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In the Media: Food & Drink

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Letter from Virginia | Decanter

jason tesauro

Look for Jason's article in the June edition of Decanter Magazine.


Jason Tesauro

‘To qualify as a great wine region, Virginia needs roots and ageability’

LAST OCTOBER, THE Michelin Guide added Washington DC as the fourth American city to earn its own little red book. It has taken decades, but the DC food scene has evolved to offer world-class restaurants. And but a cork’s throw away, whether by coincidence or conspiracy, Virginia wine is evolving in lock-step with Capitol region cuisine as serious and varied stuff worth exploring. 

It’s one thing to be the new kid on the block, but to join the pantheon of great wine regions, Virginia needs more than ratings and proficiency. It needs roots and ageability. When I first profiled the region for Decanter in 2013, we billed Virginia as ‘America’s Old World’, praising its 213 wineries for finesse, moderate alcohol and food-friendliness. Four years later, the count is nearly 270, and more and more labels are showing up in the UK and abroad. That’s good news if you want to drink a bottle tonight, but are these Virginia imports also worthy of cellaring? 

With such a young region – grapes have been grown here since colonial times, but the modern industry is only 40 years old – there aren’t deep stores of old wines. And there’s no employee handbook for Virginia winemakers telling them which grapes to grow and for how long to cellar them. In fact, when I contacted winemakers to enquire about ageworthiness, the most common response was ‘we’re still answering that ourselves’.

To find out, I raided my own cellar and assembled library selections from many of the state’s most stalwart producers. Things remain fluid in Virginia regarding her best-suited varieties, sites, clones and such, and thus our line-up spanned four AVAs, four categories (white, rosé, red, sweet) and 18 different grapes, including one American hybrid. The big question: how are these older wines performing? 

Twelve friends sat with 45 wines, nearly 30 of which from 2010 or older. Neither a random selection nor an average sampling, this was a purposeful collection of Virginia’s benchmark estates. Around the table were top winemakers and sommeliers, plus one collector and a restaurateur. Master Sommelier Robert Jones summed up the whole flight: ‘Nothing was too old or past its prime. But many wines had simply endured.’

This is an important observation, because not all wines are intended to age and not all wines improve with age. Forgetting the wines that simply weren’t excellent to begin with, we’re left with those that survived and those that thrived. A third of the older wines benefited, showing what sommeliers call ‘tertiary development’: those post-fruit complexities of earth, nuts, florals and spice that are sweet reward for patience. Everything else just lasted. Those other wines had enough guts and structure for a journey, but the wines weren’t better for it, merely older. 

‘Two wines immediately stood out as best reds of the night,’ said Jones at the end of the tasting. We all knew which ones he meant. Linden’s Hardscrabble 2006, a Bordeaux blend that showed beautiful density; and Barboursville Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc 2006, which exuded freshness and elegant structure. There was one more big surprise. Well, three, actually: Chrysalis Vineyards, Locksley Reserve, Norton 2000, 2001 and 2002. These rich, American hybrid wines are only a third or halfway through their life. 

Overall, the wines told us much. First, Virginia is not homogenous. Climate, terrain, vintage, cellar talent – these vary more than you’d expect. Second, the wines that didn’t shine weren’t faulty from age, but from too much trickery in the cellar. Virginia shows best when her wines exhibit natural beauty more than cosmetic work. Her best also aim for lightness and finesse, not opacity and brawn. 

Most importantly, we answered the big question. ‘Based on this set,’ said Jones, ‘Virginia’s wines can absolutely age.‘Just how far, who can say. Let’s do this again in 10 years’ time, shall we?’ 

What I’ve been drinking this month

Exciting wines are coming from experimental lots and lesser-known varieties. Chrysalis Vineyards’ Albariño Verde 2016 shocked us as a worthy hommage to Vinho Verde. Two 2014 Petit Manseng wines from Michael Shaps and Veritas Winery proved that this Jurançon grape is both luminous and ageable in Virginia. And a Veritas, Paul Shaffer 6th Edition, Petit Verdot 2014 is the latest in a string of greats from winemaker Emily Pelton.

Jason Tesauro is an author and speaker based in Richmond, Virginia, also working as brand manager and chief sommelier for Barboursville Vineyards.

The 6th Annual Elby Awards | Richmond, VA

jason tesauro

Jason Tesauro, bon vivant and master wordsmith, delivered a compelling address as a recap of Richmond's dining scene over the past year at The Elbys. The awards show and after party took place at The Altria Theater. For a full transcript and recording, see below.

Photo courtesy Richmond Magazine

Photo courtesy Richmond Magazine

"More than 800 guests, bedecked in their beaded, feathered finest, turned out for the sixth annual Elbys, the Richmond region’s restaurant awards, hosted by Richmond magazine at the Altria Theater on Sunday evening.
Named after master chef Chef Paul Elbling, who now oversees Richmond's French Food Festival, the Elbys honor the work of Richmond chefs, restaurateurs, servers, purveyors and the industry’s philanthropists. This year’s awards ceremony and reception, in keeping with the circa-1927 theater venue, celebrated Prohibition-era chic." - Richmond Magazine

On the occasion of the 6th Annual Elbys...
From a decent gentleman who felt like going Rogue. 

