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July 26, 2010

Interview with a Wine Guy: Summer Wines

When the weather soars above 90 — and Vermonters curse their neighbors with air conditioning — standing waist deep in Lake Champlain holding a cold drink sounds like the thing to do.  During the last heat wave, this urge determined the focus of my next wine-guy inquisition: summer quaffs.

I went to Dedalus Wine Shop to speak with co-owner Jason Zuliani, who became passionate about wine while working at the New England Culinary Institute. After Zuliani took a brief hiatus, NECI recruited him to be their wine director.

But Zuliani was leading a dual life: wine guy by day, technology guru by night. He also co-owned telecommunications firm Eagle Network Solutions (ENS). When that business took off, Zuliani left NECI,  but convinced his ENS partner, Tim Banks, that they needed to open a wine shop.

Both Banks and Zuliani enjoy hunting down and selling obscure bottles and wines that evoke some unique characteristic of a place or culture. I wanted to find a wine that represented summer, obscure or otherwise.

Seven Days: If you had to choose one wine to represent the summer, what would you choose?

Jason Zuliani: If I had to choose one? That’s a serious handicap for a guy like me. I would probably get into Italian whites. I would look at a Lugana or a Grillo. Those wines are really crisp, minerally, refreshing and vibrant...without a lot of distraction. A big blast of one on a hot day is great.

S.D.: What about rosé? It seems to be a go-to summer style.

J.Z.: Why not rosé? Because you only gave me one choice! It probably would have been choice number two or three. Also because...for years the American wine retailer has had to be a real apologist for rosé.

After doing that for four or five years,we don’t really have to do that anymore. Our customers know we have a great rosé selection.

So I am drinking them — and they are exciting — but maybe not quite as edgy as these new Italian wines we are discovering.

 S.D.: You mentioned that people had to apologize for rosé. What do you mean?

J.Z.: I wouldn’t say they had to apologize but to be an apologist — to make the case for it by saying that it’s not something else. I think for a long time, the perception the American public had of rosé was informed by what they understood about white zinfandel, a sweet pink wine. Really good rosé has nothing to do with that character. It is bone dry and has no sugar to it. It’s very crisp, juicy, and mouthwatering. It’s just generally delicious and complex.

I think people really had to work hard to explain that to the wine buying public. I certainly have had to.

S.D.: What is a rosé exactly? Why is it pink?

J.Z.: Color in wine generally comes from contact from the skin of the grape, and when you are making a red wine that contact is really prolonged — days, sometimes weeks. When you are making a rosé, you are looking at hours. You let your [grape] juice stay in contact with the [grape] skins for anywhere from six to nine hours. It bleeds some of the color in, but doesn’t get that deep red color a red wine has. It's little more salmon pink.

S.D.: Any recommendations for guiding my wine selection over the summer?

J.Z.: We are always looking for new things to say about wine. If the only criterion you have for judging a wine is how it tastes, then maybe there is something else you want to look at. Where it comes from; what values drive the production of that wine; how [winemakers] live... Wine can be appreciated on so many levels. There is a lot to unpack, examine and love about wine.

Really? J.Z. wants me to appreciate something other than the taste of a bottle of wine? Hunh?! that sounds like someone with a wine selection he might have to "apologize" for!

I think I get what you're talking about, Jason - and I agree. I always enjoy hearing about the people who make the wine and why they do it - and I use it to inform my decision. Also, drinking wine from a place that I visited and loved - is a wonderful way for me to reflect on that holiday and smile with every sip. Maybe its a poor analogy - but I'm the kind of person who likes to watch sports if I know whose playing. With the huge number of choices out there in the wine world - a way to connect personally to a wine works for me in deciding what to drink and can enhance my experience. Cheers!

John, thanks for the comment. A guy I know is fond of the saying "wine is a grocery". Maybe it is. But maybe it's more. I make no apologies for enjoying the story behind the wine. Knowing my suppliers, their families, the difficulties they endure to produce an excellent product, the joy they take from giving pleasure to others with their wines - these are things that enhance my experience of wine. These are elements of wine drinking that I like to share with my friends and my customers. Please, by all means, drop by the shop and chat with one of us for a few minutes. Abby, Chris, Tim or I would be happy to talk to you about wine. Each of us has different tastes and interests. Each of us enjoys different wines for different reasons. We've got a dynamite selection.

Linda, if Proust were still alive, he might like to meet you. Thanks.

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