Wine: Are locapours hitting their stride?
The "drink local" movement is gaining steam. When my buddy Jeff Siegel, aka The Wine Curmudgeon, received a press release last week touting a dinner with cookbook author Diana Kennedy to be held next month at the Modern Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, he immediately asked the organizers if Texas or Mexican wines would be among the "carefully selected" wines for the Mexican menu. The museum's chef emailed him that although the menu had not been finalized, Texas wines would be involved.
In April, the Park Hyatt in Washington added a Virginia winery to its Masters of Food and Wine program after I criticized the all-California selection for an event touting regional Mid-Atlantic agriculture. The Lettuce Entertainment restaurant group did the same for a Chesapeake Bay-themed dinner at their Wildfire restaurant in Tyson's Corner, scheduled for July 27. Once I inquired about it, they quickly lined up Barboursville Vineyards as a co-sponsor and featured winery for the dinner.
The message is getting some big media play, too. Jon Bonne wrote about "justifying local wine" in the San Francisco Chronicle -- "local" meaning California, of course. And Steve Heimoff, a senior editor and very distinguished wine writer with Wine Enthusiast magazine, recently blogged about a plea from a vintner for wine lovers to support their local wineries to help them through hard times. Of course, Heimoff lives in California wine country, and "local" for him also means California wine, but the message translates. The vintner Heimoff cited was Oded Shakked of Longboard Vineyards, who criticized restaurants for touting their local produce but ignoring local wines.
And that is precisely the message Todd Kliman eloquently espouses in a withering essay posted last week on The Daily Beast. In "The Locavore Wine Hypocrisy," Kliman takes on some of the most famous restaurants in the country for talking a good local game on their menus and not following through on their wine lists.
If these are heady days for the local cheesemaker, butcher, and farmer, they're head-scratching days for the local vintner, who has been largely shut out of the feel-good foodie fad. If the wine lists at the country's most prominent locavore restaurants tell us anything, it's that "what grows together, goes together" — the mantra of the movement — is meant to refer to what's on the plate, not what's in the glass. Local and regional wines are seldom to be found.
Kliman, the food and wine editor of The Washingtonian magazine and author of the new book, The Wild Vine, rips apart the most common excuse for ignoring local wines: that they are too expensive and better values abound from California. Chefs are willing to pay extra for organic eggs from chickens just up the road, he points out. And sommeliers are supposed to align their wine lists with the chef's menu, even if it means a little extra work to suss out the better wines from the area. But many somms seem unwilling to take a chance on local wines that don't seem trendy.
"The idealism of their mission statements notwithstanding, what locavore restaurants are telling us is that quality matters much less than cachet when it comes to assembling a wine list — the perception that a given product is the best, most exquisite example in its class," Kliman writes.
Maybe once local wines gain a little more cachet, the sommeliers will wake up. What's interesting to me, however, is that momentum for local wine is coming from writers -- bloggers, especially -- and consumers, rather than retailers or sommeliers. When I eat out, I want my sommelier to be taking chances and to seek out unusual wines. Even if they come from just up the road.
-- Dave McIntyre
(Follow me on Twitter.)
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