Sophie's Glass

January 4th of 2016 brought the start of a new job as sales person for MFW Wine Co. There’s a certain rightness to this. MF and I have been friends since my Astor days when he used to stop by to pick up bottles. We’ve been collaborating since my Chambers Street days when hushed conversations in the rain outside the store allowed us to share the blame for a reduced Agrapart allocation. When I crashed MF’s portfolio tasting in August of last year, I found myself thinking he’d built, in a relatively short period of time, one of the best books in the city. We have a long-standing professional relationship coming to fruition this year. He’s a talented, straight-shooting guy who, while he’ll talk your ear off, never minces words when it comes to the things that matter. I have much respect for, and much to learn from this person.

My new business card.

My new business card.

That said, the past two weeks have been tough. Maybe partly because I was in North Carolina over Christmas, where the weather was unseasonably warm and languorous, where we sat outside drinking Clos Roche Sauvignon well into the night, where I lay in my childhood bed in the loft, listening to the rain, surrounded by trees, not a truck engine to be heard, where the most involved daily task was making dinner for my grandma, where life seems infinitely more tranquil. I came back to New York just before New Years, and winter had arrived. Suddenly life became incredibly busy, full of new wines, new buyers, days of walking 5 miles or more, in the cold, with a bag of wine and an aching back, new data forcing its way in, in a constant stream via email, phone, text message … chaos encroaching with only a spreadsheet and a frigid run to keep it at bay …

On day 2, I realized that picking up the thread of my predecessors’ relationships was going to be hard as hell. “A business of relationships” is a stock phrase in our trade, and it couldn’t be more true. If a buyer had a great relationship with the previous rep, I’d be, in comparison, less amusing, less timely, less familiar with their tastes, less likely to protect them on stock, more likely to botch their orders. Yet if the buyer had a terrible relationship with the previous rep, I’d never get my foot in the door. These thoughts stampeded through my brain, mainly in the middle of the night when I should have been sleeping but couldn’t.

On day 3, I realized that MF in his infinite wisdom had given me an account list of incredible buyers, kind, professional, respectful people who know how to state their needs clearly, buyers who seem willing, even excited to work with me, buyers who would help me help them. I still couldn’t sleep through the night, but I breathed a little easier. Things didn’t calm down, but the future seemed brighter.

Round about day 5 I started to get really excited about the wines. The excitement had been building all week, starting when we cracked Scott Frank’s Melon de Bourgogne from the Johan Vineyard in Oregon, lemony fresh and sheer, not like a Muscadet, but like Melon in all its varietal glory, a pretty wine with a great finish, a wine that spoke of its place and its maker in all the right ways.

Scott's Melon.

Scott’s Melon.

One of the reasons I took this job was to learn about wines that aren’t French. For the past half dozen years I’ve been more or less myopic (and snobby) about French wine, specializing, traveling, meeting the vignerons, learning the language, and I plan to keep doing those things … But what about Italy, Spain, Austria, and even the US, my own country whose wines I’ve historically rejected on the grounds of being too hot, too jammy, too expensive, etc … ? It turns out these things aren’t true anymore. It turns out there are many wines from other countries that I’d like to drink and to know like the back of my hand, the way I know Champagnes from Benoït Lahaye, and Chardonnays from Stéphane Tissot.

Molly Madden and I were out roaming the streets on day 5. Mauro Franchino Gattinara 2009 was in the bag. This wine is incredible. From a tiny, old school domaine of (I think) 3 hectares, made of 100% Spanna, unusual for Gattinara, which normally comprises Croatina and Vespolina as well, this wine was so elegant, so totally without spoof, just gorgeous old school Nebbiolo that left a wash of mouth-coating tannins in its wake with each sip.

Molly Fuckin' Madden

Molly Fuckin’ Madden

Week 2 has brought a fresh slew of surprises. A few nights ago I drank a glass of Bobal from the Jose Pastor portfolio, from a domaine called Vera de Estenas. This wine comes from D.O. Utiel-Requena, the hot soil of Valencia, yet it maintained remarkably fresh acidity, had a touch of lactic, caramel-y wood that felt soulfully Spanish, a rusty, ironic edge. This inexpensive little Spanish wine took me completely out of my vinous comfort zone, and I loved it.

