By François Steichen
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart…” – Ecclesiastes 9:7.
Christ Episcopal Church hosted a wine and cheese tasting this past Friday evening at the Tomes-Higgins House on the Church’s campus. Approximately 100 members of the congregation and 10 or so purveyors were in attendance.
The evening was all about renewal and social reconnection. Smiles abounded, freely given. There was much to celebrate: Reverend Marek Zabriskie’s newest book, “The Creation Care Bible Challenge,” published that same day; the work of Christ Church’s Wine & Artisan Cheese Tasting committee, bringing a truly exceptional group of purveyors to the tasting; and – not least – the hard-earned return of the congregation’s social calendar.
Tomes-Higgins House is a feast all its own: designed by Calvert Vaux, with Second Empire mansards abundantly yet proportionally arranged on its roof, it is one of Greenwich’s true architectural jewels. Its high ceilings, parquet floor, cream wallpapers and large windows give full amplitude and warmth indoors, yet the house is divided into side rooms and a rear porch that offer a flowing intimacy off the main room. In short, it is a graceful setting for what was a graceful evening.
In addition to Rev. Zabriskie’s leadership, Christ Church depends on a strong group of administrators, as well as congregants, for its caritative 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 the Director of Engagements and Advancements. Their overall leadership was crucial in getting word out about the tasting and making it a focus for many throughout the lead-up to the tasting. An ad-hoc Wine and Artisan Cheese Tasting committee, consisting 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 also never kept their eyes from checking that everyone was having a good time and that the event was proceeding smoothly.
The east side of the house’s main room quickly attracted many guests. At its oak center table sat a virtual pediment of cheeses and charcuterie from Greenwich Cheese Company in Cos Cob.
Owners Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo made five exquisite arguments for why they are considered the best cheese shop(s) in Fairfield County. Nay – one of the most adept shops in the country at obtaining unusual, small-production, cheeses. Among these, the undoubted hit of the evening was a massive slab of Linedeline, from Blakesville Creamery, in Port Washington, Wisconsin. This bloomy goat’s-milk cheese was “à point,” as the French like to say about that ephemeral acme when a cheese is transcendent, on the verge of decline.
If the Linedeline was a clear best-in-show, the other choices showed off just how far Greenwich Cheese will go to source unusual cheeses, created by Cheesemakers who are willing to experiment and push the boundaries of the art: a Camembert, normally the most unoriginal of French cheeses, but here made by Hervé Mons with a complex, swoon-worthy blend of cultures; Gorwydd Caerphilly, from Somerset, on the English border with Wales – a “hard” cheese with an ineffably soft, satisfying bite; L’Amuse Gouda – produced by a co-op but aged by an Affineuse at a slightly warmer temperature that gives more flavor and more crunchy bits in the Gouda; and last but not least, the Pecorino Foglie di Noce from Emilia-Romagna, aged in crocks layered with walnut leaves.
The unsung hero of the evening was Paul Laveris, one of the great Palates in the State of Connecticut. He manages Glenville Wine. Paul not only selected the wines, but did much of the organizing for the event in concert with Diane Davol and Bob Curry, recruiting five of the best wine salespersons in Fairfield County to present 25 wines over the course of the evening.
(My notes on these wines, together with background on each of them are available on my website’s blog: https://www.frenchyswinerd.com/blog.)
At Tables 1 and 5, in the front side parlor, Michael Sautkulis of Artisan Wines went head-to-head with Tony Gagliardo of Classic Wines.
Sautkulis offered two canonic pieces from Silvano Bolmida (a Langhe Nebbiolo and a Bussia Barolo) while Gagliardo came back with five blockbusters of the New Order, hailing from the Russian River, Napa, and Lodi, in California. Sautkulis met him in the middle with two Oregonian Pinot Noirs known for their European sensibility, the gorgeous cherry pillar of Belle Pente Wine Cellars – the Murto Vineyard Pinot Noir – and the more limpid and tannic Belle Pente Willamette, with its notes of rhubarb.
In spite of these arguably more pedigreed wines, the hands-down taste winners at these tables were Gagliardo’s straightforward, balanced, vaguely smokey, gorgeously soft Peter Paul Napa Cab 2018, whose pencil-shavings reminded one of Lafitte, and Sautkulis’s Cincinnato non-vintage “Castore” Bellone Bianco, from Lazio, a delicious medium-bodied white wine with tart acidity.
Diego Pardo, of Slocum & Sons, owned the central room by his voluble presence, bringing a number of weapons to the battle, including the most acclaimed wine of the evening, a 100-point behemoth 2018 Cabernet from Quilceda Creek, in Washington State, vintage 2018. It resembled ultra-balanced Bordeaux except at the very back of the palate, where its West Coast pedigree came shining through with dense fruit. Pardo’s Casanova di Neri Brunello Tenuta Nuova had the kind of leather notes that add great complexity to its big cherry fruit. And DuMol wines are always a giggle-snort treat: a gorgeous glycerine with big alcohol on the Wester Reach Russian River Chard, and smoke, 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 salespersons in the Tri-State Area’s professional wine community. Both allow tasters to discover wines for themselves, interjecting where necessary, but never coming across with an agenda. They are teachers masked as salespersons; it is therefore unsurprising that they have long been top earners for their companies.
Emily brought one of the only sparklers of the evening, a Blanc de Blancs (i.e., 100% Chardonnay) 2010 Franciacorta from Villa Crespia called “Mille.” The wine was full and yeasty. It was very close to its inspiration, Champagne, but for a touch of pleasantly-surprising sweetness on the very end. She followed up with the Sant’Elena 2018 Pinot Grigio from Isonzo, in northern Italy. A beautiful nose, a lighter body, and none of the harsher bitterness that can often wreck an otherwise decent Pinot Grigio.
Jennifer brought the only Rosé of the evening, the Peyrassol Cuvée des Commandeurs Côtes de Provence 2021. Timely for the month of May, this wine is fresh, has delicious big-cherry fruit, and is gorgeous. I have had it numerous times, and am happy to see it find a new home after ending its relationship with Rosenthal Imports last year. The Pazo das Bruxas (Witches’ Manor) Albariño, from Familia Torres, was a virtual Peyrassol taste-alike, except in white. Again: flowing, very drinkable wine. And finally, Jen offered an Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2018, from Umbria, a big Zin balanced by great acidity and tannin.
François Steichen founded and owns Frenchy’s Wine Road. At 10 years of age, he took his first sip of a sparkling wine. Since that moment, the magic of fermentation and spontaneously-produced bubbles has never truly relinquished its hold on his curiosity.
François is a resident of Old Greenwich with almost 20 years’ experience in the Wine Industry. To learn how he can help you with wine- & beer-related matters, feel free to check out his webpage.