Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Monday, June 20, 2011

Attempting to Explain Natural Wines

Clay amphora used for fermentation at COS Winery, Sicily

I realized in putting together my list of wines for our Indigenous Varieties for Adventurous Palates is that all of the wines are considered "natural".  And then I realized how hard it is to explain natural wines to someone who hasn't experienced them or understand their relevance in the world of wine.  It's even harder to nail down a definition to help one understand exactly what "natural"  means.  There is no codification or standardization of practice, but more an ideology that is based on, in very simplistic terms, a commitment to minimum intervention in winemaking that leads to producing wines with a sense of place. I know that is a very loose and broad statement and I in no way claim to be an authority, just someone who loves the end result!

One post I read compared the natural wine trend to cheese.  Which do you prefer, a processed chunk of supermarket cheddar in a plastic wrapper that tastes the same every time you buy it or one in which a farmer is on a first name basis with his cows makes with traditional methods handed down from generations that could be different each time he makes it?  While this is a pretty gross generalization, you get the picture.

Josko Gravner and many other natural winemakers producer skin fermented whites

The argument put forth by natural winemakers is that modern wines are too processed.  They feel that too many producers are dependent on the winemaker's tool box.  If nature hasn't given you enough acidity, tannin or sugar in the vineyard, then you can add tartaric acid, powdered tannins or concentrated grape juice to taste. Can't afford an oak barrel? Then chuck oak chips in the vat.

A biodynamic preparation from a cow's horn that has been buried into the ground at Milton Vineyards in New Zealand.

While there is no real standardization of practices, the reoccurring theme in natural winemaking seems to be not to add anything or take anything away from what the vineyard gave you to work with.  In other words, what you taste is what you get!  Most use biodynamic and/or organic processes, but many are not certified as such, although some like Frank Cornelissen consider these practices in themselves a type of intervention.  They do use natural, wild yeasts, not the bought, cultivated strains and they add little or no sulphur dioxide.  They tend to focus on indigenous varieties, but again, some do not.  Some use wood barrels others abhor the practice and will only use clay amphorae.

Frank Cornelissen's unconventional fermentation vats for producing his "Contadino"

The Louis/Dressner Portfolio features the largest selection of natural wines that I've seen from an importer. 
Their website has great information on the producers they represent, videos of interviews with their winemakers and the way in which they define "natural" winemaking: 

The following techniques and guiding principles are what we believe is winemaking with integrity and respect for the traditions of the native region. This is fine winemaking at its purest, most fundamental level.
Wild Yeasts:
All wines are made with the natural yeasts on the grapes, in the vineyards and in the cellars. Cultured yeasts to rush fermentation or add “enhancing” aromas and flavors are unacceptable. We look for wines that express their terroir. No enzymes, no hormones.

Hand Harvesting:
Growers harvest by hand, not machine. We want the ripest fruit to be brought carefully and lovingly into the winery.

Low Yields:
The growers want low yields for greater concentration. We look for growers with holdings in old vines.

Natural Viticulture:
We encourage growers to plow their vineyards to keep the soil an active eco-system, and to use natural methods in tending their vines.

No or Minimal Chaptalization:
We do not want an artificially high degree of alcohol produced by adding sugar to the must. Non- or slightly chaptalized wines are more enjoyable and healthier to drink.

Wines are either not filtered or minimally filtered. We also encourage low levels of SO2.

Non-Interventionist Winemaking:
We prefer a harmony, not an imposed style —wines should showcase their place of origin and varietal character. We are not looking for oak flavor, particular fruits or overly done aromatics. Minimal use of S02 is encouraged.

Lastly, our most important “principle.” Because, the overblown world of overdone wines is fundamentally tiresome. We’re not looking for tasting specimens, but for wines that are great fun, and a great pleasure to drink.

While as I said I in no way consider myself an authority on natural wines, what I do know is that I've had enough of them now that I can taste the difference.  And in most experiences I love what I find in a glass of natural wine: a common purity, vibrancy and authenticity that I find intoxicatingly intriguing and usually delicious!  So I hope you will join us on Tuesday and try some natural wines made with very cool indigenous varieties by some superstar winemakers!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reflections on the Last Five Years

It is truly hard to believe it has been five years since we opened our doors on Ponce de Leon Street.  It was an uphill battle from the start.  Rebuilding our home after Katrina; leaving a very secure, well paying job of 8 years for the unknown; dealing with a neighborhood association that was initially against our plan; a terrible accident that took place in the shop just days before we opened; a business partner who disappeared in our first week; needless to say, it was a drama filled beginning.  And despite the many  challenges that were thrown our way over the past 5 years, we have persevered, even flourished and finally find ourselves settling in to a very good rhythm that we hope will continue for many more years....

As I love to do, I sat today and reminisced over the past five years, left out the low spots, and came up with my favorite things that have happened.  This is more or less in chronological order, not in order of importance...

Me and Carol Short, one of the original "Nuts" crew.

