In the city of Chicago, where the beer beards grow long and fluffy and the cocktail suspenders snap with a mighty torque, could natural wine be the next great beverage trend? If that happens it will have been incubated here, at Third Coast Soif, now in its second year and quickly establishing itself as one of the great American-born natural wine festivals.
Hosted on Sunday, March 18th at the Journeyman Plumbers Union Hall (find me a more Chicago venue, I dare you), the second annual Soif was a soiree for the senses, with some 60+ winemakers and importers pouring across five action-packed hours.
There were two-story porron pours; there were winemakers from near and very, very far; there were famed wine personalities and highly influential importers alongside relative newcomers and curious members of the public. I enjoyed wines from Greece, Spain, Italy, France, California, Mexico, Austria, Georgia (the country), Missouri (the state), and surely more. A good time was had by not some, not most, but all.
I came, I saw, I Soif'd—and these are just a few of my favorite sips and splashes from the fair. Below is an admittedly incomplete recounting of the very of best of Third Coast Soif. Grab a glass and let's take a lap.
Winemaker Manel Avinyó himself, resplendent in a custom #BUBBLEMAN t-shirt, poured generous splashes from a deep bank of six wines, all hailing from the Penedès region of Catalunya. Avinyó is something of a party instigator—he was partially responsible for the multi-story porron pours that broke out throughout the Soif—and the line to drink these wines stayed deep from start to finish.
As the #BUBBLEMAN lifestyle might indicate, sparkling wines are a speciality at Clos Lentiscus, and the array at Soif did not disappoint: no fewer than four Mètode Traditionelle wines, from a bombastically expressive 2010 Xarel-lo to a subtle, finely pointed 2014 Blanc de Blanc, to a party-ready “Gentlemant” pet-nat.
My favorite pour here was the lone still wine, the “Perill Noir” Carinyena—”named for danger” as per Avinyó, a silky, floral, totally impressive wine bearing a label drawn some hundred years ago by Manel Avinyo's great-grandfather. If you can find this wine, buy it and drink it.
Sticking with Spain, the wines of Partida Creus are enjoying something of a moment right now, commanding attention at natural wine fairs and bars worldwide while working on a project to expand their winery via crowdfunding (much more on that project soon here on Sprudge). And with winemaker Antonella Gerosa pouring at Soif, it's no surprise this was one of the hottest tables at the fair. The hype and interest is undeniable, but how were the wines?
In a word, delicious. In more words, the wines of Partida Creus were showing very well indeed at Soif, particularly the “XL” Xarel-lo Espusomo pet-nat and the “GR” Garrut, a lightly sparkling red wine that, for me, evoked the traditional small production Lambrusco wines of winemakers like Paltrinieri and Camillo Donati. That this “GR” was poured from magnum, with a massive double magnum lurking on the table, only added to the overall impression.
These wines may well serve as gateway bottles for the coming tidal wave of natural wine drinkers in America. If you're drinking with someone new to the scene, Partida Creus are a solid pick to blow their minds.
We move from Spain to…Missouri? Sam Hilmer‘s Soif debut came on soft, pouring just one wine at the fair, but I heard buzz growing throughout the afternoon. A native of Eureka, Missouri—some 30 minutes or so outside St. Louis—Hilmer's Rosé Pet-Nat is drawn from grapes like Norton, Chambourcin, Seyval, and Petite Verdot, using only natural yeasts and minimal sulfur. The result is a kind of technicolor party punch, effortlessly moreish and delicious—a wine you might find yourself going back to again and again for more, as I did throughout the festival.
Hilmer makes a miniscule production of this stuff, fighting against the hot summers and freezing winters of the Ozark hills, and expect this wine to be even tougher to find now following Soif. This absolutely would be right at home in the domestic section of top American natural wine shops like Domaine LA or Chambers Street Wines.
From Missouri we venture to…Utah? Winemaker Evan Lewandowski works with California-grown grapes out in Salt Lake City, resulting in wines like “Naomi”, a peach candy fruit bomb of a Grenache Gris from dry farmed vineyards in Mendocino, as well as “Boaz”, a farmyard-forward take on Carignan that comes with a ringing acidity that begs for grilled meat and fat.
