There has never been a better time to drink wine than right now. There is more readily accessible knowledge out there than ever before in the form of books, apps, websites, seminars—you name it. There are like 10 wine documentaries available on Netflix at any given time. Restaurants and wine shops now specialize in regions, and sommeliers and clerks offer the type of specialized advice that music nerds used to find at places like Other Music (sadly RIP, though its oenophile analogue, Astor Wines, is still thriving mere steps away). But with this torrent of information comes a rush of trends and even divisiveness—check out Jon Bonne’s recent appraisal on Punch of the naturalist wine divide (after you read this, of course). Snobbery in wine? It can happen.
All of which is to say that I, co-founder of the erstwhile plebeian effort, the Wine Dads™, wish to decode the trends. To level the playing field. To arm you with knowledge so that your next visit to that hot list restaurant with the natural-leaning wine list doesn’t end in embarrassment. So for this first installment of Talkin’ Wine Trends, I reached out to Bianca Bosker, the Princeton-educated journalist and author of last year’s hit wine book Cork Dork. We met at Vin Sur Vingt in the NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan, discussing my made-up questions (in bold with quotation marks, to differentiate from my own questions and comments) over a Menard Cabernet Franc/Grolleau/Gamay blend (me) and a glass of picpoul (her).
“How much should I be paying for a decent bottle of rosé?”
I generally find that rosé is more forgiving because you’re drinking it cold, you’re probably in a really good mood and it’s summer when you’re drinking it. But I would say 20-ish dollars is a good place to start. $15-20. You can of course spend more than that and you won’t regret it!
“And should I even be drinking rosé that’s not from Provence?”
I think you should drink your rosé very adventurously. When I was working at Terroir, we had a Lebanese rosé on the wine list and no one would have chosen it of their own volition but that stuff is like summer Gatorade. I probably sold more of that than anything on the menu. It went down so well; everyone loved it. Provence is like the OG rosé and it’s classic and wonderful, but if you’re gonna spend less money, go for a less well-known region: Lebanon is amazing. You’ll find great ones from all over the U.S. Spain has fantastic rosés. So yeah, branch out.
“In general, if you want to drink well for less money, choose a grape you’ve never heard of from a place you can’t pronounce.”
“What about orange wine? What’s that all about?”
Orange wine is not made with oranges, but tends to be orange in color and is basically a white wine made like a red wine. The grapes spend more time in their skins so they get more tannin and grip to the wine, and a little more body, and most pleasurably to me, there are more robust aromas to the wine. The reason you should care is that it’s delicious. Orange wines—they often have an intoxicating aroma that makes them a blast to drink. And they’re very easy to pair with food. They’re very diplomatic in terms of what they go with.
“Where do you find them? I find orange wines in natural wine bars easily enough in NYC but if you’re in Chicago or somewhere, what do you do?”
Orange wines are not new, but they’re not the classics you’ll find on most wine lists. Someplace that has a more adventurous wine list is a good bet.
“I went to a new restaurant and the wine list was all natural wines. What’s the difference between natural and un-natural wine?”
I think we need to back up and talk about how wine actually gets made in the 21st century. I think a lot of us come to wine with a bit of a romantic perspective and this idea that wine is just grapes and yeast and love and maybe some rainbows. And in fact, there’s 60-some additives you can put into wine to massage the flavor, the texture, the color. You can add cultivated yeast strains that accentuate maybe a cherry cola aroma, maybe green bell pepper notes. These are all perfectly legal things to do; winemakers don’t have to tell you what are the ingredients in that bottle of wine. A lot of these additives and manipulations have been around for a really long time.
Bordeaux—they have been adding egg whites to fine their wines for centuries. In fact, that’s how they ended up inventing the canelé, which is this pastry made with all the leftover egg yolks. It’s not like there’s egg floating around in the final product. That egg is filtered out; you’re not drinking that. But natural wines, there’s not a natural definition, but generally, the embraced understanding is that there’s nothing added and nothing removed. Nothing added means the winemakers are using the native yeasts that naturally occur on the grape skins; they’re not adding any, let’s say, tartaric acid, which occurs naturally in grapes, and you’re not adding anything—you’re not fining or filtering the wines.
