The Muscat grape has many iterations and many names across Europe, with equally varied reputations for the wines they make. The most famous Muscat for quality is called Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, and is most prevalent in Alsace and the cooler climates of Europe. Muscat of Alexandria is the most ancient, dating back to Roman times for both wine and food consumption, and is widely spread across all borders of the Mediterranean. being found in so many countries it is naturally the most renamed, and on the island of Sicily it is called Zibibbo. While the grape is more famous for producing sweeter dried grape wines, production around the city of Syracuse has increased for drier regular wines as more attention has come to the region. This bottling from an excellent organic co-operative has become a favorite over the last few years for us as it takes the grape a little more 'seriously' but still creates a super-fun wine. Lovely golden color with an immediate shot of orange zest, magnolia blossom and wildflowers on the nose, one of the more intense perfumes you will find on a wine without a lot of sugary notes backing it up. The low acidity and juiciness on the palate may make some tasters believe this is sweet, but there is less sugar here than 95% of California Chardonnays. The grape has a lot of skin texture that comes through on these drier versions and finishes with a lemon cough drop type of zesty vapor to the finish, especially when there's a bit of extra chill to it. Incredibly fun sipping or food option, great with spicier seafood dishes.
Mutation is a natural part of grape evolution and how wine styles develop. The mutation usually happens spontaneously from red grape to white grape, and once the mutation happens that individual vine and any grafted or propagated new vines from it will be white going forward. Some grapes are more prone to mutations than others, Pinot Noir probably most famously for it, with the popular mutants Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier being heavily propagated. Tempranillo Blanco is a similar mutation, but is much less famous on its own and only an occasional blending grape in traditional White Riojas. From just an educational standpoint, it's a must-try for just about everyone, as well as anyone looking for a fun white wine to mix things up over the warm season ahead. Floral white fruits aromas with a bit of tropical low acidity guava/banana tones, like it could be from a much warmer climate. The palate is soft and juicy but not low acidity as the nose would seem, with a nice lime and citrus skin zesty note to the finish that gives it a very refreshing feel. Nice with a chill on its own or paired with lighter seafood.
Several weeks ago we had the pleasure of doing a Saturday store tasting with Ancient Peaks Winery and their regional representative Jenalyn Johnson. Along with the wines we have in the store, she brought a few new and unique items from their portfolio for the staff to taste, and this was one of the standouts we had to bring in. The One Stone label was created by Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, board member and daughter of Ancient Peaks founder Karl Wittstrom. Amanda created the non-profit organization Dream Big Darling in 2018 to aid and encourage women in the wine and spirits industry, and One Stone allows them to both promote the project and put their intentions into practice. Aside from the good intentions, the wine inside the bottle is what counts, and you get exceptional quality at a very fair price. Anchored by Pinot Noir from the Ancient Peaks Santa Margarita Ranch property (more fruit from other vineyards in the Central Coast may be added in future vintages as the project grows), the nose is pure and fresh with lots of dry cherry skin and watermelon that gets more floral as it warms up. This isn't a Rose you would want to do overly chilled as it dilutes the pretty characters of good Pinot Noir. The palate is equally refreshing and dry with nice minerality and slight hints of skin tannins, showing nervy strawberry and red fruits without any sweet or candied notes. A serious Rose at a seriously good price.
We don't usually go back-to-back with wines from the same country in the Insider's Pick, as we want to spread the love around to all the interesting wines available here from around the world. But this new arrival is one of the better all-around warm weather red wine values you will find, and with the weather forecast starting to get chocked full of 80+ degree days, it might be a good time to get a few more wines like this at the ready. While the dried grape wine of the region -Amarone- is the most famous, basic Valpolicella and Valpolicella Classico are the life blood of the region and one of Italy's top sources of value. Corvina is the workhorse grape variety here, with varying amounts of Rondinella and Molinara blended in depending on the wine. This is the de facto red wine by the carafe you will find in Northeast Italy in most cafes from Verona to Venice, a wine many of the world's travelers have sampled over the last few centuries. 'Classico' refers to the original growing area designated for Valpolicella prior to a near tripling in size in the late 1960s, and also indicates a slightly higher minimum alcohol standard. Think of it as the Italian parallel to an everyday Beaujolais, refreshingly juicy and earthy, and even works well with a bit of a chill to it (or at the very least Wine Warehouse's store temperature of 60 degrees). Savory dark cherry skin and dried raspberries on the nose with a touch of anise underneath, gets prettier as it opens up but never really gets fruity. The palate has a slightly citrus tartness to the dried berry flavor, and slightly dusty light tannins to the finish. When done cooler the wine tends to be less expressive but also shows less tartness and more of the red fruits, so you can play with where your particular tastes lie. An ideal multi-purpose wine for summertime backyard dining.