I've got ramen.
I've got boozin'.
I've got rooftops.
Who could ask for anything more?
Old man Bundy, I don't mind him
But I like Brittanny 'round my door.
Oh Beth Dixon
my favorite vixen for fixin'
what Ardent Craft ails ya
Kuba Kuba never fails ya
but L'Opossum assails
ya senses with fabulosity
Metzger Butchery & Bar
is the fully risen star
but Aaron Cross my heart's
in Trevor Knotts over this year's
hardworking guns
Scott Lewis, Craig Perkinson
and 57 saucy ways to dine
when you catch up with Julie Heins.
Michael Smith, a jolly fella,
he could run Mama J's, Perly's and Stella's.
I've got Dave & Dee's
I've got Tomten
I've got Victory
Who could ask for anything more?
Moonshine for miles
I might not go so far afield as Chester
but for a flask of Belle Isle
I've ventured to Manchester.
Caught a buzzzzzz with Blue Bee
spiced it up with Crunch Dynasty
gone awry with Reservoir Distillery
Nightingale Ice Creamery
Son of a Texas Beach bloody.
Let's talk philanthropy:
Jessica Bufford from Talley's Meat & 3
Aline Reitzer and Joe Sparatta
representing Jersey
Michelle Jones out to Pasture
is a great Comfort to me.
Spoonbread, Shagbark, Laura Lee
Hey, Lee Gregory
let me get a word in
for you and family Murden.
All the love I've felt
in and above The Roosevelt.
Oh, and this just in
along with Mrs. Anderson
Dogu, Evrim, Sub Rosa, weird
our mustachioed prince of bread
is also up for a Beard.
Who could ask for anything more?
More Employees of the Year
Mary, Edwuan, Hosea
What up playa?
When we go to Nota Bene
I don't feel like Pizza Tonight
Antler & Fin Boka roadkill quite a sight
Another one of Michelle Williams's visions:
Water Grill morphed into East Coast Provisions
Wegman's came and Southern Season went
Curry Craft: Mel, I woulda helped pay the rent!
Grace St. Confession: 
never been to Wong Gonzalez
but dig me some Rapp Session.
Side note: 
Pasture and Heritage, 
their letters scrambled
start squeaking
Who could ask for anything more? 
Remember that time when
RTD struck food-writing gold?
Scoops are normally not a sin
oops, turns out that journalist's Gold touch
was LA Times' Jonathan.
Every anti-copy-and-paster
rushed to lambaste her
Elliott Shaffner left the field
but she ain't the only one who keeled:
Chris Bopst left a mark
Owen Lane left town,
But then hella sad and too soon
Ted Santarella and Kurt Moon.
Everyone who knew them
would not have asked for anything more.
We've got fast casual
We've got flagons
Chefs on the wagon
Who could ask for anything more?
Create or imitate:
what defines our dine psyche?
I likey like "Hey, Mikey" when
we're innovative or true
to our roots in the region
and whence we all came
I need you to be authentic
but soulful is the name
of the game we must claim for our scene
this is all right nice and glossy
with Richmond Magazine
I don't mean to be bossy, 
but set your sight beyond
the borders of your plate
the corners of our state
await your day-tripping, night sipping,
beer crawl to a distillery
or above Secco and Julia's swillery
cuz I'm with her like Hillary
from The Pit to the Peel
let's get real Stoned and Steamed
three sheets and Three Notch'd
above The Veil
with an ale from Hardywood
our big daddy but not
our only Champion
everyone's brother's got a mash
a stash of Berliner Weisse not whiter
than Trapezium or Triple Crossing
and then there's Buskey Cider
How 'bout them apples?
cool, but it ain't gonna replace wine in the chapel
at Can Can Brasserie
your mark-ups are too high for me.
Instead of saying, can I get a loan, yo?
I spill Dolcetto and dollars at Enoteca Sogno
or Lejha, where Sunny, man of leisure,
always has a grin and crisp chenin
to pair with mid-Atlantic's best vindaloo
and Acacia, too, keeps its wine list noble
like rot Botrytis
but I gotta implore other peeps: invite us,
Me and Master Somm Robert Jones
got a few bones to pick with yous dudes
whose crews can't properly use
wine screws, serviettes or decanters
mistaken mostly for vases and planters.
Some don't know the difference between Pinot and Port
because our city is growing faster than our talent can support.
I've got K Town
Sen Organic
Who could ask for anything more?
I could. 
And so should you.
I'm here to praise and poeticize
not to preach – that was last year –
but it comes with a push
for answers
forget that vexing election
I got pressing questions.
Are you better off than 1 year ago?
Where did you go?
What did you eat?
Who did you help?
How did you challenge
   your staff
   your guests
   your palate
   your skills?
Compost, recycle
find something healthier than heroin
to fight off the funks    
hire undocumented workers and fire tweezer punks  
don't get a butcher tattoo, yo, 
if you can't chiffonade basil, bro. 
Sustainability, boy, isn't just about a local acre of tatsoi
it's how you restock the loo and dish soap, Boo,
Did you know that PFG is headquartered here, too?
I've got Nile
up in Church Hill
Still need a grocery
Who could ask for anything more?
In Elbys past,
I cried, avast, get thee to your kitchen
Now, I say, it's time to get out and go
that's how we grow
put out the sign:
gone fishin'
hand your apron to your sous
and join our comrades on the mission.
All those legends in your books,
did I mention, were just cooks
when they joked and said,
"We want to change the world!"
And when I broke bread
with David Chang he hurled
wisdom with Jacques Pepin,
"If you want to be smarter,
know it matters less what's in your larder
than what's in your heart."
The art of food and drink, I think
is not in the church of ego
but in the steeple of people
who give a fork.
Yes, you must toil in the soil
and bring that pot to a boil
but that's craft
and I don't mean to be daft
but that should be a given
if you're livin' your passion.
Just as the writer has to read,
to achieve F & B mastery
you must eat and drink
and get your ass from quart containers
to passport stamps and Spain or
steer to Staunton with Ian Boden at The Shack.
Or Charleston, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago
pack to snack and taste
then return to your crew and baste
them in the secret sauce of place
and watch their face
"What's that nutmeggy spice, Chef? Mace?"
I've got Richmond.
I've got breweries.
I've got Elbys.
Who could ask for anything more?
Because when you give a fork
you move the needle.
That love in Autumn Olive pork
started when those pigs were fetal
that's not to say my wine stem must say Riedel,
but it must say something,
whether by screw cap, box or cork,
that shows that you and your somm give a flipping fork.
Who could ask for anything more?
I could ask you to give a fork.
Do you give a fork?
Tell me, "We give a fork!"
Do you give a fork?
We give a fork.
Louder. Do you give a fork?
We give a fork.
Do you give a fork?
We give a fork.
Who could ask for anything more?
–  Jason Tesauro

