South Africa has a long and complicated history with Europe and the rest of the world over the centuries of colonialism. The French have a strong influence on the history of wine industry here, not surprisingly, and has been a major factor in the country's reemergence since the fall of apartheid in the early 1990s. May de Lencquesaing was the matriarch of the esteemed wine chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, with family roots that traced back to the 1780 when her ancestor was appointed 'royal wine broker' for South Africa. In the late 1990s she set out to reconnect with those past ties by purchasing an estate in the Stellenbosch wine region, the oldest established wine area in South Africa near the port city of Cape Town. The property Glenelly sits on what was part of the original Ida's Valley farm ceded over to a French Huguenot family in 1682, which had vineyards through much of its history but in more recent time had been converted to solely fruit trees. Since taking over the winery has built itself up with a Bordeaux mindset as well as a bit of New World technology and sensibility, becoming one of the more impressive 'newer' producers in the country.
Primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and dominated by the other traditional Bordeaux varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), this does have a healthy splash of Syrah in the blend, which have been a common aspect of the reds in this part of the world. What's uncommon here is the quality and intensity this wine is bringing for the money, drinking and smelling like a young Bordeaux that could bring twice the price. Deep in color but showing the slightest bit of color change at the edges from a bit of needed time in the bottle before release, the aromas are very Old School Bordeaux with lots of dark currant, black pepper, coffee roast, cedar and spice. As it opens up there may be a little more warmth of fruit and sweetness of spice to indicate it isn't French in origin, but it's pretty darn close. The texture in the mouth is equally big and bold, but with tannins that are surprisingly fine and polished, most likely thanks to the added Syrah and the bit of extra time cellaring as well. It makes for a wine that is fairly ready to drink right now, though it does have the potential to evolve much more if you wanted to. Either way there is lots of value here for Old World and New World fans alike.
A treat for Valentine's Day, reminding us that Champagne isn't the answer for every sparkling wine need, as well as that the fact that sweetness in a wine should be a wonderful thing when done correctly. This wine comes from Beaujolais and uses the 'methode ancestrale' to create the bubbles, which is different from the 'methode traditionelle' used in making Champagne and other like-minded sparkling wines in that it doesn't use a secondary fermentation in the bottle. That bottle fermentation is what allows the wine to have carbonation and be made completely dry, while ancestrale is only able to take the wine down to 8%-9% abv and still keep its carbonation. The ancestrale method exists well before the monks in Champagne refined their process, and many examples persist to this day in regions like Bugey Cerdon in Savoie and Clairette de Die in the Rhone that are OK with making a bubbly wine with a little bit of natural sugar left behind. It is important to remember this is very different from a Moscato d'Asti and the wines made in that method, as those wines are much lower in carbonation (no 'cork and cage' Champagne type stopper because of the pressure) and their alcohol is much lower due to less sugar being fermented out. There are no added outside sugars, no cheap shortcuts. And in the broad continuum of dry to sweet, this doesn't come across cloying at all, more of the sweet taste of fresh berries, natural and delicious.
Pouring with a youthful purple color and grape-y tinted foamy bubble that lingers at the edges in the glass, the aromas are somewhere between a juicy Beaujolais and a old school soda fountain drink, savory red berries mixed with cola and sarsaparilla. Don't know if it's the carbonation that brings out the soda-ish parallels, but they definitely show through more as the wine gets warmer, while the vinous aromas show more when the wine first comes out of the fridge. On the palate the flavors are fresh and grape-y, with very little sense of sugar or anything coating the palate, with a very fine prickle of carbonation and a dusty tannin creating a fairly dry sensation on the finish. A great lighter weight foil for less intensely sweet chocolates or chocolate-based desserts, but also worth pairing with lighter savory snacks, Beaujolais style, if you just don't want anything weighing you down with much alcohol.
Valpolicella is the most famous of the red wine regions near the Italian city of Verona, deservedly so because of the high quality and the reputation of higher end wines like Amarone. Just to the West, along the banks of Lake Garda, Bardolino sits in relative anonymity by comparison, utilizing the same grapes to similar levels of excellence but mostly just selling them to the lakeside population. Every once in a while, a delicious few will escape the lake and make it over our way. From the original area of Bardolino closest to the lake (which earns it the 'Classico' designation) this is parallel to a Valpolicella Classico in that there is no use of dried grapes or pressings the way an Amarone or Ripasso, just featuring the Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes in their purest form. The biggest difference between the two regions is the higher elevation up in the mountains along the lake, giving the wines a slightly lighter body and a brighter underlying acidity. You will also tend to see less usage of oak here, especially newer barrels, so the wines tend to lean towards freshness and very natural expressions.
