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September 2010


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WINE & SPIRITS

Little Shop That Could
By Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave

IN NORWALK, THE FOLKS AT FOUNTAINHEAD WINES DON'T FOLLOW TRENDS – THEY SET THEM

[Image]
VINE FINDS
(click photo for larger view)

Often we throw around descriptors like "handpicked," "edited" and "curated," but rarely does the subject of our adulation deserve such "bespoke" credit. Recently, though, I came upon a charming wine shop that merited all these—and more.

In museum terms, Fountainhead Wines of Norwalk is a curated exhibition with a highly focused point of view. The wines, made in small case lots, hail from family-owned wineries, many in the family for generations. They are all terroir-driven—i.e. wines with a definite personality reflecting the place and particularities of the region from which they come. And mostly, they are priced at astonishing values considering their uniqueness.

When I walked into Fountainhead Wines, Mike Pelletier, the shop's curator and co-owner with partners Mark and Tony Ancona, greeted me with a chilled glass of rosé. As I sipped, Pelletier laid out his philosophy of wine, honed since the mid-eighties when he and his partners held many wine tasting dinners in Westport where they all grew up. "The less you gravitate to big heavy blockbusters, the more you appreciate elegant and balanced wines," he said. He especially likes Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Franc and northern Italian reds—Brunello and Barolos. "In this store we sell only wines that really display their terroir. I don't care about Robert Parker or Wine Spectator scores. Scores are for sports, not wine."

From the start, the partners were all about trailblazing, advocating Gruner Vetliner and Riesling, before the Austrian trend took hold. He predicts that Greek white wines will be the next thing on everyone's lips. "Moscofilero will be the next Gruner," Pelletier declared. He suspects that minerally Assyrtiko, from Santorini, is the soon-to-be-discovered next great white variety and that "reds made from the Xinomavro grape are similar to Chateauneuf du Pape. And this bottle (he held up Alpha Estate's Alpha A) is the Greek Priorat."

The Fountainhead partners make private label wines in California and Oregon. Three of their reds are made by Fred Peterson (known for his Zinfandel at Ridge in the late '70s.): Fat Cat 420, a Rhone style blend from 75-year-old vines in Mendocino ($16); Fat Cat 422, a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek in Sonoma ($19); and Cat Roti, a syrah also from Dry Creek ($22). They've added a forth, Fat Cat Cuvee ($29), a Pinot Noir from Patricia Green Cellar in Willamette Valley. (A Siamese mix cat named Sandy, who lives in the eight-year-old Fountainhead Bedford Hills branch, was the inspiration for the Fat Cat label.)

Pelletier's passion for wine is infectious. He encourages his patrons to try new wines at each visit and compiles adventurous mixed cases for them. "For the holidays we put together cases of Growers Champagne that we bring in directly," he said. Fountainhead holds monthly winemakers dinners at a space near their Norwalk restaurant and wine bar, Fat Cat Pie Co.

As Pelletier poured me a second glass of the expressive rosé, Sablet, from the Côtes du Rhône, he continued on with his handpicked finds. "Domaine Piaget is one of the best values here, Domaine Rabasse Charavin has vineyards with 100-year-old vines. Even its village wines, Cairanne ($22) or Laure ($15), are fantastic with a real sense of the garrigue—the rosemary, lavender, and juniper that grow wild everywhere in the hilly region. It gets into the soil and if there are old vines, you can just smell it in the wines," he sighs in appreciation of that enticing terroir aroma. "That is why we do this."

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