Happy-Go-Godforsaken Wines

Article
Prince Street Wine Club
05 May 2018

The Wine Club Interview with Bianca Bosker, Jason Wilson and Amanda Smeltz

Edited & transcribed by Sheila Gaffney

There are about 1,400 known varieties of wine grapes, but astonishingly most Americans have tasted about 20 of them. The wines from the other 1,380 grapes in the world are neglected, disdained, eschewed, and just plain unknown. Godforsaken. But not by the iconoclastic growers, villagers and wine drinkers who have enjoyed these varieties for hundreds of years, as wines of choice, special occasions and of daily life.

Bianca Bosker, author of the bestseller, Cork Dork, talked to two people who love trespassing in off-limits vineyards and drinking unauthorized grapes: Amanda Smeltz, poet & wine director for Altro Paradiso and Estela in New York City, and Jason Wilson, author of the just-published Godforsaken Grapes, which gave us the title of this segment.

How on earth did 1380 grapes become godforsaken? Well, there were 15th century dukes who only wanted their wines to be shipped from their ports, just as there are 21st century marketers and distributors who want only their wines on shelves. And in every century, there are “expert” style makers telling people what to like. But the godforsaken have never really gone away. They are there for the drinking if you seek them out.

Why drink godforsaken grapes? One good reason is value: Because these varieties are less well-known, the fine Austrian Roter Veltliner, for example, can cost less than a mediocre American Chardonnay. And another reason—the best reason!— they take you somewhere you’ve never been before. Open a bottle and wiggle your toes in dirt you’ve never trod and feel the sun and breeze of someplace new.

Be a rebel. Tell that duke what to do with his burgundy. Stick it to the man. Drink a superb glass of wine he knows nothing about. Here’s how to go godforsaken. You know you want to.

BIANCA BOSKER: Today we are here in one of my all-time favorite places in New York City, Flatiron Wines. I used to live right around the corner, and I would stock up on wines here on an incredibly regular basis. Almost all the time. I still do. I’m here with Jason Wilson and Amanda Smeltz, and we’re sitting in the back, which just feels like a sort of wine nest, is how I describe it, surrounded by shelves of great wine.

So, Jason, starting with you, tell us: What are godforsaken grapes, and why have you dedicated your newest book to them?

JASON WILSON: Well, there are about fourteen hundred known wine grapes in the world. But 80% of the wine in the world is made from only about twenty grapes. And that’s for many reasons: history, fashion, politics–– there’s many, many reasons. So, in the book we’re exploring the other 1,380 in the world.

The name of the book, Godforsaken Grapes, comes from this kind of unhinged rant from the critic Robert Parker. The very influential and well-known Robert Parker. I think it was in 2014, he had one of these late-night rants that he published, and it was all about this new generation of wine people, somms and wine writers, and how he didn’t like the fact that they like natural wine, he didn’t like the fact that they didn’t like, you know, Cabernet and Chardonnay. And he didn’t like the fact that they liked what he called “godforsaken grapes.” And these were grapes that in his opinion had never, ever gotten traction because, oh, you know, they just weren’t acceptable.

AMANDA SMELTZ: They’re not quality…

JASON: Right. In his mind. Which is actually untrue. The history of these grapes shows that a lot of them were the prestigious grapes of many centuries past.

BIANCA: The grapes of the gods, not godforsaken grapes.

JASON: Exactly. Precisely. And he singled out certain grapes that I really like. Like Blaufränkisch from Austria and Négrette from Southwest France and Trousseau, and he specifically singled out those grapes as “godforsaken” and took these young wine people to task for liking them.

Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey Through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine
Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey Through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine

BIANCA: What was so inspiring about these 1,380 grapes that made you spend four years exploring them?

JASON: I’ve always been a fan of off-the-beaten-path things. My first book was about spirits and in particular all about rare and obscure spirits. So, the rare and obscure, I think that’s where the good stories are. That’s where the good travel stories are, not in the places that are well-traveled. I mean, going up in the Alps in Switzerland where there’s this guy growing one acre of this very rare grape…

AMANDA: Gringet.

