Wine column no. 48: Importer Solomon serves as talent scout for lesser-known wines

May 3, 2014: Eric Solomon has a unique mantra: place before process.
“I’m interested in what makes grapes from one vineyard different from a vineyard 100 kilometers away and I’m not interested in a cookie-cutter approach to winemaking,” he’s quoted as saying on his European Cellars website.
Solomon was named Food and Wine Magazine’s 2007 Top U.S. Importer, and from his shop in Charlotte, N.C., he specializes in studying wines from Spain, France, Portugal and Switzerland. Yet he also considers himself to be a talent scout.
“You taste a lot of forgettable wines looking for that one that really moves you,” he said. “But I loved the thrill of recognizing raw talent and bringing it into the marketplace.”
I like his philosophy. First, it’s logical. It’s much easier to fashion good wine from good grapes. Second, it’s heartfelt and responsible. This is a man who is in the wine business for the right reasons.
One of his imports, the 2012 Herencia Altes garnatxa negra, is a joint venture with Nuria Altes, the proprietor of Herencia Altes. Garnatxa, or garnacha (the French call it Grenache), is one of Spain’s major grapes. According to Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible,” the grape contributes richness, juiciness, body and density. This particular garnacha was grown in sandy and clay soil with some calcareous content on the southeastern corner of Catalonia, bordering Aragon and Valencia in Spain.
Medium bodied, the nose reminded me of fruit punch and blackberries. Like many garnacha, it starts smooth yet has a peppery finish. I love its complexity. Robert Parker rated it 91 out of 100. At 13.8 percent alcohol, the Herencia Altes also was picked “with a good level ripeness but avoiding excessive alcohol.”
That’s a notable point in wine literature. Overripe grapes often create wines with high sugar (alcohol) contents. These are the big, bold and — at times — flashy cabernet sauvignon and Zinfandels of the world that tend to dominate the meal. While fun, these wines (some clock in at 15 or 16 percent alcohol) can be beguiling if not held in check. A good test of their powers is to make a promise or statement before you’ve opened the bottle, then wait to see if you still feel the same way while under their influence.
I prefer caution. While not all of Solomon’s imports have lower alcohol contents, he does prove that softer, more muted wines can be just as engaging. This is because they tend to work cooperatively with all aspects of the meal.
Alpana Singh, a master sommelier, says Solomon is “a champion of indigenous varieties and lesser-known appellations with a knack for discovering seriously delicious wines.” How does he do that? I’ve never met Solomon, but I think it’s because he seeks vistas instead of snapshots. He looks for depth, for quality, and he isn’t afraid to ask questions he doesn’t know the answers to. In this way, he’s more than just a wine importer. He’s a wine explorer, too.
This wine was sold at The Fresh Market for roughly $10-15.

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