The Fly South
The women behind Southern Latitudes in Carmel like to get their wine down low.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
A woman who just got off work walks into Carmel’s Southern Latitudes Wines and says she’s having raviolis for dinner and loves fruity Pinot Noirs. As co-owner Kerre Dubinsky directs her to the New Zealand section, pandemonium erupts.
Flinders, a 1-year-old blue beagle named after the first European to circumnavigate Australia, tears into blue wrapping paper used to ship bottles, growling. Taz, his 9-month-old beagle buddy, begins barking incessantly.
Slightly mortified, Dubinsky explains. “They always get like this when it’s almost time to go home,” she says. With a quick spray of water to the pooches’ faces, they settle down, and she’s able to help the customer choose the ever-so-elegant ’08 Waipara Springs “Premo” Pinot Noir, from Waipara, N.Z. ($25.99).
In Carmel, it’s one thing to have a cute dog in your Carmel store, and another to have two boisterous beagle puppies partying on the premises. But that’s only one minor way Dubinsky and partner Annalisa Wood are out there. In an overwhelmingly masculine wine world, they are two openly lesbian ladies writing their own script. And that script completely flips entrenched wine traditions.
On the wall, an upside-down world map serves as a metaphor for that approach; the Men at Work music in the background – “We come from a land down under” – provides another hint.
Wood and Dubinsky travel to South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to taste at wineries. That allows them to stockpile a large selection of inexpensive wines that often set trends, since those areas can exploit looser laws to apply innovative winemaking techniques sooner than the Northern Hemisphere.
“We wanted to be different and realized it’d be a good focus, since there are so many great values down there,” Wood says. “It’s also nice to have an excuse to travel.” Their commitment has earned bottles others can’t get. “When focusing on an area, you get more access to limited-production wines,” she adds. Customers reap the benefits. The’08 Kato Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough out of New Zealand ($9.99) is a no-brainer – crisp, herbaceous and a perfect pair with nearby Carmel Beach’s white sand sunsets and oysters on the half shell.
The ’06 42 Degrees South Pinot Noir from Tasmania ($15) dents the decree that decent Pinot Noir doesn’t exist for under $30, displaying ripe red fruit without being tart or overtly earthy like some of its far-more-storied Burgundian counterparts, nor dominated by brash American oak.
When the late, great Selby Henderson, former Rio Grill waiter and hard-to-impress wine extraordinaire, blind tasted another of their discoveries, the ’05 Meerlust “Rubicon” Cabernet Blend from Stellenbosh, South Africa ($26), he exclaimed, “This is delicious! It has to be from the Old World [Europe]. It’s earthy, has complexity and balance without being too fruit forward or lean.”
His description wasn’t as far off as it sounds. The Stellenbosch region is cooler than Napa, so the wines possess less obvious fruit flavors – and they’ve been cultivating Cabernet since the late 1600s, so the old vines refuse to produce watery wines. A taste of it with lamb chops might lead some to question paying steeper prices for high-end Bordeaux.
The ’06 Felton Road Riesling from Central Otago, New Zealand ($19), breaks another paradigm: namely, that German style Riesling cannot be made outside of Germany. Intensely sweet but backed by enough searing acidity to cause mild orgastic ecstacy, the Felton strikes a stark resemblance to a Rheingau Spätlese. Like Germany, N.Z. is far from the equator, so the racy acidity comes with the cool climate.
A lot of Australian Shiraz is too alcoholic, sweet or over-oaked, but not the ’07 Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz/Viognier they carry from Victoria, Australia. ($12.99). It does an illustrious impersonation of an inky Cote Rotie, but at a way cheaper price point. The wine has smoky bacon fat flavors, with intriguing black olive notes. Expect a big wine that’s not only meaty and peppery, but also soft and floral. Serve it with a cheese plate to see how the fat and tannin marry like cream and coffee.
For steak-eating citizens who like masculine wines, check the ’06 Lake Breeze Bernoota Shiraz-Cabernet, Langhorne Creek, Australia. ($19.99). Instead of displaying dead-animal flavors like some Cabernet blends from France’s St. Julien region, this tough guy shows its exotic spearmint and eucalyptus side. A grilled rib eye would flatter the wine’s already approachable tannins.
Most of the above epiphanies arrived while tasting their five-wine-flight ($10). Their spotless Spieglau stemware highlights the wine’s subtleties and helps the taster feel sophisticated. While visits are nice, they aren’t vital: Everything in store is available at www.solawines.com, and can be shipped for $1 a bottle after a peek at their in-depth tasting notes. But to miss out on the beagles, the vibe and the upside-down approach is to sacrifice a chance to better understand that out there is a great place to be.