A good week to be a Fiano fan, as we also featured one in our newly released Select Six for March/April. The grape has decent presence throughout the Southern end of Italy, but it reaches its greatest heights in the mountains above Naples (pun intended) alongside the Greco di Tufo and Taurasi DOCs. Volcanic soils are prevalent here as they are adjacent to the famous Mount Vesuvius, but their location high in the mountains make these vineyards distinct in the intensity and complexity. Fiano has the reputation for making the most ageworthy white wines in this area, often drawing parallels to Chablis for its combination of texture and minerality. Lots of crisp apple, citrus peel and cut hay on the nose that gets richer as it opens up but doesn't get into the tropical or heady side of things. The palate has loads of texture, and is where I can really see the Chablis comparison, with lots of pulpy mouthfeel and skin tannin, finishing with bright lemon/lime minerality that's not quite the chalky intensity of Chablis but approaches it. Sunny and enjoyable, this works as a fantastic match to richer, creamier seafood and poultry dishes, as well as citrusy seasoned white meats.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2019 RAATS FAMILY RED BLEND 'JASPER' STELLENBOSCH (Vinous 90points) $21.99
Bordeaux has a strong influence on the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, both pre- and post-Apartheid. Many of the early successes in the region modeled themselves off the more successful Chateaux and named Growth wines, featuring Cabernet Sauvignon in many of their top bottlings. More recently there are quite a few individual Chateaux investing in the region and helping to modernize production. Raats Family is a bit of an outlier, taking their inspiration more so from the Right Bank, focusing on featuring Cabernet Franc in the model of producers like Cheval Blanc, as well as some Loire-styled expressions. Jasper represents their most 'classic' Bordeaux bottling as it uses all five of the allowed varieties each vintage, with Cabernet Franc always making up the largest portion of the blend followed by Malbec. Smoky cherry and savory red berry aromas on the nose, with a touch of the meaty/iodine note that seems to often identify a lot of South African reds. As it opens up the prettier floral notes of Cabernet Franc start to emerge, whereas the palate gets more of the blacker currant notes from the Malbec. The palate is surprisingly refined and silky with lots of earthy dark fruits and very little oak presence in the flavor, only getting a bit of fine tannins at the finish for structure. This is a wine a Saint Emilion fan would love to try, as would any Bordeaux drinker looking to get into something new, great for dining now but can definitely evolve another decade.
In 1881, the owner of what is now Masseria Cuturi received cuttings of Primitivo vines as part of a dowry for his marriage to a countess from the town of Altamura. Though both towns are part of the region of Puglia, it marked the first time that Primitivo was recorded to have been planted this far South. Perhaps not coincidentally at about the same time in California, many immigrant families were arriving as part of the post-Gold Rush western expansion with their own vine cuttings. Primitivo was a hearty workhorse grape, and prospered in these family run vineyards, becoming what we now call Zinfandel and representing some of the oldest vineyards in North America. I bring up this connection because when we first tasted this wine, my first thought was this Puglian wine tastes like it could have been made by the hand of our favorite Zin producers, like Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock or Tegan Passalacqua of Turley/Sandlands. This is meant as an extremely positive comparison, a blending of modern technology and technique with a respect for history and tradition. Rich blackberry fruit on the nose mixes with pepper and black spices, intense but not at the expense of savory complexity. The palate is round and lush, smoothing out much of the rougher rustic edges that have been a source of conflict for this region, but they haven't been erased. There is a definite grip to the finish, bringing some chew to the fruit and helping the savory tones linger. A great crossroads of Old School/New School, especially for the price.
