Conversation Starters - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Conversation Starters

​The dining room at Bâtard in Tribeca was full at noon on a recent Tuesday, when the restaurant is usually closed. The yellow walls looked brighter than at night, when they contrast less with the raised pattern of branches in a paler shade, more the color of limestone in a vineyard in Puligny. Comte Louis Michel Liger-Belair, who farms a domaine centered on La Romanée in Vosne, was in town to present a project in Oregon, one he had helped found five years ago. Liger-Belair described the first wine—a blend of fruit from snaking ribbons of vines, selected to follow the edge of lava flows at different vineyards in the Eola–Amity Hills, the Chehalem Mountains and the coast range—alongside a wine from an estate vineyard, Black Walnut, in Dundee. Both wines were savory, with more mineral than fruit flavor in the tannins, though the Dundee Hills wine was fuller, richer, more voluptuous.

Liger-Belair had interpreted Dundee’s deep, rich soils to do what they do best, creating the kind of cool-fruited red that’s placed the Willamette as the most popular region for pinot noir in our Annual Restaurant Poll. But it was the intricate matrix of stored power in the blend from rockier sites that caught my attention. It was unlike any Willamette wine I had tasted before. His approach, and that of other Burgundy growers working in Oregon, lends a different perspective on the land and on the wine it might produce. I set out to explore that cultural perspective in an article for this issue (page 46), as the Willamette becomes an increasingly important source not only for finely grown red from pinot noir, but whites from chardonnay, pinot gris and riesling as well.

This year, our Restaurant Poll revealed a parallel dialogue between the New World and the Old. A traditional Rioja, aged for ten years at the winery prior to release as a delicate, energy-infused red, topped the list of the most popular pours in our respondents’ restaurants. The California brands, long the most popular for rich chardonnays and fruit-forward cabernets, came down a notch—or did they? In fact, they are likely selling as much wine in the restaurants that feature them as ever before, while a host of new restaurants have popped up with lists that favor a different style of wine. What is striking about this moment in wine: There is not a single restaurant that listed R. López de Heredia Rioja among its top-selling brands that also listed Cakebread, now second in command of the Restaurant Top 50. The wines exist in separate, parallel universes.

If you wander into one of the restaurants we selected for our NYC50—the best places to eat and drink in New York City right now—you are likely to find more bottles of old Rioja on the tables than young Napa Valley cabernet, but that is less a statement of our own preferences than of structural issues in the market (like cost). The lists at our NYC50 reflect the preferences of a community of sommeliers taking deep dives into wine, looking for tastes that interact with the chef’s food in unexpected ways. You might notice that many of these places—though not all—designed their sound level to allow for conversation, which may be the crucial opening to bridge from one parallel universe to another.

This story appears in the print issue of April 2018.
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