The one on the right's the Bobal; the other is Gregory Perez's Mencia from Bierzo.

The one on the right’s the Bobal; the other is Gregory Perez’s Mencia from Bierzo.

And so, yes, it’s been a trying two weeks, but I pride myself on expectation management. The start of a new job is always tough, and this is no exception. Fortunately, I love challenges, as any human who has ever relocated to New York City from a smaller place can attest. There’s a brutality and masochism to life here that resonates with certain types of people … until they (we?) decide they (we?) have had enough, and make a bee line for calmer pastures, and a more relaxed lifestyle. There’s addictive, infectious energy and vast possibility here. Our lifestyle caters to the ambitious. Ever since I moved here, I’ve entertained the notion of going home to North Carolina, but every time I tell myself “not ’til I’ve made it to the top,” whatever that means …

3 responses to “Drinking Bobal, and Liking it.”

  1. jaso c says:

    I find it sad that someone who professes to love wine had locked themselves into a mental box. And when one pulls out the tired trope about the fact that US wines are not over ripe or extracted “anymore” that is a myth that is bandied about by a new school of sommeliers and Jon Bonne, who wants to take credit for discovering a “New California” The truth is I can name dozens of Cali, Oregon and NY producers who have been making “old world style” wines for decades but the young hipster crew has rewritten history and wants to pretend that California especilly has suddenly started making more balanced wines. Yes there are many many more producers now doing stuff for the non Parker palate, but it is unfair and untrue to regurgitage this myth that runs around the hipster somm crowd, and I Am sure because it serves a purpose of their own “storytelling” about how they have helped change wine and that the old school was shit. Listen, I am so happy about what is going on in the wine world, but the truth is that if you are not deeply exploring wine regions other than France, its sad because that means you are listening to others whom may have agendas instead of being an open minded explorer. That being said its great you are branching out now, at least.
    Of course your last paragraph leads me to believe our worldviews are so vastly opposed about what success is and the over blown sense of self importance of New Yorkers and their so called “ambition” that maybe what I think can’t in any way jibe with your wordlview.

    • Sophie says:

      Of course you are absolutely correct that it was never true all west coast wine is jammy, over extracted, too expensive, etc … I like Cali Cab from the ’80s a lot, from now too, and Stony Hill, and Edmunds Saint John; I love Michael Dashe, etc … It’s a pleasure to diver deeper into west coast wine now. As to French myopia, it’s really just that I was a French wine buyer for a long time, and so I studied and drank the things I needed to know about. It’s more about what the job was than anything. Now I have a different role, which allows for more exploration. I love it. As to the last paragraph, I was trying to be sort of tongue in cheek and maybe make fun of myself. New York snobbery is rampant and disgusting, and I truly believe I’m only a minor offender, especially considering that every day of my life I make plans to leave this place. Thanks for your comments; I appreciate your candor.

  2. jaso c says:

    Sorry, but I want to use this sentence from your post as an example of what I am refering to:
    “wines I’ve historically rejected on the grounds of being too hot, too jammy, too expensive, etc … ? It turns out these things aren’t true anymore”

    It never was totally true. Those over alcoholic over extraced and ripe wines are still being made, but it was only largely true. But you should never listen to people or yourself telling you myths that are generalizations about things that are self serving. Did you just take this as the truth without finding out for yourself, because I can tell you that even 10-20 years ago, deep in the belly of the Parker and Wine Spectator influence beast, there were enough Domestic producers making wine to make one very happy drinking on a regular basis if on doesnt like hot or jammy. I am not trying to be a troll here, I just don’t understand when people live in this bubble where people all have the same deluded idea that just is a mode to reenforce an idea that they have decided is true based on a rejection of the old to re-create a new paradigm. And just to let you know. I am a nerdy drinker of all those Dressner, Jenny, Selection Massale etc wines but I don’t accept their creation myth about how they helped save wine from Robert Parker.. it really has to do with an inevetable swinging back of the taste pendulum and the fact that finally people realized that there is not only one way to see the world.

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