JASON: Gringet. Or even more rare, Himbertscha, which there’s like a half-acre in the world of. And the people who grow these grapes are characters. I mean, consider the mind-set: They didn’t rip up everything and put Pinot Noir in there. They are committed to these grapes that nobody knows. So, there’s something interesting about the mind-set of these people.

BIANCA: They’re iconoclasts.

JASON: Exactly.

BIANCA: Amanda, in your experience as a wine director you’ve brought some very untraditional grapes to peoples’ tables, your own godforsaken grapes. You introduced me to this Analemma Oregon sparkling wine we were just raving about that blows your mind. But I’m curious, what are guests’ reactions when you don’t give them Cabernet and you instead pour Blaufränkisch, which has many consonants and an umlaut.

AMANDA: You get pushback, for sure. You absolutely get pushback. But the entire practice of selling wine in a restaurant is so much about helping people understand similarities. So if people say Pinot Gris, you say, no problem: Pinot Gris… Pinot Blanc… Gewürztraminer. In other words, you put things on a spectrum for people and then it becomes much, much simpler. You just have to be able to do that on your feet and very quickly, because you have about 30 seconds to get any guest to listen to you.

So, those 1,400 grapes–– you have to have a solid several hundred of them committed to your memory and in a sort of map in your brain, so when they say Sauvignon Blanc you can say how about Savagnin, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, and go across the spectrum. You have to be able to do that on your feet. And if you can, people will listen.

BIANCA: Are there code words or ways to get people comfortable? Because, again, you say “Blaufränkisch,” and it’s sort of like “Bless you!” is the reaction, right?

AMANDA: Yeah, totally. I have this conversation with a lot of my dorky friends all the time, that the problem with wine varieties and selling wine and talking about wine is a problem of language. A lot of it is about foreign language. It’s about comfort with foreign language. It’s about comfort in speaking. Because when you start looking at the world of wine, you are looking at the world. There are so many different languages that feed into this process and this thing. And of course a person wants to say the thing that he or she knows how to say, right? So, a lot of being a somm is understanding the buzzwords that people try to communicate with and understanding what they mean by those words and then speaking within their language. Even if they’re using the vocabulary totally incorrectly. So much of it is a problem of language, and being a somm I think has a lot to do with understanding what people mean when they say what they do. Being able to interpret it, as opposed to saying, “That’s not right,” or that’s correct or incorrect.

BIANCA: So how do you translate Blaufränkisch?

AMANDA: Blaufränkisch I say is close to Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe a little bit lighter-bodied, but if they say “Cabernet,” I say “Blaufränkisch.” I’ll say, “It’s a lot like Cabernet but maybe a little less robust and a little bit more forest-y, woodsy, spicy.”

BIANCA: And then you’re back on safe ground.

AMANDA: Totally. Also, big red wine is easy, easy, easy. People are like, “This tastes like red wine, I can deal with it.” So Blaufränkisch is a great place to start. Trousseau is a lot more difficult. The sort of light-bodied, funky grape from the Jura. Places that people have never heard of, and a style they don’t necessarily recognize in the States. Like, that’s a little bit more of a challenge.

Amanda Smeltz, sommelier, writer, author of poetry collection "Imperial Bender"
Amanda Smeltz, sommelier, writer, author of poetry collection "Imperial Bender"

JASON: Light reds–– it’s something I touch on in the book–– light reds, people see them as almost un-American or something, you know. A light red…

AMANDA: Yeah, you’re not a patriot. Drinking Trousseau you’re not a patriot. Okay? Cabernet and you’re a cowboy.

BIANCA: So, why go into this dangerous territory? I mean, what are the perks of drinking godforsakenly?

JASON: You’re discovering new flavors, discovering new parts of the world. Like Amanda was saying, wine is the world, so to always be going to the same places gets a little boring, I think. Why not go a little bit further? Discover some new areas of the map. And I think when you convey to people that you’re literally travelling the world by opening bottles of wine, that’s a strong engagement with people.

AMANDA: A hundred percent. I think discovery is a strong argument. But then you’ve got the pushback of people wanting comfort. So for the people who say, “I don’t want to travel, I like where I am,” then my argument is money. American Chardonnay is frigging expensive.

