Jim Silver’s wine career began a little over 20 years ago. Over the course of those two decades, he's held just about ever wine-related job (except winemaker and vineyard manager) that you can think of. He's been wine buyer for a large retailer in Delaware and sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia. He's also worked in the New York region representing Rémy Amerique, Grupo Codorniu and the Hess Collection.
Here on Long Island Jim has served as the National Sales Director for Pindar Vineyards before becoming Senior Vice President of Bedell Cellars. Most recently, he's become the General Manager of the Peconic Bay Winery.
With all of that varied experience, he brings a unique perspective to the region and I'm sure he's going to do some interesting things at Peconic Bay. But for today, he answers our LENNDEVOURS Q&A questions:
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
I started enjoying wine while attending restaurant school in Philadelphia in 1988. I can recall very well drinking a lot of Hungarian red wines that were $2.99 a bottle at the time, I forget the name of them though – one was a cab and one was a merlot.
A more specific memory was the purchase of a 1967 Chateau Gruaud-Larose St. Emilion. Wow, it was tough to justify the super high price of $9.99 in the Pennsylvania state store, especially for a poor student like me, but I really wanted to experience a well-aged Bordeaux. I even scribbled my tasting notes into the inside cover of Alexis Lichine’s Wine Encyclopedia. (It was definitely not a great vintage, and tasted a bit like ashes, but it was my first somewhat intellectual wine experience.)
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
In 1989 I was studying in France as part of my culinary training. We made a visit to the Clos de Vougeot in the Cote d’Or. I don’t recall all of the circumstances perfectly, but to this day just the taste of a Burgundy, simple or great, really makes my heart beat faster. Those pinots are the oldest and truest wine love I have. I have similar feelings for Chablis, which I visited on the same trip.
You could say I discovered “terrior” there, and it’s guided me since, in all facets of my life and career.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
Peconic Bay Winery’s Steel Fermented Chardonnay is great wine. It is reminiscent of Cru Chablis, with really well balanced acidity and terrific concentration. It is very aromatic and very long. In fact, the aromas are very distinct – as it seems the clone of this chardonnay here gives a particular musqué smell, sort of along the sauvignon blanc line. It’s unique to this vineyard. Plus, lately I’ve found markedly less interest in oaky flavors. I’m interested in discovering the natural terrior of a wine, not in masking it – Greg Gove is such a masterful winemaker in that sense. Even our La Barrique wine is only very lightly oaky.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Long Island wine community?
I am surprised by the unrecognized potential here on LI. Time and again, local wineries are producing classic wines, sometimes of stunning quality, and yet so often you can come across something so positively boring you wonder if that winemaker wasn’t asleep when it was bottled.
I spent many years representing French, Italian, and Californian producers who made fine wines, but none of them would ever have the opportunity to improve as dramatically as Long Island does. The sky is the limit here. The conscientious and thoughtful winemaker here has the potential to do almost anything given the right conditions. (We really are like Napa in the 60s or Sonoma in the 70s.) The time is right for the rise of the East Coast vineyard, especially Long Island. What is surprising is that I didn’t know it sooner. What’s equally surprising is how many people still don’t know it.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
Take 3 oz. of Michter’s Straight Rye, 1 oz. Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth, three shakes of Angostura bitters, a maraschino cherry, and shake on ice very hard. Then pour it into an up-glass. It should be brown in color with a light foam on the top. That is the only real cocktail. A Manhattan.
Scotch is nice too sometimes. Almost always it’s going to be wine though, and it’s usually a Cotes-du-Rhone. Affordable and delicious. I still have beer in my fridge from Thanksgiving 2007.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
I’m with Chris Stamp on this one. Whoever thought up chocolate and red wine is a little cuckoo. But I am also of the opinion that food and wine pairing in general is somewhat overstated too. There are plenty of “matches” that work well, like Sauternes and Roquefort, Chablis and Oysters, merlot and lamb loin, but 99.9% of good wine matches are good because they tend not to interfere with each other.
A pairing is complimentary when they do no damage to each other. That’s really the key. As soon as one of them (the dish or the wine) proves dominant, the match is lost. The best idea is to chose simple wines with complex foods, and complex wines with simple foods. And don’t forget that many wines can be obliterated by certain foods, (lots of cheeses comes to mind, so does artichoke) – the pitfalls do exist. Magical wine pairings don’t occur in a vacuum, they include the atmosphere of the room, the attitude of the diners, the romance of the event, and the anticipation of enjoyment as much as anything else.
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience.
That would be me, my wife, and a random selection of good friends I’ve made in this industry over the last 20 years. Add grilled quails, foie gras, and some caviar on blini, three bottles of Krug, six or seven bottles of Richebourg and Echezeaux and I’d say that would be the ultimate fantasy drinking experience.
Some of my real-life wine-drinking experiences over the years have been so decadent and fascinating, you might not believe me if I told you. Some wines I enjoyed regularly 20 years ago, cost more than my car today, but that’s part of what’s so delightful about this business. I couldn’t imagine being in any other business but this one. How lucky is that?