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Field Notes: Rosenthal Portfolio Tasting


Images by T. Zwiep

Images by T. Zwiep

On Wednesday, February 17th Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant hosted a trade portfolio tasting at Adele's. The tasting was spread over three tables and included nearly 60 wines. Among them were wines we have carried in the past and wines one or two of us had tasted but never been able to carry at the shop and a few others that were all together new. For the uninitiated, Rosenthal has one of the most highly respected import portfolios in the nation. If I find an unfamiliar bottle out in the world and I turn it over and see a Rosenthal label on back, I immediately want to taste it. There's a trust in the Rosenthal name. So for Nashville, a tasting in which all of these wines were open a the same time, a tasting of this caliber, marked a truly special occasion. Everyone was stoked.

I started at Table C, where Rosenthal rep Trey Stevenson was pouring the Italian wines. Trey does not get to Nashville all that often, but when he heard that his local distributor wanted to put on such a show, he committed easily. Trey knows his wines, and he knows his portfolio, so it was a treat to pick his brain about the producers and regions represented on his table.

First up was Bisson "Glera," a frizzante white that we've carried for a while. Bright, a touch soft, cleansing. And was surprised how delicious the "Marea" was from the village of Cinque Terre. Briny, rich, way deeper than I expected. But it was the reds, in particular the Dolcetto, that really drew me into the world of the tasting. The two 2013 Dolcettos — one from DeForville, which I've had in several previous vintages, and the other from Brovia, which was entirely new to me — were both so vibrant and aromatic and yet each so distinct from the other, I couldn't help but snag a second taste (I was spitting). Both stood up on hind legs and roared in my face, but each roared in its own key. In the end it was the Brovia that won my heart with its song. The big, course tannins resonated under the bright red fruit, finishing on a dry and deceptively pretty note. The tension never flagged. I asked the woman next to me what she thought. She laughed through her nose and nodded vigorously, pointing. "Yes."

I'll admit, things teetered on the edge of control after that. These kinds of events are highly social, so if you're an introvert like me who likes to take notes and ask questions and make connections between the wines, it can be a struggle to feel at ease. As I made my way through Table B (mostly wines from Bordeaux and Rhône) a middle-aged guy beside me was hitting on a 20-something woman who seemed to be new to the business. He wanted to show her how much he knew, how much he had to offer, that sort of thing. So while he smacked his lips I turned to the woman on the other side of me, a restaurateur who was making deals to get better pricing by going halves with another friendly business. Someone tapped me on the shoulder: an old friend who just re-entered the biz after a years-long hiatus and wants to put together a collaboration between our respective gigs. Eh. It's the kind of thing people talk about all the time that rarely comes to fruition. I love these people, all of them, I love watching them and listening to them do their work. They are in their element, fluid in their transactions. I admire them. I just don't want to be in the middle of them. I'm much more comfortable off to the side. Besides, after those Rhône bombs I felt like I needed to stop and peel away a layer of my mouth. I retreated to the bread and cheese table and downed a few glasses of water and scribbled in my notebook.

Ch Haut Segottes lookin' good as ever
Ch Moulin de Tricot - what the? WHOA! velvety funnnk

There is some amount of pressure, if you're a buyer at a tasting like this, to commit if even softly to certain quantities of certain wines. The sales persons like having fun, but they like having a payday even more. I have the distinct advantage of none of the sales people giving a single f— what I think. My wallet is safely in my back pocket, where it will remain. I am there to diligently taste through five dozen of the best wines currently open in the state of Tennessee and report back to Will what I think. And to you, friend, I would never forget you.

I find an easy rapport with the sales folks. They know they don't need to persuade or impress me and so their guards are down. At Table A, when I asked about the Swiss wine, the distro rep picked up the bottle and looked it over and looked back to me and said, "You know what I know about this wine? It's Swiss. And I think it's pinot noir." I like frankness, I think there's too little of it in the world, especially when someone's trying to sell you something. I spent the rest of the hour bouncing around her table sampling my way through the Loire and Jura. The Montbourgeau Savagnin smelled like a spice shop and tasted like curried paneer (I have since had two conversations with different people who said, unsolicited, basically the same thing). That was amazing. It's incredible that a wine can do that! But it's the sort of thing that's tough for a shop like ours: We pride ourselves on curating the uncommon, but we're also a neighborhood shop where people come to buy wine for Tuesday night hard shell tacos on the couch. Ultimately it's a pass.

Similarly, I was won over by the two wines of Domaine Petit Marie from Bourgueil. One was a single vineyard bottling and the other a parcel blend. They were outstanding, structured but not harsh, brimming with life. And yet we already have like three Bourgueil wines on the shelf right now. How many can we realistically hold at one time? So we file it away in our field notes, and try to remember it the next time we're staring at a hole in our own Loire section going, "What could we bring in that would really knock people over?"