There’s more great wine being made in more places in the world today than somebody doing my job thirty years ago could have imagined.
Marginalized regions neglected for decades are waking up. Farmers are renewing soils long dead from industrial agriculture. New generations of makers are rediscovering local heritage, and experimenting with things nobody’s seen before. People who tradition has locked out of winemaking, land ownership, and compensation for their labor are fighting for, and gaining access.
I fell in love with wine because you can see the entire world through it. What do you want to think about? Geology? History? Culture, money, chemistry, ethical philosophy? It’s all in the glass.
These tastings will bring bottles of wine that I love to your doorstep, and with them, the world.
Over a weekly slate of unique and changing class topics, we’ll explore regions whose connection is obscured by national borders, grape varieties overlooked or forgotten, and emerging producers who picked their first vintage during the Obama administration. We’ll learn how to talk about what we like, how to serve and store wine, and what might be fun to cook for dinner after the tasting ends.
Class kits start at $108 plus shipping, and include food pairing suggestions, a weekly playlist, materials, a link to an hour and twenty minute Zoom tasting with sommelier James Sligh, and three bottles of wine to enjoy during class, afterwards with dinner, or over a few days.
Whether you’re a professed wine geek or someone interested in just having some bottles open to drink over the weekend, I hope you’ll find something below that sparks curiosity, and looks delicious.
Classes are fulfilled via world-class Tribeca-based retailer Chambers Street Wines. Registration closes 10-14 in advance to allow time for the wines to ship and settle down.
See below for the public schedule, or reach out to arrange a private session.
DRINK WITH JAMES
SATURDAY, 5PM EST NOVEMBER 7
Hard for me to tell you just how hubristic it feels to plan a class about sparkling, a style made virtually synonymous with celebration, for early November.
But I want to say that’s part of the point? The truth is, sparkling wines of all colors and stripes have a place on our table and in our hearts beyond wedding toasts and New Year’s Eve, Churchill and Napoleon, beyond that quotation about deserving champagne in victory, needing it in defeat.
They belong in real wine glasses, with food, given consideration beyond their branding or house style.
We’ll learn about sparkling wine’s complex and global history, taste three radically different wines that have come out of it, and, one way or another, we’ll think about the future.
Spanish Wines For Anti-Fascists
TUESDAY, 6PM EST NOVEMBER 10
Every once and a while, I’ll catch myself and remember that the history of wine doesn’t run parallel to ‘real’ history, somehow alongside and apart from it. Wine history is history. A vintage is a year in someone’s life, and the lifetime of a vine is a human lifetime. You can talk, for example, about ‘nearly 80 ear-old garnacha vines’ in mountains west of Madrid.
And you might think to yourself: Gredos is on the front lines; these vine cuttings are going into the ground ahead of Franco’s army. It’s 1937, and the city will be under siege for another two years before it falls to fascists. Barcelona is still free; Orwell has just gotten back from the Aragon front. Guernica has been bombed.
We’ll map and drink the wines of Republican Spain, including vines that were planted just before the start of their Civil War, learn about Spanish wine’s modern rebirth, and toast to antifascism.
FRIDAY, 6:30PM EST NOVEMBER 13
Several years back, Robert Parker, Jr. posted a screed on his website against “godforsaken grapes” that, apparently, were being forced on an unwilling public.
“What we also have from this group of absolutists is a near-complete rejection of some of the finest grapes and the wines they produce. Instead they espouse, with enormous gusto and noise, grapes and wines that are virtually unknown,” he wrote. “They would have you believe some godforsaken grapes that, in hundreds and hundreds of years of viticulture, wine consumption, etc., have never gotten traction because they are rarely of interest.”
I’ll cop to being one of these ‘absolutists.’ (Although maybe not for the reasons Parker gives.) Ecological diversity in the vineyard is good for its own sake. Varieties Parker calls ‘godforsaken’ may be key to wine regions surviving climate change.
And that’s all not to mention the immense pleasure these diverse wines can give. We’ll taste three unlucky varieties on an unlucky day and discover why they’re not international superstars, and why it doesn’t matter.
WEDNESDAY, 6PM EST NOVEMBER 18
When I think about beverages that say ‘autumn’ to me, a whole bunch of things that don’t quite fit into the standard wine box start coming to mind: cider, sherry, mistelle, Madeira, amari . . . beverages whose character perfectly matches fallen leaves, the darkening approach of the winter solstice, decorative gourds, etc. But, for a variety of reasons, they don’t have the cultural weight of ‘real wine.’