So what does that mean in terms of the drinking experience? Natural wines can be more unpredictable, some people find they have more character, texture. They can be quite funky. Some of them are magical, soul-shaking experiences and some of them smell like dirty diapers.
Some people disagree, but to me a wine is not inherently delicious because it’s natural. I find that many natural wines taste delicious, just as wine that’s conventionally made is not inherently delicious, but there are many wines that are.
You upset some people in the wine world by saying it’s okay to drink wine made with additives in an op-ed for the Times, right?
I think that much as in life, the high-end and the low-end should be able to co-exist. “Additives” has a bad rap. The word is very loaded. Personally I think the idea of what makes a good or bad wine is very fungible. If you live in Brooklyn, Portland or Austin, those orange and natural wines are very easy to come by. These wines that are mass market, that have been made to taste good to large numbers of people—they can be gateway wines for people who may not have tried or cared for wine before.
Right. There are some winemakers with wide-scale distribution and that’s what you’re going to find in the wine aisle if you’re at a supermarket in Pennsylvania, where they’re not likely to have a small Loire Valley natural producer. Sometimes you have to experiment and ask around and maybe somebody who works there will be able to steer you toward a mass market surprise.
Right. I think different options and price points is a good thing. Some people will have their wine epiphany over an anfora-aged natural orange wine; some people will have theirs over a 1978 Burgundy and some people may have theirs over a bottle of Yellowtail. Maybe that’s the thing that makes them want to see what else is going on.
“My two favorite cuisines are Szechuan and Mexican (I like spice!). I usually pair my Kung Pao chicken and carnitas tacos with beer; how can I pair these with wine?”
If you want to pair, sparkling wine goes with just about everything on the planet. It’s not just for engagements and anniversaries. I drink sparkling wine throughout the meal and it has—I think it’s fantastic with spicy foods. If you want to pair wine and food well using the fewest number of brain cells, just pick up a bottle of sparkling wine. That being said, there’s a riddle when it comes to wine that opposites attract and likes complement. Really fatty steak tends to be delicious with a high-acid wine. Likewise, really spicy foods tend to be delicious with a wine that’s a little bit sweet. We also have this weird bias right now against sweet wines, which is unfortunate. Sweet wines used to be some of the most prized, expensive wines in the world. You drink them with oysters, you drink them throughout your meal. So “dessert wines” is a misnomer. Open a bottle of sweet wine, and you can drink it with savory food. It’s great.
Sauternes, yes, you can drink it with blue cheese, uni, citron. It is perfect. Riesling with a little sugar. Chenin Blanc with some sugar. Have that dinner party, and I would like to come.
“I’m into wine and I’ve heard that Pinot Noir is out and Gamay is in. True? And if so, what should I try?”
Gamay is definitely having a moment. Especially Gamay from Burgundy, in part because Pinot Noir from Burgundy is so freaking expensive. One thing to think about when you’re picking out a wine is that yes, you’re paying for the fermented grape juice in the bottle, but that price is also somewhat determined by the label, the brand recognition of the wine region, the brand recognition of the grape. In general, if you want to drink well for less money, choose a grape you’ve never heard of from a place you can’t pronounce. They’re less well-known and for that reason they can’t charge as much. I think Gamay has always been the forgotten cousin of Pinot Noir and Burgundy. It’s almost the butt of jokes. And now it’s having a real renaissance. A new generation of winemakers is trying to do really interesting, quality things with Gamay. This is not your Beaujolais Nouveau, and I would say Pierre Cotton is wonderful. I’ve never had a bottle of his that I haven’t liked. Gamay is like Pinot Noir, but a little more chill. It’s Pinot Noir after an edible.
