We recently had a chance to catch up with Etty Lewenzstain of Plonk Wine Club. Etty is generally regarded as a rising star in the global wine community. She has a flair for uncovering great wine values in underappreciated wine regions. And it isn't just wine regions she will open your eyes to. There are many grape varieties that you will never find on your supermarket shelf. Etty knows which ones should be in your wine cooler.
Thankfully, Etty is sharing this gift with the members of the Plonk Wine Club. Do you love discovering great new wines? Are you an adventurous wine lover? Etty tells us she designed Plonk for you. Find out how she does it.
California Winery Advisor - Tell us how you started your career in wine.
Etty Lewenzstain - I ran the Wines of Chile marketing campaign in the US for about five years, which was my foray into every aspect of the wine industry including retail, both on and off premise, distribution, importation, trade relations, consumer relations and advertising. My interest in wine stemmed from my love of food and cooking, and once I dipped my toe into wine, that was it!
I have a Level 2 Intermediate Certification in Wine and Spirits with Honors from the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) and a Certificate in Viticulture and Vinification from the American Sommelier Association. I'm also a summa cum laude graduate of The University of Pennsylvania.
CWA - It’s clear that you have a gift for uncovering great wine values. Can you share any of your secrets?
EL - We focus on small, independent wineries from lesser known regions that produce exciting, eclectic, and authentic wines. Because oftentimes the juice is better than what you find from large, commercial wineries, the experience of drinking these sorts of wines is more exploratory and adventurous, and that’s really where the best values and discoveries are.
CWA - Do you have a favorite wine region that you feel always delivers great value?
EL - I love Etna Rosso wines from Sicily which are based on the elegant Nerello Mascalese grape, Cru Beaujolais, Mencia from Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, Spain, and I’m fascinated by the multitude of amazing indigenous varieties in Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Austria.
CWA - How about a varietal (grape type)? Are there any that you feel are really undervalued by the public?
EL - I have so many favorites, and yes, they are all undervalued by the public because they simply get very little press or "air-time."
For example: Aglianico, Alicante Bouschet, Arinto, Arneis, Assyrtiko, Blaufrankisch, Bobal, Bonarda, Canaiolo, Croatina, Dolcetto, Falanghina, Frappato, Friulano, Furmint, Gamay, Greco, Lacrima, Loureiro, Malvasia, Manzoni Bianco, Mencia, Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola, Piedirosso, Plavac Mali, Pugnitello, Refosco, Ribolla Gialla, Saperavi, Scheurebe, St. Laurent, Teroldego, Treixadura, Trepat, Verdicchio, and Zweigelt to name a few.
CWA - Are there any categories that you feel are too hot right now and therefore you pay an unnecessary premium?
Yes, Napa and Sonoma.
CWA - Can you tell us about Plonk Wine Club?
EL - When I founded Plonk Wine Club I felt there was a particular niche in the online retail wine space that hadn’t yet been filled. The vision for Plonk was to create a highly curated online wine club that specialized primarily in small production natural wines from around the world and the idea was to translate a brick and mortar “neighborhood wine shop” type of personal experience into the digital space.
At Plonk Wine Club we act as a personal wine concierge and specialize in bringing our members an expertly curated selection of artisanal, small-batch, and sustainably grown boutique wines from inspiring and diverse wine regions around the globe. Our monthly wine club shipments feature natural wines that are grown using organic and biodynamic methods, which means no pesticides or commercial additives such as colorants, acidifiers, artificial sugars, alcohol enhancements, or chemicals of any kind.
These are real, authentic wines made by passionate farmers, not by industrial manufacturers or boardroom executives from large wine industry conglomerates. We are deeply committed to featuring adventurous wines made from fascinating, lesser-known grapes that reflect their specific place of origin as well as the devoted people who hand-crafted them.
We taste through hundreds of wines in order to identify the special bottles that deserve our members' attention, tell a unique story, transport our members to a far-off destination, and that will teach them something new with each sip. Plonk Wine Club has been in business for about 8 years and is geared towards adventurous, open-minded wine drinkers who value sustainability, transparency in winemaking, and who welcome the experience of trying and learning about new truly unique wines.
CWA - What’s the toughest part of running a wine club?
EL - Attracting the right type of audience that fits our aesthetic.
CWA - One thing many people worry about is pairing food and wine. Do you have any basic guidelines you can share?
EL - Typically what grows together goes together 🙂
Look for regional foods that are native to the wine's place of origin. The protein doesn't matter as much as the preparation or the sauce, and matching the "weight" of the food and the wine is key. So certain meatier fish like salmon or tuna can be great with lighter bodied red wines, and similarly lighter meats like pork and chicken can be great with white wines.
Matching acidity is key, so pair high acid wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese with high acid foods (anything with citrus, tomatoes, vinegar, olives etc in the sauce).
CWA - Do you have a favorite all-time pairing you can share with us?
EL - I love dry or off-dry Riesling with spicy Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and Indian food. The aromatics and slight sweetness (if off-dry) can offset the heat in these cuisines beautifully.
CWA - Do you have a go-to wine you keep coming back to?
EL - I don't tend to drink the same wine over and again. It's pretty much something new every single time.