Whether it’s non-grape raw material that’s been fermented as though it were natural wine, or fermented grape juice to which other things (oxidation, fortification, flor, aromatization) have happened . . . we’ll taste three drinks made almost like table wine that rarely get their due in classes like these, that are delicious, and that are perfect for late November.
The American Northeast
FRIDAY, 6:30PM EST NOVEMBER 20
It’s a good time to think about what’s happening in my own backyard: to wit, a local vinicultural flowering that is genuinely exciting, and that feels totally distinct from the wines of the West Coast.
‘America,’ by the way, doesn’t just mean the United States. There is an extremely inconvenient border separating the Canadians of the Niagara Escarpment from the USians of the Finger Lakes, but the energy, the angle of the sun, and the feel of the wines have a lot to say to one another — to say nothing of what’s happening outside of New York State in places like Vermont.
Whether it’s vinifera, hybrids, or combination wine-and-cider, there is history and a sense of place here worth exploring that’s unlike anywhere else in the world, whether this is your own back yard or a peek into someone else’s.
Drink Like A Sommelier
SATURDAY, 5PM EST NOVEMBER 21
Being turned into tastemaking celebrities with our own TV shows was probably the worst thing that could have happened to people whose job description, when you get down to it, is making restaurant wine lists and bringing you a bottle to go with dinner.
There are a lot of people in the world of wine — retailers, importers, and how about the people who grow and make the stuff — who arguably have a much more profound impact on how we relate to the beverage.
Nevertheless, “NYC Somm” is a cultural bubble like any other, and to its credit it does happen to contain some of the most knowledgeable and deep tasters I’ve been lucky enough to meet.
How do sommeliers taste, what do they love drinking, and what would it mean to approach wine ‘like a sommelier’? For putting up with this ultra high-concept class topic, you’ll receive some great wines to drink while we figure it out.
Zinfandel Is Good,
WEDNESDAY, 6PM EST NOVEMBER 25
It’s the day before Thanksgiving, a holiday dedicated to the classic wine problem, “What do you drink that goes with a table full of completely different things?”
Zinfandel has not always been a great answer. But it has always been something people tell you to drink, on a holiday that asks us to consider what America means, and what it means to take care of one another.
Let’s be clear: it may have been imported from Puglia. It may have been born in the Balkans. But zinfandel is quintessentially American. And for those willing to write it off as all sweet rosé or 16% alcohol port bombs, there’s a whole lot of wines out there now from some of the oldest vineyards on the continent that will change your mind: delicate and fresh, nuanced and complex, age-worthy bargains. Zinfandel is good, actually!
We’ll set ourselves up to drink three delicious wines with Thursday’s dinner, and maybe beyond. It’s that other quintessential Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers.
SATURDAY, 5PM EST NOVEMBER 28
The longest river in France, the last wild river in Europe: the Loire contains multitudes. Its center, between Saumur and Amboise, is dedicated principally to two great varieties: chenin, and cabernet franc.
The heart of the Loire yields some of its most powerful, textured, and complex wines, wines that gesture towards Bordeaux and white Burgundy while remaining uniquely themselves, and bargains to boot.
From Montlouis to Saumur-Champigny, from Puy-Notre-Dame to Chinon, we’ll take a detailed look at the sites and producers that make this slice of the river special, and continue exploring my favorite region of France.
WEDNESDAY, 6PM EST DECEMBER 2
There’s a reason why wild experimentalists typically come from corners of the map you’ve never heard of before. When you’re trying to tend vines in some of the most celebrated places in the wine world, tradition hangs heavy.
There are family members to fight, financial barriers to hurdle, not to mention the expectations of drinkers who may not be happy to be surprised by a bottle from a benchmark appellation.
Nonetheless, just as in wine’s lesser-known fringes, there are dynamic voices bucking the current: renewing abandoned traditions, and trying something new.
Tip Your Sommelier!
Enjoyed the tasting and want to leave a couple bills on the bar? Tips can be sent via Venmo to @james-sligh. Each week, 50% of my tips will go to initiatives promoting inclusion and social justice in wine and in the wider world.