Beauty through balance in a sommelier's portfolio of small-batch wines
Acid Inc. may suggest an illicit obsession, but for sommelier David Weitzenhoffer and his partner Laura Supper, the name (professionally called A.I. Selections) relays their passion for wines higher in acidity—a key component for an exceptionally well-paired meal. "You can feel acidity in wine usually as that sort of prickling sensation toward the front of your tongue," Weitzenhoffer explains. "To me acidity does several things with food but the most important is that it gets its claws into the flavors that are already on your palate and marries the flavors in the wine with that of the food. It also has an important role in cutting richness, and balancing out high acid dishes like crudo, tomatoes, vinaigrettes, etc."
Wanting to learn even more about the fine art of such balance from beginning to end, Weitzenhoffer left his post at Lidia Bastianich's renowned restaurant Felidia and moved to northwest Italy, where he worked with artisanal producers around the vineyards of Piedmonte. Four years ago he put this knowledge to serious use and began importing these small-batch wines to restaurants in New York, San Francisco and LA.
With just about 40 producers in their portfolio—most of which are organic or biodynamic—Weitzenhoffer and Supper concentrate on finding wine that is a reflection of the people making it, working off the ethos, "Good wine; good people". They seek out conscientious farmers who know their terroir and distinctly cultivate their vines, leading to wines that have a clear focus and excellent finish. "Some of these artisan producers are making wines with more soul and character, great age-ability, and most importantly wines that are more food appropriate, all the while creating a wine that comes from a specific place—a wine that couldn't come from any other place than their little piece of earth," says Weitzenhoffer.
We had the pleasure of tasting several wines with Weitzenhoffer recently, who guides you through a selection casually, but with great understanding of each wine at hand. We started with Champagne, tasting both a glass of crisp bubbly from Michel Rocourt and then one from Doyard—which Weitzenhoffer explains is "not so bubbly it sears your tongue, it has a rich yeasty quality while using acidity to keep it fresh. It's why it is poured by the glass at places like Babbo, Jean Georges, AI Fiori, and others here in New York."
To accompany the classic cheese and crackers snack, Weitzenhoffer suggests a Lambrusco, especially the Ca’ Montanari Opera02 Lambrusco, which he says is unparalleled stateside. For white wine, Weitzenhoffer says he is a "sucker for Chablis", which is made from Chardonnay grapes, but "due to the sea shells in the soils has a great minerality, and chalky character that makes it ideal for all sorts of early courses—trout, various crudo, pea soup, oysters!!!" He recommends a Chablis from the mother-and-daughter team at Château De Béru, an organic farm situated on the clay and limestone slopes of the Chablis Grand Cru foothills.
"For me Nebbiolo is the most complex wine in the world and while it takes a little work and often time to fully understand the grape, it is so great with various foods from lighter meats, to heavy meat," says Weitzenhoffer. Most wine drinkers know that a good Barolo or Barbaresco isn't cheap, so he suggests trying a Nebbiolo d'Alba, a younger wine made from the same grapes. "Cascina Luisin makes one from old vines and is delicious", he says. "I'd be thrilled to walk into a retail shop and spend $27 on a bottle like this that drinks like something much more expensive."
With the mentality that "wine is for the people", Weitzenhoffer and Supper's approach sets out to enlighten palates with perfectly balanced, yet ultra-interesting wines that enhance food and transport you to the place where it was created. A.I. wines can be found in restaurants like Craft and Blue Hill in NYC, Terroni in LA and Bar Tartine in San Francisco.