It's hard to declare a winery as your favorite from a region like the Loire, with so many unique styles running the length of the river. But in an area where organic/Biodynamic agriculture and winemaking has flourished over the last few decades this estate has the distinct recognition as a leader in both aspects. A polycultural farm since the 1950s with a more expanded emphasis on wine since the 1990s, the Domaine is able to function almost completely 'off the grid' to grow and produce their wine, livestock, and other crops. Everything feeds and fertilizes the other parts of the farm, all tended by the family. The family only makes two wines; both Cabernet Franc, one from their older parcel planted just before World War II, the second (this one) from the newer parcel planted in the 1990s and raised in tank. Also, as this is just a part of the family's means of support, the pricing is extremely fair for the quality.
After an extremely difficult 2016 vintage that saw both quality and quantity issues in Bourgueil, 2017 brings a return to prime form with a deep, dark vintage that provides lots of smoky violets and dark cherry skin aromas, with no signs of any green tones that plagued the region in the past and the tougher years. The palate is lighter in texture than the aromas would suggest, but is by no means thin as the natural savory flavors and tart cranberry tones really push through on the finish. The absence of oak aging here also lets the younger vines show the lighter tannins and less saturated fruits in a very easy, elegant manner. A nice quenching red wine that will perform well with hearty soups, stews, savory roast chicken, and slow cooked 'comfort foods' of the cooler months.
One of the difficult problems for consumers and wineries that are pursuing the more 'natural' styles of winemaking is the cost of the wines. It's hard, expensive work to make wine where you ultimately intervene as little as possible, usually smaller batches that require a lot more hand care from birth to bottle. One way to help mitigate the costs for some wineries is to lower the cost of grapes used; it's one of the main reason each wine's story starts with 'a forgotten vineyards once in disrepair' or 'this grape have been overlooked by many'. For this wine, importer Indie Wines uses their relationship with their wineries to find fruit to make their own bottlings. Using lots the wineries may not be using or sourcing from other trusted growers, Indie is able to make a more affordable wine that does not undercut their other producers; in fact, this wine 'of the people' helps to introduce the public to the style by being done by the glass at restaurants or for an everyday drinker, drawing them in to see what else this wine world has to offer.
Built from the classic Piedmont blend of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, and Barbera, the wine pops from the glass with immediate aromas of dusty cherry and cranberry fruit, then evolves more soil and wild game notes as it opens. The palate is where the naturalist influence shows through the most, allowing more higher toned flavors through, almost citrusy at times, and a lot less saturated feel that still delivers flavors and intensity. The tannins and bright acidity give a tanginess to the finish that really bring out the savory tones through the finish that may not appeal to those that like a bigger fruit to their wines, but is ideal paired with savory pasta dishes and rustic meat dishes.
A little Black Friday respite from the early morning shopping sprees, either on-line or in person. Even if many of you may not have wine drinking on the mind right now while digesting yesterday's big meal, it never hurts to get a taste of something fun and new you may want to have later. Geoffrey is the 5th generation to work his family's lands in the Maconnais, and brings the experience of those before him into the modern world by using plow horses and organic/biodynamic methods whenever possible. While these style are becoming en vogue again, it is simply business as it has always been here. While Loche sits adjacent to the more famous area of Pouilly-Fuisse, the vineyards do not have the reputation of their neighbors, so the wines here can still deliver great relative value when made by the right hands.
From a site on the highest elevation in Pouilly-Loche, the Les Mures vineyard has uniquely chalky soils and great sun exposure, which produces a wine that carries both weight and minerality. White stone fruit and lemon curd aromas show quickly from the first pour, evolving hints of orange and Mediterranean citrus as it opens up. On the palate the chalky soils come through surprisingly well, almost Chablis-like dusty texture that penetrates the palate while also showing nice richness from the extensive time on the lees. While wines from the Macon can frequently show a modern, tropical side that can get into the buttery realm, the minimalist style here shows nothing but natural vinous flavors This is a wine that begs for some rich fish or seafood dishes to marry up with the zesty palate.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2016 DOMAINE DE LA MORDOREE COTES DU RHONE 'LA DAME ROUSSE' (Wine Advocate 89points) $21.99
In great wine vintages, much of the hype and attention tends to get focused on the top end of the price spectrum where people look to grab the 'once in a lifetime' wines. At least until the next 'once in a lifetime' vintage inevitably comes along at some point in the next decade. Too much focus on the special occasion tenderloin, not enough focus on the delicious lesser cuts that will feed your soul on a weekly basis. With the great producers even their everyday wines reach great heights that can surpass other houses' Village designated efforts on their best days, and at a portion of the costs. The Wine Advocate once described Mordoree as "one of the world's great wine estates", always showing appreciation of their entire lineup, and with an importer in Virginia among the first to bring them into the United States, we have always had the benefit of first access and strong pricing. The 2016 vintage is already being heralded as yet another 'vintage of the century of the decade, and though it is sadly the first full vintage without founder Christophe Delorme at the helm, brother Fabrice has easily maintained their station at the top of the Rhone hierarchy.