JASON: Yes.

AMANDA: The really good ones are pricey. Chardonnay is pricey because it has this kind of reputation, right? But there are lots of other grapes, like Macabeo that you can drink from Catalonia, and you’ll spend like thirteen dollars a bottle, and it’s going to be tremendous wine. It’s just because people aren’t familiar with the variety and the place. So, I think affordability is another great argument. Because they’re godforsaken, they don’t cost as much money.

JASON: Totally. That’s where all the values are. You’ve got to go godforsaken to get the value.

BIANCA: Well, I’m very tempted by your explanation of travelling the world and getting close to God in a bottle of wine. So, I’d like to actually try one of these godforsaken grapes. Jason picked out for us a bottle made with Roter Veltliner which I thought was like a Volkswagen part or something. I’ve never heard of this grape. I’ve heard of Grüner Veltliner. Roter Veltliner, like what is this? It might also be like a Czechoslovakian airplane company, I don’t know.

Bianca Bosker, award-winning journalist and the author of the <em>New York Times</em> bestseller CORK DORK: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste, which has been hailed as the "KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL of wine"
Bianca Bosker, award-winning journalist and the author of the New York Times bestseller CORK DORK: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste, which has been hailed as the "KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL of wine"

JASON: Roter Veltliner is a godforsaken grape. It’s only really grown in the Wagram, in Austria, along the Danube river, and not really anywhere else in the world.

BIANCA: So, this is an Austrian wine. Leth is the producer.

JASON: Exactly.

BIANCA: Can you crank this open for us?

JASON: I’m gonna crank it open.

AMANDA: There’s only one way to open a Roter and that’s to crank it.

JASON: That’s right. The screw cap. With the Austrian flag on the top of it.

BIANCA: Can you explain to people who think we’re really trashy right now for drinking a screw-top wine why this is okay?

JASON: You see more and more wines with screw caps, and I think Austria is a country that’s, I don’t know if “pioneered” is the right word, but they’ve really innovated with screw caps. In fact, they’re aging white wine with screw caps. This Roter is in 2011, so this has some age, so they’re even exploding the myth that you need a cork for your finest aged wines. We’re not being trashy. We’re being cool.

BIANCA: I tell myself that all the time.

AMANDA: Screw caps are a way of avoiding the problems that come with cork, right? Cork can be tainted because it’s an organic material, whereas screw caps are a way of creating a inoxidative and clean environment. It’s not good for all wines. But it’s great for some wines. Including seven-year-old Roter Veltliner.

JASON: Right.

AMANDA: I’m gonna be a dork and talk about this variety more, because I think it’s fascinating. So, there is scientific argument about whether or not Roter Veltliner and Grüner Veltliner are actually genetically related. It’s my understanding that they are not, that they were thought to be for a long time. However, Roter is associated with a bunch of other interesting grapes from the Austrian area, like Rotgipfler and Neuburger which are even more obscure. But I really dig Roter because it does this interesting thing, it’s a super fleshy style of white wine. Which scares a lot of people. It’s also aromatic. Which also scares people, because when they have fleshy and aromatic white wines they think sweet. But Roter is not inherently sweet. Neither is any grape variety, really. So, Roter I often find, has this incredibly spicy, exotic nose. It smells like pink peppercorns to me. And crazy fruit, like tamarind and kumquat and all these weird fruits that you don’t normally encounter in white wine. And, in addition to that, there’s a ton of texture on the palate. I served a bottle like this Roter to some guests two nights ago who were eating cured lamb ribs and North African spices and a little bit of a honey glaze, and they were like, “Holy cow, this wine tastes like this dish!”

BIANCA: Wow.

AMANDA: Yeah. Really cool together.

BIANCA: Well, I think one thing we haven’t touched on that I’m really eager and excited to try with this wine, since I’ve never had this grape, is this idea that with new grapes come new sensory experiences. You know, we talked about traveling to strange places through a glass of wine, but I personally love this idea that there are experiences, there are aromas, there are smells that we’ve never put into our bodies before, and we can branch out and live a fuller life in some ways through these different grapes. So what are we getting here? What do you guys smell? What’s exciting? What’s not in a Chardonnay?

