For those that follow basketball, the phrase 'Trust the Process' (copyright pending per Joel Embiid) was coined in Philadelphia to try and give the fans confidence in the team building process management had implemented. Some wineries you have to learn to 'trust the process' as well, believe in the winery and what they do from vintage to vintage is going to be for the best wine possible. Fans of Donkey & Goat Winery have learned to trust their process as one of the best producers of natural wines in America over the last 15 years, and the entry level bottling 'The Gadabout' is the poster child for showing trust. Each year the blend and vineyard sources can change depending on access and quality of the vintage, and they build it to give everyone a more cost effective look into what their wines are all about. Usually the base grapes are white Rhone varieties (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne) but additions and subtractions can happen from year to year. The only constant is their use of organic/Biodynamic grapes, native yeasts for fermentation, and as little sulfur as possible.
On the first pop of the cork, the classic 'naturalist' cider tones show through fairly strong, but a few swirls of the glass quickly bring out the more pithy white fruits, melon skins and rich lemon tones. The texture on the palate is plenty rich and full, and the fruits are SUPER zesty, loaded with tangy orange and mouthwatering citrus skins. The sour cidery component that most natural wines carry is evident but does not dominate the vinous character, showing through mostly on the lengthy finish. The longer the wine stays open, the more intense the white fruit tones grow and evolve, genuinely a wine that can improve in the fridge for a couple days thanks to the higher acidity and the skin contact during fermentation. A unique exploration of the natural wine movement, and super tasty for the money.
Many wine drinkers, even long time savvy consumers, get caught in the mistaken old adage that Riesling always makes a sweeter wine. ANY grape variety, red or white, can make a sweeter wine if the maker chooses to. Some are just more adept at it than others, and some are better at disguising their residual sugars and making the taster think the wine is not sweet (we're looking at YOU, Chardonnay!). Riesling suffers from a large glut of less expensive versions from Germany in the market that form a lot of drinker's opinions early on, as well as excellent high quality ones at various sweetness levels. But somehow the driest versions do not register on people's consciousness the same way. Alsace is home to an extremely broad selection of dry white wines from many varieties, and the Rieslings are among the best dry wines in France, full stop. When we got to taste through several wines in the Kreydenweiss lineup recently, we were struck by the absence of any sugary tones throughout his wines, yet were still rich and in balance with the acidity. This is the sort of white wine that should get ALL consumers excited.
The Andlau bottling is named after the town around which the vineyards are based, and is blended from several parcels farmed Biodynamically. Though it is their most 'basic' wine, there is nothing simple about it at all. Zesty, almost cider-y apple and cool citrus aromas that develop over time as the classic initial whiff of petrol blows off, as well as a deeper mineral and fleshier apple character. The palate is immediately full and quenching, with mouthwatering salinity and citrus skin texture. Flavors are not quick to arrive, so some time open or even decanting will help things along, but your patience will be rewarded with fleshy, almost creamy baked apple notes and increasingly lengthy mineral and stone fruit character that keep your palate salivating minutes after drinking. All of this and without a single sugary impression to be found, as dry and textured as a Chablis (and more flavorful too). This is a spectacular match with fattier seafood dishes (acidity helps to cut through without overpowering) as well as foods with an Asian influence but not hot/spicy.
If this label looks familiar, we featured the Smithereens Red Blend about 2 months ago. Having just brought in the equally tasty white wine counterpart, we felt it deserves equal billing. To recap from before, El Dorado County is the heart of the California Gold Rush, one of the major historical influences to westward expansion and European immigration in the mid-1800s. The Skinner family established one of the first wineries and distilleries in 1861 and ran a fairly large operation for many years, but faded into an obscure fragment of history until 2006 when a branch of the family picked up the rights to the name and 'rediscovered' the vineyards. Their vineyards focus on Rhone varieties, capitalizing on the dramatic elevation changes along the Sierra Foothills to grow grapes in a variety of conditions to develop great complexity and subtlety in their many blends.
The winery's Smithereens series pays tribute to the miners of the Gold Rush using dynamite to blast out gold deposits (not the 80s band of the same name), and is built to be their more basic Cotes du Rhone style wines. This blend focuses on the four most noteworthy white varieties in the Rhone, featuring Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc in varying ratios based on the vintage. As with the best wines from the Rhone, the blend shows harmony between the four varieties without any one taking an overly prominent position. A touch of the tropical perfume from the Viognier is checked down by the mineral and zesty citrus flower notes of the Roussanne, and the round texture of those varieties are given freshness by the acidity and citrus skin character of the Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Those that do not like a buttery wine but still want a white wine with some body and complexity should run to try this, a great pairing with more intense seafood and rich pork dishes.