Grapes are peculiar things, complicated in their subtleties and personalities. It's never as straightforward as just planting a grape in a vineyard, there are various clones and biotypes within each variety that can have an effect on the final wine flavor and quality. Most of these differences evolve (naturally or 'forced') to have vines be more productive or better resistance to environmental issues, and often the ones that show the best finished quality of wine end up being the ones with more deficiencies in these areas. Which brings us to the story of this wine, when in the 1970s many producers in the Piedmont region started to plant 'new' clones of Dolcetto that were touted as being more prolific but made a simpler wine. At the time most Dolcetto was built to be straightforward anyway and volume was more important, but some like the Vajra family preferred the older heritage clones. Over the course of six years the family collected these older clones (identifiable by their unique red stalk close to the clusters) and grafted them into parcels in their Coste di Vergne and Fossati vineyards in Barolo. The wine made from these two parcels is routinely one of the best versions of Dolcetto available, always pulling in a little extra layer of character and quality. Deep plum and cool dark fruits on the nose with a savory dried thyme note and a touch of cola, more deep and nuanced than usually found here. The palate is rich and full, soft and a bit grapey at first but getting some savory texture and a bit of fine polished tannin at the finish, and building more black cherry notes as it opens up. A great food wine, especially for those that may not like the acidity of a Nebbiolo or Barbera, and one of the best options for rich comfort foods like stews or lasagna.
A check-in on one of our personal favorites in Virginia winemaking. The Puckett family founded the winery in 2003, and for nearly 20 years the partnership between them and one of Virginia's most talented winemakers produced some of the most elegant and thoughtful wines in the state. One of their most unique wines has been their work with Pinotage, a grape originating in South Africa as a hybrid of Pinot Noir an Cinsault, and a favorite of their South African-born winemaker. In it's home, Pinotage takes on more of the Cinsault character, with a rugged Rhone-like heartiness and and a dark savoriness that can sometimes move into the funky/paint fumes/rubbery world. In Virginia, it takes on more of the Pinot Noir personality, with a silky texture and very fine tannins, yet does not have as much of the fragility issues Pinot has in our hot and humid climate. It also proved to be exceptionally age-worthy as proven in many vertical tastings over the years and getting better each year as the vines matured. This vintage is in a terrific spot right now, opening up very quickly on the nose with smoky black cherry, herbs and light coffee notes on a dark color that is just starting to show some hints of color change at the edges. The palate is surprisingly silky while still keeping its dark savory fruit flavors, earthy and Old World in character with an almost citrusy tartness to the finish. Over the hours the aromas grow and change and the fruit builds, still showing great life and plenty of years in its future.
A favorite way to find great values in the wine world is to look for wines that are 'greatness adjacent'. Often that can be something sourced from a vineyard that borders a famous site, getting a piece of the terroir and environment for a portion of the price. Many producers will also 'declassify' parts of their harvest, removing those lots from highly regarded vineyards if they feel they may weaken the quality of their top bottlings. These lots (often just younger replanted vines or lots that were left over after making a blend to a specific percentage) will go into more everyday wines that generally are not built to age nearly as long or as well. Usually the wines made are blends of multiple sites from various appellations or sold to bigger blender producers, so any distinct character is muddled. Occasionally you will have a mindful (usually smaller) producer that can make their everyday wine from one area, choosing to not supplement the volume by buying from another grower if they don't have to, and just making the wine from this declassified juice. Some of our favorite examples of this have been from our Nebbiolo Langhe producers, where the wine is 100% declassified Barolo or Barbaresco juice made without the extensive time in oak or need for cellaring. The Matrot house is one of the most noted in Meursault, with some of the largest holdings in the appellation and in most of its finest vineyards. 100% of the fruit from this 'basic' Bourgogne comes from Meursault, just from declassified lots, making this likely the least expensive opportunity to taste one of Burgundy's most distinct and touted areas. Clean in character with only a hint of oak presence, the aroma is immediately identifiable as Meursault by rich peach and that distinct hazelnut/brioche that makes many people think Meursault is oakier than it really is. Since this is a lighter than usual presentation of Meursault fruit you also get a bit more apple and citrus on the nose. The palate is likewise lighter and zippier, a lot more bright apple to the finish without the luxurious extraction, but still shows nice natural weight and round pear tones. This wine absolutely has that 'Aha! THAT'S what Meursault is!' character, especially when tasted beside a Macon or other similarly priced Bourgogne, and with the real deal generally starting at 2x this price or more, what a great deal to enjoy it!
