Inside Washington D.C.’s Wine Scene

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I think it a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury. On the contrary it is a tax on the health of our citizens.” America’s third President, and one of history’s greatest advocates for the grape, would undoubtedly be in awe of the dynamic wine scene thriving in the United States capital today. Washington D.C. is home to a restaurant scene whose chefs embrace everything from French to Ethiopian to Laotian cuisine, and maintains comparatively less restrictive alcohol import and distribution laws that would make Thomas Jefferson proud. Just across the Potomac River, Virginia boasts a flourishing wine industry with 280 wineries across the state. These progressive aspects create fertile ground for vinous and culinary experimentation and growth, attracting many of the brightest food and wine minds to the capital. From June 23-25, sommeliers and industry professionals from across the country will gather in Washington for the inaugural SommCon D.C. In preparation for the festivities, Delectable caught up with five of the capital’s top sommeliers for insider tips on Washington’s food and wine scene and to learn why the city has become one of America’s hottest spots for wine. Click here to register for SommCon D.C. ************************************************************************************************ What inspired you to move to D.C. and join its wine industry? Jay Youmans MW - Owner and Education Director of the Capital Wine School : I moved to D.C. years ago to start a wine business with a couple of friends. At that time, D.C. was largely a steak restaurant town. Today, D.C. has become an amazing food and wine town. It is an affluent market, but people here are well traveled and highly educated. Erik Segelbaum - Corporate Beverage Director for Starr Restaurants, including Le Diplomate and the forthcoming St. Anselm from restaurateur Joe Carroll : My move to D.C. was based on the desire to come back east (I was living in Seattle at the time) and be part of a burgeoning wine community. Seattle’s sommelier community is so well developed that the opportunities are both limited and highly competitive. It was a great time to immerse myself in a new environment, and also to give back in the form of mentorship for up-and-coming sommeliers that did not have as many resources as I enjoyed on the left coast. Vanessa Cominsky - Sommelier at DBGB Kitchen & Bar : I'm originally from Pittsburgh, which has a wonderful restaurant scene and a tight-knit wine community. As it is still growing, many restaurants employ wine professionals as managers, bartenders or servers first and sommeliers second. I was looking for a larger market where I could focus on being a sommelier and that provided more access to product as well as a strong sense of community. Brent Kroll - Proprietor and Sommelier at Maxwell Park : I worked with someone during my time at Michael Mina who really sold me on D.C. being a rising star for cities. This was very true, and she called it back in 2008. Winn Robertson - Wine Director for Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons: I moved "home" to D.C. in 2008 from Las Vegas after working at a number of restaurants there. Honestly, I didn't know much about the scene here, but was lucky to have landed in a city with a small but tight and supportive group of wine minds. The community has certainly grown since, but the support is as strong as ever. ************************************************************************************************ What is exciting about the D.C. food and wine scene right now? JY: The diversity of cuisines and types of restaurants available is incredible. We have Middle Eastern, vegetarian, Indian, Georgian, Caribbean, and all the classics - French, Italian, Spanish, etc. You see a range of wines by the glass and on lists that you will not see in other markets. ES: What isn’t? With so many amazing new restaurants open or opening, the D.C. scene is on fire! This has paved the way for innovative concepts, menus and beverage programs. It’s a food and wine adventurer’s paradise! VC: For me, pretty much everything is still exciting! I have been trying to eat and drink everywhere that I can in the past few months and am making some progress... slowly. Also, the mere fact that you can buy wine in the grocery store... I'm still getting used to that. It's dangerously convenient for someone that grew up in Pennsylvania. WR: There has never been a better time to eat and drink wine in D.C. The city took on many new residents during the 2008-2009 recession. Coupling that with an overall desire for people to move back into urban areas brought a breath of new life to the scene in the form of different regional restaurants, new higher-end establishments, and more recently a wave of wine bars that are having huge successes