JASON: Let’s sit back and talk about the basics here. One thing that is different for me is it’s a fleshier wine than most white wines that people experience. It doesn’t have the acidity that a lot of white wines have. So, I think you’re right. It really would pair well with a spicy lamb, something like that. And what you were saying about how people would think this would present sweet because of the nose and because of the fleshiness? I get that a lot. People will say, “Oh, this is sweet wine.” And it’s like, well, wait a minute, let’s back up: Is it fruity? Or is it sweet?

Jason Wilson, author of Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits (Ten Speed, 2010), which Anthony Bourdain called “superbly informative, entertaining, and yet deeply subversive.” His new book, GODFORSAKEN GRAPES, was published in April 2018.
Jason Wilson, author of Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits (Ten Speed, 2010), which Anthony Bourdain called “superbly informative, entertaining, and yet deeply subversive.” His new book, GODFORSAKEN GRAPES, was published in April 2018.

BIANCA: I’m just going to go ahead and say it’s fondued pineapple.

AMANDA: Perfect. Not sweet, but fondued pineapple

BIANCA: There’s something kind of cheesy on the nose, it has like that thick melted cheese body, and it still has that almost rotten sweet tropical note to it as well. It’s really interesting. I think your pairing sounds awesome.

JASON: Rotten sweet tropical.

BIANCA: Which is a good thing, just to clarify.

JASON: Oh, yeah.

AMANDA: This makes me think a lot about North African cuisine. Like Moroccan food and so on. Where there’s a ton of really beautiful baking spices and stuff that gets used. Coriander and cumin and cinnamon, all these warm things. American Chardonnay is just not going to stand up to that. So you give it something that’s more spiced itself. It’s sort of like doing same-on-same.

JASON: But in Austria, where this [wine] would be traditional, there are paprika dishes like goulash or paprika chicken. And this would be a great pairing with those things as well. So it makes a lot of sense when you ask yourself, what’s the reason why this is so popular there? It’s because it pairs with the food.

AMANDA: That’s why they keep Roter Veltliner alive.

BIANCA: So this is a table wine. In Austria.

JASON: Actually, it is. There’s this tradition in Austria of the heuriger, which are these wine taverns, these local wine taverns. And you go to the corner–– it’s like the corner bar. The glasses of wine are two euros or something, and there’ll be this laundry list of grapes you’ve never heard of before, and usually, yeah, Roter Veltliner will be in there somewhere.

BIANCA: So we’re gonna back up for a moment and talk about these twenty-ish grapes that have come to dominate what we drink. Why did this happen? How did Chardonnay and Cabernet become these hot, blockbuster bestsellers?

JASON: Well, one major reason is powerful people have always wanted it that way. So there was always some monarchy that…

AMANDA: Usually French.

JASON: Yes, of course. That was saying, “Grow these grapes, don’t grow these grapes.” For example, the Duke of Burgundy in the fourteenth century is saying…

AMANDA: Get rid of Gamay.

JASON: Get rid of Gamay. Plant the Pinot Noir. Or you had Bordeaux, which had this powerful wine trade with Britain, and in the fifteenth century these wines of Gaillac in southwest France are getting popular…

AMANDA: Because of the mercantile force that was in that area, right? It’s usually about power.

JASON: Yeah. So, Bordeaux appeals to the King, and they create these laws that say all the Bordelais wine has to be sold first in the port before all the other ones. So it basically kills the wine trade of the southwest of France. And so, all these grapes in southwest France just kind of…

AMANDA: No more Négrette.

JASON: Yeah. They either rip ‘em out or they just become forgotten, kind of like peasant wine. And it takes five hundred years before…

AMANDA: Malbec comes back.

JASON: Yeah, exactly. Before we’re in a hip wine shop and we get these wines back. It takes hundreds of years for this to happen. And there’s so many stories throughout history like that.

BIANCA: So you’re saying one more reason to drink godforsaken grapes is because doing so means sticking it to the man.

