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.
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!