10 Questions with
CARL SUTTON, Winemaker
BIO: Please refer to our prior blog about Carl Sutton for a full bio. Love him!
INTERVIEW: Thanks for agreeing to be a part of the Lush Wine & Spirits blog. Please answer the following questions in whatever way you see fit. We want your voice, personality, and opinions to come through!
1) What is the best thing you’ve drank in the last week? What about in the last year?
I stopped by a neighbor’s place the other day and he asked if I wanted a glass of wine and told me to pick somehing out from his wine cabinet. I was looking at some Carignanes and Zins and he mentioned he had some Cabs as well. I responded I generally don’t drink Cabs during the day or without food unless they’re older and he pulled out an 87 Mondavi Cab. Anyone who knows my taste knows I’m not a Napa guy and certainly not a Cab guy but this wine was fantastic, it had been stored perfectly and it was a reminder of the old days of California winemaking; 13% alcohol, any new oak that had been used had aged out (or wasn’t there to begin with), had good acidity and was probably never a “fruit bomb”. I also appreciated that it stated “unfiltered” on the label.
In the last year I’ve probably been most impressed by the cocktails I’ve been served at some of the more ingredients focused bars around the country. Anything from Alembic or Nopa in San Francisco, I had a couple good quaffs at both Drink and Deep Ellum in Boston and I have to say The Six Points Sling made by Mike Ryan at The Violet Hour was quite a treat, and the candy bar sized ice cube was a cool touch.
2) What do you think is the most underrated grape varietal or region? Overrated?
In a number of regions it would have to be Carignane. This is a problematic grape in that people tend to pick it really ripe and oak it to death which results in a rustic clumsy style of wine. I’ve tasted some great wines from the grape though, it’s usually from 40+ year old vines and when picked to be less than 14.5% alcohol it can show floral, blueberry notes with zippy acid, a very easy drinker.
Napa Cab or Chard – a lot of these wines are just so over ripe and over extracted and over priced. I also think there’s a lot of new world Syrah that is ridiculously over priced. Most of the vines being used are under 15 years of age and made by winemakers with little to no experience with the varietal except for drinking it. How does a $45 to $85 bottle from CA made under those conditions warrant a higher price than something from Cote-Rotie or Crozes Hermitage from old vines at half the price? Although that’s all starting to change anyways…
3) Who are your favorite food and wine writers?
I have to credit some of the writers compiled in History In A Glass – Sixty Years Of Wine Writing From Gourmet for having some great insights from decades ago that still hold true today. In an article written in the 1940’s Frank Schoonmaker is railing against overpriced and over ripe wines from California… When will we learn fom the past? There’s also some great pieces by André L. Simon and Hugh Johnson. Of the current crop of wine critics and “journalists” I can’t cite any that I really respect and I think in a lot of ways they’re responsible for fetishizing wines and helping this over ripe over oaked “international style” where technique trumps terroir. Think about that for a minute…
4) What are your three favorite food cities?
Oh that’s easy, number one would have to be Barcelona, Spain, number two would be San Francisco which is home and so perfectly located to have a wonderful supply of fresh and local foodstuffs all year long, and third would be a tie between Chicago and New York. Let me explain – Chicago has amazing culinary innovation and a truly warm sense of hospitality while New York has such a variety of places that are open late and are everything from neighborhood joints to really high concept cooking.
5) Top three restaurants you revisit all the time in Chicago?
Moto or Otom, Avec, and after that either Weiner’s Circle or Richard’s (do the eggs and chips qualify it as a restaurant?)
6) What is your most memorable dining or drinking experience?
I don’t have a single one because the best ones are all great for one reason or another. A preparation that was unexpected, finding a restaurant whose wine list is more fairly priced than anticipated, sometimes it’s not so much the food but the staff that can make your experience really great. Of course that’s all assuming my best experience happened at a restaurant, sometimes I get super excited if dinner turns out right…
7) Between wine, beer, and spirits – when do you reach for each? If you HAD to do without one, which would it be?
OK – during harvest a cold beer and dry socks is better than a nap. I also have a number of friends that are brewers and tasting their new creations is always fun and educational. I reach for wine almost every night at table and cocktails when I’m out but I’m fairly limited in what I consume. For cocktails I really enjoy most Rye based drinks and I’m also obsessed with aperitivi and digestivi that are based on bitter herbs and other botanicals.
If I had to give one the boot I’d probably let spirits go. Part of the factor is the effect and part of it is that it’s pretty easy to get great beer or wine because the work is already done. With a cocktail it can be really easy to get a bad one, and other than a couple standards I can’t make great cocktails at home.
8) What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is that it’s not a job, it’s my life. I have no employees, just help at harvest and bottling so everything falls on my shoulders. That can be great from the standpoint of having control of all steps of the process and it’s a drag because if a restaurant calls at noon on Friday and needs wine guess what I’m doing Friday afternoon?
9) If you had to describe yourself as a certain wine, what would it be? (i.e. Australian Shiraz – spicy, bold, and seductive. German Riesling – sometimes sweet (but hard to predict if it will be), elegant, and requiring of patience.)
Maybe an Oloroso sherry, complex, sometimes misunderstood, definitely nutty. Tied to technique and tradition but a little unpredictable too.
10) You’re on death row (sorry). What’s your final meal?
Hmmm… I’ve never really thought about this. I’ll have to ask for a pardon.