If you have not had much Cabernet Franc from the Loire before, this is the perfect wine to dip your taste buds into. The past reputation has been a bit checkered and not been as widely praised by the more influential wine reviewers, so the highest quality regions like Chinon, Saumur and Bourgueil aren't as immediately known to many consumers. Cabernet Franc is also a grape that contains a naturally higher amount of pyrazines,which gives off a green, bell pepper or sometimes olive type aroma. This character is more frequent and pronounced in cooler climates or vintages, and is one of those 'trigger' elements that some individuals can be hypersensitive to, while others can find it pleasant and desirable. Some producers embrace this more than others, but this long time favorite value producer does a great job of softening a lot of the potential harder edges to give this broad appeal. Lovely aromas of wild red berries and lilac, with just an initial note of green pepper at the start that fades into more of a cracked black pepper as the wine opens and the red fruits get more pronounced. The palate is light and savory with very fine dusty tannins that give a mouthwatering nerviness to the finish. A great pairing with savory snacks and lighter meats, or an everyday value for Cab Franc fans in general.
It can be difficult to find an 'everyday' version of Nebbiolo, even from the Piedmont where it is the most noble of grapes. The problem is part reputation and part genetics; the reputation for greatness tends to have it planted in the best growing sites destined to make the best wines year after year, and its genetics make it a tricky grape to grow, 'needing' an optimum site. Barbera and Dolcetto perform far better in those lesser sites, so their wines make up the large portion of everyday drinkers. The region of Roero in the northern portion of Alba doesn't have the premium reputation for their red wines of Barolo and Barbaresco just South of them across the Tanaro River. In fact their reputation with the white varietal Arneis is more renown, having the DOC designation for the reds coming significantly after the whites. The quality here is sneaky excellent, especially when you consider this is close to the top end of the price point for Roero. Fratelli Rabino is a long standing producer in the region with vineyards in several of the premium districts of Roero. Their Roero DOC wine is built to be more Barbaresco-esque with more aging in new barrels, while this Nebbiolo d'Alba is one of the best 'drink now' versions of Nebbiolo we've come across. Aged and assembled in larger multi-use barrels only, the aromatics are so fresh, almost flowery, covered in dried red fruits and tobacco leaf with notes of almost citrus peel at the finish. It doesn't need decanting much to get rolling, but it does continue to get prettier over several hours. The palate is mostly dry dusty fruit and cedar tones that get redder and fuller over time, which really shows off Nebbiolo's super-fine grit tannins on the finish. An elegant pairing with meaty, mushroomy dishes that don't need the pomp and circumstance of a higher end wine.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2020 DOMAINE DES PASQUIERS COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES BLANC SABLET $16.99
White Rhone wines are in less demand than they used to be, and have been losing acreage in much of the region to be planted to more popular red varieties. A shame, for when you find a nice one they can really add good complexity and diversity to your white wine drinking repertoire. The wines are generally blends just like the red ones, and the different combinations of partners and percentages allow for endless possibilities. Clairette is a workhorse grape here (along with Grenache Blanc) that makes up a good chunk of the blend to make it a value, while Roussanne and Marsanne provide a bit of exotic character you usually don't find in wines at this range. Clean and unoaked aromas of white flowers, tea and a touch of citrus peel pop from the glass, catching your attention without being heavy or overpowering. The palate has a great unctuous feel to it while still having lots of zest and brightness, almost creamy and citrusy at the same time and finishing with a note of melon rind. This type of wine matches very well with Mediterranean vegetable and fish preparations, oily but not heavy dishes.
Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Virginia is 'tricky' (using that term with as much kindness as possible), with our widely varying seasonal conditions year after year making it incredibly difficult to feature. Where Cabernet Franc and Merlot can be more forgiving and consistent in tougher years, Cab Sauv can vary wildly in what it offers, and it's very hard to invest that time/money/energy when you don't know what you are going to get. There are some spots where it IS successful (often very small ones), so when we can find them we will champion them. For Jump Mountain over in Rockbridge Baths, that spot is the sunny South/Southwest facing slope of their vineyard. Nice dark color in the glass with a Bordeaux-style nose of currants, cranberry and pencil lead without a strong presence of oak and a slight pepperiness. On the palate the fruit is bright with some dried cherry skin character and very fine tannins for a Cab Sauv, finishing savory with a touch of a tomato water note. A very tasty no-nonsense Cabernet Sauvignon, and a very solid price to boot!
