It’s not unusual, on Thanksgiving day, to give thanks for the bounty afforded to anyone residing in this country. This year, though, at The Dutch, we decided to celebrate a little differently. Today, we’re going to give thanks for the diversity of wines being produced right here in the USA by printing a wine list comprised only of selections produced between our two coasts.
When we opened, nearly four years ago, I am not sure I would have been able to support this seemingly drastic decision. It’s possible I was an ignorant fool, who simply hadn’t tasted enough to know better — after all, Colin Alevras, who was on our opening management team, had already curated an exclusively American list at The Tasting Room from 1999 until 2008. In truth, though, the scale of our list demanded wines of a quality that weren’t produced, in my opinion, until the early part of this decade.
That’s not to say it’s not the first time that curiosities like domestic Gruner Veltliner and varietal Carignan have been available, but the examples from ’11 and ’12 might be the first worth serving alongside, or in this case instead of, Old World examples.
If you came in this summer, before I had committed to liquidating our relatively enviable European cellar, and you had given me any kind of parameters that didn’t include excluding the New World, I would have defaulted to recommending something delicious from this country. While considering that my sisters at Locanda Verde only offer Italian wines, not to mention the beautiful and exclusively French list at Lafayette, why, at the restaurant that Andrew Carmellini opened in the interest of expressing “American Flavor,” did we serve anything other than wines produced here?
So, we went for it. It took the discovery of a handful of wines, like a highly quaffable New Mexican sparkler that is inexpensive enough that I won’t tear up when it’s being turned into a mimosa, a juicy Sauvignon Blanc produced in an out-of-the-way Califronia appellation, and a perfectly balanced Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, to convince me, but it turns out: they do exist.
Why not? After a chat with Isabelle Legeron, a portion of which will be covered here soon, my anxiety about such a drastic switch was relieved. She runs restaurants that serve only natural wine, which excludes most, if not all, of the recognizable names, but didn’t flinch at the idea of a domestic list.
My biggest concern was how to respond to guests who can’t find anything they recognize (and therefore want). Isabelle’s answer was simple, “A well-trained staff.” It isn’t just about investing them with the technical details, because more often than not, guests doesn’t care about how long a wine was in barrel, or at what brix the grapes were picked. “I did that,” she said, in reference to learning the facts and figures one needs to pass the incredibly complex Master of Wine exam, but now she is more interested in communicating the narratives behind the wines on offer to her staff.
The American narrative is not lacking in drama, and as much as I loved New California Wine, there are volumes to be written on New Oregon Wine, New New York Wine, not to mention a really deep examination on how various old trends, like Prohibition, have affected American connoisseurship. We are ready, though, at The Dutch, to embrace it, and what better time to do so than Thanksgiving?
Come in with an open mind to try some Valdiguié or Ribolla Gialla and I’m confident you won’t miss the hegemony of the Old World. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I will admit two things: Champagne has figured into The Dutch recipe since before the restaurant had a name, and although there are some beautiful examples of sparkling wine made here in the US (and more on the way — like Ultraviolet, which should hit the market before the end of the year), there is nothing like the depth of wines available from Champagne. We will continue to consider it its own category. Second, there are some beautiful European wines in the cellar that can’t simply evaporate on my whim, mostly because they are pretty expensive. We will continue to offer a small selection of these gems, so if you’re in the market for something fancy, just check the back page of our wine list.
Otherwise, as you’re taking down some turkey, or as you feel like you’re enough of an American that you can guiltlessly devour some suckling pig, consider whether the best wine to accompany your feast actually comes from a country that considers the Atlantic to be on its west side.
Contributor Chad Walsh writes about wine and other beverages. He is also beverage manager for The Dutch in NYC.
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