Wine Phoenixes: Rising from the Ashes (and Onto Local Wine Lists); “All Things Next” Concert Series at Captain Lawrence; and Chinese Crullers and Congee in Tarrytown
What the hell is happening lately? It used to be that you knew whom to sneer at. But now that we have those annoying hipsters championing PBR and respectable foodies sucking down Aperol Spritzs (a drink whose flavor profile was once elegantly expressed by esteemed vintner Bartles and Jaymes). It’s getting to the point where you can’t just judge a person by his drink. Why, just recently, I saw some great restaurant selling a shandy, which (as we all know) is just an excuse for respectable, middle-aged English ladies to catch a good beer buzz early in the morning. I’m just saying—are Momofuku appletinis next? Will booze snobbery simply cease to exist?!?!
Look at what’s happening with Labrusco, once publicly decried as cheap fizz. Here’s an ad from Labrusco’s rather sordid past:
By the way, you can still snag Riunite Lambrusco, priced to guzzle at about $5.99 per bottle. Or you can swing by Tarry Wines and get a Lambrusco endorsed by the Restaurant Man, Joe Bastianich, himself. Here’s what Bastianich says about the wine phoenix, Lambrusco, currently enjoying a fad among drinkers: “Currently we carry Cantina di Sorbara Lambrusco Amabile NV. It sells really well; In fact, people are crazy for it—so much so that we’ll probably bring back in a Grasparossa or another style of Lambrusco. It’s selling surprisingly well perhaps because people are first getting to try it in restaurants. For many who are unfamiliar with Lambrusco, the idea of a bubbly red served chilled might be strange, but it’s perfect with cheese and salumi, especially when you are craving a red on a hot summer day.”
And then, on the rumor mill of Facebook, I heard that Restaurant North was selling—get this—White Zinfandel, perhaps the most sneered-at wine of all time. Oh, you know this wine. It was chugged by the gallon back in the ’90s by ladies of a certain age that like to get a little glow on but don’t really like the flavor of wine. It was pink. It was sugary. What the hell, you could put it on ice and drink it with a straw. It was the bane of every serious barman that was forced to stock it, shamefully, hidden under his bar.
So I contacted Restaurant North’s Stephen Paul Mancini, who, as just a sprout, ran the wine programs at Union Square Cafe and Maialino, two of Danny Meyer’s restaurants. Basically, I said: Seriously, Stephen, White Zinfandel? Here’s his response:
“I feel like the new wave of sommeliers, people like myself under the age of thirty to thirty-five or so, are always looking for a way to make waves in the water. The old regime made Riesling big. They made things like Oregon Pinot Noir significant or even wine from Austria.
“The most notable are great professionals like Paul Greico at Hearth and Terroir in New York City. He started this great movement called ‘the summer of Riesling.’ At all of his restaurants, he only pours Riesling by the glass as white wine as he believes that the grape is so diverse that is can run the gauntlet of flavor profiles and expectations. Paul is a pioneer; He changed peoples' expectations of ‘riesling’ from the ‘Blue Nun’ of the eighties to the world-class Rieslings that are being produced today.
“Same thing happening today with Lambrusco and Beaujolais and even White Zinfandel. In the wine world we have this saying: ‘Great winemakers make great wine in all vintages,’ meaning that, even if the vintage was not so good, a great winemaker will figure out how to work with the grapes to make a great wine. They are great technicians. So if you follow these models, The Turley White Zin is a slam dunk. Turley is one of the great American wine houses: Helen Turley, the original wine maker (who also made wines such as Colgin, Martinelli Winery, Pahlmeyer Winery, and Bryant Family), started a winery that set the standard for the domestic production of Zinfandel. So when they came out with a very limited production of a wine they call ‘White Zin,’ it was, ‘How can I get a case of this?’ Nothing feels better than a guest looking at the wine list and saying ‘White Zin?’ and smiling, knowing how magical the Turley wines are, and saying, ‘Would you like to taste it? It's like nothing you have ever tasted before.’
“Young wine professionals want to take risks. It's just the nature of the people in the positions. Trying to re-invent a wine category is an exciting challenge not a tedious task.”
But, Stephen—is it a hard sell? How many people think of the cheap pink crap from the ’90s when they see that Turley White Zin at Restaurant North? “Everyone. That’s the fun of it.” But do they quail at the price? “Not so much, as it is Turley, so people kind of get it. Also, we have been able to establish ourselves as an ‘educated wine house,’ and with that people are okay with the price.”
So be warned, wine snobs: You are about to look stupid when you sneer at someone because of his wine choices. Better switch now to judging people by their watches or cars.
HotDate: All Things Next Concert Series at Captain Lawrence Tasting Room
September 21, 7:30 pm
October 18, 7:30 pm
November 29, 7:30 pm
December 13, 7:30 pm
Looks like Captain Lawrence is plotting world domination. First twelve-ounce bottles and, with its Tasting Room, nightlife and prize competitive sports (“cornhole,” trivia night, and bocce). Now look for Vaccaro to be getting into concert promotion. His monthly All Things Next concerts at the Captain Lawrence Tasting Room promises a changing lineup of bands. All of the $10 cover charge will go to charities (for more information, visit All Things Next). To eat, there will be visits from the Tasting Room’s regular food vendors (including the Cookery’s DoughNation and Bridgeview Tavern), and, of course, you’ll find all of your favorite Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. beer at the cash bar. Look for the next All things Next concert on September 21 with a performance by My Pet Dragon.
HotPlate: Chinese Crullers and Congee at Taste of China in Tarrytown
I’ll bet you were sitting there, all smug in the knowledge that you already knew all the deep-fried pastry in Westchester. Oh, sure, you know every bear claw, every bombolino, and every beignet, but do you know about the Chinese crullers at Tarrytown’s Taste of China? These traditional breakfast pastries differ from Dunkie Do sugar sticks in their very neutrality. The youtiao is chewy, bready, barely salted, and sort of bland, but it makes just the right vehicle for the last traces of a nutritive breakfast of chicken congee (rice porridge). Look for Chinese crullers and congee all day long at Taste of China.
Julia Sexton, restaurant critic, food writer, and CRMA award-winning blogger, is a rampant traveler who will go anywhere to try anything. When not furtively sneaking cinghiale sausage past airport bag sniffers, she cooks and writes at her home in New Rochelle. A regular in Westchester Magazine’s pages, where she reviews local restaurants, Sexton’s food writing has also appeared in the New York Times and the Boston Globe. This fall, look for the debut of Sexton's book, Hudson Valley Chef's Table, published by Globe Pequot Press. She'd love to hear from you, so email any rants, questions, and comments to the Eaterline, firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Julia Sexton on Twitter @JuliaSexton