Italy is a constant source of unique grape varieties to experience, with every region having their own catalog of wines native to them. Even if a grape seemingly gets the 'popularity bump' of getting featured in a new part of the world it may not become a name that's recognized by most consumers. Grignolino is such a grape, very much a secondary citizen in its native Piedmont. It's a very unique grape in that the skin is fairly pale in color, yet it makes a fairly tannic wine due to the high number of seed pips inside (the name Grignolino comes from the local term for seed pips). The grape has some fans in various parts of the world, among the most famous is Napa Valley icon Heitz Cellars who have done a Rose/pale Red from the grape for many years, yet it has never really caught on all that broadly. A shame when there can be such lovely quality in wines such as this. Surprisingly deep-for-a-Grignolino ruby color, the nose is full of dried berry and citrus notes, almost mouth-watering just by aromas alone. There is a bit of a gaminess there as well that often lends the grape to be compared to Gamay from Beaujolais, but the citrus tone brings a distinct fire. The palate is where Grignolino gets very sneaky, starting out light with crunchy dried berries then getting persistently drier until finishing downright dusty. Fans of a higher toned, more acid driven wine definitely need to give this a try, ideal to match with salumi or meat dishes that have a strong salty component (think capers or anchovies).
INSIDER'S PICK: 2020 ESK VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNON/ MERLOT/MALBEC GIMBLETT GRAVELS HAWKES BAY $22.99
Most of the attention for New Zealand wines is on the Marlborough region and the South island, as it is the region that produces the most volume and gets to most consumer's eyes. The North island has a completely different set of geographic and environmental conditions, and while you don't see the volume of production the quality is definitely worth pursuing. The warmer overall climate helps the island do well with many red grapes, especially the Bordeaux varietals. One area in Hawkes Bay has become particularly noteworthy over the years because its well-draining rocky soil mimics what is found in Graves and much of Bordeaux's famous Right Bank. The Gimblett Gravels sits along the Ngaruroro River, with much of the exposed gravely features recently exposed by floods within the last 200 years. This type of soil is ideal for consistently ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, and is the backbone for many great wines in this area. Inky color (you don't even realize until you pour a little bit out that the bottle is completely clear) with immediate aromas of cool dark fruits and tobacco or eucalyptus, even a bit minty, definitely more of an Old School character. The palate is surprisingly silky at first, with some of the Cab Sauv tannins showing up more towards the finish, and the blacker fruits from the Malbec show up nicely as well, but the wine overall is surprisingly elegant, even restrained, and shows off a very Bordeaux-like alcohol balance. A bit youthful with some potential to age and evolve, fans of Old World wines will be surprised what the Gravels has to offer.
INSIDER'S PICK: PRE-NEW YEAR'S EVE SPECIAL TASTING WITH BOB WIDDOWS @ KYSELA PERE et FILS
NV RUBUS BLANC DE BLANC BRUT-$10.99
NV CHAMPAGNE TROUILLARD 'EXTRA SELECTION' BRUT-$37.99
NV ROLAND CHAMPION CHAMPAGNE GRAND CRU BLANC DE BLANC 'ECLAT DE CRAIE'-$42.99
2020 PATRICIA RAQUIN BOURGOGNE PINOT NOIR-$24.99
We wanted to end the year on a high note, and since it's been a few years since we have been able to do a tasting in the lead-up to New year's Eve, we wanted to do it right. So we have our good friend Bob Widdows from the Winchester based importer Kysela Pere et Fils in the store today to pour you some of their wines that will more than get you into the celebratory spirit. Three sparkling wines and one newly arrived red Burgundy (for those that just aren't in the mood for bubbles) will be available to taste today and tomorrow, and all four will take the Insider's Pick 10% discount on both days. Not pictured, and not available for tasting but eligible for the 10% discount, is the 2016 Rolland Champion Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru 'Special Club' ($74.99) while supplies last. If you are looking for something a little more distinctive and unique for your celebration, please ask Bob for all the details about this special wine. Hope to see you here, and if not have a safe and wonderful New Years!
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!