Sunday, October 19, 2014

The “New” New Yorkers and the “New” Californians ~ Leaving Jurassic Park for the Aquarian Era

Living in flyover country does have its benefits. You can get to either coast in a matter of hours. A recent weekend in San Francisco, I was able to spend time with the wine community there and get a gauge on their current sensibilities. This past week in New York also afforded me a quick douse into full-immersion of where they’re at right now.

A couple of things. Dining here and there. The Wine Spectator Experience. And the latest rising star in the wine bar scene. Let's jump in.

First off, dining in New York is ridiculously expensive. Like I said, “New York prices ain’t for the meek or the weak.

The Wine Spectator Experience was pretty posh. If you were not one of the invited sommeliers or on an expense account, walking the floors of the grand tasting for two nights set you back $550.00. Inside those two rooms (and it really does take two nights to get around to all the tables) there were some of the crème de la crème of wine royalty. Where in the world can one find a table of 2010 Sassicaia virtually lineless? Not at Vinitaly, that’s for sure. I went to the table (and I’m not kidding) because I felt sorry that no one was there to taste. That’s sick.

For my part, of course there were the Italian tables to visit. But one cannot walk past an Anthony Barton or an Alexandre Thienpont and not say hello and take a sip. Yes, an embarrassment of riches.

Then there are the folks on the other side of the tables, walking around tasting; many friends and colleagues over the years. I saw titans of industry tasting right next to upstart wine bar owners and disruptor-bloggers, usually at odds with one another over the best route to market, sipping contentedly. Yes, wine, the great peacemaker.

Aldo Vacca wasn't in NY but his 1997Asili was one of the bargains to be found at nearby Barbetta
And yes, there weren’t just the opulent, hedonistic monster wines that garner the 90+ points. There were wines of delicacy, such as wines from JJ Prum or Gunderloch. You could get all the Mollydooker and Caymus you wanted but you could also cull out amazing Rieslings, like the  «Cuvée Frédéric Emile» from Trimbach. It was that kind of diversity which figuratively had one’s head spinning.

The scene afterwards was equally enticing. Aldo Sohm tweeted “Our 'Guest Sommelier' @gerhardkracher for tonight's #aldoafterdark #10pmpour @sohmbar.” Less than a ten minute walk from the Wine Spectator event it was. I’d heard about Aldo’s new venture and this seemed like the perfect way to step inside and see what it was all about.

Inside the Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, one could as easily been in Paris or Verona or Los Angeles or Marin County. Quiet, subdued, soft chairs, loungy and inviting. Music in the back ground, an ambience for conversation, maybe even reflection.

Gerhard Kracher and the young lion of Wall Street, Dylan Stout
Gerhard Kracher poured the wine he and Aldo collaborated on, a 2011 Gruner Veltliner, which he brought, in magnum, in his luggage, for the event. Our server brought us plate after plate of luscious and savory vegetables. No 48 ounce steak this night. Followed by an amazing 1989 Ayler Kupp Spatlese from Hans Kramp, decanted and sipped slowly, I remarked to the server that I was usually a Kabinett kind of guy. “I would have brought you that, but I really felt the ’89 Kabinett didn’t reach the heights that the Spatlese did.” And that wasn’t the only server on the floor I had similar conversations with. Our designated server, an exotic and intuitive soul, knew the wines of Arianna Occhipinti as well as anyone I have ever talked to. Having just had the SP68 Bianco at A16 in San Francisco, I remarked to her that the wine tasted different in the two cities. Whereas the tasting in San Francisco revealed a much more nervous, evergreen-like aspect, this time in New York, the wine was calmer, creamier, more mellow. “Yes, I have noticed the wine doesn’t always taste the same. But that is often what you get from wines of this style; a little variation shows that wine isn’t made in a cookie-cutter style.” From the mouth of babes. She was right, but I couldn’t help wonder if the calmness of Aldo Sohm’s wine bar (in NY!) lent something to the wine inside. Much like perhaps the frenetic activity of A16 (in SF) might have transferred some of the energy to that bottle of SP68 (or at least to those of us who were receptacles of the crazy-good energy of A16 that night). Two coasts, two different experiences. There are differences. At least from fly-over country.

I spent the night with a  25 year-old German beauty
What isn’t different is that the gauntlet has been thrown down. The millennials are engaged and they are, for me, game changers. Not far from Aldo Sohm’s Wine Bar, there were plenty of after-dinners around the city with wine industry folks. No doubt, the titans of the wine industry were among them, sitting down with a “Cab and a slab,” enjoying their moment in the dying spotlight. But time is the great leveler. Where once I would have thought that the high point in one’s career would be to sit at the table with the great powers, drinking big red wine and contemplating the midnight Cognac and Havana, finally having gotten inside the pearly gates of the wine business, a block away there is a quiet party that is turning into a revolution. Where do you want to go: back to Jurassic Park or forward into the Age of Aquarius?

The people of the future have a different perspective. Theirs is one less of contemplating being a heavenly body as it is observing those celestial forms on the azimuth; almost touchable, definitely less of a career goal than an approachable thing, if only for an evening, sharing a glass in a warm and friendly place, while the star wars rage on in the wine world.

The young breed of “New" Californians” and “New" New Yorkers are bringing vibrancy and energy to the sorting table. And it makes one Ancient Sicilian very happy.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Anonymous said...


I'm pleased you enjoyed the Grand Tastings at Wine Spectator's recent Wine Experience. Our goal is to present the whole world of wine -- its wonderful diversity of regions, grapes and styles. We hope that our guests will find old favorites and make new discoveries, guided by their palates, and not the ideological battles which attempt to pit one style or region against another. There's plenty of room for all.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Wine Spectator

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks, Tom...agreed

Looking forward to seeing you all in Dallas next year...

Jack said...


But, " or Marin County" - I live in the county above it and I find that hard to imagine.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Are you kidding, Jack? Been to Mill Valley lately?

Real Time Analytics