Making your very own wine list from scratch must be every sommelier’s dream. A new restaurant, a new opportunity, and finally a chance for you to put your personality into every glass in the dining room.
For me, it was no different. When Matt first talked to me about Amass, I felt like a child on Christmas day.
From the first steps, talking to the importers, securing allocations even though we still had 9 more months before opening. It was not merely just a matter of filling out a form online. It required reserving loads of Jeroboams for our wine paring and traveling Europe visiting almost every producer that is now represented in our wine list and a lot of back and forth between farmers, importers and myself to make sure I could get everything that I wanted.
Despite the insecurity of dealing with getting the actual bottles here at the restaurant, the style of wine was clear from the beginning. It had to come from farmers and not winemakers, who instinctively understand the plants, soil and climate that make their product. Unlike vintners who may rely upon artificial additives or cellar tricks to manipulate their wine, I wanted wine that some call “natural wine.” Frankly, I never liked the term –no one has been able to define it – thus I would prefer the term “honest wine” for the bottles we serve here at Amass. Much like the food we have here at Amass, there is an integrity born in the ingredients and the methods used in making these wines. It was a natural fit.
I first came across these wines in 2009. After working at a classic French restaurant serving, well, very classic wines, going to Noma was an education in learning about the wines I had only heard about in passing. While I was exposed to these wines every day at Noma, it was one wine, or I should say one farmer, that changed my whole perception of wine, and made it impossible to go back. The 2004 Vigna Pinolo from Cascina Degli Ulivi in Piedmonte Italy. A Dolcetto clone coming from the south of Piedmonte called Nibio, from 80+ years old vines, growing on a beautiful chalky/limestone hill named Montemarino, farmed by Stefano Belotti, did just that. Soon after I tasted his Filagnoti. A Cortese from more Iron rich soils on the other side of the road from Montemarino. He could call it a Gavi, but since it matures one year sur lie in acacia barrels, it tastes amazing, and nothing like any Gavi I had ever tried
Complete awestruck by the wine this man was making, the only thing left to do was to go the farm myself. Working for Stefano for 7 month, and only drinking wines from him and his friends, really had a lot to do with the wine list at Amass. After only drinking Stefano’s wines, I realized that my palate couldn’t take the sulfites and the added yeasts in conventional wine. The wines tasted of manipulation and frankly, were unidimensional compared to Stefano’s. I knew at that point, I couldn’t go back.
I mean, is it really that exiting to be amassed by the nose of a wine from a foreign country, when most of the character comes from yeast made in a lab in Avedøre, Denmark? We’re a no bullshit restaurant. Our wines should reflect that too.