The virtue of passion

Tim's Wine Market
Most of the wine that I taste for buying purposes is done so at the store, with distributor reps and is a very sterile process. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy it very much but it takes the wines out of context and makes it a very commodity based process. For that reason I welcome the chance to taste wines with industry VIPs over a meal, where I can really get to know what I am drinking. In the past month or so I have had two such occasions in the form of luncheons arranged by importers where the I could really dig into the wines.

The first meal was hosted at Emeril’s by Master Sommelier Laura di Pasquale (seen left). The occasion was for her to introduce the wines of Soldera, a Brunello di Montalcino estate of legendary proportions. Her employer, Palm Bay Imports is the new agent for the wines in the US and it is their intention to let buyers taste the wines before buying. This deviates from the take-it-or-leave-it, attitude of the previous importer.

The food at Emeril’s was quite good; a seven course tasting menu designed to compliment Italian sparkling, white and red wines. It is always exciting to watch someone who is really passionate about wine speak about a product they love. Laura, who is also a fellow MW student, is a very energetic person and her eyes absolutely light up when speaking about the properties she represents. Her job includes visiting all of the properties of Palm Bay so she has first hand knowledge about the wines and the people who make them. I won’t bore you with the play-by-play of the wines but suffice to say that they all are well made.

My second lunch occurred at Season’s 52 (Sand Lake) two weeks ago and was a much smaller affair; only myself, George Miliotes, importer Peter Clinton and Eben Sadie in attendance. You need to commit the name of Eben Sadie to memory. I have met most of the world’s great winemakers and Eben is going to join their ranks in the coming years. He produces three wines under the Sadie Family label; Columella, Palladius and Sequillo. He uses Roman names to pay honor to those who’s writing he uses as the basis for his viticultural practices. Columella (b 4 AD, d. 70 AD) wrote one of the earliest Roman works on farming, De Re Rustica in which he spends a lot of time on viticulture. His successor, Palladius, kept the work going and Sadie pays tribute to both in the names of his wines.

Eben, seen left with Peter Clinton, makes wine in the Swartland of South Africa. This area is better known for overripe Shiraz and port-like wines than anything to call “great.” Eben has found ancient, 100+ year old vines that he tends to with a guardian’s touch. He is absolutely opposed to irrigation, “if you need to irrigate you are not making wine in a place where it is intended,” and he only harvests about one ton of fruit per acre for his top wines. He bumps that all the way to three tons of fruit for his second wine, Sequillo. (These are very small quantities of grapes) The wines are based on Rhone varieties, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache and he ages the wines in custom made oak barrels that cost him over 1000 euros each. (The average barrel costs between $400-600) Sadie is proud to say his alcohols are lower than 14% and he uses a minimum of sulfur before bottling.

Unlike many South African wines Eben manages to capture a clarity of fruit while maintaining lift and elegance. Again, I won’t rattle off all of my tasting notes; the wines are either in stock or on the way so come in and we can talk about them. We had such an amazing time listening to Eben that we never ordered lunch! Luckily George ordered some appetizers for us to munch while we listened and tasted. It was amazing to watch the wines evolve over two hours, from interesting to profound. Although informal it was a very memorable meal.

Years ago I dedicated Tim’s Wine Market to promoting the wines from people and places that make wine great. It is experiences like these that allow me to find those wines; where it is about the passion, not the commodity in the bottle. The next time you are in, grab me or one of the staff and ask what wines are made by the really passionate winemakers. It’s hard to explain why they are different but once you pull a cork you will see.