano Abbona $59
One of the most concentrated, structured, and aromatically complex Dolcettos on the market. A one-two punch to the nose for those who still insist on bullying Dolcetto around.
They all skipped town. However, you will find the always-excellent and beefy Mas de Gourgonnier hanging out at $40.
Break The Bank
Brut Rosé 1er Cru NV, Marc Hebrart $105
One of the most exciting new producers working in Champagne, Hebrart’s wines are consistently some of better values out of the region. This is a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, produced via traditional methods and well worth the price.
Pinot Noir ‘Momtazi’ 2007, St. Innocent $105
Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent is one of the most talented winemakers in Oregon, and his wines have had a dedicated cult following for years. This is gritty, under the radar Willamette candy with an Old World bent. The ’07 vintage was trying in Oregon, but the wines from top producers have shown approachability and serious finesse. Lean, aromatic, earthy.
Grand Cuvée MV, Krug $425
Not quite as offensive as the ubiquitous Yellow label “Veuvy trap,” but a guerilla mark-up nonetheless. It’s particularly ridiculous when 1985 Veuve Clicquot Rare Vintage Rosé is nearly half the price (though even that’s a bit high at $265) on this list. There are just too many restaurants that have this wine at lower prices (some even have Krug ’96 for less; see: Four Seasons, Ouest) to make this worth consideration.
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