A deep dark cherry color in the glass, the aromas are a seductive array of red fruits with hints of tartness in the background and an almost sarsaparilla/old school root beer note that also kicks into light spices. Nothing sweetened at all here, no extracted heavy tones in the nose at all, and it extends onto the palate as well. Very soft texture with virtually no tannins, somewhat of a Beaujolais type fruit softness to the dark cherry notes and just the lightest of dustiness to the finish. This is ideal to pair with savory meat dishes that aren't fatty and don't need a robust wine to lean on, likewise a mushroom or lentil heavy vegetarian dish.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2017 CLOS DU MONT-OLIVET COTES DU RHONE VIEILLES VIGNES (Wine Spectator 90points) $23.99
The appellation system for wines is NOT a guarantee of quality, only that the minimum standards for that designation have been met and the POTENTIAL is there for quality. A wine can underachieve from a mediocre winery even with potentially great fruit to work with, and just as likely a great wine can come from meager origins at the hands of a top quality winery. To parallel food, a poorly cooked piece of filet mignon can be very ordinary (we've all cooked those once or twice at home, I'm sure), but a master chef can make a burger you dream about for weeks. So when there is a 'basic' Cotes du Rhone like this, priced a little higher than usual, you have to look a little closer to see what sets it apart. You will find this is a wine that not only justifies its price point but will even strike you as a relative bargain. Considered a 'beacon of traditionalism' by their importer and most in the industry, this is one of the older independent wineries in the region, and have not changed their style just to follow the fashion of trends, with all their vines a minimum of 40 years old used in this bottling. This bottling is made with little time in oak for a more approachable character and is the most ready to drink wine they produce, but still possesses impressive classic character that many wines in the $20+ range from more 'tenderloin' areas of the Rhone can't even touch.
Built from mostly Grenache, the small doses of Carignan and Syrah definitely make their presence known in giving the wine its rustic tones. From the first pour, there is a noticeable savory edge to the dark red fruit on the nose, equal provincial herbs and lightly smoked meat to the raspberry and black cherry tones, though the fruits start to catch up as it opens up. On the palate the texture is plenty mouthfilling, not missing the use of new oak one bit as it fills the mouth with fine tannins and savory natural flavors. Where some more modern Rhones would get into the more juicy red fruit tones, this stays robust with fine cocoa powder type tannins and only sweetening up a little bit as it opens up, the fruit mostly keeping the dried skin tones. Fans of older style Chateauneuf-du-Pape will definitely find this much more to their liking than many things out on the market now, and if you have never had the chance to taste something that was old school Rhone this is about as textbook as you will find. A perfect match with any savory, hearty and meaty dish you can imagine.
We strive to keep the wines we use in the Insider's Picks as varied as possible from week to week, in order to reflect the diversity we represent in the store. We avoid using the same wine twice in the same vintage just because we always have so many things to choose from. Some wines we just can't stay away from as they are so consistent vintage after vintage, so as soon as they change over to a new year they are right back into rotation. The wines of Zorzal are just such wines. Not only are they great values, but they represent a different mindset for winemaking than what consumers usually come across from Argentina. All too often Malbecs from here get characterized by their 'size' and 'intensity', which leads to thicker, heavier, more extracted wines and often a lot of oak aging. Nothing wrong with those types of wines, to be sure (have plenty here we enjoy like that), but it's very limiting to the expression of the grape and the winemaker it that's all you're ever expected to make. Zorzal is part of an importer's stable of wines that looks to break those trends, carrying a large selection of natural Chilean/Argentine wines, a movement that's growing in both participation and quality across South America. To us, this is the ideal introduction into tasting and learning about natural wines as it introduces enough of the principles and flavor characters that mark the concept but doesn't slam you over the head with them.
