Build a wine collection that hits the high notes. Here, two experts show you how:
Photo by Keith Clendaniel, courtesy of www.ACoupleBites.com.
The Rock Star Collection
Ziggy Eschliman is a rock ’n’ roll sommelier with nearly two dozen years’ experience in the wine industry. These days, she’s backstage with the band, staging wine parties for classic rockers like Heart and the Moody Blues.
“The days of heavy drugs and drinking are over,” said Eschliman. “At the end of the day, hardworking artists want a glass or two of quality wine.”
Her latest gig is with the band Journey and came after a chance meeting with keyboard player and songwriter Jonathan Cain at a winemaker’s dinner party.
“Jonathan had brought a bottle of Pinot Noir, and he wanted to know how to serve it,” said Eschliman. “I said, ‘It’s too warm; it won’t show well.’”
She may have put the wine on ice, but their conversation was just getting started and led to Eschliman being invited to Journey’s recording studio (their new CD, “Eclipse,” drops May 27).
Eschliman brought a variety of wines for the band to enjoy, including lush and fruity Pinotage, a South African varietal from McNab Ridge Winery in Mendocino, Calif. “Journey was recording a new CD with their new lead singer (Arnel Pineda), so I brought unique wines with a twist, wines they’d never had before,” said Eschliman.
Then she pitched herself as their personal sommelier. “They have a rider to have specific wines backstage and on the tour bus, but they didn’t know what they’d end up with,” said Eschliman. “I told them, ‘I’ll figure out what you should be drinking, and I’ll make it happen.’”
She pairs certain wines with concert dates: in New York City, gold medal-winning bottles from that state; big wines and “big formats” in Texas. (Eschliman is careful to note that not all members of Journey drink alcohol.)
The key to composing a rock ’n’ roll wine cellar is to be a fan, first. “There’s a lot of star power out there when it comes to amazing wines,” said Eschliman. “Stars have amazing resources and can source incredible fruit.”
Some of her favorites include Jonathan Cain’s own wines. The delaCain Vineyards in California produce musically themed wines like the Pinot Chanconne (French for slow dance) and the Finale Cabernet Sauvignon; for an extra $10, you can get either bottle autographed. DelaCain also produces a full-bodied Cabernet, All Access, whose label resembles a backstage pass.
Fellow rock ’n’ roll vintners include blues singer Boz Scaggs, who recently turned out organic Rhône varietal blends; Dave Matthews, whose Blenheim Vineyard hums in his hometown of Charlottesville, Va.; and Sting reportedly sings to the grapes on his family farm in Tuscany, which produces Sister Moon and Casino delle Vie, both Sangiovese-based wines.
Eschliman is also a fan of the wines made by Pixar executive John Lasseter and his wife, Nancy, on their 27-acre vineyard. “The key to most things is diversity,” said Eschliman, “especially when it comes to building a wine cellar.”
The Classic Italian Collection
Joshua Smith, chef and partner at A Mano, is also the man behind the restaurant’s evolving wine list. Maybe it’s no surprise that the chef of a regional Italian restaurant recommends starting with an atlas for assembling your own collection.
“The most important thing is to cover the main wine-producing regions,” said Smith. “The rules change from region to region, as to what indicates quality … but if it comes in a wicker basket – called a fiasco – don’t buy it.”
Of the reds, Chianti is “the most overproduced,” said Smith, “and the hardest place to start.” He advises looking at wines produced in Chianti’s Classico region (between Pisa and Arezzo, in Tuscany), especially the aged Riservas.
Many Chiantis are based on the Sangiovese grape, so be sure to also seek out the rounder, more full-bodied clone called the Sangiovese Grosso.
Southern Italy’s Campania region is known for its “heavy, ageable wines,” said Smith, “and Taurasi is the highest representation of it.” This high-tannin grape is known for becoming smoky and dense as it ages.
From Sicily, he likes the Nero D’Avola, one of the oldest indigenous grapes and “easy to find (here), even in Rouses,” said Smith. “It’s often compared to the Syrah grape.”
If you’re searching for wine from the northern Piedmont region, Smith recommends the leathery and floral Nebbiolo, which is “super high-end,” he said.
Popular with A Mano’s guests are the Etna Rossos. “People want a lighter red, something with a Pinot character,” said Smith, “and Etna Rossos are almost the perfect foil for cured meats” that are a staple of the trattoria’s antipasti menu.
Smith has begun culling out A Mano’s northern Italian wines, to better match the restaurant’s sunny southern palate, but their wine list is ultimately “driven by what people in New Orleans want to drink,” Smith said.
For more information:
New Orleans Living is a proud sponsor of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, which will be held at various locations May 24 – 28.
Catch Joshua Smith, chef and partner at A Mano, at NOWFE’s “Everyday Effervescence” seminar from 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. May 27.
Ziggy Eschliman will be at NOWFE’s “Bubbly Personalities” seminar from 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. May 27.