JASON: Absolutely.

BIANCA: I just wanted to clarify.

JASON: If you want to be a subversive wine drinker…

AMANDA: Don’t drink Bordeaux, drink Négrette, y’all. It’s sticking it to the man. Absolutely. And you can drink it straight from the bottle if you want, and no one will care. I think there are multiple reasons. Jason’s arguing about history and power, and that’s a really important reason that a lot of these grapes get left behind. I was going to say marketing.

JASON: Well, that too, yes.

AMANDA: Which is a contemporary version of power. With the global marketing that goes on, grapes get treated like brands. And they’re pushed forward because one variety is going to be financially a boon to the people who are producing that variety. So there’s a reason that California doesn’t want me to talk trash about California Chardonnay, because they’ve got a lot of money and land invested in it financially. And, by the way, I do drink California Chardonnay. Arnot-Roberts is one of my favorites. I’m just going to go ahead and say that.

But, you know, they don’t want me to talk about, for example, Columbia Gorge Gewurztraminer, because the more that becomes popular, the more I’m taking away from the revenue they’re going to make on their varieties. So a lot of it has to do with money.

BIANCA: And some of these grape varieties have become brands unto themselves. And they command a certain premium. So people may be willing to spend more on that California Chardonnay or that California Cabernet…

AMANDA: Yeah, about fifteen percent of people in the United States drink wine. One-five. That’s it. Which is a huge increase over the last twenty years. When I started learning wine in ’02, ‘03, it used to be something around like nine percent of the American public drank wine. So we’re talking about a very small market share, in terms of money, right? So, Franzia wants to make sure that everyone just keeps drinking Chardonnay, because that’s a brand that people recognize, and they’re moving a lot of weight. The more that people start asking for Négrette or Blaufränkisch, or Gewürztraminer, the more money’s taken away from that.

BIANCA: Well, for a lot of us wine is already intimidating, and there is that comfort in dealing with Chardonnay. It can be very unfamiliar to figure out, as you move from Burgundy to California to Australia––you name it–– there are so many named regions and grapes…

AMANDA: Yeah, it’s overwhelming. It’s a lot of foreign language. It’s overwhelming.

BIANCA: So how can people in a confident way begin exploring this world of unfamiliar, hard-to-pronounce godforsaken grapes? What is your advice to them on how to drink adventurously?

AMANDA: Don’t be scared.

JASON: Yeah, don’t be scared.

AMANDA: Honestly, it’s about getting over your intimidation. And allowing people to help you. You have to be willing to ask for help and you have to be willing to take the help that’s given. And that means that wine professionals have to stop being such jerks. But, I think “Don’t be scared” is the first advice. And no one’s trying to take your money and rob you. No one’s going to give you a bad deal. Wine people usually really care about you discovering new things, because we’ve devoted our lives to it.

BIANCA: What’s the sort of sommelier safe word? What do I say if I come to you and I want to make it clear that I am open to having a new wine experience?

AMANDA: Exactly what you just said. “I’m open to having a new experience.” And I’m like, “Great. Tell me your price point, and I’ll give you ten options.” Just saying, “I’m open.” I think that’s great.

BIANCA: So how much is this bottle of Roter Veltliner?

JASON: That’s, I think around 30 dollars. I think I saw it was $29.99.

AMANDA: Yeah. That one’s a little bit more expensive, because it comes from one single vineyard of Roter Veltliner. When you are drinking a wine that is sourced from just one vineyard, that limits where the fruit comes from and makes it even more specific. So the more specific a wine becomes, usually the higher a price it fetches. If you’re pulling Roter Veltliner from multiple vineyards, from all around a region, that will bring the price of the wine down, because you’re able to source from a lot of different places.

JASON: Yeah, but it’s all relative. This is essentially from the prestige vineyards of this region, but compare that to somewhere else like Mosel or Burgundy and this is a third of the price of those wines.

AMANDA: Totally. Because the variety is not as well-known.

BIANCA: I’m very interested in the fact that the wine world–– somms, drinkers, wine writers–– go through fashions and trends the same way the fashion world does. Puce is in one year and pink another. In wine you have the Chenin moment, you have the Reisling, you have the Mondeuse. I’m curious: What is the ultra hipster wine of the moment?