I'll admit some bias here: I adore these wines as a drinker, and so may have come in to Soif predisposed to enjoy them on the festival floor. There was no disappointment to be had. Lewandowski's 2017 vintage of “Feints” is another home run, the latest in this natty wine nerd candy “zero zero” blend of Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Arneis. And it was my first exposure to Lewandowski's new “Elimelech Cuvee Zero” Riesling, one of the best white wines I drank at the Soif, all pressed citrus juice, herbs, rocks and bee pollen.
I will be drinking more of this, and soon, if the world is kind.
We gave love to Oregon winemakers Joe Swick and Fausse Piste in last week's Brumaire write-up, and the Oregon goodness continued at the Soif with wines from Kelley Fox Wines, Beckham Estate, Minimus, more Swick, and Day Wines, whose proprietor Brianne Day oversaw a table packed with six distinct offerings. I'm a well-documented Day Wines fan and her showing at Soif was true to form, making friends and influencing people with splashes of her party-ready Mamacita sparkling Malvasia and Johan Vineyard Pinot Noir.
But it's a new Day wine that stopped me in my Soif tracks. Dubbed “Vicis”, it starts with a base of 2/3rds Pinot Noir, with the rest of the bottle comprised of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. In the glass you get, no fooling, notes of blue raspberry, an island of acidity floating in a sea of fruit. Better yet, a portion of this wine's sales are donated to FORCE, a charity established to serve those affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. Real wine with a good cause that tastes delicious, sign me up.
The Georgians. What can't they do? A great big corner of the Soif was taken over by Georgian winemakers, showing off a kaleidoscope of wine styles and grapes from the natural wine motherland. John Okros of Okros Wines was featured prominently in our Brumaire write-up, but at the Soif I was struck by another Okros altogether.
Jenny Okros makes wine under the “Sister's Wines” label, distributed in North America by Chris Terrell Wines. At Soif, her brother John Okros poured bottles of Sister's take on the Kisi grape, receiving 7 months of whole bunch skin maceration in qvevri. My notes devolve into exclamations and slurred speech at this point—it was my favorite wine of the festival, a gorgeous, galactic, never-ending orange wine of astonishing depth and complexity, all lip-pucker and beeswax and honeyed tongue. Go seek out this wine and drink it ASAP.
Romeo de Castello
There's no shortage of love for the great growers of Mt. Etna, with none other than Frank Cornelissen himself pouring wine a few tables over. But I was struck by the comparatively humble offering from Romeo de Castello, also located on Mt. Etna, whose co-founder Chiara Vigo personally poured her wines at the fest.
Castello's “Allegracore” is a liquid lava flow of a wine, Nerello Mascalese vinified in stainless steel. Pure rock juice, fiery and alive. The dream of Etna sunshine in a glass. Elsewhere on the table I was bowled over by Romeo de Castello's Aquavite de Pira—pear eau de vie from Etna pears revealing an astonishing creamy heat, like a Szechuan peppercorn rolled in marzipan.
“Don't judge me by my American accent!” That's Nico Sciackitano from La Stoppa in Emilia-Romagna. He's served as a sort of global emissary for the wines of La Stoppa over the last few years, traveling the world and helping to build an appreciative and growing audience for these beautiful wines.
Both of La Stoppa's sparklers—Malvasia Dolce Frizzante and Trebbiolo Frizzante—went down cool and easy at the Soif, but I'm particularly enamored with the 2009 Barbera della Stoppa. It's a 100% Barbera wine, and in line with the La Stoppa style it's made with native yeasts and no added sulfur, with around 30 days of skin maceration. But here's the kicker: they give it around a year of aging in used barrels, before another couple years of aging in bottle.
That development helps result in a wine that's like an exercise in duality: complex yet immediately engaging, pointed but round, deep but easy to drink, wanting for food and yet wanting for nothing. This was my favorite red wine of the fair, hands down, American accent or not. We're at an American natural wine festival, after all.
Sprudge is proudly partnered with Third Coast Soif, with special thanks to Third Coast Soif founder Mark Lindzy. Interested in partnering with Sprudge Wine? Get in touch.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder of Sprudge. His writing has appeared in T Magazine, The New York Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, and Willamette Week.