Hello orange, organic and welcome new world. Top sommeliers, including the custodians of the heritage wine program at New York’s famed The River Cafe, share the wine trends ready to whet your appetite.
Jake Skinner, Sommelier, The River Cafe, New York
The landmark River Cafe is a slice of New York culinary history that dates back almost 50 years. On the Brooklyn waterfront, the Michelin Star restaurant specializing in classic American cuisine is celebrated as much for its heritage wine program as the food, location, and retro charm. The international cellar, considered one of the best in the world, was curated by the restaurant’s long-time wine director Joseph DeLissio, who is credited with the rise of American wine culture. The River Cafe’s current sommelier Jake Skinner along with his team of renowned wine experts – who are all devoted to honoring DeLissio’s legacy – talks us through the latest wine trends and their enduring love of old-world classics.
Describe the restaurant’s renowned cellar style?
Mid century with a focus on the best of the classics; Burgundy, Bordeaux and Cabernet, old world wines, that all have a sense of history and their own narrative. Though we do look to new world and emerging wine regions like California, Oregon, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, Australia. Today’s customers are curious, they travel to other parts of the world, try the wines and come back and ask us about certain styles so you have to be experimental. In fact we were the first restaurant in New York to embrace California wines back in the seventies. Joe DeLissio is New York’s biggest wine director you’ve never heard of. He was just a kid when he hired by our own Michael O’Keeffe in the beginning as beverage manager to oversee purchasing and make sure no one was stealing, but he became passionate about learning about and tasting wines, learning from celebrated wine authorities like Kevin Zraly of The Windows of The World, and traveling all over to taste the different styles.
What are the current wine trends?
There is definitely a trend toward younger, lighter, more elegant, balanced, fruit driven easy drinking wines, though the older crowd still loves their big, gold Robert Parker esque and oaky styles. We’re seeing a lot more interest in Californian pinot noir and coastal wines and pinot noirs from Oregon. The classics never go out of style. Old world reds from Burgundy and Bordeaux, Cabernet from California, especially Napa Valley. I love a Sangiovese from Tuscany. Good examples show off fruity flavors, red cherry, rose petals, violet, chocolate notes; these are the workhorse grapes of Italy, yet only a few do it well. I also love Barolo, I’ll drink a Central Italian wine any day of the week.
Share the secret to wine pairing?
We do follow the cuisine, we are new American with traditional European techniques so the classics are popular. My approach and those of today’s sommeliers is to connect with people on their terms. I don’t just ask what style of wine they like or whether they like something fruity, I ask more abstract questions like do you like Jazz, are you looking for something a little more upbeat or a more subtle style. Right now, for white, I’d say try the Lingua Franca Chardonnay from Oregon paired with the Branzino, oysters, or shellfish. For red wine lovers, the Plan Pegau is a multi-vintage red blend from the Southern Rhone that fits perfectly with our scallop and pork belly and Long Island duck breast.
Any expert advice for curate your own wine cellar?
Forge a trusted relationship with your local wine store and always ask them for advice. Buy six bottles, all different styles and always experiment. We recommend a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Vigonier for white and a Pinot Noir from Oregon or Burgundy, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa or Bordeaux, and a Grenache from Australia.
Matt Rossiter, Wine and Spirit Buyer, Waterfront Wines NYC
We hear orange wines are a thing?
Orange wines are definitely a thing and they’ve been growing in attention the past few years. That said, orange wines actually have a long, long history, the style dates back over 8000 years when without modern wine making technology all wines were fermented on the skins of the grapes, which is what gives wine its color. They were simply left in a pot to stew and ferment and the skins turned them a funky dark amber shade. Wine making was modernized in the 60s and 70s and the skins were removed to produce the lighter, fresher, cleaner style of common crisp whites like Savignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio we know today.
So is orange a white or a red wine?
They are actually a white wine that has been fermented with the skins on. Orange wines undergo a similar wine making process as reds where they ferment in contact with the skin so they take on the intensity of the colors and tannins, giving them a richer, heavier body. We’re also seeing a rise in demand for less macerated, lighter, and fruity orange wines that pick up some color and tannin, without crossing into the realm of more traditional orange wines. Those are a nice introduction to more traditional and complex styles.
What else is trending in the wine world?
There is definitely a conscious shift toward natural and biodynamic wines and what that means. People are considering sulfite content and agricultural practices and in a way, orange wines lends itself to this. The grape skins used for orange wines are usually thicker and more resistant to pests and diseases so they are not treated as much and the tannins help protect them from oxidation so they don’t need as much interference, sulfur or other preservatives. Rosé, of course, is still going strong, and there’s an openness to canned options which started out of convenience but has led to better wineries putting higher quality products into this accessible format. And then there’s Pét-Nat, a naturally sparkling wine that unlike traditional champagne finishes its fermentation in the bottle and is not disgorged.
Share your advice for curating your own cellar?
Find a wine store you like and can trust and listen to what they recommend as they get to know your palate. There’s a lot of pretense around wines and thinking you need to impress or know everything, but it’s best to just ask questions. There are also great resources like Robert Parker Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and numerous Vintage Charts that give advice on wine styles, how long to keep it, whether you should decant it etcetera.
Spill some top picks?
Andreas Gvino Kisi – Kakheti, Georgia – an old school organic orange wine.
Monastero Suore Cisterni Coenobium Ruscum – Lazio, Italy – made by a monastery of nuns in consultation with acclaimed Umbrian winemaker Paolo Bea, this is a more modern expression of the traditional style, with Italian flair. Organic.
Cacique Maravilla Vino Naranja – Bio Bio, Chile – a natural orange wine made in a rustic style, unfined and unfiltered. The thinner skins and bolder fruit of Muscat of Alexandria give this dry wine a nice balance between fruit and savory tones. Organic.
Di Giovanna Camurria Vino Orange Grillo – Sicily, Italy – a more modern style, with a light amber tint that’s fresh and lightly structured. Organic.
Glinavos Paleokerisio – Ioannina, Greece – both orange and pét-nat, this traditional wine basically does whatever it wants during fermentation, and is bottled whenever it feels right.
Meinklang Foam Vulkán White Pét Nat – Somló, Hungary – a pét-nat coming from an ancient, extinct volcano on the border of Hungary and Austria. Unfined and unfiltered. Blend of Hárslevelű and Juhfark, two indigenous grapes.
Chateau Maris Nymphe Emue Rose – Languedoc, France – a fully biodynamic and natural rosé from a zero carbon footprint winery built from hemp. Dry and crisp with a mellow texture. Biodynamic.
Jon Mendez, wine expert, mixologist, and founder of LOE (luxury over everything) Hospitality
Are you in praise of Orange wine?
Yes, these are natural wines produced with respect to ancestral and traditional methods. I have tasted delicious orange wines domestic and international, but the coastal Mediterranean regions are doing a tremendous job; Sicily, Austria, and Slovenia. You’ll find ripened peach and mandarin aromas, white flowers, and spring herbs, freshly zested lemon, and in some cases a touch of saline minerality for those regions which are seaside. These wines pair wonderfully with foods that have spices, both earthy and hot, such as African, Indian, Asian, and Caribbean cuisines. I would recommend them as an aperitif but dependent on the producer, some orange wines are big enough in body to stand up to a main course and be a show-stopping wine pairing.
Do wine trends change with the season, any recommendations for fall?
For fall time, I really love Rhone varietals such as Grenache (red), Syrah (red), and Viognier (white). You can find killer blends or varietal specific wines from all over the world, including the US, Europe, Australia and South America. Both varieties have a vibrant fruit balanced with savory, herbal and vegetable flavors that pair very well with the flavors of fall, where we harvest a lot of great cool climate vegetables that are perfect for roasting, braising, quick sautes.
Share some other insider tips?
I am seeing a recent resurgence in wines from volcanic regions in Southern Italy and the Canary Islands. These wines carry a unique aroma and texture that I would consider a result of its own terroir, a unique volcanic minerality that works harmoniously with the red, white, sparkling, and rosé wines of these regions. Specifically, Canary Island Roses such as Bodega Los Bermejos Listan Negro Rose from Lanzarote absolutely over-deliver so if you see it on a wine list or in your local wine shop, jump on it. Sometimes you can find absolute gems in the most unsuspecting little neighborhood wine shops.
Tamara Katsarelis, Come, Sit Down With Us
What’s the best way to master the orange wine trend?
Always remember wine is fun, so don’t overthink it. Grab that bottle that you have been questioning how to pronounce and give it a try. For new orange wine drinkers or anyone who might not know what tannin is, because let’s be real with wine there are many terms we wine people like to throw around that you might not be familiar with. The best way to explain it is like when you are making tea and you leave the tea bag in the water for a little too long and when drinking it your tongue is almost dried out. That is Tannin, but it varies depending on the wine and I promise you it’s a good thing.
How is orange wine best enjoyed?
Most orange wine is being made in Northern Italy and Sicily but you can find some really tasty orange wine coming out of Greece. Now let’s talk about my favorite part of wine, wine pairing. The really fun thing about orange wine is that it really can pair with so much. It is more of a full-body wine so feel free to go with bolder foods like steak or salmon.
Do the seasons dictate our wine preferences?
For sure. In the spring, summer people tend to drink rosé or whites more and in fall/winter we start to bring out the full bodied wines. The seasonal nature and availability of food and produce also affects our pallet and wine pairing choices. For your fall palette, pull out those oaked chardonnays, orange wines, and start to enjoy red wines again. Enjoy that slow roasted beef stew with a Bordeaux blend or nice Argentinian Malbec. If you prefer a vegan dish like butternut squash soup topen a nice oaked Chardonnay.
Share your tips on stocking our cellar?
Start with what you love and do not be afraid to play and explore. You might find that you really enjoy something you have never heard about or assumed you won’t like. I am often asked what my favorite wine is, and it is Riesling because the grape is so vast. You can either have an amazing sweet wine or a very very dry one. Often people do not know that about that grape so I enjoy bringing people a glass to explore. Curate your cellar with as much different wine as you can. Start with the most well-known grapes and grow from there, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and of course Rieslings. Once you have the basics you can then play with either different wine regions from these grapes to see what you like best for you to start to really play with different grapes. Or contact a wine seller to curate a box just for you.