Once again, we find ourselves in search of the perfect wine for the weekend. On the hunt, we stop by Williamsburg’s Natural Wine Company today to ask owner Michael Andrews for a little advice.
So Michael, what’s a wine you’re loving right now?
The Venturini-Baldini Lambrusco is a big favorite of mine right now. It’s a wonderful dry, sparkling red from Emilia Romagna. We’ve featured it at a few recent tastings and people have loved it. I think it’s really a perfect wine to bridge that shift from the hot weather of summer into fall.
It’s sparkling, and you serve it cold, so it’s got that refreshing quality to it that’s so nice when the weather’s still warm, but it’s also got some nice backbone – nice tannins and acidity. The Lambruscos we all grew up on, like Riunite, tended to be really awfully sweet. This is not at all. It’s really beautifully balanced and complex.
It comes from Emilia Romagna, the region right in the middle of Italy that’s so famous for things like prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar – legendary foods. And this wine goes well with all of those things. But because of the bubbles and the fact that you serve it cold, it goes well with lighter things like vegetables and salads too. It’s very versatile. It works really well with a tremendous variety of foods.
We sell several Lambruscos. This particular one is made with a field blend of grapes. There are different styles of Lambrusco. On the Romagna side of the region people tend to make Lambruscos with a single variety of grape, like a grasparossa. On the Emilia side, they generally do a field blend – they’ll plant their vineyard with six or seven varieties of grapes and pick them all at the same time and ferment them together. It’s a different style, and I think it gives the wine a little more complexity and depth. You get more acid from one grape, more tannin from another, more fruit from another…It’s very well balanced.
Another thing that adds complexity to this Lambrusco is that the vineyard is up on the hills. It ranges from five hundred to fifteen hundred feet in elevation. Most of the grapes used to make the more mass-produced Lambruscos are grown in big vineyards on warm, flat valley floors, so the grapes are very sweet. The elevation of the Venturini-Baldini vineyard means it gets cooler evenings, which allow the grapes to develop a really nice bright acidity. It’s got hints of fruit, but it’s really a dry sparkling red.
What do you know about the maker?
It’s a small, family-run winery that’s been making Lambrusco for close to a hundred years. They’re very traditional. They’ve been making their wine the same way year after year for a very long time. They’ve never used chemicals. They recently decided to become certified organic, but that didn’t require them to change the way they were doing anything – they’ve been practicing organic forever.
Most of the wines we sell here are made by small producers who are not certified organic, but who grow grapes and make wines in a totally natural way with no chemical intervention at all. Some of them will look at you like you’re crazy if you ask them if they’re organic. [laughter.] They say, “Of course, but we’re not about to spend all the money and time it takes to be certified. We’re too busy making wine!” The Venturini-Baldini folks decided it was in their best interest to go ahead and get certified.
How did you come across this one?
The importer of this wine is a guy named Ernest Ifkovitz, who has a company called PortoVino. He’s a guy I really respect. He knows all his winemakers personally. He visits them every year. He only chooses wines that he feels are very representative of their place, at the highest level. He hand selects everything. He really wants us to not just sell the wine, but to understand it – to know just as much about it as he does, and to care about it just as much as he does.
You mentioned that it goes well with all kinds of foods. Anything specific that you love?
I love this Lambrusco with anything on the grill. I’ve been grilling skirt steaks this summer, and I can tell you that this wine is fantastic with grilled skirt steak. Its acidity and bubbles pair beautifully with the fatty richness of the meat. It goes really well with any of the foods from the Emilia Romagna – Parmigiano, salumis, even pizza. It might be the perfect pizza wine. [laughter.]
So Mike, how did you end up here, doing this?
I’ve been in New York for thirty years. I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My dad was always really interested in good wine, which was pretty unusual in that place at that time. [laughter.] I remember back in the day he used to search far and wide for Inglenook wines, when that was the only quality wine coming out of California. So as a kid, I learned from him that wine was something interesting, to be appreciated.
I moved to New York to go to NYU when I was eighteen, and never left. About twenty years ago we started a video production company called Gotham Pictures, here in Williamsburg.
So for the past thirty years my interest in wine and knowledge of wine have been slowly growing. I’ve visited probably a hundred plus vineyards in California and Italy and other places. At some point it kind of became more than a hobby. [laughter.]
I’ve wanted to open a wine shop in Williamsburg for at least fifteen years. A few years ago, we found this space. Everything finally seemed right, so we did it and here we are.
My taste in wines has evolved a lot over the years. At one point I was definitely a big California Cabernet fan, but it’s shifted into what you see in the store now – a wide variety of really interesting wines, made by hand, by really interesting people.
The Natural Wine Company is located at 211 North 11th Street, between Driggs and Roebling, in Williamsburg.
Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager. All rights reserved.