The greens of Spring are getting an extra pop of intensity from the recent and highly needed rains. And while the rains in Spain MAY fall mainly on the plains, the Gallician and Basque regions to the North/Northwest are rightfully called 'Green Spain', so we take our wine journey there today. The hilly terrain makes for a lot of scattered pockets of vineyards and a historically isolated wine industry, but the Rias Baixas region just above Portugal has been leading the renaissance. The Albarino grape is dominant here, and can be made in a surprisingly diverse number of styles ranging from fragrant and flowery like a drier style Viognier, or racy and vibrant with coastal or mineral flavors. The best examples like this one easily call to mind the lush vegitation, cooling breezes and hilly green vistas of the region.
From the first pour this Albarino does a great job of walking the line between the flowery and racy styles, showing an initial white fruit and flowers aroma that develops a bit of lime zest and salinity with a few swirls of the glass. The texture on the palate is juicy and shows lots of white grape and pear fruit at first, but the longer is sits in your mouth the more the minerality shows through, finishing with loads of mouthwatering acidity. A great pairing with lightly seasoned seafood.
This winery and its wines are, to put it mildly, damn exciting. Owner/winemaker Sam Bilbro learned at the feet of his father as the owner of Marietta Cellars, one of the more under-appreciated sources for both quality and value in California. Marietta is best known for their Zinfandels, especially their Lot Series Red, which blends a laundry list of varieties together to approximate the old time Californian Field Blend of the early Sonoma settlers. Much of these historic blends (and historic vineyards) are strongly influenced by Italian grape varieties, and by studying these blends Sam built a strong attachment to these overlooked red and white grapes. Since the 2012 vintage Sam has been cobbling together wines from forgotten plots across Sonora and other North Coast vineyards, gradually improving the quality under his watch and gaining experience in ways to make these grapes great again. This release marks his best yet, including 'The Bird' Red Blend and a Dolcetto Vinous owner/reviewer and Italian wine specialist calls 'probably the best Dolcetto I have tasted from California' (both of which are presently available in the store but not for tasting today).
The Bee is a blend of Muscat Canelli, Friulano, Arneis, and Cortese; many may be scared off by the use of the first two varieties, thinking the wine will be sweet and fruity. But you would be mistaken, and missing out on a completely lovely white wine experience. Flowery aroma thanks to the Muscat and Friuliano, full of white and orange fruits, almost tropical but cut through with cooler lime and citrus tones. The palate turns almost 180 degrees, showing lots of citrus peel and stone fruit, melon rind tartness, and a long racy finish. The alcohol is low yet finishes strikingly and refreshingly dry. This will be a Spring dinner stunner, and dramatically changes the way we should think of what can be done from Italian varieties in California.
One of the great Spring traditions, like the start of baseball season and flowers in bloom, is the arrival of new white wine vintages. Examples from the 2015 harvest all across the great winegrowing regions of the Northern hemisphere are starting to arrive, ready to be chilled down as the temperatures rise. The Loire in particular is a treasure trove of youthful whites, especially over he last few decades as more focus has been placed on the smaller producers found outside the mainstream. Sure, there are still plenty of great wins to be had from the more famous areas like Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, and Vouvray (and we absolutely enjoy the dickens out of them), but the most stunning values appear at other stops along the river. The DeLaille family has been stewards of Domaine Salvard in Cheverny for five generations, and one of the top names in this underappreciated appellation smack dab in the middle of the Loire's historic Chateaux. The wines under the Domaine's name adhere to the AOC regulations and blend in a bit of Chardonnay, but the 'Unique' is a pure expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. When esteemed importer Kermit Lynch hails their wines as 'one of the greatest values for Sauvignon Blanc perfection', you have to take notice. And we do, every chance we get.
Clear and just slightly golden in the glass, this wine always has an aroma unlike other Sauv Blancs from the surrounding Touraine region (implied by the 'Unique' name, I guess), never fruity, strongly savory and almost a cool mint streak. Also very fresh, as if the herbs have just been torn and the oils are still wet on your hands. On the palate the texture is more juicy and generous, and the pulpier white fruit characters come through, but there is still a nice nervy tone through the finish that makes you thirsty for more.The acidity may be a bit much for those that prefer a more tropical New World style Sauvignon Blanc, but for Loire fans it's hard to imagine a better wine in your glass for the money.
While the fortified Port wines of the Douro Valley are still famous and well regarded, they are not the international favorite they once were. As sales have steadily slowed or decreased over the last decades, wineries have been forced to adapt and use more of their resources for normal 'table' wine, the sort of wines that are faster to produce and consumers are faster to drink. While these wines have always been there, the recent push has brought them to the forefront, and the quality is bringing a lot of deserved attention. Their style has a lot of similarity to the Spanish wines at the headwaters of the Duero/Douro River, not surprising since one of the major varieties used is Tempranillo, also called Tinto Roriz. The other two grapes, Touriga Franca (known for its elegance and fragrance) and Touriga Nacional (known for its power and richness) form the backbone for both the Port wines and the still wines, the same way Bordeaux relies on Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.
As the entry level wine from this producer, this only sees a brief touch of oak aging to preserve the fresh and approachable style, though the grapes still provide a surprising amount of natural heft. Deep in color and loads of dark spicy currants and peppery spices on the nose, there is almost a sweet grapiness about the aroma that is tempered by the dark savory side. The palate at first is fruit forward as well, but is quickly pulled in by some hearty, even rustic feeling tannins that give the palate some surprising sturdiness. This has a lot more burly structure than its Spanish parallels, and likely deserves a hearty meal to be enjoyed by most people, but will be a great twist at the table.
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!