City Center Wines Expands Palates With First Sommelier-Guided Tasting 

Local sommelier Joseph DiGrigoli came to love wine while working in fine dining restaurants in San Francisco and New York. Prestigious, yes, but the environment wasn't always conducive to connecting with patrons and helping them find a great-tasting bottle.

"When you work in that job, it's about meeting customers in the middle. I would want to recommend something unique, but the job is more about giving the customers what they want," DiGrigoli said. "Here, it's a little more free-rein."

click to enlarge SKYLAR BARSANTI
  • Skylar Barsanti

"Here" is City Center Wines, the shop at the corner of Sixth and Main streets in downtown Boise. DiGrigoli, a customer and friend of the shop's sibling owners, David Hansen and Linda Lloyd hosted its first guided wine tasting, "The Spirit of Place" in May.

On a Tuesday night, the shop was packed with guests for the first tasting. Some were regulars, others were first-time visitors. All were prepared to expand their palates and experience what this intimate Boise locale had to offer.

City Center Wines has called its spot between the Travel Centre and Wiseguy Pizza Pie home since November 2016. It's easy to miss, but Hansen and Lloyd are hoping "The Spirit of Place" can change that.

"There are people who would love our shop, but they don't know we're here yet," Hansen said.

Since they opened, Hansen and Lloyd have lined their shelves with an eclectic collection of wines from around the world. Walking in, it's easy to see their selection is wide, but it never feels overwhelming. That's because Hansen and Lloyd aren't just picking bottles to sell at random: They're working to share the philosophy that each bottle reflects the spirit of where it was made and the people who made it.

"We knew we wanted to start a business with products on the shelf we weren't seeing in Boise," Hansen said. "We're attracted to smaller, family-owned estates, where there's a lot of human contact, hand-picked grapes and clean wine."

Selection aside, Hansen and Lloyd know they're not the only wine shop in town, so creating a great experience is one of their top priorities. Human contact and personal relationships are as important to the shop as they are to each bottle Hansen and Lloyd bring in. They make a conscious effort to choose producers who care about the natural process of wine-making.

click to enlarge SKYLAR BARSANTI
  • Skylar Barsanti

"We try to avoid what we call 'recipe' wines, where the wine tastes the same, vintage after vintage," Hansen said. "That's simply not possible, because wine is an agricultural product."

City Center Wines welcomes customers to taste-test that point of view. "The Spirit of Place" encourages wine lovers to ditch their comfort zones and sample underrated producers.

"Knowing how a wine is made is secondary to finding something that tastes delicious and sharing it with people," DiGrigoli said. "Anyone with a vineyard can make a bottle of 'Two Buck Chuck'-style wine. It's not hard. To me, it's much more interesting to taste wines that are different and flawed."

Speaking quickly and enthusiastically, DiGrigoli opened the event with a L'Hereu sparkling wine from a Spanish producer whose family has been farming the same land since 1497. From there, guests sampled a semi-dry white from Vouvray, France, a young orange wine (a whole-grape style of white) from southeast Sicily and an Austrian red Zweigelt. The night concluded with a Spanish red from Lopez de Heredia, a producer that releases wines only when they're ready. The entry-level bottle was a decade old, and it was Heredia's latest offering.

click to enlarge SKYLAR BARSANTI
  • Skylar Barsanti

Throughout the night, DiGrigoli smelled, swirled and profiled each glass of what he called "tasty, tasty juice." He only paused to acknowledge what guests experienced. Whether it was hints of apple or notes of oak and peppered salami, every answer was worth exploring.

"We didn't special order the tasting selection for the event," DiGrigoli said. "You can get [the wines] any time. Each was a bottle David and I genuinely love, and that's why places like this mean so much to me. They build a community of people who are drinking interesting wine and allowing it to flourish where it's least expected."

Both City Center Wines and, on a smaller scale, "The Spirit of Place," present Boiseans with opportunities to experiment and explore new flavor profiles without putting off anyone who isn't as knowledgeable about the product.

"I don't ever want to browbeat people," DiGrigoli said. "If I recommend something at an event like this, I'm saying 'I like this, and I hope you do too. If you don't, that's fine.' What matters, at the heart, is people trying to make something that can be mysterious cool and fun."

Hansen added, "Most people know more about wine than they give themselves credit for. Whether you know a lot about wine or not, you're already an expert in what you like and don't like. Once we get a sense of that, we can guide you to something similar. We might even help you push your boundaries."

Hansen and Lloyd are conscientious shop owners, but they know there's still a lot to learn. Since opening their City Center Wines, they've found the wine world is bigger than they realized, and Boise is carving out its own place in it.

"Boise is right on the cusp of having a really cool wine scene," DiGrigoli said. "Is it Portland? Is it New York? No. But can it be really, really cool? I think it can, and I think these guys are at the center."

City Center Wines is located at 574 W. Main Street. They're open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. The next "Spirit of Place" events (Tuesday, June 12, and Tuesday, June 26, at 6 p.m.) will guide guests through a taste of Italy. Admission is $20 per person and space is limited, so stop by to reserve your seat or call David and Linda at 208-972-3385.

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