Crushing Your Wine Game – Tips from local oenophiles
As we move from the season of flip-flops and rosé into the months of sit-down dinner parties and back-to-back holidays, it’s time to get serious about wine. Guests deserve better than a clutter of indifferent wines—the whites languishing at room temperature, the half-empty reds dropped into the ice bath by distracted guests. To help you develop a little flair on the wine front, we consulted two pros: Max Marinucci (picture above) of the Wine Connection, in Pound Ridge, and Doug Polaner of Polaner Selections, an importer in Mt. Kisco.
The Big Time
A sure symbol of a host’s largesse and sense of fun, a large-format wine brings a “wow” factor to the party. “Guests see a big bottle and go, ‘Whoa,’” says Marinucci.
For home entertaining, Marinucci suggests a three-liter bottle, called a double magnum or Jeroboam, equal to four standard bottles. “It’s easy to decant, easy to pour straight into the glass,” he says. Anything bigger—Imperial, Methuselah, Salmanazar, Nebuchandnezzar—can be tricky to handle, and exponentially more disappointing if the wine is not at its best.
Big bottles don’t have to break the bank. For just $70, Marinucci sells a double magnum of the earthy Cosimo Taurino Salento Rosso “Notarpanaro” 2010, made from the native Negroamaro grape. This rustic red would suit a sprawling Puglian-style meal of orecchiette (“little ears”) pasta with fresh tomatoes and ricotta and loaves of crusty bread. “It’s a 2010, so basically a reserve,” says Marinucci. “It’s cheap as dirt and it tastes fantastic.”
For a special occasion, Marinucci would pop the cork on a Jeroboam of the “splendidly dry” Laherte Frères Blanc de Blanc Brut Nature ($350), made by a progressive young vigneron who forgoes the traditional dollop of sweet dosage that’s added to most Champagnes. “It’s laser-cut, chiseled, beautiful on the palate,” says Marinucci. “The label is gorgeous—it looks great on the table.”
Marinucci, who loves his Italian wines, also recommends the Fèlsina Chianti Riserva “Rancia” 2016 ($320), a critical hit, and the E. Pira & Figli (Chiara Boschis) Barolo “Cannubi” 2014 ($400), from a storied Barolo vineyard (and lauded by the Wine Advocate for its elegant hints of “forest berry, wild rose, and dried violets”).
Big bottles, which are said to enhance the aging process, can also present an opportunity for showboating. “People like to sabor these bottles,” says Marinucci, who has beheaded more than a few bottles himself. “But you waste a lot of wine before you get good at it.”
Drink Outside the Box
That notable Laherte Frères Champagne is imported to the United States by Doug Polaner, who over 20 years has developed a reputation for scouting wines from small producers, paying special heed to little-known grapes, sustainable farming, and hands-on winemaking.
Polaner is the opposite of a wine snob, with an everyday approach to the enjoyment of wine. “Champagne is one of our main food groups at home,” he says.
He encourages buyers to be adventurous, to try wines beyond “chocolate, vanilla, strawberry.” His first rule: “Find a good merchant who you really trust. Take their recommendations, buy twelve different things, then go back with feedback—‘I didn’t like this, I liked that’—and they can help you curate wines going forward.” (He also wryly suggests that consumers take note of the importers listed on the labels of their favorite wines.)
Polaner says he’s excited right now about wines from the Loire Valley, northwestern Spain, the southern reaches of Italy and “island wines” from the Canary Island and Ischia. “Beaujolais is having a great moment,” he says, citing a region that most imbibers associate with cheap, sweet nouveau wines. “More producers are making wine from top crus, farming naturally, and there’s a kind of community, where the existing stars are happy to take young up-and-comers under their wing.”
Along with Marinucci, Polaner sees a shift in taste among consumers. “The sign of quality used to be how big and dark and rich and alcoholic a red wine was,” he says. “People now are looking for freshness and lightness, where you want to open a second bottle.”
In the Polaner portfolio, such a wine is the “joyous, floral” 2018 Frappato Terre Siciliane from COS, in Vittoria, Sicily, a lighthearted red that’s meant to be chilled down a bit—a great transition wine for late summer into early fall.
Despite the rush to tumbler-style glasses, Marinucci and Polaner like their stems. “Call me old-fashioned,” says Polaner, whose go-to glass is the Zalto Universal by Denk’Art (around $60), a slim, nine-inch-tall beauty that he says “feels good in your hand and shows wines well.”
Marinucci prefers the elegant all-around glass recently introduced by Jancis Robinson x Richard Brendon (around $55), which he says “delivers full aromatics for that all important first impression.”