"I drank a few of your wines recently and I really like them. I want to try more of them - are you having a spring tasting?" I asked Ariel, Savio Soares' wine rep. "Not that I know of," she said, "but I have another idea. Let me get back to you."
And that is how I found myself on a recent Sunday evening, along with Alice Feiring, sitting with Savio Soares at Il Buco. Savio strongly feels that the best way to understand his wines is to enjoy them with friends over a meal, so he created this opportunity for Alice and me - a very lovely gesture. And because he used to be the General Manager of the restaurant and in charge of the wine program, we received what you might call special attention. Maybe this is every day stuff for you, but I have a 3 month old and a 2 year old and I don't get out much. And this is a recession - my work world is slowly shrinking. I don't get to do this very often - enjoy a lavish meal and 10 wines at one of the city's better restaurants. I had a blast.
"Don't assess on the first sip. Coat your palate with this wine, take your time, take another sip, and then you will understand the wine."- Savio Soares, as I sipped my Riesling.
That pretty much sums up Savio's attitude in general. Make time to smell the roses. Don't rush to judge a wine, because the good ones take time to unfold in the glass. And I think he has successfully knit this attitude into the fabric of his everyday life. He lives in Krefeld, Germany, his wife's hometown. He spends a lot of time with his son, now 7 years old (and he was the primary caregiver when his son was an infant and his wife had a "regular" day job). He travels frequently and greatly enjoys his work with a small group of wine makers, mostly in Germany, France, and Austria. He is a man who is perpetually smiling, and genuinely. He seems like he is truly at peace, and that, my friends, is a nice thing to be around.
And what of his wines? We drank 10 of them with our fantastic meal, and although I tried to take good notes, I was more interested in our conversation and company. So instead I will tell you a few things in general, and also share a few highlights. Savio works with small growers who take care for their environment and who make wine naturally - relying mostly on indigenous yeasts, minimal sulfur, minimal cellar manipulation, and light or no filtration. When I asked him how he chooses wines to import, Savio wrote in an email:
I like elegant wines: harmony, silkiness, acidic structure, aromatic finesse, all that I find very important. Personally I really like high levels of acid in my wine and find that this is one of the most important elements to bring elegance to a wine and the one that also makes drinking and enjoying wine, a fun thing to do. For the same reasons I like wines from cold climates, longer ripening seasons and also wines that are made in the traditional style of its region and reflects it. Above all, for me to import a wine, I must like and respect the winemaker and 99% of the winemakers I work with have no secretaries. Everything in regards to our collaboration is treated directly with the winemaker or his wife/husband. I only work with family-run wineries with an average size of 7 HA. These winemakers do care about the wine they produce and after sometime working and enjoying wines like these, one notices that these wines are imbued not just with traces of its region but also with the energy of care and respect that was dedicated to it in the vineyard and in the cellar.Savio Soares' wines as a group are cut from the same cloth as Joe and Denyse Dressner's and Jenny & François'. They are "real" wines, wines that showcase purity of fruit and do as little as possible to mask the place they come from. They are energetic and lively, and they are meant to be enjoyed with food. They are competitively priced too, which is a nice thing.
One of my favorite dishes of the evening was the very first, bruschette topped with sea urchin, arugula, capers, and lemon. The ultra-clean briny sweetness of the little sea urchin half-moons played beautifully off the bitter arugula and the sour lemon. I would happily eat that dish every day for the next 5 months. And I thought the 2007 Ernst Clusserath Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Kabinett Trocken (about $30) was a great pairing. The round and rich nose of the wine belied its bone dry bitter fruit pit flavors. Like the sea urchin, the wine was clear as a bell.
The 2005 Reynald Héaulé Vin de Table L'Insoumis de Village, or 'Black Sheep of the Village' (about $30) is a serious country wine made by one of the new wave Loire Valley natural wine hipsters. This wine is Cabernet Franc, Pinot Meunier (yes, you read that right), and a third mystery grape which the producer will not reveal. This wine had a wild leafy peppery streak. Alice loved this one, and she was already quite familiar with the producer. It reminded me of Pineau D'Aunis, but richer, and it paired beautifully with the olive oil poached octopus with chick peas.
The 2006 Philippe Bornard Trousseau Le Ginglet Arbois Pupillin (about $25) was redolent of red berries and cinnamon. "Typical of wines made in the Jules Chauvet method," Alice said. I loved this wine, with it's wild intensity and it's leafy herbal character. It went beautifully with gnocchi, and not the typically dense dough balls that pass for gnocchi. These were feathery pillows of deliciousness, accompanied by Brussels sprouts and walnuts for a subtle flavor combination that really accentuated the texture and flavor of the gnocchi. I've seen these Bornard wines around a lot lately, and I want to try the Poulsard next - I've been really digging Poulsard lately.
The 2005 Wilfred Rousse Chinon Les Puys (about $20) was, to me, a classic. Ripe fruit (this is 05, after all) iron and salt, and eminently drinkable. It should retail at about $20 and it's a great new discovery in Chinon. It was delicious with our roast quail. As was the 2007 Avanti Popolo Les Temps des Cerises (about $25). This wine is a full bodied mouthful of old vine Carignan from the Languedoc, but is is also quite graceful, and the acidity keeps the wine feeling lively. This comes from vines high up on the hillsides, Savio explains, and the grapes are cooled by evening breezes.
Perhaps the most memorable wine for me was the final wine of the night, a sweet wine, a rosé of Pinot Noir. The 1994 Geschwister Ehrhard Rudesheimer Berg Rosenach Spätburgunder Beerenauslese (about $60 for 375 ml). This wine was luscious and primary in its beautiful fruit, with soaring and penetrating acidity. I've never had anything like it before, and it was just a fantastic experience to drink.
Right now Savio's wines are distributed only in New York and New Jersey, so if you're in the area, keep you eyes open for them. Hopefully they'll make it to the rest of the country soon.