Nancy is a freelance writer, with a broad range of knowledge of the wine world. She writes restaurant reviews for Sante Magazine and recently published a how-to book on making mead. Nancy has held several wine tasting dinners at Pangaea and previously ran the Bennington Wine Meetup. Since this interview, Nancy started her own, come-to-you wine tasting business called “Couch + Cork.” Look for a follow up post with a review of her fantastic in-home wine tasting service!
Pangaea: Tell us who you are and where you’re from.
Nancy Koziol: I’m Nancy Koziol. I’m from the New York city area. I came up here when I was 16 for a summer camp and I fell in love and I always said to myself, someday I’ll live in Bennington. So, here I am!
P: How did you end up in Bennington?
NK: I left a teaching job, I was working for the New York City public schools in my young 20s and just living the New York City lifestyle and it was getting kind of crazy and I needed to grow up and get the hell away. And I didn’t want to go too far and I didn’t want to go where I didn’t know anyone so I said “now is the time”. So, I moved here when I was 25 and started teaching at the middle school and then I left in 2007 for a job with the national teacher’s union. That was a rough job, so Kris (my husband) and I waited for like 8 years and then we came back in 2015.
P: You came back to Bennington so obviously you like it, and we love being a part of this community so we are always interested in finding out what certain people who have relocated here on purpose, what one of their favorite things about Bennington is.
NK: Probably the access to nature for us. There are amazing people that we love and that’s really important but I find there is cool people everywhere. One of the things about Bennington is that it’s a community that’s surrounded by nature so we can just walk out our front door and get to a trail head, but also like-minded people who are into hiking and being outdoors and are interested in being stewards of the environment. We really like that. Plus it’s only 3 and a half hours from New York City. So, you get your dose of city but you don’t have to deal with that full time.
P: How did you get your start in the wine business, what made you fall in love with wine?
NK: So how I got my start was a complete mistake, but I ended up falling in love with it. When I quit my job, I said to my husband “I think I’m going to quit my job and write freelance. I’ve always written and I’m a good writer and I’ve always wanted to be a writer.” And he said “I just want to go back to Bennington, I’ll start packing now I don’t care what you do”. And so, we kind of just winged it. I think I gave notice in December and I was going to work through April, but I immediately started picking up freelance gigs. At first, I started writing travel articles and they were just really listicle-y and kind of boring and I just didn’t like them and this guy had a job posting to write the S section of a wine glossary and the money was incredible and I thought anyone can write a glossary, I can do that. So I took the job and I did it and as I did it I didn’t know there were all of these terms and it kind of led into these rabbit holes and I wanted to know more. He liked what I did and he said do you want to do another letter, and I said yeah, and he said well do you want to do four letters, and I said yeah, and he said well how about these 18 letters I haven’t gotten done and I said absolutely. After that he started teaching me about SEO and more about blogging. In the beginning I was mostly writing about politics and wine and the law and wine and a lot on scandal, like wine fraud* and counterfeit wine and what different countries are doing to help protect them. Then slowly I realized I needed to get more into understanding wine in the traditional sense and that’s when I started the WSET (Wines and Spirits Educations Trust) program. It’s based in London and it’s a good place to start if you’re not quite sure which path you’re going to go down. If you’re going to write about wine, if you’re going to go into the service industry, if you’re going to open a wine shop, it covers kind of everything. And so, I started that and I was able to skip level one because at that point I already had a pretty broad knowledge just from teaching myself from writing. For me, it’s really important when I write that I’m the authority not just because I sound like one but because I actually learned what I needed to learn. So, I just took my level three and it will be a little while before I get the results, but that is really the step before people decide what they really want to do. From there a lot of people will try to get into the court of master sommeliers. I think after I finish three, I will try to go for my diploma, which is a multiyear program. So instead of doing all the grapes at once and all the regions at once you do units. So, I think that’s next. I don’t know, I don’t want to be a somm. I will never be able to blind taste the way you need to be a master somm. It’s like a superpower.
*Pangaea note: Watch Sour Grapes, a great documentary about one of the biggest counterfeit wine scandals.
P: Of the wines you’ve had at Pangaea, which has been your favorite?
NK: Well I love the Banfi, the 99 Banfi, it’s an Italian red (Pangaea carries the Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, a 100% Sangiovese). And then we were in for a tasting, we did one of those four course prix fixe, we did a vegetarian one. The Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Theo (The Cuvee Theo is an Alsatian Gewurztraminer. We served the 2002 vintage). I’m never really one to say I dislike any wine, but that to me was one of the most interesting and the thing that really stuck out too was you can’t find wine like that on wine lists in Bennington. So that’s one of the reasons I can look to Pangaea as some place to go and even if I’m at The Lounge I always ask for the main wine list because there is so much you can do with flavor and texture and everything else, you know, varietal and year, that we just don’t have exposure to anywhere else. But that one I think is a really memorable. We had it with the eggplant curry and it was like “wow”. It’s like honey and springtime and it’s just wonderful.
P: If you were to recommend two wines (red and white) to a novice wine drinker out there, what would be your “gateway” wines?