It looks like we have officially put the threat of near-freezing temps behind us for the season (fingers crossed), and can break into the white wine selections for the Insider's Pick with real gusto. This is also the time you start to see the fresh and fun new arrivals from the last year's harvest, which promise to become the 'next big thing' for you to enjoy over the summer. Or it's the return of an old friend that sold out in the fall or winter, so it's time to check back in and remind yourself why you enjoyed it in the first place. Many people find the famously light carbonation of a Vinho Verde from Portugal to be their go-to style this time of year, so much so that the 'Petillant' style is gaining popularity with winemakers in other parts of the world, especially with those that follow a more naturalistic style of winemaking. Avinyo is an artisan Cava producer in Penedes, Spain (a region that already knows a thing or two about putting bubbles in a wine), making what we enthusiastically refer to as 'a Vinho Verde on steroids'. Intrigued? Let us explain.
Pouring with a bit of frothy foam and tiny bubbles that largely disappear within the first minute, the aroma is huge with sweet flowers, pears and tropical fruit thanks to the Muscat used. While most Vinho Verde have a light perfume, this absolutely leaps from the glass. As it opens up the initial perfume becomes drier with the arrival of zesty lime and white citrus fruit notes. The palate is drier still, almost completely bone dry in fact, with lots more zesty citrus and an almost dusty grapeskin character that extends long into the finish thanks to the light prickliness of the remaining carbonation on the palate. It is so dry it almost doesn't even match up with the initial floral aromas, which makes for great interplay between the senses. It also impacts differently as the temperature changes, with the aromas much more subdued right out of the fridge and more steely/zesty on the palate, and vice versa as it sits. A great picnic wine because of the lower alcohol, perfect for light snacks and back porch sipping.
There are likely thousands of wine making grape varieties out in the world, the majority of which are not known by name by even the most astute wine drinkers. Most are local curiosities, grapes that have history with a population but little chance of being appropriated for mass production. In many cases that's just fine, as the wines produced are merely OK or growing the vines are more difficult than need be, so it's no great loss that their names are but a footnote in history. But there are just as many varieties that deserve to be better known, and we love to champion them when we find them. Italy is not surprisingly a treasure trove of hidden gems such as this one from Campania near Naples. The featured grape here is Sciascinoso, barely familiar even to locals as there are less than 1000 acres total planted. The skins have lots of color and tannin to them, so it is almost never featured solo, faring better in blends like this when partnered with the juicier Aglianico grape. The extra time in bottle has also brought much needed polish and elegance, taming the chunky tannins both wines can show in their youth and showing off impressive secondary characters that would never appear when first bottled.
Dark in color but showing the distinctive dusty brick tones of age at the corners, the aromas are amazingly complex and ever changing; dusty cherries, powerful incense, dark flowers, hints of sweet currants and gamey meats. This is one where the pleasure is just as much about smelling the wine as tasting it. The palate is more to the high toned red fruits and minerally cranberry tones, with tannins that are super fine but persistent, like a piece of polishing grade sandpaper that shows off an almost citrusy blood orange character to the finish. A great match for Easter lamb, but could also show very well with more exotic Middle East/Far East spice treatments for meat dishes.
The Corbieres region in the Sud of France has always been the high volume 'bread basket' of French wine, with a low emphasis on quality over quantity. Most wine drinker s in America barely register with the name of any producers from the region, save for maybe Domaine de Fontsainte which has been brought in by noted importer Kermit Lynch for 40 years. After that, the reaction is '?????'. In some cases it's the lack of enough quality estates to really bring the public consciousness around from the wealth of producers from the Rhone and more acclaimed areas of the Languedoc. But even when really good ones appear, their choice of Carignan as the featured grape just doesn't seem to catch hold with our population. The grape has a naturally gamey, savory side that can be a bit off-putting to those that prefer juicier and more fruit-forward flavors, and definitely wants food as an accompaniment versus being sipped as a cocktail. More people need to taste the wines from producers like Chateau Lastours that get it all just right, not only with high quality grapes and vineyards to work with but allowing a little more cellar time before release to soften the rougher edges of Carignan into a more exciting wine.
Deep in color, the aromas are straight our of central casting for a bistro in Montpellier or Narbonne, bursting with currant, dark cocoa, and savory roasted meats. The bit of bottle age also pulls out a more subtle perfume in the background than usually found from the region, almost a sweet floweriness behind the animal tones. The palate is super impressive for a Corbieres, silky and polished with more cocoa and tangy black fruits from the nose, only hinting at the more gamey side in the background and on the iron/bloody finish. This is the perfect wine with rustic Mediterranean foods with lots of salty meats, olives and roasted character to it.
Spring has officially arrived, with the opening day of Major League Baseball today and the explosion of flowering trees blooming everywhere. Another aspect of Spring, at least in our part of Virginia, is the inability to pick your wardrobe for the day, with frost conditions in the morning switching to shorts and t-shirts by noon. Basically it means that EVERY wine option is available right now, from light whites to roses to heavy reds. Whatever mood strikes you, the weather won't restrict your choice of wine. It's still weeks away from the dreaded 'triple H' of central Virginia weather (hazy, hot, and humid) so a full throated Californian Cabernet is definitely in play. This estate located in the southern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains has had an on again/off again relationship with the Virginia market, but has been on our radar here since visiting over 20 years ago. A nice spread of varietal wines from their 150 acres of estate grown, sustainably farmed/vegan friendly vineyards, and this is our favorite thus far.
