How do you connect your guests to wine’s story: its history, terroir, people?
Eric Asimov [the New York Times wine critic] once wrote, “Think of wine as food. If political, environmental and ethical considerations enter into your decisions about which foods to buy, they should inform your wine buying as well.” Natural wine then becomes part of your toolkit to engage in topics like climate change, sustainability, labor, etc. It becomes easier to illustrate the impact of supporting a smaller producer versus a big brand.
What is the most surprising pairing you’ve had recently?
Domaine de Clovallon’s “En Noir et Blanc” with crispy rice toast, uni and roe with fermented black bean butter. The pairing is the personification of an umami party-in-your-mouth. The uni and roe toast is incredibly decadent. The wine is a blend of Pinot Noir and Riesling vinified as a white wine. The Riesling kicks up the acid of the otherwise supple and soft wine to balance the dish’s smoke, saltiness and fat.
Do you have a favorite restaurant or chef who inspires you through their food and wine pairings?
I have a few favorite restaurants in DC that are as inspiring for their bottle selection as the food. One is Lutece, a neo-bistro in Georgetown that’s all about delivering fresh and seasonal flavors without stuffiness – a rarity in that neighborhod.
Reveler’s Hour is a gem in Adams Morgan. Bill Jensen, wine director and co-owner, consistently has one of the best lists in DC that is a stellar example of the playful side of wine. There’s a healthy dose of levity and creativity that makes it a welcoming place to explore wine.
Is the wine scene at the cusp of change?
We are at an exciting tipping point in wine. There is a growing community of educators, wine buyers, importers and writers who are at the forefront of helping reframe how wine is viewed; the language used to describe wine as much as the idea of what pairs best.
Events such as the Diversity in Wine Leadership Forum, co-founded by Maryam Ahmed and Elaine Chukan Brown, help connect the dots between various initiatives in the wine industry while providing diversity, equity and inclusion training for wine professionals.
Meanwhile individuals like Jirka Jireh have had a tremendous impact on the natural wine space in terms of opportunities, dedicating her career to advocating for and mentoring the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities in the wine industry. In 2020, she co-founded Industry Sessions, a digital wine-education program for marginalized people in the US and Canada. As one of the facilitators, it’s gratifying to be a part of the community.
What are the opportunities for the natural and low-intervention wine movement?
I see the natural wine space as limitless. On the one hand, it’s exciting to educate consumers on the basics of natural and low-intervention wine. In contrast, on the other, witnessing changing tastes and perceptions as the definition of wine evolves. Some fantastic projects produce great ciders, co-fermentations and focus solely on hybrids. That’s what’s beautiful about natural wine. There’s space for traditionalists as much as space for experimentalists.
Image © Whitney Pope