Watch the video highlights:

Richmond Abuzz

Kristel Poole

In honor of National Coffee Day, a roundup of the best coffee spots in Richmond from our January 2015 "Best Brunches and Breakfasts" issue.

By Jason Tesauro, September 29, 2015

Whether coffee is a thoughtless part of your morning routine on par with teeth-brushing or it’s a fetishized ritual akin to wine tasting, somewhere in the 804 there’s a cup with your name on it. Our city boasts many these coffeehouses, but RVA’s entire scene can be broken down into three classes of perk joint: Geek Out, Gack Out and Hang Out. Forget blind loyalties and hit the right one according to each day’s particular kind of java jones.

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Should You Age Your Spirits at Home? | Outside Magazine

Kristel Poole

A new wooden booze bottle promises to condense the aging process of traditional wine- and liquor-making into just a couple weeks

By AC Shilton, April 16, 2015

You brew your own beer, make your own pickles, and have sourdough starter that dates back to the Flock of Seagulls’ first hit. So why not start aging your own spirits?

Well, because having 79 gallons (the volume of most barrels) of liquor go wrong is kind of a bummer.

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That’s Amaro: Jody Williams and Rita Sodi on Their Favorite Postprandial Sips | The New York Times

Kristel Poole

By Jeff Gordinier, November 26, 2014

A few weeks ago, when I first stepped into Via Carota, the forthcoming restaurant from Jody Williams and Rita Sodi in New York’s West Village, the two chef-entrepreneurs were taking care of a very important task: They were arranging bottles of amaro on the shelves behind the bar. “We’re hands-on,” Williams told me.

As we explore in “Italian, a Love Story” in T’s Holiday Issue, the couple’s granular attention to detail (with décor, with ingredients, with the impossible-to-replicate mood of a place) is a crucial reason why their previous and relatively recent ventures in the neighborhood (Buvette and I Sodi) trick you into thinking they’ve been woven into the tapestry of downtown Manhattan for decades. 

Such mindfulness is evident in the way they’ve selected each one of the Italian liqueurs that they’re putting on display on Via Carota, the first restaurant at which they’ll be cooking in tandem. Ideally, as in Italy, a repast at this Grove Street gastroteca will move toward a gracious liquid finale: Whether gentle or bracing, lightly honeyed or sharply bitter, a customary glass of amaro should “soothe the stomach and the soul” at the end of the feast, Williams said, providing a “unique punctuation to the evening.” (Or as the author and connoisseur Jason Tesauro explained it to me the other day: “After a decadent meal, amaro is like Harvey Keitel in ‘Pulp Fiction.’ It’s the cleaner that wipes away any evidence that you overdid it.”)

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