A rarity in Californian Cabs, this is not only a strong value but shows remarkable restraint in structure, avoiding the fruitier and extracted character so often found in this price range. Deep cassis and earthy black skinned fruits on the nose, showing more soil and black walnut elements as it opens up. The texture in the mouth is impressively rich showing more dark fruits and dusty cocoa tones, and not a shred of sweetness to be found. This isn't to say it's austere either, as the tannins are super fine and polished for a Cab, allowing the dark dusty fruit to linger on the finish in as very Old School manner. A delicious option for the dinner table, and a brand you will likely see more of in the future around the store.
Since our store opened up in 1994, the focus of the layout was to present the wines (and beers) by state or country of origin instead of variety. The land, the environment, and even the culture of the people around the vineyards have a monumental impact on the character of the finished wine, we have always found that to be more essential to our mindset than sorting by variety or flavors or winemaking process. Where it sometimes reaches out and bites us on the butt is when we forget a wine outside the regions we usually feature for certain varieties. When people are looking for Pinot Noir, for example, the classic regions of Burgundy, Oregon and California are chocked full of options. We have to check ourselves to make sure we include the tasty outliers from areas like Austria, Alto Adige in Italy, and of course New Zealand. While they can be a bit pricey by the time they get here from halfway around the world, when we find ones that succeed they are well worth the try and show distinction from those in the rest of the world.
From a cooler climate in Marlborough, this is a Pinot Noir that compares more favorably to the style of wines from Oregon than the extremes of California or Burgundy.Smokey nose of cool cherry and dusky black fruits, almost a hint of wild game as well when it first gets poured but having the red fruits catch up and bring out a sweeter perfume after some time. The palate has nice weight for a Pinot at this price, but still leans more towards the savory side with currant flavors and a touch of smokey/iodine on the finish. A little rugged, a little wild on the palate, but still finished with the polished velvety tannins people expect from Pinot. More of a food wine than for sipping by itself, but an ideal pairing with duck, rich savory soups, and pork with dark spicing.
El Dorado County is the heart of the California Gold Rush, one of the major historical influences to westward expansion and European immigration in the mid-1800s. It was also an important home to the early days of Californian wine as many families brought vine cuttings from their native lands to create their own vineyards. Several of the first wine companies in the state developed here and along the Sierra Foothills range, but faded in importance as the population shifted to San Francisco area and the surrounding vineyards. The Skinner family established one of the first wineries and distilleries in 1861 and ran a fairly large operation for many years, but faded into an obscure fragment of history until 2006 when a branch of the family picked up the rights to the name and 'rediscovered' the vineyards. Their vineyards focus on Rhone varieties, capitalizing on the dramatic elevation changes along the Sierra Foothills to grow grapes in a variety of conditions to develop great complexity and subtlety in their many blends.
The winery's Smithereens series pays tribute to the miners of the Gold Rush using dynamite to blast out gold deposits (not the 80s band of the same name), and is built to be their more basic Cotes du Rhone style wines. Primarily Grenache with Mourvedre in support, the aromas are warm and forward with lots of spicy red berries with hints of forest floor and dark spices. The palate is where the character of the region truly shines through, with lots of acidity and texture born from the variety of elevations and soil types in the vineyard sources. It brings out more bright red fruits, even some cranberry-like tartness that keeps the fruit tones from feeling too sweet or heavy on the finish. Super polished flavors, modern and juicy, this is an exciting addition to the 'Rhone Ranger' selection in the store, great for food or easy drinking enjoyment.
Beaujolais has had a streak of excellent quality over the last few vintages, continuing its reputation as one of the great sources of value for its best wines, at least for those that are fans of the style. 2017 may put a momentary blip in that streak, as several hailstorms caused substantial damage to stretches of prime vineyards, some of which were victimized for the second year in a row. The timing of the storms reduced volume by as much as 80% for some producers, which is causing many wines to jump sharply in price just to stay in business. Fortunately the fruit that survived was still of high quality, so even with price increases the wines are still worthwhile and exciting. Those lucky enough to have dodged the hail are truly blessed to have yet another strong vintage under their belts, and like Chateau Cambon don't have to see their prices budge. This house has roots back to the late Marcel Lapierre, one of the most important names in modern Beaujolais and organic/Biodynamic winemaking, and continue their tenets of minimal intervention, low sulfur usage, and general 'hands off' winemaking.
Beaujolais is never a wine that expects to be judged based on the tremendous weight or size, so for this to be described as light and pretty is exactly where they set out for it to be. Classic spot-on Gamay aromas of cherry skins and purple flowers pop from the glass, not as juicy or sweetly fruited as the warmer 2015 vintage. On the palate the unfiltered texture gives the fine tannins a little something extra to grip onto behind the savory cherry fruit, and the bright acidity brings out the dark iodine tones, almost reminiscent of tasting blood in your mouth (but in a food flavor way, not 'I just got punched in the lip' way). That is the aspect of good Beaujolais that makes them such a great match with thinly cut cured meats, one of the great lunch time/snacking wines around.
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!