JASON: Well, let’s go back maybe fifteen, twenty years and look at Grüner Veltliner, for instance. That was the hipster wine when I was a younger person in my twenties. And look at the trajectory of that. No one knew anything about Grüner Veltliner, and then suddenly around 2000, 2001, it blew up. And then by 2006 everybody’s like, “Oh, I’m over Grüner.” And you start to see these articles: “Is Grüner overexposed?” Somms had moved on. And Grüner just goes away. For about eight years.

And then, a few years ago, Grüner comes back. But where Grüner used to be called “groovy” and have nicknames, when it came back it was that friend from college that you called “Jimmy” and now he wants to be called “James,” and he’s all single-vineyard and fancy and vintages and everything. So now the new narrative with Grüner is that it’s a classic. You know, it’s a Chuck Taylor All-Stars or a Brooks Brothers blazer. That’s the way the ebb and flow always goes.

AMANDA: Yeah, Americans are very given to fads. We treat things like fads. But truly, in all of the places where these wines are from there’s long, long, long legacy. Roter Veltliner has been in Austria for hundreds of years, if not longer. You go to North Austria, you go to the Kamptal or Kremstal, and you say, “Roter is so cool!” Everyone will look at you like, “What? This is a thing my grandfather farmed.” You know? That’s like saying corn is cool in Illinois. It’s just always been here. So I think if we keep that in mind, it stops being about fads and trends and it starts being more about just learning what is from a place. That said, I’m totally given to the same trendy bullshit myself, so…

JASON: Me, too.

BIANCA: So what’s the trendy bullshit that you’re [into]?

AMANDA: Well, I’m a huge Reisling-head, but that’s been a somm thing in New York for the last…

BIANCA: That’s so mainstream!

JASON: Oh, my god that’s so 2014.

AMANDA: I’m like an ’08 throwback here. I’m also getting old. It’s fine.

JASON: Eastern Europe is where it’s at right now. Come on. Hungary, Slovenia, Republic of Georgia.

AMANDA: I love Vitovska, I’m totally into it. I think among the wine community and the young wine drinkers Beaujolais is super friggin hip now. It’s very much like, “Oh, I went to Paris and I was drinking all the cool Beaujolais in all these cool restaurants.” And you’re thinking, “You’re a nightmare.” So, I’m super over Beaujolais, because it’s so hip. Which isn’t fair, I love Gamay. You know what I mean?

JASON: Now we’re getting to it!

AMANDA: Okay. It’s fine.

BIANCA: And for people who are maybe confused, this is not Beaujolais Nouveau that we are talking about.

AMANDA: No, no, no. We’re talking about traditional, thousand-year-Bold…

BIANCA: This is a fancy, renaissance of Beaujolais.

AMANDA: Yeah, this is a very humble, rustic farmer region where the Beaujolais producers I know have like five teeth and they’ve never left their homes. It’s very traditional. But, there are new wave producers, there’s young people making wine there, there is a lot of natural wine making going on in the region. And people have sort of discovered it. They’ve discovered that it’s not the 90% nouveau production that our parents were slamming from big liter jugs. It’s this serious wine that can be either quaffable or really structured and age-worthy. So, there’s this range in Beaujolais and people have discovered it, and that’s awesome, ‘cause they should, ‘cause forget Pinot Noir. And drink Gamay. But it’s also really hip. So, I’m like, whatever. I’m drinking Syrah from the Ardèche. I listened to this band before you guys did.

JASON: Yeah.

BIANCA: So who decides that we’re going to have a “Bojo [Beaujolais] Moment” right now? Is there the Anna Wintour of the wine world sort of sitting up and declaring what is the grape of the season?

JASON: Absolutely. I mean, it happened with Riesling. It happened with, well, it’s happened with everything.

AMANDA: Yeah. People make varieties their causes. People make things happen.

JASON: The somm advocate is a real thing.

AMANDA: Yeah, it really is. There’s definitely causes that I’ve gotten behind. It’s similar to bringing home a lost puppy. I’m trying to make Vitovska happen. It’s sort of like trying to get in a position of a little bit of influence in this tiny niche, weird little world that we’re in. Basically to try to help historical lifestyles continue. I want people to keep growing Roter Veltliner, and in order for that to happen, I have to convince people here to buy it so that they can keep making it in Austria. So, it is a little bit like advocacy. It’s on a very small scale, because we’re still just talking about wine. But you know, people’s livelihoods are behind it.

JASON: But that’s coming much more from somms in the restaurants than the media. Definitely in print or online there are still not many writers who are advocating for these, pushing these wines. And I think that has a lot to do with the fact that there’s still this sense that readers are going to be put off by names and umlauts and accents and things like that. I would like to see more writers on the journalism side, more wine journalists getting on board.

AMANDA: Yeah, I’ve talked to a lot of journalists about this. It’s just easier to do this on premise. It’s easier to do it at a table with people who are drinking. Because they’re much more willing to go along with you.

BIANCA: They can look you in the eye, they trust you…

AMANDA: Yeah, you can build trust because you’re in person, you know? It’s kind of different when you have to keep a print magazine alive. Or you’re trying to get people to read your online journal. You sort of have to woo them in a different way.

JASON: Plus, who’s advertising? You talked about marketing.

AMANDA: Yeah, the money thing. I’m getting paid not by the people who are buying the wine necessarily. You know what I mean? There isn’t a direct correlation for me. Some somms will push you to a higher price point. I’m not interested in that. I just want you to come back and keep eating and drinking, right? So, if it’s interesting for you, if you get a sense of discovery or of value, I’m on board, and generally that gets people on board, too. So, I’m like, “Yeah, Roter! It’s a value! And it tastes great with your lamb ribs!” And people respond, “Wow!” That’s it for me.

BIANCA: So, normally at the end of every Wine Club we have our honored and esteemed guests recommend a particular bottle that they love. But I’d like you to play Anna Wintour tastemaker, and I want you to pick your favorite godforsaken grape of the moment and maybe the region where people can find it. Because I think for a lot of these wines, they can be difficult to find a very specific producer. These aren’t, as you were saying, Amanda, made in huge quantities. They’re very artisanal. So it may be hard to find this particular Leth Roter Veltliner that we’re drinking right now, but finding another Roter Veltliner from Austria may be easier. So, what’s your cause of the moment?

JASON: I think that might be the only one…

AMANDA: There’s, what––three people?–– making that grape. Okay, what’s my “it” wine of the moment?

BIANCA: What’s your godforsaken grape of the moment?

AMANDA: Xarel·lo. I’m drinking a ton of Xarel·lo. I have been for the last six years. X-A-R-E-L-L-O.

JASON: There’s a period in the middle of it too, right?

AMANDA: Yeah, it’s Catalàn, the language of the Catalonian people in northeastern Spain. So it’s X-a with a little dot. Xarel·lo. It’s an incredibly high acid white variety with a ton of beautiful herbal aromas. It can make full-bodied white wines, it makes extraordinary sparkling wine, it can make really light and nimble wines. It tastes amazing with charcuterie and cheese. I’m all about it. I drink a ton of it.

JASON: And I would say Braucol, or it’s also called Mansois and Fer Servadou. It’s from Gaillac in southwest France. And I think if people like the sort of funkier Gamays or the Cab Franc, these are a lighter red, you know, but still savory.

BIANCA: Is there a particular godforsaken food you might eat with that?

AMANDA: Horse. They eat horse in Southwestern France.

JASON: Pigeon.

AMANDA: Oh, pigeon. There you go.

BIANCA: Thank you guys both so much for joining us here in the incredible Flatiron Wines. Cheers, Jason. Cheers to you and Godforsaken Grapes.

AMANDA: Cheers. Congratulations on your book, sir. Thank you, Bianca.

BIANCA: Cheers to you and for doing the gods’ work.

The Wine Club with Bianca Bosker, Jason Wilson and Amanda Smeltz
The Wine Club with Bianca Bosker, Jason Wilson and Amanda Smeltz

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