Live on the Fringe
by Lisa Elbert, Tastemaker in Residence
“What is 'esoteric' anymore?” asked Sommelier Julie Dalton of Baltimore's Wit & Wisdom. “We all have Google at our fingertips, so as a somm, it's challenging to maintain an esoteric list.” At ICC, Dalton and fellow juice nerd, Sommelier Brent Kroll (aka King of Lambrusco) of D.C.'s Neighborhood Restaurant Group, demonstrated how they keep it real to a room full of beverage professionals thirsty for list originality.
Kroll, hit us with the literal definition of esoteric: “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.” In between sips of Lambrusco, he explained, “even though everyone's heard of it, only a small group of people really understand it.”
Take white Pinotage, for example. More specifically, the 2014 S-Sigma from Mellasat Vineyards in Paarl, South Africa. We've all heard of Pinotage, but a white Pinotage? You've got our attention. Esoteric because of its process, it's a Blanc de Noirs (white from black), without even the slightest touch of pink, and red fruit on the palate. Not too lean but not too round, with earth-fruit balance, a whisp of bitterness from new oak, ripe cherry on the finish. "This wine begs for food, it works with damn near everything," said Dalton. Get this on your list.
“The best way to get esoteric wine across is to bring it down and relate it to something we already know,” said Kroll. “Approachability is key,” Dalton added. The 2012 Nerello Capuccio/Nerello Mascalese Etna Rosso from Barone di Villagrande in Sicily, is a varietal few people know or understand. Sicily is known for many things, the Cosa Nostra and jug wine among them. But the Barone di Villagrande is elegant and refined. The struggle is real for the pre-Phylloxera vines to find moisture, and the volcanic soils and oak variety used in aging give this wine a smokiness and an earthy quality with firm tannin, texture, ripe red fruit and leather. Pinot Noir drinkers, are you turned on?
Six glasses later, Dalton and Kroll left us with one last tip: education. If you don't spend the time and effort on training your staff, esoteric wines fall flat. “They can come off as pretentious,” said Kroll. And Dalton put it bluntly, “If the staff isn't bought in, how can the guest be?”
(Pro tip: Quizlet is a great tool for staff training.)