Thursday, May 13, 2021

By the Bottle: Martin Sinkoff

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

My next participant in the By the Bottle series is Martin Sinkoff. I first met Martin in 1980 in Dallas, where he had recently taken a job as the fine wine director for a small but growing wine wholesaler, Glazer’s (now SGWS). Martin brought the company into the world of fine wine and changed a lot of lives (including mine) as a result of the waves he created. He went on to start his own import company, Martin Sinkoff Wines, Inc. and a very successful wine label, Reserve, St. Martin. Martin sold the company to a budding importer, looking for a bevy of well-made and value-driven French wines. Not content to rest on his laurels, Martin was lured back into the world of fine wine by Richie Cacciato of the Frederick Wildman, where he helped redefine the company’s image and direction. He now heads up an international consulting bureau, Martin Sinkoff Associates, with offices in New York and Tel Aviv. And he moved to Tel Aviv, where he is a (still new) Oleh Hadash in Israel (almost two years). He writes a frequent wine column for the Times of Israel when he is not devoting time to enriching his cultural spirituality, studying the Torah. Martin is fluent in French and is now learning another language, Hebrew. He is the embodiment of a modern-day Renaissance person. [*Note: This "conversation" took place before the current violence. We are both wishing for peace and calm.]

What wines do you have standing up right now?  

Tzora Vineyards “Judean Hills” 2018 (Judean Hills, red); Chateau Senejac 2016 (Haut Medoc, red); Moulin de Gassac 2019 (Languedoc, red); Itay Lahat “Adom” 2019 (Galilee, red); Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019 (Montepulciano, red).

What’s the last great wine you drank?

Hmmm. Depends on the definition of “great”.  The last wine that took my breath away was Chateau Beaucastel served by Marc Perrin himself at my friend, Etienne Hugel’s, wedding, now I am guessing close to 10 years ago (maybe fewer).  Etienne is now no longer with us and so the wine and the event both remain in loving memory.

Are there any classic wines that you only recently had for the first time? 

Not classic but “up- and-coming”: several wines from Georgia (the country not the state). With thanks to my friends Lisa Granik MW (in the US) and Vova Diachenko (in Tel Aviv) for the introductions.

Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how). 

Summertime, outside on a shaded terrace with great friends (and a lover or two if available) around 2.00 pm in the afternoon; caprese salad or mezze (eggplant, stuffed grape leaves, olives), grilled fish with olive oil, ground pepper and sea salt, sheep milk cheeses and peaches in red wine for dessert; chilled rose from a local vineyard (Israeli roses are terrific) or southern France (not necessarily Provence) in unlimited quantity from the most recent vintage. And PS. fresh pesto on the side for everything!

What’s your favorite wine no one else has heard of? 

Everyone has heard of everything these days but my answer is the wines of Corsica.

What wine should everybody drink before the age of 21? / What wine should nobody drink until the age of 40?

One answer to both questions:  everyone should taste the great wines of the world starting when a person is young and continuing throughout a person’s life.  Like great books, only great wines really teach us.  Fine Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Loire, Barolo, Chianti (good, true Chianti), Rioja and some wines from the “new world” too: Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, old-vine Grenache from Australia.  All of these are essential references (and I am sure I am missing some too). 

Who in wine — winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors — active today do you admire most?  

I can’t answer this question for one good reason:  I will inevitably miss people whom I love and I will hurt someone’s feelings.

Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

The only “guilty pleasure” associated with drinking wine is drinking too much!

Has a wine ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you? 

When I have shared a wine with another person and we both respond to the wine in the same way, we are drawn closer to each other.  This has happened to me more times than I can count (and happily so).  The opposite is also true: when I have not liked a wine (or liked a wine) and another person responds otherwise, inevitably, the relationship between me and the other person will not deepen. Fortunately, this does not happen often but it does happen.  Wine, art, and our sensual personalities are intimate and profound and if two people don’t share the same feelings, they will not get along other than superficially.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

Not something I learned recently but simply confirmed each and every day:  wine makes life sweeter.

What moves you most in a wine?

Wine brings people together, lets our minds expand, brings buried thoughts into consciousness.  Wine is essential to adult, moral, mature life.

Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking?

It’s easier to answer this question in the other way: In general, I do not enjoy sweet wines nor sparkling wines.  And I do not enjoy wines aged in American oak nor wines that are too high in alcohol or are over-extracted (late-picked wines).

How do you organize your wines?  

Easy:  I don’t!

What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?  

There is no wine that I drink or own that would surprise any of my friends.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever received as a gift? 

Petrus 1989!  Amazing gift from one of my most revered teachers and mentors in Bordeaux.  

How have your drinking tastes changed over time? 

I prefer wines that are balanced, dry, energetic, “mineral”, refreshing much more than before. Fruit bombs (fruit forward wines) that impressed me years ago no longer do.  I appreciate classic wines more and more too.  My palate has always been an “old world” palate and is more so today than ever.

You’re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite? 

I will not limit this dinner party to three and I reserve the right to add to the guest list: Andrea Hagar, John Rector, Shelly Barsotti and Harry Hudson, Jim and Liz Baron, Alfonso Cevola, Kim Pierce, Dotty Griffith, Mary Malouf and Louise Owens. Also, Anne and Francois Chandou, Paula Lambert, Willard Spiegelman, Ginger Reeder, Diane Teitelbaum, Bobbi and Larrie Weil, Frank and Helen Stevenson (A Dallas dinner party!)

What wines are you embarrassed not to have drunk yet?

I am not embarrassed at all about not having drunk this or that.  I would love to have a vertical tasting of Chateau Latour going back to 1982.

What do you plan to drink next? 

The same thing I am drinking now: delicious, young Pinot Grigio from Pasqua, Rose from Ostal Cazes and La Vieille Ferme, Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red (chilled) and lots more (these are only the wines I am drinking now….my selection changes by the week). I drink wine every day and straightforward pleasures are more important to me than “epiphany”. I look to wine for pleasure every day not for revelation.

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