Tony McClung, National Sales Manager for Rosenthal Wine Merchant, chats about wine buyers, the Rosenthal philosophy, and why their wines are great with food.
I occasionally have the chance to taste wines I wouldn’t ordinarily buy for the restaurant or for myself. For example, I’m not really a New World Cabernet Sauvignon drinker, so when I taste a wine like 1999 Philip Togni from Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley as I did recently, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised. The Togni was balanced with fresh acidity and had just 12.5% alcohol. It was also aromatic and complex, but what struck me the most was that it was actually dry, not just “technically dry,” meaning a wine can contain up to four grams of residual sugar per liter (at least according to the EU; I’m uncertain of the numbers in the U.S.). This was “dry” like traditionally made Chianti Classico normale and authentic like an unadulterated expression of Cornas.
I use those words “traditional” and “authentic” because so many wines today, both New World and Old, are made in a ripe, round, and even sweet style that has little to do with the wine’s tradition or place. Not that the “tradition” of blending white grapes into red Chianti was a good thing—and most will agree that Chianti is in a better place than it was 25 years ago—but somehow in an effort to please critics and consumers, many wines are now made in a polished, sweetened-up style where the varietal character is compromised and the expression of place is subdued. For me, the bracing acidity one encounters in a Chianti Classico normale like those of Castell’in Villa or the earthy, gamy pungency of Cornas in the hands of Auguste and Pierre-Marie Clape, tastes an awfully lot like those places and the grape varietals from which they’re produced. They are wines that taste “a lot like themselves,” as one of my colleagues likes to say. Polished versions of these wines are fine, and can even be good, but for me, inky Gevrey-Chambertin seems odd, purple Brunello is perplexing, and (perceptively if not technically) sweet Bandol is downright bizarre.
Wine Merchant Neal Rosenthal of New York City has built his reputation over 35 years on importing wines from France and Italy that taste like the places they come from. The wines are not polished with the vanilla of new oak nor are they sweetened up with super-ripe fruit. Vintages show their variation, Brettanomyces can occasionally be found in a minuscule but complementary degree, the “funk” of wet chalk will be in every bottle of Chablis, and the earth in every Rhône. The dry wines are dry and the sweet wines are sweet. All of these wines are produced in a traditional style and are authentic expressions of place. They’re my kind of wines and I happily carry them at the restaurant and drink them at home.
A back label to look for when shopping for authentic wines.
Read Reflections of a Wine Merchant by Neal Rosenthal to learn more.
posted on September 3 2009 by jesse