FRENCHY’S WINE ROAD: Christ Church Wine Tasting Finally Celebrates Spring
By Francois Steichen
“Go, eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with joy…” – Ecclesiastes 9:7.
Christ Episcopal Church hosted a wine and cheese tasting last Friday night at the Tomes-Higgins House on the church campus. About 100 members of the congregation and about ten providers were present.
The evening was dedicated to renewal and social reconnection. Smiles abounded, offered freely. There was much to celebrate: Reverend Marek Zabriskie’s latest book, “The Creation Care Biblical Challenge,published the same day; the work of the Christ Church Artisan Wine and Cheese Tasting Committee, which brought a truly outstanding group of vendors to the tasting; and – not least – the hard-earned return of the congregational social calendar.
Tomes-Higgins House is a feast in its own right: designed by Calvert Vaux, with profusely but proportionately arranged Second Empire garrets on its roof, it is one of Greenwich’s true architectural gems. Its high ceilings, wooden floors, cream wallpapers and large windows give all the spaciousness and warmth inside, but the house is divided into side rooms and a back porch that provide flowing privacy from the main room. In short, it is a graceful setting for what was a graceful evening.
In addition to Reverend Zabriskie’s leadership, Christ Church depends on a strong group of trustees, as well as congregants, for its charitable mission. A tasting like this requires a good deal of planning and execution. At Christ Church, Bobbie Eggers is Director of Marketing and Communications, and George Belshaw is Director of Engagements and Advancements. Their overall leadership was crucial in raising awareness of the tasting and making it a priority for many throughout the preparation for the tasting. An ad hoc craft wine and cheese tasting committee, comprised of Diane Davol and Bob Curry (co-chairs) and committee member Pam Ferraro, worked very long hours, detailing all aspects of the tasting.
I can report that while they seem to have enjoyed the evening, they didn’t stop checking that everyone was having a good time and that the event was going smoothly.
The east side of the main room of the house quickly attracts many guests. At its central oak table was a virtual pediment of cheeses and charcuterie from Greenwich Cheese Company in Cos Cob.
Owners Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo have made five exquisite arguments as to why they’re considered the best cheesemakers in Fairfield County. Nay – one of the most skilful shops in the country for obtaining unusual small-production cheeses. Of these, the undoubted hit of the night was a huge slice of Linedeline, from Blakesville Creamery, Port Washington, Wisconsin. This flowery goat’s cheese was “on point”, as the French like to say about this ephemeral peak where a cheese is transcendent, on the verge of decline.
While the Linedeline was clearly a best-in-show, the other choices showed just how far Greenwich Cheese will go to source unusual cheeses, created by cheesemakers who are willing to experiment and push the boundaries of art: a camembert, normally the least original of French cheeses, but here made by Hervé Mons with a complex and unheard mix of cultures; Gorwydd Caerphilly, from Somerset on the English border with Wales – a ‘hard’ cheese with an ineffably smooth and satisfying bite; Amuse Gouda – produced by a cooperative but aged by a Refiner at a slightly warmer temperature which gives more flavor and more crunchy bits to the Gouda; and finally, the Pecorino Foglie di Noce from Emilia-Romagna, aged in jars covered with walnut leaves.
The unsung hero of the evening was Paul Laveris, one of the great courthouses in the state of Connecticut. He manages Glenville Wine. Paul not only selected the wines, but did much of the organizing for the event together with Diane Davol and Bob Curry, recruiting five of Fairfield County’s top wine salespeople to showcase 25 wines during the evening.
(My notes on these wines, as well as information on each of them, are available on my website blog: https://www.frenchyswinerd.com/blog.)
At Tables 1 and 5 in the front lounge, Michael Sautkulis of Artisan Wines took on Tony Gagliardo of Classic Wines.
Sautkulis offered two canonical Silvano Bolmida pieces (a Langhe Nebbiolo and a Bussia Barolo) while Gagliardo returned with five New Order blockbusters, hailing from Russian River, Napa and Lodi, California. Sautkulis met him in the middle with two Oregon Pinot Noirs known for their European sensibility, Belle Pente Wine Cellars’ magnificent cherry mainstay – the Murto Vineyard Pinot Noir – and the more limpid and tannic Belle Pente Willamette, with its notes of rhubarb.
Despite these arguably more pedigree wines, the taste winners at these tables were Gagliardo’s simple, balanced, faintly smoky and beautifully sweet 2018 Peter Paul Napa Cab, whose pencil shavings were reminiscent of Lafitte, and Sautkulis’ non-vintage Cincinnato. “Castore” Bellone Bianco, from Lazio, a delicious medium-bodied white wine with tangy acidity.
Diego Pardo of Slocum & Sons possessed the central room with his voluble presence, bringing a number of weapons to the battle, including the most acclaimed wine of the evening, a behemoth 2018 Cabernet 100 points from Quilceda Creek, in Washington State, 2018 vintage. It looked like an ultra-balanced Bordeaux, except at the extreme back end, where its West Coast pedigree showed through with dense fruit. Pardo’s Casanova di Neri Brunello Tenuta Nuova had the kind of leathery notes that add great complexity to its big cherry fruit. And DuMol wines are always a laughing treat: gorgeous glycerine with big booze on the Wester Reach Russian River Chard, and smoky, rhubarb and dense cherry on the Wester Reach Pinot Noir.
On the back porch were Jennifer Reilly Young of Wilson-Daniels and Emily Iverson of Vinifera Imports, two of the most admired and knowledgeable salespeople in the professional wine community in the tri-state area. Both allow tasters to discover the wines for themselves, intervening if necessary, but never having an agenda. They are teachers masked as salesmen; it is therefore not surprising that they have long been the main income of their companies.
Emily brought one of the only sparkling wines of the evening, a Blanc de Blancs (meaning 100% Chardonnay) 2010 Franciacorta from Villa Crespia called “Mille”. The wine was full and yeasty. It was very close to its inspiration, Champagne, but with a pleasantly surprising touch of sweetness at the very end. She followed this with the Sant’Elena 2018 Pinot Grigio from Isonzo in northern Italy. A beautiful nose, lighter body and none of the harshest bitterness that can often destroy an otherwise decent Pinot Grigio.
Jennifer brought the only rosé of the evening, the 2021 Peyrassol Cuvée des Commandeurs Côtes de Provence. Timely for May, this wine is fresh, has delicious big fruit and is gorgeous. I’ve had it many times and am happy to see it find a new home after ending its relationship with Rosenthal Imports last year. The Pazo das Bruxas (the Manor of the Witches) Albariño, from Familia Torres, was a real Peyrassol in taste, except in white. Once again: flowing wine, very drinkable. And finally, Jen offered a 2018 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso, from Umbria, a big Zin balanced by nice acidity and tannins.
François Steichen founded and owns Frenchy’s Wine Road. At age 10, he took his first sip of sparkling wine. Since then, the magic of fermentation and spontaneously produced bubbles has never really let go of his curiosity..
Francois is a resident of Old Greenwich with almost 20 years experience in the wine industry. To find out how he can help you with wine and beer related questions, feel free to check out his web page.