There's plenty of flavors and aromas familiar to all Malbec drinkers here that everyone will recognize, such as deep black fruits that gain a touch of richness and sweetness as it opens up. But the sweeter tones are more subtle and secondary, not the first and last thing you notice about it. There's no vanilla tones from oak, but it's not missed at all, with a mineral tone that makes the black fruits brighter and even a touch of citrus born from the use of natural yeasts during fermentation (a major component to the natural wine movement). On the palate the fruit is full bodied with plenty of intensity, but the black tones are more strongly pierced with tart berry skins, even a bit of orange and citrus peel, finishing with an almost zesty dry minerality. A wine that can handle big food with big flavors, but isn't overly 'big' in and of itself, able to play well with salty or vinegar-influenced meats as well.
This is a break from our usual norms this time of year, breaking out a white wine for the Insider's Pick in Winter. But with so many warm days recently, who can really tell, so seasonality can go right out the window. Plus a really fascinating wine like this is never confined to any one season. This come to us from a slowly growing stable of wines from one of the few producers on the island of Ischia, just off the coast of Naples. This island is part of the same volcanic chain as Mount Vesuvius on the mainland, and while its eruptions were not as catastrophic as its neighbor, it does have reference in both Greek and Roman mythology and was active as recently as the 14th century. Nowadays it is more known as a tourist attraction for their beaches and thermal fed hot springs, but the island is also the surprising home to a number of wine grape varieties that rarely get planted elsewhere. The intense character the volcanic soils brings to these grapes make them stand out in ways that just can't be found on the more mixed soils of the mainland, and with less than 20 square miles to work with there just isn't room to plant anything else. Along with Forastera, Biancolella is the grape of most importance here, usually making up the lion's share of local blends or being featured solo like it is here, and one that does make an occasional important appearance on the mainland
For fans of Neapolitan or Campania region wines, you may first draw some comparisons of this to the Greco grape in that is has a tropical, almost floral nose with lots of juicy Mediterranean fruit and white citrus. The volcanic soils help to insert some pinpricks of minerality into the aromas, somewhat minty in the background that keep it lively and inviting. On the palate the texture is equally juicy and the flavors mirror the aromas, but the nervy minty minerality comes through even more, bringing out a very fresh and quenching mouthfeel where other wines can be more cloying, and finishes with a touch of fuzzy peach skin dryness. This is perfect to pair with fish or seafood dishes that have a lot of citrus and herb influence.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Virginia wine scene is that, being in its infancy relative to the rest of the world, we are still finding our way towards what our best 'style' really is. Places in France, Italy, and Spain have had literally centuries of trial and error behind them before evolving into a common tradition among producers in a region. Ideas and theories can take decades to fully be tested, so truly effective changes tend to happen slowly, often slower than the general public has patience for. Most of the time wineries need to play it relatively safe to produce wines that will sell well with the general public, so the experiments that help to evolve and move forward tend to happen in small batches and usually as 'side projects'. For several years our favorite example has been the 'R' wines from Riaan Roussow, the winemaker at Lovingston, and recently there has been the Lightwell Survey wines from Ben Jordan &Co. at Early Mountain. Now we can add the wines of Joy Ting to that list. After working at the Michael Shaps Wineworks for several vintages, Joy was hired to be the 'Research Enologist and Exchange Coordinator' for the Virginia Winemakers Research Exchange. Basically, her job is to help winemakers across the state with their processes and help them experiment to find the best ways to make wines where they are. When she gets the chance, her own label looks to take those ideas even further, and we couldn't be more excited to have this Cabernet Franc-as well as a Merlot and Chardonnay-to show off her work.
Built with 50% whole cluster inclusion in the tank and partial carbonic maceration, this wine is built to get maximum flavor and color out of the tricky 2018 vintage without getting any harsh edges. A beautiful ruby dark color in the glass, the aromas jump from the glass after a few swirls, full of cranberry, cherry skins, fresh berries and hints of cracked pepper. After some time open there are hints of sweeter fruits like strawberry and cherry notes, but as a whole the aromas stay on the earthy/savory side. The palate is lithe and elegant with lots of the tart cranberry fruit punching through.The whole clusters and partial carbonic maceration gives the tannins a very fine, unobtrusive texture that only peeks in on the finish, as well as the bright acidity from the Shenandoah Valley sourced fruit that gives the finish This is a style of Cabernet Franc that pays more homage to the Loire than Bordeaux, fresh and savory, pretty and approachable enough to enjoy now or in the relatively short term before all the crunchy fruit fades away.
