I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and winemakers, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot. In Wine Talk, I introduce you to some of my friends and acquaintances — individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well.
Nicholas Cain has good sense, a trait of his I recognized immediately upon meeting him several months ago in Rosinka Wine & Tea, a comfortable and unassuming place in Rice Village in which he pours with humor and respect for his trade, and his patrons. Cain’s from Cleveland — “That makes me the Pinot of people,” he told me. “We like to suffer.” — and his straightforward, unpretentious manner made our encounter that much more pleasant.
It was already pleasant, because we were tasting some nice Tannats from Uruguay, and the empanadas served with them were good. Rosinka was warm, and pleasant; several customers perched on stools at the bar and drank and talked, while we occupied a table in the small room.
Cain has worked in virtually every position that exists in the restaurant and bar world, including front and back of the house. He got his first wine-buying job when he was 22 — he’s now 39 — took off for a few years, and is now back at it. He’s worked for country clubs, restaurants, bars, and clubs, as well as retail wine merchants.
He moved to Houston from Cleveland in 2009 after a failed attempt to open a 25,000-square-foot restaurant, something he told me he would not recommend a 30-year-old try. “It’s taken me a while to find my place, and I am still making course corrections, but I am happy to be a part of the team that took over Rosinka,” he said.
Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one? Would be nice to know where readers can purchase them and how much they cost.
The first two are general: Young Chilean wines are a good option for many. Look for unoaked, and within a year of the vintage on the label. They are typically refreshing and make good BS wines (the wine you sip while at the office party while BSing with your co-workers). I would expect a retail price of $7-$12, and most groceries with a decent selection carry something in this style.
Second, 8- to 10-year-old Barolo. Nebbiolo is like a student with little direction in a liberal arts program; it needs time to figure out what it will be. It’s graduation expectancy is eight to 10 years, not four or five. In retail prices, expect a minimum of $60.
Since I am adding them to my rotation right now, 2013 reserve-level Uruguayan Tannat. So pretty. Prices can vary greatly here, since Uruguay is still finding its place in the market.
If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why.
I slept on this one. I really had to think about what I value most in a wine. I came up with one word: community.
Erales Malbec from Eral Bravo. It retails for $22 to $25. This is a ridiculously balanced Malbec from Argentina whose achievements have made importers of Cahors curse in their native language. Its price/quality ratio is what most hope to find.
Why not a Grand Cru, or First growth? Because I want my friends to be able to pick up a bottle, too, and I want to see them enjoy it. Community.
What is your favorite grape, and why? If you don’t have a favorite, tell me about one that you really like.
That’s like asking which child is a parent’s favorite. Different day equals different answer.
For now I will say Cabernet Sauvignon when it is produced with alcohol content of 12 percent to 12.5 percent. There are so many layers to this grape that get buried when it is overripe and made into a higher-alcohol wine.
It can be hard to believe that you can smell a field of wildflowers, or an herb garden, in a Cab.
How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day?
There are so many preference factors that need to be taken into account. I suggest picking a high-quality, age-worthy wine in the spectrum of what you enjoy. Buy two bottles. Drink one immediately. Take detailed notes, photos, videos, and anything else to record the experience. Put these records in a time capsule and read them as you enjoy the same wine in 10 years.
Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle outside your home or place of work?
Any place with a patio and that has food I can eat with my hands.
If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?
When buying, the wine steward works for you.
When drinking, get adventurous! Try a wine at least five times, and as many as it takes to satisfy all of your curiosity. Try without food, with fatty food, with acidic food, with cold food, with hot food, try it at different serving temperatures, and always try it with buttered popcorn and a movie. Who knows what you may discover…
What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
It was a turning point in my wine career. I was entertaining a sales rep and a winemaker. They brought a varietal that I could not stand to that point, but I fell in love with this one. It was like my mind was opened in ways I never expected. Suddenly, drinking white Zin and over-oaked Chard was OK as long as the person drinking it was enjoying it. I am not sure why I made this connection, but I did. After that, I stopped book-learning about wine and started getting to know wines.
What has been the strangest moment/incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?
If you want to express your affection for your date, a wine bottle is not a good wall, no matter how you position it on the table. I will leave it at that.
Your favorite wine reference in a work of literature?
I am more of a nonfiction reader. I recommend Judgment of Paris by George M Tabor. There is some interesting wine history in there.