Wine Trends 2017

What's new, weird and cool in the world of viticulture? We asked Arlington sommelier Josh Radigan.

Certified sommelier Josh Radigan. Photo by Chris Langford

As a boy, Josh Radigan didn’t walk around telling everyone he wanted to be a sommelier when he grew up. Rather, he fell into his love of wine somewhat serendipitously. He was delivering room service at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond in the early ’90s when a co-worker named Gertie inspired him to branch out.

“She introduced me to a lot of Alsatian wines, Bordeaux, Burgundies,” says the Arlington native. “I thought they all tasted the same. I just didn’t have a palate for it.”

It wasn’t until he took a subsequent job in a Richmond bistro (where the owners had an affinity for Washington state wines) that his appreciation blossomed. “I always say Gertie was the one who cracked the bottle open, and [that bistro owner] was the one who told me what was inside the bottle,” he says.

Radigan eventually moved back to the D.C. area and worked under Jeffrey Buben at Bistro Bis, and later, at Tallula in Arlington, before taking the helm as food and beverage director at Washington Golf and Country Club. Now 47, he’s been at the latter post for 10 years.

Biggest wine-buying trend of the past decade? Go.

Price-wise, $30 is the new $20. The amount people are willing to spend on wine continues to increase.

What’s the next big thing?

Globalization. Ten years from now you’re going to see Chinese wines, Republic of Georgia wines, Slovenian wines on the shelves. I think you’re also going to see countries like Australia come back into the limelight. And foot pressing [yes, the age-old practice of stomping the grapes with bare feet]—you’re seeing more of that. I think winemakers are getting back to the way it used to be.

How is technology reshaping wine culture?

I used to get magazines and sit down and taste wines. Millennials have a different avenue. They’ve grown up with handheld devices that now tell them what they should and should not be drinking. They don’t really care about points and ratings. And they are less label-oriented, whereas my age group, we’re very set in our ways in what we buy.

Have you seen a surge in demand for natural wines? Meaning wines made without additives and processed with minimal intervention?

Yes. I can’t say I’m a huge supporter because it’s still in its infant stages in terms of finding the balance. But I have suggested them to some of our [club] members who have a reaction to sulfur and they love them. No headaches.

Is there a wine you hate to love?

Zinfandel. It goes against everything I believe in—balance, fruit, acid, tannins. When zin is made the way it’s supposed to, it’s like a bottle rocket. It explodes and then it’s gone. There’s a lot of alcohol behind it. It’s kind of a guilty pleasure.

Is there a wine you wouldn’t be caught dead ordering?

Pinot grigio. It’s like battery acid in my mouth. They all seem to taste the same. I don’t get it.

What would be your last-meal wine pairing?

A bottle of early 2000 Leonetti Cellar cabernet and wild mushroom risotto.

What’s the weirdest word or phrase you’ve ever used to describe a wine?

It was a bottle of Realm cabernet [in Napa], and a table had ordered it. I told them, “The tannins are going to cave the back of your head in.” Sure enough, they said, “You were exactly right.”

I once had a wine described to me as tasting like a Sharpie.

You do hear the same words over and over. It’s tough to hit the reset button and find a new way to describe wine. But why would I want to drink a wine that smells like Sharpie? I’m against that. No, thank you.

What’s your go-to bottle to bring to a party?

I typically bring a rosé—I’m a big fan—or a pinot that I’ve fallen in love with called Center of Effort. It’s a California pinot. Not expensive and not cheap [$20–$45, depending on the vintage], but really well made.

What’s your hangover cure?

I take a vitamin B-12 capsule, open it up into a glass, pour in an Emergen-C packet, add club soda and a little bit of cranberry juice. Stir and drink.

Which famous person would you most like to share a bottle with? What would you pour?

Thomas Jefferson. I would most likely pour something from Linden Vineyards. I would tell him: “You wanted to make wine, and this is what Virginia can do.”

What’s the most expensive bottle you’ve ever uncorked?

I opened a bottle of Sine Qua Non Imposter McCoy, 1997, [a syrah from Santa Barbara] at Bistro Bis. I think we sold it back in 1999 or 2000 for something like $450. [Today it retails for $700.]

Was it worth the price?
Oh, my goodness, yes. The person who bought it let me taste it. I’ll never forget it.

—interview by Rina Rapuano

Categories: Food & Drink
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