Custom made bottlings can be a double edged sword. They can be tasty treats, often good values, but can vary dramatically from vintage to vintage, especially if the wine isn't sourced from the same vineyards each year. The beauty of estate or smaller grower producers is that you get the wines from the same vineyards made with the same hands year after year, building consistency and reputation. Some of the better importers have been most capable of bucking that trend, usually by working with dependable wineries to help them build something reliable. European Cellars/Eric Solomon is one of the masters of this concept, and Bastide Miraflors is one of their more exemplary bottlings. Since its inception, the wine has always been built the same way; a blend of mostly Syrah with some older vine Grenache from the same sites in the Roussillon, with the blend aged in a mix of large oak demi-muids and concrete tanks. The subtle variances of vintages will of course make the character of the wine a bit different from year to year, but it would be hard to find many wines in this style that have been as consistently delicious. Deep ruby color with lots of cool dark fruits, blackberry and cola notes off the nose that get warmer and spicier as it opens up. The minimal use of oak allows the natural fragrance of the fruit to show through, and on the palate there is only the fine slightly dusty tannins; lots of surprisingly bright berry, but nothing heavy or extracted feeling, unexpectedly easy drinking for a region that has a reputation for making more oversized wines. A wine most every Rhone varietal fan should give a try!
The 2020 vintage in the Willamette Valley was a double whammy of difficulty for pretty much every winery. Not only was the Covid pandemic making work in the vineyards difficult and tourism/sales nearly impossible, the wildfire outbreak around Labor Day threatened pretty much all of the year's Pinot Noir harvest with smoke contamination if not outright vine damage. Even in the best of times it would have been difficult to get vineyards harvested and processed quickly in such an emergency situation, but the added layer of Covid precautions made it all but impossible. Many wineries did the best they could with whatever early harvest fruit they got, more than a few scrapped the whole vintage and sold whatever could be acceptable off as bulk, and almost nobody made any single vineyard wines that are the showpieces of of Oregon wine. Thankfully the region has benefited from two MUCH less dramatic and relatively problem free seasons, and our favorites are back to creating great stuff at all price points. Inspired by the Bauhaus artist Paul Klee, this wine from selected family owned properties in and around the Yamhill-Carlton area is routinely a first choice by staff for value out of Oregon. Cool, classic dark fruits on the nose with lots of restrained black cherry and hints of soy or pepper, a change of pace from some of the hotter recent vintages that put out a headier fruit aroma. The longer growing season also shows up on the palate with persistent fine tannins behind the dark fruits, giving some almost Burgundian style structure all the way through the finish. Patience is needed here, but well rewarded over several hours as the aromas get more floral and spicier and the fruit on the palate deepens. A wine that shows there will be a lot of the '22 vintage in people's cellars for years to come.
By its nature, Gewurztraminer is a tricky grape to grow and takes more minimum effort than others to make a healthy harvest. This makes it harder to find good value versions, especially if you like a drier style. It's easier to play up the perfumed character or the grape by leaving in the natural sweetness, plus sugar in wine is like spackle on a damaged wall, evening out rough edges and hiding problems or imperfections. Banyan has been a favorite for many vintages as it manages to do both those difficult things very, very well. Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong has always built this wine to honor his Thai heritage and marry with the cuisine, and is just a delight year after year. Classic and immediately identifiable Gewurztraminer perfume of wildflowers, juicy pear and white fruits, and a bit of spicy magnolia blossom. Without the sweetness behind it, many of the notes are cooler especially right out of the fridge, almost minty. On the palate the texture is juicy but not cloying at all, very clean white fruit all over and a touch of pear skin type tannin to the finish. A stone cold necessity to have in the fridge for midweek takeout Asian food, even the next day leftovers.
