In this occasional series, we’ll highlight importers and distributors that we think do an especially great job. We hope you’ll enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the women and men who put wine into the hands of retailers and restaurateurs. They help hack through some of this wide world of wine so that you don’t have to!
Point of View: An Afternoon With Neal Rosenthal
Neal Rosenthal is known in the wine business as an early pioneer in the world of handmade, traditional, terroir-driven European wine. Like Kermit Lynch, he’s been doing this since 1977, way before it was cool. His book, Confessions of a Wine Merchant, is a must-read for any wine lover, and when you see his distinctive back label, we highly recommend taking a chance on the bottle it adorns, even if it’s from somewhere you’ve never heard of.
When Randy, Doug and I got a chance to visit his warehouse and taste with him this past June (thanks to Ryne Hazzard and Eric Hauptmann at Potomac Selections), we jumped at it.
Randy and I arrived at a non-descript warehouse in Maspeth, Queens with the bouncy, nervous energy of kids on Christmas morning – a little early, a lot excited. We were finally let into a large warehouse, where we gazed at pallet after pallet of delicious wine and met the man himself. Tall and wiry, he was wearing a very cool suede jacket that was probably a gift from Lou Reed or something equally awesome.
Up in the conference room and office overlooking the warehouse, a whole table was filled with bottle upon beguiling bottle, and as I started flipping through the sheets detailing all we were to taste that day I thought, hoo boy, fasten your safety belts!
The wines we tasted first were from the mountain regions of France and Italy. These all had a wonderful, limpid freshness, but without the too-clean nature of so many stainless-steel fermented whites. There is a kind of neutered perfume to many of those wines; all top notes and no depth. These mountain wines were fresh in an organic way, like an untouched stream, or laundry hung out to dry in the sunshine. We loved them so much that we’re doing a whole class on high-elevation wine this fall.
Nothing makes this little wine geek’s heart go pitter pat like obscure reds from the Loire Valley, and they were there in spades, along with quaffable, poised Beaujolais and unapologetically earthy Burgundies. There were Bordeaux that changed my entire conception of what Bordeaux can be: quirky, interesting, not score-pandering or astronomically priced. Majestic Italian wines, all resin and earth and high-toned cherry aromas. It just went on and on.
These are the kinds of wines that are easy to imagine as people you want to get to know. Each time you return to them they have something different and interesting to say. They have a point of view, and they express it without hostility or compromise. They are rooted in the past and tradition, but they are not quaint time capsules. Kind of like the man himself.