in their youth. ************************************************************************************************ What distinguishes the D.C. wine drinker? Do you find that any particular varieties, styles or regions are popular here? JY: The D.C. wine drinker is well traveled, highly educated, and will experiment with unknown grapes and regions. Orange and natural wines seem to be a fad in several wine bars right now. Grapes such as Friulano, Vermentino, Bobal, and Mencía are hot. ES: The D.C. wine drinker is noticeably savvier than most other cities’ wine drinkers. They are generally more knowledgeable and much more adventurous. There is also a significantly stronger Champagne movement in D.C. They tend to trend consistently with other cities, but in general they enter those categories as trendsetters rather than as followers. My favorite aspect of D.C. drinkers is their willingness to explore. VC: D.C. is such an enigma from a restaurant standpoint; while a lot of people live in the area, many of our guests are not originally from D.C. and are visiting for business or vacation. I think that can sometimes make it hard to put people in a distinct category. Most people have some basic wine knowledge and an idea of what they may like to drink, which is great to build on if they are looking to try something new. Our list at DBGB Kitchen & Bar focuses on French and American wines, and I would say that my most popular wines are usually Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, as they are easily recognizable and guests feel comfortable asking for and ordering either. I definitely sell a good bit of California wine, but Bordeaux and Sancerre are popular as well. BK: In my opinion, what distinguishes D.C.’s wine scene is that it's an open-minded, millennial crowd that's looking to learn. I would say it's a very educated area. ************************************************************************************************ D.C. is an international meeting point for diplomats, politicians, and world leaders. Do you find that international influence in the wine scene at all? JY: Classic French wines still enjoy space on the majority of wine lists. These are wines that diplomats, politicians, and world leaders feel comfortable ordering. ES: Absolutely! There is more of a market for less common regions precisely because those regions and countries have population pockets in D.C. Also, given the global multiculturalism of the city, people are more willing to try something different. VC: I think that we are very lucky to have such an open market of availability for wine in this area. I have seen many wines that I've never been able to find before in Pennsylvania and I would say that is partially due to the international community asking for something from home. In general, international guests will be a little more adventurous in selecting wines from our list. WR: D.C. is a great place to drink wine, in large part because it's also a great place to buy wine. The local laws for importing, distributing, etc. allow us to source from almost anywhere legally. In turn, that aspect appeals to the wide array of cultures in town. I think the word is getting out that D.C. is a place to find the classics as well as the newest trends in wine. ************************************************************************************************ What is the best thing you’ve most recently had to eat and drink in D.C.? JY: On Saturday night, I had roasted lamb shoulder and the 2005 R. López de Heredia Rioja Viña Tondonia Reserva. ES: Best thing to drink is easy… anything from Bar Mini , especially the Ticket to Phuket and - shameless plug for my namesake drink - The Segelbaum Flip. It’s basically a Madeira flip with Fernet Branca. It’s presently off menu (though it used to be in print), but don’t worry, they can make it! As for food, that’s a tough one, it’s all so good. While we are on the Bar Mini track, though, their grilled cheese is what every other grilled cheese wishes it could be. VC: That's a seriously loaded question, but I would have to say that the tasting menu at Masseria was absolutely outstanding from food and beverage to service. I don't think I could pick a favorite dish from that evening. We enjoyed dinner with a bottle of Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva and also a '97 Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino that John Filkins recommended. All in all, I can't wait to go back! WR: The happy hour food menu at China Chilcano is out of sight! Just go and order one of everything, but the Sánguche de Chancho (think a crispy pork belly chalupa-like thing) is the highlight. You'll want two of those. D.C. also has a new wave of distilleries, cideries and breweries. Kat and the team at Capitoline Vermouth are doing a killer job. The Rosé Vermouth is the winner for me, topped with a little soda and bitters of your choice.