There are a few examples in the wine world of 'single owner' appellations or districts, mostly in cases of smaller and unique properties. Chateau Grillet is perhaps the most famous, a small 25 acre amphitheater in the Northern Rhone surrounded by the Condrieu appellation, yet given it's own status early on in the drawing and designating of these designations (before realizing how complicated it would get to let so many of these micro-sites get their own appellations and stopped). Gravina has sort of come to this distinction by accident. This Puglian region was originally drawn as any other to cover as many producers that wanted to use it in this rural mountainous area inland from Bari. But the impoverished area had very few independent wineries, mostly growers that sold to the local co-operative. In 1991 the Botromagno family winery merged with the co-op, essentially becoming the one winery in Gravina, and this the only wine using the Gravina DOC. Hopefully that will change based on the quality of this one, as the promise is quite outstanding. A blend of Greco and Malvasia, two hearty white grapes that can handle the heat of the region, the nose right on the first pour is full of white flowers and citrus peel, gaining melon and tropical fruit tones as it opens up. The palate is round and softer on acidity in a bit of a Chardonnay sort of way, but naturally with no oak or buttery notes at all, just the texture of the grapes themselves. No sweetness at all either, actually finishes with some green apple skin or grapefruit type tartness behind the lovely melon and fruit, leaving your palate salivating. An excellent pairing with richer seafood dishes, and just a great wine to mix in for people looking to find wines outside the norm.
On a map, the Rhone region can look very broad and expansive, with dividing lines drawn arbitrarily. In person it makes sense because of how the geography draws the lines for you, and it actually becomes surprising how quickly some of the major changes happen. Lirac and Tavel sit side by side just across the river from Avignon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, home to some of the most intense wines in France, yet are combined known more for their Rose production than anything else. The key is in the river itself: the areas to the North and East of it slope up towards the Ardeche Mountains and have a looser rocky soil, while to the South and West the soils are more sand. Though the wine is made by the local co-operative, it is all from a single site just outside of Roquemaure, literally across the bridge from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A classic Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, as well as a healthy splash of Carignan from the oldest parcel of vines on the property, this definitely swings with the strength of its neighbors across the way. Lovely kirsch cherry, blackberry, dark spice and iodine on the nose, with nice weight on the palate and a more savory peppery note to the finish than on the nose. Lots of value to be had here.
The oaky/buttery image of Chardonnay is so ingrained in our collective psyche, it is very easy to forget how tasty the grape can be without all the added bells and whistles. Not everyone can pull it off, it takes not only the right vineyard sites but also the proper clones of the grape. Grape vines can mutate and change subtly over time, and when cuttings are taken from that vine to make new growths they carry those traits, both desirable and undesirable. Over time (decades, even centuries) certain 'clones' become known for distinctive traits such as the size of clusters, weather durability, and distinct flavor quality. Hendry Vineyard, located right on the edge of Napa's Carneros and Mount Veeder appellations, features the famed Dijon clones originating in Burgundy, creating a wine that doesn't need anything added on it to be tasty. Distinctive rich pear and Golden Delicious apple aromas that are a signature of the Dijon clones; barrel aging would give them a caramel/buttery brioche sort of enhancement, but not needed or missed here. The palate is deep and very mouthfilling loaded with crunchy apple fruit and pear skins, naturally dry and zesty with surprising acidity and freshness all the way to the finish. For the oak averse this is about as good as you will find for domestic unoaked Chardonnay, playing on par with similarly priced Burgundies. Immense food possibilities as well, with plenty of body to hold up against richer dishes.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2021 SELBACH-OSTER QbA RIESLING MOSEL 'INCLINE' $18.99 2020 SELBACH-OSTER PINOT BLANC DRY MOSEL $25.99
This pair of new arrivals deserve their own double feature today. First of all, the quality is excellent of course, as you would expect from one of the benchmark producers of the Mosel. Secondly, it is inspired by the recent wine exploits of the eldest son of the owners, Pierson, as he has been growing and developing his own passion for the wine world. Followers on our Instagram site will have seen his photos and recollections over the Summer from a German/Austrian mega-tasting he attended, as well as several subsequent winery visits in Germany from his own trip abroad. Meeting Selbach family members at the tasting and then getting to visit them on a more personal level at their home winery is the sort of experience we all aspire to have. It inspires us, and more importantly it cements the importance of family, identity, and a sense of time and place that makes great wine so much more than just a beverage. His notes and pictures are wonderful (more to come); I've known him almost his whole life, and it's sobering to know he is about the same age now as I was when I first took the writing duties for the store. He'll be ghostwriting these emails before we know it without skipping a beat.