"Nuts 'n Bolts" was an educational series of classes I offered soon after we opened and the first one brought in a wonderful group of people.  Eager to learn and happy to drink together, the class encompassed everything we were about; building relationships through educating myself and others about the world of wine in a fun and unpretentious environment.  We've all become close friends and most are still regular customers.  I've led many other classes through the years, but that was a special group at a special time and they still continue to meet regularly on their own and hold themed wine and food pairing nights.

Team Swirl, 2010 MS150 Bike Ride

Our decision to start "Team Swirl" began when one of our friends was diagnosed with MS in 2007. Christy began to train with us in June of that year on a 20 year old 10 speed road bike, which she road up until the day of the MS Tour. She completed the first day of the tour, 75 miles, on her new and improved road bike and inspired us all to continue to train, raise funds and ride the MS Tour.  We've been the top fund raising team in the Louisiana Chapter for the past three years, the largest team last year at 57 members strong and are hoping to do both again this year and continue in our dedication to making a difference in the lives of people with MS.

Chef Dan Esses & Antonio at one of our many wine and food events.

What can I say about the friendship that has developed between Kerry, me and Antonio Molesini?  We love him like a brother and have so enjoyed our times together over the years.  But a specific highlight for me was our very first Tre Bicchieri dinner at Ristorante Da Piero, something I had been wanting to do since I first discovered the Italian wine bible, Gambero Rosso.  Antonio helped me make a dream come true as we drank the best of the best of Italian wines with amazing food and wonderful company and started a tradition that we have upheld every year.  His wealth of knowledge, generosity, kind spirit and comedic talent have become invaluable to me both professionally and personally and I always look forward to our time spent together.

Kerry and I had the privilege of meeting Clovis Taittinger through our friends at Republic about three years ago and made an instant connection with the quirky, humble, funny and somewhat shy French aristocrat. So when we found out he was coming back in October of 2009, we teamed up with Commander's Palace for a Taittinger Champagne dinner hosted by the man himself. Eating fabulous food in one of the world's most prestigious restaurants, drinking the amazing 1998 Comtes de Champagne with Clovis, surrounded by customers who have all become our friends, it couldn't have been a more wonderful evening.

In the vineyards of Passopisciaro, Mount Etna Sicily
One of the reasons I got into this business was the hope of being able to offer wine and culinary travel opportunities to our customers.  There is no better way to understand the culture of a people than to immerse yourself in their day to day lives, eat with them, drink with them and hear their passion as they share their stories with you.  Our Wine and Culinary tour of Sicily in the October of 2009 was the first trip and could encompass 10 top moments on its own!  Thanks to Cynthia Nicholson and Elisabetta Zoria of the Farmhouse Table, we were able to team up and organize an incredible tour of Sicily, meeting some of the most influential producers, take cooking classes, visit archaeological sites and enjoy the best food I've ever eaten and drink the most intriguing wines with a wonderful group of people who truly appreciated all that the Sicily offered us. Hopefully the first of many as we leave in a month for our upcoming tour of Tuscany with Antonio as our guide!

We first stumbled upon one of Marco de Grazia's wines by accident a few years back in a little shop in New York.  It was the first wine I had ever tasted from the Etna region, and I knew then that something very special was happening on that wild volcano in Sicilia that I needed to know more about. Thanks to our friends Nick Selby and Dave Kenney at Uncorked, we had the pleasure of Marco's company in the shop for an intimate, seated tasting of his wines as well as a few others he is importing.  Soft spoken, loquacious and extremely passionate about the region, it was wonderful to hear about his approach to wine making on the Etna, to taste the wines with him and hear his stories about what makes this reason so special and one of the most exciting wine producing regions in the world today.

There's always something special about tasting wines with someone who has literally had their hands in the process from start to finish.  It's even more special if it is someone you've grown to love and respect for the person they are as we have with James Moises.  The August 2009 launch party at Swirl for Moises Wines was a special night as producer and local ER doc James Moises and friends generously poured fabulous, small production, single vineyard Oregon Pinots for 3 hours straight! The standing-room-only crowd stood elbow to elbow inside and out to celebrate the first ever release of James' wines, a true labor of love for the native New Orleanian! We've held many events with James over the past two years, but the first was a truly memorable night!

Supporting local artist through our business has been a priority from the start.  We've met and shown many talented artists over the years, but none have quite had the impact of RK(Rudy) Rowell.  Introduced to us in 2008 by friend Paula Pizzaloto, there was something about the spirit of Rudy's work that just seemed to belong in our shop.  A kind, generous and talented man, we developed a wonderful relationship and sort of became a gallery for his work.  His tragic death  in December 2009 marked the loss of a wonderful man who fiercely loved New Orleans and the south. His colorful works were a passionate display of that love and touched so many people.  We feel so fortunate to have known him and really miss his presence in our lives.

The Food Network's filming of a Rachael Ray segment in our shop marked the beginning of a lot of national and local recognition for our us.  While many have mixed feelings about Rachael's star power, we had a lot of fun shooting the segment with them and Rachael was a warm and gracious host.  Many family, friends and customers came out and showed their support during the Friday night filming, and a good time was had by all.

In this business, as with any other, you meet people who look at it as a job and a paycheck and those who wholeheartedly love what they do.  Monica Bourgeois and Neil Gernon bring a creative passion to the wine industry that is both refreshing and infectious.  So when an opportunity became available to pour that passion into a bottle and produce their own wines they jumped in head first and never looked back.  We held their first launch party at the shop and many other events since and just love what they are doing with their label, Vending Machine Wines.  Besides our years of friendship, our support comes from the fact that their approach is a perfect match for our own; do what you love with the people you want to do it with, do it with passion and heart and have a lot of fun along the way! 

There are so many more moments and people that have had a personal on professional impact on us like Linda Smith whose continued support, especially in the early days, made her a lifelong friend; Abe Schoner and his eyeopening unconventional approach to winemaking; Chef Josh Smith from a Mano who shares my love of southern Italian wine and food; Matt Lirette who is building an unrivaled portfolio of Italian artisan producers; chef Dan Esses who brought his creative culinary talents to Swirl on many Friday nights; author Robert Camuto who joined us for an incredible evening of Sicilian wine and food; sommelier Michelle Gueydan who has become such an important presence our lives and all of our purveyors, friends, family, customers  who I wish I could take the time and space to name!

So, while there were times throughout the past years where life was challenging and difficult, it is nice to think back on these moments of joy spent with people we care about, sharing our passion for food and wine. Because a great wine is nothing without someone special to share it with and I am thankful to have a partner and friends who appreciate these wonderful moments just as much as I. Thank you all for you support over the past five years and the wonderful memories you've helped us create!  Cheers!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How Sweet it is....

We just ate our first fig from the little tree cutting I brought back from Sicily almost 2 years ago!  Last year it made a few figs that never ripened so this was the first time we actually got to sample the fruit.  We didn't have high expectations as it was not very aromatic, but boy were we wrong!  It was the sweetest most flavorful fig I have ever eaten and I am so excited to have more on the way!  We put it in a bigger pot early this spring and it is doing very well.  I know as soon as we put it in the ground it will really thrive, but we want to wait until the fall so it doesn't get to stressed with the heat.  For those of you who don't know the story behind the Sicilian fig cutting from the Planeta winery, click here For the Love of Figs

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wine of the Moment, 2005 Larose-Trintaudon Bordeaux

The 2005 vintage in Bordeaux was touted by many as one of the best seen in decades.  Even those who disagree, finding the 2000, 2003, 1996 and 1982 the finest in recent history, still regard 2005 as a stellar year.  But the overall consensus seems to be that it's difficult to go wrong when selecting a 2005 red Bordeaux.

The trick for people like us is finding those stellar wines that you can drink at a reasonable price.  It is easy to find expensive great wine, especially with Bordeaux, if you have the wallet to support such a habit.  Our goal at Swirl is to find those hidden gems that won't cost you an arm and a leg but provide a really enjoyable experience.  And we struck gold this week, and we want to share it with you...

So back to that great vintage.  In Bordeaux the summer of 2005 was hot, but not excessively so, which allowed the fruit to develop good flavor and fresh acidity.  Also the near drought conditions produced small, concentrated berries with a tough skin, resulting in wines with nice tannic structure.  So in a very brief nutshell you have all of the conditions needed for age-worthy wine:  great fruit, good acid and substantial tannic structure.

The Larose-Trintaudon is one of those bottles that you just shouldn't pass up, whether you care anything about 2005 Bordeaux or not.  It's just a beautiful expression of both the vintage and the region and at the $18.99 price tag, you've got nothing to lose.  It is a "Cru Bourgeois Superieur"  a category developed for wines of high quality that were not included in the original 1855 classification.  This wine is not new to the store as we've carried the two previous vintages as well, which have been very good, but this has definitely been the best to date.

This Haut Medoc is 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot.  Medium bodied with ripe blackcurrant fruit, a judicious use of oak, integrated tannins and nice acidity.  On the palate there's a little mocha and smoky coffee; it is round, supple and elegant and is drinking beautifully, but I'm not sure how much longevity is has so buy it now!

What you are drinking...May's top 10

Just thought I'd share my monthly report with y'all!  I'm really happy to see all of the pink stuff, 7 wines out of 30!  Check out what you and your neighbors have been drinking:

Top 10 Cheap 'n Tasty
Segura Viudas Brut   
Lote 44 Pinot Grigio   
Le Lapin Multiplicity   
Paul Bouchard  VdT   
Mallea Torrontes   
Famaey Rose   
Casa Solar Rose   
Trivento Malbec   
Bodegas Borsao  Rose   
Mil Piedras Viognier

Top 10 Under $19
Houchart Rose   
Abiouness Rose   
Librandi Rosato   
Domaine St. Peyre Picpoul   
Kenneth Volk Pinot Noir   
Luccarelli Salice Salentino   
Caposaldo Prosecco   
Graham Beck NV Brut Rose   
Punto Final Malbec   
Taburno Falanghina  

Top 10 Over $20
Highway 12 Cabernet
Vending Machine Winery Loula's Revenge
Planeta Santa Cecilia
Dom. Carneros Brut Sparkling
J Cuvee 20
Vending Machine Winery Eccentric
L&L Cabernet
Poliziano Asinone
Maroslavac-Leger La Combe
Capcanes Cabrida


Related Posts with Thumbnails