"Natural" Winemakers In New York

By Kristin Donnelly Posted March 26, 2007

To a certain set of hipster and otherwise in-the-know sommeliers and wine buyers in New York, spring means it’s time for irreverent importing company Louis/Dressner to bring its motley crew of mostly French, often organic-minded winemakers to the U.S. for a big blitz of natural wine. I fell in love with these unusual, quirky wines two years ago while working at the wine geek’s mecca, Chambers Street Wines in Tribeca. When I started interning at Food & Wine over a year ago, I moonlighted to help pay the bills at another great store, Crush Wine & Spirits, which also dedicates a large part of its selection to natural wines.

Last week, instead of helping Crush pour wines for the big tasting they do with the winemakers, I headed up to the store in another capacity—as a press person invited to a “roundtable” with importing company co-owner Joe Dressner and three of his winemakers. James Beard–nominated blogger Tyler Colman of Dr. Vino and screenwriter-turned-wine producer Robert Kamen were all in the house. Joe, in his usual no-holds-barred kind of way, talked about why he thinks wines made using organic agriculture and native yeasts are better:

“In America, terroir, this idea that a wine speaks of a certain place, is a mystical concept that somehow seems undemocratic. Here, we like to believe that anyone can become president or make a Cabernet Sauvignon that will score 100 points, regardless of where the vineyard is, what the soil is like and what the climate is like,” he said. “When I want to annoy New World wine makers, I tell them that their wines will be amazing in a few centuries.”

Joe believes that great wine is centuries in the making—that it takes years of experimentation to find what grapes grows best in a certain vineyard. These wines, made with little manipulation and that truly speak of a place, are the ones that interest him regardless of scores from wine pundits.

After his speech, we tasted through nine wines from three French producers, including a lively, fresh 2005 Sauvignon Blanc from Clos Roche Blanche in the Loire valley; an earthy, age-worthy 2002 “Picasse” Chinon from Pierre et Catherine Breton (also in the Loire) and a supersexy, aromatic, Syrah-based Côte Rötie from Eric Texier. My favorite bottle of the tasting, however, was Texier’s highly unusual 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème, made 100 percent from Syrah (most Côtes-du-Rhône are blends of several grapes). This light, minerally expression of Syrah has pretty floral aromatics, fresh berry fruit and a killer peppery finish. It’s a wine I’d happily drink all the time—and luckily, for only $17 (a steal if you ask me!), I can.  

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