There’s a shakeup in the sommelier lineup of area restaurants: Bryan Voltaggio announced yesterday that Jill Zimorski will helm the wine program at Volt, the “Top Chef” finalist’s restaurant in Frederick. Zimorski headed the beverage programs for Jose Andres’s ThinkFoodGroup empire, including its three Jaleo outposts, Zaytinya, Oyamel and Minibar. She previously worked with Voltaggio as a manager during his tenure at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill.
Volt currently offers about 500 different wines on its list, spanning New and Old World regions. In a statement announcing the move, Voltaggio said Zimorski would “continue to evolve” the selection with wines that offer “a story and purpose, considering terroir, production, style and quality.”
There was no word yet from ThinkFoodGroup about a replacement for Zimorski.
Sales of Virginia wine are booming. Gov. Robert McDonnell announced earlier this month that Virginia’s vintners sold more vino in the fiscal year that ended June 30 than ever before — more than 462,000 cases, in fact, an 11.4 percent increase over the previous year.
This news may not mean we’re all turning into “locapours.” The Virginia Wine Board, citing tax receipts from the commonwealth’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, said sales rose dramatically during two statewide promotions: Virginia Wine Month in October saw a year-to-year sales increase of 14 percent, while March’s “Love by the Glass” Virginia Wine Week — a campaign that urges restaurants to offer Virginia wine by the glass — saw a sales increase of 17 percent over the previous year.
Virginia is the fifth-largest state in the total number of wineries and the sixth largest wine-grape producer, according to the Virginia Wine Board. An economic impact study in 2005 concluded that the wine industry contributes nearly $350 million to the state’s economy. Virginia had 120 wineries then, and nearly 200 now. Another study is scheduled for next year.
Maryland residents who enjoy ordering directly from wineries for shipment to their homes now have access to one of the leading “flash wine” Web sites. Sort of.
Lot18 works somewhat like eBay, with time-limited posts offering small lots of boutique wines at discounted prices. Lot18 has partnered with Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, the leading advocacy group that pushed for the state’s new direct-shipping law that took effect July 1. Lot18 is working specifically with wineries that have paid the state’s fee to ship here — the site is designed to show which wines are available for shipment to wherever a customer lives — and acts as a facilitator for the sale without taking possession of the wine.
According to MBBWL, more than 300 wineries have registered to send their bottles to Maryland. However, the Lot18 experience is still frustrating. On Sunday evening, of the nine “featured” wines on the Lot18 home page, seven displayed banners proclaiming them unavailable to Marylanders. On the “select” page, all nine offerings were off limits, including the Pirouette red blend from Washington state, part of the prestigious Long Shadows portfolio. (It was offered at $44 instead of its list price of $55.)
So, for now, we may still be kids peering through the window of Lot18’s candy store. If you’re the type who collects rare, boutique wines, you probably figured out how to get them long ago. But Lot18’s arrangement with MBBWL, no matter how rudimentary it is now, is a sign that Marylanders are getting better access to wines, however incrementally.
May the best varietal win
Bobby Flay take note: Chefs aren’t the only ones who can host a “throwdown” challenge. On Saturday, Sept. 17, Planet Wine in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria will hold its first “Great Grape Throwdown,” pitting cabernet sauvignon against cabernet franc. Twelve wines of each grape variety will be pitted head-to-head bracket-style, like your March Madness basketball pool, with the winner of each challenge — decided by a vote of the participating tasters — advancing to the next round. The winning grape will take on malbec in October.
This is the type of tasting that makes winemakers cringe, because their efforts will be judged quickly rather than savored over a romantic meal by lovers gazing so rapturously at each other they would be happy sipping balsamic vinegar. But consumers can have a lot of fun with this format — it forces us to focus on a wine’s immediate attributes and what we like or dislike. Sure, first impressions can be misleading, but here’s a chance to try two dozen wines and gain a clear sense of how cabernet sauvignon differs from cabernet franc. These tastings can be educational.
Reservations are required; call 703-549-3444. The cost is $35 or $30 for members of the store’s wine club.