Steven Kolpan, Author, Professor
What was the first memory you have of wine?
Manischewitz Concord grape wine at Passover. My mother claims that even when I was five years old, a) I refused to sip it and b) I said “there must be something better than this.”
What was the first wine that you considered to be good wine?
When I was 19, I tasted a Macon-Villages for the first time.
Do you think it's the taste of a good wine or the experience while drinking the wine that makes it good? Why?
Much more important than the wine itself is the environment: the people, especially. I have had just ok picnic wines that tasted great because I loved the people at the picnic. I have had extraordinarily fine wines that did not thrill me because I did not enjoy the company (they were wine snobs, for whom there is a special place in Hell).
How big is your cellar?
I have about 500-600 bottles, mostly a bottle or two of this, a bottle or two of that. I am not a collector. My cellar exists to provide pleasure for friends, loved ones, and family.
What is your favorite varietal (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot)? Why?
Red: Pinot Noir – so terroir-driven, and so flexible with food.
White: Riesling – also a terroir-focused wine, and dry to off-dry Rieslings are fabulous with spicy foods, which I tend to enjoy. Alsace Riesling I consider a red wine in drag.
What is your favorite region for wine (i.e. Napa Valley, Margaret River, Montelcino)
Piemonte, Italy. Barolo and Barbaresco, in particular.
What is your favorite vineyard or brand?
I’d have to say the single vineyard Pinot Noir selections from Josh Jensen’s Calera vineyards and winery in the Mt. Harlan AVA. Amazing wines.
Do you have a favorite bottle? (varietal, region, year)
1962 Vega Sicilia from Ribera del Duero, Spain. Tasting that wine created the epiphany that got me involved in wine as a profession.
What wine are you saving for a special day?
I don’t do that, really. When I’m with people I love, everyday is a special day, and calls for a special wine. I’ve never regretted that approach.
Where do you buy the majority of your wine?
I live just outside of Woodstock, New York, in the Hudson Valley. I’m fortunate that I live literally two minutes from my favorite wine shop, Hurley Ridge Wines and Spirits. The owner, Carol Matthews, and her all-female staff are passionate about wine, and the selection is great.
Have you ever had an organic wine? Did you like it?
I have, of course. I differentiate between “organic wines” and wines produced from organic vineyards. I am a huge fan of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable practices in the vineyard; in the winery, not so much. In the case of the vineyard, it is a matter of conservation and leaving the land in better shape than you found it. In the winery, I have found that completely organic practice can lead to wines that are unstable, especially whites. To me, the issue is all about the vineyard.
What is the most you've ever spent on a bottle of wine?
I’m usually not a big spender, but I’ve purchased a few expensive bottles. Once or twice, I’ve blown $300-$350 in a restaurant. Fortunately, because of the work I do, I’ve gotten to taste some very expensive wines on other people’s dime. I always try to remember that even in the most expensive bottle of wine in the world, there is almost never more than $20 worth of actual wine in the bottle. Price is based on (the perception of) scarcity, hype, marketing, and the often mistaken notion that older is better, and more expensive is better.
What was your favorite wine experience (or one of your top experiences)?
While writing a book about the history of Niebaum-Coppola (formerly Inglenook, now Rubicon Estate in Rutherford, Napa Valley, owned by Francis Ford Coppola), spending an entire day by myself silently tasting every vintage of Rubicon ever produced. It was a meditation on the history and the pleasure of terroir.
What one wine do you recommend for our readers to try?
In warm weather, Vinho Verde from Portugal. In the winter, Gigondas from the Rhône Valley. And always, vintage Cava, fine methode champenoise sparklers from Catalonia, Spain.
What is an up-and-coming wine (or winery) you think is a good value right now?
I have to say that I have never been disappointed by any wine made by Eric Fry at Lenz winery on the North Fork of Long Island. The wines hover at just about $20, and the quality is extraordinary. For something that is far more accessible nationwide, the “Marques de Casa Concha” line of single-vineyard wines from Concha y Toro; really good wines at under $20.
Any funny or embarrassing wine story you care to share?
How much time do you have? One that comes to mind is early in my career appearing on television in a blind tasting, adamantly identifying a red as “ definitely Old World Merlot, definitely a Pomerol, and definitely expensive.” Of course, the wine was a Columbia Crest Merlot from Washington State, which at the time retailed for about $7. At least I got the grape right. A humbling but valuable experience, and in retrospect, quite funny.
If you are interested in purchasing Steven's book, WineWise, you can purchase it from Amazon.com. Published by Wiley on October 10, 2008, list price is $29.95 USA and $32.95 Canada. (Amazon has it for $20 bucks right now).