Evan Spingarn of Tangled Vine Talks Sustainable Wine, Pairing Myths & Drinking What You Don't Know

Evan Spingarn wants you to try something other than the Cab.
The term sustainable has made its way to the wine glass, but the point for wine geeks isn't necessarily eco-friendliness. Tangled Vine, a newish wine bar on the Upper West Side that our own Sarah DiGregorio found delightful, touts its selection of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wines. But consulting sommelier Evan Spingarn, who designed the lofty list, says the appeal is that the wines are real, rather than green.

Tell me about the concept for the wine list at Tangled Vine?

We created a list of 160-plus wines, with 30 by the glass. We wanted to do a very large by-the-glass program to give people a chance to experiment. Part of the reason is just because we both think that's what a wine bar should be. But also because the wines that I wanted to pick were going to be interesting and esoteric. We didn't want to do a lot of Pinot Grigio or Cabernet. About 80-85 percent of the list is organic, sustainable, or biodynamic.

What's the difference between organic, biodynamic, and sustainable?

I try to keep the whole thing open-ended because people get pretty crazy about the definitions of organic and biodynamic. If you're a winemaker, that's your prerogative. If you're running a business where you're selling wine, you have to be open minded about what those terms mean. If a distributor tells me that a wine was made without pesticides and herbicides in the vineyards, without laboratory yeast, or enzymes to speed the fermentation -- basically they're not manipulating the wine -- I'm willing to call it organic. So few producers want to certify because it's expensive. And a pain.

Have you attracted natural wine enthusiasts?

Oh yeah, absolutely. A lot of people who only drink organic wines are coming in. But I'm not sensing that the buzz around the restaurant is about organic, specifically. I think it's just about what you might call "authentic" or natural wines. It's for the folks who don't want to drink Australian Shiraz. I didn't do any New World wines on my list at all.

How did you get into wine?

I've been in the wine business for 17 years. I started out in retail, which I did the longest. I've been a wine writer for various magazines, including Wine Enthusiast. I've been working as one of the New York salespeople for a wholesaler and importer. And I consult on projects like this for restaurants.

Are you on the premises a lot?

I'm the behind-the-scenes guy. I'm not there on a nightly basis selling wine. I'm not the active sommelier at the restaurant. I've trained the wait staff to answer questions about wine. And you have a manager as your fall back expert at the restaurant.

How do you prescribe a wine to someone who really doesn't know what they like?

I always talk about food first. I find that's the easiest way to understanding wine. Frankly, it's amazing that more people that sell and deal in wine don't do that and it seems kind of insane to me. Because wine is scary. Wine is intimidating for people or it's just a big complicated topic that they don't have the time or interest to explore thoroughly. So, I find that food is sort of a gateway to explain or select wines. It's way simpler than trying to explain the difference between a Tempranillo and a Refosco. They don't know what I'm talking about, but they do know that they're having meatballs and tomato sauce, and they want a wine that goes with that.

What sort of trends have you seen in wine bars opening these days?

The natural wine thing is a big trend. Organic wine lists, naturally made wines, and seasonal and local produce go hand in hand.

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