INSIDER'S PICK: NV TREVERI ROSE COLUMBIA VALLEY ($15.99) NV A.R. LENOBLE CHAMPAGNE 'INTENSE' (Mag 14) $37.99
A New Year's Eve double feature tasting, providing a little something for whatever type of celebration you may be attending this evening. For the more casual party or budget conscious get-together we have one of the most unsung American sparkling wine producers we've ever brought in. For those going a little more formal or doing something more upscale, we have Champagne from a producer that offers great value for the quality they deliver, punching well above the more famous mass marketed names. Whatever your plans are and wherever you're going, one of these is bound to be a crowd favorite tonight. Both of these wines will take the usual Insider's Pick 10% discount over the course of the day.
Treveri is a sparkling wine specialist from Washington, existing outside the more glamorous growing areas of Napa and the Willamette Valley, which allows them to grow and source fruit inexpensively and bring their wines to the table at extremely fair prices. They explore a lot of varieties making their sparkling wines, both traditional and non-traditional, such as with their Rose which uses Syrah blended with Chardonnay to provide the bright ruby color. Dry, but not astringently so, with lots of cherry skin and tart raspberry fruit, and even hints of the cool climate Syrah note of savory meats. Juicy enough on the palate to enjoy sipping by itself, but also substantial and complex enough to marry in with meaty hors d'oeuvres you may be snacking on tonight.
A.R. Lenoble is one of the rare houses in Champagne that is a)family owned and run, b)environmentally conscious ( Haute Valeur Environnementale certified), and c) still provides great deals up and down their lineup. Having picked up a singifigant part of their lineup over the last few months, from Blanc de Blancs to Blanc de Noirs and even a snazzy little Demi-Sec, this is definitely a house we endorse without reservation. The 'Intense' is their flagship non-vintage cuvee, unique in that the family ages the base wine from each growing year in magnum bottles instead of tanks until it needs to be blended, providing a unique texture and flavor component to the wine, as well as providing consumers with an easy way of recognizing a different lot of non-vintage wine.Vibrant white fruit with a touch of skin and bitter almond. Lots of complex white and red fruit on the palate without being exorbitant and over the top, either in style or in cost. A name in bubbly you should definitely get to know.
Whichever of these wines you may choose for this evening, have a safe and enjoyable New Year!
A bit of a double feature today for tasting, as we are also featuring local producer North American Sake Brewery from 2pm onward, with a representative from the brewery in through at least 5pm. Based in the IX Park complex beneath Three Notch'd Brewery, this is an exciting producer with a lot of experience gained in Japan learning the craft. We will be pouring their Junmai, Nigori, and Karakuchi Genshu bottlings (pictured), as well as a brand new release of sparkling sake. Come for the wine, and surprise yourself with quality sake!
There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes, and there's more than one way to make a wine from a grape with thick skins. If that isn't a saying yet, then it should, as there are more and more wineries looking to build their wines in less intensive and aggressive styles. Mourvedre is a grape that is traditionally marked for greatness based on the extremes of size, weight, and intensity, usually done so for the wow factor and the potential for keeping in the cellar for decades. And this isn't to disparage wines like Bandol from France of the impressive Monastrells from around Valencia, which are wonderful in their own right. But this is built from the ground up to show more restraint; shooting for lower sugars in the grapes at harvest, less time sitting on the skins so the tannins aren't as harsh, less emphasis on new oak and barrel aging. The result is a wine that's approachable, fresh, and drier on the palate, but no less flavorful.
A deep ruby color in the glass, but not so inky and opaque that it's sucking the light from objects around it, and a surprisingly savory aroma of black skinned fruits, ground pepper and dusty berries. On the palate there isn't even the slightest hint of sweetness or jammy fruit, completely tart and tangy black fruits with a touch of cranberry skin, fine and dusty tannins that give everything a pop of dusty herbs through the finish. Mourvedre has such a strong reputation for making palate staining wines, but this is downright elegant in nature, and doesn't require something equally nassive to pair with it. This is a style that has developed more popularity thanks to the naturalist wine movement, and while the Skinner Vineyards isn't dogmatic about following those methods, this definitely learns some of their lessons, and is a delicious food friendly option to enjoy.
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!