Arts & Entertainment

Anatomy of an In-Home Wine Tasting

Often the ability to discern quality wines is a natural gift, as we saw in the case of food for Remy in the Disney cartoon, “Ratatouille.”winelineup828.jpg

James Roth, co-owner of the new wine and cheese shop in downtown Falls Church, Red, White and Bleu, has the gift when it comes to wines.

Only 33, Roth explained how he first got into the wine business, while leading a wine tasting for eight in this writer’s home last weekend, only blocks from his establishment.

Such in-home wine tastings, that can come replete with complementing cheeses and meats, are among a variety of special offerings at the new store.

Roth, who owns the store with his older brother, Adam Roth of Argia’s Restaurant, and Harry Silverstein, explained that he’d never had an interest in wine, and was drinking beer watching football one night when his girlfriend was struggling in the other room with a take-home exam for school.

Her test was a “blind” wine tasting, as she was studying to become a restaurant sommelier, and she wasn’t getting any of the comparisons right. She was 0-for-8 and almost in tears, Roth recalled.

He asked her to let him try it. He then got the next eight comparisons correct.

“You’ve got to get into wine,” she exclaimed. The rest is history. When he thought of opening a wine-tasting store, his brother Adam, whose Argia’s Restaurant has filled a niche as a fine Italian restaurant in Falls Church, talked him into trying a location here.

He did, and he and Silverstein moved down from New York City, opening the store just a few months ago.

Already, with in-store wine tastings every weekend and Roth’s ability to recommend outstanding, reasonably priced wines and the right meats and cheeses that pair with them best, Red, White and Bleu has begun to take off.

During last Saturday’s tropical storm, Hanna, he said, he showed up to open the store at 9 a.m. and was surprised to see customers waiting at the door. The stream of business throughout the day, despite the torrential rain, surprised him, he said.

Sunday night at my place, Roth arrived right on time with seven bottles of some of his personal favorites, coming from Argentina, Italy, Spain, France, Napa Valley, Paso Robles and Oregon, four cheeses and five cured meats.

Susan, Bob, Stacy, Jeff, Jonathan, Gordon and Jody showed up promptly, realizing it was not the kind of gathering to be late for.

Roth preferred his trusty waiter’s pocket corkscrew to my rabbit. He said his was faster, but we decided not to duel.winebox.jpg

The next two and a half hours was like a collective magic carpet ride. Geography, soil, climate, history, seasons, olfactory factors, tannin, acidity, balance, relevant personal experiences, creamier to harder cheeses, Canadian bacon-like to more marbled meats, estate wines, softly-playing Beethoven concertos, swirling, breathing, decanters, philosophies of personal tastes, opinions of the movie “Sideways,” the virtues of screw caps, price points, my bashful cat, all co-mingled and interwoven like a complex tapestry: such a highly-civilized educational experience and bout of wine-drinking.

rothwithwineglass.jpgRoth explained that the Layer Cake brand of “primativo” from the Italian region around Naples got its name from the winemaker’s parents, who described the soil where he grew his grapes as “like a layer cake.” Italian “primativo” wines all are made with the zinfandel grape.

The California Rhone-blend red wine from the Edmunds St. John winery in arid Paso Robles, near the area where the oilman in “There Will Be Blood” dug his pipeline, was appropriately called “Rocks and Gravel.”

Roth matched a Spumante champagne-like Italian sparkling wine, with what he called a truly “decadent” cheese for its creaminess, a Brillat that was originally created in Normandy.

But he noted that, as a small business owner, he prefers to find small producers to buy his cheeses and meats, and in the case of the triple-crème Brillat and others at his store, he found them at the Cherry Glen Farm in Maryland. Buying there also makes them less expensive for his customers.

He rolled out a riesling-like “Albarino” from the west coast of Spain, north of Portugal. The atlas was opened up to pinpoint the region. Drier, as in less-sweet, than the reisling grape, the crisp “Albarino” is among the most popular white wines in Spain.

He matched it with a spicy “Palacios chorizo” air-dried meat from Spain, cured with paprika and garlic, and a cow’s milk “Mahon queso” cheese from the Spanish island of Malaga.

He contrasted that to a “Mostrano” meat that had more fat granules, a “Gentile,” which is more flavorful and saltier, and a smoked “Speck” prosciutto, from Alto Adige region of Italy and matched it with some of the wines with a “Marissa” goat cheese from Wisconsin.

Roth sang the praises of Argentinean and Chilean wines for their quality and reasonable prices, and chose to present a Traphice Broquel cabernet sauvignon, from Mendosa, Argentina, which turned out to be the surprise favorite of most of the night’s guests when polled at the conclusion. Because of its heavy tannin content, cabernets do best with red meats because the tannin works to break down the fats in the meat, he said.

Two pinot noir wines were included in Roth’s presentation. The grape is his personal favorite, he said, “sexy and elegant,” but very “finicky.”

The reviews were rave ones from all who attended, as they departed into the night and called back the next day. Roth, himself, said the experience of in-home wine tastings is among his favorite things, and that he always learns as well as dispenses knowledge.

We all decided this would be far from the last such function we’d schedule from Red, White and Bleu. Still so much to learn!

Red, White and Bleu is located at 127 S. Washington St., Falls Church, VA. Phone 703-533-WINE(9463).