If you walk into Sauvage, a new-age wine shop in The Churchill, you might say to the proprietor, Chris Lingua: "Hey man, I usually drink pinot noir from Oregon."
And he might reply: "What do you like about them?"
"They’re light and earthy," you might answer.
"Okay," he might continue, "what do you want to spend?"
“Okay,” he recently replied to a line of inquiry like this one, “I’ve got a pinot noir from Macedonia that does the trick … but that’d be too easy.”
Too easy? Yep. If Lingua senses you're game, he'll go deeper.
“If you want something light and earthy and a little more different,” he continued, “if you want the red fruits but you’re willing to give a little bit on that and go dark, or if you told me you’re eating pizza, let’s try the biodynamic Lambrusco from Italy … It’ll be effervescent, so you can throw some fat at it.”
You can drink your Lambrusco inside Sauvage, or mooning around the courtyards of The Churchill.
Sauvage is a different kind of wine shop; the 160 square feet of rectangular space is cooled to cellar temperature with air-conditioning and infinity with James Brown vinyl tunes. And Lingua is a different kind of wine salesman. He likes to talk to customers, to thoughtfully probe the contours of their wine preferences, to feel them out like jazz players lead and follow each other’s improvisation on the lighted stage.
He carries wines in tune with the zeitgeist. Natural wines. Biodynamic wines. “Least-effective-sulfur-added wines,” meaning wines with a minimal sulfur spike to stabilize flavor some.
Natural wine is the cutting edge of wine in 2018. Though they elude precise definition, natural wines are pretty much wines made with ancient spirit. Little or no additives. Minimal technology. Subject to the whims of weather and yeast. Many of the wines Lingua carries have this low-tech, low-chemical spirit in full or in part, meaning his wines may be funky and wild compared to the sulfured offerings you see for $8.99 at Fry’s.
Lingua compares his wines to the vinyl tunes twanging in his tiny shop, flowing in harmony with the sun through the plate glass. (He plays mostly soul, Motown, and ‘50s music.)
“If grocery store wines were CDs, these are records,” he says of his wine selection. “It has those pops and hissing, and you can hear the person breathing as they recorded it — that’s these wines.”
Lingua carries 40 kinds of bottles at a time. One column is $15, the next $20, then $25, then $30. When getting new bottles for the shop, he considers bottles that are “first and foremost, delicious.”
Most often, the most delicious wines to him are natural wines or wines with a minimum of added sulfur.“Delicious,” though, is Lingua’s supreme consideration. After all, some natural wines, he admits, “taste like horse piss.”
Sulfur acts as a stabilizer in wine. Without its addition, wines tend to be more variable, more in tune with the character and caprices of the land. Lingua prefers wines made using processes that are “indicative of what the vineyard gave them, [that] get out of the way of the grapes.”
Lingua grew up in Southern California. He often drove to wine country in Santa Barbara and north. After moving to metro Phoenix a decade ago, he worked as a bartender (at Clever Koi) and in wine (at Kazimierz World Wine Bar, later in distribution).
He landed his chilled nook in The Churchill after a flower shop fell through. In his first three weeks, he sold 900 bottles of wine. He switches in three or four new wines a day, substitutions that refresh some 10 percent of his stock. He lacks geographic bias but has a strong preference in taste, preferring dry wines, and only keeping one sweet wine per category.
Customers, some already regs, pop in and tell Sauvage what they like to drink.
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If they like grenache or malbec, he may direct them to a “super earthy” unfiltered pais. If they like rosé, he might steer them to a low-intervention version made with the blend of grapes that goes into cava. If they are digging something citrusy and new, he might nudge them toward Pampleau, an aperitif concocted by a bartender from Portland, Oregon.
In addition to unfortified wines, Lingua stocks a shelf of aperitifs, ports, and Madeiras.
“I wanted a way to disarm people,” Lingua says of his approach, categories, and selection. “I wanted them to feel come finding wine from outside the grocery store, to find their own library of wine.”
Sauvage. 901 North First Street, #109; 602-935-4947.
Tuesday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Monday.