Our wine guy, Tom Kiszka, dropped by this afternoon with his selections for a private Home Restaurant and a Nomadic Restaurant (in a home in Great Falls) we are doing this weekend. We have people drop by all the time delivering flowers, wine, fish, beef–the great thing about our situation is most of the people we work with are experts in their field. Lucky for us we deal with small business so it is usually these experts who deliver the goods. Some days our home is like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood where everyone from astronauts to bakers to shoemakers show up to share their knowledge–only at our place it's a marine biologist, a scientist, an Eco-farmer, an occasional Amish farmer with driver, and Tom–an oenologist.
Tom is wearing Merrell sandals, jeans and a polo shirt. There is no pretension with Tom and unless you engage him, he is in and out–He is busy! He walks in the kitchen and we immediately thank him for the wines he sends us–making us look so good! Our last dinner consisted of five selections, one for each course, where only one was red. We tell him how the guests were raving about the wine and how most would have never chosen a white if they were left on their own. He says that is great, that is what he hopes for, stretching others experience. Strangely enough he says he has to force people to try whites all the time. He uses phrases like 'Pull Corks' and 'they are really out there' when describing winemakers, retailers or restaurants who are pushing the envelope. "Indie Stores NO chains, if my clients find these wines in the usual places they are pissed!"
You definitely get the feeling that Tom likes being apart of something underground, but something underground that has been going on for hundreds of years: "Small Artisan Wine is what we do". He uses terms like bio-dynamic, beyond organic, viticulture and we start to feel like we are talking to our farmer friends. The language is that of gardeners and farmers involved in a high stakes game with everything from government regulation to large corporations slowing them down–sound familiar.
Once we got Tom to sit down–he tells stories. One of a patch of chalk in the region of Champagne that grows Chardonnay for large producers, one day this grape grower figures that he is sitting on something special that's being wasted in some respect--this guy starts to produce his own domain by saving the best grapes for himself and sending all the rest to large Champagne makers--Jacques Lassaigne, Les Vignes De Montgueux is what we served with a cherry pie at our last dinner. Another story is of a winemaker who in the mid nineteen seventies adopted a Bio-dynamic approach after doctors told him pesticides were killing him. Most thought he was crazy, but thirty five years later, this winemaker is extremely healthy and his land has no rot or fungus and the wine is amazing.
Tom says you learn these stories by visiting the vineyards and then begin to understand why a wine is the way it is–when for example the maker explains the reasons why grass is grown in between the vines you are seeing and tasting–things start to make sense. When you experience these artisans in their habitat, when you can smell the soil, you realize that winemakers have always been Farmers. Tom brings the small farmer's work to us way before anyone knew who Michael Pollan was.
Tom is an importer and a distributor, his clients are retailers and restaurants, "my clients travel with me and the best wine stores pull corks--educate! French and Italian labels are difficult..." He says the first thing you should do if you want to get into wine, is find a good retailer. A good retailer pours wine and teaches varietals and regions. How comforting to hear a wine expert tell you that a label is difficult! "You need to taste!" he says and the only way to demystify is to let go of all the inhibition and taste–practice.
We asked: Do you think there is a disconnect between wine AND food within the way Americans practice wine drinking? "If you pop open a Cabernet with 16% Shiraz and you down it before dinner, I don't know how you taste anything. Look, I don't open wine just to drink and when you visit good wine makers and do tastings, there is always food." His basic point is that wine "shows" best with food and is best enjoyed incorporated into a practice of eating and drinking, not separated.
What Tom does for us is match our food with his wine. We asked him to walk us through this process "the first thing I do is look for an ingredient that point towards a varietal–mushrooms and Pinot Noir–greatest match–if no other ingredient cancels–difficult when ingredients are at odds" but Tom likes this challenge and seems to have an eye for singularities and the tensions that create complex flavors yet are simple enough to stand on their own. The absolute singular encounter of a wine maker AND a vineyard AND a year AND an ingredient AND another ingredient...Tom wants to demystify the practice of drinking wine, through education and an understanding of the process, that wine making is an organic process and most of all that wine and food are a practice that are learned...
We plan on having Tom join us this fall for a dinner or two at our Home Restaurant...We are sure it will be interesting.
Places you can find Tom's Potomac Selections: