Our Wine Editor Picks the Bottles for the Wine Bar of His Dreams

Sometimes it takes a large concern to put a little problem into point of view. Take the continuous wine-world battles about natural versus standard wine. This sometimes vitriolic black-and-white commentary, which can be boiled down to “natural wine is flaw-ridden mouse-cage-smelling crap” versus “standard wine is chemically steroided soulless corporate garbage,” actually started to appear a bit … oh, beside the point back when the coronavirus upended everything in March.

The fundamental tenets behind natural wines are essentially naturally grown grapes and as little intervention as possible– no fining, no filtering, no commercial yeast, no mechanical harvesting, and very little or no sulfur. Some individuals discover them a near-religious calling; some feel they are a risk to whatever they think about to be wine (and a lot of individuals believe they sound kind of fascinating and are curious to attempt them).

What is it about natural red wine that’s so polarizing? Regardless, all this ruckus has taken place without there really being that much natural red wine around. The quantity of press dedicated to natural wine has actually been substantial, and sales have actually been increasing.
Bring Your Wine Bar Home
The other thing I was thinking of while doing my end-of-the-world pandemic isolation stint was how increasingly I missed going out for a drink. (Staying in for a drink? That I had lots of). The spirit of red wine, after all, is social. White wine brings individuals together; that’s its excellent wonderful home. And natural or standard, it does not mix well with intolerance. I believe that’s particularly why I was missing hanging out at locations like Brooklyn’s The Four Horsemen. Though it’s a do-not-miss location for natural white wine fans, wine director Justin Chearno’s list strikes a balancing point in between camps. “Sure, most of the red wine we love happens to be quite noninterventionist,” he states. “But if I get an offer for an actually interesting traditional Barolo that individuals will actually delight in, I’ll bring it in. We’re not dogmatic. We’re a taste-great-first place.”

Receptivity is the operating principle for most forward-looking white wine bars, if that’s even the ideal thing to call this movement of small, sommelier-founded (or wine-forward) locations. At Ungrafted in San Francisco, which Rebecca Fineman, a Master Sommelier, opened with hubby and fellow sommelier Chris Gaither, the list is reversed from The Four Horsemen’s: Natural bottles are the minority instead of the bulk. However there are a lot of both. What Fineman tries to find, she states, is “a mix of interesting and off-the-beaten-path, with some things that are really timeless. I get annoyed by the polarities I see in the market. You go to a Michelin-star restaurant, and all they have is $30 by-the-glass well-known names; then you go to a cool wine bar, and everything on the list is natural-funky and $10 a glass. There requires to be an in-between.”

Here’s to the in-between. Personally, I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with natural white wine. The philosophy behind it– organic, unmanipulated, small-scale, genuine– makes outright sense to me. Typically the white wines leave me cold. To take one example, the yeast Brettanomyces, or brett, extensively considered a winemaking flaw, is common in some natural wines. For me, a big amount of brett obliterates the character of a wine; “sheep’s butt” is not terroir. On the other hand, my friend Alice Feiring, who has written more about natural red wines than anybody I understand, does not mind moderately bretty wines. As she says, “If it smells like one sheep coming near you in the field, no problem. If it’s like a flock of sheep in a small cabin warmed by a wood range, big problem.” Battle about it? We joke about our distinctions rather. Take a look at it this way: In cheese, a single person liking Époisses and another preferring Gruyère would not even be an argument.

Besides, as Haley Fortier, the 2019 F&W Sommelier of the Year who owns Haley.Henry in Boston, states, “People tend to have this conception in their heads that if a red wine’s natural, it will taste actually dirty and funky and ‘natty.’ There are lots of really tidy natural wines, too. In a way, the scenario is really similar to Riesling. Numerous individuals assume that all Riesling is actually sweet. But if someone wants a white that’s totally dry and crisp, Riesling’s frequently the top place I go.”

Miles White and Femi Oyediran, likewise 2019 F&W Sommeliers of the Year, co-own Graft Wine Shop in Charleston. They also serve traditional and natural white wines side by side. White states, “Look, you can have cool new-age things next to conventional things, and they don’t butt heads at all.” Oyediran adds, “At the end of the day, it’s either good or it’s not. I do not care if it’s natty or if it’s conventional; if I taste it, and it’s fresh and delicious, you’re in.” Brent Kroll, at Washington, D.C.’s Maxwell Park, puts it succinctly: “Why not simply have red wines for everyone?”

What is a red wine bar, and is that what most of these places are? Matt Cirne, who runs Verjus in San Francisco, says, “We’re sort of a cavern à manger– a great wine store where you can also come and eat. I suppose you might call these places “wine-focused, sommelier-founded, enthusiastic however casual, small-but-not-always restaurants/bars,” however that does not exactly come trippingly to the tongue.

As I was writing this, I could not really review my favorite places– everyone was closed. Instead, I went ahead and built a white wine bar in my mind. I wrote a list that combined natural and conventional red wines, all of them representing wine makers or vignerons with distinct visions; I wanted red wines that spoke of where they’re from and who made them. I likewise desired white wines that tasted fantastic. In essence, I observed what Cirne describes as the base test for his white wine list: “If this was a component on the menu, would the chef buy it?” I pulled my red wines from the lists of my preferred somm-driven restaurants around the country and culled 20-odd of those to recommend here. And I chose to call it Isle Have Another, which was practically my frame of mind at the time. Now, with luck, we’re all heading out once again, ending the day with a glass or two with buddies at our favorite places, however even if we aren’t, it’s still possible to have the white wine bar of your dreams in your house.

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