Peter Nelson of Puritan & Company on Natural Wines and Sparkling Gamays

The Cambridge, Massachusetts sommelier talks no-sulfur list sections and navigating stereotypes

Peter Nelson has been a fixture in Boston’s wine scene since the late 1980s when he started working for Lydia Shire at Biba. In 2014, he joined Puritan, where the menu is deeply informed by what’s growing at The Herb Lyceum, chef Will Gilson’s family farm in Groton, Massachusetts. That local, seasonal approach aligns well with Nelson’s deep interest in low-intervention winemaking—one he finds increasingly reverberates with his customers.

Fresh-Squeezed vs Carton OJ
I have a strong interest in wines made without sulfur because they are fun and interesting; if they are well made they are delicious—and that’s my most important rule. I went to RawFair last year and was just blown away. I tasted hundreds of wines there and was just stunned by the lack of faults. Now, I have a no-added-sulfur section on the list at Puritan and I do a pretty steady business in those wines.

For me, the difference between wines with and without sulfur is like the difference between fresh-squeezed orange juice and Tropicana. They are both delicious in their own ways—just one is that much fresher and more delicious.

Navigating Natural Stereotypes
I do still get people who say “I want the stinkiest wines you have.” It’s frustrating. The hardcore don’t believe that a natural wine can taste like a normal wine. If it’s white and doesn’t taste like apple cider; or if it’s a red and doesn’t smell like a thoroughbred, they don’t want it. I just wish there’d be better dialogue between pursuit-of-ideal wines and more natural wines. I think there’s a meeting place.

On Spanish Successes
There’s definitely an uptick in interest in Spanish wines—I see us selling more, and I see more around Cambridge. The Lopez de Heredia Viña Cubillo will always be a top seller year-round for us, and I try to rotate through as many Spanish wines as possible. The Coto de Gomariz Ribeiro Gomariz “X” Albarino [the best-selling new wine on the list] just blew up—the bottles sold almost as fast as a wine by the glass.

You Have a Sparkling Gamay Rosé as Your No. 2 Best-Seller: Explain.
The Domaine Serol Côte Roannaise Rosé Gamay Sparkling—it’s so good. It’s inexpensive and incredibly delicious and once people get their hands on it, it’s all they want to drink. We just did a party for 50 people from a landscape architecture firm and they drank through 19 or 20 bottles. People will drink it to the expense of everything else.

France
I’ve let France slip a little. For instance, I don’t have a cab franc on the list right now. It’s interesting, I don’t have a lot of people looking for Bordeaux. I had biodynamic Bordeaux by the glass and it sold, but if put it on the bottle list, they linger. I’m a huge Burgundy fan, but they don’t sell. I had a terrific Marcel Deiss—a 2016 pinot noir at a decent price—and that sold, but why? Because it was pinot noir. Even that Côtes du Rhône—it’s a great red, big and rich but with great acidity—you’d think it would move, but it hardly sells.

If I put a Sancerre on the list that’s all that will sell. The people who order Sancerre should have a good Sancerre, but they should pay for it. Last time I had a customer who drank Sancerre was in the early 1990s, and it was Ethel Kennedy—if it wasn’t chilled and in the glass when she got here there was hell to pay.

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