NK: Can I do a red, white, and a rose? Because I don’t want to leave out one of my favorites. So, for red, my favorite region in France is Chateau-nufe-du-pape. They make exceptional red wine. They are complex. The mouthfeel is really interesting and they stand up to really good food and people will always look at the sticker and say oh it’s kind of pricey for a bottle, but my thing is Chateau-nufe-du-pape pairs beautifully with a bacon cheeseburger. So, you can get that for takeout and just invest in a bottle of this wine. And you can find some for like $30 bucks, they’re not all crazy, but they are grown varietals, so usually a GSM blend, or grenache-syrah-mouvedre, sometimes carignan. And I think it’s the perfect example of red wine.
For white…white is so hard because so many people say they “don’t like white.” People always say “I’m a red wine drinker. I don’t like white” and I think that’s because someone gave them [bad] pinot grigio one time. Let’s fix that. So, I don’t like an overly oaky chardonnay. I’d stay away from probably all chardonnay, but definitely a California chard unless it was a high-quality producer. Then I’m thinking of the whites I like that are super funky and would scare someone away even more. So probably a $16 bottle of chenin blanc. Something that’s crisp, but not pinot grigio, that’s complex but not chardonnay. Or a Chablis, which is chardonnay, not oaked. I would do Chablis or Chenin blanc and I’d say you could stay under $20 and I think that really turns people around on the idea of white wine.
Then for rose, it would definitely be a sparkling rose from Limoux, which is a region in France where sparkling wine was created, accidentally by the monks and the story goes Don Perignon was passing through on his way to Champagne and discovered it and thought “oh, this is really cool, this is what I’m going to do.” So, you can get exceptional sparkling wines from Limoux for like $39 a bottle that would rival some of the best from Champagne. But the roses are particularly nice because they’re not sweet. They have a great flavor, and they have a native grape called mauzac, and you can get them made out of that or they use more traditional grapes, they use pinot noir, but they’re a really good way if you love champagne and you want to build a cellar but you don’t want to invest in champagne, you could buy a bottle of Krug for hundreds or you could buy a Limoux, and people are always shocked. I did a class at the country club on kind of learning how your palate works with wine and learning how to decipher this is acidity, these are tannin, this is alcohol and learning the start of a wine but also so you can start thinking more about pairing. And there was a man there and he said “oh I love champagne” and I said “you should try Limoux” and he said “no I’m so sick of people telling me I should try this other thing.” And I said “just try it.” The class was two weeks and the second week I actually brought a bottle and he said “okay, you win, it’s really good.” It’s kind of the same story with the Chateau-nufe-du-pape (region). You can get Gigondas (another regional wine) at a lower price point and get pretty much the same thing. Any southern Rhone blend, and now they’re doing southern Rhone blends in California and Washington state and those are pretty good too. Right now, Walla Walla is on my hot list. The thing is, the Spanish are buying it up, the French are buying it up, they’re buying the land so you know they’ve got good grape growing climate and land in Washington.
P: So you seemed really passionate about the Chateau-nufe-du-pape answer and about the sparkling rose, the Limoux. But you said your taste in whites leans towards something a little more funky. So, for someone more adventurous, what kind of white would you recommend?
NK: So, my favorite thing right now is skin contact white, it’s also called orange wine. I wrote a blog post about this and I made an info graphic and it’s the only info graphic that should ever see the light of day. A lot of people hear orange wine and they think fermented orange juice. And they think no, no way. So, what it actually is is when you make red wine, what a lot of people don’t realize, that the juice is actually clear just like it is for white wine and what gives it its color and tannin is actually sitting in contact with the skins. When you make rose, you use a red grape but you leave it in contact for a lot less time and that’s why it only gets pink and it’s a lot lower tannin. Well an orange wine is the opposite. So instead of rose where you make a red wine in the style of making a white wine, you make a white wine in the style of a red. So a white wine, when you leave the skins and stems and everything in contact like you would a red, develops this really beautifully coppery color, kind of like in that Alsace (the Cuvee Theo), but this happens much sooner, it doesn’t take aging to do that. And they also develop tannin. So, you get a white wine that is sometimes tannic, is a lot bolder on the palate, has a much richer color. The two places that are doing it best in my opinion are the Finger Lakes and the north fork of Long Island. You will see them in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, those are really funky. There’s a guy in Williamstown who has a bottle shop, he’s West’s Wines, he has a lot of Italian orange wines and Greek orange wines. But I think if you’re just trying them, looking for a Gewurztraminer, a chardonnay or a Riesling from the Finger Lakes or a Gewurztraminer from the north shore of Long Island, they really know what they’re doing. They’re really creating them so that you still know it’s a chardonnay. You’ll be drinking it and think wait is this a chardonnay? It’s so weird, it’s so tannic, it’s so this and so that. So those are my favorite and they’ve kind of been right below the radar. If you google orange wine, every once in a while you’ll get an article because some wine writers have taken the risk. They get looked down on a lot, like hipster wines, but probably the first grape wines were orange wines so it’s kind of coming back and they are kind of hipster but the thing is they pair so differently with everything else that I think when people say red, white, rose we should be saying red, white, rose, orange because at some point it’s going to explode. I predicted it would be 2015 but it wasn’t. I need to set my sights a little further down the road and keep proselytizing because I’m like an evangelical. When I go to a party, I always bring a bottle of orange wine.
Below, check out what Nancy’s got going on, especially couch+cork if you are looking for something special for your next get together.