A traditionalist's type of Cotes du Rhone with healthy chunks of Grenache and Syrah measured with a good dollop of Carignan, the aromas are a mix of deep red fruits and musky Provencal herbs, more rugged than juicy on the nose and with no sign of alcoholic heat to be found. The palate is equal to the task as well, dark and fleshy but not hard edged, with just a touch of dusty cocoa tannins behind the currants and black cherry fruits. The higher end wines from Mordoree are built with more extraction and time in barrel for the most part to have a more extended life in the bottle, but this drinks nicely almost from the first pour, needing only a little bit of air to get the full compliment of aromatics rolling. A great match for hearty comfort foods on days like this when you may be iced or snowed in and barely want to leave the house. Except to buy wine for the holidays, of course.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2016 LOVINGSTON WINERY PINOTAGE 'GILBERT"S VINEYARD' (Wine Enthusiast 90points) $22.99
Certain grape varieties struggle in Virginia to ripen consistently and produce wine that's worth the blood, sweat, and tears put into them every vintage. Pinot Noir is one such grape, tricky to deal with even in the most hospitable growing regions where it has success, and downright devious everywhere else. It's a fragile grape that doesn't like extremes in heat and humidity, which as we all know Virginia experiences in spades seemingly every season. For those that like the silky polished texture of Pinot Noir, they might want to try what Lovingston Winery has figured out and plant more Pinotage. The hybrid grape is best known for production in South Africa, where it has become a staple in many regions. As a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, it takes on more of the rustic and gamey characters of the Cinsaut grape, but here in Virginia it assumes more of the Pinot Noir svelte textures, and the Cinsaut lineage makes it more durable to deal with our climate year after year. As their vineyard matures the wine has just moved from success to success, and 2016 is no different.
Dark in color but more transparent ruby at the edges, the aromatics are full of dark spice and smokey cherry tones, taking the best aspects of both parent grapes. The first sip is where the great success appears for this wine, impressively polished with Burgundian style fine dark tannins and darkly spiced fruits similar to cool climate Oregonian wines. There is always a little touch of underlying savory notes that aren't quite Pinot-y to remind you it is a Pinotage you are drinking, but the elegance and refined character is SO impressive you will let it slide. This is excellent to take to family out of state over the holidays just to show off a side of Virginia wine that is rarely able to be captured.
INSIDER’S PICK: 2017 ALFARO FAMILY VINEYARDS OLD VINE ZINFANDEL GIMELLI VINEYARD CIENGA VALLEY $23.99
Zinfandel gained a reputation for making wines that are often ‘super-sized’, full of alcohol and jammy sweetness. The many grocery store labels aren’t doing the reputation any favors either, weighing in routinely at sugar levels 2-3X more than what usually constitutes a ‘dry wine’. Some of that is the nature of the grape, naturally large in size with a dark skin that does well in warm areas, so it can carry a lot of natural sugars when fully ripe. But nurture definitely pushed the grape to the extreme, allowing the grapes to hang longer as well as a lot of large commercial vineyards over-fertilizing to supercharge the growth rate. With more and more older vineyards being looked at more as natural treasures, their sustainability is more of a concern and we see many being converted to more natural or Organic procedures. The difference is striking in the wines, routinely seeing more of the wines land in the lower 14%abv range as well as finishing with a much drier mouthfeel. Producers like Alfaro Family, long time vineyard managers and winemakers in the Santa Cruz Mountains, have been well ahead of this trend and just waiting for everyone else to catch up.
From the first pour, the inky dark Zin bursts with deep raspberry, purple flowers, and dark spices that fill the space around quite beautifully. What’s not there; heat, a heady aroma of booze, or sugary jellied fruits. The palate is even more impressive, backing the fruits with a hint of tart fruit skins and even acidity, making those blackberry tones taste right of the vine versus spread on your morning toast. There’s even a note of dusty tannins that show through on the finish, almost cranberry tart type sensation that lingers to the next sip. Extremely robust yet still very food friendly, this Zin comes from an era when the grape was enjoyed AT the table, not by putting you UNDER it.
All too often Merlot gets the short end of the winemaking stick, and its reputation has suffered in the minds of many consumers. When grown side by side with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot will produce grapes that naturally end up making a softer, less tannic wine. Not a better or worse thing, just how they are different. Also why they work so well in tandem throughout Bordeaux, one bringing some firmness and spine to the Merlot, while the other softens out the rough edges in Cabernet Sauvignon. But in the modern and often mass marketed version of the grape, the softness gets taken to extreme, stripping it of any texture or character. In many circles the name Merlot has become a buzz word for a red wine built for people that otherwise don't like red wines. Thankfully more and more producers are working to bring a little pride back to this variety. The Fableist label is a collaboration between two Paso Robles winemakers and friends looking to create some value oriented everyday wines using their many vineyard connections, all the while not infringing with the wines that make up their daytime jobs at Sans Liege and Field Recordings wineries.