It probably would pair well with edibles. I also like Gamay—if you’re a red wine drinker who knows you should be drinking white with certain dishes, Gamay can be your go-to.
Yeah, it’s not tannic. It’s not super-complex. If you want a delicious glass of wine that’s just going to take the edge off and make you happy with your meal, yeah, it’s great.
Has your opinion about wine pricing evolved since you published Cork Dork, where you write a lot about pricing?
A lot of drinkers approach wine expecting a 1-to-1 relationship between quality and price, so that a $300 bottle of wine must be 10x better than that $30 bottle of wine. The short answer is that it’s so much more complicated than that. The long answer is that going into that experience, our expectations are so different between the two prices that even before the juice is in our mouth we approach things differently, so our experience will be different.
“My Spanish wine knowledge ends at Rioja. What else should I be trying from Spain? I’ve learned about Ribera and Rueda. Obviously the grapes are Tempranillo and Verdejo. What’s the next level of knowledge?”
First of all, sherry. I don’t think we drink nearly enough sherry.
It goes back to your sweet thing?
Yeah but a lot of manzanillas and finos are not sweet. They’re dry. Salty in fact. Some of them taste like a mouthful of seawater in a way that’s really pleasant.
I think sherry needs better PR.
Sherry is also a very particular flavor experience. In the same way that you’d open yourself up to performance art or modern dance, you have to be willing to have a different mouth experience. Cider. I love Spanish ciders. And then white wines—Grenacha Blanc and Txokolina. Especially in the summer, if you’re in your office in midtown, a glass of Txokolina will make you feel like you’re on a beautiful beach somewhere. It’s so refreshing.
“I like big reds like Cabernet from California or Bordeaux and Barolo from Italy, but I’m a baller on a budget—what are similar full-bodied reds that won’t break my bank?”
When I was working at Terroir, we had nothing approaching California Cabernet on our by-the-glass-list and the closest thing we had stylistically was a red blend from Israel. And people would come ask for the California Cabs and they’d be so skeptical and they’d look at me like I had no idea what I was doing and they’d take one sip and be charmed. There’s unexpected answers. One is the Judean Hills red blend. I would also say that if you like the more full-bodied reds, go with Syrah from the Rhone.
Or a Malbec from South America.
Yeah, like from Argentina, will give you that rich, full experience. But also, we don’t drink enough Malbec from Bordeaux. I think the Bordeaux blend definitely can command a premium—especially for those really quality wines, but Malbec was one of the original Bordeaux grapes. And there are good values from there.
I’d add Douro from Portugal.
I also like Merlot and Grenache. These are lighter and fruitier than a really tannic Cab, but I think they’re not taken as seriously.
And Washington State, like Cabernet.
Yeah, and Syrah. You have some Syrahs that are nuclear flavor experiences. And then of course, Shiraz from Australia.
“I recently ordered Chardonnay in the company of a wine snob and was told that I was ‘so 2010.’ Do grapes really get trendy and if so, what should I be drinking right now if I wanna be cool?”
You should get a new friend, because Chardonnay is delicious even if it gets a bad rap. The best—one of my favorite wines is white from Burgundy and that’s made from Chardonnay. And it’s a completely different experience from what we think of in the oaky California Chardonnay. And different from drinking blanc de blanc, which is also made from Chardonnay. So Chardonnay is a chameleon, and I would not dismiss it out of hand. But right now, natural wines are certainly on the tips of everyone’s tongues both literally and figuratively. Chenin has had a very big moment. Chenin Blanc was last fall’s trend.
I’d say Gamay and Cab Franc.
The maximally hipster wine inclination is to drink a wine from the place that no one knew made wine. So if you can find that one Cab Franc from Mars, you are golden. I recently tried an orange wine from Japan. It was delicious and I feel like I won the hipster wine competition forever. It’s not exported. It was at an industry tasting in London. An orange koshu wine from Japan.