The volcanic Canary Islands off the coast of Spain are famous for their spectacular beaches and rugged interior terrain, long considered one of the great tourist destinations in Europe. Their wine is growing in fame as well, but it's rare to find much in the way of value to start exploring them. The local grapes are very unique to the island, and the land is harsh and demanding, often planted vine by vine in small hollows with a small wall set in front to protect it from prevailing winds. Yields are low and everything in these vineyards have to be done by hand, so while the results are unique and of very high quality it's rare to find a true value. Which is why this producer's wines are such a treasure, delivering the Canary Island experience for a very fair price. Listan Negro is the primary grape on the island and in this wine as well, along with a bit of Tintillla, grown in some of the highest vineyards on Gran Canaria island. Dark and savory with very little oak aging to allow the natural rustic character to show through, the nose is full of smoky dark fruit and bitter herbs that get more peppery as the wine opens up. The texture is full but not as ripe as many Spanish wines, keeping the dark smoky flavors going with an earthiness that evokes the volcanic soils in the vineyards, yet finishes with more polished fine tannins than you would expect from all the rustic edges in the rest of the wine. These islands hold some of the oldest vines in Europe and the most unique wines from the Mediterranean, and tasting this may well fuel your interest in pursuing them, but this is a great place for everyone to start the journey.
Many people will think that the natural wine movement is a very recent thing, but that is incorrect, or at the very least an incomplete way of looking at it. Throughout the major winemaking regions of Europe there are vineyards and family producers that have been following many of these practices for multiple generations, and have deviated very little from what has worked for them over the years. Terms like 'Organic' or 'Biodynamic' didn't change anything about their process, simply described what they had already been doing. For many it's just the way things have always been done, and both time and science have confirmed their ways to be both sustainable and healthy for their vineyards. Domaine Guion is quietly considered one of the leaders of the post-WWII wine development, establishing their Bourgueil farm in the early 1950s that marries polycultural and holistic farming practices with winemaking, using organic methods well before certification was introduced in the mid-80s. Over time they have emphasized the winemaking more in their farm and increased their vineyard planting, now making one wine from their younger vines and their 'Cuvee Prestige' from their older vines that approach 80 years of age. After spending 12 months in large neutral barrels, this bottling also ages in a network of shared local caves once used as a hiding space for resistance fighters in WWII. One of the prettiest aromas you will find for a Loire Cabernet Franc, full of earthy red fruits and violets, with the native yeasts used in fermentation bringing out a tart cranberry note and a touch of muskiness. On the palate the fine silky tannns of Cabernet Franc are on great display, super polished and carrying the racy red fruits along, bright at first with some deeper raspberry and cherry skin tones coming through as it opens up. This has the appealing signatures of a good natural wine without verging into the realm of 'unclean', making for a very versatile food wine that can handle some heartier red meats but is still soft enough with the tannins to pair with roasted chicken or pork.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2021 BOSMAN FAMILY VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON WELLINGTON 'GENERATION 8' $16.99
South Africa is consistently a great source of value and quality in their wines, but is also growing to develop a strong progressive culture both in the vineyards and the society at large. Scholarships to promising native African students has provided strong involvement in the sciences and agriculture, bringing outstanding new voices into the industry, including some of the most important female figures in the business. The Bosman Family Vineyards are in their 8th generation at their Wellington farm, with the winemaking primarily female led and based in both environmental sustainability and social responsibility. This is a winery that truly practices what it preaches, and the value of the wines do not suffer for it in the least. A little quiet on the nose at first, the aromas get rolling after a few minutes in the glass with lots of dried cherry, raspberry and dusty cocoa with very little oak presence. The palate is very pure and naturally earthy, not to the point of mirroring Bordeaux but with the skin tannin bringing out the drier fruit notes and leaving a persistent dark finish. Excellent daily drinker that will go well with all sorts of hearty meals, and shows well the next day if you want to split it into two nights of fun.
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!