Deep, dark color in the glass with equally dark aromatics, this is obviously from the first whiff NOT a shy or timid Merlot. Dark currants, black cherries, and just a touch of toasty oak that disappears over time as the fruit comes more present. On the palate the fruit is mouth-coating and rich, full of the dark fruits from the nose, but doesn't loose the classic Merlot powder fine tannins, nor does it finish with any sweetness that often masquerades as richness. This is a wine built to be at home with pretty much any dish you would think to have a Cabernet Sauvignon with, yet still polished enough to also be a glass by itself to wind down an evening. An all purpose Merlot the way it SHOULD be.
If you weren't going to be able to make it in to the store on Saturday for the special Early Mountain tasting, we wanted to at least lure you in by giving everyone a taste of what you were missing. But if you can make it Saturday as well, you really owe it to yourself to try and make that tasting too if you're a Virginia wine fan. Or even just a fan of great wine in general, because what Early Mountain is achieving with their wine program is genuinely elevating Virginia wines to levels of quality not seen here on a regular basis. There aren't a lot of great sites yet in Virginia, nor that many truly great wines that achieve a high level year after year. Barboursville 'Octagon', Linden 'Hardscrabble' red and Chardonnay, and the RdV series of Cabernet Sauvignons are examples of wines that have set a repeatedly high bar for success. Judging by recent reviews in the Wine Advocate they are worthy of ratings among th better wines from the wine world's elite. Now that Early Mountain own and manage the Quaker Run vineyard, their wines from that site are quickly being recognized as worthy of joining those few elite wines. Their single vineyard wines from the site have all been well received in previous vintages, and 'Rise' is built from their best lots of fruit and only from great vintages. While the Vidal Blanc, Quaker Run Chardonnay, and Foothills Red would make for a fine tasting on their own, the opportunity to taste Rise is truly special if you can make it. If not, getting a great deal on their Foothills red today and tomorrow isn't too shabby either.
Built from a mix of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and even a splash of the white grape Petit Manseng, Foothills is all about easy drinking. Deep plum and cherry fruit aromas pop from the glass, and knowing that there is some Petit Manseng in the mix make it easier to place the hints of unexpected citrus and white flowers just behind everything else. The palate is full and easy with soft tannins that only poke through at the finish to bring out a hint of cocoa tones behind the core of dark fruits. Often Virginia wines can be faulted for a lack of body and fruit when trying to make more value oriented wines, but this has always succeeded at delivering that quality even in a trickier vintage like 2016. Definitely a wine to take to friends and let them see how much Virginia wines have grown.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2017 DOMAINE DES PASQUIERS COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES SABLET (Wine Advocate 92points) $19.99
Many of you may wonder about the quality of such a young Cotes du Rhone, thinking that it's being released so shortly after harvest that it's a light or limited wine. Much like the Joncier Cotes du Rhone in our Select Six this month, this is more about a shift in style for more Rhone producers to a less extracted style that needs oak aging and longer to evolve. This is a style becoming more popular among producers that take a 'natural' winemaking approach looking for a more transparent presentation that allows the unique native yeast flavors to show through. While not 'Full Natural', the Domaine has embraced many of the organic/Biodynamic principles, especially since brothers Jean-Claude and Philippe took over.
Just because this was built to be enjoyed young, do NOT be fooled into expecting a fruity wine without substance. Intense blueberry and currant fruit aromas emerge early with more subtle flowers and graphite showing as it opens up, both pretty and serious at the same time. The palate shows off the natural weight of the wine from being bottles quickly with minimal filtration, deep with savory currant flavors and an unsweetened richness that really allows the iron-tinged minerality to come through on the finish. This is definitively a step away from the big fruit style of many Cotes du Rhones, which is exciting to see the exploration of different wine interpretations for a region of such volume. A great wine to match with peppery red meats with lots of char.
While Mencia may not be one of the more household names in wine, it's an important variety in Spain's winemaking history and evolution. Prevalent in the Northwestern corner of the country, Mencia reaches its best expressions in both the Castilian region of Bierzo and the Galician region of Ribiera Sacra. In the modern area Bierzo became more noted first due to several famous producers making new investments and creating new interest in the variety in the early 2000s. Bierzo's style with Mencia is richer, bolder and more intensive thanks to the warmer climate of Old Castile, while Ribiera Sacra is cooler from the higher altitude in the mountains. The Ribiera Sacra wines have grown in popularity in recent years as the market has developed for lower alcohol, less aggressively oaked wines, as well as the attention for smaller, more 'natural style wines. D. Ventura is a family run producer making a variety of wines from family holdings in the region, with Vino do Burato made from a single site in one of the more lush and rainy climates. The fruit tends to be slower to ripen here, so their style of wine is meant to be fresher and more elegant.
There was a theory at one time that Mencia was in some way a genetic predecessor to Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux, and when tasting a wine like this the comparison make a lot of sense. Pretty violets and cool cherry skin aromas on the elegant nose, which shows more currants and dark savory spices at it opens up. Silky, snappy cherry skin fruit with an almost citrusy zest to the almost tannin-less finish. This compares more to a Loire style wine than most Spanish ones, vibrant and lively without a thick feel on the palate, great with your more subtle beef and pork dishes that may use more vinegar and herbs in their preparations.
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!