Malbec is the dominant grape variety across the Mendoza region of Argentina, but it isn't the only game in town. Nor should it be, with the subtle diversity of soils and climates available among the more obvious and dramatic changes in elevation along the Andes Mountains. One of our favorite producers, Bodegas Catena, has been at the forefront of exploring this diversity, most prominently in their 'Maps' label series. Each wine showcases one of the many subregions with a variety that benefits the most from that terroir, which does include a couple Malbecs, of course, but also explores the likes of Chardonnay, Bonarda, and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the case of San Carlos, they focus on the mix of clay and sandy soils that tend to aid in giving wines a brighter and more floral character, a perfect setting for Cabernet Franc. Vibrant red in the glass and a bit of a modern aroma of darker raspberry fruit and a touch of oak at first, but quickly gets more floral and savory with spice and hints of cut green peppers. The palate is impressively bright and vibrant with plenty of complexity and staying power, surprisingly also light on its feet and allowing the fruit to be pretty without trying to saturate your taste buds. Definitely a New World version of Cabernet Franc, but it learned some important lessons from the great regions of the Loire and has some great food pairing capabilities.
The Alto Piedmonte wine region was once considered the equal of Alba and Asti, with their most famous Nebbiolo based wines (Gattinara, Boca, Ghemme) just as prized as Barolo and Barbaresco. The phylloxera blight of the late 1800s put a sizeable dent in the region's production, and after World War II much of the population left rural life for the hopes of finding work in Milan, reducing the region to less than 5% of its original vineyard acreage. Recent decades have seen a gradual return for both agriculture and vineyards here, especially around the improvement and exposure of their more 'everyday' wines using the Vespolina grape. Parallel in many ways to the Barbera grape further south, Vespolina is brighter in fruit, softer in tannin, and generally more approachable for wines than Nebbiolo (also called Spanna here). The cooler climate really kicks up the brightness of the fruit and makes it easier to producer wines at lower alcohol levels while still achieving great complexity. This is a bottling we have carried in many vintages, and this is likely their best to date. Unoaked but full of natural cedar-y aromas, along with peppery red berry and dried fruits, very savory at first and gaining some warmth and spice as it opens. The palate is bright, almost quenching with tart cranberry fruit and herbs, light and dusty on the finish, immensely easygoing and full of food pairing possibilities.
The Grenache Blanc grape has long been a workhorse white wine grape in Southern France and along the Mediterranean, made most famous by its featured use in White Chateauneuf-du-Pape but quite present throughout the warmer growing regions. In its original growing areas, the plantings have reduced some in recent years, losing ground to increased red grape demand and yield issues that tends to be easier to be easier for bulk production. In that same time Grenache Blanc has been on the rise in the New World areas that have earned fame for doing well with other Rhone varieties, such as California, Washington, South Africa, and of course Australia. The winemakers in these regions have also helped the grape buck its long-standing reputation for making low acidity, 'fat' wines that need to be blended with high acidity grapes; with freshness and lower alcohol becoming more emphasized, picking Grenache Blanc early can make fantastic offerings like this one all on its own. Lovely peach and white flower aromas right from the start, but also with a hint of lime and minty coolness, especially when first out of the fridge, never heady or overtly tropical. The palate is equal parts round and vibrant, loads of white fruits and crunchy pear at first that gets more green apple-y the longer it sits in your mouth, finishing quite bright and zesty with a light green apple skin tannin note. A great wine to have on hand for seafood or lighter white meat dishes that need a wine with some body, or whenever Spring decides to roll into town for us.