Dom Pérignon

Brut Champagne Blend 2009

Shay A

I imagine this will go up by a point or two in the next few years but it’s crazy young. That being said, it’s quite easy to sip. Creamy on the front palate...bubbles are so tiny it’s hard to pick them out. Toasted brioche, limestone, honeyed cashews show once this has had an hour+ to open. Dom always has such a nice mid-palate of candied fruit and toasted honeycomb. Give it time! — 5 years ago

Dan FitzgeraldMark FlesherWeston Eidson
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Mark Flesher

Mark Flesher

Nice bottle. Enjoyed right after pop, and again about 30 minutes after pop. Had definitely changed. More of a wholesome mango with some asian pear. I was getting a dry, nutty note towards the middle and finish. Very nice, and definitely youthful. You could hold this bottle for 15 years easily, and not have to worry one bit. Very balanced, structured, yet so so young. I'd rate this a 93 or 94 today, and likely 95-96 in 5-10 years.
Mike R

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Barboursville Vineyards

Reserve Virginia Cabernet Franc 2014

Bob Bryden

Wonderfully balanced, with ripe red cherry, blackberry, and bell peppers but with a wonderful floral note and low AbV of 13.5 pct. one of the best Virginia wines I have tasted. Kudos to winemaker Luca Paschina. — 7 years ago

Tom Gordon
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Domaine Vacheron

Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc 2014

One of our favorite Loire producers, consistently excellent winemaking. A nice showing tonight, gooseberry, floral spice, sour limestone, great texture, and firm but not devastating acidity. ...thanks Doug Krenik! — 8 years ago

Jayme Henderson-Steese
with Jayme
Jayme, Dena and 1 other liked this

R. López de Heredia

Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja Tempranillo Blend 2005

A balanced beauty from a stellar vintage. Tobacco and vainilla combined with sour cherries, and dried raspberries. Fresh and lively acidity bodes well for cellaring. Always love tasting these wines. They are honest expressions of the land. Old school Rioja at its finest. — 5 years ago

Severn, Peter and 1 other liked this

Borgo del Tiglio (Nicola Manferrari)

Collio Tocai Friulano

Surprised at this wine! My buddy at Acker gave it to me and I initially looked askance at tokai. I’m going back to thank him. Zesty and demands your attention but not heavy or overbearing. Bright and assertive, crisp, acidic. Yum. — 6 years ago

Descendientes de José Palacios

Pétalos Bierzo Mencía 2014

Demonstrating consistency from Palacios. Minimal intervention wine with floral fragrance plus a dash of barnyard. Elegant concentration of raspberries and soft spice with seamless oak integration. Benchmark Bierzo. — 7 years ago

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils

Oenophile Non Dose 1er Cru Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs Champagne 2008

Glorious Chardonnay from a dynamic and promising vintage and thus very capable as a non dosé, extra brut, this ŒNOPHILE may be labeled 1er Cru but this is perennially 80% and more Grand Cru -an admixture of Chouilly, Cramant, Cuis, and Oger. Finishing off at a mere 1.5g/l rs, this penetrating Blanc des Blancs is just right by nature with ample ripe Asian pear lending an exotic fragrance to complement a baked ginger spice, and rye tangerine -with great depth for a vintage debutante leading off into this world in its first blush -into a world with a growing suspicion of non dosé after years en vogue. Its star rose among the great restaurants for its clear taste of goût de terroir -after all: without dosage there's nothing to hide behind (!) but despite what we read repeated in the press when the sommeliers speak in private paroles the consensus I hear is that this category's pendulum is on its return swing after some lean years left us wanting. Gimonnet's ŒNOPHILE however proves how balanced years marrying beautifully ripened fruit with racy minerality can not only pull it off but are all the better non dosé! This is a treat and I look forward to tasting this over the next decade to see it come of age and wow us all into certainty that non dosé Champagne in the right year and right hands can age gloriously. — 8 years ago

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RdV Vineyards

Lost Mountain Red Bordeaux Blend 2010

The 2010 Lost Mountain by RdV is decidedly more complex than the 2015 I tried. Better year? Goodness knows. Maybe the wine just gets better with age. Could be the case with the expensive oak integrating more seamlessly over time. This is a delicious Bordeaux blend and never in a million years would I have guessed that it was from Virginia. — 5 years ago

P, Trixie and 14 others liked this


Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2016

Bright. Lively. Fresh. QPR through the roof for this best white grape in Toscana. — 6 years ago

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Anthony De Blasi

Anthony De Blasi

Had the same last Sunday!😀👍

Marchesi Antinori

Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese 1997

Nose of metal and gun flint. Raspberries and dried cranberries in the beginning which evolved to strawberry jam after a while. Still so youthful despite it being almost 20 years old. — 7 years ago

Peter and Sean liked this