White knuckled up 36 north to Boulder, I wonder sometimes what provoked me to be a stagiere at Frasca Food & Wine. I didn’t have much intention to ever work the floor as a practicing sommelier, but what I knew was that this restaurant would be the best place to improve my skills regardless. To become better at a job, even off the floor, as a writer and retailer, one must push him/herself into scary territory–territory that seems daunting, foreign… even humiliating at times. Every time I ate at this phenomenal restaurant, I cowered under the knowledge of the somms who direct the program. They truly know so much. And anyone who knows me know that once I locate a fear on fire within, I relentlessly seek to extinguish it.
Frasca has been a pinnacle for me. My fear told me that I needed that instruction, despite the humble pie I’d be fed (whether it was the best pie in the state or not).
Seven months later, nights like last Monday remind me that this apprenticeship of sorts is not finished. I have much to learn and gain from this experience.
We were pouring some of my favorite wines–those of Kermit Lynch. He is an important figure if you are just getting into wine. The concept of ’boutique’ or ‘small grower’ farms may not carry the intrigue or novelty it once did, as more organics and local goods are made available to an ever-curious, aware public. But this was not always the case. Back in the ’70s, a man named Kermit went to France with this mentality, shook the leather-worn hands and drank the wine of those farmers who were engaging in an honest days’ work, preserving the terroir of their land in the grapes they cultivated, and he brought a bottle of that work home with him to share. He now has one of the most successful wine importing companies in the USA, and works with many of the producers that so inspired him to begin this journey.
These wines have integrity. They have a soul. A story. A reason. Placing them alongside food that mirrors this intention just felt right. They were at home with one another.
The first wine has long since been a favorite of mine: the 2010 Hyppolyte Reverdy Sancerre. A wine whose label seems to have been designed by a team of hobbits, it recalls the lore of the Loire, medieval castles and the dense history that is so entrenched in this particular parcel of France. The wine region here is among the oldest in terms of documentation, as it is so close to Paris, and therefore has had a prominent place in culture for centuries.
A smattering of likely scents greeted me: a sure squeeze of grapefruit, lime zest and the pure cold stony, steely minerality of a wet canyon. There was a curious hint of honeydew in there to soften the edges as well as that dependable note of fresh cut grass. The acid was rippin’, and its lean balanced structure spoke to a classic, satisfying vintage. 2009 may have gotten some high marks for its ripe, opulent bodice, but 2010 was a winemaker’s year–a true wine connoisseur’s vintage. That perfect balance of acid and body, minerals and fruit. Summer snap peas fell on the tongue. And God… did I mention that minerality?
This Sancerre couldn’t have been paired better, as it was met with the ‘Verdure d’Estate’–a field blend of mizuna/arugula lettuce, fresh radishes, carrots, peas and mint.
The next wine was a 2009 Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes— a term that translates to ‘old vine’ in French. If I had known nothing of this wine and had tried it blind, I would not have hesitated to think it Premier Cru quality. The wine was astounding for its (not so) ‘simple’ village status. Its brighter, youthful qualities were the first to jump the rim: green apple, yellow pear, lemon curd and the smell of sidewalks after a heavy rain. Seashells were prominent. The mushrooms subdued but persistent. There was a nuttiness about it that was confirmed by the leesy finish on the palate. This wasn’t your typical Chablis that sees stainless steel alone. It spent time in 20% neutral barrel on top of the lees ageing.
This wine was sexy as hell. A superb example of poetry bottled. It has been so long since I have had a pairing so exquisite, as they delivered up royal red shrimp and scallop sauce abed fettuccine to compliment this gorgeous selection.
Olivier Savary was a neighbor, friend and colleague to the famed Jean-Marie Ravenaeu, who introduced Savary to Lynch. Raveneau is known as one of the top producers in all of Chablis, another gem Kermit brought to our palates. Chablis is a question I can never answer–so saturated with surprises and missing words, these wines confound me. I am endlessly intrigued.
And finally, last but not least, a lovely red to end the evening meant to accompany the ‘Agnello’–a lamb shoulder upon rancho gordo beans and mustard greens with pepper. The wine was no other than the well-known Vieux Telegraph ‘La Crau’ (2008) by the Brunier family. Established in 1898, this elevated site in Chateauneuf du Pape, known as ‘La Crau,’ has its history as being the site where the first telegraph was built to communicate messages between Paris and Marseilles in the 18th century. It still has a role in communication, as it has since then come to be one of the most revered vineyard sites for its ability to tell the story of the soil through wine.
Monday night this wine spoke of alpines, liquorice root, wet violets, cracked peppercorns both white and black, anise and garrigue. It spoke of sunshine, warm pudding stones and layers of stratified soils: limestone, silica, red clay and alluvial deposits. An almost silky wine on the palate, it managed to maintain the force these age worthy wines contain, whilst dancing with delicacy on the tongue. It carried a smoky, gamey scent so as not to blow its cover through purely soft-spoken attributes.
It’s incorrect to say the wines just got better and better. They were all so remarkably different from one another. What they shared was integrity and an honest sense of self. These wines were exactly what they should be considering their variety and terroir. And they all really showed themselves in their best light when paired with their soul mates.
That is what makes Frasca so distinctive–their ability to find a way to allow food and wine to realize their greatest potential. They put both into context. They make meals inspiring, meaningful and relevant.
And that, my friends, is why I will continue to drive up 36 north, white knuckled and ready for more.