There is ALWAYS something new to learn in wine, always a reason to taste something that will challenge your expectations. Much of the recent red wine explosion from the Douro and Dao regions in Portugal has evolved around developing more robust and hearty wines, which grapes like Touriga Nacional are more than capable of producing. Here, and in other parts of the world where Touriga is planted, its reputation for adding intensity to the flavor of great Port is also sought in the unfortified red wines, usually resulting in sappy, extracted and naturally tannic wines. The surprisingly cool and dry alpine areas within the Dao provides a much different opportunity for the grape, more similar to the capabilities of Syrah in the Northern Rhone to provide elegance and refinement. Winemaker Carlos Raposo is a native of the Dao region, and after years making acclaimed still wines for the famed Niepoort's Port house has moved on to create his own label focused on making his own wines from the oldest vineyards in the Dao. Dark plummy fruit at first on the nose with some smoky spice and dark pepper notes, and with the lighter (13%abv) character always staying on the more savory side of the street. The palate is almost a revelation for Touriga Nacional, truly elegant with very fine tannins and no extracted weight to the fruit, bordering on refreshing with no oak present. The nerve and fine dryness on the finish absolutely validates the comparison to a Northern Rhone Syrah, just with a little different fruit profile. Great multi-purpose food wine and a definite sign of things to come from producers in the region.
The Rhone is probably our favorite wine region for finding diversity in character, even among what should be similar tasting basic or 'value' wines. There are a lot of grape varieties permitted for use, to start with, so you have an almost endless flavor palate to choose from. Add to that the immense geological variations, temperatures, and winemaking styles to bring shading even to the same grape grown all over, like Grenache. This bottling comes to us from one of our long time favorite producers, made from old vine Grenache sourced from the foothills of Mount Ventoux on the eastern edge of the Rhone (still close enough to cast its shadow on Avignon). It's intention is to be made in an approachable easy drinking style but with exceptional quality fruit; and when we say 'easy', we mean eeeaaasssssyyyyyyy. Almost TOO easy. Juicy dark kirsch cherry and soft raspberry with a hint of herb and black pepper to the nose, with the fruit getting more briary on the palate. Initially the texture is mouthfilling and almost Pinot-y soft, but the fine tannins and sense of structure from the older vines come through to give a more savory finish than expected and keep it from feeling weighty. Not overly complex, but never boring, you will want to have this on hand to enjoy with great frequency.
New vintage of an old favorite, and one of the wines that first drew us to the Mary Taylor selection of wines. The project aims to source fruit from small quality growers and make value oriented wines that represent the identity of the appellation or region. Each wine comes from a single source of grapes, and the name of the producer shares recognition on the labels (Sophie Siadou here) as a partnership. Along with wines from the more famous regions, they do an excellent job of shining the spotlight on regions like Valencay that consumers rarely see on their shelves. South of the Loire along the banks of the Cher River and off the beaten track of the famous tourist cities, they are probably more known for their ashen goat cheese than the wines. There aren't any blockbuster high level producers here, so everything is made to be at an everyday level of consumption and pricing, which is just how we like them. The blend of grapes here is also a bit unexpected, combining the softer stylings of Gamay and Pinot Noir with the relative heartiness and tannic nature of Malbec (here called Cot), but here they meld quite nicely. Savory, almost peppery herbal nose over dry black cherry and red fruits that build a little juiciness as it opens up. Unique combination of polished first notes on the palate with fine tannins coming in quickly afterwards, the Gamay and Pinot give the body and fruit, while the Malbec hits on the finish. Last time we referred to this as a 'backdoor Burgundy', a wine for those that like the earthier and more structured side of Pinot Noir. That style remains, and for those that enjoy it will remain an excellent value.
The 'Governo' method of fermentation is a remnant from the earliest times of winemaking, originally done to fix a specific problem but now used as a fun way to make a wine taste good. The process involves adding a small portion of grape clusters dried after harvest back into the fermentation tanks, initially done to provide extra sugar for the yeasts if they start to slow or get 'stuck' before fermenting the wine as dry as they wanted. Nowadays there are a lot more precise and efficient ways to avoid this problem, but adding the dried grapes in does give the wine a little more texture and dark fruit; not as intensely as a Ripasso or Apassimento wine (which soak the dried grapes longer to get more tannins extracted out), but just enough to plump it out a bit. A deeper ruby color and a bit less transparent in te glass than your usual Tuscan red at this price point, as well as some extra blackberry and currant on the nose over the Tuscan herb and dried spice aromas that are such Chianti earmarks. The palate has great polish and weight without feeling gritty, showing nice dark fruit that gets dry and dusty on the finish. Easy and fun for traditional Italian fans with no new oak presence at all, just Tuscan goodness at a great price.
INSIDER'S PICK: THIBAUT-JANISSON VIRGINIA SPARKLING WINES 'VIRGINIA FIZZ'-$26.99 'VIRGINIA BRUT'-$31.99 'VIRGINIA BLANC de BLANC EXTRA BRUT'-$34.99
Pulling out the stops for our last Insider's Pick of the year, so we wanted to get it out a little earlier than usual to make sure you cleared enough time in your busy schedule to make it down here either tomorrow or Friday. Owner/ winemaker Claude Thibaut will be with us Thursday from 2:30-4:30 to taste and discuss his wines with you, but we will have all three of these wines available for tasting both Thursday and Friday, with our usual Insider's Pick discounts available for all the wines both days. This is a great chance to get your bottles ready for New Years Eve at some excellent by-the-bottle pricing.
Priorat is a Spanish wine growing region that doesn't pop up that much on the radar of most casual consumers. The small rugged Catalonian valley was long known for the Scala Dei monastery (or priory, called Priorato in Spanish), with vines barely hanging onto the loose rocky soils and uneven slopes. The potential here was largely untapped until the late 1980s when a group of winemakers collectively invested in developing some of the oldest properties into modern success stories. These 'Gratallops Pioneers' raised the reputation of the region tremendously, as well as the price pouints for their wines, and because it's such a difficult area there really is no way for there to be plantings for inexpensive wines. The Black Slate bottlings are the rare exception, thanks to importer Eric Solomon who was among the very first to investigate and export wines from Priorat (even marrying one of the original Gratallops Pioneers). Using his connections and continuous presence here they have been able to assemble several bottlings named for the nearby towns that represent the appellation's terroirs, in much the same way you would in Burgundy making a Meursault or Volnay wine. Sourced from vineyards around the original Scala Dei monastery, this bottling is traditionally dominated by Grenache with a decent portion of Cabernet Sauvignon and older vine Carignan, making the more elegant of the four bottlings. 'Elegant' being a relative term, of course. Currant, raspberry and cherry skin aromas with a bit of black tar and earth in the background, very Rhone-like (not surprising) but with a bit of Spanish wildness. Fleshy and bold on the palate but with more bright red fruit appearing than is on the nose, even bright and surprisingly refreshing with any oak presence exceptionally well integrated at this stage. A great value for the region as are all the bottling in the project, great to feature with any hearty meals this season.
One of the great things about the world of wine is that there are always new ways to look at things, a different spin that can put a completely different character into a varietal or region. It's always risky going against the grain, especially when you only have one shot each harvest to get things right, so we always admire the bold strokes when they are taken. Malvasia is a prominent grape across much of Europe, known for the intense perfume wherever it goes. More often than not the easier way to go with it is to make the wine sweeter to play up the floral character, so Malvasia has the reputation of being sweet pretty much everywhere it goes. One of the tenets of the 'minimal intervention' winemaking movement-of which Birichino is one of the top names in California-is making wines with brighter acidity and lower alcohol levels, which tends to also make for drier wines. In their hands grapes like Malvasia can have a whole new impact. On first pour the famous perfume is evident, loaded with hot house flowers, white peach and magnolias, but freshness without any sort of candied notes. The palate is round but full of white citrus skin and lime zest, lively and mouth-watering with acidity instead of sweet fruit sticking to the end. Elegant enough for delicate seafood dishes and can handle loads of more exotic flavor combinations with your more subtle meat and vegetable dishes.
The Best of the Best.
We offering free tastings on these wines in the store every Thursday and Friday, and a 10% discount off the retail price through the duration of the day. Come on by and give them a try!