Background photo by Tom Lyons
Great Grapes

It’s rare to call a trip to the liquor store an educational experience. At Cranberry Liquors in Harwichport, owner Joe Della Morte’s knowledge of wines is as extensive as the selection offered in his store, and he is eager to help customers who come through the door with advice about the bewildering array of wine choices available on today’s market.

CAPE COD LIFE: Why do you think wine has become so popular?

Joe Della Morte: People who drink wine are looking for experiences. One of those things you can do to make a dining experience truly unique is to incorporate different wines into a meal. Each wine brings with it distinctive characteristics and it creates a nice social dining experience. I think that’s important to our culture today.

Great Grapes

CCL: How has the wine industry changed in recent years?

JDM: Today, there are a number of what you would call virtual wineries, known as négociants, an arcane term in the wine trade. These companies make wine, but don’t grow a single grape. They travel to vineyards around the world and purchase excess grapes and make exceptionally good wines.

Wineries like Cameron Hughes, Michael Pozzan, 90+ Cellars, Layer Cake—they typically put out an extremely good product for the money, but the downside is some of these wines are here today, gone tomorrow. They aren’t in control of the grapes, and they can’t be repurchased. There is a transient nature to these virtual wineries.

CCL: Talk about the strengths of white wine versus red wine. Why does white wine go so well with seafood and chicken? Why does red wine go so well with pork and meat?

JDM: Generally speaking, one is not superior to the other. Largely, it’s a matter of taste. There’s a sufficient diversity of red and white wines, so it’s not like one’s chocolate and one’s vanilla. It’s just more to individual taste than anything else.

That statement about pairing white and red wines with food is generally true, but those fairly strict rules apply less and less. I look at it this way: when pairing wine, you can either complement the food or contrast it. If you’re having a fish in a cream sauce, you might want to complement it with a creamy chardonnay. Likewise, if you have a thick, juicy steak, you can have a nice cabernet to contrast the fattiness of the meat with the tannins of the wine.

CCL: How can people best pair wine with food?

JDM: Practice, practice, practice—experimentation is your best bet. There are folks who come in and are ready and able to try anything new, and folks who can’t be talked out of their regular brand because they know it so well. It becomes an expression of their personalities, but there are more wines than we could taste in our lifetimes, which makes it fun to try new ones.

CCL: Can you describe your favorite local wines and the attributes of your choices?

JDM: In Westport, Massachusetts, there is the Westport Rivers Winery. They have an exceptional sparkling brut. It’s essentially champagne that doesn’t come from the Champagne region of France, and is as good as any sparkling brut in America.

In Pomfret, Connecticut, Sharpe Hill Vineyards makes a very nice chardonnay and a white blend, Ballet of Angels, their signature wine.

In Harwich, there is a gentleman by name of Frank Puzio who is underway founding First Crush Winery. He is currently operating a coop and is gearing up his production for entry into the retail market. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting his wine, and he is doing an incredible job.

CCL: What is the most effective way to reach people who love wine?

JDM: One bottle and one customer at a time. It’s important to develop a relationship with the customer and establish credibility, so as things change you can make recommendations and they can respond with confidence. It’s the old-fashioned way—but I still think it’s the best way.

Cranberry Liquors
555 Main Street (route 28), Harwichport
(508) 432-8250

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