Anyway, back to the wines. The Incline series are a value built blend of several sites, all of which are vineyards that get featured in their own wines, so the origins are of great quality. They have both this and a Dry labeled bottling; we like this one better, essentially a 'feinherb' or 'halbtrocken' without actually saying so, just enough fruit to knock down the tartness and give some body to the lovely white fruits on the palate. The Pinot Blanc is an excellent deviation from the usual Rieslings in the Mosel, dry and clean with a full fresh palate that contends with our favorite versions of the grape coming from Alsace or the Alto Adige in Italy. Just a great 1-2 punch of wines you may not always gravitate towards as your first choice, we hope they inspire you as much as they did us.
The battle between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc fans is almost as old as wine itself. Well, maybe not THAT old, but it is probably the most frequent source of conflict when customers are gathering wines for get-togethers. It's hard to find the common ground between the roundness and richness of Chardonnay and the grassy, cirtusy side of Sauvignon Blanc, even when you try and blend them together in one wine. So sometimes you need to get creative. Hautes Terres comes from the Limoux region in the Languedoc/Roussillon region of France, most famous for being the origin of making sparkling wine in what be came most known as the 'Champagne method'. Chardonnay is the primary grape used here, as well as a native one called Mauzac, instrumental in making their sparkling wines so distinctive with its musky apple skin notes. Producers are starting to grow more and more fond of working in some still wines like this one as well to the portfolio, especially ones that have more of a 'natural' slant to them. Clean, unoaked fruit on the nose, mostly warm apple with a touch of green citrus skin and refreshing citrus as it opens up. The palate is where it really 'splits the difference' for drinkers, as the weighty mouthfeel of the Chardonnay gets a kick of a grassier note and a hint of the Mauzac musk, just enough to build the extra interest and make it lively. This isn't going to change the minds of a die-hard oak and butter Chardonnay fan or full throated NZ Sauv Blanc drinker, but darn it if there isn't a lot here to make most everyone else happy.
New vintage, new look, and complete rebranding, but same Pansa Blanca wine in the bottle as we've had in the store for previous years. Pansa Blanca, in case you were wondering (and most of you were, like we were when we first came across this wine), is the local name for the Xarel-lo grape in Alella just North of Barcelona. The vast majority of the Penedes region where Cava is made sits South of the city, with Alella separated by the sprawl of the metropolitan area, so much so that the grapes have had time to evolve slight differences in the two areas. Much like the reds from Montalcino in Italy are made with their own identifiable 'clone' of Sangiovese, wineries in Alella feel their Pansa Blanca is different than regular Xarel-lo, and look to feature it as such, especially in still wines like this one. Though the region has lost acreage over recent decades due to urban sprawl up the Northern coastline, the appeal for the wines has grown with the general popularity of lower alcohol wines. A rich golden color in the glass and vibrant lemony first aroma are pure Catalonian sunshine, with lots more citrus and white fruits emerging as it opens up.The palate has a clean, wet quality to the fruit, but still very full and refreshing with a little hit of minerality and skin tannin dryness to the finish. A great lighter seafood accompaniment, in the same vein as coastal Italian or the many fun Greek whites.
Inspired in part by the Tour de France making a comprehensive swing through the region for the first time in a long time, we are pulling a Beaujolais for tasting today from a newly available producer. After being unable to travel and explore during COVID restrictions, we are starting to see our favorite importers being able to get out and make new connections again. The Vieux Bourg estate has been a part of the Piron family for generations, but it wasn't until after current head of the family Dominique recently sold off the rights to the Maison Piron production company that the vineyards became the focus for making top quality wines. The estate is best known for their 'Clos' or walled vineyards at their property in Morgon, as well as some parcels in the Villages designated areas. This bottling in the '21 vintage overachieves as the winery added a healthy amount of declassified Morgon fruit, bringing substantial depth to a 'mere' Village bottling. Picture perfect aromas of tart dark cherry with a hint of wild game and herb that sweeten up a bit and get redder as it opens up, noticeably more so than a usual Village designate. Nicely juicy and polished on the palate, exactly as a Beaujolais should be and more, with more savory complexity under the fruit. This is a great chance to sample what the next level of Beaujolais can be without any uptick in price, or for those already big Beauj fans to stock up on a killer value.
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!