A Spirited Conversation: A Sommelier's Take - an Interview with Michelle Foletta Bell

Mar 07, 2022 at 11:56 am by RMGadmin

Here at City Winery Nashville, we respect the history and heritage of Tennessee whiskey and want to pay homage in the best way we know how: by showcasing it in our wine! Every sip of the Old Thoroughbred Cabernet Sauvignon contains a taste of whiskey history. Thanks to our head winemaker, Michelle Foletta Bell, we can offer this unique and noteworthy bottle for both the wine enthusiast and whiskey aficionado to appreciate. 
A California native, Michelle Foletta Bell was born with a spirited passion for winemaking’s history, art, and skill. She brings eight years of experience in the industry to City Winery Nashville as our local head winemaker.
After tasting her way through major wine regions around the world, Foletta Bell studied wine with the Guild of Sommeliers and started her career in winery tasting rooms across California. She worked in the Paso Robles AVA near the St. Lucia Mountain range and managed the wine club, commercial sales and harvest logistics at Tanner Vineyards, a boutique winery in the Sierra Foothills. While she loved working with customers, her joy has always been in the hands-on process of winemaking. In October of 2017, Michelle jumped at the chance to move to Nashville and join the City Winery winemaking team. 
As the City Winery Nashville Marketing Manager, I had an opportunity to sit down with Michelle to find out more about her and this interesting Cabernet now available at City Winery Nashville.

Founded in New York City in 2008 by Michael Dorf, City Winery delivers a unique combined culinary and cultural experience to urban wine enthusiasts. Each City Winery offers intimate concerts, food and wine seminars, private event spaces, upscale dining, and a fully functioning winery. Check out the Nashville location for intimate concerts, locally made wine, good food and unforgettable private events! Learn more at citywinery.com.


When did you start thinking about the concept of the Old Thoroughbred Cabernet?
MFB: My inspiration to age wine in whiskey barrels had begun about six years ago when, on a whim, I ordered an Old Vine Spanish Syrah aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels online. I was so intrigued by this process and kept it in the back of my mind. Then, years later, in 2018, we acquired some barrels from our friends over at Belle Meade Bourbon/Greenbrier Distillery, and I knew what a cool concept it would be, especially locally.
How did you combine your knowledge of wine with the history of TN whiskey?
MFB: Wine and whiskey have a few things in common, but the biggest standout to me was Oak. The character it provides for whiskey and wine is essential and very stylistic. Tennessee has a rich history of making whiskey, and the traditions and methods have been unchanging over the years. Much of this celebration of tradition is similar to winemaking.
What flavors do the whiskey barrels add to the wine that you wouldn’t taste without them?
MFB: The biggest difference between whiskey and wine barrels is the toast level. Most wine barrels are either light, medium or high toast, while whiskey barrels have more of a char to them. This char gives the wine a much more intense and deeper flavor, one that expresses the quality of the oak a little more than you’d expect. The char also acts as natural filtration to the wine, which adds a bit of clarity to the eye, something I hadn’t thought of until we were going through the process of aging.
What meals/snacks would you pair this wine with?
MFB: Food is such a wonderful asset when you’re enjoying wine. Big and tannic wines like this one do well when paired with heavier fat or cream-driven dishes. Sometimes it is hard to know what the right pairing can be, but I always suggest mirroring what you are drinking with what you eat. For instance, I love to pair bold wines with bold flavors. Something this big and rich can stand up to a lot of different dishes–think coffee-rubbed rib eye, fried brussels sprouts, flourless chocolate cake and even a cigar. For something especially fun, have a shot of whiskey as a sidecar. This is also an ideal wine to enjoy with cheeses and cured meats; go for soft and rich cheeses or hard, nutty ones like gruyere. For cured meats, think coppa and a pepper-crusted salami.
Give three description words of the Old Thoroughbred?
MFB: Rich, whiskey and toffee.
Inspiration behind the label?
MFB: Our goal with this label was to show off Tennessee. I visited Uncle Nearest Distillery back in early 2021 while it was still under construction, and they have a beautiful collection of Tennessee walking horses. They’re popular riding horses due to their calm disposition, smooth gaits and sure-footedness. We loved the idea of pairing this horse with our Tennessee barrels. As an extra little nod, I ended up having the horse on this label look like one of my dogs, Lucy. With each lot, we hope to feature a different distillery and a different dog with that.